Asanas - the main exercises and their effects

Asanas - the main exercises and their effects

In traditional yoga philosophy, asanas, the physical exercises, are just one of many aspects of yoga practice. In this country, however, they fill the main part of a yoga class. You can find out what the term Asanas means and what the meaning of the individual exercises is in this article.

What does the word Asanas mean ?

The word Asana comes from Sanskrit and translated means seat ("as" = to sit). Originally the word was used for the surface on which a yogi sits down for meditation. Meanwhile, we understand asanas not only to be the meditation seat, but all yoga postures. So the word refers primarily to the physical aspect of yoga practice.

Since when have there been asanas in yoga?

When exactly the first yoga postures were practiced cannot be exactly traced back. However, it is clear from the traditional yoga scriptures that physical exercises have not been the focus of yoga practice for a long time. They only served to strengthen the body and prepare it as best as possible for meditation in order to achieve the goal of enlightenment.

In the period between the 2nd century before and the 2nd century AD Patanjali developed the eight-part yoga path, with which he taught the way to this goal. In it, asanas come third after the ethical guidelines (Yamas and Niyamas).

Between the 6th and 15th centuries, many other texts came into existence that were collectively known as Hatha Yoga Pradipika. In this document, physical practice is placed in the foreground for the first time and is specifically described using a few asanas.

In which yoga style do asanas play a role?

Asanas play a role in all the yoga styles we know today, but in different ways. Krishnamacharya significantly shaped the physical practice of yoga as we know it today. His student Sri K. Patthabi Joys developed the Ashtanga Yoga style from this, which in turn resulted in Power and Vinyasa Yoga. Another of his students was B.K.S. Iyengar, who developed Iyengar Yoga as a form of self-healing through precise physical exercises.

Even with other modern styles of yoga, yoga exercises represent the main part of the practice: regardless of whether they are powerful and dynamic as in Jivamukti Yoga or slow and calm as in Yin Yoga.

Asanas in Yoga: Different versions and effects

Today we know different variations for each asana in order to adapt the exercise to the level of the practitioner. In addition, a certain effect is ascribed to each individual posture.

Are there any practical tips & amp; Tricks for asanas?

As a rule, you should start with the simpler asanas and their variants. Little by little you can slowly approach more challenging postures. Especially at the beginning, it is advisable to practice under the supervision of a yoga teacher, who can give you individual tips and advice on good alignment. The most important thing, however, is to listen carefully to your body at all times and to sharpen your awareness so that you can do the exercises in a way that is good for you.

Is yoga a competitive sport?

Some yoga styles such as Ashtanga can be very physically demanding and strenuous. The difference to classic competitive sport, however, is the mental aspect and the motivation of the practice. Because yoga is not about self-optimization and performance, but rather about self-knowledge. Physical exercise gives us a great gateway to strengthening our body and mind. If we ignore physical signals and go beyond our own limits out of exaggerated discipline, we will not get any closer to the goal of yoga.

How can asanas be differentiated?

The variety of yoga postures can be divided into different categories. On the one hand, a distinction is made between standing, sitting and lying postures. On the other hand, asanas are divided into forward, backward, inverse, twist and balance postures according to their main direction of movement.

In a yoga class, at least one posture from each asana category is usually practiced in order to stretch and strengthen the body in all areas.

Verschiedene Asanas

Asanas for beginners? This is how you get started

At first, the abundance of asanas can be overwhelming. On no account let yourself be put off by social media photos in which you see experienced yogi (ni) s in spectacular contortions. Yoga is suitable for everyone and there are suitable asanas for everyone.

How many asanas are there in yoga?

According to legend, Shiva is said to have taught 8,400,000 asanas. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika speaks of 84 exercises, of which only 11 are specifically described.

In two of today's most famous yoga scriptures - Patanjali's Yoga Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita - the physical exercises that we know today only play a very subordinate role. It just says that yoga is done while sitting and that this seat should be comfortable, stable and light.

Krishnamacharya taught over 120 asanas and his students Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar taught a greater number of exercises. Over time, more and more variations have been developed for the individual exercises in order to make them accessible to students with different physical requirements.

Nowadays, in many modern yoga styles, the exact number of asanas taught is no longer given.

What about the eleven basic positions?

The postures were explicitly described for the first time in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. These include the following eleven asanas:

  • Svastikasana (the sitting meditation posture in the form of the Svastika cross, which is a religious symbol of happiness in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism)
  • Gomukhasana (the cow face)
  • Virasana (the hero's seat)
  • Kurmasana (the turtle)
  • Kukkutasana (the rooster)
  • Uttana Kurmasana (the erect turtle)
  • Dhanurasana (the bow)
  • Matsyendrasana (the swivel seat)
  • Paschimottanasana (the seated forward bend)
  • Mayurasana (the peacock)
  • Shavasana (the posture of death as a relaxation posture)
Svastikasana and Gomukhasana
Virasana and Kurmasana
Kukkutasana and Uttana Kurmasana
Dhanurasana und Matsyendrasana
Paschimottanasana und Mayurasana

Even if these are called basic postures, they are mostly very demanding exercises that most yogi (ni) s can only take after many years of constant yoga practice and which sometimes require strong muscles.

In addition, 4 other essential postures are mentioned, which are among the 84 asanas taught by Shiva. These are:

  • Siddhasana (the position of the enlightened one)
  • Padmasana (the lotus position)
  • Simhaasana (the lion)
  • Bhadrasana (the butterfly seat)
Siddhasana and Padmasana
Simhaasana and Bhadrasana

Which asanas are suitable for beginners?

There are many yoga postures and variations that are very suitable for beginners. Even people with physical limitations can practice yoga, but at least at the beginning they should definitely be instructed by a teacher.

Standing postures usually require a less high degree of flexibility and mobility than other pose groups and are therefore particularly suitable for starting out in yoga practice, as they do not require much guidance. They strengthen the large muscle groups in the legs, right down to the toes, and help you develop the stability and calm you need in more advanced postures.

Mountain Posture - Tadasana

Standing posture in which the straightening of the spine is experienced while both feet are firmly on the floor and the arms are hanging down.

Warrior 2 - Virabhadrasana 2

Standing position, with the front foot pointing forward and the rear foot perpendicular to it. The front leg is bent and the back leg is straight. The upper body is upright and the arms are stretched forwards and backwards.

Standing posture and warrior 2

Grasshopper - Shalabhasana

Simple back bend, in which the upper body and arms are raised from the prone position. The hands can be crossed over the lower back, the neck remains in line with the spine.

Shoulder Bridge - Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Simple reverse posture, in which the pelvis is lifted from the supine position with knees bent, while the feet, shoulders and head remain on the mat.

grasshopper and shoulder bridge

Half swivel seat - Ardha Matsyendrasana

Seated rotation with one leg extended and the other upright. The upper body is turned towards the erect leg, with one hand grasping the knee of the erect leg and the other being used behind the body as a support.

Half swivel seat

Asanas: Yoga exercises for advanced practitioners

If you have mastered the basic exercises (not to be confused with the "basic postures" described above) and have already developed a good body awareness, you can dare to approach more advanced asanas and finally combine them into sequences. The more advanced positions include most backbends, arm balances, and inversions, but also intense twists and forward bends.

Which exercises are suitable for advanced learners?

Meanwhile, the multitude of known asanas and their variations seems inexhaustible, so that you can always try new positions. Even if you are very flexible, you should be careful in the postures and prepare your body for more demanding asanas with simpler exercises.

Crow - Bakasana

Arm balance, in which you place your knees on your upper arms and lift your heels towards your buttocks in order to shift your body weight completely onto both hands.

Effect: mental clarity, inner strength and concentration

Headstand - Sarvangasana

A classic inverted pose in which the head represents the lowest point. The legs are stretched upwards and the whole body forms a line. The hands can encircle the back of the head like a triangle or be propped up shoulder-width apart.

Effect: Strengthening the concentration, the cardiovascular, hormonal and nervous systems. By reversing the effect of gravity on the fluid systems in the body, the headstand is said to have a rejuvenating effect.

Standing Attitude and Warrior 2

Lotus position - Padmasana

Sitting position that requires a large hip opening to cross the bent legs and place the backs of the feet on the opposite thighs. Both sit bones touch the base and the spine is erect.

Effect: grounding, centering

Push-ups - Chaturanga Dandasana

The position, also called the four-limbed stick position, is a transitional position from the board position to the prone position or the dog facing up. The whole body is in a line parallel to the floor and the arms are bent at a right angle, with the elbows perpendicular to the palms of the hands.

Effect: Promotion of strength, body awareness, well-being and stamina

lotus seat and push-ups

Wheel - Urdhva Dhanurasana

Intensive back bend in which the hands and feet are set up in order to stretch the front of the body from these four points to form a high arch towards the sky.

Effect: opening of the heart chakra and the airways. The wheel has a strong activating effect and acts like a natural mood enhancer and stress reducer.


Tips for asanas: breathing and posture

The special thing about yoga is that we do not simply adopt different postures, but rather combine every movement with the breath and thus bring body and mind into a harmonious balance. The breath is our most important tool with which we direct the life energy Prana in the body. We can tell from the breath whether we are physically and mentally relaxed or tense.

What should you watch out for when practicing the asanas?

In every asana you should make sure that your posture allows a calm and steady flow of breath. If the breath catches, the energy can no longer flow and the health-promoting effects of the exercise cannot develop. In the shoulder stand, for example, where the cervical spine is strongly bent, you should position your head in such a way that the throat and airways remain free and open.

How do I breathe while practicing the asanas?

As a basic rule, you can remember that upward movements are associated with inhalation (e.g. raising your arms in Tadasana) and downward movements are associated with exhalation. For the cobra (Bhujangasana), you lift your upper body upwards from the floor with your inhalation and lower it back down again with your exhalation. While staying in one position, your breath should continue to flow calmly and evenly. If you have difficulties with this at the beginning, it is advisable to do some breathing exercises "in the dry" first. If you practice an asana on both sides, e.g. the tree (Vrksasana), you can count your breaths in order to hold both sides equally long.

Can I do yoga if I am awkward?

Many people think that they have to be very flexible to start yoga. However, the practice works the other way around: You practice yoga regularly and as a result you become more agile over time. There are many asanas and variations that you can practice well even with little mobility. For example, practice a slight variant of the sun salutation and standing postures to warm up and then feel your way to more intense stretches.

Asana Lexicon: Details on the history of the word

Behind every name for an asana there is an individual meaning. 'Asana' is translated as posture and appended to the end of the word. Balasana, for example, is the child's posture (“Bala” = child).

How can "Asana" be translated?

The word Asana comes from Sanskrit and its root "as" means to sit. So the classic translation is seat, corresponding to the most original form of the asanas: the sitting meditation posture.

In a figurative sense, we can also translate Asana as "the ability to cope with what is". We practice this ability in every yoga practice, for example when we have to manage our strength in a strenuous posture or when our patience is required in an intensive stretch. Through this practice, over time, we manage to stay calm off the mat when we are faced with a challenge.

What is the meaning of asanas in yoga?

The various categories show what certain postures are used for. Backbends, for example, are mainly used to open the front of the body and make the spine more flexible. Sometimes they are also called heart openers because they especially expand the chest cavity.

Many asanas contain animal names such as the cobra (Bhujangasana), the crow (Bakasana), the grasshopper (Shalabasana) or the fish (Matsyasana). Legend has it that earlier yogis used the animals' movement patterns as a guide to make their bodies strong and resilient.

Ultimately, all asanas serve to bring the body into balance and thus bring the mind to rest. Because a relaxed body is the best prerequisite for a balanced mind.

Asanas is a generic term for all postures that we take on our mat during physical yoga practice. While originally only a few sitting postures were practiced, today we can draw on a wealth of over a hundred different exercises and many other variations. So we can adapt our yoga practice to our abilities and different requirements at any time.

With OGNX into every exercise without any problems

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