In the second sutra of his principal book, Patanjali defines yoga as “control of the modifications of the mind field”. It means that when we are on the mat, our goal is to stop the everlasting inner dialog, control the process of thinking and manage our own mind. This is what is most important; not being able to assume sophisticated postures. It is in Savasana when you start to understand that yoga is not just a set of stretching exercises, as it may seem at first. Making your body healthier and stronger, which is achieved through physical aspects of yoga (asanas), is only the tip of the iceberg. A preparation stage necessary for practicing at a higher level. Savasana is the first step leading to that level.
Vasisthasana (or Side Plank) is a powerful and challenging arm balance that requires strength, flexibility, and balance. Overflowing with benefits, this posture strengthens the wrists, arms, shoulders, core, and legs while simultaneously stretching the hips, groins, and hamstrings. A quintessential yoga pose of both strength and flexibility, Vasisthasana also requires balance, concentration, and grace to practice with ease. As with all yoga poses, a keen attention to the breath creates stamina in this difficult asana.
When we roll out a yoga mat for practice, it’s usually because we seek stability. Stability in the body as we play with balance and gravity, but, perhaps more importantly, stability of the mind. A steady yoga practice is a refuge, a sanctuary, and a grounded force for daily life. In a world that can feel erratic and unstable, yoga offers a reliable source of peace. Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) is a beautiful manifestation of that safety, represented in a single, solid pose. Yoga is a process of self-discovery which can be intimidating as much as it is freeing. Within that journey, Trikonasana is a grounding force that can be relied upon. Sutra 2.46 of Patanjali says: “Posture (asana) [should be] stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha).” There is no better place to explore this power of comfortable stability than in Utthita Trikonasana.
Salamba Sarvangasana: Shoulderstand — It’s History, Meaning and Method
Shoulder stand is a mysterious pose. Scholars make an educated guess that it’s been with us since at least pre-modern times. By its Sanskrit name, Salamba Sarvangasana, we can date it only back to 1934, where we read about in Tirumalai Krishnmacharya’s book, Yoga Makaranda. But, if Salamba Sarvangasana is the same pose as Viparita Karani — mentioned in the 15th century Hatha Yoga Pradipika — it has been with us for many centuries. The earliest picture we have of the pose by this name is fairly late — but it looks alot like Shoulderstand (in its “unsupported” form). We see that picture in the March, 1898 New York Herald (Figure 1).
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog, is likely the most ubiquitous pose in the entire yoga practice. Utilizing the full body, creating both strength and flexibility, it is really no wonder that so many differing schools and styles of yoga have adopted this all-encompassing posture into their disciplines. A forward fold and a spinal neutralizing pose, Down Dog works to create length in the back body while simultaneously strengthening the arms, back and core. But even beyond just the physical, Adho Mukha Svanasana is often used as a ‘resting’ pose between other more challenging postures to both relax the mind and restore the breath. Allowing practitioners to draw their attention inward, this pose provides the perfect space to bring meditation into the physical asana practice.
Mayurasana (Peacock Pose). Its History, Purpose and Method
Some yoga poses are new, and some are thousands of years old. By this measurement, Mayurasana is on the young side. We find a description of Mayurasana in the 500-year-old Hatha Yoga Pradipika, yet we have depictions of other yoga poses that go back 5000 years. Similarly, some poses are easy and some poses are hard. Mayurasana is not the hardest pose in yoga, but it is definitely difficult! As you can see from the images here, its shape is unusual and—arguably—unnatural. Besides the delightful physical challenge it gives us-and the benefits to balance, strength and endurance it offers—we might ask, “why do such a pose?”
The Value of Inverted Asanas
Life has a way of surprising us, so it’s empowering to be the one to decide to turn life upside down. Yoga inversions are a safe, beautiful, exhilarating way to do just that. A yoga inversion is simply any asana that brings the hips above the heart or the head below the heart. With this simple definition, an inversion takes – literally – many shapes and forms depending on what your body needs and is prepared for. Whether it’s as basic as Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) or as challenging as Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand), there is a place for inversions in your practice.
The Importance of Forward Bends
There are many, many poses within the yoga practice that incorporate some aspect of forward folding. Forward bends tend to be more restorative, cooling postures that often move the head below the heart also creating the effects of an inversion. Introspective and soothing, these gentle (or deeper forward) bends work to lengthen the entire back body, stretching the neck, the upper, middle and lower back, glutes, hips, hamstrings and calves. Literally lengthening from head to toe, these postures create space and awareness throughout.
Downward Dog cultivates strength for the rest of your practice. In addition to working muscles in the arms and shoulders, the whole pose is like a breath of fresh air for the entire body. Downward Dog asks for a beautiful balance in your practice: effort and ease, strength and surrender, muscular effort and flexibility. This is felt by grounding your hands into the mat and running lines up energy up the arms. The energy is carried through the hips, reaching towards the ceiling, and back down through the legs, where hamstrings are stretched and the spine is open. The gentle inversion calms the mind and nervous system while rejuvenating the blood. It’s a great pose for grounding yourself and getting out of your mind.
Yoga for the Core: Why It’s Important & How To Practice
The core can often be seen as this mysterious part of the body that is either toned by six-pack muscles or just weak. Oftentimes in yoga, teachers instruct students to “activate the core” without totally explaining how or what that means leaving students confused or desperately trying to suck in their bellies while holding their breath. The core can be somewhat complex, but it is absolutely imperative to a healthy and safe yoga practice and its strength can contribute to overall health and wellbeing.
Vrikshasana or Tree Pose
When we hold the leg up and balance in Vrikshasana, it is supposed to build mental focus and inner heat (tapas). It is like the simpler (but more difficult!) practice of holding one or two arms up, called Urdhva Dhana, described in the very old scripture called The Maitri Upanishad from the 2nd Century. There, it says, “A King called Brhadratha . . . went out into the forest . . . embarking on the highest asceticism, he stood, arms held upward, gazing at the sun.” 1 As described in the captions to Figures 3 and 4, yogis hold both Urdhva Dhana and Vrikshasana for unbelievably long amounts of time. Brhadratha is said to have held Urdhva Dhana for one-thousand days and the general prescription is to hold it for 12 years! Figure 1 shows another King, who’s name is a bit like Brhadratha. He’s called Bhagiratha, and his myth tells us he did Tree Pose for one thousand years to persuade the gods Brahma and Shiva to bring the Ganges River to Earth. (This was before the Ganges River existed on Earth!).
A Few Words About Padmasana or Look After Your Knees
Padmasana is, of course, one of the most cherished asana for beginner yogis. Everyone wants to gain the compact stability which is energetically ideal for meditation as quickly as possible. Not to mention the fact that it is simply beautiful. But you should not hurry. The Lotus posture, like any other, should not be an end in itself. Asana in the wide, “limb” sense is just a means, part of a great journey and in no circumstances its final point. The limbs of your personal yoga should grow uniformly in all directions. The main problem associated with Padmasana consists in the fact that our body allows us to approach it without warning of the dangers for the knee joint. Going too fast is fraught with injury which will make you forget all about Padmasana for several months in the best case, and require surgical intervention in the worst. The point is that our knee joints anatomically are much weaker than the hip joints and if the latter are insufficiently opened, an excessively intensive rotatory load is transferred to the knee, making it carry out an atypical function. The knee is intended for flexion only “forwards-backwards”, and in no circumstances “to the right/to the left”!
Rooster Pose: Kukkutasana
This pose is at least 500 years old. It is first seen in one of our most dramatic early images of a yoga, near the year 1500. It is found at the pilgrimage site of Sri Sailam, about 300 miles northeast of Bangalore, India. There, in a carving on the north wall of a temple named ...
Twisting: Why Do We Do These Asanas?
Yoga is an evolutionary process. I learned this in my first yoga teacher training program at White Lotus Foundation in Santa Barbara, CA. I had no idea how accurate that was until now, 8 years later, and I see not only my practice changing and evolving. I see hundreds of people attending Wanderlust...
Virabhadrasana or Warrior Pose
Indian artists made careful choices about how to position Indian gods and goddesses in painting and sculpture. They meditated to find what deities looked like, 1 and found familiar bodily positions in their visions. These body positions became ...
How backbends effect more than just your back
Back bends can be scary and intimidating because it’s the process of deeply opening yourself up to find what’s hiding beneath the surface. Revealing parts of yourself that are yet to be discovered. Emotional wounds, that are covered in buried treasures. The buried treasure...
Standing Balance Yoga Postures
Below are easy to follow guidelines to establish a safe and effective balancing practice paired with postures commonly found in any Yoga class. We will start with Tadasana, Mountain Pose as it serves as the blueprint needed to achieve balance physically, mentally and energetically.
What to Do with Thoughts During Savasana?
At the beginning of his ‘Yoga Sutras’, Patanjali gives the following definition: ‘Yoga is the restraint of mind fluctuations’. Here ‘mind’ is understood as the totality of such processes as observation, reasoning, evaluation, and memorisation. It operates in terms of a person’s individual characteristics: feelings, emotions, desires, memory, and intelligence. It turns out that, in fact, Yoga is the ability to sort things out in one’s head rather than the ability to perform intricate poses. Let’s try understand why this is so important and how to curb these ‘mind fluctuations’.