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Is there a yoga asana tradition?

Over a period of400 years – from 1400 to 1800 – we can only recover very few treatises on hatha-yoga and asanas, according to Buhnemann, who researched the history of asana. The early hatha-yoga texts taught very few and mainly meditative-style sitting-poses: Goraksa-sakata (2 meditation asanas), Hatha Yoga Pradipika (16 asanas), Shiva-samhita (4 asanas – although it postulated that endless numbers did exist). It is firstly when we look deeply into the era of the Mughal Empire that the number of asanas instructed increased and secondly that some of them started to look like the strenuous asanas known and practised today.

Examples of these texts were the late 17 century Hatha-ratnavali (instructing 36 asanas, but mentioning 84), the 17-18 century Gheranda-samhita (33 asanas – some advanced) and the Joga-pradipika (84 asanas – many advanced) from 1737. So, during the era of the Mughal Empire, it seems that asanas slightly increased in numbers and complexities. But asanas continued to have a minor overall function and without any of today’s primacy and complexity. There were no signs of the standing poses and sun-salutations which dominate modern practice.

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