The physical Yogic exercises are called asanas, a term which means steady pose. This is because the Yoga asana (or posture) is meant to be held for some time. As Yoga regards the body as a vehicle for the soul on its journey toward total alignment, asanas are designed to develop not only the body but to also broaden the mental and spiritual capacities.
Our body is meant to move and exercise. If our lifestyle does not provide natural motion of muscles and joints, then disease and discomfort have all the more opportunity to arise. Perhaps a bit contrary to what we have been taught in the West for years (“no pain, no gain”), Yoga is a philosophy that teaches the principles of going with life – including how we exercise. According to Swami Vishnudevananda, proper exercise is actually of the idea, “no pain, no pain.” By practicing the Yoga postures not as mere calisthenics, but with awareness of the muscles used, of the breathing, of the relaxation, the mind learns to become detached from the senses little by little and the body strengthens in balance.
The body is as young as it is flexible. Yoga exercises focus on the health of the spine, its strength and flexibility. The Yoga system of exercise can be compared to no other in its complete overhaul of the entire being. Performed slowly and consciously, the asanas go far beyond mere physical benefits, becoming mental exercises in concentration and meditation.
Swami Vishnudevananda, the founder of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers, recommended a daily practice of 12 basic asanas for optimal health. Traditionally our practice begins with surya namaskar, the sun salutation, and leg raises before the asana practice, and includes proper relaxation, or savasana, throughout and to complete the class so that we assimilate the benefits we receive during our practice.