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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.
  • Marichyasana: Sage with a Twist

    Many of yoga’s traditional asanas are inspired by Hindu mythology. Others, such as Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose),  have very literal names. Today’s pose, Marichyasana (Marichi’s Pose), is named for the sage Marichi, who Yoga Journal calls “the great-grandfather of Manu (‘man, thinking, intelligent’), the Vedic Adam, and the ‘father’ of humanity.” Marichyasana has many variations, some of which involve spinal twisting. The version of the pose I’ll describe here is a variation of Marichyasana III, but with a twist. Make sure that you warm up before attempting this pose. You can warm up by practicing poses that stretch the hamstrings...

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  • Utthita Parsvakonasana: Extended Side Angle Pose

    Wide-legged standing poses—think Triangle and the Warrior poses—are the foundation to a balanced yoga practice. They cultivate strength, stability, balance, flexibility and expansion, all at once. Standing poses strengthen the legs and the core, and nurture the back. In the process, they encourage expansion, making them a great antidote to sitting at a computer, in a car or even in meditation. Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) is a favorite among my students. It promotes steadiness by strengthening our connection to the ground and strengthening our ankles, knees and thighs. In particular the upper side of the body not only...

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  • Malasana: Know How to Squat

    One of my favorite things about writing about asana practice is that in the process of researching poses, I often learn something new. Even as I head into my 36th year of practice, I’m well aware that I know only a small fraction of what there is to know about yoga. So I’m always delighted when I uncover something that helps me understand the practice a little better. What’s In a Name? Such is the case with this blog’s featured pose, Malasana, commonly known as “Garland Pose.” I’ve always wondered about its name. I figured it came from the Sanskrit word...

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  • 3 Ways to Plant Your Tree Pose

    Trees are our partners in keeping this living, breathing planet alive. We inhale the oxygen that trees exhale, and they inhale the carbon dioxide we exhale. We are inextricably tied together. Trees can also teach us about the importance of cultivating roots. While only the trunk, branches and leaves are usually visible to us, the roots of most trees are just as massive as what’s above ground. Knowing that this complex invisible root system is what keeps a tree upright can teach us about grounding our own bodies. Vrksasana (Tree Pose) emulates the steady, rooted stance of a tree. When...

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  • Hanumanasana: Take a Flying Leap

    In a recent post, I recounted the story of Anjaneya, a child prodigy—part monkey, godson of the wind god Vayu, and reincarnation of Shiva—that got himself into trouble for making a giant leap for the sun without the sun god’s permission. (He thought it was a giant mango and just couldn’t help himself.) Long story short, Anjaneya was not only absolved of his crime, after some wrangling with the sun god, but even elevated to god status. Dubbed Hanuman, he took the form of a monkey-god. The Ramayana tells the story of Hanuman’s most famous good deed, a heroic leap...

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  • Anjaneyasana: Reach for the Sun

    As a child, Anjaneya was a tad over-confident. Considering his origins, this is hardly unexpected. Born to Anjana (a supernatural woman) and Kesari (king of the monkeys), he had magical powers and royalty in his genetic inheritance. On top of all that, he was godson to the wind god, Vayu, and was considered to be a reincarnation of Lord Shiva. So when he gazed upward one day and mistook the sun for a glowing piece of fruit, he naturally decided to make a giant leap for it, hoping to snatch it out of the sky. This he did repeatedly, unharmed...

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  • Prasarita Padottanasana: Breathe Like a Starfish

    Our limbs include not only our arms and legs, but also the tailbone and the head. Way back at a time few of us remember, all our nutrients came to us through our navels and then radiated out to all our limbs. Through the umbilical cord, we took in nourishment and oxygen that was then distributed to the outlying areas of our bodies. For our first six months or so outside the womb, our bodies imitated this starfish-like breathing pattern, termed navel radiation. Navel radiation helped us unfurl our limbs so that we could begin to move about the world...

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  • Virasana: Hero Pose

    Hanuman, the monkey god, is one of yoga mythology’s most celebrated characters. His story is prominent in the Ramanayana, and he also plays a brief role in the Bhagavad Gita. He’s most famous for leaping from India to Sri Lanka to save Sita (wife of Rama). For this feat Hanuman merited a yoga pose in his name, Hanumanasana (a.k.a. splits). According to an article in Yoga International by Indian mythology expert, Zo Newell, for his strength, valor and courage, Hanuman was sometimes called “Vir Hanuman.” Here’s what Zo has to say about Hanuman and Virasana: “Hanuman, the monkey superhero of...

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  • Paschimottanasana: Seated Forward Bend

    Forward bends are my favorite poses for containing energy. When I sequence a practice or a class, forward bends always precede Savasana (Relaxation Pose). The reason is this: Folding your body inward naturally integrates and stores the energy you’ve generated in the preceding poses—as long as you approach them with a yin (passive) rather than yang (aggressive) intention. Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) is a basic, symmetrical seated forward bend. On the most superficial level, Paschimottanasana stretches the muscles of the back body at the lower spine, pelvis and legs. In addition it stretches muscles in the upper back and those...

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  • Virabhadrasana II: The Quiet Warrior

    Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras state that asana (the physical postures of yoga) should be “steady and comfortable,” “firm and soft” or “steady and easy,” depending on the translation. All these descriptions add up to a quiet balance between the energetic and the calm. Practiced with alignment awareness, Virabhadrasana II embodies the seemingly opposing qualities of energy and calm. While for many people, Virabhadrasana II seems to be all energy and no calm, when your structure is aligned in a self-supporting way, calm comes naturally. Years ago, Yoga Journal ran an article that queried well-known yoga teachers about their least favorite poses...

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