Trikonasana (triangle pose)
In most classes in the USA the triangle is performed as described (and not pictured) in this paragraph: From a standing position, spread the feet about three and one half feet apart. Raise the arms up at the sides, until they are parallel to the floor. Turn the right foot to the right. Then turn the left foot slightly to the right. (If a straight line were drawn through the right foot from toe to heel, it would intersect the left foot through the arch). Keeping your body on one plane, as if you were between two panes of glass, exhale and bend (lean) toward the right leg. You spine will be straight and the bend is from the hip. Your arms continue to be in a straight line from each other, so that at the full extension of this pose, your arms are pependicular to the floor, left arm extended upward, right arms downward with hand near the floor, both feet planted firmly on the floor, supporting the equilateral triangle of the legs. Keep the left arm stretched and opposite the right arm at all times. Turn the head to look up at the outstretched hand or down to look at the floor if your neck has issues. Hold the pose for thirty seconds or more with awareness of your breathing. Then reverse the pose.
The triangle pose pictured is from the Sivananda tradition. In this form the arms start out with the left arm straight up, upper arm close to the ear, right arm parallel to the floor. (If I have only one triangle variation to do, I prefer this one as it gives a wonderful stretch to the shoulders and collar area where tension seems to build the most). In the full position the left (upper arm) is stretched out parallel to the floor, while the right arm is perpendicular to the floor with the hand resting on or near the mat.
Balancing Poses for beginners (there are many, with many names, Vrikasana, or tree pose, is most commonly practiced in yoga classes in USA).
1. Stand with your arms at your sides, feet slightly apart. Raise up on your toes and shut your eyes. Hold for 10 or 15 seconds to start. 2. Bend your right knee, gently sweeping your right foot off of the floor toward the back and stand, keeping your body erect and balancing on the left foot. Hold the pose for 15 - 30 seconds, then repeat with the opposite leg. 3. Tree pose: bend the right knee, place the right foot at the left ankle or higher up on the thigh (either place it above or below, but never on or against, the knee) and balance on the left foot. Repeat on the other side.
Balancing poses strengthen the small muscles of the legs. Adeptness at balancing helps to ensure balance while walking or doing any physical exercise, helping to prevent falls.
Paschimothanasana (forward bending pose)
In as seated pose with legs extended, stretch your arms over your head, and stretch your back upward as well. Slowly bend forward, from the hips. When you reach the limit of your forward stretch, move your hands to rest on your legs, and hold the position. When you hold a position, at first, when you are a beginner, you will stay in a pose for only a short time. You can count the time you spend in a pose in various ways. You may mentally count, use a ticking clock or count your breaths. Holding most poses for a minute or more will give you the most benefits of yoga practice. As a beginner, try first with 5-10 second hold, gradually increasing hold time, as you are able.
Janu Sirsasana (head to knee pose)
This pose is similar to the forward bending pose. The difference is the position of the legs. In Janu Sirsasana, one leg is bent at the knee and the foot is placed against the opposite thigh. Once you have placed your foot to the thigh, arrange yourself so that your sitting bones are in contact with the mat, then fold your upper body forward, slowly, until you have reached the limit of your stretch. Place your hands on the outstretched leg. Press the back of your extended leg toward the floor, so the back of the knee is more in contact with the mat (do not tighten the knee cap). Breath deeply and consciously and hold the pose. Then raise your head, following with the your upper body, release the hands and sit up fully. Reverse your legs and practice the posture on the other.
This pose has many variations, some with distinct names. When you are more flexible, you can place the foot of the bent knee on the thigh of the extended leg, the sole of the foot faces up. Although it requires extra flexibility, it is worth moving toward practicing this way for two reasons. One reason is that with the foot on the top of the leg, the knee is kept from popping up, so the stretch on the hamstring is more intense and hastens increased flexibility. The other reason is that, in this pose, when you bend forward, the foot is also pressing against your abdomen, giving your internal organs a bit of a pressure massage.
(Interestingly, some yoga lineages teach this pose with the back more rounded, not flattening the back and moving from hips, but creating a gentle curve in the back as one bends forward, being aware of each vertebra moving into the curve. I like to practice this posture both ways, because each style develops flexibility in a different way).
Bhugangasana (cobra pose)
The cobra pose stretches the spine backwards and is considered to be an invigorating pose. Lie face down, stretching your legs straight behind you and rest your head on your forehead, placing the palms of the hands on the floor next to your shoulders. Take a couple of breaths, then inhale, tighten the buttocks, and raising your head, neck and shoulders away from the mat, rolling upwards, vertebra by vertebra. If holding the pose for ten or twenty seconds, just hold your breath and exhale on the downward movement, coming out of the pose vertebra by vertebra. If you are holding the pose longer, you will breathe "behind the stretch", with long conscious breathing, at the top of the cobra pose and then exhale on the way down.
My favorite variation of this is to begin with the arms at the sides on the mat while raising the upper body, beginning with the head, then neck, then shoulders, until it feels that you can lift no further, then move the hands into position under the shoulders and gently press the hands into the mat while moving further into cobra. Coming out of the pose is the same, using the arms as support at the place where one can finish the slow, conscious lowering of the spine, vertebra by vertebra, without the support of the arms. This variation seems to build strength and enhances one's ability to hold onesefl erect when standing.
Salabhasana (locust pose)
Lie face down on the floor, legs stretched back straight behind you. Make a fist with each hand and place your hands under your body, with the backs of your hands on the mat. Your arms need to be quite straight and angled toward your groin. This position of the arms and hands provides a strong base for the rest of the pose. Rest your chin on the floor, exhale, and then inhale and lift your legs and pelvis off the floor. Hold the pose and, before your next breath, exhale, bringing the legs straight down.
Dhanurasana (bow pose)
Lie face down on the floor, legs stretched back straight. Bending your knees, bring your feet toward your buttocks. Grasp your feet or ankles with your hands. Exhale, then inhale as you lift the legs, head and chest off the floor. When the maximum stretch as been reached, the body will look like a bent bow and the arms will resemble the bowstring. Hold the pose and, before your next breath, return to the starting position. When you are more proficient at the pose, you can hold the pose longer. At that point, you can hold the pose and breathe deeply before exhaling and bringing your body to the starting position.
Salamba Sirsasana (headstand)
Kneel on the floor. Rest the forearms on the floor and completely interlock the fingers. Form an equilateral triangle on the mat with the arms and clasped hands forming the apex of the triangle and the space between the elbows forming the base. Place your head so that the crown of the head is on the floor and the back of the head is against the cupped area of the hands. Now "walk forward" with your feet until your feet are close to your face. At this point it will be possible to bend the knees and almost effortlessly swing up into the headstand. When will you be ready to try this pose? You will be ready to try the headstand when you have achieved flexibility in the forward bending poses, strength in the standing poses and balance with the balancing poses. When you are ready to try the headstand, have an experienced partner or your teacher "spot" you, so you won't fall down. Alternatively, you can get into the preparatory position in a corner, positioning yourself about 10 inches or more from the corner. This way, when you ease up into the headstand, you will have both walls of the corner in which to center your balance by gently touching the walls with your feet until you are fully balanced.
Ardha Matsyendrasana variation (half spinal twist, beginner's version)
Sit on the floor with both legs stretched out straight in front. Bend the right knee, gently moving the bent right leg along the floor, so that your foot touches the inner left thigh. Now, gently raise and bend the left knee, holding your left ankle with both hands, and cross the left leg over the right, placing the left foot next to the outside of your right leg, just between the thigh and knee. Now your lower body is "locked" into place. This is the starting position for the half spinal twist. Stretch upward so that your spine, neck and head is erect. Place your right hand against the outside of your left knee. Place your left hand on the floor, near your left hip as you gently twist your body, neck and head to the left. At your maximum stretch, hold the pose, breathing deeply for a few moments. Coming out of the pose, sit erect, centering the spine, neck and head, then repeat on the other side.
The Reverse Pose and the Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana)
Reverse Pose: Lying flat on the floor, legs extended and arms at the sides palms down, exhale, flex the knees, bringing them toward the chest, after a couple of breaths, raise the hips from the floor, supporting your hips with your hands. lifting legs, buttocks and back, and supporting your upright lower body with your hands, your thumbs and fingers opposed, circling just below the hip bones. In the Reverse Pose your back is not perpendicular to the floor, you are supporting your hips with your hands, and there is little pressure on your neck. Although your back is at a diagonal angle to the floor, you can straighten your legs, so the legs are perpendicular to the floor. This posture is reputed to be very beneficial for women, because of its effect on the organs within the pelvis.
Shoulderstand: We arrive at the Shoulderstand in much the same way, but the difference is that the final pose of the shoulderstand is straight - the body from the neck to the feet is a straight perpendicular line. The benefits of the shoulderstand include deep relaxation, increased blood flow to the brain and face, the reverse of gravity's effect on the internal organs. However, for many people, the strain and pressure on the small bones of the neck severely limit the enjoyment of this pose. For this reason, a modification of the shoulderstand is suggested (first introduced by master B.K.S. Iyengar). Fold a large firm blanket into a rectangle large enough to support the width of your shoulders and the length of your body from neck to waist. Place this folded blanket carefully under your back and shoulders, so that the blanket ends exactly at shoulder level Your head and neck should not be on the blanket. Now raise yourself into the shoulderstand as described above. The use of the blanket as a prop creates a different angle at the junction of the neck and shoulders, eliminating most, if not all, of the pressure, yet keeping all of the benefits of the shoulderstand.
Halasana (plough pose)
A natural finish to the shoulderstand is the Plough Pose. From the shoulderstand, bend from the hips and lower the feet to the floor behind the head. Straighten your legs and sggg relaxing and, if you practice it before bedtime, it can help you achieve a more restful sleep. When you come out of the plough, bend your knees and, at the same time, lift yoto ur chin and press the back of your head into the mat. Unroll the spine, slowly coming out of the pose. While you are unrolling the spine, gradually straighten your legs, until your buttocks are on the floor and your legs are perpendicular to the floor. Then place your hands under the buttocks, palms down, and lower the legs slowly and with control to the floor. Placing the hands under the buttocks while lowering the legs helps to prevent strain on the lower back. Raising the chin and keeping the back of the head on the mat while you unroll the spine helps to prevent strain on the neck.
Matsyasana (Fish Pose)
The fish pose is the counter pose to the previous poses, and often follows the Shoulderstand or Plough. Lying flat on your back with the legs stretched out straight on the floor, ankles touching, place the hands under the buttocks, then raise your chest and neck from the floor, keeping the crown of the head near or touching the floor. Bring the shoulder blades toward each other and hold the pose two or three minutes with normal breathing. There are other variations of this pose. The "complete" or advanced form of this pose requires full flexibility in the full lotus position, as the legs are engaged in the full lotus pose while the back is arched into the raised chest position that characterizes all the variations of this pose. (In the advanced variation of the fish pose it is easy to float in water, on the surface, with the nose above the water line.)
Savasana (corpse pose)
This pose of relaxation follows all yoga sessions, ideally for at least 10 minutes. Lie on your back, on the mat, feet slightly apart, arms at your sides, hands palms up. Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath, aware of the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. The relaxation can be more quickly achieved and deeper if, after a few moments of conscious awareness of the breath, you bring your attention to each part of your body in turn, starting with the feet, mentally saying "I am relaxing my_______________________, my ____________________, (is) (are) relaxing, my ______________ (is) (are) relaxing". Name the feet, soles of the feet, the ankles, the lower legs, the knees, the upper legs, hips, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, lower back, middle back, upper back, neck, head, including mouth tongue, cheeks, nose, eyes, forehead, scalp, and ears. After completing the suggestions, go back, with your awareness, to any parts of the body that are retaining tension, and consciously release that tension. You may then visualize yourself as heavier than lead, sinking into the floor, then as lighter than clouds, floating carefree above the earth. Suggest to yourself that you will remain this way, full of light and joyous energy for several minutes, and that when you complete the corpse pose, you will be energized, alert, and ready to resume your conscious life with vigor and enthusiasm. When your are ready to resume your normal waking consciousness, you may tense your face, hands, and feet, then release the tension a few times. Next roll to your side and rest a little while on your side before getting up.
Surya Namaskar Salute to the Sun