Have you noticed that some of the most powerful actions are very simple? I feel this is particularly true when it comes to our health and well being. Most of our health concerns have a simple and mighty powerful answer- a wholesome diet with a healthy lifestyle. However, in pursuit of quick solutions to all of our problems, we overlook this.
Diet fads and lifestyle trends have captured our attention time and again, for years. Some are falsely promoted to be the ‘one stop shop’ for health, while others are just plain ‘in vogue’. With time however, science butts in and proves most of them to be unsustainable and unhealthy.
There is one lifestyle ‘trend’, that has endured the test of time- Yoga. And regardless of where you live, what you do and who you are- as long as you are human, you can benefit from it. All you need is your body and some space (and as with everything else, persistence).
As I write this blog, my yoga practice is merely 7 months old and I am already reaping benefits from it. In my pursuit of a better understanding of Yoga and how it helps, I have taken to reading some truly enlightening books on Hatha Yoga (suggestions are most welcome).
In this blog, I write about my experience with regard to the changes I have noticed in my body and mind. The 10 asanas below have helped me a great deal. I find that they are generally easy. However as with any form of exercise, it is important to learn their true expression from a qualified yoga instructor before attempting yoga asanas on your own.
Dandasana/ Staff Pose
‘Danda’ is sanskrit for ‘staff’ or ‘stick’– referring to the staff that holds us upright- The spine. Dandasana is a seemingly easy posture to hold, because the legs are at rest. But sometimes, our sedentary lifestyle (read- laziness!) restricts us from finding this upward lift in the spine. I sit up on a blanket/pillow/block or get the support of a wall sometimes, to help me correct this.
To me honestly, all yoga asanas teach self discipline and bring emotional stability (that we all very much need!). And Dandasana in particular, is an excellent tool that is easy to reap benefits from, anywhere, anytime. If you dont have time for a daily yoga practice; next time you’re watching TV or reading a book or working on your laptop- consider sitting in Dandasana. Why, you ask? Here’s why-
It tones the spinal and leg muscles and helps correct a slouched posture. It lengthens the ligaments of legs and assists in breathing right by correcting a sagging abdominal wall and relieves breathlessness by fixing throat congestion. If your knees are healing from an injury or rheumatism, practicing this pose will ease your pain.
With so many benefits for such little effort, is it sensible to make excuses and suffer later in life? For things you CAN avoid!
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)/ Cobbler’s Pose
Like Dandasana, Baddha Konasana can be practiced anytime, anywhere (even right after meals). It is a simple and power packed asana that treats the internal organs along with stretching hamstrings. It relieves heaviness and pain in the groin area, reduces sciatica pain and also prevents hernia. A daily practice of this pose keeps kidneys and the prostate gland healthy and helps treat urinary tract disorders.
For women, this asana proves to be a true blessing, by keeping the ovaries healthy, correcting irregular menstruation and helps open blocked fallopian tubes. It keeps menstrual pain in check and reduces heavy flow. Practicing The Bound Angle pose for a few minutes each day until late into pregnancy reduces labor pain and eases childbirth. Women with a displaced uterus should not attempt it.
Weighing the efforts this asana requires, against the benefits it provides, Baddhakonasana proves to be a powerful pose indeed!
Anahatasana /Heart to Earth Pose/ Puppy Posture
Anahatasana stimulates the beautiful and rich- Anahata Chakra, the seat of love. At the center of the chest, this chakra invites us to experience compassion, humility and love in all of our relationships.
In times of emotional instability, I incorporate this asana in my practice and hold it for a few minutes. With each deep breath in this pose, I practice letting go of the thoughts/emotions that don’t serve me. It is empowering to be able to navigate your emotions and find ways to be in the presence of love regardless of external circumstances. It is a practice that is cultivated with time, experience and patience.
If you can’t relate to the metaphysics of it, here’s how your body benefits from this pose-
A daily practice of this asana, helps correct respiratory problems by promoting fuller breaths as it opens the thoracic cavity (chest area). You find flexibility in the spine– thereby reducing the stiffness in it. And your shoulders, upper and lower back get a deep stretch! Sometimes, I rock my head side to side against the mat to get a gentle massage on the forehead.
Adho Mukha svanasana/ Downward facing Dog
Have you noticed dogs, when they get up from a long nap? Before they leave their sleeping spot to greet you, they stretch. And what they do while stretching, is the truest expression of ‘Adho Mukha Svanasana’- which literally translates to ‘the posture of a downward facing dog’.
On my first attempt at this asana, my instructor said “this is a calming posture and it helps you rest”. “Yeah, right!” I retorted, as my arms and legs were giving up on me and I couldn’t hold the pose for more than a minute! Well clearly, with time I realized that she was right!
Painful feet, calves and stiff heels sound a little too familiar to a lot of us. It could be because of faulty footwear, over working the feet or walking/running/standing in incorrect postures.
Adho Mukha Svanasana strengthens ankles, tones legs, relieves the pain in heels and softens calcaneal spurs. All this while lowering the heart rate, expanding the chest area for fuller breaths and providing a place to rest between more intense postures. Women find more benefits from a regular practice of this pose, as it keeps a heavy menstrual flow in check. And it prevents hot flushes during menopause.
Here’s another reason dogs are dubbed ‘best friends’!
Utkatasana/ Chair Pose/Fierce Pose
Utkatasana is a seemingly easy squat. However, the way our mind and body benefits from it, is truly incredible.
Practicing the Fierce pose strengthens the lower body– hip flexors, ankles, calves and back. It tones the leg muscles and reduces the symptoms of flat feet. Causing a deep stretch in the chest and shoulders, it facilitates fuller/deeper breaths. It also stimulates internal organs and the diaphragm.
Once I hold the pose for a few minutes, I gently move towards balancing on my toes and send my hands towards the back of my hips. This truly energizes me. That is fitting, since Utkatasana literally translates to ‘Powerful Pose’.
Vrikshasana/ Tree Pose
In a simpler sense of the word, ‘Yoga’ means ‘union’- of the mind, the body and the soul. In my humble capacity, I try to comprehend this concept through my practice. The closest I have ever gotten to even beginning to understand it has been while practicing balancing poses. One of the great things about postures like Vrikshasana is that they zip up your crazy mind and make you focus on the present. Any unrest in the mind shows up in the body. You can truly benefit from these asanas, only when the mind is disciplined, focused and peaceful. And a way to achieve that is, to practice yoga.
The metaphysical advantages aside, practicing Vrikshasana strengthens and tones the entire standing leg up to the buttocks. It improves pelvic stability and strengthens the ligaments and tendons of feet. Tree pose offers a great stretch in the inner thighs and groin. If you suffer from low or high blood pressure, it is advised to not raise the hands above your head, for this pose.
Once you have achieved the true expression of this pose, explore it by closing your eyes and observing yourself. It is very empowering to find peace within. To me, Vrikshasana is a great confidence booster.
Ustrasana/ Camel Pose
It is simply a back bend, that makes your body resemble that of a camel. I will never forget my first time attempting Ustrasana-
I had been dealing with a horrible back and shoulder pain for a few days from excessive coughing and breathlessness (I have allergic asthma). After a couple of sleepless nights, I read about Ustrasana and decided to give it a try (I learned it from an instructor, as should you). Thankfully, I was able to find its full expression in my first try. In all honesty, words cannot describe the relief I felt after stretching my back, shoulders and chest. I took the deepest breath I had taken in the past few days. It was an empowering moment for me at the time to be free of pain and be able to breathe normally with more practice.
For most of us, the nature of our work promotes a slouched posture and drooping shoulders- working at desks or in the service industry. Practicing Ustrasana corrects the posture and increases our lung capacity while improving blood circulation to all organs. It tones the back muscles, spine and eases stiffness in shoulders, ankles and back.
This beautiful back bend, is easily approachable for beginners and elderly people.
Virabhadrasana-1/ Warrior Pose-1
Named after the mythical, legendary warrior- Virabhadra, the Warrior Pose is expressed in 3 different ways. All three are extremely beneficial but 1 and 2 can be performed by beginners. Virabhadrasana-3 is attempted after cultivating a regular healthy yoga practice.
Practicing Virabhadrasana-1 has certainly tested my will power and strengthened it, because even the slightest imbalance makes me fall out of this pose. It took me about 6 months to come even a little close to its true form. With more practice, I still have to achieve a deeper, more intense posture in this pose.
Warrior-1 improves digestion and relieves acidity. It strengthens the bladder and corrects a displaced uterus. A regular practice of Virabhadrasana-1 strengthens and tones the muscles of back and the abdomen. It increases flexibility of the spine, knees and thighs thereby reducing any stiffness in them. Arms, shoulders and chest receive an intense stretch enhancing the lung capacity.
A secondary pose in the ‘warrior series’ is, Virabhadrasana-2. It is not as intense as Warrior-1.
I used to have a constant pain in my lower back, as I am sure many of us suffer from. Warrior-2 helps a great deal in reducing the pain by improving flexibility around that area. My back ache has fairly subsided thanks to this. Aside from this, it improves flexibility in the hip joints and knees and removes any stiffness from the neck and shoulders.
In his book ‘Yoga- A path to holistic health’, B.K.S Iyengar mentions that a regular practice of Warrior-2 also helps in reducing fat around the hip (YES Please!!).
Trikonasana/ Triangle Pose
Transitioning from Warrior-2, by straightening the front knee, and finding a downward twist in the waist brings us to Trikonasana.
Everytime I practice this pose, I imagine my spine as a long straight line starting at the base of my head to the tip of tailbone. This helps me find an upward lift in my torso and does not let it collapse inward. Also, it helps my mind to focus on the asana.
This is a great pose to calm the mind and reduce stress. And it has many benefits for the body too. It stretches the hips, groin, hamstrings and calves; shoulder, chest and spine. Stimulating the internal abdominal organs, it improves digestion. It improves blood flow through the body.
Aside from these 10 poses, there are of course many other simple/easy asanas that are just as beneficial. And as my practice evolves, I would love to write about more Yoga Asanas and how they work on the body. I have been indulging in some great reads on Yoga. If you read a book you really liked, I’d love to know. Leave the suggestions in the comments below.
If you enjoyed reading this blog, I am sure you will love the one I wrote last month- 6 Things my Yoga Practice taught me. So check that out! and let me know what you think!
Until next time,