Scratch the surface and you may get introduced to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and find asana as the third of the eight limbs of yoga, which certainly seems to shrink the importance of Down Dog. All those forest dwelling yogis, from before the time of the Buddha in the sixth century BCE, all the way up to and well past Patanjali in the second century CE, believed that stopping the wheel of rebirth meant overcoming their physical incarnation. It wasn’t until Tantra, which began sometime around the fourth to sixth centuries CE, that the non-dualist insight took hold that if there is only Spirit, then all of creation, including the human body, is a manifestation of Spirit and therefore sacred.
The stage was set, but it wasn’t until the Siddha (perfected) movement, within Tantra, that we get elements that would coalesce into Hatha Yoga. Three of these texts are considered primary: the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Shiva Samhita, and Gheranda Samhita. Asana came to mean Hatha Yoga posture sometime in the ninth or tenth century, but the earliest written descriptions didn’t come about until these texts. I put them in this order because, according to scholars, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika was written in the fourteenth century; the Shiva Samhita may have been written in the late fifteenth or late seventeenth centuries and the Gheranda Samhita was written in the late seventeenth century. It then describes four seated postures: siddhasana (perfect posture), padmasana (lotus posture), simhasana (lion posture), and bhadrasana (fortunate posture). In case you were wondering when the confusion about names of postures began, it’s been there from the beginning.
Here’s the list, with the name the text provides, the English translation, the current pose if there is one that is the same or similar and its type. Of course, there are texts from this time period that are hard to find and those that haven’t been translated into English.
I will, at some point, write up what happened next, how we ended up with Down Dogs and head stands, surya namaskar and the various branches and brands.


The only other comment I would make is that the book you refer to, Yoga Body, seems quick to discount the value and influence of the early asanas as described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and elsewhere. Dig deeper and you’ll come across the fact that by asana Patanjali meant ‘seat’ or ‘meditation posture’. To put it simply, early yogis thought embodied life was full of suffering and the goal was to escape it.
In their quest for supernatural powers and the diamond body (a topic for another article), the Siddha yogis developed the postures (asana), breathing exercises (pranayama), energy seals (mudra) and purification techniques (shat kriya) of Hatha Yoga. When texts were finally written about Hatha Yoga many centuries after its inception, readers were admonished to keep it secret still. The first 11 are svastikasana (auspicious posture), gomukhasana (cow face posture, legs), virasana (hero posture), kurmasana (tortoise posture), kukkutasana (cock posture), uttana karmasana (intense tortoise posture), dhanurasana (bow posture), matsyasana (fish posture), paschimottanasana (intense West side stretch posture), mayurasana (peacock posture), and savasana (corpse posture). In the third chapter, titled Practice, verses 90 and 91 show that the disdain of the body was slow to be overcome. Each of these was in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika except ugrasana, which translates to formidable posture.
The postures are as many in number as there are numbers of species of living creatures in this universe.
I think there is a lot of misunderstanding on this topic and its great to get a more accurate perspective. I wonder if there are other books that credit those early texts in the modern development of yoga in a more positive light.
It’s refreshing to see some sadhakas out there who are attempting to get to a more traditional pure for of yoga.


The James Mallison translation does not have ugrasana (formidable) posture, but rather paschimottanasana (intense West stretch).
Traditionally, Hatha Yoga is said to have originated with Matsyendra Natha and Goraksha Natha in the ninth or tenth centuries CE. We must be scholars to a degree in this pursuit otherwise you risk spending years in delusion. Hold them firmly with both hands and place the head on the knees." (chapter 3, verse 108) Could it be that the translation you used is not the best for that verse?
Do you happen to know whether Richard Rosen and other experts include ugrasana (wide angle forward fold) in the list of 84 classics?
But what most aspiring practitioners don’t know is that patanjali stated that asana was an effortless thing.
The simple fact that one goes to exercise classes( that’s what American yoga is) 4 days a week that they are somehow Yogis? Furthermore, Patanjali and the other ancients understood that different postures serve different functions on the organs and chakras and should be used with discrimination. But today in America we have millions of sheep mindlessly following the teacher and the others in the class, all practicing the same poses and the same pranayama regardless of age or health.



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