Psychophysiology of Yoga Postures: Ancient and Modern Perspectives of Asanas

Psychophysiology of Yoga Postures: Ancient and Modern Perspectives of Asanas

Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani (Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth University, India) and Meena Ramanathan (Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth University, India)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2788-6.ch001
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Asana (posture) is usually defined as a body posture held with stability and ease by Patanjali. Hathayoga Pradipika emphasises that asana helps bring about stability in health and suppleness of body. As intra-thoracic, intra-abdominal pressure-volume changes affect internal organs and systems, it is plausible that asanas produce changes through mechanisms both local as well as general. This chapter takes a look at various studies that have explored human physiology in relation to asana. Some examples are glucose metabolism, changes in energy expenditure, ventilatory responses, oxygen consumption as well as respiratory, neuromuscular and cardiovascular parameters. It also explores the neuromuscular reflex arcs dynamics that position asana as an excellent system to restore psychosomatic harmony and balance. It needs to be stressed that the actual efforts being made in asana are of a somato-psychic nature while benefits that accrue are of a psychosomatic nature. It is suggested that Hathayoga helps us evolve out of our primitive sub-human tendencies thus developing human and humane qualities.
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Yoga considers that every individual is not merely limited to only the physical level of existence but is made up of a multi-fold universal nature. Concepts of pancha kosha (five-fold aspects of our existence) and trisharira (threefold aspect of our bodily nature) helps understand the multi-dimensional real nature of the individual, where health results from a dynamic interaction at all levels of existence.

The sister sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda consider the human body to be made up of seven substances, the sapta dhatus which are rasa (chyle), rakta (blood), maamsa (flesh), medas (adipose), asthi (bone), majjaa (marrow) and sukra (semen). Both these ancient health sciences understand the importance of tridosha (three humors) whose balance is vital for optimal health and functioning. Health is also further understood as harmonious balance of prana vayus and upa prana vayus (major and minor energies of physiological function respectively), coupled with stability of nadis (subtle energy channels) and harmonious flow of energy through all chakras (major energy centres correlated to the psycho-neuro-immuno-endocrine axis).

Figure 1.

Definition of Asana according to Maharishi Patanjali


The Hathayoga Pradipika echoes these qualities when Yogi Svatmarama says, “Slimness of body, lustre on face, clarity of voice, brightness of eyes, freedom from disease, control over seminal ejaculation, stimulation of gastric heat and purification of subtle energy channels are marks of success in Hathayoga” (vapuh krsatvam vadane prasannataa naadasputatvam nayane sunirmale arogataa bindujayogni diipanam naadiivishuddhir hatha siddhi lakshanam- Hathayoga Pradipika II-78) (Bhatt, 2004).

In the Patanjala Yoga Darshana we find an excellent description of the attributes of bodily perfection (kaya sampat). (Bhavanani, 2011) It is said in Vibhuti Pada that perfection of body includes beauty, gracefulness, strength, and adamantine hardness (rupa lavanya bala vajra samhanana kaya sampat-Yoga Darshan III: 47).

In the Gheranda Samhita, a classical treatise on Hathayoga, the human body is likened to an unbaked earthen clay pot that is incapable of holding the contents and dissolves when faced with the challenge of water. It is only through intense heat generated by practice of yoga that the human body gets baked, making it fit to hold the Divine Spirit (aama kumbha ivaambhastho jeeryamanah sada gatah yoganalena samdahya ghata shuddhim samacaret- Gheranda Samhita I: 8) (Bhatt, 2004).


What Is Asana?

Asana, the third limb of Maharishi Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga is usually defined as a body posture held with stability and ease (sthirasukhamasanam). (Bhavanani, 2011) Hathayoga Pradipika emphasises this by saying that asana helps bring about stability in health and suppleness of body (kuryat tad asanam stairyam arogyam ca angalaghavam) (Bhatt, 2004). Though the term pose is also often used, the noted yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein has referred to it as “poise”. (Feuerstein, 2010) This concept is tenable as asana seems to begin at the external level but in fact influences the emotions, mind and spirit ultimately. The Tejobindu Upanishad says that asana is a state of the body which gives stability that enables one to practice long drawn meditation (sukhenaiva bhavedyasminnajasraṃ brahmacintanam āsanaṃ tadvijānīyādanyat sukhavināśanam) (Ramanathan, 2007a).

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