Asana is a Sanskrit word that means “posture” or “seat.” Most of us in the West are familiar with this word because it is appended to the end of famous Hatha Yoga postures such as padmasana or shavasana, “Lotus Pose” or “Corpse Pose,” respectively.
While yoga is best known in the West for its popularity in the exercise world, in reality it is an ancient path that manifests in many ways, and has an entire philosophy of personal development within it. In one form, Raja (or Ashtanga) Yoga, developing posture conducive to meditative states is one of the eight limbs (ashtanga means literally “eight limbs”) of the path toward spiritual freedom. In an embodied practice, developing mastery of physical yoga postures helps to prepare the “seat” for deeper meditation.
My own experience is that when I practice physical yoga postures, my body opens up and relaxes more readily – which is important, as two serious car accidents have permanently damaged my spine. It also helps me accept and inhabit my body more fully. Even though I have a long way to go before mastering these poses, I already feel the benefits of the physical yoga practice – hips are more open, spine better supported, body more comfortable in the silence.
Surya namaskar, or Sun Salutation, helps to strengthen and lengthen the spine. Postures such as padmasana – or even ardha padmasana (Half Lotus Pose) – support the spine for long periods of sitting, and developing skill at holding them helps to deepen both dharana (fixed-point concentration) and dhyana (meditation). Shavasana brings deep relaxation and release, so important for integrating the work and de-activating stress on a deep, internal level.
So if you find that body aches and pains, or self-consciousness, are obstacles to your meditative practice, consider adding a physical yoga regimen to your practice. If you have injuries or other body issues (physical, mental or spiritual), be gentle with yourself, and always consult a medical professional before beginning any kind of physical practice.