While many people practice yoga for the physical benefits, there are other types of benefits; for example, the spiritual meaning of yoga postures can help yogis develop oneness inside themselves, as well as unity with the exterior world. In yoga, the natural world is especially important, which can be seen in many of the Sanskrit and English names for yoga poses that are taken from animals and other entities one finds in nature.
Oneness in Yoga
Yoga is considered by many to be a holistic art; one that does not focus only on the spiritual, the physical, or the mental, but focuses on all of them--hopefully in equal measure. The holistic effect of yoga is attained when pracitioners not only become physically stronger and more flexible, but also become mentally stronger and more flexible. Seasoned yogis even sleep better, on average, than people who do not practice yoga. One of the ways that yoga works holistically is through the names of yoga asanas that refer to concrete things in the world. When practicing Tree Pose, for example, you should, for a moment, become a tree. This oneness contributes to the overall effects of a well-rounded yoga practice.
Spiritual Meaning of Yoga Postures
Many yoga postures are named after things found in nature. Animal-named poses range from cobra to cat, including animals of several different families. The names help yoga practitioners delve deeply into the pose.
Downward Facing Dog Pose
Downward-Facing Dog Pose may sound funny at first, but after you've watched a dog wake up and go into a deep stretch, the name of the pose takes on new meaning. The spiritual implication behind the pose lies in the act of a combined stretch with a moment in which the yogi turns inward. Simultaneously connecting to your center while stretching your body into a long line has a unifying effect positioning your spirit within while you stay connected to the outside world.
The essence of Tree Pose is to find balance. However, balance is not found in this pose in a rigid manner, such as one might associate with a balanced ballet position. In Tree Pose, your body may sway, like a tree does in the wind, but your foot stays rooted into the ground. This freedom for your body to move and find its balance while you envision being rooted in the ground develops your spiritual acceptance of your body's position in space.
The lotus flower is a symbol of purity, and the Lotus Pose is a frequent pose for meditation and pranayama, or breathing exercises. Breath is the purifying power in the human body; deep, slow breathing purifies and energizes our bodies. This spiritual meaning of the lotus flower is transferred into yoga asana practice in the form of the seated meditation posture.
The Accomplished Pose
Often referred to with its Sanskrit name, Siddhasana, this seated meditation posture represents ultimate spiritual and mental peace. This pose, along with Lotus Pose, is often used for breathing exercises and for meditation, and modified by placing a towel or blanket under one's bottom. When you can hold this pose comfortably for longer periods of time (sufficient for meditation and pranayama), you can remove the support. Don't let yourself get discouraged by this pose! The idea is to be serene, not create mental havoc. A good yoga practice is one that allows practitioners to be at peace. The spiritual accomplishment is mental clarity, not getting the pose perfect.
In order to maximize the spiritual meaning of yoga postures, diversify your yoga practice. If you are only doing meditation, work in some asanas and pranayama as well. For the many yogis doing asanas only, work in some other elements of yoga, and if you're up for a culinary change, try out a yoga diet as well. All in all, the spiritual development of yoga is best attained through a diverse yoga lifestyle that recognizes the spiritual side in everything, from deep breathing to Downward-Facing Dog.