Are there really 8,400,000 asanas? That’s 8 million and then some! For those that do not know what an “asana” is, it’s simply a yoga posture.
(Pronounced as aaa-sun in North India, and aaa-sun-aa in South India.)
Shiva, the God with the trident, the destroyer, the three-eyed one is said to have gifted us with this sacred knowledge! He prescribed 32 from that list as most useful to humans. All the rest are said to be variations from the master list of 32.
This is how yoga asanas are told to have come into being: Once upon a time, long time ago Lord Shiva, sitting on the banks of Ganga, was telling his wife Goddess Parvati about the methods of yoga he had just discovered. He kept on talking, long after his wife had fallen asleep.
Little did Lord Shiva realize, a fish in the river was listening attentively, while his wife had nodded off. Matsya (literally translated into “the fish”) kept on listening to Lord Shiva’s teachings for days on end. Once he found out, Shiva was impressed with Matsya and decided to name him Matsyendranath or “Lord of the Fishes”. He instructed him to go on and teach others about Yoga.
Hindu scriptures tend to hide scientific symbolism within them. The first life that began on earth was in the oceans, starting with a fish. Vishnu’s first avatar was also a fish. While a fish holding the headstand might seem implausible, or even funny, the idea here is to state just how long ago yoga asanas were created.
Probably closer to the truth
It turns out that Yoga was not always about “finding oneself”, or getting better, feeling better or being better.
Comparable to Buddhist teachings, early yogis believed that embodied life was full of suffering and the goal was to escape it. The Maitrayaniya Upanishad from third century BCE reveals: “Trapped in this foul bundle of bone, skin, muscle, flesh, semen, blood, mucus, tears, feces, urine, bile, and phlegm—the body is the source of all suffering and anguish.”
The body was thus something to be shunned, and not upheld as an object to vitalize. Doing this would stop the wheel of rebirth and future physical incarnations.
Slowly through the centuries, that thought evolved, and the ancient yogis realized that the way to enlightenment (i.e. essentially stopping the wheel of rebirth and future incarnations) was more plausible by embracing the body, and not by shunning it. The body suddenly became an important tool, and not an impediment. Mastering the body through asanas, pranayama and meditation (Dhyana) became the focus. Instead of regarding the body as a flailing object doomed to sickness and death, they viewed it as a dwelling place of the Divine and as a means to the end.
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