When the average person hears ‘yoga’, they usually think of the postures. Although there is a lot more to yoga, the postures, also known as asanas (Sanskrit), are a major part of the practice. Moving your body in certain ways helps you let go of tension, by releasing gases built up in the body such as oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. You can literally feel the release happen within your body throughout a yoga class, and often times that what keeps you wanting to come back for more! Today I am going to go through some common yoga asana benefits. ***I do not mention stress and anxiety, because ALL of these poses can and will help with those things two things over time.
Mountain Pose – Tadasana
Tadasana is a grounding posture that allows your to feel how your body is aligned. Because you are rooting down equally through both feet, you can really explore how each side of your body feels different, and find those areas that seem a little more tight than others. Think of your pelvis like a bowl of soup that is full to the brim, and try keeping it (your pelvis) even so that nothing spills out of the bowl. Tadasana is a great place to uncover where you are holding onto tension, or where you feel a little out of line. Because you are engaging your body, standing consciously in Tadasana can help tone you up. It is great for your mind, as standing tall makes you feel strong and confident.
Upward Mountain Pose – Urdha Hastasana
From Mountain, you can rise your arms up for what I like to refer to as Up Mountain. This posture is also good for finding alignments within the body, and it gives you extra room to check in with your shoulders. How far can you reach them your arms up? Can you bring them all the way above head? What is your range on motion? This is a good place to check in with with area of your body. As you reach your arms up, try to pay attention to your pelvic tilt, bringing your awareness neutrality. If it’s not neutral, try to make that adjustment. This pose really lets your find length through your spine, and a nice stretch through your belly.
Chair Pose – Utkatasana
From Upward Mountain, you can sink your hips down and engage your thighs as you come into Chair Pose. After holding this pose for only a short time, you will definitely be able to feel those thighs burn. The angle at which you hold your arms promotes strength and toning for both the arms and the chest. As you think about drawing your navel into spine and engaging your core, you will find that it also helps with flattening your belly over time. Particularly for the low back, chair pose it great for finding space and extension of the spine. This pose helps you find your equilibrium as your start to play with shifting your body weight forward and backwards, finding your balance and stability.
Standing Forward Fold – Uttanasana
In this pose you are hinging from your hips, trying to avoid bending from only your middle back (thoracic spine.) You can have a generous bend in your knees to target a tight lower back, or you can straight your knees (without hyper extending) to target stretching your backs of your hamstrings/calves. There are a lot of things you can do in this pose, like dangling your arms, holding onto your elbows, or even touching your toes if that is in your practice. Consistently doing forward folds will increase the flexibility and mobility in your spine, and relieve tension in your neck and back. This pose gives you the scene of releasing and letting go of whatever you are holding onto that does not serve you.
Halfway Lift – Ardha Uttanasana
Coming into a Half Lift allows you to find space between each vertebrae in your spine. You can use your hands to create a little resistance, sending your shoulder blades down your back, finding a nice stretch in your neck and shoulders as well. Let the extension your spine continue all the way through the crow of your head. Imagine a ray of light beaming starting at the base of your spine and shooting through the top of your head. Keep a straight spine by thinking about drawing your belly button in and up, as this promotes belly toning and proper posture.
Plank – Kumbhakasana
Plank is an overall body strengthener. Plank is a great pose to do every single day, even if you are short on time. It helps tighten your core, glutes, legs, and arms. It really an all in one deal. It opens and strengthens your back, by equally grounding and engaging through all four corners of your body. Plank is a great way to work up to a push up or Four Limbed Staff Pose (next.) As long as you keep your back body in a straight line, you can really start to built arm strength by bending your elbows and holding there. In addition, is great for toning, increasing metabolism, gaining stamina, and increasing balance. It steadies and aligns your mind and body.
Four Limbed Staff Pose – Chaturanga Dandasana)
Four Limbed Staff Pose is accomplished when you lower your Plank all the way down so that your chest is hovering just above the floor, without touching the floor. This pose has all of the same benefits as Plank, except your arms and chest muscles in particular are building extra strength here. This pose is incorporated into Sun Salutation’s, and is amazing for building strength and opening up your back, but it can also cause injury if not preformed properly. Please be gentle with yourself when going from Four Limbed Staff Pose to Upward Facing Dog. Four Limbed Staff Pose targets the triceps, biceps, abdominal, pelvis, glutes, groin, hamstrings, quads, calves, ankles, and just about everything in your body overall! In addition, it increases, strength, balance and awareness, and prepares you for arm balances. This really is the ultimate toning pose.
Side Plank – Vasisthasana
Side Plank is another overall body strengthener, but targets the arms, wrists, core in particular. Having a strong core is the foundation to balancing in this position. Side Plank helps you work up to other arm balances such as Crow Pose. You can modify side plank with a ‘kickstand’, which means leaving one knee down. There are many variations to make side plank for tricky as well, so it’s a great pose for anyone! It is also common to make Side Plank into a dynamic movement but rotating your torso and really working your obliques. Practicing this pose is great for increasing focus and concentration.
Baby Cobra/Cobra -Bhujangasana
In Baby Cobra, you leave your legs, pubis and belly glued to the floor as you lift your chest and head. In Cobra, you lift you belly as well. These are great ways to wake up your lower back, before going into a deeper back bend like Upward Facing Dog. As your squeeze your glutes together, it firms and tones your buttocks. It also aids in digestion and belly flattening. Keeping you shoulder blades down and back help strengthen and stretch your scapula. These poses open your heart and lungs, making you feel light and elevated.
Upward Facing Dog – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
In Upward Facing Dog, you push up strong through your arms, lifting your thighs, pubic, belly, and chest off of the ground. Upward Facing Dog helps relieve stiff, low back pain. You engage your arms and shoulders even more in Upward Facing Dog than you do it Cobra, really getting into toning those areas, as well as the belly, tights, and buttox. This pose can help with asthma, as it expands your lungs and lets your really breathe deep into them. You come out of this pose feeling light, lifted, and refreshed.
Downward Facing Dog – Ahdo Mukha Svanasana
Downward Facing Dog is a common landing place within a yoga sequence. In Downward Facing Dog, you really want to focus on finding space and length throughout your entire spine. Once you can maintain length in the spine, you can then straighten your legs, finding and deep calf stretch. Down Dog strengthens your arms, legs, shoulders, and wrists. Drawing your navel to spine, you engage your core which helps promote the straightening of your back. Dog Dog increases blood flow, and energizes the mind and body.
Low Lunge -Anjaneyasana
Low Lunge is a great way to get warmed up for Warrior poses. Keeping your back knee down, it starts to wake up your quads, hips, knees, and low back. You can place a blanket under your knee if it is feeling any discomfort. Low Lunge stimulates your abdominal muscles, making things shift and prepare for you producing waste. You can go as deep or be as gentle as you need here, and can also incorporate a twist to really get your metabolism going. Low Lunge is great for energizing body and finding stability through your legs.
High Lunge – Ashta Chandrasana
In High Lunge, you lift the back knee that was down in Low Lunge – increasing your need for balance and concentration. When you lift your arms above head, it opens your lunges and chest, improving the quality of how your respiratory system functions. Breathing deep within this pose also kicks the circulatory system into gear. High Lunge flexes and builds strength in the hips, thighs, and ankles. This pose helps you get in tune with how your shoulders are feeling, and offers many variations if you can not rise your arms above your head. A strong High Lunge Pose builds confidence, especially for working your way up to more difficult standing poses.
Warrior I – Virabhadrasana I
Warrior I is essentially a variation of High Lunge, and all of the same information applies. The major difference is that in Warrior 1, you have all four corners of your back foot on the ground. Practicing Warrior I can help individuals with a range of ailments from asthma, to insomnia, to sciatica. It can also help with neck and shoulder stiffness. As you extend through the crown of your head, let your shoulder blades slide down your back to find a nice neck/shoulder stretch. Warrior I tones your entire body, promotes flexibility, and helps build over strength and confidence.
Warrior II – Virabhadrasana II
You will be able to feel the arm burn in this standing posture. With your arms extended long, imagine energy shooting out from your finger tips. Warrior II engages your arms, shoulders, back, chest, hips, hamstrings, psoas, and quads. It helps slim your arms, strengthen your legs, and open your hips. This is a great pose for targeting your hamstring flexibility, where they are completely open within this pose. Warrior II helps promote organ health, and increases blood flow in the upper body. You feel strong, open, and engaged in this pose.
Warrior III – Virabhadrasana III
Warrior III is an extreme balancing posture, which enhances concentration. It strengthens your core, chest, hamstrings, quads, calves, and entire posterior body. Because the back body is working so hard, this pose is great for contracting and toning the abdominal muscles in particular. It tones your arms, builds stamina, and increases mobility in your hips. Warrior III gets the fire (tapas) within you sparked and lit.
Reversed Warrior – Viparita Virabhadrasana
Reversed Warrior is a great side body stretch, that also targets your shoulders, neck, hamstrings, thighs, calves, quads, hips, and obliques. This pose can certainly help with posture and a healthy curvature of the spine. If you notice that you are usually hunched over, try this! A flow between Warrior II and Reversed Warrior is one of my favorites. It really makes me feel alive! Reversed Warrior helps relieve tension in the back and shoulders, and also stimulates nerves in the spine. This pose is great for prepping for deeper back backs such as Camel or Wheel.
Triangle – Trikonasana
Triangle pose opens your chest and shoulders, as well as stretches your neck and psoas muscles. Triangle is also a great side stretch and promotes proper alignment, mobility and flexibility. It tones your abs and obliques if you hold or create a dynamic movement out of it. I’d say this is an intermediate pose, and highly suggest blocks if you notice your back dipping down. Also, be very cautious of not over extending your knee in this pose, but it does give you a knee stretch as well! Because Triangle Pose is kind of tricky to set up, it enhances your focus and concentration. Be gentle with yourself!
Revolved Triangle – Parivrtta Trikonasana
Revolved Triangle is an awesome twist that will help with digestive and reproduction function. It opens up your hips, shoulders, and chest. This pose increases awareness, focus, and concentration. It is sometimes confusing which way to go in Triangle, so please note that either way your choose has a lot of the same benefits. Just be mindful!
Standing Figure Four – Ardha Utkatasana
Standing Figure Four is like Chair Pose (sometimes referred to as Half Chair Pose), except you are taking your balance one step further, and only using the power from one leg instead of two. Standing Figure Four is a great hip opener that really lets you go deep. Because of the way your ankle/lower leg is positioned on top of your thigh, you can use your hands to apply pressure and guidance for your hip to become more open. As sink your hips down and keep them square, you will feel more of a stretch through your low back and hamstrings. You will also find your thigh and calf building strength, trust me, you will feel the burn! Keeping your chest lifted and shoulders back, Standing Figure Four sets you up for a feeling a scene of open and light heartedness.
Tree Pose – Vrksasana
Tree pose continues working on that one legged balance, and the calf muscle is working work hard to hold you up. You can have the foot of your bent leg resting on your shin or inner thigh, just avoid the knee area as it can cause injury to the joint over time. This pose opens your hips, as well as stretches your quads and hamstrings. It helps increases balance, focus, and concentration. Do this in the woods amongst the trees, and you will feel so connected!
Dancer Pose – Natarajasana
Dancer Pose is a great chest, shoulder, and hip opener. In this pose, you can really guide your leg back, giving your groin and quads a nice stretch. You even get the benefits of a back bend in this pose, so it’s great prep for things like Camel or Wheel. As you balance on one leg within this pose, Dancer takes much focus and concentration. It builds your calf and ankle muscles, while strengthening and aligning your shoulders. Dancer really does make me feel light, like a ballerina.
Half Moon – Ardha Chandrasana
Half Moon takes extreme balance, focus, and concentration. It builds you calf and ankle muscles, opens your hips, chest, and shoulders. It lengthens your side body, and you also get a nice stretch through your psoas and quads. As you engage your core, you build strength through your whole back body. Half Moon can make you feel very empowered, as it can be quite tricky to balance and breath through this posture.
Goddess Pose – Utkata Konasana
Goddess is an awesome hamstring and groin stretch. It strengthens your thighs and calves. It also promotes proper alignment for your shoulders, as it really allows you to connect with dropping them down your back, and lifting your chest proud. This pose is called Goddess Pose for a reason; because it makes you feel like one. This is another super empowering pose, that is also extremely grounding. You feel very rooted in this pose, and is a great stance for preforming energizing pranayama (breath techniques.)
Garland Pose/Squat – Malasana
Garland Pose lets you sink even deeper into your hamstrings and groin. It opens your hips, tones your abs, and relieves low back tension. It’s awesome for metabolism and digestion, and it is my number one recommendation for constipation. It can also help relieve menstrual pain. Garland Pose strengthens your knees, and tones just about every part of your legs. Garland Pose makes you feel very connected with your roots. As you naturally bring your palms together, this pose often brings a scene of graditiude.
Lizard Pose – Utthan Pristhasana
Lizard Pose stretches the hamstrings/psoas muscles, and opens up the hips. It is great for strengthening your calves and quads, in addition to your biceps, triceps, and core. Lizard Pose has many slight variations, so it is a great pose for anyone. This is also an awesome prep for other hip openers, like Pigeon (next.) Lizard stretches the pelvic area, increases function of the abdominal organs, and helps boost the reproductive organs as well.
Pigeon Pose – Kapotasana
Pigeon Pose is a deep hip opener. It lengthens your hip flexors, and extends both your upper and lower back. This is another go to if you are experiencing sciatic pain. Practicing this pose regularly will help you gain flexibility and mobility in your hips, similar to Standing Figure Four, but in this pose you don’t have to worry about balance, which actually allows you to sink much deeper into the stretch.
Easy Pose – Sukasana
Easy Pose – criss cross apple sauce – is a typical meditation potion. Practicing this pose will help strengthen your back muscles, and promotes a healthy spine. You want to pay proper attention to where your shoulders land, and make sure your head and chest are lifted. This pose is very grounding, and a great place to settle into your yoga practice. It is common to do pranayama (breathing techniques), as your body is aligned and base is sturdy, it easily allows your inner channels to open for Prana (life force energy) to move through. See Kundalini.
Seated Forward Fold – Paschimottanasana
Just like in a Standing Forward Fold, you want to make sure that you are hinging at your hips. This pose is a great stretch for your upper back, lower back, and hamstrings. Keeping a generous bend in your knees targets the back more, and straightening your knees targets the hamstrings more. Be careful not to over extend. This is a great place to release tension, and can even help with bloating, menstrual cramps, and menopausal discomfort. This is a very sensational pose for many people, so it’s great that you can choose how much of a stretch you get, depending on how deep you go. If you grab on the bottom of your feet and create some resistance, you can even get a nice stretch through neck and shoulders. You can do this pose to really any degree, depending on how your body feels. This pose is always here to meet you where you are.
Child’s Pose – Balasana
Child’s Pose is another very common landing place within a yoga sequence, where you are sometimes instructed to go deep into your breath. Child’s Pose makes you feel extremely grounded, and gives you a great sense of security. Child’s Pose releases tension and stretches out your lower and upper back, as well as allows your to find space in your hips. This is a great pose for applying just enough pressure to your feet, knees and ankles. You can have your knees together or further apart, depending on how deep you want to go into this pose. The wider your knees, the more the room the spine has to find length, and the deeper you will get into your lower back. This is a great place for rest during a practice, or for a break throughout a busy day.
Table Top – Bharmanasana
Table Top is a awesome neutral place to be. This is often times the foundation to warm up poses, such as Cat/Cow, Thread The Needle, and many others. This is a great place to stretch your wrists before applying a lot of pressure on them in other poses such as Down Dog or Plank. This is also a good place to warm up your biceps and triceps. Table Top brings awareness to straightening and lengthening your spine, which helps with you overall posture and alignment.
Cat Pose – Bidalasana
Cat Pose stretches the back of your neck, all the way through your back. This is often seen at the beginning of a yoga class in combination with Cow Pose and is used to warm up the spine. In Cat Pose, you are extending the spine and drawing your navel to spine. As you engage your whole body, you are toning your arms and tightening your glutes.
Cow Pose – Bitilasana
Cow Pose really targets releasing tension from your lower back, and it opens the chest right up. As your send your shoulders down and back, your heart elevates, feeling light and lifted. As you preform a Cat/Cow dynamic movement, you will begin to notice more mobility throughout your spine. Cow is a great pose to prepare for deeper back bends. It also activates your groin, hips, and psoas muscle.
Thread The Needle – Urdhva Mukha Pasasana
Thread The Needle is a great twist for your neck and spine, and also opens your shoulder and psoas muscles. This pose helps to increase range of motion, and you can go even deeper by firming your shoulder into the ground. Thread The Needle stimulates your abdominal organs and lungs. This is one of my favorite warm up twists, and I love to imagine or cue looking through a bridge.
Puppy Pose – Uttana Shishosana
Puppy Pose really gets into the arms and shoulders, the more you open up and drop your chest to the floor and externally rotate your arms, the deeper you go. This is a great pose to think about your pelvic tilt and keeping your spine straight, before going into a full Downward Facing Dog. This pose activates the hips, hamstrings and core.
Heros Pose – Virasana
Heros Pose stretches and creates flexibility in the hips, knees, quads, and ankles. This is a great warm up pose to wake up the legs before moving into standing poses, as it promotes circulation throughout the lower body. It is also a good place for pranayama (breath work) and meditation. This pose can help improve posture, as you keep your spine extended from your base throughout your head.
Fish Pose – Matsyasana
Fish Pose opens up the throat, chest, and heart. It stretches the neck and shoulders and activates the core. It increases lung capacity and encourages deep breathing. It helps you gain mobility and flexibility in your upper back, and also engages you lower and middle back. It is sometimes really helpful to use a block to allow you to let go in this pose. The goal is to find a sense of release.
Bridge – Setubandha Sarvangasana
Bridge mainly strengthens and tones your glutes and core. Almost everything is active in this pose including your shoulders, arms, back, chest, hips, and legs. This is a good place to pay attention to your pelvis tilt and think about squeezing in your core and thighs. You will definitely notice belly toning after practicing this pose regularly. Because the chest is raised, this pose is particularly good for people with Asthma or other lung trouble, like a cold in the winter. Bridge is also really good for relieving low back pressure, and almost needed before before preforming Wheel.
Wheel – Chakrasana
Wheel engages your entire body – the same as Bridge, except now your biceps and triceps are working double to hold you up. Your hamstrings get a deep stretch, and your shoulders open up. Your heart is exposed and your spine becomes very mobile. This is a super deep back bend that takes a lot of strength, flexibility, and focus. Remember to breath! This is a great pose for improving concentration.
Camel – Ustrasana
Camel is another deep back opener that exposes your chest and throat. It lengthens your torso and expands your abdominal organs, and is great for overall digestion. It can also help aid menstrual cramps and constipation. It stretches your hamstrings and promotes flexibility in your hips and shoulders. I often like to do a Calf Camel on one side, and then the other before, going into a full Camel Pose.
Bow Pose – Dhanurasana
Bow Pose is a belly down back bend that is great for digestion, as it is massages your abdominal organs. You can do Bow Pose stationary, or with a little rock back and fourth, which can helps move things are if you feel bloated. Bow Pose strengthens your shoulders and increases range of motion. Your chest is lifted in this pose, giving a sense of lightheartedness, and encouraging full, deep, cleansing breaths.
Boat Pose – Navasana
Your core and low back are working very hard in Boat Pose. As your engage your entire body, your shoulders and hamstrings lengthen and strengthen. This is a great pose to practice is you have sensitive wrists, and are trying to avoid Downward Facing Dog, as you are still coming into a similar triangular shapes position with your body. This pose helps with your balance, focus, and alignment.
Plow Pose – Halasana
Plow pose is great for flexibility and mobility of the hips. It lengthen and strengths your quads, hamstrings, and calves. It relieves tension in your shoulders and massages your abdominal muscles, which helps relieve bloating or constipation. Your entire body is working in this pose, which promotes weigh loss and can help you tone up. You can use a chair for your feet in this pose, and still get all the same great benefits!
Shoulder Stand – Niralamba Sarvangasana
This inversion lets you go deep into your shoulders, while also building and strengthening them. You are activating and toning your core, as well as neutralizing and stabilizing your pelvis. This allows energy to flow through your entire body. Shoulder Stand helps improve blood circulation, balance, focus, and concentration. It a great prep pose for other inversions such as Head Stand or Hand Stand.
Head Stand – Sirsasana
This inversion also takes a lot of focus and concentration, while improving circulation throughout the body. There is a lot of talk about whether headstand is completely beneficial, but is said to help relieve headache in some cases. Headstand take a lot of shoulder and core strength, and is a very empowering pose.
Hand Stand – Adho Mukha Vrksasana
Handstand is another inversion, that takes a lot of focus and concentration. It also improves body circulation, and is sometimes seen to relieve headaches. It is energizing, and great for balance, strength, and flexibility. You work your biceps, triceps, and core, as you engage your entire body.
Crow Pose – Bakasana
Sometimes Crow Pose is also referred to as Kakasana, but I learned it as Bakasana. Crow Pose takes bicep and tricep strength, but overall, it takes more focus, concentrate, and BALANCE. Balance is the key to this pose. Crow is very empowering and that engages your entire body. You need a strong core to hold Crow for any length of time. Side note: I never thought I would be able to do Crow Pose. I conditioned with many side planks and push up holds, and one day I did it! NEVER give up, this is completely attainable!
Wind Release Pose – Pawanmuktasana
I often refer to this pose as Knees To Chest. This pose is a great way to release tension from your lower back. It engages your arms and shoulders as you hold your knees into your body. A gentle rocking of the spine can feel really nice here, letting the small movements come naturally and move fluidly. Hence this name, this pose is very helpful if you are feeling gassy or bloated. This pose relieves pressure from the abdominal region, and allows the lower back the lengthen. Bringing your Knees to Chest gives you a sense of stability and security, and also improves circulation.
Happy Baby – Ananda Balasana
Happy Baby gently opens the hips and shoulders, and helps lengthen the spine. This pose is another one that feels really nice to rock back and forth in, giving your spine a little massage. This is a great place to relieve lower back or shoulder tension. Happy Baby is often times a good pose to gets any last wiggles are before Shavasana.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose – Supta Baddha Konasana
Benefit number one is that the Sanskirt name for this post is REALLY fun to say, it’s my favorite. This pose opens your hips and relieves tension from the lower back. It is sometimes easy to feel you are too deep into this pose, so putting blocks, blankets, or pillows underneath your thighs may be a good option. Reclining Bound Angle Pose stretches out your groin and expands your inner thighs. It can also help soothe after a birth or miscarriage, as it increases circulation in the reproductive organs. This pose can also help relieve cramping and bloating.
Corpse Pose – Savasana
And finally, Savasana. This is a place to rest after exerting a lot of your energy to the yoga practice you just engaged in. This pose allows you to let go on any tension you are holding, and is a great place for pranayama (breath work.) This pose helps relieve low back pressure and promotes proper alignment. It allows you to just be in tune with how your body is, and how it is feeling. This is a pose for reflection.
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