Yoga asanas are a new element of yoga, relatively speaking. Yoga was originally developed as a spiritual practice and meditation was the popular method of yoga practice. However, at some point, probably around the 19th and 20th century, Hatha yoga, became popular, particularly in the West.
Hatha yoga is the branch of yoga that the physical practice of yoga was developed and where we get most of the asanas that we have today. So what are the benefits of of yoga asanas?
Well, the answer to this question is a big one, but here are a few that spring to mind. It is a common misconception that yoga is just stretching. In reality, yoga has physical benefits far beyond lengthening the hamstrings. Yoga asanas help to improve full body strength in a different way than traditional strength training.
Although flexibility is improved, it is more the mindful approach to moving the body that develops excellent proprioception. Proprioception is the awareness that one has of where each part of their body is in space at all times. This sense that is developed over time, allows the practitioner to reach much deeper poses as they have a lot more control, rather than throwing themselves recklessly into shapes.
Another benefit of practising yoga asanas is learning to deal with uncomfortable situations, which can be applied off the mat. Being in an asana that is strenuous on muscles or balance and accepting it can develop an incredibly strong mental resolve and is an excellent tool to use day to day in any situation. This is something that beginners tend to struggle with but once the breath control develops, usually the asanas come much easier.
Of course an obvious physical benefit of yoga asanas is the core strength that is developed. Every single asana that exists requires a tight core. Abs and lower back require to be engaged in some way at all times, doing this on a regular basis yield amazing core strength that is functional and far more beneficial than doing hundreds of push ups (far more enjoyable too).
Something that tends to be overlooked as a benefit and is not really taught much in traditional yoga classes is mobility. There are great developments in mobility but it was not fully understood when yoga asanas were first developed. Mobility can be described as applying strength to move joints around in their full range of motion. People tend to confuse this with flexibility but it is not the same. Someone can be flexible and pull or push limbs into positions. Being mobile means using the strength of that joint to get into the same position.
It is common for people to say they are inflexible and have tight hips for example. In reality it is more likely that they have poor mobility in their hip flexors. This is very common in today’s world where sitting for long periods of time has become the norm. What yoga asanas also work that a lot of other exercise regimes miss is the psoas muscle. The psoas muscle is the only muscle that connects the lower and upper body and is usually a neglected body part when it comes to training.
I try to compliment my yoga asana practice with some mobility training and it has helped my yoga practice immensely. I’d love to know what you get from your asana practice?