ASANAS FOR BEGINNERS
By Hiranmayii Awli Mohanan
When celebrities like Gwenyth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and Gisele Bündchen swear by yoga, an ancient Indian discipline that dates back thousands of years, you know you want to reap its benefits too. The beauty of yoga is that it’s for everyone — you can be young or old, overweight or fit, yoga has the ability to bring serenity to the mind while strengthening the body. The foundation of yoga, besides pranayama (breathing) is asanas (poses). Here are some good poses to learn as you build a regular yoga practice.
Downward-facing dog or its Sanskrit term, Adho Mukha Shvanasana is done to strengthen the arms, shoulders and back while stretching the hamstrings, calves and arches of your feet. This is the right pose to explore, especially if you have back pain. You can do it to relieve any back aches. Don’t forget to breathe during the asana and focus on distributing your body weight evenly through your palms. Lift your hips up and back, away from your shoulders.
Not only is it easy, this calming pose is a good default pause position. It’s a wonder really, that an asana such as this can gently stretch your lower back, hips, thighs, knees and ankles and relaxes your spine, shoulders and neck. Balasana can be used between poses, to rest and recentre before continuing on. You can also modify it by using a cushion or block to rest your head and place a rolled towel under your ankles if you get uncomfortable. As you breathe, focus on relaxing the muscles of the spine and the lower back.
Kumbhakasana or plank pose is known by many, in fact used as an exercise. The intention of this asana remains the same to build strength in the core, shoulders, arms and legs. It’s especially good for the upper body. However, should you have carpel tunnel syndrome, you should avoid it as it can be hard on the wrists. As you plank, imagine the back of your neck and spine lengthening.
As beginners, you would probably find it a feat to balance during poses. Tree pose or Vrksasana, is perfect for working on balance and posture. Besides that, it can also strengthen your core, ankles, calves, thighs and spine. As you perform the tree pose, be mindful of your breath, as it goes in and out, while holding this pose.
Trikonasana, found as part of many other asanas is known for building strength in the legs and stretches the hips, spine, chest, shoulders, groins, hamstrings and calves. With practice, it can also help increase mobility in the hips and neck. This asana is great for building strength and endurance. If you have high blood pressure, turn your head to gaze downward in the final pose while for those with neck problems, don’t turn your head to look upward; look straight ahead and keep both sides of the neck long.
Another important pose for the back comes in the form of Bhujangasana, the cobra pose. A literal back-bending one, when performed regularly, this asana builds strength in your back muscles, increases spinal flexibility and stretches the chest, shoulders and abdomen. This also means that it will prevent back aches. That said, if you suffer from lower back injuries or arthritis in the spine and neck, it’s best to skip this pose. As you get into Bhujangasana, be mindful of drawing your navel away from the floor as you hold this pose. Another important note is to breathe through it.