Asanas (आसनानि)

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Asanas (Samskrit: आसनानि) refer to Yogic Postures that are one of the eight important aspects in Ashtanga Yoga or the eightfold path in the practice of Yoga given by Maharshi Patanjali. Asanas are also integral to Hatha Yoga, a system of practices inspired by Yoga Darshana and developed as part of the Yoga tradition with a view to rejuvenate the body and prolong life.[1] The article elaborates on the meaning, types, objectives and benefits of Asanas.[2]

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

Based on the observation of nature, the ancient Rishis of Bharata devised a number of Asanas or postures. So, it is not by mere chance that in Hatha Yoga terminology, all the postures are named after different animals. And each posture or pose has a purpose of its own.

Asana literally means 'seat'. In Yoga, an asana refers to a body posture. Originally a sitting pose for meditation, later reclining, standing, inverted, twisting and balancing poses were added to the meditative posture.[2]

Maharshi Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras says,

स्थिरसुखमासनम् ॥४६॥ प्रयत्नशैथिल्यानन्तसमापत्तिभ्याम् ॥४७॥ ततो द्वन्द्वानभिघातः ॥४८॥[3] sthirasukhamāsanam ॥46॥ prayatnaśaithilyānantasamāpattibhyām ॥47॥ tato dvandvānabhighātaḥ ॥48॥

Meaning: A Posture is that which is stable and easeful which is effected through relaxation of effort and a coalescence with the endless or endlessness. And thereby, one is no longer affected by pairs of opposites like heat and cold.

It refers to the position of the body in which a person experiences ease ie. non-production of discomfort and pain. And stability here is marked by absence of movement. Furthermore, the essential qualities of asanas are described as follows:

  1. Sthira - stable
  2. Nishchala - motionless
  3. Nishkampa - devoid of tremble
  4. Anudvejaniya - not subject to agitations
  5. Sukha - easeful
  6. Sukhavaha - bringing about comfort

Invariably, these also address the problems a beginning practitioner of meditation encounters in the form of

  1. involuntary movements of the body like swaying and general shifting about (countered by Nishchalatva of asanas).
  2. trembling of limbs (countered by Nishkampana of asanas).
  3. excitation and agitation caused by internal reasons such as nervous twitch and jerking or by external stimuli causing sudden movements or the urge to abandon the meditation seat (countered by anudvejanatva of asanas).[4]

Thus, all Yogasanas should be performed slowly by observing Stability (Sthira), Ease (Sukha), Effortlessness (Prayatna Shaitilya) and Boundless Happiness (Ananta Samapatti).[2] For, an asana here is a constituent of Samadhi. And according to the oral tradition, an asana maintained for 3hrs 36mins in absolute stillness, without the minutest tremble anywhere and with a high level of awareness guides one effortlessly into Samadhi.[4]

आसनाभ्यासः ॥ Practice of Asanas

An understanding of the nature of Asanas, highlights six steps in the process of practising the Asanas. They are

  1. Centering
  2. Moving into the Posture
  3. Stabilizing the Posture
  4. Deepening the Posture
  5. Moving out of the Posture
  6. Recentering

The process of moving into the posture begins from stillness, moves through inner stillness and returns to stillness while remaining constantly aware of the flow of the breath. For, moving into and adjusting an asana position while maintaining a strong focus on the breath creates a much deeper practice than simply focusing on body technique.

Thus, the manner and attitude with which asanas are to be performed and the choice of Asanas for practice are two important factors to be considered in the practice of Asanas.[5]

आसनानां प्रयोजनानि ॥ Benefits of Asanas

The Asanas are a gift to humanity by ancient seers. It is said that regular practice of Asanas endows one with a long and healthy life. However, performance of these asanas requires one to focus on the pose and learn to align the body correctly in relation to how it functions; guiding each limb to observe the degree appropriate for the pose. Alignment, balance and strength are key factors of all asanas.[2]

In this context, one basic theory of Asana needs to be understood. The primary human personality consists of the body from waist to the head. The arms and legs are known as Upangas. In the practice of meditation, the position of the primary part that is most important. That is what is meant to be maintained in a straight and balanced position.[4]

The common benefits of asanas are that they

  • Help maintain flexibility and strength of muscular-skeletal system
  • Increase concentration and focus by calming the mind
  • Improve function of vital organ systems
  • Promote flexibility of the spine leading to ease in forward bending, backward bending and side bending
  • Facilitate development of personality[2]

The Asanas help keep the body supple and strong while energizing the mind and boosting self confidence. Practising asanas on a regular basis has shown to enhance brain wave coherence and improve functions such as memory and intelligence. It lowers the stress related hormones in the body and increases both mental and physical performance. They also contribute to emotional stability by increasing the amount of a neurotransmitter 'serotonin' in the body, which is known to induce good mood and a sense of happiness. Yogasanas can help to integrate every aspect of the nervous system, including emotional experience, sensation, cognition, motivation and samskara. They have tremendous therapeutic effects on body, prana and mind ie the physical structure, vital energy and creative intelligence. And helps balance Vata, Pitta and Kapha that define the nature of the body.[5]

More importantly, Yogasanas help those pursuing a spiritual life to prepare the body and mind for union with brahman. Infact, the health benefits of Yogasanas are ancillary to the ultimate goal of becoming one with brahman.[6]

Asanas and Jatharagni

Yoga conceives human existence in the form of five sheaths or Koshas viz. annamaya kosha, prāṇamaya kośha, manomaya kosha, vijnānamaya kosha and Anandamaya kosha.[7] Each of the five koshas or encasements of the atman has a different form of agni responsible for its development.

The agni of the food sheath is the digestive fire Gatharagni) which dwells in the abdomen, particularly in the small intestine where the main digestion of food occurs. The digestive fire breaks down the food we eat into the essence of the five elements. From its action arises the digested food mass that provides nourishment to all the tissues through the plasma. Through it we digest food, which gets transformed into the tissues of the body.

The practice of asana or yogic postures serves to balance, stabilize and further enkindle the jatharagni or physical agni, which helps purify the physical body. When the physical body is still, relaxed and balanced, the digestive fire is also balanced and purified. Correct performance of asana results in good digestion and elimination, a regular and healthy but not excessive appetite. Various postures aid in the increase of the digestive fire, particularly sitting poses and uddiyana bandha.[8]

आसनानां वर्गीकरणम् ॥ Classification of Asanas

It has already been mentioned that all asanas have a purpose and some of them even help culture one's personality. There are primarily two methods prevalent in the classification of Asanas. They are,

Classification of Asanas[2]
Method 1 - Composition of the Posture Method 2 - Purpose of the Asana
  1. Standing Asanas - Where body is supported by soles of the feet.
  2. Sitting Asanas - Where body is supported by the rear.
  3. Prone Asanas - Where one lies face down and body is supported on the stomach.
  4. Supine Asanas - Where one lies down with face upwards and body is supported by the back.
  1. Relaxation - For eg. Shavasana, Makarasana (the crocodile posture), Shithila Tadasana and Shithila Dandasana.
  2. Meditative - For eg. Padmasana, Siddhasana, Vajrasana and Sukhasana.
  3. Cultural - All the remaining postures. They are meant essentially, to develop the personality.

Cultural Asanas and Personality Development

It is said that every cultural Asana has been designed to build personality. For eg.

  • To develop confidence, overcome shyness and become dynamic, it is advised to practice cultural asanas that involve back bending postures like the Chakrasana, Bhujangasana (cobra posture), Ardha Chakrasana (standing bending backward), Suptavajrasana, etc. These practices also strengthen the chest and shoulders.
  • For people who are egoistic, humility can be promoted by practicing front bending postures like Paschimottanasana, Shashankasana, Padahastasana, etc. Because, such people are observed to always hold their shoulders back and heads up. And these prescribed asanas help them overcome egotistic characters and develop a pleasing and warmer personality.[2]

आसनं प्रकृतिश्च ॥ Asana and Body Constitution

Asanas are useful for all body constitutions and help balance the tridoshas in the body. Infact, there are specific asanas that relate to particular body constitutions. However, for their benefits to accrue, they must also be performed appropriately and with due consideration to one's level of practice, particularities of individual bodily structure and organic condition.

Asanas done slowly, steadily and gently generally reduce Vata, those done with coolness, diffusion of energy and relaxation are know to reduce Pitta and those done with quickness, heat and effort are known to reduce Kapha. However, the application of asanas relative to different doshic types cannot be reduced to rigid rules and require adaptation. But, though each doshic type requires emphasis on some asanas more than others and practising them in a manner that aims to treat the dosha out of balance, a complete practice should cover the full range of bodily motions and all main types of asanas.[8]

Yoga Postures for Vata Prakrti

Vata rules over the bones so vata types suffer most from arthritis, particularly after the age of fifty. They tend to be cold, with dry skin and cracking joints, along with poor circulation. They are also prone to scoliosis (abnormal lateral curvature of the spine). Vatas, being somewhat brittle and prone to excessive movement, are also most likely to be injured by wrong practice and' too strong asanas. Vatas must approach as ana carefully as they can easily hurt themselves.

Vatas need to perform asanas in a way that reduces vata, starting with the right mental attitude. Asana practice for vata types should emphasize the pelvic region and colon, the main sites of vata. They should aim at releasing tension from the hips, lumbar spine and sacroiliac joints.

Sitting postures are good for vata, particularly those that create strength and stillness in the lower abdomen like siddhasana (lotus pose) and vajrasana. These postures help develop calm, increase groundedness and control apana vayu.

Since vata tends to accumulate in the spine, making it stiff, vatas should focus on keeping the spinal column supple by practicing spinal bending in every direction. Spinal twists like matsyedrasana are excellent, removing vata from the nervous system.

Forward bends afford immediate relief for excess vata, producing calm and stillness. They are excellent for releasing vata in the back where it builds up as stiffness and tension. They remove excess vata out of the body through the joints. But they cannot remove all vata unless combined with backbends.

Backbends are excellent for reducing vata but must be done gently and slowly to be effective. Backbends, if well grounded and done moderately, strengthen the vata's feelings of centeredness and have a warming effect, strengthening apana and the colon. Small backward bends, like cobra and locust, are the safest in this regard. More complete backbends can be done once profiCiency in these is gained.

Standing postures that emphasize strength, stability and calm are very good for vata, particularly those that aim at developing stillness and balance like the tree pose (vrksasana).

After asana practice, vatas should make sure to rest and relax through the practice of the corpse pose. Vatas should come away from asana practice feeling stable, warmed and calm, with tension released from the lower abdomen.[8]

Yoga Postures for Pitta Prakrti

Pitta people are often overly ambitious, irritable or driven. Yoga postures should be used to cool them down both on the physical and emotional levels. This helps them direct their intelligence within, where they can use it to understand themselves.

Pittas should perform asanas in a way that is cooling, nurturing, expansive and relaxing. This requires relaxing breaths and quiet sitting between strong asanas to release any stress that is developing.

According to the yogic understanding of the body, the solar principle is centered around the navel, the place of the digestive fire that brings heat to the body. The lunar principle is located in the region of the soft palate, where salivary secretions constantly take place that have a cooling and moistening effect.

The upward moving heat of the sun in the navel works to reduce the activity of the moon in the soft palate. Putting the body regularly into the shoulder stand or plow pose protects the lunar principle from the depleting heat of the solar principle and creates coolness. Such postures help reverse the positions of the sun and the moon in the body, bringing balance. This is naturally beneficial for pittas. Spinal twists, like Matyendrasana, are also very good for protecting the lunar principle without redUcing agni or the power of digestion.

Pitta people are benefited by postures that aim at releasing tension from the mid-abdomen, the small intestine and liver, where pitta accumulates. Such are the bow pose, cobra pose, boat pose, and fish pose. These postures allow excess pitta to be eliminated from the body, particularly to flow downward through the digestive tract. Headstands create pitta and should not be done unless one knows how to balance out the heat that they create.

Forward bends are generally good for pitta because they bring more energy to the mid-abdomen and have a cooling and grounding effect if done in a gentle manner. Backbends tend to be heating and so should be done only with moderation and followed by cooling postures. Seated twists help clear the liver, detoxifying pitta. Pittas should come away from asana practice feeling cool, content and calm, with tension released from the mid-abdomen. Their minds should be clear and relaxed, their emotions at rest, with no feelings of competitiveness or irritation. Their awareness should be in a meditative mood, slightly diffused and not overly sharp.[8]

Yoga Postures for Kapha Prakrti

Kapha types possess stocky builds and hold weight easily. However, kaphas must strive to avoid overweight, which is to hold a moderate body weight. Overweight in kapha types results in accumulation of fat, particularly in the stomach and thighs. Kapha also creates mucus in the region of the chest which then moves to different sites in the body, particularly downward. Such excess kapha causes swollen glands, benign cysts, and bone spurs. Many kaphas develop arthritis as a complication of such overweight or poor circulation. As kaphas are prone to heart disease and high cholesterol, care must be taken not to overstrain their hearts in any exercise program.

Kaphas benefit by exercise that causes them to sweat, even profusely, and pushes them beyond what they think is the limit of their exertion (unless they are severely overweight, in which case caution is required).

Sitting asanas, like any condition of reduced movement, causes kapha to increase. Kaphas easily feel tired or fall into daydreaming when holding seated postures. To benefit by sitting postures, which is necessary for meditation, kaphas must practice pranayama of a warming nature.

Vinyasas, like the sun salutation with its constant activity, are stimulating to the kapha constitution. Standing postures in general are good for them, particularly as combined with movement and stretching. Virabhadrasana and its variations are good, particularly aimed at opening the chest, the place in the body where kapha accumulates. Backward bends are generally good for kaphas because they open the chest and increase circulation to the head, where mucus easily builds up for them, blocking the senses and dulling the mind. Forward bends, which tend to contract the chest, are not as good for them except when they are caught up in emotional distress and seek some short term calming influence.

Kapha people usually have slow digestion and low metabolism. To stimulate the digestive capacity, procedures having an action on the navel region (where agni is situated) are very useful (like nauli). The bow pose is the one of most beneficial of yoga postures for them because of this. The plow pose is one of the best for opening the lungs for kapha. Kaphas should come away from as ana practice feeling invigorated, warm and light, with their circulation energized, their chest and lungs open. Their mind and senses should be sharp and clear, with emotional heaviness released and forgotten.[8]

Asanas for different Dosha types[8][5]
Type of Asana Vata Pitta Kapha
Sitting Poses Siddhasana (Lotus pose), Vajrasana (Diamond pose), Virasana, Lion pose, Navasana (Boat Pose) General sitting poses except, the Lion Pose. Lion pose or sitting poses with pranayama.
Standing Poses Vrkshasana (Tree Pose), Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Virabhadrasana (Warrior Poses), Parighasana (Gate Pose) and all standing forward bends. Mostly hips open poses like Vrkshasana (Tree Pose), Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon) Virabhadrasana, Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (extended hand toe), Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana (extended foot above), Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon).
Inverted Poses Headstand, Viparitakarani (a relaxing version). Shoulder stand, Viparitikarani. Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (handstand), Pinca Mayurasana (Peacock Feather pose), headstand and shoulder stand with variations, Plow Pose.
Forwardbends Janu Sirasana (head-knee forward bend), Pashchimottanasana (Full forward bend), Kurmasana (Tortoise), Yoga Mudra (Yogic Seal). Legs open standing forward bends like Prasarita Padottanasana I (extended spread legs), all sitting forward bends, especially,  Upavishta Konasana and Kurmasana (Tortoise), Pashchimottansana, Yoga mudra (yogic seal). Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog).
Backbends Bhujangasana (Cobra) and Locusts. Fish Pose, Cobra pose, Bow Pose. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward dog), all backbends like Upward Bow Pose, Camel Pose (Ushtrasana) and Locust Pose.
Twists Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (turning lying twist),  Bharadvajasana II (Sage Twist), Pasasana ( Noose twist) Ardha matsyendrasana II and  Maricyasana. Jathara Parivartanasana (Alligator Twist) or Maricyasana.
Restorative Fetal Position Fetal Position
Final Pose after Asana Practice Shavasana (Corpse Pose) for atleast 20 minutes. Shavasana (Corpse Pose) Short Savasana (Corpse Pose).

While Suryanamaskara (Sun Salutation) is prescribed for Vata and Kapha constituent people, the pitta prakrti people are advised Chandra namaskara or Moon Salutation.[8]

आसनानां वर्णनम् ॥ Description of Few Asanas

Sitting Poses

Sitting postures are the most important in yoga. All other postures are preparatory for being able to hold sitting poses. Yoga darshana, with its prime aim of meditation, emphasizes on four sitting asanas that are good for pranayama and meditation. Namely, lotus pose, siddhasana, vajrasana, and lion pose.

Dandasana (Staff Pose)

Dandasana is the basic sitting pose. All of the sitting poses begin and end in dandasana.

Process: Sit on the floor, mat, or carpet with the legs stretched out straight in front. Pull the flesh of the buttocks back on each side so that you may sit directly on the sitting bones. Inhale and extend through the straight legs and out through the heels, moving the balls of the feet toward the face. Place the hands on the floor beside the back of the hips (fingers facing forward) and push down to lift the chest up and forward. The spine is straight with the back lifting upward on each exhalation. The hands remain in the same place, but now take the weight off the hands and keep lifting the torso up and extending the legs out. Maintain this posture, breathing comfortably.

The staff pose is especially good for calming vata and pitta, and also reduces kapha. It helps strengthen udana in particular.

Sukhasana (Easy Posture)

Process: Sit in dandasana with the legs stretched out in front. Then bend the legs and cross the right shin over the left, folding the feet under the legs. In this easy 'crossed-legs' position, keep your spine erect. Rest your hands (separated) on your knees. Or cup the left hand (palms up) in the right hand, thumbs touching, and rest them on your lap.

This posture is for those who cannot do more difficult seated postures. It has similar benefits for facilitating pranayama and meditation.

Padmasana (Lotus Posture)

Process: Sit in sukhasana. With both hands, lift the right foot and ankle and gently place them on top of the left thigh with the right heel near the left groin. Then take the left foot and ankle and lift them over the right leg, gently placing them on the right thigh. The soles of the feet are turned upward as the tops of the feet rest on the thighs. Keep the spine erect and close the eyes. Place the palm of the left hand on the palm of the right hand, keeping the hands together between the heels.

The lotus pose regulates vata, controls apana vayu and allows for the prana to move into the sushumna. It is the best posture for pranayama and pratyahara, and excellent for meditation.[8]

Padmasana means 'lotus-pose'. This is known as Kamalasana. Padmasana and Siddhasana are best suited for purposes of Japa, meditation and for the practice of Pranayama.

Procedure: Sit on the ground by spreading the legs forward. Then place the right foot over the left thigh and the left foot over the right thigh. Keep the hands on the knee-joints. You can make a finger- lock and keep the locked hands over the left ankle. Face the north or east.[9]


Process: Sit on a mat with legs stretched out. Bend the right knee and place the heel of the right foot under the perineum. Now bend the left leg, placing the left heel on top of the right heel and against the pubic bone. Keep the head, neck and back straight. Fix the gaze at the third eye. With the tops of the hands on the knees, make jnana mudra (sign of knowledge) by touching the thumb with the index finger. Keep the other three fingers straight, palms facing upward.

Siddhasana is perhaps the best posture for concentration and meditation and promotes spiritual knowledge. It calms vata, controls apana and keeps prana moving upward. It does not aggravate the other doshas.[8]

Next to Padmasana comes Siddhasana in importance. If you get mastery over this Asana, you will acquire many Siddhis. Young Brahmacharins who attempt to get established in celibacy should practise this Asana.

Procedure: Place one heel at the anus and keep the other heel at the root of the generative organ. The feet or legs should be so nicely arranged that the ankle-joints should touch each other. Hands can be placed as in Padmasana.

Books on Hatha Yoga eulogise the merits and advantages of Padma and Siddha Asanas to a very high degree. He who sits on any one of the Asanas even for 15 minutes daily with closed eyes, concentrating on God, destroys all sins and gets Moksha. These Asanas are useful to cure rheumatism and to keep the system in proper order. They purify and strengthen the nerves of the legs and thighs. They are suitable very much for maintaining Brahmacharya.[9]

Vajrasana (Diamond Pose)

Process: Sit down on bent knees so that the calves touch the thighs. Place both heels close to each other and then sit on the heels. Place the palms over the respective knees. Keep the body straight and look straight forward.

Diamond pose is excellent posture for pranayama, particularly of the heating type like right nostril breathing, bhastrika, and kapalabhati. It helps awaken prana and kundalini and is excellent for stimulating pranagni.

Simhasana (Lion Pose)

Process: Sit down placing the left foot beneath the right hip and the right foot beneath the left. Spread the fingers like the claws of a lion and place them on the knees. Draw the stomach inward and spread the chest forward. Open the mouth wide and stick out the tongue as much as possible. With open eyes gaze at the third eye.

Lion pose increases agni and pitta on all levels, energizing the head, eyes, throat and digestive system. It reduces kapha and vata, countering cold and low energy.

Standing Poses

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Tadasana is the basic standing posture. It is the position that each standing pose begins from and returns to when completed.

Process: Stand upright with feet hip distance apart and parallel. Be aware of both feet evenly contacting the floor and balance the weight evenly on the balls and heels of the feet (toes remain relaxed). Strengthen the muscles in the legs and pull the knees up. Lift the hips up away from the legs. Continue the lift by stretching the spine upward from the tailbone through the top of the head. The shoulders are relaxed back and down. The arms and hands hang relaxed at the sides.

Tadasana is a grounding pose that balances all doshas if performed in the right manner. The right posture for standing sets the basic tone of our bodily posture, particularly for movement.

Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)

Stand in tadasana. Spread the feet 3-4 feet apart. Turn the right foot, knee and leg 90 degrees to the right. Turn the left foot in slightly, keeping the left leg straight. Stand with the weight on the outsides of the feet, arches lifting. Breathe in and raise the arms out to the sides to shoulder level. Exhale and bend the entire torso to the right, keeping the spine straight and the shoulders vertically over the right leg. The chest opens toward the ceiling as the spine continues to lengthen out to the right. Breathe fully holding the position. Inhale to lift the body back to standing and, with an exhalation, return back to tadasana. Repeat to the left side.

Trikonasana is good for all doshas, particularly for vata and vyana.

Virabhadrasana (Warrior II)

Process: Stand in tadasana. Spread the feet approximately 5 feet apart. Breathe in and raise the alms out to the sides and up to shoulder level. Exhale and turn the right foot, knee, and leg 90 degrees to the right. Turn the left foot in slightly by moving the left heel out. Stand with the weight on the outsides of the feet, arches lifting. As you exhale, bend the right knee to 90 degrees, shin vertical to the floor with the hips facing forward (as much as possible while keeping the right knee over the right heel). Keep the left leg and knee very straight both when coming down into the pose and in maintaining it. The lower back lengthens down as the chest opens forward and up. Stretch out through the arms and hands while keeping the shoulders down away from the ears. Maintain this position while breathing comfortably and evenly On an exhale , return to tadasana. Repeat to the other side.

Virabhadrasana opens the chest and lungs. It increases pranagni and vyana and reduces kapha. It is grounding and stabilizing to vata.

Parshvakonasana (Extended Angle Pose)

Process: Stand in tadasana. Spread the feet about 5 feet apart. Breathe in and raise and stretch the arms Sideways to shoulder level. Exhale and turn the right foot 90 degrees to the right. Turn the left foot in slightly by moving the left heel out. Stand with the weight on the outsides of the feet, arches lifting. As you exhale, bend the right knee to ninety degrees and come into virabhadrasana II. Keep the left leg and knee very straight. Lengthen and bend the torso sideways down to the right and put the right hand on the floor behind the right foot. The right side of the torso is in line with the right thigh and the chest revolves toward the ceiling. Turn the head and look up in front of the outstretched left arm that is alongside the left ear. Breathe normally as you maintain this pose, then inhale and come back to virabhadrasana II. Exhale and move back to tadasana. Repeat on the other side.

A grounding posture, parsvakonasana mainly reduces vata and kapha.

Inverted Poses

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasa)

Process: Begin on the hands and knees with the hands under the shoulders and the knees hip distance apart under the hips. Inhale and keep the arms straight. Exhale, push the buttocks up toward the ceiling, straightening the legs. Standing on the balls of the feet (the heels up) drop your head so that you look towards your feet. From the wrists to the tailbone, the body is in a straight line. With the tailbone held up, keep lengthening the arms and torso as you let the heels come down toward the floor. Breathe comfortably as you maintain this posture. Then bend the knees, sit back on the heels, put the head on the floor and rest in fetal pose.

Dog pose is especially energizing for kapha and grounding for vata. It helps balance all the doshas.

Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulder Stand)

Process: Lay flat on your back. Bend your knees and bring your legs up to your chest and swing them over your head until you have raised your trunk and legs to vertical, while bending at the neck with your shoulders and arms supporting you on the ground. Rest your elbows on the ground firmly and support the back with both palms. The whole body weight should rest on your shoulders and arms (you may need to use folded wool blankets under the torso and shoulders with the head and neck on the floor to soften the strain on the neck and head). Keep the body still and hold the posture breathing comfortably. To come down, bend the knees and, using the arms for support on the floor behind you, slowly unroll the spine back to the ground until the back and feet rest on the floor.

The shoulder stand regulates udana vayu and kapha in the region of the chest. It counters high pitta (unless we hold the posture too long) and reverses apana vayu. It is a good blood purifier and nourishes the brain, throat and lungs. Good for hypothyroidism, relieves headaches and counters constipation.

Viparitakarani (Restorative Inversion)

Process: Place a bolster or an 8-12 inch pile of wellfolded blankets against a wall. Sit sideways at the edge of the blankets with one sitting bone on the blankets and one on the wall. With the hands on the floor for support, bend and then swing the legs up the wall as you turn onto your back to lie on the floor and blankets. The legs are straight up the wall. Keep the sitting bones against the wall and the hips and low back on the blankets. The shoulders, neck, and head are on the floor and the arms are relaxed over the head on the floor. Hold the position comfortably for some time, then bend the knees and gently roll over to the side and off the blankets.

Viparitakarani is a relaxing pose that keeps the chest open and the breathing relaxed as the blood moves down into the head and shoulders. Reduces excess tension in the brain and mind. Excellent for headaches, migraines and sinus conditions, and improving circulation to the head. Can be used to balance all the doshas.


Bhujangasana (Easy Cobra Pose)

Process: Lay face down on the mat. Keep the legs together, forehead touching the ground, and the soles of the feet facing up. The palms are flat on the ground under the shoulders, elbows bent and close to the sides. First raise the head slowly, moving the face up, then the head and then the neck, shoulders, and sternum. Allow the upper portion of the body to follow as the back of the head continues to lift upward (chin does not extend forward). During this time no weight should be placed on the hands as initially the back muscles should be strengthened. After maintaining this position for some time, extend the chest forward to unroll the spine back to the lying-down position.

The cobra pose harmonizes pitta and regulates samana vayu, stimulating agni. It calms vata in the colon and improves circulation in the digestive region. It also stimulates kundalini, whose energy is like a cobra.

Matsyasana (Fish Pose)

Process: From lying on the back, raise the torso up onto the forearms, elbows, and hands. The elbows are beside the torso and under the shoulders, fingertips are under the hips. Arch the upper back and lean backward, shifting the body weight back and the head toward the floor. Gently place the upper back of the head on the floor, still supporting the weight with the arms and hands. Inhale and continue arching the back and neck. As you gain strength in the back and shoulders, you may want to ease away some of the support of the arms and slowly move them down under your hips. Maintain comfortably in this arched back position for a few moments, then ease the arms out from under you and relax down to the lying position.

The fish pose increases agni and helps move pitta out of the digestive system and liver. It is also good for the throat and lungs.

Forward Bends

Upavishtha Konasana (Seated Angle)

Process: Sit in dandasana with the legs stretched out straight in front. Inhale and open the legs as wide apart as possible. Exhale, extend out through the heels, straightening the legs and bringing the balls of the feet back toward the face. The kneecaps face the ceiling and do not roll in or out. Use the fingertips on the floor behind the hips to push up to straighten the spine. Keep the spine (including the neck) straight, extending up through the top of the head as you move forward bringing the torso toward the floor. Breathe comfortably and maintain the posture. Then inhale as you move back to dandasana.

The seated angle reduces pitta and vata, increasing calm and steadiness.

Pashchimottanasana (Full Forward Bend)

Process: Sit in dandasana with the spine erect and the legs and heels extended. Inhale and stretch the arms up to the ceiling, drawing the spine upward. Hold the length of the spine as you exhale and move the low abdomen forward toward the thighs. Keeping the shoulders back and the chest open, continue to breathe and move the trunk slowly forward until you can hold onto the legs or feet. As you inhale, strengthen the legs and push out through the heels. As you exhale, lengthen the spine and move further forward until your trunk is stretched along the thighs (with the spine and neck still straight) and your face moves to your shins. Hold this posture working with the breath for a minute or two and then return to dandasana.

Paschimotanasana regulates apana vayu, strengthens digestion, and is cooling to the head. Also it can be used to pull the chest forward and reduce kapha. As with most forward bends, it soothes vata imbalance and is excellent for reducing pitta.[8]

Procedure: Sit on the ground. Stretch the two legs stiff like a stick. Catch the toe with the hands. Place the forehead on the two knees slowly. You can bend still further and keep the head between the thighs also. This reduces fat, and stimulates the digestive fire. This is useful in all diseases of the stomach, and for curing the enlargement of spleen.[9]


Jathara Parivartanasana (Alligator Twists)

There are 4 positions for this easy, comfortable twist. The instructions are the same for each position with the exception of the foot and leg position. For each position begin by lying on the back.

  • Position 1: Keep the legs and feet together and straight (center). Lie on the back. Stretch the arms out sideways until they are at right angles to the body. Inhale, pushing through the heels and straightening the legs. Exhale, turning the hips and legs to the right as you let the head move to the left. Remain in this position with the spine rotated for a few moments, then inhale and move back to center. Exhale and rotate the hips to the left side, letting the head turn to the right. Breathe as you hold the position for a few moments and then return to center with the inhalation.
  • Position 2: One leg is bent with its foot placed on the knee of the straight other leg. Follow the instruction for breathing and turning as written in Position l.
  • Position 3: Both knees are bent and brought to the chest to begin. Follow the instruction for breathing and turning as written in Position l.
  • Position 4: The completed pose, both legs are straight and in the air perpendicular to the torso. Follow the instruction for breathing and turning as written in Position 1.

This simple twisting movement is very beneficial for improving circulation to the spine and nadis, especially for vyana, vata and pitta.

Ardha Matsyendrasana (Full Spinal Twist)

Process: Sit in dandasana. Bend the left leg in and place the foot underneath the buttocks. Place a folded blanket under the foot for comfort. With the top of the left foot down and at a right angle to the ankle, sit on the left heel so that the right sitting bone is directly on the arch of the foot (Note reflexology for the foot working on the spine).

The left knee faces forward. Now take the right foot over the left knee to the floor on the outside of it. The right knee is facing the ceiling. Press the floor with the fingertips and elongate the spine upward. Sitting into the left foot, slowly turn to the right (beginning the rotation from the base of the spine). Place the left arm on the outside of the right knee, with the hand and forearm vertical. (Right fingertips are still on the floor assisting with lift and balance) With the ribs lifted turn the abdomen. The pose is completed by bringing the back of the left armpit in contact with the right knee and moving the back of the left arm around to encircle the right knee, clasping the right wrist with the right arm behind you. It is most important that the breath should remain full and steady at all times in twisting poses. Remain in the pose for 20-40 seconds, then on an exhalation release the arms and legs and repeat to other side.

This twist strengthens the spine, counters scoliosis, improves digestion, and reduces vata. It helps detoxify the liver, removing heat from the small intestine, reducing pitta.

Final Pose for Every Asana Practice

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)

Process: Lay down comfortably on the back with the legs stretched long and slightly apart. Make sure to keep the body warm. Pull the shoulders down and tuck them under you as you. lengthen the arms along the floor, palms up. Arms and hands are kept slightly away from the torso. Lengthen the neck and head. Inhale deeply. Exhale and allow the whole body to let go and comfortably relax. Systematically release all tension held in each part of the body. Then let go of the mind by focusing on the breath and its movement through the body. Completely relax in this way for 20 minutes.

Savasana is considered to be the most important asana and always follows and completes any asana practice. It helps relieve accumulated vata or stress, particularly at the end of asana practice, and cools down pitta as well.[8]

Datey et al. (1969) studied the effect of śavāsana (lying down posture with awareness of breathing by attending to stomach movements) on hypertensive patients and found that a group of subjects who took no drugs showed a significant decrease in their blood pressure. They also reported that the patients experienced a sense of well-being and improvement in somatic symptoms after practicing śavāsana 30 min daily for about 30 weeks.[10]

Advanced Asanas


Procedure: Spread a fourfolded blanket. Sit on the two knees. Make a finger-lock by interweaving the fingers and place it on the ground upto the elbow. Keep the top of your head on this finger-lock or between the two hands. Slowly raise the legs till they become vertical. Stand steadily as long as you can and then slowly bring the legs down. Do the Asana very slowly without any jerks. While standing on the head, breathe slowiy through the nose and never through the mouth.

When you begin to learn this Asana, you can place the palms on the ground one, on each side of the head. You will find this easy to practise. When you have learnt balancing, then you can take to finger-lock method. Ask your friend to assist you to keep the legs steady or get the help of a wall, in the beginning stage of your practice.

Pundit Raghunath Shastri at Badari Narayana says that this leads to natural Pranayama and Samadhi by itself. No other effort is necessary. If you watch the breath, you will notice that it becomes finer and finer. ln the beginning of practice there will be slight difficulty in breathing. As you advance in practice, this vanishes. You will find real pleasure, exhilaration of spirits in this Asana. Sri P.V. Acharya finds this highly beneficial for meditative purposes because the brain centres are supplied with a large quantity of blood. In this Asana alone the brain can draw plenty of Prana and blood. You can hear the Anahata sounds quite distinctly while practising. Mark these sounds carefully. Words will fail to describe adequately the beneficial results and effects. This is a panacea, a cure-all, a sovereign specific for all diseases. Memory admirably improves. It heightens the psychic faculties. Great benefit is derived by sitting for meditation after Sirshasana. It transmutes the sex-energy into Ojas-Sakti, spiritual energy. It energises, invigorates and vivifies. In Yogatattva Upanishad it is said: "On the first day, the Yogi should stand on his head with the feet raised up for a moment. He should increase this period gradually every day. Wrinkles and greyness of hair will disappear within 3 months. He who practises only for a period of 3 hours every day conquers time."

It helps Brahmacharya a lot. It ·awakens the Kundalini Sakti. It relieves congestion in the seminal bags and checks wet-dreams, spermatorrhoea. Eyesight improves. All diseases of the eye, ear, nose, head, throat, stomach, genito-urinary system, liver, spleen, lungs are removed. It removes deafness, gonorrhoea, diabetes, piles, asthma, consumption, pyorrhoea, constipation, renal colic, syphilis, etc. It is a powerful blood-purifier, brain and nervine tonic. It augments the digestive fire, Jatharagni.


This is another important Asana.

Procedure: Lie on the back flat. Slowly raise the legs quite vertical. Support the back with the two hands. This is an easy Asana. Sirshasana is a little more difficult. Concentrate the mind on the thyroid in the neck. Practise this Asana from 5 to 20 minutes, twice daily. Press the chin against the chest. Then slowly bring down the legs.

Sirshasana, Sarvangasana combined with Paschimottanasana can keep you in perfect health. You need not take any long walk or physical exercise. Physical exercise draws the Prana out. Asanas send the Prana in. Asana distributes Prana quite evenly throughout the different systems of the body. So the effects are different in two cases. Asana is not only physical but also spiritual, as it awakens the serpent power, Kundalini Sakti, and as it forms the third Anga of the Raja Yoga. A particular Asana removes a particular disease. Mark the wonderful power of Asanas. Sarvangasana centralises the blood in spinal column and nourishes beautifully all the spinal roots of nerves. But for this Asana, there is no scope for these nerve-roots to draw a sufficient blood-supply.

In this practice, the thyroid gland which is situated a little above the root of the neck is nourished properly. Thyroid gland is a ductless endocrine gland with a mysterious internal secretion which is absorbed directly into the blood. Thyroid takes a wonderful part in metabolism of the body, in growth, structure and development. Metabolism is the sum total of constructive and destructive changes which go on, in the body. This thyroid operates in conjunction with other ductless glands, such as pituitary, pineal in the brain, supra-renal above the kidneys, liver, spleen, testes, etc. If this thyroid is diseased, all other glands suffer. A vicious circle is formed. Sarvangasana keeps a healthy thyroid. Healthy thyroid means healthy functioning of all the organs of the body. Sarvangasana keeps the spine very elastic. Elasticity of the spine means everlasting youth. Sarvangasana awakens Kundalini, checks wet dreams, removes constipation, helps digestion, exhilarates the heart, purifies the blood, tones the nerves and brain and removes all diseases. Sarvangasana energises, invigorates and vivifies. A course of Sirsho-Sarvanga powerfully rejuvenates the body and dispenses with monkey-gland grafting.[9]


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  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Yoga - Level B (Chapter 3), Open Basic Education Programme (Bharatiya Jnana Parampara), Noida: National Institute of Open Schooling.
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