When Life Gives You Yoga – 11 Essential Asanas
While yoga’s westward journey is an old story, the new and more exciting story is its journey back to India, with the Modi Government. And oh is it back with a bang!
From setting up an AYUSH ministry dedicated to spreading yoga, to the controversy about making the suryanamaskar (sun salutation) compulsory in schools, yoga, like most things in India has become politicized. The good news is that we also have a special day for yoga. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that it would coincide with Fathers’ Day this year. Either we just have too many days for each occasion to have a separate day for itself, or it was an intentional plot by the government to overthrow foreign-made days that are designed to fill the pockets of the likes of Hallmarks – because #MakeInIndia zindabad.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that yoga has remained the most consistent form of exercise in my life. You also know that I previously promised a sequel to my “When Life Gives you Yoga” blog post, and what better day to share it than on the world’s very first International Yoga Day.
In this blog post I will share a few yoga asanas that I find essential for a holistic workout. Not only are there pictures that will help you to try out the asanas (to which the credit goes to my fellow blogger and friend Disha Mukherji over at Our Beautiful Days), but what’s even better is that this entire sequence can be completed in under 30-minutes, at any time of the day. Though you should ideally keep a gap of at least an hour after eating, and avoid doing them on a completely empty stomach.
Similar to my last yoga post, featuring ESKA’s yoga wear, I am wearing their apparel throughout this shoot. I highly recommend their clothes for a comfortable yoga workout.
1. Naukasana / Boat Pose
True to its name, this naukasana is about bending your body into a boat shape. The higher you can lift your upper body, the better you are doing this pose. If you really want to go the extra mile, try waving your legs and arms up and down while in this position. Apart from strengthening your abs and back, this will also help to tone your arm and leg muscles.
According to ‘Art of Living,’ women should avoid this post during the first two days of their menstrual cycle.
2. Gorkmukhasana / Cow Face Pose
While I’m not a fan of the English name of this pose – I like to call this ‘twisty arms and legs’ – because that’s essentially what it is. This pose is good for your posture, since it forces you to keep your back straight – it also helps make your back more flexible.
Perform both combinations of this pose – right over left and left over right – to get the maximum benefit.
3. Parvatasana / Mountain Pose
This quintessential asana is part of the Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) – the trick is to keep your feet completely flat. Yes, it will hurt your calves, and that’s the beauty.
To gain the maximum benefit from this pose, keep extending your arms back so that you feel the stretch right from your spine until your tailbone. From strengthening your spine and shoulders, to toning your arms and legs, and even helping you grow taller, this pose has multiple benefits.
For a variation, and more intensive workout in this pose, swing one leg upwards and then draw it inwards until your knee reaches your chest, and your toes are pointed outwards.
4. Bhujangasana / Cobra Pose
Also, part of the suryanamaskar sequence, this pose opens up your shoulders and neck. Look upwards when in this pose, so you feel the stretch all the way until your neck.
The rule is that navel upwards should be lifted up, while the rest of your body touches the floor. Also, keep equal pressure on both palms.
There are many variations to this pose – for starters, twist your body to the left and then right so that you’re able to see the opposite ankle (if you can’t see it at the first-go, don’t push yourself, that’s the goal!). If you’re really trying to strengthen your abs, keep your hands behind your head, or slightly off the ground while lifting your upper body. You may not be able to lift it as high as in the traditional variant, but aim to lift it slightly higher each time you try it.
5. Sarvangasana – Halasana – Paschimottasana/ The Shoulder Stand Sequence
Though they’re a mouthful to pronounce, this trio of asanas is one of my favourites, and their benefits plentiful.
Step 1: Sarvangasana / Candlestand pose
To get this asana right, you need to make sure your back is not on the floor but up straight (like a candle stand). This is naturally difficult, since your back needs to be strong enough to support the weight of your hips and legs. It also feels like your blood is rushing to your head, which is good because it nourishes your brain with blood.
Once you’re comfortable in sarvangasana, you can try a variation where you alternate between bending one knee down till it is almost touching your face, and keep the other one straight.
Step 2: Halasana / Plow Pose
Staying in sarvangasana, bring your legs down until your toes touch the floor. While this strengthens your back and leg muscles, your body will initially resist bringing your feet all the way to the ground, since it feels like you’re about to do a backward somersault. If this is the case, try stretching your legs down a little further every time you are doing this asana.
Step 3: Paschimottasana / Forward bend pose
From halasana, swing your legs back up into sarvangasana and bring them back to the ground. Bring your upper-body and arms forward into a toe-touch. Keep stretching your back and arms forward until you can fold your fingers over your heels.
What I appreciate most about this 3-part sequence is that as you continue your yoga practice, you will see a marked improvement in how you perform this sequence, since they really test your body’s flexibility.
6. Vrikasana / Tree Pose
Most of the poses I have shown until now are about flexibility, but this one tests your balance, which is a core aspect of yoga.
A great variation of this pose is to keep both your arms at a 180-degree angle and move your waist ever-so-slightly from side to side. If it feels like you’re doing a little dance, then you’re doing it right. If you’re feeling ambitious, try this while holding weights – get toned and improve your balance!
7. Veerbadhrasna / Warrior pose
Again, balance is the key here. This pose strengthens multiple muscles – arms, shoulders, thighs and back – at one go. Keep your stretched out knee and the opposite arm parallel to the ground. Try holding this pose for up to 30 seconds to get the maximum benefit.
8. Trikonasana / Triangle Pose
The traditional variant of this pose is to touch the same arm to your toe. Once you’re comfortable with that, try the revolved triangle pose or parivrttatrikonasana, which is essentially a toe-touch with your legs spread out.
If you’re feeling ambitious try waving your arm that is extended in the air back and forth, but ever-so-slightly, so you don’t pull a muscle. This helps to tone your arms, along with opening your chest, which is the main benefit from this asana.
9. Dhanurasana / Bow Pose
To get this pose down, you need to literally contort your body into a bow-shape. To the extent possible, try lifting your upper body off the ground, and be sure to look up. Keep extending your arms back, so your upper body is further lifted off the ground, until only your torso and hips are on the ground. As you can imagine, this pose has tremendous benefits for your back and abdominal muscles.
10. Ustrasana / Camel pose
Part of what I like to call the ‘animal series,’ camel pose has two main variations. The first is when you keep your arms folded in front of your chest. The second, and more traditional variant of the pose is when you extend your arms back till they’re touching your ankles.
In either variation, don’t swing your head back too quickly, as it will put pressure on your neck. If you have high or low blood pressure you should be careful of how much you stretch your body, since you may feel a rush to your head. Performing this pose initially made me feel light-headed, but once I became aware of my limits – which you will as you continue practicing yoga – I knew the right amount to bend backward without putting too much strain on my neck.
11.Ardh matsayandra asana /Sitting Spinal Twist
This twist is a complicated one, so I hope the pictures do justice. Extend both legs out and cross one over the other. The arm corresponding to your leg which is extended should be placed behind your back, and face in that direction. (i.e. if your right leg is extended outwards, place your right hand behind your back, and face rightward). Your other arm should now cross over your folded leg until it touches your ankle. As you can see, this is difficult, since my hand is just about touching my ankle here.
What I find unique about practicing yoga as compared to other workouts is that it is challenging, yet relaxing. While these images hopefully make it easy for you to try out the poses yourself, if you’re looking for a video sequence, I would suggest trying out Sadie’s yoga, a 4-part YouTube series, which encompasses many of these essential poses.
Happy working out – let’s make every day a yoga day!
P.S. If you have any specific questions on these asanas, or yoga in general, you can comment on the blog post with them, and I’ll be happy to answer them.
P.P.S. I am no yoga expert, but I have seen my body become more flexible over the four years that I have been practicing yoga – these images are therefore not representative of what the ‘ideal’ version of these asanas should look like. It would be advisable to consult an expert, or a well reputed website, such as Art of Living, before trying out these poses on your own, as each pose has its own potential adverse effects depending on your specific medical conditions and physical tendencies.