Early Records of Āsana Practice

The presentation deals with yogic postures (āsanas) in Pātañjala Yoga. Starting with a brief introduction to the main sources of the chapter, i. e., to the Pātañjalayogaśāstra (PYŚ), it initially contextualises posture practice within the yogic path to liberation. This outline provides the backdrop for a detailed analysis of PYŚ 2.46–2.48, the most pertinent source of knowledge about yogic postures and their performance in classical Yoga. This passage is presented for the first time in a translation of the critically edited text. The translation provides the basis for an in-depth analysis. By reading the two sūtra-s 2.46 and 2.47 according to Patañjali’s authorial intention, namely as a single sentence, the chapter shows that being steady and comfortable (sthirasukha) is not, as previous scholars have suggested, a general characteristic of yogic postures right from the start and by themselves, but the result either of the meditative practices of merging meditatively into infinity or of a slackening of effort in practice that lead to a steady and comfortable posture performance. The common aim of posture performance in Yoga, which cannot be reduced to the bare performance of a certain bodily configuration but has to be regarded as a complex of psycho-physiological practices, is to enable the yogi to undertake long sessions of breath control and meditations by immunizing him against unpleasant sensations like that of heat and cold, or hunger and thirst. The final part of the presentation addresses the question of which historical models Patañjali may have used when he composed his account of āsana practice, in which āsanas are bodily static, i. e., seated, supine or kneeling postures that are assumed for meditation. By drawing upon early accounts of Buddhist meditation in Pāli and in Sanskrit, the presentation concludes that it were probably Buddhist sources that exercised a considerable influence on Patañjali.

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Phlipp Maas
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