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Yoga & meditation
The Sanskrit word “yoga” actually means “union with the divine”. The stretching exercises that we in the west associate with yoga were originally designed, thousands of years ago, to help the practitioner gain control of their own life force, a spiritual energy known as Kundalini. The stretches, however, are not the only aspect of yoga. Meditation is also a key facet of yoga. Ensure you choose the right location and prepare yourself adequately, and your yoga meditation will be a very beneficial experience.
If you have time in your day, or even once a week, yoga and meditation can really help to relieve stress. In our anxiety bubbles, we forget about our bodies – how they feel and where they hold the stress from our minds. Through yoga, we can become self aware of our bodies again and how they feel – every muscle and every spot of tension and release it. Loving your body and taking time to feel it and become aware of it again is essential to reducing anxiety. Meditation during yoga or even separate from can be extremely refreshing. Concentrating on breathing and how your body feels gives your busy mind a break. Daily worries and stresses are just that – stresses of the day – no more important than that day itself. Your mental state and body last much longer and maintaining your inner peace is more important to dealing with any daily obstacle than each obstacle itself. Just like sleep can provide you the answers you need in the morning, meditation can open your mind up to solutions. Letting go of the worry is often the best thing you can do.
Asana is one of the eight limbs of classical Yoga, which states that poses should be steady and comfortable, firm yet relaxed helping a practitioner to become more aware of their body, mind, and environment.
The 12 basic poses or asanas are much more than just stretching. They open the energy channels, chakras and psychic centers of the body while increasing flexibility of the spine, strengthening bones and stimulating the circulatory and immune systems. Along with proper breathing or pranayama, asanas also calm the mind and reduce stress. With regular practice one can ensure overall physical and mental health and the possible prevention of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and arthritis. In time, performing the poses slowly and consciously, becomes a mental exercise in concentration and meditation.
1.Headstand – Sirshasana
Definition: An asana in which you balance on your elbows, arms, and head
headstandKnown as the “King of Asanas” because of its many benefits, the Headstand is the first of the 12 asanas and is considered by many to be a panacea for countless human ills. Sitting and standing for most of the day causes your circulation to become sluggish, so your heart has to work harder to pump sufficient blood to the upper parts of your body. Normally, your heart works against gravity; inverting your entire body lessens the strain on your heart, and allows a plentiful supply of oxygen-rich blood to reach your head and brain. This pose is not an advanced asana; even so, to begin with you may wish just to undertake the child’s Pose and the Dolphin, progressing to the full Headstand later.
Step 1 – Arms & Hands
Sit up on your heels, then catch hold of both your elbows with the opposite hands. Lean forward and lay your forearms on the ground, directly beneath your shoulders. Let go of your elbows, and clasp your hands together.
Step 2 – Head Down
With your arms in the tripod position, above right, lower your head so that the top of your skull touches the ground and the back of it is cradled in your hands. Do not make any abrupt movements. Take the next steps slowly.
Step 3 – On Your Toes
From the crouched position with your head resting in your hands, straighten yoour knees and push your hips up above your head. Then, keeping your legs straight, stretch up high on your toes.
Step 4 – Half Headstand
Now bend your knees, bringing them to your chest. Arch your back slightly, as you do when standing up; this will enable you to balance your body in this position. Do not proceed unless you can hold this position for at least 30 seconds without feeling any discomfort.>
Step 5 – Knees Up
With your knees still bent, start to straighten your hips. Slowly and carefully, raise your knees until they are pointing straight up toward the ceiling.
Step 6 – All the Way
Straighten you knees and lift your feet up toward the ceiling. Support your weight by bracing your elbows against the ground. At first, hold the Headstand for 30 seconds; as you become more skilled at adopting this pose, gradually increase the time to 3 minutes. Always come down before you start to feel tired. Leave the pose slowly and under control (see below). Head in Hands: Rest the back of your head against your hands. Relax, breathing through your nose.
You should leave this Asana as carefully as you entered it. Do not move jerkily or quickly, or you may lose control and fall.
Bend your knees and lower them.
Straighten your legs. Bring your feet to the ground, and then lower your knees.
Lower your body so that your buttocks rest on your heels as in the Child’s Pose.
Finally, relax your hands and return to the full Child’s Pose.
Do not lift your head up straight away. Rest for at least a minute.
Relax in the Corpse before continuing
2.Shoulderstand – Sarvangasana
Definition: An inverted pose, with your body resting on your shoulders.
Sarvangasana, the Sanskrit name for the Shoulderstand, comes from the word “sarva”, meaning whole. This Asana strengthens your entire body; it gives many of the benefits of the Headstand, but here the circulation is directed to your thyroid gland instead of the head.
Objective: To stretch your cervical and thoracic regions.
Step 1 – Legs in the air
Before beginning the Shoulderstand, make sure that there is enough room behind you. You must be able to stretch your arms out behind your head and have at least 30 cm (1 ft) between your fingertips and any obstructions. Lie flat on your back, with your feet together. Inhale while bringing your legs up to a right angle.
Step 2 – Moving Up
Tuck your hands under your buttocks, with your fingers pointing toward your spine. Then, as you exhale, gently raise your body by letting your hands walk down your back and push you into position.
Step 3 – In Balance
Continue to move your hands up your back until you rest on your shoulders. Breathe normally, and keep your legs straight. Hold for 30 seconds; as the pose becomes easier, increase the time to 3 minutes. To come down, drop your feet halfway to the floor behind your head. Put your hands on the floor. Unroll your body vertebra by vertebra to the floor. Hand position: Put your hands on the small of your back, with your fingers toward your spine.
Inhale with your hands on your back. Exhale and bring one foot to the floor behind your head. Inhale. Raise your leg. Swap sides.
3.Plough – Halasana
Objective: To stretch your cervical and thoracic regions.
Step 1 – Legs Over
Plough poseIn the Plough, your body is bent forward; this stretches your entire spine, particularily your cervical vertebrae and shoulders. Come up into a Shoulderstand, and inhale deeply. Exhale while lowering your feet to the floor behind your head.
Step 2 – Legs Down
Rest your toes on the floor, then lay your arms down flat. Hold for 30 seconds at first, but aim to build up to 2 minutes. If you cannot lower your feet all the way, keep your hands on your back for support. To come out, lift your feet off the floor, and slowly roll down. Relax in the Corpse.
You may try this variation if you are supple enough. Once in the Plough, lower your knees to the floor by your ears. Hook your arms over your legs. To come out, straighten your knees, then roll down as described above.
Definition: Lying on your back and arching your chest
The fish is the stretch that counters the Plough, and so follows them in Yoga session. The name of the posture derives from the fact that if you adopt the position in water, you will float quite easily. The Asana does wonders for your respiratory systems; when you assume this position, your chest is stretched open and your bronchial tubes are widened to promote easier breathing. In time your ribcage will expand, and this will also encourage you to breathe more deeply. By lifting your chest and tucking your arms underneath your body, you will combat postural defects such as rounded shoulders and the cervical region of your spine, thus releasing pressure on your nerves. Try to hold the pose for half of the time that you spent in the Shoulderstand, in order to equalize the stretching effects on your spine ans muscles.
Objective: To ease tension and improve spinal flexibility.
Step 1 – On your back
Assume the Corpse Pose and, when you are ready, begin to come into the fish. Stay flat on your back, and bring your feet together. With your arms straight by your sides, lay your palms on the floor, then tuck your hands in underneath your buttocks. Starting Pose: Prepare yourself for this asana by relaxing in the Corpse Pose for as long as you need.
Step 2 – Head Back
Having arched your spine, tilt your head so that your crown rests on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds. To come out of the Fish, slide your head back and then lower your chest. To finish, relax by lying in the Corpse. Chest Lift: Press your elbows down on the floor, inhale, and arch your chest upward as far as you can.
Advanced fish poseTry this variation if you are flexible enough. In the Easy Pose, clasp your toes. Lie back, arch up, and rest your buttocks on your heels. Lay the top of your head on the floor.
Knees Bent – Sit cross-legged, then put your arms down behind your knees and catch hold of your toes.
Fish in Lotus – This pose is an advanced variation on the ordinary Fish. It is similar to the Easy Pose variation shown above, except that it begins with the Lotus. Practitioners of yoga use this variation for staying afloat in water. The Fish in Lotus pose should not be attempted by beginners, or even by more experienced yoga students, until the full Lotus position can be held comfortably for a long period of time.
5.Sitting Forward Bend – Paschimothanasana
Definition: Stretching your spine forward
The Forward Bend looks, and is, simple – provided you relax into the position, rather than forcing yourself into it. The pose is one of the most powerful and important Asanas, helping to ease the spinal compression caused by standig upright. Its practice contributes greatly toward keeping your back supple, your joints mobile, your nervous system invigorated, and your internal organs toned.
Objective: To stretch the back of your body
Starting : Inhale, bringing both arms up by your ears. Stretch your spine up. Lean forward from your hips, and try to catch hold of your toes. Keep your spine and legs straight. Exhale into the pose; feel your body stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, then inhale and stretch upward again. Repeat twice. Clasp Position: If you are not able to reach your toes, clasp your ankles, shins, or knees, to hold the position comfortably.
Inclined Plane : The Inclined Plane is the counterpose to the Forward Bend. It complements the forward stretch that your body is given in the previous pose, and increase the strength and flexibility of your arm. In this Asana your hips are pushed upward, and your body is held straight and balanced on your hands and feet.
From the starting position, sitting with the hands flat on the floor behind the hips, with the fingers pointing back, let your head drop back. Next, inhale as you raise your hips. Hold the pose for about 10 seconds. Lower your body, then relax your hands by shaking your wrists.
6.Cobra – Bhujangasana
Definition: Coiling your upper body up and back.
Step 1 – Face Down
Lie on your front. When you are fully relaxed, begin to come into the cobra. Still lying on your front, place your hands flat on the floor so that they are directly underneath your shoulders. Next lift your head up a little and bend your neck, then lower your forehead to the ground.
Step 2 – Roll Up
Inhale, slowly rolling up and back. First bring your forehead up so that your nose rests on the floor, then continue rolling up and back. Move slowly, so that you feel each vertebra arching back.
Step 3 – Hold
Hold the pose for 10 to 60 seconds. Slowly roll down, keeping your head back until last. As you do the cobra, make sure you are not overextending the lower back. No pain should be felt in the lower back. You may want to repeat it two more times.
The Advanced Cobra – Variations
Once you are proficient in the above steps, you can attempt some variations.
- In the cobra, turn your head to look over your right shoulder, trying to see your left heel. Hold for about 10 seconds, then return your head to the center and repeat while looking over the other shoulder
- From the starting position, lift your hands off the ground and roll your body up using only your back muscles
- Always return to a resting position on your abdomen after these poses
- With practice you may be able to attempt the “King cobra” variation in which your feet touch your head
7.Locust – Shalabhasana
Definition: Lying face down with lifted legs.
Step 1 – Face Down
Locust poseLie on your front. Rest your chin on the ground, then move it forward as much as you can, so that your throat lies almost flat. Put your arms by your sides, then push your hands under your body, and make them into fists or clasp them together. Bring your elbows as close together as possible.
Step 2 – Half locust
Inhale as you lift one leg. Hold this position for at least 10 seconds, then exhale while lowering your leg and repeat the pose with your other leg. Practise it 3 times on each side. Chin position: The further forward you push your chin, the more your spine can stretch and the more you will gain from this asana.
Step 3 – Full Locust
Full locustLie with your chin out, as in the Half Locust, then take 3 deep breaths. On the third, lift both legs off the ground. They may not come up far at first, but with practise you may be able to lift them much higher. Hold for as long as you can, then lower your feet. Repeat twice and then relax.
Up and Up: With practise, you will be able to raise your legs higher. Eventually, you may even be able to lift your body vertically.
The Advanced locust
This more difficult pose must be attempted only by experienced students of yoga. The aim, in the advanced asana, is to raise your feet straight up and then lower them over your head. This backward bend compresses your vertebrae while stretching the front of your body to its greatest extent. The strength and flexibility necessary for this pose will eventually develop with regular practise.
8.Bow – Dhanurasana
Definition: Balancing on your abdomen, in the shape of a bow.
The bow poseThe Bow works all parts of your back simultaneously. In this asana, your head, chest, and legs are lifted, while your body rests on your abdomen. The pose is so named because as you hold it, your body is bent back like a bow and your arms are held straight and taut like a bowstring. Initially, you may wish to attempt only the first 3 steps, moving on to the Rocking Bow when you have become more confident and lithe.
Frontal Corpse or Crocodile (Makarasana)
Before and after all asanas you must relax for as long as necessary. The position that you adopt for relaxing between back bends is a variation on the Corpse Pose, in which you lie on your front. Like all Corpse variations, this pose prepares you mentally and physically for performing an asana. Head on hands: Your hands make a pillow on which you can rest your head as you relax in this position. Feet: Position your feet with your big toes together; let your heels and ankles fall gently out to either side.
Step 1 – Catch Hold
To begin, lie on your front with your forehead on the ground. Now bend your knees and catch hold of your ankles. Make sure that you do grasp your ankles rather than the top of your feet or your toes. Keep your feet relaxed.
Step 2 – Lift Up
Inhale, raising your head, chest, and legs. Straighten your knees. Hold for 10 seconds, aiming to increase to 30. Breathe as you hold the pose. Exhale, and lower your body. Repeat 3 times.
For this variation, come into the Bow, arching as high as you can. Keep your head back and gently rock, using your breath to propel your body. Exhale as you rock forward, and inhale as you rock back. Do not forget to relax in the Corpse Pose on your front after you have completed this movement. Grip: Hold your ankles firmly as you rock.
9.Half Spinal Twist – Ardha Matsyendrasana
Definition: A lateral stretch for your entire spine
Spinal TwistAfter bending forward and back, your spine requires a lateral twist to retain its mobility. This ability to twist is often the first type of flexibility to be lost. During the Spiral Twists your vertebrae are mobilized; the exercises also allow more nourishment to reach the roots of the spinal nerves and the sympathetic nevous system.
Objective: To maintain sideways mobility in your spine
Step 1 – Legs Bent
Sit up on your heels. Drop your buttocks to the floor, to the left of your legs.
Step 2 – Leg Position
Bend your right leg. Cross your right foot over your left leg, and place it on the floor by the outside of your left knee. Keeping your arm straight, put your right hand flat on the floor behind your back. Arms: Lay your right hand on the floor. Raise your left arm straight up.
Step 3 – The Twist
Lower your left arm, bringing it outside your bent knee, then grasp your right ankle. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Repeat, twisting the other way.
10.Crow pose (Kakasana)
Definition: Balancing in a squatting position.
Crow poseBesides increasing physical and mental balance, the crow develops mental tranquillity and also strengthens your wrists and forearms.
Step 1 – Squat to Start
To prepare yourself for the Crow, squat with your feet and knees wide apart. Position your arms between your knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders, then put your hands flat on the floor in front of you. Hands: Stretch your fingers wide and turn your hands inward slightly.
Step 2 – Knees to Arms
Bend your elbows, and turn them outward. Rest your knees against your upper arms. Next, rock forward until you feel your weight on your wrists. Stay in this position if you are unable to proceed further. Weight: This exercise is still useful even if you stop at this point, as your wrists support your weight and your forearm muscles are being strechted.
Step 3 – Raise Your Feet
Slowly raise each foot, then balance on your hands for at least 10 seconds. Aim to increase your time in the pose to 30 seconds; with practice you will be able to hold the position for up to a minute. To come out, lower your feet to the ground, sit up, and shake out your wrists. If you are strong enough, repeat the Crow twice.
11.Standing Forward Bend – Pada Hasthasana
Definition: Bending forward in a standing position.
Standing poses develop strength and flexibility in your legs and hips and equilibrium in your body. The Hands-to-Feet Pose stretches your spine and joints, and increase the blood supply to your brain. The Triangle is the last of the basic Asanas. You must master this pose and its variations before trying the advanced Asanas.
Objective: To make your spine and legs supple and strong.
Forward & Down
This is similar to the Forward Bend, but here gravity helps to stretch your body down. Stand with your feet together. Inhale, while lifting your arms straight above your head. Exhale as you bend forward and down. Breathe normally while you are in the pose. Hold for at least 30 seconds: as you gain experience, increase the time to several minutes.
12.Triangle – Trikonasana
Definition: A lateral bend resembling a triangle
Stand up straight, and place your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart.
To the Side
The Triangle is a lateral stretch for your trunk muscles and spine, and makes your hips, legs, and shoulders more flexible. Stretch your right arm up, then bend to your left, sliding your left hand down your thigh. Do not twist your body. Hold for 30 seconds, working up to 2 minutes with practice. Inhale as you straighten up again. Repeat the pose on the other side.
Your body forms a straight line, parallel to the floor. from your waist to your fingertips.