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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yoga - Asana's Benefits and Precautions


Yoga is GREAT! It is bursting with benefits and can help people in so many different ways. It is relaxing, it strengthens the mind and body, it calms our nerves, it gives us focus and it gives us energy. I could go on and on! It is is being embraced all around the world by millions of people for a reason.

I am studying to be a yoga teacher at the moment and have my first asana exam at the end of the month. I need to know how to teach a variety of level 1asanas to my classmates who will be posing as a beginners class. So I need to give nice, clear instructions and demonstrations. I also have to know the benefits of each pose and just as importantly I need to know the contra-indications of them as well. I think this is something that gets a bit lost in a lot of classes.  So I have decided to create a post that gives the basic outline of who and what each group of asanas are good for. I will also state what injuries and conditions each asana group is not recommended for. This way you can reduce your chances of injury when you go to class, and I can study for my exam. It's a win-win situation for everybody!

I will not discuss each asana individually, but will focus on the  group of asanas as a whole instead. Poses that belong to the same group will generally have the same or similar benefits and precautions. Individual asanas however, may also have added contraindications so you should always inform your teacher of any health issues  you have before class so that they can give you alternatives if needed. Current imbalance both mentally and physically, as well as operations and past injuries all need to be taken into consideration. Something such a torn ligament that may have happen years ago could still over time create problems. Asanas and their effects on the body should always be considered as prolonged and continual practice can create problems over time if you are not aware and mindful.

Standing Poses

Benefits
  • This group of poses are great for creating energy. 
  • They teach somatic awareness. This means when we do these asanas we become more aware of/in tune with our bodies.
  • stimulates digestion and improves circulation
  • Great for grounding both physically and mentally
  • They strengthen our knees, legs and hips.
  • They also strengthen our abdominal muscles especially when we have correct alignment.
  • They are good for our nervous system as they have a close relationship with our spinal cord.
  • Energetically they strengthen and stimulate the chakras
  • Build emotional strength
Precautions
  • Knee, hip and ankle injuries, (yes I know I said they get strengthened and they do, but that is because they are doing a  lot of work so if they are weak or injured you will need to be careful)
  • Sciatica
  • Bulged disc in back 
  • Pregnancy - 1st trimester
  • Heart issues
  • High blood pressure
Always make sure your feet are firmly grounded and that your weight is evenly distributed across each  foot. Both feet should have the same amount of weight and pressure during all poses. Try to remember these few basic points and your well on your way.

Forward bends

Benefits
  • Stretch lower back, hamstrings hips and pelvis
  • Tones  and massages internal organs - kidneys and  digestive 
  • Highly recommended for diabetes as they work to balance the pancreas
  • Stretches the whole spine and relieves sciatica 
  • Can slow the enlargement of the liver and spleen
  • Engages the 2nd chakra
  • Calms the mind and nervous system. Good for anybody suffering from anxiety.  (Great for vata)
  • Has a cooling effect (Great for pitta)
  • Emotionally they are seen as a way to go inside and to help us to surrender.
Precautions
  • Pregnancy - 2nd and 3rd trimester
  • Lower back issues especially sacral lumber
  • Sciatica
  • Hip joints
  • Menstruation (during the first few days, if heavy or difficult) 
  • The nature of the poses, folding forward creates an inward focus so are not recommended for people suffering from depression
As always be careful with your spine and move into and out of each pose mindfully. If standing always ground yourself and have even pressure across both feet.

Twists
Benefits
  • Stimulation of the internal organs aids digestion
  • Creates more mobility in the spine, hips and pelvis
  • Relieves backache, headaches and menstrual pain (towards end)
  • By twisting the body the internal organs are squeezed and massaged allowing for the elimination of toxins
  • Assimilation of nutrients increases
  • Postnatal - Great for toning and strengthening 
  • Can be either calming or stimulating depending on the individuals needs at the time
  • 3rd chakra is stimulated
Precautions
  • Pregnancy - especially 1st trimester
  • Menstruation
  • Full stomach
  • Lower back issues especially disc problems
  • Recent surgery on torso 
  • Hernia
Seated twists are more intense than laying twists and standing twists are the easiest. Always make sure you extend and elongate the spine and never force.  Use your abdominal muscles to create and control the twist and not your neck.

Back bends
Benefits
  • Strengthens lumber spine, shoulders and shoulder blades, glutes and hamstrings
  • Activates the chakras. Primarily the 4th but also the 3rd and 5th
  • Improves posture as they help to realign the spine
  • Aids digestion
  • Good for vata as they help to eliminate air
  • Opens the heart
  • Shifts and stimulates emotions
  • Stimulates prana and the respiratory system (great for kapha)
  • Good for the movement of blood that tends to collect around our backs
  • Uplifting
  • Releases negative emotions
  • Sympathetic nervous system
  • Diaphragm is stretched, stimulated and strengthened
  • Reproductive system
  • Full compression of organs
  • Kidneys and adrenals are stimulated
Precautions
  • Serious back injuries or issues
  • Pregnancy - later stages
  • Heart conditions
  • High blood pressure
  • Surgery
  • Menstruation
  • Nervous anxiety
  • Kidney disease
  • Spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis
Be very careful with your spine. Don't push your self beyond your limits. Things take time, be patient and accepting.

Balances
Benefits
  • Mental stability and focus
  • Improves concentration, self-confidence and coordination
  • Synchronisation of body
  • Reduces stress, anxiety and worry (great for vatta and pitta)
  • Calms the mind and nervous system (great for vata and pitta)
  • Stimulates the respiratory system and circulatory system (great for kapha)
  • Bring you out of your comfort zone (great for kapha)
  • 1st chakra stimulation
Precautions
  • Be very careful with past injuries of ligaments and tendons
  • Injuries to the joints
  • Knee, hip and ankle injuries 
These poses become easier the more you practice. Strengthening your leags and core will greatly improves your ability to balance. Your mind is another issue. Yoga calms the mind and over time you will find your balances becoming easier the more you are able to calm the chatter in your mind.

Inversions
Inversions are the kings and queens of asanas. Their lists of benefits are quite outstanding and truly deserve such praise. try to include one in all your practices or even better in your daily routine. 
Benefits
  • Improves posture - helps with the realignment of the spine
  • Because you are upside down the blood flows naturally to the heart giving it a well deserved rest
  • The internal organs are given a good massage which helps to improve digestion and related issues such as constipation
  • Deeper abdominal breathing gives the heart and lungs a nice massage
  • Circulation is improved allowing for greater assimilation of nutrients into the bloodstream and organs
  • Calms the nervous system (great for vata)
  • Stimulates the thymus, thyroid and parathyroid (shoulder stand)
  • Clarifies mind, helps with concentration and improves memory (great for vata)
  • Reproductive and menstrual issues are alleviated (shoulder stand)
  • Relieves insomnia, depression
  • Great for varicose veins 
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
Precautions
  • Eye issues - detached retina, glaucoma
  • Menstruation
  • Neck issues (Shoulder stand)
  • Back issues (talk to your teacher for variations)
  • Pregnancy (check with your teacher)
  • High blood pressure
  • Hernia
  • Stop if there is any pressure behind your eyes, ringing in the ears or breathing becomes difficult.
Inversions are not easy at first. They take strength and focus. Yoga practice will give you both.

If there are any specific poses or conditions you would like to know about send me a message or better still write in the comment box so everyone can benefit and learn.