Basic Yoga Poses | Introduction
Basic Yoga poses is a big word with a history of meaning—about 5,000 years worth to be exact. Although it has a heavy foundation in the spirituality and religions of India, it can and has been largely divorced from that on its voyage to the West. This is a similar case to meditation which is simply a tool for refining one’s mind or it can be used in a spiritual setting to achieve Enlightenment.
Yoga has come to mean a form of physical exercise that has myriad benefits. Initially, this was all hearsay to Western ears as various swamis and gurus swore by the benefits. In the last few years, however, science has begun testing the claims of yoga. Surprisingly, scientists have discovered countless benefits to this ancient practice. Before we learn how to do it, it will be helpful to understand why we should do yoga. Remember the following benefits as you push through your poses and build your resolve.
The first benefit is that yoga improves your flexibility. This seems like an obvious one, given how “bendy” the common yoga poses seem to people. But why should flexibility matter? Well, you will notice after a short while of practice that your aches and pains start to diminish and maybe even go away completely. As you increase your flexibility, your body relaxes into its natural position. This position is most beneficial for your system. So tight hips (which most people living a modern lifestyle have) will cause knee joint problems because of a misalignment—imagine that misalignment being fixed and you have saved yourself years of pain down the line.
You will also be able to maximize your lungs. Right now, most Westerners don’t use their lungs to the their full capacity. Research shows that yogis (people who practice yoga) take fewer breaths, but that those breaths are deeper and longer. Yoga has explicit instructions that encourage you to breathe this way but you will find yourself doing so regardless. This is because yoga poses are designed in such a way that they destroy whatever unnatural habits for your body you have developed. Even if you resisted breathing deeply and continued doing yoga, one day you will just find much relief in a pose when you realize that it simply feels better to breathe deeply. The benefit of this is that you oxygenate more of your body and increase your energy. You will also clean the air that you are breathing better because you are sending it through more of your lungs. Your lungs are respiratory tract is filled with tiny hairs that help clear out debris.
Yoga can also boost your immune system. This was a surprising finding for scientists, but both yoga and meditation boost your immune system. It does not take long for these benefits to naturally accrue either—it can start happening in as little as two months. Yoga makes your immune system more effective. After practicing yoga, your immune system will respond by increasing your antibody levels against a virus or in response to a virus more effectively than if you hadn’t practiced. It also lowers your antibody levels faster than if you were not a yogi.
Bad sleep is a problem reaching near epidemic proportions in the West. We have countless pills, potions, and apparatuses to deal with insomnia and general trouble sleeping. Yoga, however, holds a natural, drug-free cure. As you practice yoga, your body naturally learns to be relaxed as you go about your day. Imagine having a stressful day where you experience no pains and knots in your back at the end of it. In such a case, you would have much less of a problem falling to sleep because your body has continued to work optimally. This is what yoga can do for you. By training your mind and your body to relax, you are saving years of your life and countless dollars by using free and ancient techniques.
Yoga is great for your heart. Heart disease is a top three killer of people prematurely in this country. It is a serious public health problem and money is being thrown at it to solve it. You can save yourself from suffering from this common ailment through yoga. The first way yoga is good for your heart is that it reduces your blood pressure. This comes about, in part, by some of yogas other benefits. As you breathe deeper and take in more air, you better oxygenate your blood.
When you can fuel your body on less blood cells (because your full breath fully loads each red blood cell with oxygen instead of only loading them halfway with ineffective breathing) your heart doesn’t need to work as hard to make you live. As your pumps slower, it actually gets stronger. You can imagine this situation this way: if you go to the gym, do you think you will gave muscle by lifting 1 lb 100 times or 100 lbs 10 times? The answer is intuitive. Similarly, your heart has to pump fewer times because your blood is rich in oxygen. Over time your heart will pump harder because it has strengthened. The doctor will see this sign of health in your lowered pulse rate. With a strengthened heart you will develop cardiovascular endurance. Activities that may have once winded you will now seem like a breeze.
Vitality is a very important benefit of yoga that drive most people to stick with the practice. Because your blood is circulating better, you not only feel energetic, but you also have nutrients being delivered to all parts of you in a good way. What this does to you is that it makes you appear younger. Or to put it differently, it slows down your visible, physical aging. Related to the increased, rich blood flow is a superior sexuality. Yoga teaches you how to feel, appreciate, and control your body. These attributes deliver major dividends in the bedroom. It is no surprise that the most famous and potent sex manual, The Kama Sutra, came from India—the land of yoga. There are literally hundreds more benefits but I believe these aforementioned ones are sufficient to highlight the reason to do this ancient practice.The Exercise
There are many types of yoga. This is a natural result of a philosophy and practice that spans many millenia. People who condemn yoga because of a bad experience are usually won over when they try a different form of yoga. Tantra yoga focuses on improving your sex life. Bhakti yoga is all about developing your emotions (particularly devotion). Raja yoga is a wholistic form of yoga that seeks to transform every aspect of your life for the better. Nada yoga uses sound energy to bring about changes in the body—the famous “Om” chant comes from here. The yoga I will show you today is the most popular one. It is called Hatha yoga. The goal of Hatha yoga if to make you a healthy human being in mind and body.
A common beginner’s exercise sequence is the Sun Salutation or Surya Namaskar. Most yogis that you talk to will have done these poses in their practice. The benefit of this is that they will be able to give you tips and helpful suggestions if you ask them. You should only do Sun Salutation or any other yoga poses when you have an empty stomach. This series of poses(or asanas) is called Sun Salutation because it is traditionally performed early in the morning. As the Sun rises, you will be getting deeper into your practice and feeling more and more rejuvenated. It is a wonderful way to start your day because the many benefits of yoga will come as soon as you leave your house. However, you can practice these poses at any time of the day.
To start, find a comfortable spot in your home. This should be a quiet location where you would likely not be disturbed. Wear loose clothing so that it does not catch on anything or become a distraction to you when you start to hold your poses. Most yogis use a yoga mat. This is because the ground can sometimes be very hard and hurt your body as you practice the poses. So to avoid unnecessary pain or distraction, most people find it useful to use a yoga mat. If you do not have a yoga mat, that is fine. Rugs, carpet, and towels all serve the same function as the yoga mat and the good news is that you are likely to have at least one of those! You can hold each pose for as long as you like, but one minute per pose is an ideal starting time for beginner’s. You will increase your time as you gain in experience.
- The first pose is Mountain Pose or Tadasana. To enter this pose, stand tall with your feet about 4 inches apart as you face forward. Lightly press your palms together in front of your chest. Use strength from your shoulders to push your palms together.
- The second pose is Upward Salute or Urdhva Hastasana. You enter this pose being aware that you are in Mountain Pose. You take a deep breath and sweep your arms up above your head simultaneously. You may even lean your spine back slightly around your shoulders. Look up and keep your forehead relaxed and your face soft. There is no straining in yoga. This principle eventually translates to you going through your life in a graceful manner. To an outsider looking at you, it will seem as though your hardships do not faze you and you are competently solving your problems.
- The third pose is Standing Forward Bend or Uttanasana. Enter this pose by exhaling and folding forward at your hips. Try to descend to the floor in a smooth, graceful manner. Allow your palms to be flat on the floor. As a beginner this may be hard so bend your knees slightly until you can get all or most of your palm on the floor. Imagine a magnet in your forehead pulling you towards your legs.
- Inhale and place your right foot back into High Lunge. To do this pose correctly, make sure that your left knee is directly over your ankle and that your toes are facing ahead. Press your chest forward and straighten your back leg.
- Now step your left foot back and you will have entered Plank Pose. This pose is identical to the one you would assume when doing a professional push-up. Make sure that your body from head to ankle is one straight line.
- Exhale as you lower your body. This pose is identical to the lowest point of a professional push-up. Your body is still straight, but you are now holding yourself only a few inches above the ground. Remember to breathe deeply and gently throughout the poses. Try to do so during this pose particularly. It is okay to “mess up”. Doing yoga makes you realize how many things are operating in your body at the same time. As you become conscious of all that, it is natural that you forget perfect form or perfect breath occasionally. Never reprimand yourself because it is counterproductive to relaxation and is completely natural as it is part of learning. Just keep perfect pose and perfect breath as a goal you are working towards and you will one day surprise yourself when you do it.
- Inhale into Upward Facing Dog. In this pose you scoop your chest forward by straightening your arms. Roll onto the tops of your feet. This pose is reminiscent of a seal or the letter J. Try to lean back as far as is comfortably possible from the top of your back.
- Exhale into Downward Facing Dog. To do this, you must get on your toes and lift your hips up and back. You will look like an upside down V. Try to keep your arms and legs straight but don’t lock your elbows or kneecaps. Press against the ground with your hands and feet. The more pressure you give to the ground, the more secure your pose will be. You will also be amplifying the effects of the stretch.
- Inhale and step your right foot forward into High Lunge. All the rules from above apply for this pose.
- Exhale into Standing Forward Bend.
- Inhale into Upward Salute
- Exhale and finish where we started in Mountain Pose
This is an entire yoga workout. If you have never done yoga before, it may be best to spend a week or two just doing one new pose a day for three minutes. This will get your body ready when you combine them all. The number one thing to remember about yoga is that it is not a competition. You should go at your own pace and move in a comfortable manner. Always aim for just outside your comfort zone. When you practice in this way you will avoid injuries and you will set yourself on a growing path.