Traditional Yoga Poses
Yoga poses have been catalogued since before written history. Depictions of yoga poses were found engraved on soapstone seals in the ruins of the cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, which flourished at least 5, 000 years ago in the Indus River Valley. Many compilations of yoga poses exist, in ancient texts as well as the curricula of various modern-day teachers; the number of traditional yoga poses varies depending on the source.
In the "Hatha Yoga Pradipika, " a treatise on yoga practice that dates from about the 15th century, about 15 basic yoga poses are described. The literal translation of "asana" is "seat, " and these are all seated positions, following the idea stated some 12 to 16 centuries earlier by Patanjali in his "Yoga Sutras" that the purpose of asanas was to stabilize the body so that the practitioner could concentrate on meditation. Patanjali said, "Posture becomes perfect when the effort to attain it disappears."
Most contemporary Hatha yoga classes fit about 20 to 30 poses into an hourlong session. They usually include standing, seated, prone and supine poses and encompass several basic yoga movements - forward bends, backward bends, twists, balance poses and inversions - so that all major muscle groups are worked. No matter how many traditional poses a particular school teaches, however, there are a seemingly infinite number of variations, which teachers may employ for students with physical limitations or other needs.
Bikram yoga, developed by Bikram Choudhury, is a series of 26 traditional postures and two breathing techniques designed to be performed in a prescribed sequence during a 90-minute class. Ashtanga yoga, as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, presents six series of traditional yoga poses, called vinyasas, beginning with the Sun Salutation. There are 11 Fundamental Asanas and 50 Primary Series Postures. Intermediate and advanced series are also taught. Dharma Mittra, a yoga teacher since 1967, created what he called the "Master Chart of 908 Postures" in 1984, which contains traditional poses as well as some created by Yogi Dharma himself. In his book "Light on Yoga, " B.K.S. Iyengar describes and illustrates more than 590 different poses.
The Indian Government Weighs In
The Indian government announced in 2009 that it was creating a Traditional Knowledge Digital Library to officially describe traditional yoga poses, according to an article in the "Times of India." This project was launched in response to the growing number of patents granted in the United States and other countries for yoga poses, which the Indian government feels are India's area of expertise and should be protected. As of 2011, 1, 300 poses had been described and 200 had been videographed.