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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.
  • Baddha Konasana: Bound Angle Pose

    When I was in grade school, my sisters and I took ballet classes. During our brief ballet career my dad, a gymnast with an eye for form, installed a barre in our basement and led us through our ballet warm-ups every morning. None of us was diva material, but I thought the whole thing was pretty fun—the jumping around, the costumes of course, and even the warm-ups. I haven’t performed a plié in many years, but one of the exercises we practiced every day remained in my repertoire long after ballet lessons ended and before I discovered yoga in 1982...

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  • Supta Ardha Padmasana: A Lotus for Every Body

    In 2001, I co-taught a teacher training with Donna Farhi in Vancouver, BC. The 50 attendees were experienced yoga teachers and body workers from all over the world. During the training we encouraged trainees to question teaching methodologies that shoehorn students into a one-size-fits-all model. One misconception we talked about was the perceived necessity of practicing what is probably yoga’s most emblematic pose: Padmasana (Lotus Pose). That day we spent two hours practicing the poses Donna practices to prep her body for Lotus. When we tried Padmasana toward the end of the class, I noticed that despite the depth and...

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  • Tadasana: The Root of All Asana

    Take a minute to look at a tree, any tree. Look at the skeleton—the trunk and branches. Then study the leaves, in essence the “flowers” of the tree. Picture a rose bush laden with blooms or a single spring tulip. The flowering that you see in these things is possible because of what you don’t see—the vast system of roots that anchors each to the earth, roots that are often more complex and expansive than the branches and blooms they support. Almost 30 years ago, I had the good fortune to travel to India, the place where the ancient system...

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  • Chaturanga Dandasana: Help from Your Hyoid

    What’s an eight-syllable name that, when spoken by a yoga teacher, elicits fear (or at least, a groan) in roughly half the population that practices yoga? The same phrase evokes a feeling of invincible awesomeness in many others. The answer:  Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). Chaturanga looks like a push-up, but it’s not a push-up. It is primarily practiced as a transition pose in Sun Salutations, often between Downward Facing Dog and Upward Facing Dog or Cobra. Chaturanga requires a great deal of upper body strength, and therefore, it also builds the upper body. In addition, it builds core strength...

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  • Parvrtta Sukhasana: Ease with a Twist

    I recently had the good fortune to sit a 18-day silent Insight Meditation retreat. A friend once compared these sitting marathons to extreme sports, calling them “extreme sitting.” It’s kind of true. All in all, at this particular retreat, we sat for almost eight hours every day, alternating with five hours of walking meditation, in 45-minute increments. In 1988, when I first started going to silent retreats, I was surprised by how rigorous it was for my body to sit that long. There were burning, stabbing, pulsating, vibrating, piercing sensations pretty much everywhere in my body, and my mind compounded...

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  • Ubhaya Padangusthasana: Find Your Roots

    One of the physical benefits of practicing yoga asanas is the development of balance. This is something our four-legged friends don’t have to worry about. But as two-legged, upright-walking humans, balance is a skill that we need to keep cultivating throughout our lives. According to the Center for Disease Control, falls are the leading cause of injury and death in older people. So even though you may not be elderly yet, with any luck, you will be someday. It’s important to start developing your balance now. Yoga Practice for Developing Balance When we think of balance poses in yoga, we...

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  • Supta Padangusthasana: Supine Big Toe Pose

    There are many reasons people decide to start practicing yoga. For me, it was simple curiosity, at least at first. Many of my students come to yoga to bring some calm to their lives. Some want to increase flexibility. A healthy percentage of my students originally came to practice hoping to resolve a physical issue, especially back pain. Whatever your intention, practicing yoga can indeed confer these benefits, along with other unexpected rewards. Supta Padangusthasana (Supine Big Toe Pose) is one of my favorites for increasing mobility, helping alleviate back pain, and for helping connect students to the present moment...

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  • Garudasana: Eagle Pose

    As gods go, Garuda is gargantuan. When he was first hatched from a giant egg, the half-man, half-eagle’s monstrous size so frightened the other Hindu gods that they implored him to shrink himself, which he happily did. Garuda is known for his ability to grow and shrink in size at will, and to appear and disappear. The Buddhist version of Garuda is said to have had a 40-mile wingspan. When he flaps his wings, Garuda dries up the waters of the ocean in order to expose sea monsters that he then consumes. Garuda’s wing flaps can also move mountains and...

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  • 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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