Introduction to Asana

List of Āsanas    

 

Āsana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit.

 

                                                                        -- Patanjali, Yoga Sutra 11.46

 

Āsanas have evolved over thousands of years as a methodical approach to accessing the body and are classified systematically. There are hundreds of āsanas, proper sequencing plays an important role in achieving maximum benefits from these āsanas.

 

A well sequenced session allows the practitioner to get in touch with the energetic body at a more cellular level. Some schools of yoga, such as the Ashtānga tradition, have scripted sequences arranged into Vinyāsa, or practice series. Others, such as the Iyengar system, change daily or weekly based on experience and advancement. Sequencing is a complex topic that requires extensive study and experiential self-study in order to understand the effects.

 

BKS Iyengar notes that “The names of the āsanas are significant and illustrate the principle of evolution. Some are named after vegetation, like the tree (vrksa) and the lotus (padma); some are after insects like the locust (salabha)…some after aquatic animals and amphibians, like the fish (matsya,) the tortoise (kūrma,) or the crocodile (nakra.) Āsanas are named after legendary heroes like Vīrabhadra, and sages like Bharadvaja. While performing the āsanas, the yogi’s body assumes many forms…[the] mind is trained not to despise any creature…for throughout the whole gamut of creation, from the lowliest insect to the most perfect sage, there breathes the same Universal Spirit.”

 

Āsanas are generally classified as follows:

 

Standing ĀsanasThese āsanas bring our attention to how we stand and correct the posture of the body. One learns the basic position of standing firmly on the legs and learns how to distribute the weight of the legs when the arms are taken through various movements, without disturbing the position of the legs or shaking the entire body. Important foundational standing postures are:

  • Tadāsana (Mountain Pose)
  • Vrkshāsana (Tree Pose)
  • Utkatāsana (Chair Pose)
  • Utthita Trikonāsana (Extended Triangle Pose)
  • Vīrabhadrāsana II (Warrior II)
  • Utthita Parsvakonāsana (Extended Stretch of the Flank)
  • Vīrabhadrāsana I (Warrior I)
  • Ardha Chandrāsana (Half Moon Pose)
  • Vīrabhadrāsana III (Warrior III)
  • Parivrtta Trikonāsana (Revolved Triangle Pose)
  • Parivrtta Parsvakonāsana (Revolved Extended Flank)
  • Parighāsana (Gateway Pose)
  • Parsvottanāsana (Stretch of the Sides)
  • Prasarita Pādottāsana (Feet Spread Wide Apart Pose)
  • Uttanāsana (Intense Stretch Pose)
  • Pādangusthāsana (Hand to Big Toe Pose)
  • Adho Mukha Svānāsana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

 

Seated ĀsanasIn these poses, one learns mobility and flexibility while sitting on the floor. Important foundational seated postures are:

  • Dandāsana (Staff Pose)
  • Baddha Konāsana (Bound Angle Pose)
  • Upavistha Konāsana (Seated Angle Pose)
  • Svastikāsana (Crossed Legs Pose)
  • Vīrāsana (Hero Pose)
  • Gomukhāsana (Cow’s Face Pose)

 

Forward extension –  Once one knows the correct way of sitting and the proper way to move the knees, forward extensions become easier. Every forward extension is done by creating a concavity of the spine and softly rotating the abdominals. There is an extension in the abdomen rather than contraction.  Important foundational forward extensions are:

  • Paschimottanāsana (Extension of the Back Pose)
  • Jānu Sīrśāsana (Head of the Knee Pose)
  • Trianga Mukhaikapāda Paschimottanāsana (Three Limb, Face to One Leg, Stretch of the Back Pose
  • Upavistha Konāsana – Adho Mukha variation (Downward Facing Seated Angle Pose)

 

Lateral extension – Twisting actions of the spine.  Important foundational lateral extensions are:

  • Bharadvajāsana I and II (Sage Bharadvaj Pose) and variations
  • Marichyāsana 1 (Sage Marichi Pose)

 

Inversions – The standing poses, seated, and lateral extensions prepare the body to learn inversions. These preparations are important so that the spine and organic body can lift without tension on the neck muscles or nerves. One must always learn Halāsana (Plough) and Sālamba Sarvāngāsana (Shoulder-stand) before learning Sālamba Sirśāsana (Head-stand.) Important foundational inversions are:

  • Halāsana (Plough Pose)
  • Sālamba Sarvāngāsana (Shoulder-stand)
  • Sālamba Sirśāsana (Head-stand)

 

Abdominals – Abdominal work has to be done with the preparation of standing poses and inversions, as the inversions protect the abdominal organs from adverse effects caused by faulty practice. Any faulty action can be counterbalanced with inversions, which is why is it beneficial to learn the inversions before abdominal poses. Important foundational abdominal poses are:

  • Urdhva Prasarita Pādāsana (Upward Extended Feet Pose)
  • Paripūrna Navāsana (Full Boat Pose)
  • Supta Pādangusthāsana (Reclining Hand to Toe Pose)

 

Backward extensions – These postures increase flexibility of the spine and firm the spinal muscles.  Important foundational backward extensions are:

  • Chaturanga Dandāsana (Four Limbed Staff Pose)
  • Urdhva Mukha Svānāsana ( Upward Facing Dog Pose)
  • Dhanurāsana (Bow Pose)
  • Salabhāsana (Locust Pose)
  • Ustrāsana (Camel Pose)

 

Sun salutations (Sūrya Namaskār) – A continuous cycle of approximately 10 – 15 linked postures. The sun salutation is a part of a daily prayer to the sun. Usually, it is repeated twelve times reciting the twelve names of the Sun God.

 

Restorative (supine) – These postures are meant to rest the organic body. Each organ is as though separated from the other in order to oxygenate and rest. For the best benefits, each pose should be held for five to ten minutes. For these postures, one needs to have blankets or bolsters for body support. Foundational supine poses are:

  • Supta Vīrāsana (Reclining Hero Pose)
  • Supta Baddha Konāsana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
  • Setubandha Sarvāngāsana (Bridge Pose – supported)
  • Śavāsana (Corpse Pose)

 

Overall, a practice with integrity is better than one filled with poses done haphazardly and without thought. To begin, it is most important to practice with a steady and firm mind.

 

 

References

  1. Geeta Iyengar, Yoga In Action: Preliminary Course, (Mumbai, India: YOG, 2000)
  2. B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga (New York, NY: Schoken Books, 1966)
  3. Georg Feuerstein, The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, (Boston, MA: Shambala Publications, 2003)
  4. H. David Coulter, Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, Honesdale, PA:  Body and Breath, Inc,  2001)

 

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