The Tradition of 84 Asanas
The Ghosh lineage has a tradition of a system of 84 asanas (postures). Both Bose’s (1938) and Mukerji’s (1963) books contain 84 postures. Bikram Choudhury’s “Advanced Class” is sometimes referred to as the “84 Asanas” even though it is more than 84 postures (it comes from a list of 91). Tony Sanchez teaches a sequence of approximately 104 postures but often refers to the 84 postures in the tradition.
84 is a sacred number in many spiritual traditions, representing a harmonious relationship between the individual and the universe. This harmonious relationship is also fundamental to the practice of yoga, so it is no wonder that yogis incorporate the number into their systems. The idea of 84 asanas is an ancient one, though most traditions actually teach more than that.
The Goraksasataka, a text from around the 13th century, states that there are as many Asanas as there are species of creatures, that Shiva has enumerated 84 asanas, and that out of all the asanas, only two are particularly distinguished. (GS 5-7) It goes on to describe Siddhasana and Kamalasana (another name for Padmasana or Lotus posture).
The Shiva Samhita, from about the 15th century, says that “there are eighty-four asanas of various kinds which I have taught. Out of these I shall take four and describe them.” (SS 3:96)
The Hatha Pradipika, popularly known as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, from about the 15th century, agrees with the Shiva Samhita. It says “Eighty-four asanas were taught by Shiva. Out of those I shall now describe the four important ones.” (1:33)
The Gheranda Samhita, from about the 17th century, says, “All together there are as many asanas as there are species of living beings. Shiva has taught 8,400,000. Of these, eighty-four are preeminent, of which thirty-two are useful in the world of mortals.” (2:1-2) The text goes on to describe those 32 asanas, by far the most in any old yoga text.
As history has progressed and the practices of yoga have gotten more physical, the number of asanas that are actually instructed and practiced has increased. Today there are hundreds of asanas practiced in any given tradition, including Ghosh. But the symbolic power of the number 84 stays the same. In short, the idea of 84 asanas is a historic, sacred and symbolic one, not necessarily a practical representation of a tradition of actually 84 postures.
Excerpted from the upcoming Ghosh Yoga Practice Manual, Advanced 1
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga