The meaning of the Sanskrit word Asana means 'a steady and comfortable posture'. It is often believed that asanas are physical exercises. And of course this is true; they do have a profound influence on the body, but this does not convey their full significance. Each person is made up of three aspects: body, mind and consciousness, which merge together to constitute our whole being. Asanas aim at influencing all these three aspects and moulding and yoking them into one harmonious whole.
One should try to think of asanas not as physical poses but as states of being. Correct performance of asanas requires participation of one's whole being, with awareness of oneself in relation to the physical position and movement, the breath, relaxation of the muscles and so forth. If asanas were only physical exercises then it would be quite acceptable to think about work, breakfast or whatever while performing them. But this is not the case. The practice of asanas requires active involvement of one's entire being as fully as possible.
Health of body and mind:
It is impossible to work actively in life with an unhealthy mind and body. This applies to work and play as well as to spiritual aspiration. The fundamental requirement is the healthiest possible mind and body. The ancient yogis realised this thousands of years ago and for this reason developed the system of asanas. The asanas were tested thoroughly by the personal experience of these pioneers. Asanas evolved slowly through practice, and because of this, they have withstood the test of time. The body and mind of man thousands of years ago was little different to the mind and body of man today. As such asanas are as useful in the present age as they were to the ancient originators. Many modern systems, in all fields of activity, are often based only on a few years experience; they rarely last for very long periods and are usually modified because of inadequacies in their make-up. Asanas, on the other hand, are a well-tested system for attaining mental and physical health.
Aim of Asana:
The main aim of asanas is to help us tread the path to higher consciousness so we can begin to understand and know our relationship with existence. The initial purpose of practising asanas is to eliminate afflictions and disturbances from the body and mind. Asanas loosen up the joints of the body, stretch and tone the muscles and remove poisons which tend to accumulate in various parts of the body. They also harmonize the nervous system and with a gentle massage they improve the functioning of all the internal organs such as the heart, lungs, abdominal organs, endocrine glands, blood vessels and so on. This slowly but surely leads to the best possible physical health.