How to pronounce asana

Yoga postures : The most important facts about asanas

In the western world, yoga is most closely associated with the postures, the asanas. Most people probably know that yoga has to be about deeper things. About mental balance, meditative calm, possibly about "enlightenment". But it is positions like warriors, headstands and the like that usually determine our image of yoga.

We have created a small asana encyclopedia for you and summarized everything you need to know about the yoga postures.

You will find the following topics:

What does the term “asanas” mean?

Despite its broader meaning, this idea of ​​yoga is by no means inappropriate, because the asanas - the Sanskrit term for the postures - have been an elementary part of yoga for thousands of years. Asana can literally be translated as "fixed body position".

Why "firmly"? In yoga, the positions are carried out very consciously and precisely, especially in Hatha yoga they are held longer - in other words: firmly. Instead of asanas, one also speaks of yoga postures and yoga positions.

How long have asanas existed in yoga?

Probably the oldest images of yoga postures can be found on stone seals from the Indus Valley, India. They are around 5,000 years old. The asanas are one of the so-called eight limbs of Raja Yoga, the so-called royal path of yoga. A subdivision of Raja Yoga is Hatha Yoga, in which the body positions play a particularly large role.

How many asanas are there?

How many asanas there are and have been historically, no one can really say. Traditional scriptures speak of 84 central asanas and thousands of other asanas. Today hundreds of postures and variants are taught, depending on the respective yoga forms such as Hatha Yoga, Bikram Yoga or Vinjasa.

What are the 12 basic positions?

In many schools of yoga today, the following basic postures from Hatha Yoga or Sivananda Yoga are practiced. Often there is talk of 12 basic positions, they are:

  1. Headstand (Sirsasana)
  2. Shoulder stand (Sarvangasana)
  3. plow (Halasana)
  4. fish (Matsyasana)
  5. Forward bend (Paschimottanasana)
  6. cobra (Bhujangasana)
  7. grasshopper (Salabhasana)
  8. arc (Dhanurasana)
  9. Swivel seat (Ardha Matysendrasana)
  10. crow (Kakasana)
  11. Standing forward bend (Padahastasana)
  12. Trikonasana (Triangle)

Other important and often taught asanas:

  • Lotus position (Padmasana)
  • bridge (Sethu Bandhasana)
  • Scorpio (Vrischikasana)
  • Half moon, standing and kneeling (Anjaneya)
  • Hero / Warrior I.-III. (Virabhadrasana)
  • crow (Bakasana)
  • camel (Ustrasana)
  • tree (Vrksana)
  • Posture in the dead (Savasana)

Important: Some of these positions can pose particular risks. They should therefore not be learned without consulting a doctor and not without professional guidance - more on this below.

What asanas are there in the sun salutation?

A classic in yoga is the sun salutation, in Sanskrit: Surya Namaskar. The sun salutation consists of twelve asanas, which flow into one another and can be practiced at different speeds. It is an excellent way to train key muscle groups and warm up the body for the following asanas. The asanas of the sun salutation include, for example, the standing forward bend, the downward looking dog, the eight-point position and the board.

How do I breathe while practicing the asanas?

Breathing is of particular importance in yoga. This does not only apply to special breathing exercises and the breath as a focus point in meditation; Conscious breathing is also part of the exercise when performing the asanas. Ideally, you synchronize your breathing with the movements in the asanas. Example "standing forward bend": inhale while standing, exhale while bending forward, inhale while standing up. Most of the time in yoga you breathe through your nose - this should also be the case with asanas.

What is yoga for men?

Whether it is primarily about strength, flexibility, dynamism or balance: The individual asanas can be performed accordingly and combined in suitable cycles. There are particularly strength-based asanas for men as well as chair asanas for seniors and playful asanas for children. Yoga can be used for different goals, needs, or limitations. Doctors like to recommend yoga as part of a healthy work-life balance and to strengthen mental resistance, also known as resilience.

Benefits of yoga asanas

The same applies to physical limitations and various symptoms or illnesses: There are asanas against back problems of various kinds, asanas against shoulder problems or to prevent postural damage caused by computer work and excessive smartphone use. In yoga therapy, complaints are specifically addressed. The physical exercises have a fundamentally stress-reducing effect and are therefore also a way of strengthening mental resistance, also known as resilience.

What are the risks of yoga asanas?

Like any other physical activity, the asanas in yoga carry risks of injury and other physical harm. However, it is almost undisputed among experts that the health benefits clearly outweigh the disadvantages.

These include: strengthening the muscles, stretching the ligaments, promoting flexibility, strengthening the cardiovascular system, positive effects for various organs of the digestive system, reducing stress and much more. Countless studies prove these benefits of yoga and its elements. But: Asanas also carry risks - these range from the obvious to the less obvious.

What risk of injury do certain asanas have?

Just a few examples of the risks of asanas: A headstand, for example, can be an enormous strain on the cervical spine if the weight is not shifted sufficiently onto the forearms. This requires knowledge of the right technique and sufficient strength in the arms. Anyone who has suffered a stroke or heart attack should not necessarily adopt inverted positions, in which the head is below the center of the body - and there are many inverted positions in yoga.

If the intervertebral discs in the lower back cause problems or if there is a herniated disc, the classic forward bend while sitting or standing can be completely wrong. The plow can put a lot of strain on the cervical spine, and even the blood supply can be restricted.

When should you ask the doctor?

A professionally competent yoga trainer is therefore absolutely necessary to learn the asanas. A doctor should be consulted before starting training, especially if there are previous illnesses.

What do studies on asanas show?

While yoga asanas are a healthy form of exercise, research shows an increase in injury rates. This is shown by a study published in 2016 by the University of Alabama, Birmingham (USA). This is the first major investigation into the risk of injury in yoga. The result: The rate rose in the US between 2001 and 2014 from ten injuries per 100,000 yoga practitioners to 17 injuries among 100,000 yogis and yoginis. So there is a significant increase, but the overall number of injuries remains very low.

What should you watch out for when practicing the asanas?

Asanas should not only be performed consciously for health reasons. The yoga postures are also referred to as "meditation in movement", ie: meditation in movement. The reason: The concentration is very concentrated in the exercises.

Against this background, all three phases of an asana should be practiced in an equally focused manner: entering the position, remaining in this posture and going out or - in the so-called flow - the transition to the next asana.

Balance in the structure of the asana sequences

Ideally, asana sequences or exercise sequences are structured in such a way that one position is followed by an opposing position. In other words, a forward bend is followed by a backward bend, etc. This does not always have to be the case in immediate succession, but this counterbalancing should take place overall in every sequence.

How can I regularly practice asanas at home?

Yoga and its asanas should be done very regularly so that all effects can be developed. But how do you establish a routine for this at home? It works best if you define fixed times for your yoga exercises and fix a place for them at home.

A typical stumbling block for regular yoga can be your own demands. According to the motto: It only makes sense if I practice on the mat for at least 45 minutes. It is more promising, for example, to set up a short program as an alternative: If I have little time, I do the following exercises for 15 minutes.

Here, too, a warm-up should not be missing to reduce the risk of injury.

About the author: Dr. Kai Kaufmann is a yoga personal trainer and seminar leader for companies on the topics of "Resilience - strengthening inner resistance" and "Stress management".

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