Asanas or Postures
January 17th, 2011

Asanas

Asanas are the physical movements of yoga practice combined with breathing techniques.  Yoga teaches that each posture reflects a mental attitude, whether that attitude is one of surrender, as in a forward bending poses, the strengthening of the will through backward bending poses, or the creation of a physical prayer or meditation with the body, as in the practice of the lotus pose.  Yogis believe that mastering control of our bodies is the first step toward relieving the suffering that comes from attachment.

Asanas are also based on a sound knowledge of human anatomy and physiology. Placing your body in certain positions stimulates specific nerves and rejuvenates specific organs and glands as well as the spine.  The asanas are based on five principles.

  1. The use of gravity –  In inverted postures such as the headstand, shoulder stand and the reverse posture, gravity increases the flow of blood to the desired part of the body: in the headstand, to the brain and in the shoulder stand, to the thyroid gland.
  2. Organ massage – The position of the asana causes a squeezing action on a specific organ or gland, stimulating that part of the body.
  3. Stretching muscles and ligaments – This causes an increase in blood supply to the muscles and ligaments as well as relaxing them. Stretching also takes pressure off nerves in the area.  This stretching is involved in all the asanas, since it has such a beneficial effect on the body.
  4. Deep breathing – While holding yoga postures we breathe slowly and deeply into our abdomen, increasing the oxygen and prana supply to the target organ or gland, enhancing the effect of the asana.
  5. Concentration – Along with breathing slowly and deeply, we also focus on the target organ or gland. This engages the mind and increases the circulation and prana supply to the organ or gland.  This concentration has the second benefit of increasing your general powers of concentration through regular practice. This benefits every aspect of your life as your mind becomes less easily distracted and swayed by external events.  When you experience this calm, you will find that you are able to solve day-to-day problems better and have more success in your activities. 

There are over eight million asanas, according to the scriptures; the practice of the following twelve basic postures will bring out the essence and the major benefits of this wonderful system.  Click on the links for an explanation and photo of the pose:

  1. Headstand
  2. Shoulder Stand
  3. Plow
  4. Fish
  5. Paschimottanasana (West Stretch)
  6. Cobra
  7. Locust
  8. Bow
  9. Spinal Twist
  10. Crow
  11. Standing forward fold
  12. Triangle

When you are practicing asanas, have a fairly empty stomach.  You should not force a pose in keeping with ahimsa – do no harm.  If it hurts, it's not yoga.  Your breathing should be controlled.  Come out of a pose if you experience any distress and rest in mountain pose, lotus pose, child’s pose or corpse.  The final relaxation pose, Savasana, is a meditative state; try to stay aware and not sleep.

Asana (Postures)

Salamba Sirsasana

headstnd.gif

Known as the "King of Asanas" because of its many benefits, the headstand is the first of the 12 basic asanas and is considered by many to be a panacea for countless human ills.  In this pose, you balance on your elbows, arms, and head.

Sitting and standing for most of the day causes your circulation to become sluggish, so your heart has to work harder to pump sufficient blood to the upper parts of your body. Normally, your heart works against gravity; inverting your entire body lessens the strain on your heart, and allows a plentiful supply of oxygen-rich blood to reach your head and brain.

This pose is not an advanced asana; even so, to begin with you may wish just to undertake the child's Pose and the Dolphin, progressing to the full Headstand later.

Objective: To relax and invigorate your entire body.

 

  Salamba Sarvangasana

yoga_shoulder_stand.jpgThe shoulderstand is one of the 12 basic asanas.  It is an inverted pose, with your body resting on your shoulders.  This Asana strengthens your entire body; it gives many of the benefits of the Headstand, but here the circulation is directed to your thyroid gland instead of the head.

Objective: To stretch your cervical and thoracic regions.

Step 1 - Before beginning the Shoulderstand, make sure that there is enough room behind you. You must be able to stretch your arms out behind your head and have at least a foot between your fingertips and any obstructions. Lie flat on your back, with your feet together. Inhale while bringing your legs up to a right angle.

Step 2 - Tuck your hands under your buttocks, with your fingers pointing toward your spine. Then, as you exhale, gently raise your body by letting your hands walk down your back and push you into position.

Step 3 - Continue to move your hands up your back until you rest on your shoulders. Breathe normally, and keep your legs straight. Hold for 30 seconds; as the pose becomes easier, increase the time to 3 minutes. To come down, drop your feet halfway to the floor behind your head. Put your hands on the floor. Unroll your body vertebra by vertebra to the floor. Hand position: Put your hands on the small of your back, with your fingers toward your spine.

Halasana

PlowPose.jpg


  The plow pose is one of the 12 basic asanas.  

  Objective: To stretch your entire spine, particularly your cervical vertebrae and shoulders

  Step 1 -  Come up into a Shoulder stand, and inhale deeply. Exhale while lowering your feet to the floor behind your head.

Step 2 - Rest your toes on the floor, then lay your arms down flat. Hold for 30 seconds at first, but aim to build up to 2 minutes. If you can't lower your feet all the way, keep your hands on your back for support. To come out, lift your feet off the floor, and slowly roll down. Relax in the Corpse.

A variation is to lower your knees to the floor by your ears. Hook your arms over your legs. To come out, straighten your knees, then roll down as described above.

 

The Cobra              

Cobra pose is one of the 12 basic asanas in which you coil your upper body up and back

Step 1 - Lie on your front. When you are fully relaxed, begin to come into the cobra. Still lying on your front, place your hands flat on the floor so that they are beside the upper ribs. Engage the upper back muscles to squeeze your shoulder blades together. 

Step 2 - Contract the erector spinae and use your arms to assist you; inhale as you begin to slowly lift your shoulders and chest off the floor.  Think of your shoulder blades pressing through your body. Be sure not to overextend the lower back.  Lift the head, keeping the neck aligned with the spine. Finally, lower your shoulders away from your ears.

Step 3 - Hold the pose while you continue to breathe. 

Step 4 - Slowly lower your self down, resting your chin or forehead on the floor.  You may want to repeat it two more times.

 

Uttanasana

The standing forward fold is one of the 12 basic asanas.  Objective: To stretch your spine forward.

The Forward Bend looks simple, and it is - provided you relax into the pose, rather than forcing yourself into it. The pose is one of the most powerful and important Asanas, helping to ease the spinal compression caused by standing upright and contributes greatly to keeping your back supple, your joints mobile, your nervous system invigorated, and your internal organs toned.

Inhale, bringing both arms up by your ears. Stretch your spine up. Exhale as you begin to lean forward, leading with your chest and hinging at the hips. Lower as far as you can, using a block for support or helping to support yourself on your shins if necessary.  You may slightly bend your knees to relieve the feeling of resistence in the back of your legs especially with the first forward fold of your practice.  Exhale into the pose; feel your body stretch. Continue breathing as you hold the pose. 

Inhale as you come up, either rolling up one vertebrae at a time or taking the arms wide coming up with a flat back, leadng with your chest. 

 

 

Trikonasana

The triangle pose is one of the 12 basic asanas.  It is a lateral stretch for your trunk muscles and spine and makes your hips, legs and shoulders more flexible. 

Step 1: Stand up straight, facing sideways on your mat.  Open your feet to a fairly wide stance, with your arms outstretched.  Turn one foot to face the front.

Step 2:  Begin to move the back hip toward the back of the room; at the same time reach the front hand and arm as far forward as possible. 

Step 3:  When there is no more forward motion, lower the front hand.  Be content to let the hand rest on your leg, ankle or floor or use a block.  The back arm will reach toward the sky. Tuck the front or bottom hip under and roll the top hip up and back, opening up the front body.  You may be able to gaze the raised hand. 

Breathe as you hold the pose.

To come out of the pose, press firmly into the little toe side of your back foot; engage all the leg muscles, and firm your core.  Imagine that your top arm is going to pull you up and inhale as rise back to the starting position. 

Repeat the pose on the other side.

 

Ardha Matsyendrasana - Half Lord of the Fishes

The spinal twist is one of the few basic yoga Poses that rotates the spine. Most bend the spinal column either backward or forward, but to become truly flexible it must be twisted laterally as well in order to retain its mobility.  This ability to twist is often the first type of flexibility to be lost.  During Spiral Twists your vertebrae are mobilized; the exercises also allow more nourishment to reach the roots of the spinal nerves and the sympathetic nervous system.

Objective: To maintain sideways mobility in your spine

Begin in Dandasana - Staff pose. Bend your right leg placing the right foot inside or outside your left knee.  Place your left arm around the right knee. Keeping your right arm straight, put your right hand flat on the floorat your tailbone, using the leverage to lengthen the spine. 

As you exhale, draw the abdomen in and begin to turn your torso to the right.  Use each inhalation to add more space in the spine, and each exhalation allows for a deeper twist

Maintain alignment of the certical spine with the torso.

A deeper expression of this pose is to take the bent left arm to the outside of the right thigh.  You may bend your left leg, bringing the left foot close to the right hip if you are able to keep your left sitting bone on the ground.

 

 

Matsyasana

The fish pose is one of the 12 basic asanas in which you lie on your back and arch your chest.

The fish is the stretch that counters the Plow pose. The Asana does wonders for your respiratory systems; when you assume this position, your chest is stretched open and your bronchial tubes are widened to promote easier breathing. In time your ribcage will expand, and this will also encourage you to breathe more deeply. By lifting your chest and tucking your arms underneath your body, you will combat postural defects such as rounded shoulders and the cervical region of your spine, thus releasing pressure on your nerves.

Objective: To ease tension and improve spinal flexibility.             

 

Step 1 - Lie on your back with your legs outstretched and feet together.  Place your arms by your sides, palms down. 

Step 2 - tuck your shoulders and arms underneath your body, one at a time.

Step 3.  Using your hands and lower arms for assistance, imagine that the shoulder blades are pressing into your chest; inhale as you arch the spine, tilting your head so that your crown rests on the floor.  Continue to breathe and stay in the pose for up to 30 seconds.

To come out of the pose, engage your neck muscles to begin tucking the chin toward the chest, releaving the pressure on the top of your head.  Lower your back to the floor and roll your shoulders and arms out from under your body. 

 

Bakasana

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I teach to others what I have found to work best for myself.  My teaching style consists primarily of movements linked to breath...

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