By Charu Ramesh
Have you ever wondered why Yoga poses have such esoteric names? Why should it be Hanumanasana and not just the splits? What is the value addition in calling a low lunge Anjaneyasana? And why can’t it be a simple forward bend rather than Paschimottanasana?
It all comes back to the purpose of yoga. The ancient yogis gave us this practice to help us connect to our own divinity through our bodies. So, while yoga is unparalleled in its physical benefits, these are only one part of the story. Its magic lies in showing us how to lead a life of joy and equanimity through learning to pay undivided attention to the moment-by-moment movements of our body. Each aspect of yoga serves this purpose – including the names of the asanas.
Various asana names remind us to be tall and upright like a tree, poised like a crane, steady like a mountain, strong and focused like a warrior, and so on. The poses are so much more than just movements of physical body parts. They are inspirations for us to embody a stance and its qualities; and it is their carefully chosen names that tell us what or whom to be inspired by. Yes, Hanumanasana is about hamstrings and hips and so on; but its quintessential message is to be able to embody the faith of the Monkey God, Hanuman, in his ideal, Sri Ram – a faith that literally enables him to cross an ocean in a leap. How do we embody that faith when we are in this pose? What is that faith for us? What tests it and how do we sustain it through these tests?
Asanas invite and challenge us to look inside and understand our own inner workings, and their names point us in the direction we should look towards. The myth of the asana, encapsulated in its name, encourages us to explore how this particular story is playing out in our own lives. Thus the practice of yoga is personal not only in the sense that each of our bodies is unique, and so poses to play out differently for everyone; but it is also personal in its message about what each pose can represent for us – how it can inspire us to walk our life’s path with dignity, steadiness and humility.
If I’m losing balance in a pose, I stretch higher and God reaches down to steady me. It works every time, and not just in yoga.
– T. Guillemets