Ask ten people, “What is Yoga?” and you will most likely receive ten different answers. For such a short word, “Yoga” is a very encompassing and broad term. We read about Karma Yoga, Hatha Yoga and yoga philosophy. Though the paths and types of this ancient practice are numerous, let’s start with the simple translation of the word itself. A Sanskrit word, “Yoga” means to unite. In Hatha yoga, which involves the physical practice of postures and controlled breathing, we are uniting mind and body. Whether you practice yoga in an upscale private studio, the local community center or at home in your pajamas, there are many valuable poses, or asanas, that incorporate breathing, flexibility and strength. Classes are named according to styles, benefits of posture and overall ability of the class. In this article, we will explore postures that can be practiced at home, at the gym or anywhere for strength, stretch and peace. The names of the postures are listed, both in Sanskrit and English, followed by number of breaths for the pose to be held and the benefits of the postures.
Here are a few basics to help your practice be a safe and beneficial one.
- Choose clothing that allows maximum movement and comfort; snug-fitting is better than loose. Faster classes call for one layer or lightweight clothes. Restorative or gentle classes call for more than one layer to take off, add back on.
- Bare feet allow for connection, toes help grip and balance and avoid hardness of shoes against skin. Socks can be added back on for seated work or savasana (final relaxation).
- Yoga Mats should provide a stable, non-slip surface, some cushion and be washable. Exercise mats are sometimes slippery, practicing standing postures on a hardwood floor is also an option, but you’ll need a blanket, mat or carpeted area for seated and supine floor work.
Below are different yoga exercises with photos and instructions:
Exercise Instructions: This is a foundation pose and can be held from 3-10 breaths. Standing with feet about hip width apart, spread your toes spread wide and firm your thighs. Try to lengthen your tailbone toward the floor and lift the pelvis forward very slightly to avoid a backward tilt. Open your heart and chest by rolling your shoulders up and back and letting the shoulder blades fall into the middle of your back. With arms by your sides, actively press the fingers towards the floor while feeling tall through chest and neck. Eyes can be opened or closed and your head softly faces forward.
Exercise Instructions: This is a standing, strengthening pose for back and core, as well as a stretching posture for the hamstring of the standing leg and can be held from 3-5 breaths. From Mountain Pose, bring both arms overhead, then reach them forward while hinging form the hips and lifting one leg away from the floor. While reaching the arms in front and the leg behind, think about lengthening your spine. Try to keep hips in line and squared to the floor, rather than focusing on bringing the leg as high as possible. To come out of the pose, gently return the lifted leg to the floor and bring arms back to your sides. Take the pose again, lifting the opposite leg.
Exercise Instructions: This is a core strengthener and can be held from 5-10 breaths. It also stimulates circulation in the abdomen and improves balance and concentration. Sitting on the floor, brings knees together and hands next to or just in back of the hips. Slowly, raise legs off the floor into a 45 degree angle, keeping knees bent and then staying here, or choosing to straighten them. When you feel steady, lift your hands off the floor and point fingertips towards the thighs. Inhale and lift the chest as you breathe and hold the posture. Arm positions may be modified by reaching towards the feet or helping to balance by reaching out to either side.
Exercise Instructions: This is a gentle, prone back bend and can be held from 1-5 breaths, always minding your back and body. Lying face down, arms extended at your sides, fingers pointing towards your feet. Inhaling, lifting head, neck and chest, while keeping hips touching the floor or mat. Keep breathing as you lift your arms slightly off the floor. An option for the arms is to clasp palms together and hold your hands behind your back. (Not recommended for recent shoulder injuries). As you feel ready, lift both legs off the floor or mat while you reach with your arms and keep your chest lifted.
Exercise Instructions: This is a strengthening pose for legs and obliques and it also improves circulation in the abdomen. Twisted chair can be held from 3-5 breaths or it may be practiced as a flowing movement, holding for one breath before switching sides. Starting in Tadasana, inhale and bring your arms overhead and then place palms together. Exhaling, bring your left elbow to the outside of the right thigh as you sit back into a chair (or squat) like position. Keeping hips square and knees aligned in front, use your core muscles to twist to the right, with palms together in front of your heart. As a modification, bring forearm to opposite thigh instead of the elbow.
Exercise Instructions: Allow yourself a few minutes at the end of your practice to rest deeply. Although the strength and power of the asanas are let go in this pose, it is still considered of the more challenging yoga asanas. As well as letting the body absorb the energy of the asanas, it offers the mind a time to relax, let go and be quiet. Savasana is traditionally taken supine, arms extended next to the body, palms facing up, legs extended to the width of the mat and shoulders slightly rolled under to open the heart. Deep breathing will help the mind relax even more. As you feel ready, slowly roll onto your right side and then transition up into a seated position. Namaste.