December 29, 2013

A Beginner’s Guide to 25 Awesome Yoga Asanas.

“Anyone who practices can obtain success in yoga but not one who is lazy. Constant practice alone is the secret of success.”

~ Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Here’s a quick guide to 25 of my own personal all-time favorite asanas, complete with English names, Sanskrit names (in most cases) and brief instructions on how to practice the pose.

However, each individual pose is a world itself—with a ton of variations and potential alignment cues. If you’re a beginner, it’s best and safest to seek guidance from an experienced yoga instructor.

Is your favorite pose missing from the list? Add it in a comment!

  1. Boat: (Sanskrit: navasana); to practice this core strengthening pose, sit with your soles on the floor and knees bent. Place the hands behind the knees. Using your abdominal muscles, lift the feet so that the shins are parallel to the ground. If you have the strength, release the hands from the legs and/or straighten the knees. Keep breathing! Hold for several deep breaths.
  1. Bridge: (Sanskrit: setu bandhasana); this lovely, accessible backbend is done by lying on the back with the soles on the floor and the knees bent. Pressing the arms and feet down, inhale and lift the pelvis. Move up and down slowly with the breath, or hold the pose for several breaths.
  1. Camel: (Sanskrit: ustrasana); this is another awesome backbend. Kneeling, bring both hands to the lower back. Keep them there for support if you are a beginner! Lean back, opening the throat and heart centers, breathing deeply. If comfortable, bring the hands down to hold the heels. Keep the hips over the knees. Hold for several breaths and then do Child’s Pose as a counterpose.
  1. Child’s Pose: (Sanskrit: balasana); this delicious, restorative pose is a favorite of many. From the hands and knees, separate the knees, press the hips back and down toward the heels and relax the torso and arms, resting the forehead on the ground or on a blanket or block. Ahhh, yes!
  1. Cobbler’s Pose: (Sanskrit: baddha konasana); this classic hip opener also goes by the name Butterfly. In a seated position, place the soles together and open the knees wide. A great yin variation is supta baddha konasana, which is practiced with the legs in the same formation, only lying down.
  1. Cobra: (Sanskrit: bhujangasana); from lying on the stomach, place the palms on either side of the rib cage. Separate the feet if you have any lower back issues. With an inhale, press into the hands and legs, lifting the head and chest up. Start out low. Over time, your cobra will grow taller as you strengthen the lower back and gain flexibility in the spine.
  1. Corpse: (Sanskrit: savasana); the ultimate pose in any hatha class, they say this one is the most difficult. All you have to do is lie still on the back, relax the entire body, release the mind and meditate.
  1. Crescent Moon: a fabulous hip opener; get into this one by starting in runner’s lunge and placing the back knee on the ground. The back foot can be pointed or flexed, whichever feels more comfortable. Stay here if there’s already a good stretch in the hip flexor. To deepen the pose, bring the hands to the knees or overhead. Don’t forget to practice on the other side, too.
  1. Dancer’s Pose: this balancing pose is also a great quad stretch. From standing, place your weight on one leg. Bend the other knee, lifting the foot toward the butt and hold your ankle or foot. Stay here and work with balance. If comfortable, press the foot into the hand and straighten the leg more. Don’t forget to practice on the other side, too.
  1. Downward Facing Dog: (Sanskrit: adho mukha svanasana); from the hands and knees, lift the pelvis up toward the sky, lengthening the spine, arms and legs. Press the heels toward the ground; it’s okay if they don’t reach. Relax the neck. Move the chest back toward the legs. A super variation is half-dog, in which you do the pose with your hands on a wall instead of on the floor.
  1. Eagle: (Sanskrit: garudasana); this balancing pose is a bit advanced, so if you’re new to yoga, try doing the arms and legs separately at first. For the arms, cross the left elbow over the right. Cross the wrists as well, bringing the palms together if possible. If not, bring the backs of the hands to touch instead. For the legs, bend both knees deeply and place the right leg over the left. If possible, wrap the right foot behind the left calf. If not, don’t sweat it. Don’t forget to practice on the opposite side, as well.
  1. Fish: (Sanskrit – matsyasana); a throat-opening upper back bend, enter this pose from lying on the back. Place the elbows under the body as close together as is comfortable. Lift your chest, shoulders and head and then let the crown of the head relax back toward the ground. The legs can be straight and the feet pointed.
  1. Happy Baby: a nice, relaxed hip opener that babies do naturally, hence the name; from lying on the back, bend the knees and hold the soles of the feet with the hands. Pull the knees gently downward toward the floor. Stay still or rock from side to side. Delicious, right?
  1. Headstand: (Sanskrit – sirsasana); this inverted pose offers tons of benefits. Start out on the hands and knees. Interlace your fingers and place your elbows about a foot apart. Place your head on the floor, cradling it in your hands. If you’re new to this pose, all you’ll do at first is straighten your knees. Just get used to being upside down. Gradually, with practice, you can walk your feet closer toward the face, then lift the feet, keeping a bend in the knees. Eventually, you’ll straighten the legs in full headstand. With daily practice, you will see great progress within a few weeks.
  1. Head to Knee: (Sanskrit: janu sirsasana); sitting with the legs straight in front of your, bend the right knee and place the right sole on the left inner thigh. Inhale and reach the arms up. Exhale and reach the hands for the knee, shin, ankle or foot. Breathe into the lower back and hamstrings. Hold this hip-opening forward bend for several breaths, and remember to practice on the other side, too.
  1. Lion: take a deep breath in, and exhale powerfully, sticking out your tongue, opening the eyes as wide as possible and holding your face in this silly position for 10 whole seconds. Practice three times in a row to get in touch with your inner child and give yourself a natural face lift.
  1. Plank Pose: the top of a push-up; spread your fingers wide like starfish and have your shoulders right over your wrists. Tuck the tailbone slightly, engaging your core abdominal muscles. Push your heels back and activate the quadriceps. Work up to holding plank for 30 seconds or longer. Another flow I love is simply moving back and forth from Downward Facing Dog to Plank. This deceptively easy-looking pose is a killer core workout.
  1. Pigeon: (Sanskrit: eka pada rajakapotasana); from hands and knees, slide your right knee forward between the hands. Straigten the left leg behind you. Sit up on your right heel if needed. If possible, move your right foot to the left, allowing your hips to move further down toward the floor. Stay here, or work with deepening flexibility by brining your forearms or torso down in front of you. Don’t forget to practice on the other side, too.
  1. Reclining Spinal Twist: lying down on the back, pull the right knee in toward the chest. With an exhale, cross that knee over to the left side of the body. Open the arms out to the side. Bring yin qualities into the twist; let gravity do the work rather than trying to force your way into a deeper twist. Practice for a good 10 breaths or more on each side.
  1. Standing Forward Bend: (Sanskrit: uttanasana); from standing upright, lower your torso down toward the ground and place your hands on your thighs, shins, feet or the floor—wherever they reach is fine! Bend your knees as needed if the hamstrings are tight. Relax the head and neck. Enjoy the stretch to the lower back and backs of the legs.
  1. Tree: (Sanskrit – vrksasana); from standing upright, bring all your weight onto one leg. Lift the opposite foot and place the sole on the ankle, calf or inner thigh of the standing leg. Hands can be together at the heart center, or lift the arms overhead. Hold for up to 10 breaths on each side, with a smile. As I tell my students, trees sway and trees fall, so try to have a sense of humor as you practice this balancing pose.
  1. Triangle: (Sanskrit: trikonasana); this fabulous side stretch might just be my favorite of them all. There are many variations; here’s a basic one. Standing with the legs wide and the toes pointed forward, lift your arms out to the sides, parallel to the ground. Keeping a straight line in the arms, tilt the torso to the right and touch your right knee or shin lightly. Hold 10 breaths. Then switch and practice on the other side. Practice two or three times on each side to open the hips and stretch the sides of the torso.
  1. Warrior I: (Sanskrit: virabhadrasana I); from a standing position, step your right foot way back into a lunge. Turn the right foot at an angle so that the right heel is on the ground. Turn your hips to face the front, and bend the left knee so that it’s over the ankle. If comfortable, lift the arms and gaze up. Soften the shoulders and jaw. Don’t forget to practice on the other side, too.
  1. Warrior II: (Sanskrit: virabhadrasana II) With the legs in the same position as in Warrior I, turn the hips so that they are opening to the side. Stretch the arms out to the sides, parallel to the ground, palms facing down. Gaze in the direction of your outstretched fingers. Get in touch with your peaceful, powerful warrior spirit! Remember to practice on the opposite side as well.
  1. Wheel: (Sanskrit: urdhva dhanurasana); this advanced backbend is an intense heart opener. Sticking with Bridge or Camel is fine and those poses offer many of the same benefits. To practice Full Wheel, start from the Bridge setup. Bring the palms to either side of your head, fingers pointing toward the shoulders. Inhale and press up, either onto the crown of the head or all the way up onto the palms. Feel the opening in the chest and heart. Breathe. Come down slowly after several breaths and pull both knees into the chest to release the lower back.



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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Nalina Kaufman

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