The Ultimate Guide to Yoga Poses
Yoga means something different to everyone. You have your own purposes for your practice, and bring your own intentions to each yoga session. And while your goal may change each time you lay your yoga mat down, the journey you take will always consist of the asanas you perform along the way.
Asanas are the poses you perform in your practice. Asanas have a history that is over a thousand years old, and many of them are all but impossible to date because the texts from which they originate are lost to time. This is why one asana may be known by a variety of different names. But these postures have evolved over centuries, each one with its own specific meaning, purpose, and capability towards connecting the body, the mind, and the spirit.
Each asana has a specific purpose behind it. You might do a certain posture as a means for building strength, another may be done as a way of embodying gratitude, and another could be an ideal method for increasing meditation.
We perform specific asanas so that we may gain the benefits of that particular pose. Combining yoga poses into a sequence allows the asanas to work in conjunction and provide a wealth of enrichment, including strength, flexibility, balance, calmness, mental clarity, and healing.
We're going to dissect all of the poses that exist for targeting parts of the body, specific health conditions, styles of yoga, and a range of skill levels. Feel free to read them all in order or skip ahead to the section that best suits your needs.
Poses By Type
Asanas can be divided up into many different categories. Some of the poses in those categories might even overlap because a wide variety of postures are well-suited for achieving more than one goal. For instance, you might come across a posture that promotes strength, alleviates the symptoms associated with an illness or health condition, and improves flexibility. That one asana could fall under three separate categories.
In this category, we will discuss the range of yoga poses that are classified by type. Whether it's a backbend, a hip opener, or a standing pose, you can refer to this list of asana types to help identify which ones you might want to focus on for your next practice.
There are many asanas that you can perform from a standing position, on either one or two feet. A standing pose such as tadasana may be the basis of a sequence or you can include them to connect other asanas within a series.
The following are examples of standing poses for a range of skill levels:
This is where it all begins. Mountain Pose (or Tadasana) is the most elementary standing pose that exists. You are simply standing in one place on both feet. But there is so much more to Tadasana than meets the eye.
One of the main goals of Mountain Pose is alignment, something that plays a large role in many of the Standing Poses you are likely to perform throughout your practice. If you are able to master Tadasana, you will establish the fundamental proficiency for performing the many other postures that come after it.
Downward Facing Dog (or Adho Mukha Svanasana) is probably the best-known pose in yoga. The body is held in the shape of a V where the tailbone is positioned at the top with the shoulders drawn in, the spine kept straight, and the ribs and belly pulled inward. You can do this pose with the legs bent or keep them straight. There are variants that incorporate both positions, but the heels must always be kept rooted into the floor and both hands positioned apart.
The intent here is to concentrate on the shape and position of the back by working the heels, the calves, the hamstrings, hips, and glutes. You want to elongate the spine and lengthen the body and, in doing so, you will strengthen the wrists and shoulder and back muscles.
One Legged Downward Facing Dog Pose
Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana takes the benefits and challenges of Downward Facing Dog and increases them by adding in asymmetrical balance. Yes, you are still engaging and strengthening the same part of the body at the back, arms, and legs but doing so while lifting a leg off the ground. This will give you the extra benefit of increased stability, something that many effective standing poses offer.
But of course, alignment is the key and you must maintain that proper positioning despite the fact you are now touching the floor at three points instead of four. That means holding the pelvis and shoulders evenly squared off.
Standing Forward Bend Pose
This pose, otherwise known as Uttanasana, is going to give your hamstrings a major workout while allowing your mind to stay calm and relaxed. Much like Mountain Pose, the Standing Forward Bend pose is tougher than it seems. While it looks simple, you need to be aware where you are bending from. It must always be at the hips and pelvis, not the back. The torso must be held close to the legs as you hold the pose.
In order to gain the most benefit from this pose, you want to ensure the proper position of the back and legs which is why it's so important to fold at the pelvis. Bending at the back will curve the spine and defeat the purpose of this pose which flattens and lengthens the back and spine while stretching the calves and hamstrings. Only then will you feel completely relaxed and clear of mind.
Half-Standing Forward Bend
The variation Ardha Uttanasana differs from the original Forward Bend in that your torso is not held flat against your upper legs but placed away with the hands touching the ground. There are similar benefits found in both versions of the pose, with a greater increase in strengthening the back and spine in the half-standing variant. The core muscles will also get a workout in this variation. You can adjust the position of the pose to focus on the hamstrings and calves like the full version of the pose.
Feel free to bend the legs slightly if you are unable to reach the floor. Just be careful if you're nursing any injuries in the neck, hamstrings, or lower back. Anyone suffering from glaucoma should also avoid doing this pose.
Rag Doll Pose
Now that you've done the forward bend poses we've outlined above, you’re ready to try Ragdoll Pose. Here is where you get to let it all hang out, literally because Baddha Hasta Uttanasana translates as Dangling Pose. So while you may have been holding your legs in Standing Forward Bend or touching the ground in Half Standing Forward Bend, the goal of Rag Doll Pose is to simply go limp, like a rag doll. This pose is executed starting from Standing Forward Bend in that you separate the feet from each other towards your hips, grab your elbows and fold forward, allowing your torso to dangle and relax.
Feel free to bend the knees so your chest and thighs combine as you sway from one side to the other. This will bring the relaxation you're looking for in this pose.
You're no doubt familiar with Vrksasana, a fundamental standing pose that works on increasing your balance and mindfulness. While you're standing in place and holding one foot up from the ground, Tree Pose works to strengthen your legs, inner thighs and groin muscles, solidify the core, and elongate the spine. Not to mention giving the ankles and hips a deceptively effective workout.
All that from standing on one leg? You bet. It can also heighten the awareness of your posture and make you more present and centered in the now. Something we don't get to enjoy very often in our fast-paced lifestyles.
There is plenty to love about Utkatasana even if it's a tough one to get right at first. The benefits include gaining stability, reinforcing core strength, and of course, strengthening the legs. But you are going to need plenty of flexibility, particularly at the shoulders, which is why we choose to practice it in our routines. The more you work at it, the more flexibility and balance you can gain from your efforts.
For the perfect example of seeing your skills increase with repeated work on a pose, look no further than Chair Pose. You may not love it right out of the gate, but you'll come around when you see the results of stronger thighs, more powerful and flexible shoulders and arms, and an increase in your balance and stability.
Crescent Lunge Pose
If Ashta Chandrasana looks somewhat familiar to you upon first glance, you may think you're executing some type of variation on Warrior I. You wouldn't be far off, because Crescent Lunge Pose is considered a precursor to the first of the Warrior Pose variations. You even start from Downward Dog and bring your foot forward bent at the knee 90 degrees to enter the pose.
The benefits of Crescent Lunge are found in the legs, back, and arms as all three regions of the body will stretch and grow stronger over time. This standing pose is also considered an effective backbend pose.
Another of the more well-known essential standing poses (even first-timers will probably end up in
Virabhadrasana I at some point during a class), Warrior I poses challenges that you may not even realize you're up against. The pose combines working through the physical and psychological factors of one's life, while helping to strengthen the quadriceps and back muscles. This pose also stretches the ankles, calves, and upper torso all at the same time.
For the psychological side of this pose, Warrior I works to train your focus and strengthen your capacity for concentration. Your determination to achieve your yoga goals will serve you well in learning how to master this first in the Warrior series.
The stance and position of the Virabhadrasana II works to stretch the groin area and increase balance while opening the chest and strengthening the arms. That improved balance doesn't come from pulling a foot off the floor but by training you to better distribute your weight. Bringing your torso from the floor and placing it at an evan stance atop the hips is another important factor of this pose.
You will also feel a flowing sense of confidence and pride in your stance as you remain poised to take on all challenges.
All of that strength and balance you learned from the first two Warrior poses will serve you well in Virabhadrasana III. This version of the pose brings forth more challenges, including backbend and forward-bend attributes, while taking you to the next level in your quest for strength, stamina, and balance.
But perhaps the most critical aspect of the pose is your ability to see beyond your faults. You will be tasked with balancing yourself on one leg. Yes, you will likely lose your balance and fall from the pose. This is where you have the most to learn – to pick yourself up and do it again. You will strengthen your resolve as much as you strengthen your muscles.
Peaceful Warrior Pose
Referred to as Shanti Virabhadrasana, this is a simple variant on the Warrior series. While considered a standing pose, Peaceful Warrior is also a highly effective backbend pose that works to stretch the side of the body along with the arms, shoulders, groin, and legs. This pose can also help to lengthen the spine, open the chest, and increase your balance.
The physical benefits are only part of the equation. Peaceful Warrior can also soothe the mind, calm nerves, and invigorate your emotional state.
Half Moon Pose
Ardha Chandtrasana is all about balance. The balance of conflicting forces that incorporate rooting one leg down to the earth and lifting the other away toward the sky and the balance in which you are challenged to remain upright without falling to the ground. It's how those forces work together that forms the crux of this pose.
As you practice Half Moon Pose you will improve your skills for coordination and gain the level of patience and concentration needed for much more challenging poses to come. Just keep in mind, you may not succeed with the pose at the very start. If you're concerned about tipping over, you can rely on a nearby wall to maintain your balance.
For those of you who have some trouble executing Downward-Facing Dog,you can always turn to Catur Svanasana. For some students, the application of pressure at the wrists or hands can be very painful. Dolphin Pose helps to alleviate the discomfort by keeping that pressure on the forearms instead.
This variation on a popular pose also helps to stretch and strengthen the arms, shoulders, upper back, and the legs.
The practice of Utkata Konasana does wonders for strengthening the quads, the glutes, the calves and even gets the core muscles fired up. Balance is a major component of this pose as you begin in Mountain Pose and pull the feet away from one another about three feet apart. Turn the feet outward at roughly 45 degrees and raise your arms bent at 90 degrees. Bend the knees at roughly the same angle and hold it.
You'll feel the burn in your lower body but your upper body will get the conditioning it needs at the same time. The chest and shoulders are opened up and stretched out in the bargain.