by Sheri Huston, YMCA Yoga Instructor
Yoga's objective is to harmonize the mind, body and spirit. Asanas (the postures) and Pranayama (energizing breath) work together to keep the body healthy. Asanas, or the postures, are more than physical exercises, they are a blend of physical movements and mental drills that inject vitality in the body and bring tranquility to the mind. Asanas can be done standing, sitting, prone, supine or inverted and all have different benefits. A good yoga practice will incorporate all types of Asanas.
Standing Asanas help with flexibility, balance and stability. Mountain Pose may look to an observer as if there is no action, but this posture can help with back pain by keeping the spine supple. Stand with feet and legs together. Arms by the side either with palms to hips or palms facing front. Engage the upper thighs by lifting out from the knee caps as arms are stretching down to the floor. Lift the arms over head as high as you can and then raise up on your toes, lift further holding for 30 to 60 seconds. Tree pose is a common standing balancing position. Balances help relax the mind and this Asana helps keep the calves, ankles, joints and knees supple. Those with acute knee or ankle pain must be very careful. This Asana is a hip opener. Bring the raised leg to the standing leg at whatever point works for you; the ankle, shin, or thigh. Try not to use a wall to hold your balance, adjust your leg positions and advance at your own pace.
Seated Asanas work on relaxing the mind by enhancing concentration and strengthening the spine (work on sitting erect at all times.) Spinal Twists can alleviate back pain while strengthening the back, neck and shoulders. Sit erect, legs extended bending toes toward your nose. Bend first right leg and bring over to the outside of left thigh, right heel as close to left buttocks as works for you. Use right arm as a kickstand behind, raise left arm and cross over right knee or thigh. Try twisting from the lower half working your way up to your shoulders and chin. Hold as long as you can. Then repeat on the other side. Known to help with indigestion and constipation. Cow face position is a bit more difficult but it's benefits include strengthening the liver and kidneys as well as the abdomen/chest/lungs/heart. Fold left knee over right, e.g. knees are stacked and parallel. Complement with eagle arms (right arm over left if left knee is on top) or raise left arm over head, bend at elbow bringing forearm to ear and clasp with a right hand that is extended behind your back.
Inversions are Asanas where your heart and/or your feet are above your head. Inversions are great for stimulating blood flow, removing toxins, improving memory and perking up your metabolism. This includes not only headstands and handstands but also bridge, wheel, downward dog and the like.
We could keep going. What is important is to remember that Yoga is over 5,000 years old, these Asanas have merit in ways most practitioners are not familiar. If there is a specific area you would like to work on, speak with your yoga instructor, do some research or have faith that a good practice is more likely than not to address your concern.