You've probably heard a lot about the benefits of yoga, ranging from stress relief to improved flexibility. A 2003 article in "Yoga Journal" estimated that around 15 million Americans regularly practice yoga. Yoga is becoming increasingly popular as more and more people learn about concepts such as mindfulness and experience the benefits of physical postures, known as asanas. Asanas are often categorized based on type and specific mental and physical benefits.
The category of standing asanas includes a broad array of poses that are performed while in a standing position, each providing specific benefits for physical wellness. Standing poses can involve developing balance and coordination, as in the Tree pose; strength, as in the Warrior series or the Chair pose; or flexibility, as in the Triangle pose. Certain standing poses have a therapeutic focus, such as the Half-moon pose, which can alleviate back pain, or the Eagle, which is believed to increase sexual energy, according to Bikram Yoga NYC.
Forward bends are postures that can be performed in either a standing or seated position. In a forward bend, you literally bend your body forward to bring your head lower than your heart. Standing and most seated forward bends increase flexibility in your hamstrings and stretch your back. Forward bending asanas include poses such as Standing Forward Bend, the Big Toe pose, and Wide-angle pose. Forward bends are believed to help improve digestion, promote relaxation, reduce stress and massage your internal organs.
Backbending postures are poses that involve arching your back to expand your chest and shoulders, generally performed in a supine or seated position. The backbending asana series includes poses such as the Bow, Camel, Cobra and Locust. Backbends help stretch your chest and shoulder muscles, open up your spine, reduce lower back pain and and improve spinal and cervical flexibility.
Twisting postures are performed in a standing, seated or supine position and focus on rotating your torso and spine. Twists are believed to promote hip and spinal flexibility, alleviate certain back conditions such as sciatica and lower back pain, increase circulation to your spinal nerves, veins and tissues and improve digestion. The Seated Twist, Revolved Chair, Revolved Triangle and the Half Lord of the Fishes pose are examples of common twisting asanas. Twists can impart a feeling of being wrung out your body, resulting in feelings of clarity, vitality and ease, according to "Yoga Journal."
Inversions are arguably some of the most challenging yoga poses to perform. During an inversion, you usually invert your body upside-down to bring your head lower than your heart or, in a few examples, your feet higher than your head. Yoga inversions include postures such as the headstand, shoulder stand and Rabbit pose. Inversions are believed to provide a host of benefits, including promoting circulation to your upper body, encouraging more efficient respiration and increasing lymph flow, according to "Yoga Journal."
Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.