Asana is the physical postures of yoga. Similar to the yamas and the niyamas, asana is a tool to focus energy and attention on the present moment. Furthermore, asana will prepare the body for the challenge of sitting in meditation and the rigours of transcendence.
There are dozens of physical postures and infinite variations on each. Every yoga lineage has their own interpretation of where to place the limbs in each posture. In fact, it’s of little consequence how yogis do the postures, only that they do the postures. There is very little record of Patanjali teaching much in the way of postures, but he did teach that each posture should be steady, comfortable and the practitioner should pay attention to good posture.
Practice asana in the way that feels most appropriate to you. Teach asana in a way that is inviting yet challenging for your students.
The tricky part about teaching asana is convincing your students that they don’t strive to “improve” their poses. Asana is practiced with the intention of moving energy (prana) through the body. As long as students are breathing and moving, they are doing asana correctly. Furthermore, you must convince them to abandon their egos and to ignore how they look in each posture.
Yoga postures reflect the difference between discipline and ambition. The shape of the practice is a disciplined approach to movement. Ambitiously striving to “do” a posture is a reflection of the ego. Asana is the most obvious aspect of yoga and is prolific on magazines and posters. The images promote yoga and contribute to its popularity, but the unfortunate bi-product is they attach vanity to asana. Associating vanity with the body’s appearance is not helpful for spiritual growth. By viewing the body as something that needs to be whipped into shape, students will feel shame when it doesn’t look how it “should.” Yoga asana is a venue for checking in with the physical and spiritual self, but students must be cautious not to overinflate the ego on the way to transcendence. Don’t confuse discipline and ambition.
Asana means something different to each type of yoga. In Raja yoga, for example, asana means sitting. In Hatha yoga, asana refers to dozens of postures. Regardless of whether asana means a static pose or a dynamic series of poses, the intention is always to gain control over the physical body. All yogis agree that by gaining control over the body, mastery of the mind can be achieved.