The asanas, or yoga poses, are postures aimed at helping us strive towards greater strength, balance and steadiness. We do not practice our asanas as a means of getting better at the postures but a way of getting better at life – both in terms of managing our health of body and mind but also our spirituality. The poses can be meditative, or they help build strength. Here are some of the top asanas for your yoga practice.
Could this be the better way to sit? You squat, with the hope that your heels reach the floor and your seat is as close to the ground as possible. If your heels do not reach the floor, then you can place a folded blanket underneath them. The benefits of malasana are many, including stretching the thighs, groin, hips, and ankles, as well as toning the abdominal muscles. The pose also helps to increase blood flow within the pelvis, which regulates sexual energy.
This is an important part of the sun salutation, which is central to vinyasa flow yoga. It is important to get the posture correct, with the hands beneath the elbows and the toes tucked under. It is also important to do this pose slowly. Many rush the pose, moving on to a back stretch. If done correctly, the pose strengthens the whole body – particularly the arms, shoulders and leg muscles – but it is also excellent for core stability. It acts as an excellent preparation for many other poses. Take time to get the alignment correct to avoid injury and gain the many benefits.
This is an accessible pose for most who practice yoga. The benefits are many. There are the obvious stretches and muscle strengthening properties. It works on the thighs, knees and ankles particularly, but is also a wonderful way to stretch out the shoulders, chest and spine. This is a pose that provides holistic benefits. It improves digestion – but not because of the position but because it helps relive stress and has been a proven therapy for anxiety. As you form the triangle pose you open your heart chakra – which helps promote harmony and a feeling of being revitalised.
Another heart opening pose is the crescent pose – and is another way to open yourself to the giving and receiving of love. This pose is great for stretching the hip flexors and opening of the chest and for stretching the legs and the groin. This pose is great preparation for Warrior Pose 1 – and allows you to feel strong on your feet. This is essential a balance pose and is excellent for flexibility. However, it also helps to strengthen and tone the thighs and bottom cheeks.
Twists are excellent for the digestive system and helping to detoxify your body. So, even though most of us find the chair pose difficult and we sigh with pleasure when it is time to get back in forward fold, it is one of the most effective practices in yoga. This is an important beginner pose for twisting effectively, and so perfecting it will help you when you move to more advanced work.
As well as excellent for the kidney and other digestive organs, this pose increases flexibility through the spine, strengthening the mid and low back. Imagine a time when you can spend 108 seconds in the pose and still feel strong as you to flow forward to your next position.
Any inverted pose is amazing for the brain – as you send blood flowing to the area with its all-important oxygen. It is an important way to relieve stress and the symptoms of mild depression. It stimulates important glands in the body, the pituitary and pineal glands, which calms and revitalises the mind. It is a balance that requires mindfulness, as well as working to strengthening the arms, legs, and spine.
It might feel that you are a long way from successfully moving into the headstand with any sort of grace but remember that the act of trying is improving your approach to life. It is not about comparing yourself with others in the room but instead focusing your mind and body – improving your focus and concentration.
This is a relaxing way to release the spine and open the front body – and a good way to transition from strong asana work into more relaxing and meditative practices. It brings the brain to a state of calm, helping to alleviate stress and depression. It is great for relieving any menstrual or menopausal discomfort and it stimulates the lungs, thyroid and abdominal organs. It is also comfortable – especially if you add a block under the lower back.
Camel pose works best when you can perfect the alignment of the pose – there is possibility that the neck and the lower back might struggle if out of alignment. This means that any work on the camel pose helps to improve posture as you work on your practice. Also, when done properly, the camel pose stretches all the major muscles in the body – as well as stimulating your abdominal organs and lungs.
This forward fold releases the calf and hamstring muscles and is calming on the body’s systems – it can relieve anxiety, fatigue, abdominal discomfort and headaches. It is also a good pose for helping practitioners to see the difference in small changes to the body. If you square the chest or straighten and bend the leg, you feel the impact on the whole body.
Finally, it is time to restore the body and relax. This is a wonderful pose for relaxing for all levels of practitioner. It helps drain the legs and is an excellent posture for those who struggle to sleep. It is a passive pose that uses the wall to do much of the stretching.
The great thing about this pose is that you get many of the benefits of inversion without having to put the effort in. It helps to move stuck fluids and encourage blood to flow to the brain. You know this will always be a popular pose in any asana practice.