Asana (postures or poses) comprise the third limb of yoga. Traditional usage defines asana as both singular and plural. It addresses physical limitations so you may cultivate more comfort during the limbs that follow. In the yogic view, the care of your body is an important stage of your spiritual growth.
Originally, in the context of yoga practice, asana refers to two things: the place where a yogi sits and the manner or posture in which he sits. Patanjali describes asana as ’to be seated in a position that is firm, but relaxed’ for extended, or timeless periods. According to the Yoga Sutra’s, the only requirement for practicing asana is to be steady and comfortable. Asana later became a term for various postures suitable to restore and maintain a person’s wellbeing and improve the body’s flexibility and vitality. Through the practice of asanas, you develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both necessary for meditation.
Yoga in the West is commonly practiced as physical exercise mainly. Thus focusing on the asana especially and thereby neglecting the other limbs. In contrast, the yoga practiced in the East is more associated with spirituality, meditation and growth. It quite appeals to me to imagine the eight limbs as an iceberg. Typically only one-ninth of the volume of an iceberg is above water which can symbolize (part of) the third limb. Practicing and learning yoga postures and the result – a healthy and fit body – can be easily seen with the naked eye. However other limbs include consciousness, meditation, concentration, enlightenment or control of the breath which are less visible and rooted from within primarily. If you just practice the ‘visible’ asana it equals a fitness class or gymnastics practice. While on your yoga journey you can develop and establish the relationships with this – on first sight – invisible part of the yoga philosophy. If you start to look at a deeper level, you can discover a whole new world and surprise yourself with the enormous amount you can learn and grow. Enjoy the journey!