Updated: Nov 14, 2020
What is the difference between yoga and asana?
Asana is a Sanskrit word which means posture or pose. An asana or yoga pose is a physical shape that can be made with your body with the aim of increasing strength, flexibility, balance or space. Yoga is Sanskrit word that means union. And can be understood as the connection between the body, mind and breath. There are 8 limbs (or facets) of yoga, and asana/postures is the 3rd of these 8. We will discuss the other limbs another day. But put simply, an asana is a posture, and Yoga is the holistic term that encompasses all asana and many other facets of yoga including breathwork, cleansing techniques, meditation and moral and ethical codes by which to live.
How many yoga poses are there?
There are 84 postures or asanas outlined in the Ancient Yogic Text, the Hatha Yoga Pradikpa. In a modern day, accessible, yoga practice you will cover a lot less than 84 postures! You don't need to know this many to have a wholesome and fully beneficial yoga practice, and there are many common postures that you will see come up again and again in your classes. As time goes on, and as you get stronger, you may like to further explore. Quite simply, your study of yoga asana could last a lifetime if you wished!
What are the 8 basic yoga postures?
1. Easy pose (sukhasana)
Sit in a cross-legged position with your hands resting on your legs. Check that your spine is
tall and your shoulders and jaw are relaxed. This is a wonderful posture to begin and end a practice, and you can use it to practice cultivating peace and quiet in body and mind, and is a great posture to begin learning to connect to your breath. If there is discomfort in the knees, back or hips, sit on a cushion or two.
2. Cat/cow (bidalasana)
This pose is done on all fours. Breathe in and drop the belly. Lift the back of the head towards the tailbone and look up. Breathe out and round the centre of the spine towards to ceiling, bringing your forehead towards your pubic bone. Do several rounds connected to your breath, as fast or as slow as feels good to you. This pose is wonderful to warm up the spine and wiggle out any compression that has built up from sleep, sitting or standing! Basically, anytime of day.
3. Downward dog (adho mukha svanasana)
From all fours, tuck the toes under, push through the hands, and with a big breath in, lift the knees and send the hips high. Keep a bend in the knees if you need to, and take your time to find the perfect downward dog for you. Everybody's downward dog will look different, and so will your own downward dog from each day to the next. Move around your space and peddle out your legs until you find the version that feels most comfortable for you. And breathe! A great posture to stretch out the whole back of the body and a good place to come back to during your practice for a little breather!
4. Forward bend (uttanasana)
Start with your feet slightly separated (enough so you have good balance) and let your torso hang over your legs. Keep a slight bend in the knees to keep your weight over the front of your feet, and either let your arms dangle down and hold onto opposite elbows. As your breathe in, feel your body expand and fill up with breath, and as you breathe out, feel your body sinking deeper into the pose. Allow gravity to do all the work, and with every exhale feel the crown of your head pulling closer towards the floor. Be sure that your head and neck are totally relaxed. A wonderful pose to let go over any stress or tension. Try a big sigh on the exhale. It can feel wonderful!
5. Tree pose (ekpadasana)
This is a wonderful balance pose for everybody, and especially for beginners. There are several variations, so you can build confidence as you go. Balance can be tough at first, so stick with it, work with your breath and you'll soon build strength. Keep your standing leg strong and when you feel ready bring the toes of the other leg off the floor. There are 3 levels for your leg, level one, big toes touching the floor and heal resting above the ankle of your standing leg. Level two, foot against the inside of your shin. Level three, foot against the inside of your upper inside leg. Be sure not the let your foot press into the standing leg's knee. Hands can be in prayer pose or reaching up to the sky. Inhale to grow tall, and exhale to soften. Hold as long as you like. Big breaths and when you're ready, be sure to do the other side.
6. Child's pose (balasana)
A wonderfully restorative pose and a great posture to come back to if you need a break during your practice or as a stand alone pose whenever you need some TLC. From kneeling, allow your tummy to come towards the top of your thighs and reach your arms out in front of you. Lower the forehead towards the floor, or rest it on your hands or a cushion. Take a big breath in and fill your body up with breath, and as you exhale, feel everything sinking towards the floor. Stay as long as you like.
7. Butterfly pose (bhadrasana)
A really accessible forward fold and a wonderful pose if you're a beginner to open up the hips and allow the spine and neck to relax. In seated, bring the soles of the feet together. The further away from the body the easier it'll feel on your knees, hips and lower back. If you have a little more flexibility, bring the feet slightly closer to the groin. You can also sit on a cushion to bring even more space into the hips and lower back. Take a big breath in, and as you exhale lead with your chest to move forward. When you can't move anymore forward, take another big breath in, and as you exhale allow your head and neck to relax. Stay as long as you like, and when you come up, come up slowly, letting your head be the last thing to come up.
8. Corpse pose (savasana)
Every good yoga class should finish with savasana. A conscious relaxation to allow the whole body to process and let go of the practice, and everything else! Simply, lie down on your back, legs and arms relaxed and palms facing the sky. Make sure you are warm and cover yourself up with a blanket if needs be. Try to stay aware as your relax, and keep your awareness on the breath.
A Simple Yoga Sequence For Beginners
These 8 postures can be used for a beginners sequence (see video below)
Easy pose (sukhasana)
Downward dog (adho mukha shavanasana)
Forward bend (uttanasana)
Tree pose (ekpadasana)
Child's pose (balasana)
Butterfly pose (bhadrasana)
Corpse pose (savasana)
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Carrie Froggett Carrie is a co-founder of The Frog Project, yoga teacher, and full time stay at home mum to two smalls. When she's not playing with the kids or practicing yoga, you'll likely find her in the middle of her veg patch, trowel in hand and covered in mud. She loves the outdoors, and would camp every night given the chance. She and her partner in crime, Martin, set up The Frog Project with the aim of bringing classical yoga to all, and deliver live online classes with a group of dedicated teachers, to students of all experiences, ages, shapes, sizes, jobs, lives, you name it, from all around the world. Join them now and get 15 days of free unlimited classes. It's just yoga.