Sit down! Just sit down and hold still! Sounds simple, but it’s not so easy when you have a mind filled with thoughts moving this way and that. The Sanskrit word asana is most commonly known as the name for the yogic practice of assuming various physical contortions, but it actually means “seat.” By taking a seat, you establish a connection to the Earth. So asana, or the establishment of the seat, means the practice of connecting to the Earth. By Earth we mean all things, all manifestations of reality. Earth not only means the ground we walk on, the air we breathe, or the water we drink, but also all the beings-animals, plants, and minerals-that we come into contact with daily. Through asana practice we consciously connect to a touchable, tangible, sense-able level of reality.
According to Patanjali, the seat that you establish should be steady and joyful, in body as well as mind. The word asana, therefore, also describes the goal of this yoga practice, which is to consciously relate to all beings with steadiness and joy
sthira sukham asanam (Y.S.II:46)
Sthira: steady, stable
Sukham: easy, joyful, comfortable
Asanam: seat, connection to the earth
Interestingly, the Egyptian hieroglyph for Isis, the Divine Mother Goddess, looks like a chair. Her hieroglyph looks like a seat and its phonetic sound is st, like the Sanskrit sound sthit, which represents stability (the English word “steady?” is related). To the ancient Egyptians the Goddess Isis was the divine personification of the perfection that comes through the ability to connect perfectly. It was Isis, after all, who, through the power of her love, reintegrated the dismembered body of her brother/husband, Osiris. She knew how to put it all back together because she held the key that connects: love.
The Goddess loves those who help themselves and are not greedy. Selflessness is the key to living right and being happy in the world. It is the key to successful asana practice. It is the way of the jivanmukta, the liberated being. A yogi can walk in peace upon the earth, giving back more than he or she takes.
Excerpt from Chapter 7, Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon and David Life