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Yoga Exercises – Yoga Asana Guide

An Overview of the Hatha Yoga Postures from the Arhanta Yoga Foundational Class

The following yoga asanas for beginners was compiled by Arhanta Yoga based on the teachings of Swami Sivananda. He was one of the most famous Indian spiritual leaders. Swami Sivananda (1887-1963) lived most of his life in Rishikesh, India. He was a medical doctor who gave up his career in medicine. He then devoted his life to Yoga and the spreading of Yoga. The original sequence of Swami Sivananda consists of 12 yoga exercises or asanas. Each one of these asanas stimulates a certain chakra, starting from the Crown Chakra (Sahastrara Chakra) to the Navel chakra (Svadhishthana Chakra).

The Structure of a Classical Hatha Yoga Class

The yoga poses explained below don’t form a complete classical Hatha Yoga practice. In addition to yoga postures, a Hatha Yoga class includes moments of relaxation at the beginning and end of the class. After a short initial relaxation, the class always starts with breathing exercises like Kapalbhati (Skull-Shining Breath) and Anulom Vilom (Alternate Nostril Breathing). These breathing exercises help to clear the mind, improve concentration and allow the practitioner to experience the following asanas with more awareness. Therefore, it is imperative to warm up the body before starting asanas. Therefore, we always perform Sun Salutations. Optionally, you can add some extra warm-up exercises such as double leg raises or Dolphin Pose.

Yoga asanas are sequenced in such a way as to stimulate all the chakras, starting with the crown chakra in Headstand (Shirshasana) to the root chakra in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). To get the most out of yoga practice and to give your body rest after class, it is important to wind down with well-deserved and healing relaxation.

Yoga Exercises and Poses – Explanation and Pictures

Below you can find a detailed explanation of the yoga exercises for beginners. Step by step, all the asanas are explained and accompanied by some pictures for more clarity. Moreover, the benefits of each yoga pose are also explained to allow you to consciously experience each asana. In the explanation of the yoga exercises, you can find the common yoga mistakes and contraindications when practicing a pose.

These explanations can help you during your yoga practice at home. They can help yoga teachers prepare their yoga classes for beginners. A gentle warning for those who practice yoga at home; to prevent injuries it is advisable to practice some of the yoga poses with the guidance and assistance of a teacher. You will also need more than yoga exercises in order to solve a particular problem, such as insomnia. While each yoga pose affects a different part of your body, it is the combination of them that has an overall positive effect on you.

The Right Way to Practice Yoga Asanas

Before You Start – The Importance of Good Preparation

Just like in any other practice, also when you want to practice yoga, it is important to be properly prepared. A good preparation allows you to have a holistic and safe asana practice. It is very common that yoga practitioners don’t manage to have maximum benefit from their practice. This is due to negligence of the following simple yet important factors:

1.Creating a Proper Environment

A proper environment and setting are very important and can have a big impact on the body and the mind during yoga asana practice. It can make the practice either more smooth or more difficult. It can affect the reaction of the body to the postures. And it can also affect the tension and stress of the body. The following aspects are important to consider when practicing yoga asana:

When to Practice Asanas

Traditionally, yoga asanas were practiced either during Brahmamoorta (sunset) or Sandhya (sunrise). At this time of the day the energies are calm and temperature is soft. Even though sunset and sunrise are the ideal times of the day to practice yoga asana, it can be done at any time of the day when you are not tired or sleepy. Another important thing to consider is not to practice asanas within two hours after a main course.

Choosing the Right Space to Practice

The space which you use for your asana practice is very important. Ideally it should be an open, tidy space, free from any distraction. There should be enough space around the yoga mat and above the head. It is ideal if you can practice yoga in an open space like a garden or the beach. However this is not possible for everybody at every time of the year. A good thumb rule for a proper practice space is that it should have enough natural light and be properly ventilated.

Setting the Correct Temperature 

The temperature of the space you use affects the body and the mind. If it is too cold, the muscles can’t warm up enough and they remain tight. As a consequence, the mind becomes dull and lazy. If the body gets too much strain when in that condition, the chances of overload and injury increase. On the other hand, when the temperature is very hot, the muscles become loose and they easily get overloaded because you tend to push too much and go too far. The perfect temperature is not too warm and not too cold. Or, in simple terms, you should feel comfortable wearing a t-shirt without needing either a sweater or a fan. That is the ideal temperature for a yoga practice.

Wearing Suitable Clothing

Traditionally asanas were practiced wearing only a Kaupinam, or a rectangle linen or cotton cloth tied around the hips and genitals. It is good to wear clothes made up of natural materials which allow the skin to breathe and perspire. The clothing should not be too tight and shouldn’t be made up of synthetic materials.

2. Physical Condition

Hatha Yoga postures should not be practiced while you are severely sick. It is also better if you are not too tired. You could then use the wrong muscles during asanas which can lead to injuries. But adapted, more relaxed exercises can be healing if you practice them under guidance of a competent teacher, if you are chronically tired or sick. Asanas should be performed after emptying the intestines and on an empty stomach.

3. Mental Condition

According to Maharishi Patanjali, asanas should be performed with a mind free of longings, worries, anger of fear. For a good practise, it is advised to have a calm and serene set of mind. Keep your goal in mind during practice and don’t worry about competition, approval or giving a show.

6 Principles on How to Prevent Injuries in Yoga

Even though yoga is considered to be a very safe practice, I have encountered many injuries during asana practice in my career as a teacher. Sometimes injuries take place due to an incompetent teacher and sometimes because of the mistakes of the practitioner himself. During the practice of asanas, the following principles should be respected in the back of the mind at all times. They are essential for a sustainable health and well being concerning yoga practice. I would suggest every yoga teacher and yoga practitioner to use them as the foundation of a healthy and healing asana practice.

1. The Principle of Individual Difference

Just as every person and every mind is unique, similarly everyone responds differently to yoga, both on a physical and on a mental level. Motivation, coordination, endurance, physical and mental condition as well as body structure differ from person to person. These elements have a crucial influence on the effect of yoga practice to each individual. As a consequence, there is not one perfect alignment and duration of an asana which should be applied to every practitioner.

2. The Principle of Overload

According to this principle, the physical condition of the body improves by optimal overload. Therefore a yoga practitioner should exercise more tension or strain to his or her body than normal. This overload can be applied by increasing the duration of a pose or by increasing the difficulty of the asanas.

3. The Principle of Progression

This principle states that there is an optimal level of overload to be applied by each practitioner. If the overload is too intensive or applied to quickly, there is an increased risk of injury and decreased possibility for improvement. The thumb rule of progression implies that in the beginning, the extra load should be careful and gradual. If this is not the case, there is a high risk of overload and injury.

4. The Principle of Adaptation

According to this principle, the body adjusts in a predictable manner to the increased hold or complexity of the asanas. By the repeated practice of the yoga poses, the body adjusts to the overload. When the practitioner feels comfortable with his/her yoga practice, it is time to adjust and modify the schedule to stay in line with the principle of overload. This will allow the practitioner to keep improving in strength, flexibility, balance and stability.

5. The Principle of Use and Disuse

The foundation of this principle is: “Use it or lose it”. It states that the body doesn’t remain in a stable condition; it will either improve or deteriorate. Whenever a yoga practice is abandoned, the gained strength, flexibility, balance and endurance will reduce. The overload should also be adjusted to the use and disuse of the body. When you take a break from your regular practice, it is important to adjust the practice level and to improve it again.

6. The Principle of Rest

By giving the body rest, we allow it to break with the “stress response” and to take on the “relaxation response”. It is important to remember that the growth happens during the resting period. How often the body needs rest depends on the body type, health and the type of exercise. Therefore the ideal amount of rest varies from person to person.

More information

If you want to learn more about Classical Hatha Yoga, how to practice yoga and how to teach yoga, you can follow a yoga teacher training course with Arhanta Yoga. These intensive 4-week courses take place several times a year at the Arhanta Yoga Ashram in Netherlands and the Arhanta Yoga Ashram in India. Do you want to learn more about how to practice (and teach) Hatha Yoga? Ram Jain’s book Hatha Yoga for Teachers & Practitioners is available as paperback in your local book store or on Amazon. You can also purchase the E-book directly from our website.

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