It's hard for many to understand the intricate science that has gone into the development of each yoga asana (or posture) in the hatha yoga system. Typically when we go to a yoga class here in the Western part of the world, we practice a yoga sequence, but without much thought to the benefits or reasons for each position beyond the small bits of information the yoga teacher has time to provide. However, the yoga knowledge is vast and by investing the time to learn a bit more about each asana, you hold the key to a very powerful system of healing, spiritual development, and an improved quality of life. You will also find that you can design your own sequence based on your specific goals, allowing you to get the most out of your yoga practice.
First, I'd like to explain that there are 4 components or aspects to yoga asanas. They are the physical, bio-energetic, form, and psychosomatic aspects. The physical aspect involves the compression of organs and physical changes that takes place when performing the asana. This is where the length of time you hold the asana becomes important in order to activate the glands necessary to activate changes within the body. The bio-energetic refers to the chakra system or network of energy throughout the body. Each asana alters the flow of energy in the body making it important to perform the posture accurately with an intentional focus on the related energy center. The form aspect refers to the variations in how you perform the asana, which may alter the results. And the final aspect, psychosomatic, refers to the alterations in the mental and emotional state that each posture can generate. This relates to the connection between the mind, emotions and the body and reinforces the importance of holding the position for a long period of time to reap the intended benefits.
Although every asana is important in its own sense, there are 3 specific ones I'd like to share with you that are known to be some of the most important ones for achieving extraordinary results. Those asanas are 1) paschimottanasana (the seated forward bend), 2) sarvangasana (the shoulder stand), and 3) sirsasana (the headstand).
The seated forward bend appears at first to be a simple backstretch, however its benefits go far beyond. It's an asana that can also be termed the pose of the rising (of energy), which brings vitality and the stabilization of the mind.
The posture is performed by sitting with the legs stretched out in front of the body, perfectly straight. Next lean forward as far as possible with the goal of eventually holding the big toes, head placed on knees. With practice and increased flexibility, one can let the entire chest and abdomen rest upon the legs.
To get the most from this asana, one should focus on the base chakra (also called the muladhara chakra) where the energy from the earth enters the body and subsequently flows through the torso, the arms and the legs.
Benefits - Digestion, Organs, Sexual Activity, Spine, Weight Loss, Vitality
An entire book could be written about the numerous benefits of this posture. Some say it has the ability to cure any disease to man. First and foremost, it greatly improves blood circulation, which is essential for transporting oxygen and nutrients to every cell in the body. The bending motion also stimulates the abdominal organs, which improves digestion and activates the potential to heal gastrointestinal diseases and conditions, urinary infections and reduce inflammation of the spleen and liver. It also stimulates the kidneys and gall bladder and can be extremely beneficial for the prostate and improving sexual function or controlling sexual desire. The spine is naturally stretched, improving elasticity and flexibility and relieving pain (including pain in the knees, thighs and legs), arthritis and sciatica. It's also great for expelling fat around the waste and belly, acting as a natural toner and easy weight loss. And to add one more benefit (there are many beyond what's written here), it increases energy, induces longevity, relieves anxiety and lifts lethargy. Again, the benefits as with all asanas, are proportional to the length of time the posture is held and practiced over time.
In Part 2, I will cover the remaining 2 postures that offer some of the most benefits physically, mentally and spiritually for the aspiring yogi.