There is a somewhat large movement in the modern Yoga community that refutes the claim that asanas are millennium old postures, but rather made up in the last 100 years from Indian gymnastics schools. The movement often refers to yoga that comes from the Krishnamacharya lineage as “modern postural yoga.”
I for one wasn’t around a few millennium ago, and if I were, I could not recall my incarnation at the time. So now I am stuck in this life trying to ponder these questions. However, some asanas give certain clues to how “old” they are. It seems as though if a name of an asana is named after a sage, or a diety, it tends to be much older than poses like “wild thing.”
One of my odd hobbies to to read about different Hindu temples throughout the world on the internet. I suppose it is the next best thing to doing it traditionally by foot. I came across a temple dedicated to Veerabhadra Swamy, or a henchman of Shiva. This is the same figure for whom the Virabhadrasana (Warrior) poses are named after. Much like depictions of Kali, he is a terrifying figure with a necklace of severed heads from his conquests. TemplePurohit, an informational website about Hindu temples, describes him as an incarnation of Shiva, having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet; wielding a thousand clubs; and wearing a tiger’s skin.
There are scores of temples that are dedicated to, or depict Veerabhadra, including Lepakshi temple in Andhra Pradesh that dates back to the 1300s. Slightly older that 100 years as MPY theorists would have you thinking. And you have to consider that these were built to worship Veerabhadra, who as a concept would be thousands of years older.
Before jumping to conclusions that Veerabhadra was a wrathful being, we have to explore the symbolism of this figure. The enemy he is fighting isn’t some innocent victim, it represents the prideful ego which creates maya, or illusion of an inflates self that causes endless suffering in our lives. By lopping off the head of the ego, this is not an act that violates ahimsa (non-harming) in the same way that killing cancer cells is not a violent act as it saves the body from a much worse fate. And like Shiva, who is depicted as the “destroyer,” Veerabhadra goes along the same line of thought of the impermanence and eventual destruction of all things.
Just as the figure of Veerabhadra is fierce, the standing postures Virabhadrasana I, II, and III are fierce as well. Of the standing poses they often require the most energy. Holding any of these three poses for more that 30 seconds is quite a feat. Any longer than that and your ego might just get lopped off too!