While Yoga is many things to different people and the discussion could take much more space than we have here, in simple terms the word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning to bind, join or union, as in the joining of mind, body, and spirit to God. Yoga is a system of Indian Philosophy. In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines ways to overcome afflictions of the body and fluctuations of the mind, which are viewed as obstacles to spiritual development [B.K.S. Iyengar]. When one can bring stillness to the body and mind, one can sit comfortably in meditation bringing oneself to a higher consciousness and eventually connecting to the universal spirit leading to personal liberation. Wow…and you thought we were just doing cool things with our bodies!
Posture, or Asana in Sanskrit is just one facet of Yoga, but it’s the most widely known step in the overall process. The word Yoga has come to mean practicing posture whether you are in a class environment or maintain a self-practice.
Vinyasa has become a particularly popular method of practicing Yoga.
The word Vinyasa simply means linking the postures with breath. By inhaling and exhaling a particular way as one enters and exits each pose, the body becomes heated which purifies and detoxifies the body. In a Vinyasa Flow class the movement is continuous. As we move and flow through the practice we connect the postures to the ebb and flow of our breath. This makes for a moving meditation.
Standing and standing balancing poses are often taught in class, especially to beginners as they build so much strength, stability and confidence in the practitioner. The following are traditional Yoga poses one may encounter in class:
Adho Mukha Shvanasana – Downward Facing Dog
Probably the most widely known Yoga posture, Down Dog as it has come to be known has may benefits.
- Relieves stress and energizes the body
- Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
- Strengthens the arms and legs
- Helps prevent osteoporosis
- Improves digestion
- Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
Utthita Trikonasana – Extended Triangle
An amazing hip opener, Triangle is an all-time favorite.
- Stretches and strengthens the thighs, knees, and ankles
- Stretches the hips, groins, hamstrings, and calves; shoulders, chest, and spine
- Stimulates the abdominal organs
- Helps relieve stress, backaches and symptoms of menopause
- Improves digestion
Virabhadrasana I – Warrior 1
Named after a mythic warrior sage.
- Stretches the chest and lungs, shoulders and neck, belly, groins (psoas)
- Strengthens the shoulders and arms, and the muscles of the back
- Strengthens and stretches the thighs, calves, and ankles
Virabhadrasana II – Warrior 2
A powerful strength builder.
- Strengthens and stretches the legs and ankles
- Stretches the groins, chest and lungs, shoulders
- Stimulates abdominal organs
- Increases stamina
- Relieves backaches, especially through second trimester of pregnancy
- Therapeutic for carpal tunnel syndrome, flat feet, infertility, osteoporosis, and sciatica
Vrksasana – Tree Pose
One of the more popular standing & balancing poses, Tree roots, grounds and calms.
- Strengthens thighs, calves, ankles, and spine
- Stretches the groins and inner thighs, chest and shoulders
- Improves sense of balance
- Relieves sciatica and reduces flat feet
Whether you are on a spiritual journey or simply using Yoga as a form of exercise, there’s no arguing that Yoga relieves the physical stress of the body (often brought in through the mind), builds strength, flexibility, stability, stamina, and detoxifies.
While the breath is heating, it is also calming and by using the breath to calm the body, we in turn calm the mind. If we cultivate these benefits in our physical practice, we can in turn apply them to a mental practice, taking Yoga principles off the mat and making Yoga a practical application in every day life.