Sadhguru says: “Among the yogasanas, there are 84 basic asanas through which one can elevate his consciousness. When we say 84 asanas, do not think of them as just 84 postures. These are 84 systems, 84 ways of attaining. Out of this, if you have mastery over even a single yogasana, everything that is worth knowing in the existence can be known.”
What are these 84 asanas Sadhguru is speaking of? Where did they come from? Is there a legend about their origin? Is there reference to these 84 asanas in Yogic literature? This article is an attempt to answer these questions and give pointers for further research into this subject.
Sage Patanjali, the author of Yoga Sutras, was contemporary of Buddha (6th century BC). His system of yoga was influenced by the Buddhist philosophy of yama and niyama. In his Yoga Sutras, he divided raja yoga into eight steps: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Sage Patanjali’s contention is that you have to first perfect yama and niyama, otherwise asana and pranayama may fail to give desirable results.
In the Mahayana i.e., the great path, Buddhist tradition, tantra was included even though it was not directly taught by Buddha. Broadly speaking, tantra is the practice of mantras, yoga, meditation and rituals of tantra.
After 500 or years later when the popularity and influence of Buddhism declined and along with it the tantric sects and it’s practices, some great yogis set out to purify the tantric system. Chief among them were Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath. They separated hatha yoga and raja yoga practices of tantra from the rest and left out the rituals of tantra altogether, not even mentioning them.
Gorakhnath was chief of Matsyendranath’s disciples. There’s a story that when Gorakhnath asked for a system of yoga to teach his disciples, Matsyendranath called 84 siddhas (people who had achieved siddhis, pyschic powers) and asked each one to give a asana, and this is how the 84 asanas came about. As Gorakhnath and his disciples started teaching these asanas, some variations were added and the list grew to 92-97.
These 84 asanas are mentioned in two of the four reliable texts in yogic literature:
In Goraksha Satarka, Yogi Goraknath says “Every one of the 840,000 asanas has been told by Shiva. Of these, eighty-four postures have been selected . Amongst all these, two have been selected.” (v. 9,10)
In Hatharatnavali, Srinivasabhatta Mahayogindra says “The Almighty Shambhu has described eighty-four asanas, taking examples from each of the 840,000 kinds of creatures.” (3:6) and lists the names of the eighty-four asanas. These are siddha, bhadra, vajra, simha, shilpasimha, bandhakara, samputita, shuddha, (four varieties of padma), danda parsva, sahaja, bandha, pinda, mayura, ekapadamayura, (six varieties of mayurasana), bhairava, kamadhana, panipatra, karmuka, swastika, gomukha, veera, manduka, martaka, matsyendra, parshva matsyendra, bandha matsyendra, niralambana, chandra, kanthva, ekapadaka, phanindra paschimatana, shayita paschimatana, vichitrakarani, yoga mudra, vidhunana, padapindana, hamsa, nabhitala, akasha, utpadatala, nabhilasitapadaka, vrischika, chakra, utphalaka, uttanakoorma, koorma, baddha koorma, kabandha, goraksha, angustha, mustika, brahmaprasadita, panchachuli, kukkuta, ekapadaka kukkuta, akarita, bandha chuli, parshva kukkuta, ardhanarisvara, baka, chandrakanta, sudhasara, vyaghra, raja, indrani, sharabha, ratna, chitrapitha, baddhapaksisvara, vichitra, nalina, kanta, sudhapakshi, sumandaka, chaurangi, krauncha, dridha, khaga, brahma, nagapitha and shavasana.
As Hatharatnavali was written by a yogi from South India, names of some of the asanas may vary from the names given in texts that were written in the north.
For further understanding of this topic, here are couple of questions to think about: These asanas are meant to be practiced in a sequence, what is that sequence, and what is the prana movement associated with each asana. We could start looking for answers in Hatharatnavali (source of the above mentioned list) & Gheranda Samhita which describes the most number of asanas (thirty-two).