The third limb on the 8-limbed-path of yoga is the one the West is most familiar with — asana — the physical practice. All of the poses you see on TV, in magazines, and at your local gym are part of this limb of yoga.
This limb is designed to help you get all of those wiggles out so that you can sit still (for as long as possible) and experience the rest of the limbs of yoga. Some poses require physical strength and effort, others help stretch and relax the muscles.
Until recently, the physical practice of yoga was only a small subset of what we see today. About 700 years ago in the book The Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Svatamarama, he describes only 15 postures of the 84 that he says Shiva taught (handed down). During this time (and before), the physical posture was meant to be steady and comfortable for sitting in meditation. It wasn’t until Krishnamacharya came about in the late 1800s early 1900s that asana became as large and diverse as we know it today.
Purpose and history aside, the physical practice of yoga has many benefits. Taken as a form of physical exercise, it can help increase strength and flexibility. From a mental health perspective, the practice builds resiliency by helping you move between stressed to relaxed through a single yoga practice. And in some forms of yoga, it’s 100% about relaxation — undoing the stresses of everyday life — the relaxation response is so important in many ways. The parasympathetic nervous system (also known as “rest and digest”) is responsible for building healthy loving relationships as well as telling your reproductive system that it’s a great time to make a family.
Next week, we’ll explore a few practices that benefit you physically and mentally.