Postures that are performed during the physical activity of Yoga are called asanas. These were developed over thousands upon thousands of years. Initially, Yoga practice used meditation, rituals and chanting to enable a connection to the divine. However, in later years and as Yoga became more accessible to the masses, teachers introduced postures. This is so that the layperson could connect through something tangible – in other words, the body – and from the body move onto the heart, intellect and mind. (This is called the Yoga of Synthesis.)
The different categories of asanas
Depending on their focal point, asanas are divided into different groups:
- Sun Salutations
- Standing Postures
- Forward Bends
- Arm Balances
- Inverted Postures
- Seated Neutral Postures
- Relaxing Recovery Postures
Some Yoga schools have combined postures. For example, a standing posture might include a back or forward bend. Sitting postures may include twists.
What are counter poses in Yoga?
Counter poses keep the body balanced. They ensure a safe and effective practice. They also created a well-rounded Yoga class.
A counter pose generally takes the body in the opposite direction to the posture. It is best to perform a neutral posture, or recovery pose, before going into a full opposite one. Two counter postures may then be necessary to gradually move the body out of one position and into the next.
Counter poses are great when practising sequences as they ease the body from one posture to the next. This limits the risk of injury. They should generally be held for about a third of the time except when back or neck hyper extensions are involved. In this case, the pose is held for a fifth of the time.
What are the benefits of asanas?
- The correct practice of asanas has overall beneficial effects on physical stability, balance, flexibility and strength.
- Yoga helps to keep the body clean, flexible and well lubricated. This reduces cell deterioration and slows the ageing process.
- It also improves blood circulation and breathing.
- The regular practice of asanas helps to boost the immune system.
- It helps with respiratory disorders, high blood pressure, pain management and arthritis.
- Yoga helps to regulate the metabolism hence assisting with weight-loss efforts.
- The practising of Yoga helps to tone, stretch and strengthen the muscles. This increases flexibility and reduce the risks of injury.
- Laboratory tests have proven that Yoga practitioners have an increased ability to consciously control autonomic or involuntary functions, such as their body temperature, heartbeat and blood pressure. This reduces their susceptibility to many diseases and health disorders.
In addition to the above-mentioned health benefits of Yoga, there are many psychological benefits. For example:
- Self-awareness and increased self-knowledge
- Increased mental performance and clarity
- Increased body awareness
- Improved relaxation and concentration
- Improved vitality
- Better stress management, a better ability to calm oneself in addition to better moods
- More spiritual awareness and inner peace
The importance of balancing strength and flexibility asanas
In a Yoga class, it is vital to balance strength and flexibility asanas. Stretching creates flexibility. Flexibility is directly affected by the amount of connective tissue around the muscles. Connective tissue is made up of tendons, ligaments and fascial sheaths. It contains a substance that acts as both a lubricant and glue. Elastic connective tissue provides elasticity and collagenous connective tissue provides tensile strength. When a limb is overstretch and a muscle is worked beyond its normal range, the connective tissue surrounding the muscle is put under duress. This is called hyper extension. The affected muscles may become long and lax. Joint pain, swelling and immobility can occur as a result.
Long lax muscles are often found adjacent to short tight muscles. The short muscle needs a stretching exercise and the adjacent long muscle needs a strengthening exercise. The challenge is which exercises to perform that will stretch and which will strengthen the right muscles.
Yoga asanas are dynamic movements that bring a limb and muscles through their full range of motion in the joins. Asanas are also static movements which is the ability to assume and maintain extended positions using only a specific part of the body. Dynamic and static movements and counter poses enable a Yoga practitioner to balance strengthening and stretching. If exercised correctly, with proper alignment and breathing, all while respecting the limitations of the body the regular practice of Yoga allows the practitioner to grow, develop and extend their physical capabilities while limited the possibility of injury.