An asana today means any yoga pose that can be comfortably held over an extended period of time.
Asanas serve the same basic purpose, to provide physical health benefits, including greater flexibility, balance, and strength, as well as spiritual and mental benefits.
While asanas all serve the same basic purposes, certain asanas do lend more to one element of yoga than to others.
So, asanas are often broken down into three distinct categories, depending on intention.
3 Types of Asanas
The three most common intentions with asanas (at least today) are:
These categories may be called by different names, but these are the three most common objectives for yoga practitioners:
Meditation asanas are designed for exactly that – meditating.
These postures are almost always seated (in fact, the word asana means “to sit down” in its original Sanskrit and referred only to seated meditative asana positions when it first came into use) and are comfortable (for most people) to maintain over long periods of time.
They are not, however, overly slack.
The back is kept straight and other muscles are typically engaged.
With meditation asanas, the idea is to remain focused and alert, but not so aware of the posture that it interferes with the meditative aspect.
Exercise (stretching) asanas make up the bulk of yoga asanas.
These postures have an incredible amount of variety amongst them and focus on the physical aspects of yoga.
Like all yoga poses, exercise asanas should be comfortable to hold when done correctly, but typically require more effort to maintain and give the body more of a stretch. (You’ll feel the work.)
You may meditate during these asanas, but you may also have to focus solely on the pose to comfortably (and safely) maintain it.
Different Types of Asanas for Exercise
Exercise asanas are also such a large category of asanas, they are typically broken down into several asana type sub-categories.
Types of yoga asanas for exercise include:
- Inverted (asanas that position the body above the head – done on either the hands/upper body or body the hand/upper body and feet)
- Reclining (asanas done lying on the floor – back, front, or side)
- Standing (asanas done on your feet – one foot or two)
- Twisting (asanas that require twisting at the torso)
Within these sub-categories, there are asanas which focus on different things – strength, stretching, etc. – and different ways to perform these asanas – static or dynamic – but almost all physical asanas fall into one of the above variations.
Finally, relaxation asanas are the chillaxing poses you’ve been waiting to get into. (Often literally. These poses provide excellent rest between more challenging physical postures.)
These asanas are typically done reclining or sitting, and while some relaxation asanas do involve a bit of muscle stretching, the idea is that you are releasing those muscles instead of engaging them.
They are softer – more slack – than either meditation or exercise asanas (though some gentler meditation poses do double-service as relaxation asanas), and are designed solely to ease strain on the body.
So, if a popular relaxation asana makes you feel tense or overly engages your muscles, it is not a relaxation asana for you.
How many types of asanas are there in yoga?
The exact number of asanas (poses) thought to be in existence varies, with different practitioners/yogis using different numbers of asanas in their practice.
Older yoga records show 84 different asanas, and that number held for quite some time, indicating 84 was a roughly agreed upon figure at some point in history.
But in more recent decades, famous yogis have created/discovered new and different asanas with slight variations, so more modern figures count asanas in the hundreds.
Those are individual asanas or poses, though.
As far as types, depending on how you categorize, there are somewhere between 3 and 12 different categories of asanas.
Different Types of Yoga Asanas
When it comes to dividing yoga asanas into “type”, we think it best done by intention. (Though, there is some argument for dividing asanas into categories by movement as well, like in our sub-categories of exercise asanas).
This means, there are three main types of yoga asanas – meditation, exercise, and relaxation – with various sub-categories amongst them.