Yoga Rockford: The essence of an asana

By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio

The Sanskrit names of yoga poses look (and sound) strange and incomprehensible: Bharadvajasana, Trikonasana, Padmasana, Triangmukhaikapada Paschimottanasana, etc. However, each name holds the key to a deeper experience, the essence of the pose.

Asanas, the poses of yoga, are more than just physical exercise, and the benefits we receive go beyond just the “doing” of them. If we can move away from our attachment to the outer presentation of a posture, we open the door to experiencing the deeper meaning within.

But how do we get away from the usual “going through the motions” when the majority of us come to yoga from other exercise classes where we show up, do something,and leave? How do we begin to experience the uniqueness of yoga with its emphasis on awareness and attentiveness in action? How do we begin to ask the mind to pay attention, to be focused, to be truly aware of what we are doing? Well, the first step can be as simple as knowing the name of a pose, which typically includes a story or description. This begins the process of “involution,” the evolution of our mind’s focus toward our inner Self.

In the Iyengar Yoga method, we first introduce a pose in Sanskrit, and then describe it in English to set the stage in a student’s mind for practice. With a picture or story of the pose and its meaning, we can give the pose a try, feel it out for ourself, find success in some things and obstacles somewhere else. Then, with guidance from the teacher, instruction by instruction and piece by piece, we chip away the outer layers of the pose to reveal its essence within. Instead of just doing the pose and moving on, we become it, feel at one with it, are engulfed by it. With diligent practice, we may come to the real promise of yoga asana, the merging of our individual “ego self” with the universal truth of the pose.

Take Trikonasana and Padmasana for examples. Trikonasana means “Triangle Pose.” Take a moment to think of a triangle, see a triangle in your mind, even feel like a triangle if you are able. Beginners in this pose tend to make curves with the trunk of their body or bend their knees in stiffness. However, triangles do not have curves or bends. The essence of Triangle Pose is the essence of every triangle — long, straight lines coming together at very sharp specific points. Often one of the first yoga poses we learn, the practice of Trikonasana brings a sharpness to the body and the mind, and awareness to all the limbs and major joints.

Padmasana is a difficult seated pose with legs bound completely together. It is a meditative posture meant to be sustained for long periods with a quiet and stable mind, though many practitioners force only the physical position with a grimace and a grunt! “Padmasana” means “the pose of the lotus,” bringing to mind the image of a delicate and symmetric lotus flower floating atop the surface of a pond. Images of serene meditators, including the Buddha, also come to mind. Moreover, the lotus is able to thrive in the most dingy of circumstances, so is a symbol of our attempts to raise our inner beauty out of and above the agitations and sufferings of human life. To practice Padmasana does not mean merely tying your legs in a knot, but preparing the mind for deep meditation.

And the list of asanas is vast, giving us many forms to take on, to try out, to experience. In any moment we may become a warrior, a frog, a wise sage or a crane. With every movement there may be joy or fear, bondage or freedom. So, don’t turn away from the the long names and foreign language of yoga. Remember that within those names there is guidance toward deepening your practice. Through experiencing the essence of each asana, we may come to understand the vastness of our own inner potential, which is truly the vastness of the universe itself!

For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit or call (815) 968-9642.

From the May 29-June 4, 2013, issue

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