Asana: The Health Benefits of a Physical Practice (on and off Mat)


his article excerpt covers Yoga Sutra 2.46 and centers around the Sanksrit word: Asana.  Again, what you read below is an introduction to the Yoga Sutras and  a part of our broader series covering the Yoga Sutras for Beginners, which is 15 article excerpts in total. 

Each of the article excerpts within this series will give you a sneak peek into the wonderful work created by Yogi and author, Melissa Lavery, whose complete book, The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Freedom is available at select distributors throughout the US as well as Amazon’s online bookstore.

All content excerpts are provided with permission by the publisher.

The book itself is organized into 3 parts and further divided into each of the 15 categories below:

The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Relationships

  1. Shanti: How to Maintain Personal Peace and Power in Relationships
  2. Yama: How to Eliminate Suffering and Cultivate a Better Relationship with the World
  3. Niyama: How to Cultivate a Better Relationship with Yourself and Commit to Personal Self-Care
  4. Pratipaksa Bhavana: How to Navigate Conflicting World-views and Build Relationships with Anyone
  5. Samadhi: How the Inner Journey Toward Self Will Bring You Closer to the Divine Consciousness

The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Health

  1. Asana: The Health Benefits of a Physical Practice (On and Off the Mat)
  2. Pranayama: How to Maintain Health Through Breath Awareness
  3. Samyama: How to Travel the Meditative Path to Health and Wellness
  4. Nidra: How to Improve Your Sleep Quality to Enhance Health and Wellness
  5. Sauca: How Cleanliness Paves the Path to Holistic Health

The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Abundance

  1. Klesa: How to Eliminate Ego’s Control and Cultivate an Identity that Attracts Abundance
  2. Satya: How Authenticity Leads to Attracting Abundance
  3. Astreya: How to Practice Non-Stealing to Attract Wealth and Abundance
  4. Aparigraha: How the Practice of Non-Hoarding Can Benefit Your Wallet and Illumniate Your Path
  5. Sadhana: How Consistent Practice Creates a Strong Foundation for an Abundant Life

The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Freedom

Asana: The Health Benefits of a Physical Practice (On and Off the Mat)

Āsana is a steady, comfortable posture.

Yoga is an ancient way of living, established with the intention of achieving union—the union of the physical, mental, and spiritual bodies in each of us, as well as union with divine consciousness. Ultimately, union can be achieved through Samādhi, which is a complete absorption with no distractions, boundaries, or conflicts. The yoga practitioner refines the many layers of the body to reach Samādhi but to also improve everyday life.

Āsana, which refers to the physical practice of yoga, is a pathway toward refining the body and mind. Immediate benefits of participating in āsana include:

  1. Regulating stress
  2. Releasing toxins stored in the body
  3. Allowing life force energy (prāṇa) to flow

The long-term effects of a consistent yoga practice are even more rewarding:

  1. Increasing stamina
  2. Creating supple joints and muscles
  3. Decreasing back and body pain
  4. Elongating the spine (and reversing the effects of gravity)
  5. Establishing a stronger core
  6. Improving organ function to include major body systems and the vagus nerve

While the body benefits from āsanas, practicing yoga also benefits mental and spiritual health through increasing awareness, attention, and personal growth. Its practice aids in keeping the subtle body (the cakras) clear for optimizing energy and healing. And the best part is that these benefits continue off the mat by improving daily life through work productivity, cultivating interpersonal relationships, and maintaining life balance. These benefits lead to contentment, personal peace, and joy.

What is Āsana and How Does it Benefit Health?

Engaging in āsana is to participate in the eight-limbed process of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga. Āsana is the third limb, necessary to the entire process. What follows is Prāṇāyāma (breath control), Pratyāhāra (sensory withdrawal), Dhāraṇā (concentration), Dhyāna (meditation), and Samādhi (absorption). These five limbs are the meditative qualities of achieving union though yoga practice. Āsana refines the body so that the practitioner can meditate without worrying about the burdens of the body. 

In Patāñjali’s Yoga Sūtras, āsana refers to the posture that we use during seated meditation. In Sanskrit, āsana translates to “seat”. However, as the term has evolved, āsana also refers to physical yoga practice and its postures. The objective of practicing the various postures is to be able to “sit” comfortably for longer periods of time. Initially, practitioners of meditation found that they could not sit for long periods of time without discomfort. Their constant shifting and aches interfered with their meditation. The origins of Hatha Yoga developed āsana over time as a way to combat this interference. First, early practitioners focused on their diet. Second, they worked on eliminating the various toxins in the body through bending, twisting, and squeezing the body and its organs.

How Diet Affects Āsana

The body is a chemical factory. It produces its own chemicals, such as hormones, neurotransmitters, and other substances that allow the body to function. Imbalances (deficiencies and excess levels) of any substance can cause harm to the body. These problems can manifest into pain, stiffness, and organ disease (dis-ease). Sometimes the body has natural deficiencies or surpluses, but sometimes poor diet and exercise can create imbalances. By paying attention to nutrient intake and activity level, a person can combat the effects of toxins in the body.

Āyurveda is the sister science of yoga, and it means “knowledge of life”. This knowledge includes using food as medicine to heal the body. The practitioner must learn what to eat and when to eat. To live an Āyurvedic lifestyle is to embrace your natural energy composition and then cure what is imbalanced. The underlying principle is that opposites cure, and this healing is achieved through eating seasonally, eating meals that balance your specific constitution, and eating consistent meals during different times of the day. 

Although this is a simplified explanation of Āyurveda, it is not difficult to use food in a way that supports āsana and the other limbs of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga. The key is to eat the right foods, in the right quantities, and at the right times:

  1. Use awareness of food qualities by enjoying a sattvic diet. This diet consists of eating foods that enhance mental clarity and physical health through limiting toxins. Sattvic food comes from sources that are seasonally harvested, produced in ethical ways, and are mostly organic and plant based. However, consuming meat and dairy is okay, if you choose, as long as the products come from protected animals. 
  2. A core sattvic diet should consist of mild foods that are rich in nutrients, such as legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, herbal teas, and plants (fruits and vegetables). A sattvic diet consists of eating these foods in moderation.
  3. Avoid or limit foods that are rajasic or tamasic. Rajasic foods include hot spices and stimulants, such as caffeine. These are okay in moderation and when ingested at the right time. Tamasic foods come from unsustainable or non-ethical food sources. Meat sourced from violent environments (always practice ahiṁsā), alcohol, and processed food are examples of tamasic food sources. 
  4. Do not overeat (even sattvic foods) and eat during the right times of the day (early morning, noon, and no later than 6 in the evening). 

When yoga practitioners are mindful about their diets and use the principles above, they can enjoy a body that can participate more efficiently in āsana. Toxins can manifest through gastrointestinal issues, such as bloating, gas, or acid reflux, as well as sluggishness and headaches. Pay attention to foods that cause these problems and try to avoid them. In the same way, eat foods that make you feel great.

How Postures Affect Āsana

Although yoga has become popularized as physical exercise with many health benefits, its application has been misunderstood. A traditional yoga practice is intended to move the body in specific ways that help the body eliminate toxins so that the practitioner can sit more comfortably in meditation. With the right postures (again, can be referred to as āsana), one can reap the benefits of yoga in a way that improves mental, emotional/spiritual, and physical health. And of course, this step leads the practitioner down the path of the eight limbs.

The Breath

  • Each movement must coordinate with the breath. Slow, deliberate movements will help you achieve this task. Typically, the body inhales on upward and expansive movements, while the body exhales during downward and constrictive movements. 

… (end of excerpt)

The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Freedom

Wrapping Up

… to continue reading from this chapter of The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Freedom please visit and order from the book’s page on Again, we hope you found this valuable and wish you health and happiness along your journey. Namaste.

Caleb Sharbono is a writer, bio-hacker, wellness advocate, and yogi. Caleb, who grew up on a small Montana ranch, joined the Navy at 17 to study cryptology. He later graduated from the US Naval Academy with a Minor in Mandarin, a Bachelor's in General Engineering, and a Major in English Literature. Caleb's interests and career cover diverse industries and disciplines. Caleb lives in San Antonio and is a Certified Yoga Instructor. He is also studying Zen Buddhism, practicing Holistic Psychology, and working towards his 300-hour yoga teacher training.


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