Asanas are best practiced at the beginning of our yoga routine (whatever that entails), as they help to loosen the physical body making it more comfortable to sit for a half an hour or so in a static position while we do our breathing exercises and our meditation practices. Asanas also help to loosen the nerves and open energetic pathways of the body so that we can gain the full benefits of our sitting practices. This is why the best sequence for our yoga practices is to do between 5 and 30 minutes of asana practice, depending on our bhakti, followed by about 10 minutes of pranayama and then about 20 minutes of meditation. This is a basic “full” yoga routine.
What kind of asanas are the most appropriate for preparing for our sitting practices? This is generally up to the practitioner and their personal preference, but in general it is good to include a forward bend, a backward bend, an inversion posture, a spinal twist and a rest period at the end. Using a routine that has each of these elements in it will be the most effective. Here is a basic routine recommended by Yogani at the “Advanced Yoga Practices” website: http://www.aypsite.org/asana.html. This is a sequence that I personally teach in all my beginner yoga classes, a sequence I have had great feedback on and one I can recommend from personal experience as well.
- The AYP asana sequence begins with a warm-up in which we massage the body and direct the flow of blood from each of the extremities back into the torso (see above figures 1a,1b,1c, 2a,2b).
- We then come to a kneeling seat in which we take the time to find a comfortable rhythm with the breath….a rhythm we try to maintain throughout the rest of the asana practice (figure 3).
- This is followed by “Janu Sirsasana” or “seated head to knee”. This posture helps to stretch the spine, shoulders, hamstrings and the groin. It helps to stimulate the liver and kidneys, helps improve digestion and is good for high blood pressure, insomnia and sinusitis. Energetically it stimulates prana to move into the spinal nerve, the “sushumna nadi”(figure 4a).
- The next posture is “Paschimottanasana” or “seated forward bend”. Physically this posture helps to relieve digestive problems like constipation, and helps with problems like sciatica. Energetically this posture stimulates the Manipura (solar plexus) chakra (figure 4b).
- Paschimottanasana is followed by “Salamba Sarvangasana” or “supported shoulder stand”. This is an inversion posture that improves blood flow to the brain, improves pancreatic secretions, helps p revent hernias and urinary disorders, and stimulates the thyroid, all while strengthening muscles in the arms, shoulders neck and thighs. Energetically this posture stimulates the Vishuddha (throat) chakra (figure 5).
- Next we flow from the shoulderstand directly into “Halasana” or “plow pose”. This posture helps to increase flexibility in the spine as it opens each and every spinal disc and stretches each vertebrae making this pose great for people with arthritis or neck/back stiffness. It also activates the liver, spleen and thyroid gland, stimulates the abdominal organs and is great for those experiencing headaches, insomnia, or high blood pressure. Energetically this posture pulls energy from the Muladhara (root) chakra up to the Vishuddha (throat) chakra and stimulates each of the chakras on the way up (figure 6).
- The next posture in the AYP sequence is “Yoga Mudra” or “the seal of yoga”. This posture directs blood flow upwards massaging the lower bronchioles of the lungs. This posture is very good for anyone with any form of lung issue and also helps with gastric problems as it helps to strengthen the digestive system. Energetically this posture helps to open the Anahatta (heart) chakra and also stimulates the Ajna (third eye) chakra as it directs prana up the sushumna nadi (spinal nerve) (figure 7).
- Next, we move onto our stomachs for “Bhujangasana” or “cobra pose”. This posture helps to strengthen the lower back muscles as well as the core muscles, specifically the transverse abdominal muscles. This posture stimulates the adrenal glands, helps normalize irregular menstrual cycles and at the same helps with gas or constipation problems. Energetically this posture stimulates both the Svadhisthana (navel) and the Manipura (solar plexus) chakras (figure 8).
- After Bhujangasana we move into “Salambhasana” or “locust pose”. This posture is one of the best postures for anyone with problems with carpal tunnel syndrome or anyone with tendonitis of the elbows. This postures constricts the flow of blood to the lower arms and then allows the blood to rush back in when the posture is released. This helps to stimulate proper circulation in the wrists and elbows. This posture also helps to strengthen, compress and open the spine (figure 9).
- Next we move into our “spinal twist” posture called “Matsyendrasana”. This posture stimulates the pancreas, liver, spleen, kidneys, stomach, and both the ascending and the descending colons. It also helps to adjust and realign the vertebral column. Energetically this posture helps to “spiral” prana upwards from the root through all the chakras but it is particularly stimulating to the Manipura (solar plexus) chakra (figure 10).
- From here we come to a standing position for “Uddiyana Bandha” or “abdominal lift”. This is not necessarily an “asana” and more falls into the category of “bandha” which means “lock”. This posture is done mostly to stimulate the upward flow of kundalini energy from the Muladhara (root) chakra as it has a “vacuum” effect on prana located there. (figure 11).
- We then move into “Anuvittasana” or “standing back bend”. This posture helps to stretch out the abdominal muscles, strengthen the back/spine and stimulate the lungs. Energetically this posture helps to open the Anahatta (heart) chakra (figure 12).
- We then counteract this back-bend with a forward bend….”Uttanasana” or “forward fold”. This posture increases flexibility in the lower back, the hamstrings and the calves, it reduces fatigue, stimulates digestion, creates space between the vertebrae and helps with asthma, high blood pressure and osteoporosis. This posture is also an easy inversion posture as the head is lower then the heart and it increases blood flow to the brain(figure 13).
- We then end the asana portion of our practices with “Savasana” or “corpse pose”. This posture allows the body to rest and release any tension and allows the energetic obstructions in the nervous system that have been loosened by the practice to release/dissolve before we move into our sitting practices(figure 14).
So, with all this in mind, continue to do your asana practice as you feel inclined to, continue to keep the physical body healthy and in good repair, but remember, if the goal of your spiritual practices is to liberate yourself from suffering, if the goal of your spiritual practices is to become enlightened, asana practice will not take you all the way. It will help in many ways, but the whole gamut of yoga practices is necessary for realizing the self as The Self.
-Contributed by CarsonZi (Founder of Blissed Yoga – Finding the Guru in You)