12 Basic Asanas

"Hatha yoga is not only asanas; it is also the control of the mind." ~ Swami Vishnudevananda

The 12 basic yoga poses or asanas stretch the spine in every direction: front-to-back, side-to-side, and twisting to both sides; however, these postures are more than just stretching. Each asana, (which literally translates as “steady pose”) helps to open the energy channels of the body while increasing the flexibility of the spine, strengthening the bones, and stimulating the circulatory and immune systems. The poses encourage us to become more aware of our body, mind, and environment and should be steady and comfortable. Along with proper breathing or pranayama, asanas also calm the mind and reduce stress. With regular practice, the poses consciously become an exercise in concentration and meditation and will increase physical and mental health.

1. Headstand (Sirasana)

Known as the ‘king of the asanas’ for its remarkable benefits, the posture improves circulation, strengthens the respiratory system and heart, increases memory, concentration and intellectual capacity and promotes relaxation. The brain, spinal cord and sympathetic nervous system are vitalised and the senses sharpened. The pituitary and pineal glands are stimulated, revitalising the entire mind and body. The inversion relieves varicose veins and constipation, counteracts nervous disorders and anxiety, improves the quality of sleep and increases confidence.

2. Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana)

Sarvangasana, meaning ‘all parts’ strengthens the entire body. The posture stimulates the thyroid gland regulating metabolism, protein synthesis, heart rate, blood pressure and calcium levels. The blood is purified and circulation improved, and the posture aids in the prevention of kidney disease, bone disease and muscle weakness. Varicose veins and constipation are relieved and mental sluggishness, depression and insomnia removed.

3. Plough (Halasana)

The Plough keeps the entire spine youthful by stretching the spinal muscles and opening up the spinal discs. It nourishes the spinal nerves and relieves and prevents back and neck arthritis and stiffness. The muscles of the back, shoulders and arms are strengthened and tension from the cervical region of the spine released. By massaging the internal organs, indigestion and constipation are relieved, the liver and spleen stimulated and obesity reduced.

4. Fish (Matsyasana)

The Fish strengthens and cleanses the respiratory system, increasing lung capacity, relieving asthma and bringing increased vitality to the entire system. Stiffness from the cervical, thoracic and lumbar regions of the back are removed correcting the hunched back/shoulder syndrome of modern-day living and the nerves of the neck and back are simultaneously toned. The parathyroid glands in the back of the neck which are responsible for calcium uptake are stimulated resulting in a stronger and more plastic skeletal system. Moods are regulated and emotions calmed.

5. Sitting Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)

The Sitting Forward Bend massages, stimulates and tones the entire digestive system, regulating peristalsis and increasing digestive power. The functions of the pancreas are regulated controlling blood sugar levels and carbohydrate metabolism. Disorders of the urogenital system are alleviated. All the muscles in the back of the body are stretched increasing flexibility in the hips. Excess weight in the waist area is reduced. The entire nervous system is invigorated and a feeling of surrender fostered.

6. Cobra (Bhujangasana)

The Cobra increases flexibility of the spine correcting curvature. The deep and superficial muscles of the back are strengthened and massaged, invigorating the nerves and muscles of the spine and relieving arthritis of the lower back and general lower back pain. The ovaries and uterus are toned, helping menstrual problems. The adrenal glands and kidneys are invigorated resulting in reduction of anxiety and stress.

7. Locust (Salabhasana)

The Locust relieves sluggish digestion, strengthens the abdominal walls, massages the pancreas, liver and kidneys and increases blood supply to the throat area. The muscles of the upper back, legs and arms are strengthened and lower back pain and sciatica are relieved. Flexibility in the cervical region of the back is increased. The posture strengthens will-power and increases alertness.

8. Bow (Dhanurasana)

The Bow works all parts of the back simultaneously, increasing suppleness in the spine and hips. As we hold the pose, the body is bent like a bow and our arms are held straight and taut like a bowstring. This posture combines the benefits of the cobra and the locust, giving a good massage to the abdominal region, especially the digestive organs.

9. Half Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

After bending forward and backward, the spine requires a lateral twist to retain its mobility. The half spinal twist provides a lateral stretch that relieves lower back pain, massages the abdomen, mobilizes the vertebrae, and nourishes the spinal nerves and sympathetic nervous system.

10. Crow (Kakasana)

The crow is one of the most beneficial balancing poses. This posture strengthens the arms, wrists, forearms, and shoulders and increases our power of concentration, mental tranquility, and equilibrium.

11. Standing Forward Bend (Pada Hastasana)

Pada hastasana literally translates as “hands to feet pose.” This posture develops strength and flexibility in the legs and hips, stretches the spine, increases blood flow to the brain, and improves equilibrium.

12. Triangle (Trikonasana)

This posture is the last of the basic asanas and gives the appearance of a triangle. Trikonasana provides lateral movement to the spine while stretching and strengthening the side body and improving balance.