Yoga Poses: Basic Asanas

Some of the core exercises in Yoga practice include basic Asanas such as standing poses (for vitality), balances (for lightness), seated poses (for calmness), twists (for cleansing), inversions (for mental strength) and back bends (for rejuvenation). The Asanas all work on specific body parts, such as the joints, the intestines, the heart, the liver or the kidneys to massage and reposition the inner organs, to lengthen the spine and to improve muscle tone, strength, circulation, flexibility, posture and respiration.

People who are learning basic Yoga poses are advised to pay attention to detail and always strive towards perfecting the Asanas. When you are attempting a pose, check your alignment and symmetry in a mirror. Use a wall or furniture for support if necessary. When one side of the body is extended into the Asana, always follow the extension on the other side, too. Exhale as you extend the Asana and then try to keep breathing evenly. Always try to lengthen your spine, keep your neck long and your face, tongue and jaw relaxed. When building up to the final position in each Asana, move slowly and gradually to gain the maximum benefit and to avoid injury.

Yoga teachers emphasize that Yoga should never be competitive; there are no opponents to beat and one individual’s progress should never be compared with another’s. Each person should work at her own pace and avoid self-criticism if she finds the Asanas difficult. The only goal you should strive for is that of mindfulness as you perform the Asanas. Mindfulness refers to a state of whole-hearted attention and focus. The mind should be alert but calm.

The following exercises are an introduction to the basic Asanas; provided you are fit and reasonably supple (check with your doctor if you are in doubt), there is no reason why you should not attempt them.

If you find that you are not yet supple enough to perform the Asanas exactly as they are described, try to compromise – for example, if you cannot bend far enough to grasp your ankle, then grasp the area above or below your knee. With regular practice, flexibility gradually increases. Do not force your body into a posture, and release the posture if it becomes uncomfortable. If you feel breathless, dizzy or uncomfortable, then stop immediately.

The basic Asanas are seen as the foundation of Yoga knowledge and are therefore practised at each Yoga session. In Yoga practice, time and effort bring corresponding results; some individuals may feel that a weekly session of 20-30 minutes brings the results they desire, whereas others may prefer to practise several times a week or even every day. Once you have tried the basic Asanas, you may wish to join a Yoga class where you will be able to learn the full range of basic and advanced Asanas and their numerous variations. Your Yoga teacher will be able to provide tips on how to inhale, exhale and align the body in each of the Asanas.

The Mountain (Tadasana)

Stand up straight with the feet together. Lift the toes for a moment to extend the soles of the feet. Pull up the knees and leg muscles and lightly clench the buttocks to raise the lowest portion of the spine. Lift the ribs, open the chest, relax the shoulders and arms, lengthen the neck and lift the back of the skull up from the neck, keeping the chin level. Maintain the position for 30-40 seconds, breathing evenly.

The Tree (Vrksasana)

Stand in the Mountain posture, near a wall for support. Bend the left leg, take hold of the foot and place the sole at the top of the right inner thigh. Straighten yourself, pressing the left knee back in line with the left hip. Extend your arms out to the side, turn the palms up and stretch your arms straight above your head, palms touching. Keep the shoulders down and your head straight. Feel the stretch down the sides and front of your body as you breathe evenly for 20-30 seconds. Repeat the sequence on the right side.

The Triangle (Trikonasana)

From the Mountain posture, move your feet 90-120cm (3-4ft) apart. Stretch out the arms at shoulder level, palms down. Turn your left foot 900 to the right and your right foot in 15 degrees. Exhale and bend sideways towards the left leg, gripping it with the left hand. Hold the right arm straight up above the left, palm facing forwards. Look up at the right hand. Stay in this position for 20-30 seconds, then repeat on the right side.

The Reverse Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana)

Follow the procedure for the Triangle posture, but turn your left foot 90 degrees to the right and your right foot in 45 degrees. Turn your trunk 90 degrees to the left. Exhale and lean forwards so that the right hand holds the left ankle, or place the palm or fingertips on the floor beside the outer edge of the foot. Hold the left arm straight above the right arm and look up at the left hand. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then repeat on the right side.

The Lotus (Padmasana)

Sit with your legs stretched out in front of you and your trunk pulled up. Reach up above your head with both hands and then lower your trunk forwards until you can take hold of your right foot. Lift it into place on top of the left thigh. Sit up straight and once again reach up and then lower yourself forwards to take hold of your left foot. Lift it over the front of the right shin and into the right groin. Sit up and stay in position for 20-30 seconds, breathing evenly, with the hands resting on the thighs, palms up. Exhale, release the legs and repeat on the other side.

The Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)

From the Mountain posture, move your feet 120-150cm (4-5ft) apart. Turn your right foot 90 degrees to the right and turn your left foot in 15 degrees. Turn your trunk 90 degrees to the right. Extend the trunk and raise the arms up alongside the ears, palms together. Exhale and bend the right leg to a right angle; keep the back vertical and the trunk lifted. Stay in this posture for 20-30 seconds, breathing evenly. Repeat on the left side.

The Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

Again, from the Mountain posture, move your feet 120-150cm (4—5ft) apart. Stretch out your arms at shoulder level, palms down. Turn your right foot 90 degrees to the right and turn your left foot in 15 degrees. Exhale and bend the right leg to a right angle. Keep the hips facing forwards, back straight and trunk lifted. Look towards the right. Hold this posture for 20-30 seconds, breathing evenly, then repeat on the left side.

The Bow (Dhanurasana)

Lie on your front, head down and knees bent up towards the buttocks. Reach back to take hold of the ankles. Exhale. Inhale as you raise the head and chest and slowly arch backwards, lifting the knees and thighs off the ground. Look up and hold the posture while you take three deep breaths. Release slowly and relax.

The Half Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

Kneel down and sit back on your heels, then bring up your right knee. Supporting yourself on your hands, cross the right leg over the left, knee still up, so your foot is on the floor next to your left thigh. Exhale and twist head and shoulders to the right, grasping the right foot or ankle with the left hand and taking your right hand behind you. Twist the trunk to the right. Hold the position for 20-30 seconds, breathing evenly. Release your limbs and repeat on the other side.

The Camel (Ultrasana)

Kneel upright and exhale as you arch backwards to hold your right heel with your right hand. Letting the head gently drop backwards, hold your left heel with your left hand. Stretching the hips forwards and breathing evenly, hold this position for 10 seconds; with practice, gradually increase this time to 1 minute. Push forwards to release the stretch. Relax your back by kneeling down and going smoothly into the Child’s pose.

The Cobra (Bhujangasana)

Lie face down with your feet together, toes pointing inwards. Place your hands beneath your shoulders, palms down, fingers pointing forwards and forehead touching the ground. Inhale and slowly raise the forehead; touch the ground with your nose. Bring the head upwards, raising the nose and touching the ground with your chin. Exhale and gently push the chin forwards, lifting the head, shoulders and trunk as high as you can.

Extend your head backwards, but be careful not to force it back; feel the stretch right down the front of the body. Stay in this position, breathing evenly, for at least 10 seconds, gradually increasing to 1 minute. Then slowly unroll the body from the base of the spine and lower the forehead to the ground. Relax your back in the Child’s pose.


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