Today when we think about yoga, many of us tend to think of it in terms of physical exercise,
and it is often practiced as such. That is because modern culture has embraced this side of
yoga in particular since the early 90s, placing more focus on the postures, or asanas, while
casting aside some of the philosophical and spiritual roots and teachings that originate from
So, what about the asanas then is so important? Are they only intended for exercise or to
become flexible? Sometimes it seems as if they were incorporated into yoga to attract the
western world to this ancient practice, but these physical postures have been an integral
element of yoga for over 4,000 years.
According to Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga, the asanas are one of eight elements that work
together to serve as guidelines for living a purposeful and intentional life. The Sanskrit word
“Yuj,” which is where we get the word yoga, means to yoke or join. This same concept of union
applies to mind and body, just as it does to all yogic philosophy components. There is no one
without the other. There is no enlightenment and liberation without every piece to the path.
No matter how you choose to define yoga or what set of beliefs you follow, the truth is that the
physical postures offer benefits that go far beyond those of the physical body. By using the
asanas in our yoga practice, we can learn awareness. When we practice being present on the
mat, that same level of focus and intention follows us off of the mat as well. When we live our
lives in the present, we experience more profound happiness and contentment, as well as
increased levels of confidence and calm.
The postures in yoga exist to show us that everything is temporary. Any physical work,
discomfort, or struggle you experience in a pose makes a connection with your mind that tells
you, be here now; this will not last. So we breathe some moments in one pose, learn to invite in
the sense of ease, and eventually transition to the next. We establish this critical connection,
and we remember it, whether on an intentional and conscious level or a subconscious one. So
when we face challenges in life, the asanas, along with the breath, are the parts of yoga that
teach us to accept, exhale, and move on.
The original and traditional purpose of the asanas in yoga was to prepare the body to sit for
meditation. While many people still use yoga in preparation for this, the benefits and intentions
for yoga postures are continually evolving, the same as we develop and grow throughout our
yoga journeys. If you are someone who enjoys yoga for its more traditional side, try not to turn
your nose up at your instructor the next time they cue a funky transition or suggest a pose that
has some modern-day twist to its name. After all, the asanas are intended to make us more
adaptable, not just flexible.