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Exploring the Classical Asanas

Patricia Brooks

Yoga asana is one of the eight limbs of classical yoga, which emphasizes that the postures should serve as a way to deepen the connection between body and mind. These asanas dance on the line between effort and ease and focus on addressing internal health matters. Therein lies the main difference between classical yoga and modern yoga – The former aims to maintain health by enhancing the function of the organs while the latter centers on developing muscle and flexibility. The twelve postures outlined below are rich in history and valuable for realizing optimal health and well-being. These miraculous poses span far beyond just stretching and strengthening – They work to open the various energy channels within the body while improving spinal flexibility and stimulating the circulatory and immune systems. Along with mindful breathing practices, or pranayama, classical yoga asanas also reduce stress and induce a state of serenity.

Sirsasana

Common Name: Headstand Pose

Sirsasana
Sirsasana

Benefits:

Reduces stress

Improves focus

Increases blood flow to the head and scalp

Improves digestion

Strengthens arms and shoulders

Activates core stabilizing muscles

Stimulates the lymphatic system

Instructions:

Start on your knees with fingers interlaced, palms open, and forearms down.

Keep your elbows at shoulder-width as you place the top of your head on the yoga mat between your hands.

Straighten the legs and slowly tiptoe the feet closer to your head until the hips are over the shoulders.

Press into the forearms and use your core to lift the feet from the ground.

Bend the knees if necessary, otherwise, straighten the legs towards the ceiling.

Engage the core and hold for thirty seconds or longer.

To come out of the pose, bend the knees first, then hinge at the waist, and slowly lower down.

Sarvangasana

Common Name: Shoulderstand Pose

Sarvangasana
Sarvangasana

Benefits:

Good for heart health

Prevents thyroid problems

Soothes headaches

Treats insomnia

Heals hypertension

Relieves stomach ulcers

Soothes constipation

Beneficial for asthma

Brings energy

Instructions:

Using two blankets, come into Plow Pose with your back and shoulders supported by the blankets and your head resting on the floor.

Bend your elbows and draw your hands onto your lower back with fingertips facing upward.

Raise your feet toward the ceiling.

Extend up through the balls of the feet and avoid moving the neck side to side.

Straighten the body by moving your hips forward and your feet backward.

Breathe here for one to three minutes.

Exit the posture by bringing the feet back overhead and come through Plow Pose.

Slowly roll down to the mat.

Halasana

Common Name: Plow Pose

Halasana
Halasana

Benefits:

Relieves menopause symptoms

Calms the nervous system

Stimulates the thyroid gland

Massages abdominal organs

Stretches the shoulders and spine

Therapeutic for backaches, headaches, infertility sinusitis, and insomnia

Instructions:

Lie flat on your back with arms by your sides and palms facing down.

Bring your palms to support your back and inhale to lift your legs and hips up towards the ceiling, bringing your torso perpendicular to the floor.

With hips over shoulders, straighten your legs and lower your toes to touch the floor.

Continue to support your back with your hands if the toes don’t reach the floor.

If the feet are resting on the floor, extend the arms and interlace your fingers.

Hold the pose for one to three minutes.

To release, use your hands to support your back as you slowly roll down.

Matsyasana

Matsyasana
Matsyasana

Common Name: Fish Pose

Benefits:

Stretches the hip flexors

Improves posture

Relieves stress and irritation

Strengthens the upper back and neck

Stimulates the belly and throat

Relieves tension in the upper body

Alleviates asthma symptoms

Instructions:

Lie on your back and come to rest on your elbows with forearms flat on the mat and your upper arms perpendicular to the floor.

Shift your body toward the back of the mat while maintaining the forearm position.

Open across the collarbones by rolling the shoulders back.

Root your palms down into the mat and engage the legs.

Open your throat by dropping the crown of your head back until it makes contact with the floor.

Hold for thirty seconds.

To come out, root down into your forearms to lift your head and release the upper body to the mat.

Paschimottanasana

Common Name: Seated Forward Bend Pose

Paschimottanasana
Paschimottanasana

Benefits:

Calms stress and mild depression

Stretches the hamstrings, spine, and shoulders

Improves digestion

Relieves menstrual discomfort

Stimulates the kidneys, liver, uterus, and ovaries

Soothes anxiety and headaches

Instructions:

Find a comfortable seat on the floor with both legs extended in front of you.

Ground down through the sit bones and engage the legs by drawing the kneecaps up toward the thighs.

Inhale to draw the belly up and in while raising the arms overhead.

Exhale to lengthen the torso over the legs, using the energy of the lower body to deepen the fold.

Hold for one to three minutes.

Bhujangasana

Common Name: Cobra Pose

Bhujangasana
Bhujangasana

Benefits:

Increases flexibility

Stretches muscles in the abdomen, shoulders, and chest

Elevates mood

Relieves lower back stiffness

Tones the glutes

Regulates menstruation

Strengthens arms and shoulders

Invigorates the heart

Instructions:

Start lying flat on your belly with palms planted under the shoulders and elbows bent.

Keep your neck neutral and your pelvis anchored to the floor.

Inhale to lift your chest off the floor.

Drop the shoulders back and pull your low ribs away from the floor

Keep your gaze on the floor and your elbows tight to the side body.

Hold for three to five breaths before exhaling back to the floor.

Salabhasana

Common Name: Locust Pose

Salabhasana
Salabhasana

Benefits:

Stimulates abdominal organs

Improves posture

Relieves stress and tension

Stretches the quadriceps, abdomen, shoulders, and chest

Strengthens the muscles of the back, legs, and arms

Instructions:

Lying on your belly, bring your arms by your sides with palms facing down.

Rest your forehead on the mat and press the tops of your feet down.

Roll the shoulders back to open the chest.

Inhale and lift your upper body off the floor, reaching your arms straight back.

Engage the legs so the knees lift.

Stay here for three to five breaths before exhaling to release down to the floor.

Dhanurasana

Common Name: Bow Pose

Dhanurasana
Dhanurasana

Benefits:

Strengthens back muscles

Improves flexibility

Cures constipation

Effective for weight loss

Improves digestion

Improves blood circulation

Instructions:

Lie flat on your belly, keeping feet hip-width and arms down by your sides.

Bend the knees and reach your hands back to grasp the outer edges of the feet.

Inhale, and lift your chest and legs off the ground by pressing the feet into the hands.

Take three to five deep breaths before lowering down on an exhale.

Ardha Matsyendrasana

Common Name: Half Lord of the Fishes Pose

Ardha Matsyendrasana
Ardha Matsyendrasana

Benefits:

Cleanses the internal organs

Opens the shoulders and neck

Tones the abdominal muscles

Improves digestion

Increases flexibility

Energizes the spine

Instructions:

Start seated with legs straight in front.

Bend your left knee and bring the sole of the foot to the floor outside your right thigh.

Bend your right knee and place the foot near your left glute.

Inhale your right arm straight up beside your right ear.

Exhale and twist your upper body to the left, placing your right elbow on the outside of your left knee and your left palm on the floor behind the sit bones.

Gaze over your left shoulder.

Continue to breathe length and space into the spine for thirty seconds before unwinding and repeating on the other side.

Kakasana

Common Name: Crow Pose

Kakasana
Kakasana

Benefits:

Tones the abdominal muscles

Opens the groin and hip flexors

Builds focus and endurance

Strengthens the arms, wrist, back, and inner thighs

Alleviates back pain and indigestion

Instructions:

Start standing at the head of your mat.

Bend the knees and plant your palms on the floor at shoulder-width.

Engage your core and lift your hips skyward as you start to move the knees towards the triceps.

Make a shelf with the upper arms by bending the elbows.

Look forward and shift your weight into the arms.

Let the feet slowly lift from the floor and pull the heels towards the sit bones.

Hold the posture for thirty seconds or longer before slowly lowering the feet back to the floor.

Padahastasana

Common Name: Hand Under Foot Pose

Padahastasana
Padahastasana

Benefits:

Improves flexibility

Aids in weight loss

Improves digestion

Releases tension

Ensures health of the knees, thighs, and lower back

Instructions:

Start in a forward fold with both hands on the floor (knees bent if necessary).

Flip your hands so the palms face up and slide them under the feet until the toes meet the wrist joint.

Slowly fold towards the legs as you draw the elbows out to the sides.

Activate the legs to release the lower back and deepen the fold.

Hold for one minute.

Trikonasana

Common Name: Triangle Pose

Trikonasana
Trikonasana

Benefits:

Relieves stress

Improves digestion

Stimulates abdominal organs

Relieves menopause symptoms

Strengthens thighs, knees, and ankles

Stretches groin, hips, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, chest, and spine

Instructions:

Come to stand at the head of your mat.

Exhale and step the left foot back into a wide stance.

Lift your arms out to the sides so they’re parallel to the floor.

Turn your left foot in slightly and direct your right toes towards the front of the mat.

Exhale as you reach your right fingertips straight over the front leg.

Rest your right hand on your shin, ankle, or a block inside your front foot.

Move your left arm straight up towards the ceiling.

Hold for thirty seconds and repeat on the other side.

Conclusion

There you have it  – The twelve classical yoga asanas that create the foundation for many yoga sequences. With routine practice, one can improve their overall well-being and assist in the prevention of certain diseases. Over time, the postures become a sort of moving meditation that requires equal parts mental and physical exertion.

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