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Yogasana, pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable, is a term for the various postures that comprise the core of a yoga workout. Different systems of yoga training require different postures. In all systems of yoga, though, the postures are only one aspect of the overall workout, because yoga encompasses more than just the physical aspects of an athlete's health.
The term yogasana consists of two Sanskrit words: yoga and asana. The translation of these terms into English can be difficult, but yoga is an ancient body of knowledge consisting of six branches that collectively cover aspects of the physical body, spirituality, morality and even social relations. The term asana translates to "posture" or "pose." Yogasana, then, is the term for the postures that comprise the branch of yoga that focuses on the physical body. This branch is called hatha yoga.
It is important to realize, though, that there is more to hatha yoga than just the postures. Maintaining proper breathing and meditation practices also are crucial to most forms of yoga. Some styles of yoga, such as ashtanga yoga, also place an emphasis on the motions that connect the various postures. Yogasana, then, is only one particular part of hatha yoga, which, in turn, is only one of the six branches of yoga.
Nevertheless, yogasana is, for many athletes, the aspect of yoga that receives the greatest amount of focus, because it is the postures that most directly provide the physical benefits of hatha yoga practice. The wide array of different yogasanas ensures that an athlete can derive several benefits from the practice of yoga.
The benefit of yogasanas that often gets the most attention from athlete is the increase in flexibility. Many yogasanas require the practitioner to bend the body in very unusual ways. This causes the muscles and the tendons to stretch at a variety of angles and, with extended practice, this can lead to substantial benefits to the practitioner's overall flexibility.
The benefits of yogasana, though, extend beyond the benefits to an athlete's flexibility. Many yoga postures require an athlete to hold difficult positions that require the practitioner to work against gravity, against the natural bend of the body or both. These elements of resistance provide a muscular workout that can increase overall strength as well as muscle endurance.
Yogasana also provides cardiovascular benefits. Its regulated breathing while dealing with physical strain causes the body's respiratory system to become more efficient. This, in turn, leads to an improvement in cardiovascular health.