Today’s focus is yoga asanas, or postures. The literal meaning of the sanskrit word is “sitting” or “to sit down,” and is originally of India. Within yogic philosophy, it can mean a couple different things. Generally, asanas refer to the place where a yogi or yogini sit and practice. In Yoga Sutras, however, the definition is expanded to mean a place where the mind rests.
As a practice, yoga can play many roles. It is an anatomically-precise exercise regime, a therapy, a way to harness and explore energy (access the chakra channels and psychic centers of the body), a form of meditation, and a breathing exercise (or pranayama).
Below are common asanas. These descriptions explain what the poses are but not how to do them. Here, you can become familiar with the sanskrit and their rough translations, or common English names. You will notice most end it “asana,” being that they are all postures. Yet others have similar root words. You can assume that poses are related in some way.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose): This pose is found in all hatha yoga classes. It’s easy to master and modify for personal comfort and optimum stretching.
Agnistambhasana (Fire Log Pose): A seated, chest-opening position that offers a comfortable seat but requires energy and focus. This is an appropriate pose for basic learners.
Astangasana (Eight-Limbed Pose): Called so because 8 points on the body touch the ground at one time. It is not a terribly advanced pose, but it does demand some awareness of the body as a whole. The mind must be focused and body steady.
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose): This seated, heels to pelvis pose is both grounding and opening.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Lord and Half Fishes Pose): Is a seated twisting pose. Every limb is active, and breath is meant to be slow and deep while twisting deeper into the pose.
Bakasana (Crane Pose): A balancing pose that is often attempted but not mastered at the beginners level. It involves a sequence of postures that culminate in the final Crane Pose.
Balasana (Child’s Pose): This pose is commonly used for deep relaxation. It is often a substitute pose for those suffering from injuries and are unable to maintain other, more challenging poses.
Bhadrasana (Butterfly Pose): A seated pose in which the heels of the feet are brought together close to the pelvis. It is a comfortable position that can be made more challenging by placing the feet closer to the body. Posture is also key here.
Catuspadapitham (Crab or Table-Top Pose): Is a backbending pose that benefits the shoulders, chest and upper thigh. Support can be offered by a teacher using hands or a yoga strap as this can be a challenging pose for some students.
Dandayamana-Dhanurasana (Standing Bow Pose):This is a very common pose in Bikram Yoga classrooms. This is an advanced pose that focuses on strength and control.
Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose): This deep stretch pose focuses on the flexibility of the chest and shoulders.
Malasana (Garland Pose): Is a very versatile and beneficial squatting pose. The legs and joints are strengthened, and the groin is stretched. It also improves posture.
Mandukasana (Frog Pose): Is a deep thigh and groin stretching exercise that involves squatting on all-fours with arms similar to those in dolphin pose.
Mandalasana (Mandala or Wheel Pose): This is a common pose in a vinyasa yoga class, but is considered more appropriate for those students practicing at a more advanced level. It involves head-standing, bending, twisting and moving in a motion that resembles a wheel (clock motion).
Marjariasana (Cat Pose): This is an all-fours on the mat pose that is great for beginners, pregnant women, and children. This exercise is good for relieving tension in the lower back.
Mayurasana (Peacock Pose): A fairly advanced balancing and strengthening pose that uses core and shoulder/back muscles. It resembles a push-up in the “down” position with feet suspended in the air.
Padmasana (Lotus Pose): Is a sitting pose that requires some flexibility. The heels are meant to rest on opposing thighs. Therefore, the sitter looks like a lotus. Thus, its name.
Parighasana (Gate Pose): A deep side-bending exercise. It stretches the ribs, chest, hip and shoulder one side at a time.
Pincha Mayurasana (Feathered Peacock Pose): An advanced inverted pose performed on the forearms. This is typical of a posture you would find in an ashtanga yoga class.
Shavasana (Corpse Pose): A supine pose that encourages deep relaxation. It is often performed following a yoga practice and can be accompanied by meditation.
Siddhasana (Accomplished Pose): Is a seated position primarily used for meditation. This asana can be held for a prolonged or extended period.
Sukhasana (Easy Pose): This pose is great for meditation. A practitioner can sit on a folded blanket or bolster to prop up the seat. The legs are folded, and arms lie gently on the knee. Mudras, or gestures, can be performed with the hands.
Ustrasana (Camel Pose):This is a backward bend. The chest is energetically stretched up toward the ceiling. This is an advanced pose that has caused some beginners to feel unwell – lightheaded.
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose): This pose requires firm placement of the feet and balance. Attention must be paid to any pain or strain. Working through the pain can cause injury. Extended Side Angle Pose is often found in beginner classes.
A note on breath techniques, or pranayama:
Breathing can be a great way to both reduce stress and purify the body (ujjiayi, or “ocean breath” and dirga “three part breath” are two of many exercises to relax). We all live busy lives, but health is so important.
Developing a yoga practice that works for you is the best. It is one of the ways to practice ahimsa, an important tenet of many Eastern religions: non-violence and respect for life. Hopefully through yoga practice, bliss and tranquility can be reached (shanti). Everyone needs to find peace within themselves so that they may share this wisdom with others. Let yoga be your guide on your journey to self-discovery. It has been the obsession of mankind for thousands of years, and with good reason. Knowing the self and improving the self means happiness. Yoga is a holistic system that does not rely on medications, constant consulting of a doctor, or extreme methods. It is natural and beautiful, and can be tailored to the sexes (men’s and women’s health). And perhaps, just maybe, it will help you attain bliss, or “ananda.”