8 Essential Asanas
Friday, October 2nd, 2015
PRANA PREFERRED POSES & PROOF YOU CAN DO THEM ANYWHERE
Are there ever enough hours in the day? If you’re a nine-to-fiver, finding time in your daily grind to work-out isn’t always easy, especially when your exercise of choice involves going to a gym or studio. Luckily, you can get your sweat on and do some serious strengthening without anything but the weight and balance of your own body. Yoga gives you the freedom to strike a pose just about anywhere, anytime… this opens up so many more options, some that you may even find a little odd. The best part of all? Yoga asanas (practiced postures or poses) are packed with added benefits that will leave you feeling refreshed and can even help boost your health. Below are eight yoga poses you can do almost anywhere and can’t live without.
ADHO MUKHA SVASANA (DOWNWARD FACING DOG)
Commonly referred to as downward facing dog, this standing pose is part of the traditional Sun Salutation, or surya namaskar. Physically, this pose focuses on strengthening the arms and legs, while stretching the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, and arches of the feet.
Bonus Benefits: Downward dog can help relieve stress and mild depression by calming the brain, energize the body, help relieve menopause symptoms, improve digestion, prevent osteoarthritis, relieve headaches or insomnia, and be therapeutic for high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet or sciatica.
Break it Down: Start on the floor on hands and knees with your knees aligned under your hips and hands positioned just in front of your shoulders, fingers spread wide and weight distributed evenly throughout the palms. Exhale, tucking the toes and pushing the pelvis toward the ceiling by lifting the knees off of the floor. Draw your chest toward your thighs, pressing away from the floor through your palms. Rotate your thighs inward as you either draw your heels toward the ground or if needed lift your heels and bend your knees to relieve the intensity on your hamstrings and rotate your pelvis more fully towards the sky. Hold this pose for 1-3 minutes, deepening the stretch with each exhale.
Beyond Beginner: To deepen this pose, lift onto the balls of your feet pulling your inner groin deep into the pelvis, and root your heels down as your press your quads and shins back to deepen the opening in your hamstrings. For further challenge, inhale while raising one leg at a time in line with the torso, pushing through the heel, and hold for 30 seconds.
MALASANA (LOW SQUAT, GARLAND POSE)
Malasana, known familiarly as Garland pose, is a hip-opening, low squat. This asana targets the belly for toning, and stretches the ankles, groin, and back torso.
Bonus Benefits: Malasana helps increase balance and focus while also increasing circulation to the pelvis area. It can also help stimulate elimination functioning of the colon, which improves digestion.
Break it Down: Start standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and arms at your sides. Squat down with your knees positioned slightly outside of your torso. Lean forward so that your torso fits snugly between your thighs. Bring your palms together at heart center, pressing your elbows against your knees.
Beyond Beginner: To deepen this pose, press your inner thighs into your torso, reach your arms out and around your shins and clasp the back of your heels.
UTTHITA DANDASANA (PLANK)
Also a part of the Sun Salutation sequence, utthita dandasana, can be performed as a transitional pose or by itself. Plank pose is one of the best asanas for toning the core muscles. In addition to the abdomen, plank strengthens the wrists, arms, shoulders, and spine.
Bonus Benefits: Core strengthening promotes better posture and helps relieve tension that causes chronic back pain. Planking can also help boost your mood by activating your core power. Disagree: with this as it is activating – loosening muscle groups that contribute to stress.
Break it Down: Start in downward facing dog. Inhale as you draw your chest forward until your arms are perpendicular to the floor, with your shoulders aligned directly over your wrists. Press the front of your thighs toward the ceiling while drawing your tailbone down toward the floor and lengthen through the back of your legs to your heels. Hold this position for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Beyond Beginner: To challenge yourself, lift one leg parallel to the floor, pressing through the raised heel and the crown of your head, while keeping your tail bone tucked. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then exhale releasing the leg. Repeat using the opposite leg.
VASISTHASANA (SIDE PLANK)
Packed with all of the benefits of regular planks, vasisthasana, or side plank, also targets the oblique muscles, and engages the gluteal muscles.
Bonus Benefits: Engaging and strengthening the oblique muscles will further promote support for the lower spine and back muscles, minimizing chronic back pain. The higher degree of difficulty of side plank will also increase endurance and strengthen the biceps and shoulder joints.
Break it Down: Start in Utthita Dandanasa – Plank with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and heels stretching away. Simply shift onto the outside of your right foot, stacking your left foot on top of the right or if needed with your left leg in front of you in a bent right angle. Place your left hand alongside your hip and straighten out through the right arm by pushing through the triceps. Keep the body aligned in one diagonal line and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Come back to downward dog, and repeat on the opposite side.
Positive, big progression.
Beyond Beginner: For added challenge, move your arm from your hip toward the sky until perpendicular with the floor, in line with your shoulder. Turn your gaze upward to the tips of your fingers. For even more of a challenge, lift your top leg perpendicular to the floor, hold for 15 to 30 seconds and release to its original position.
UTTHITA ANJENAYASANA (HIGH LUNGE, CRESCENT POSE)
The high lunge pose comes with many variations and modifications, but is a staple position for strengthening the quadriceps and gluteal muscles. Utthita anjenayasana also stretches the groin and hip flexors.
Bonus Benefits: Crescent pose elongates ilias psoas as well as hip flexors, which tend to get tight from too much sitting or lack of stretching. It can help relieve sciatica pain, as well as ease indigestion or constipation. Utthita anjenayasana helps open up the chest and shoulders, reduces fatigue, and improves balance and concentration.
Break it Down: Start in downward facing dog. Step the right foot forward between the hands to align your knee over your heel. Inhale and straighten up through your spine, while sweeping your arms out wide and to join palms over your head. Reach through your left leg reaching the heel toward the floor without arching your lower back or pressing your ribs forward. Repeat on opposite leg.
Beyond Beginner: To challenge yourself in this asana, test your balance by closing your eyes during the pose. Or, for a deeper stretch in the quadriceps, bend your back knee and draw your toes up to the ceiling, grabbing the top of the foot with the same side hand if necessary.
DHANURASANA (BOW POSE)
The bow pose is a deep backbend that stretches the entire front side of the body while strengthening the back muscles. Dhanurasana helps improve spine flexibility and posture.
Bonus Benefits: The pressure that this pose puts on the abdomen can stimulate digestive and reproductive organs, relieving constipation and menstrual pain. Opening up the chest can help improve respiratory functions and relieve fatigue or stress.
Break it Down: Start by lying on your belly with your arms to your sides, palms facing upward. Exhale and bend your knees, bringing your heels as close to your glutes as possible. Reach back to grab your ankles, being sure your knees stay hip-width apart. Inhale to lift your heels away from your glutes, simultaneously lifting your thighs and torso off of the floor. Hold the pose for 20 to 30 seconds and exhale to release.
Beyond Beginner: To challenge yourself, keep your thighs, calves and the insides of your feet touching while posing.
PARIVRTTA UTKATASANA (TWISTING FIERCE POSE)
Twisting Fierce Pose is known for being one of the best asanas for strengthening and detoxifying the body. Physically, Parivrtta utkatasana strengthens the hip flexors, quadriceps, inner thigh abductor muscles, calves, and gluteal muscles. Revolved chair pose also improves ankle flexibility and opens the chest and upper back.
Bonus Benefits: The upper body twist is thought to ring out toxins by stimulating the kidneys and digestive organs, while simultaneously stimulating the heart. This detoxification can help improve overall health.
Break it Down: To begin, come into utkatasana, , by standing with your feet together, inhaling and raising your arms overhead. Bend your knees as you exhale, bringing your palms together at heart center. On your next exhale, twist your torso to one side bringing your opposite elbow to the outside of your thigh. Square off your hips and align your knees. Gaze up toward the ceiling. Exhale to release and repeat by twisting to the other side.
Beyond Beginner: To deepen your stretch, extend both arms with finger tips reaching toward the ceiling and the yoga mat. With each exhale sink your hips down lower into the squat.
UTTANASANA (STANDING FORWARD BEND)
Though it may seem simple, uttanasana is a great way to stretch the back of the legs and strengthen the thighs and knees. Releasing the head and neck during the forward bend also stretches the spine, relieving tension associated with pain and stress.
Bonus Benefits: This asana helps calm the brain and can even alleviate mild depression, fatigue, and anxiety. Uttanasana can relieve headaches, insomnia and symptoms of menopause, while being therapeutic for asthma, high blood pressure and sinusitis.
Break it Down: Start by standing in Mountain pose with your hands on your hips. On an exhale, bend forward from the hips, lengthening your torso as you move. Rest your palms or fingertips slightly in front of or next to your feet. Turn the tops of your thighs slightly inward and lift your sitting bones toward the ceiling. Upon each inhale, lengthen the torso and upon each exhale release deeper into your stretch, letting your head hang heavy. A perfect fitting pair of pants is the key to mastering this pose, so be sure to explore several styles until you find the one that works best with your body.
Beyond Beginner: To increase the stretch on the back of your legs, grab the back of your ankles and wrap your forearms around your calves. You can also lift onto the balls of your feet 1 to 2 inches to increase the stretch.
-prAna Ambassador Shiva Rea