Yoga is thousands of years old and is practiced by millions of Americans. (See Reference 3) Most classes and routines draw from the same poses. The few dozen or a hundred commonly used asanas are a handful compared to the wealth of choices in the full yoga inventory. But the variety of poses will give you a total fitness workout that strengthens, stretches and relaxes you, whether you are flat on the floor in Corpse pose or upside-down in Headstand.
Bend and Stretch
Forward Bends and Back Bends range from basic Forward Bend, great for hamstrings, to Bridge and Cobra, which stretch your spine from supine and prone positions. Bow pose, an advanced back-bending arc, lengthens the front of your body from ankles to the crown of your head. (See Reference 1) Because the poses enhance a balance of strength and suppleness for the entire musculoskeletal system, performing even the simpler stretches with correct posture and mindful breathing gives you the full benefits of practice. Yoga poses boost your immune system, lower anxiety levels, ease depression and are therapeutic for a host of medical conditions, from high and low blood pressure to carpal tunnel syndrome, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. (See Reference 3)
Take a Stand
Standing poses ground and center you, supplying strong support and stability in one-legged and two-legged postures. Mountain pose is the first standing asana and the one from which you move to variations like Crescent or Half-Moon pose, Tree pose, Chair pose and Triangle pose. (See Reference 1) Standing poses improve your posture, develop stamina, strengthen your legs, engage your core muscles and may tone arms, massage your internal organs, loosen tight shoulders and elongate your torso. (See References 1, 2) The American Council on Exercise points out that one-legged standing poses increase proprioception -- your sense of physical orientation in space -- and strengthen ankle muscles.
Supine and Prone poses, which begin with you lying or sitting on your mat, can target your back, arms, pelvis, hips and shoulders. But many of these poses really shine at working your abs. Some floor poses, like Knee-to-Chest, increase the range of motion in your hip joints, lengthen tight hip flexors, stretch your lower back and firm abs. (See Reference 1) Others, like Child's pose, ease tension in your lower back, massage organs in your pelvic area and boost circulation. Plank opens your chest, improves posture and strengthens your back, arms and abs. Seated poses like Staff pose or Marichyasana, a seated twist, stretch your hamstrings, tone your arms and waist, massage your internal organs, relieve hip and lower back pain, and increase mobility in your shoulder joints and neck. The University of Maryland Medical Center says a regular yoga practice will improve your concentration, sleep habits, digestion and coordination. (See Reference 3)
Defying gravity can be tackled in stages. Clearly, Headstand is the ultimate inversion as you balance on a triangulation of your forearms or lift yourself into vertical, supported on your open palms. But Headstand isn't for everyone and there are a number of poses that flip your perspective while keeping your feet on the ground. Downward-Facing Dog is a partial inversion. (See Reference 1) As you move in and out of it during your Sun Salutations, you'll be lengthening your spine, firming your thighs, releasing your hip flexors and boosting circulation. Shoulder Stand, Headstand and Plow poses are the ultimate upside-down asanas, meant for experienced practitioners and best learned with the guidance of a certified instructor. Use a folded blanket or other cushioned support under your shoulders for Plow and Shoulder Stand to avoid placing too much pressure on delicate neck vertebrae.
- Yoga Basics; Mara Carrico; pp. 22, 76, 93, 139, 152
- American Council on Exercise: Does Yoga Really Do the Body Good?
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Yoga
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .