What Does Asana Mean? The English Meaning & Definition Of This Yoga Sanskrit Term Revealed

If you’ve ever attended a yoga class online or in person, you may have heard the term ‘asana’ used. If you've been wondering what asana means, this article will be an interesting read for you!

In this article, we're exploring the evolution of this ancient Sanskrit term to better understand what the word asana means in a yogic context. We'll get into the English and Sanskrit definitions of asana, and what role asana plays in yoga. There's more to yoga than asana – surprise!

As you'll learn (or may already know!), ‘asana', ‘yoga pose', and ‘yoga posture' are all interchangeable in modern-day yoga classes. But as yogis, we should still know the most fundamental yoga Sanskrit terms, like this one!

There are countless asanas that are woven into modern-day yoga classes and morning yoga routines. For example, twists, backbends, forward bends, and balancing postures are all actually traditionally called yoga asanas.

As you'll learn later, asana is the ‘third limb of yoga' in the Hatha yoga tradition. If you're wondering what the third limb of yoga even means, don't worry, we'll get to that too!


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What does asana mean in yoga?

Simply put, in modern times, the word asana means yoga pose.

As yoga has evolved and changed over the centuries, the interpretation of the word asana has also changed. In current times, the words asana, pose, and posture are essentially interchangeable in yoga.

Seated meditation is the original Asana

woman in seated meditation sitting in lotus position.

To perform the pose the way it was originally described by Patañjali, a person would essentially be sitting in the traditional meditative type seated position.

Patañjali, the sage believed to have authored the Yoga Sutras and The 8 Limbs of Yoga, who lived in India around the 2nd century BCE, wrote about the term asana in a way that many have interpreted it to mean that it's a seated pose that includes a straight spine.

Patanjali's brief definition of asana has been interpreted as being a posture that allows a person to be motionless and upright for many hours to enable a person to rise up above body consciousness.

Benefits of practicing yoga asanas

Performing asanas have a vast range of benefits, both physical and spiritual.

While asanas in themselves were not perhaps originally intended to be intense and rigorous physical exercises, many yoga asanas help to improve flexibility, strength, and balance and can actually be quite rigorous and intense!

According to Yogapedia, asana is now the most popular aspect of yoga, but really, it is only one part of yogic philosophy. There are seven more major components to yoga philosophy (and maybe even more). Discover more about the 8 Limbs of Yoga.

Asanas, in the Hatha tradition of yoga, often involves a lot of breathing exercises also. This combination of breath and movement can help to reduce stress and anxiety levels and improve focus.

Breath and movement in tandem can also help to lessen chronic pain, lower hypertension, or even improve blood circulation in the body.

Some yoga asanas have also been known to reduce fatigue, enhance sleep quality, and improve mental clarity.

Really, many asanas are incredibly beneficial in terms of what they can do for the mind and body.

Common asanas in yoga

Common yoga asana infographic showing child's pose, low lunge, triangle pose, and other yoga postures.

Now that you know more about how the term asana is defined in modern times, below are a few common asanas to help you become more familiar with a few yoga poses or asanas. 

1. Balasana (Child's pose)

Woman in child's pose.

Child's pose is a resting pose and a counter asana for various other asanas. It is performed by sitting back on the heels with the knees hip-width apart and the palms on the thighs. Then the torso is lowered toward the thighs while the arms stretch overhead, or beside you. Your forehead and palms rest on the floor. Child's pose is often performed multiple times in a yoga class, especially Vinyasa yoga classes.

2. Anjaneyasana (Low lunge)

Woman performing low lunge yoga pose.

This asana is a lunging back-bending asana. It is performed by stepping backward with one leg and lowering the back knee to the ground while adjusting the foot so the toes face back and the top of the foot touches the ground. The top of the back foot is flush with the ground. The front knee is stacked on top of the ankle. The arms and hands come up for the full expression and most challenging variation.

3. Adho mukha svanasana (Downward-facing dog)

Woman in downward facing dog.

Down dog is one of the more commonly known and first-learned yoga asanas. It is part of Sun Salutation A or Suryanamaskar A. It is a mild inversion that calms the nervous system and helps relieve stress. This pose is often entered from a tabletop position. By pressing up and back out of tabletop, your body is in an inverted V-shape. Both the hands and feet should be firmly planted and gripping the mat.

What asana means in Sanskrit

Asana is defined as the Sanskrit word for ‘pose’ or ‘seat’ or a sitting meditation pose. But is that the entire asana meaning? Let's break it down a little bit more.

This definition of an asana in Sanskrit as simply being a seated position has changed and evolved. But as it was originally defined by Patanjali, the author of The Yoga Sutras, an asana was simply a seated meditation type position.

However, an asana is an engaged and purposeful positioning of the body.

Sitting casually with a hunched back is not an asana! So not every seated position is an asana, even though that's how it's described in ancient yogic texts. Make sense?

Sitting upright with a straight spine, core engaged, shoulders back, head upright with your legs crossed and your hands resting on your knees – that is considered an asana. That asana is called Sukhasana or Easy Pose.

The history of the word asana

The classic texts of Hatha yoga refer to 84 different asanas.

Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga has been adapted over the years, with the word asana taking on a new, broader meaning.

It could be said that the change in the way asana is defined was instigated by Hatha yoga practitioners, who began to define asana a bit differently in that any pose could be described as an asana. Warrior 1, Warrior 2, Chair pose, and all other yoga poses that may be performed in a yoga class are all ‘asanas' in modern-day Hatha yoga.

And what do those yoga postures mentioned above each have in common? Mindfulness, purpose, engagement, alignment, and an intentional breath.

Understanding the role of asana in the 8 Limbs of Yoga

Infographic of the eight limbs of yoga in order 1. Yamas, 2. Niyamas, 3. Asana, 4. Pranayama, 5. Pratyahara, 6. Dharana, 7. Dhyana, 8. Samadhi.

The 8 Limbs Of Yoga refer to texts written by Patanjali and act as a guide of sorts on how to live a peaceful, meaningful, and purposeful life.

Understanding and living the 8 Limbs Of Yoga is a lifelong quest and commitment to living an emotionally and physically healthy life.

The Eight Limbs Of Yoga are listed in their order of importance. Notice that asana is the third limb of the 8 Limbs Of Yoga. What does that tell us?! That indicates that the Yamas and Niyamas actually deserve more nurturing and emphasis than our physical yoga practice. Interesting, isn't it?

The 8 Limbs Of Yoga are:

  1. Yamas
  2. Niyamas
  3. Asana
  4. Pranayama
  5. Pratyahara
  6. Dharana
  7. Dhyana
  8. Samadhi

Refine your asana practice with online yoga classes

As with everything, practice makes perfect! Although in yoga there is no such thing as perfect because each body expresses each yoga pose a little bit differently.

We've got some tips about how to start practicing yoga online to refine your asana practice in your own home. And if you're looking for a list of the best online yoga subscription platforms, best online yoga teachers, and yoga apps to join today, we've taken a deep dive into what we consider to be your best options out there at the moment.

I hope that you enjoy your time on the mat and have a better understanding of the asana meaning now!

Namaste.

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FAQ about the meaning of asana

What are the four categories of asana?

The 4 categories of asana are: standing, sitting, prone (poses with the belly or torso touching the floor), and supine (poses that are performed lying down or on your back).

Is yoga just asana?

Yoga encompasses much more than the movement practice. Many people are not aware of this. In fact, despite the fact that asana is the third limb of yoga in the eight limbs of yoga, asana is only mentioned in three of the 196 yoga sutras!

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Heather
Heather

Heather is a Certified Yoga Teacher the visionary behind The Yogatique, her passion project. She created The Yogatique to help yogis & other growth-oriented individuals discover premium high quality trainings and classes in the yoga & wellness space. Heather is a RYT-200 and a practicing yogi of more than 15 years. She is also a global citizen who has been living abroad for 10 years. Her passions include health & fitness, studying healthspan & longevity, exploring the road less traveled, & SEO. Heather can be reached at heatherj@theyogatique.com, or you can connect with Heather on LinkedIn.

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