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And now the Limb you’ve all been waiting for for…the actual Yoga Poses! These are called Asanas.
Did you know that there are only THREE sutras dedicated to the physical practice of yoga? Seriously! Only three! And think of the whole booming industry, that has exploded from these three sutras. I’ve noticed that yoga asana practice is typically what brings most practitioners into the world of yoga wellness. It’s such a small part of the circle, but the most easily accessible and integrative into our lives. How WELL do you feel after a yoga practice? Yeah. It’s pretty good. It’s what hooks us.
Asana brings natural comfort and joy during yoga practice and our body becomes steady. What’s great about the physical practice of Yoga is that we link our movements to our breath. This breathing technique is typically slower and helps to calm the body and the mind.
There are 5 main Asana Categories: standing poses, forward bends, backbends, twists, and inversions. I also like to add the small category of side bends, as they have unique qualities of their own. If practicing Yoga at home, it is adventitious to include at least one posture from each category to create a pretty complete session. This stretches the spine completely, challenges your balance and improves circulation.
Yoga can be a complete exercise practice if done vigorously to promote cardiovascular health, or it can be a pretty amazing adjunct to ANY other program. Just as I described previously that yoga can be spiritual supplementation, the asana practice can supplement any physical program with amazing benefits.
The chart below outlines the 6 asana categories, with benefits and situations in which to be cautious with this pose.
Category Benefits Cautions Examples
Forward Bends Enhances digestion, opens hips, hamstrings and low back, surrender, egoless~ness, quiets sympathetic nervous system, promotes exhalation Pregnancy, HTN, disk problems, cardiac problems, glaucoma, acid reflux, HS and hip problems, severe abdominal problems Standing forward bend, seated forward bend, staff pose, pigeon, double pigeon, Child's pose, down dog, dolphin, tortoise, boat
Twisting Massages organs, stretches spine, abdominal disorders, increases lung power, increases circulation, massages vagus nerve, corrects imbalances in the body, adjusts subluxations Severe disk prolapse, herniated disk, caution with pregnancy Seated twist, supine twist, windmill, Warriors I & II
Side Bending Stretches the torso, massage abdominal organs, develops core strength Spinal injuries, rotator cuff involvement Triangle, standing side bend, side angle, 1/2 moon
Back Bending Energizing, improves good breathing habits, lengthens spine. Cardiac patients, vertigo, spinal injuries increased BP, Pregnancy, Hernia
Avoid compression of LB and cervical spine by stretching up and over
Bridge, Wheel, upward facing dog, upward plank, cobra, locust, bow, camel
Standing/Balance Creates physical & mental balance, forces concentration, strengthens muscles Falling Mountain, Tree, Dancer, 1/2 moon, triangle, Warriors I-III, side angle, reversed side angle, chair pose, squat, standing straddle, Eagle, windmill
Inversions allows for heart above the head, improved circulation, focusing, calming energizing Neck injury, heart conditions, glaucoma Plow pose, shoulder stand, head stand, hand stand, legs up the wall pose, down dog, dolphin, crow, child, bridge
I want to be very clear that practicing ONLY the yoga postures, is ok. But what’s good, better or best? You will never get the full benefits of Yoga while ignoring the other limbs of yoga. If your teacher is not integrating the other limbs into your yoga class, I suggest you might want to seek out another teacher to fully explore all that yoga philosophy has to offer.
Asana practice is best used to calm the body in order to prepare for Pranayama, which then prepares your mind for meditations. THIS is where you see the full benefit of a calmer and more peaceful life. Movement is a great thing, but Yoga is SO MUCH MORE.
Exercise: Practice yoga every day for a week. It doesn’t have to be long or even replace a workout. Try just 10 minutes a day. Include all categories described above, ending with inversion and corpse pose. Note how the addition of this practice enhances your life.