In the ancient text, the Yoga Sutras, Rishi Patanjali has tersely summed up the essence of meditative asanas in the following manner: “The posture should be steady and comfortable. The posture is mastered by relaxing effort (not trying too hard) and by thinking about the Ananta (this is a mythological serpent symbolizing equilibrium – in particular the stability and the correct orbit of the earth around the sun).”
The first sentence requires no explanation. If we try too hard without relaxing during asanas, we create more tension instead of the desired aim of relaxation. Of course the word ananta does not mean much to most people, but the idea behind it is that by thinking about its symbology – stability and equilibrium – the practitioner will feel these attributes in the position of his body. The word ananta also has a connection with the notion of endlessness. By invoking a feeling of endlessness, the individual will feel insignificant compared to the infinity around him. In this way, there will be less tendency to worry about trifling problems that prevent us from relaxing and sitting comfortably for a period of time.
The spine and bead are held upright in all the meditative asanas. There are two main reasons for this. The first is to allow free breathing without the slightest hindrance. In other words, all the parts of the body concerned with breathing, namely the chest, diaphragm and abdomen, can move without interference. Secondly, a straight but relaxed spine is less likely to result in backache. This is a common problem with many people when they have to sit in one position for a reasonably long period of time. This subject will be discussed more fully under a subsequent heading.
Another common characteristic of the meditative asanas is that they all have a very firm and stable base. This is absolutely necessary in order that the body remains steady throughout the meditational or pranayama practice. In all the meditative asanas, except vajrasana, the legs are folded so that they form a triangular base. This prevents the body from toppling either backwards or forwards. Furthermore, in this position the arms and hands can be placed in a comfortable position on the knees or in the lap. In this position they are not likely to cause any disturbance.
As we have already mentioned, the meditative asanas are designed so that the least amount of effort is required to maintain them. This is very important in order to attain maximum relaxation and to be able to forget the body during meditational practices.