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Yoga Poses

Poses are a mainstay of yoga. We look to provide you with insight into the various poses, their origins and their value to your yoga practice.
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana: Downward Facing Dog Pose

    Adho Mukha Svanasana, commonly known as Downward Facing Dog Pose or simply Dog Pose, is arguably the most ubiquitous of poses. Yoga teacher Donna Farhi calls it the “‘garlic’ of yoga poses—a panacea for whatever ails you.” Adho Mukha Svanasana is simultaneously an inversion, an arm balance, a forward bend and a restorative pose. It opens your shoulders, strengthens your arms, lengthens your spine, stretches your legs, inverts your internal organs and nourishes your brain. It invigorates and calms. For dogs and cats, Dog Pose is the equivalent of a morning cuppa, a remedy that clears sleep-induced physical and mental...

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  • 6 Yoga Poses to Expand Your Heart

    Have you ever been in a yoga class when someone (maybe you) experienced a spontaneous emotional event? Sometimes, especially in intensive workshop situations, a new physical opening may trigger an emotional opening. The Eastern medical model posits that emotions are stored in specific organs. Here’s a list of organs and their corresponding emotions, according to Chinese medicine: Heart, small intestine: Joy Spleen, stomach: Worry, over thinking Lungs, large intestine: Sadness Kidneys, bladder: Fear Liver, gall bladder: Anger The theory is, when we stretch and squeeze the tissues around these organs, the emotions stored there can be unleashed. There haven’t been...

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  • Natarajasana: Shiva’s Dance

    In Indian mythology, the shape-shifting god Shiva famously assumes the form of a dancer at times. Being a god, however, Shiva is not just any dancer. He is, in fact, the literal Lord of the Dance, Nataraj, from the Sanskrit natar-rajan, or “dance king.” In this rollicking form, Shiva is often depicted encircled in flames, four arms flung in all directions, one foot crushing a small, misshapen figure that represents ignorance, while the other kicks out in enlightened joy. Shiva dances to destroy, and he destroys in order to create. In Shiva’s dance, sublimating the veil of ignorance brings about...

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  • Supported Bridge Pose: A Bridge to Healing

    In 1989, I went to India to study with B.K.S. Iyengar and his daughter Geeta. Studying yoga in India was an eye-opening experience. While there are many, many great teachers in other parts of the world, there is something about practicing in the place where yoga began. The rhythm of life in India is just so different from that of the West. I don’t know how to describe it without sounding New Agey, so I’ll leave it at this: I’ll just say that it was an immersive experience—definitely tangible, but also indescribable. On the more practical side, it’s undeniable that...

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  • Sukhasana: Easy Pose? Not Necessarily

    The definition of Yoga, according to Alistair Shearer’s translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is “the settling of the mind into silence.” Asana (the physical practice)—like all the other aspects of yoga—is meant to support the settling of the mind. Some sutra scholars believe that asana was originally conceived to be just the simple sitting posture for meditation, Sukhasana (Easy Pose). All the other poses were developed to prepare the body for Sukhasana. Despite its name, Easy Pose, as anyone who’s practiced meditation likely knows, when you sit in Sukhasana for any length of time, it is anything but easy...

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  • Hasta Padangusthasana: Rooted Expansion

    Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Big Toe Pose) is one of a category of poses my students have named “flying poses.” Flying poses are poses that express expansion. In flying poses, the root of the pose (whatever’s on the ground) extends deep into the ground, while the rest of the body expands outward and upward, away from the earth. The opening comes from stability. Like all balance poses, Hasta Padanghustasana develops our sense of balance. In addition, practicing Hasta Padangusthasana strengthens the legs and ankles, activates the muscles around the hip joints and stretches the hamstring muscles. Of course, if you have...

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  • Virabhadrasana I: The Peaceful Warrior

    Asana, the physical practice of yoga, is the third of the eight limbs of yoga in Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Of the 196 sutras, the first of three that discuss asana says that the physical posture should be “steady and comfortable,“ or “firm and soft.” Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose) expresses a perfect balance of dynamic grounding and buoyant ease. In Warrior I the lower body roots strongly into the ground, while the upper body rises up to the sky. This dynamic combination grounds and stabilizes as it generates an uprising energy that nourishes the spine and clears what I call mental “cobwebs.”...

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  • Parvrtta Trikonasana: Revolved Triangle

    If I had to pick the most complicated asana that’s regularly practiced, Parvrtta Trikonasana would be among the top few. Parvrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle) is a balance pose, a spinal rotation, a forward bend, and even contains an element of backbending. One of the trickiest things about this pose is that it’s really easy to sacrifice the length of your torso in order to place your hand closer to the floor. Breathing is always more important than forcing your body into the “full expression” of any pose. Make sure that your bottom hand is always high enough up that you...

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  • Urdva Hastasana: Upward Salute

    When your first leave the comfort of your bed each morning, what’s the first thing you want to do? Like other animals—think about your cat or dog—our instinct is to stretch out. While we sleep, our bodies immobile, the fascia that surrounds our muscles tightens. In order to wake up our muscles, we need to loosen this outer sheath. So we stretch. So our first actual asana of the day might be a simple standing stretch. In asana practice, this stretch is called Urdva Hastasana (Upward Salute Pose). In the context of a vinyasa class it’s often the pose that initiates the whole sequence. From Urdva...

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  • Bharadvajasana: A Sage’s Twist

    The heroes of yoga’s ancient texts appear in many of its asanas. Most of these heroes (and heroines) take the form of gods and goddesses. Revered sages have also been honored with poses all their own. The pose I’d like to feature today, Bharadvajasana, is named in honor of Bharadvaja, a famous sage in the Ramayana. Here’s how Zo Newell, author of Downward Dogs and Warriors: Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis, tells the story of Bharadvaja: “Bharadvaja was a rishi, an ancient sage—one of the famous Seven Sages of Vedic times, who are immortalized in the constellation known in India as...

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