While there is no definitive way to categorize yoga postures, there are 13 main physical orientations that can be helpful for researching and sequencing asanas. In general, these groups of yoga poses will share similar energetic and physical effects. Knowing the benefits of each type of yoga asanas will help you refine and deepen your practice of the yoga poses.
Types of Yoga Asanas
Asanas are a pose or position in which the body is supported by the ground or another object, and can be categorized into broad categories based on their body position and alignment pattern. Yoga teachers use most of the following types of asanas in their hatha yoga classes.
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1. Standing poses
The standing poses are the foundation of any hatha yoga practice. They are used to build strength and flexibility throughout the entire body, preparing us for deeper stretches and moving into more challenging positions. Standing poses warm up the body by activating the muscles throughout the entire system. As we stand, we must pay attention to the placement of our feet, knees, hips, spine, and head. If we don’t align these parts correctly, we can injure ourselves.
Standing yoga postures require both flexibility and strength, and are a major component of a balanced yoga practice. Standing poses are typically held for shorter periods of time than other poses, usually only two to four breaths long, and tend to be energizing and open. These are the most challenging poses, so they should be approached with caution by beginners. They also contain many of the advanced asanas, so it is important for beginning students to focus on the basic poses first.
There are several benefits of standing asanas. Standing asanas like Mountain, Tree pose, and the five Warrior poses primarily build strong and stable legs, hips, and core muscles. Standing postures with the arms raised like Triangle pose and Warrior 1 also build strength and flexibility in the upper body. These poses are grounding, helping us feel stable and strong. They also help us connect to the earth element within ourselves.
2. Seated poses
Seated asanas are the most common types of poses, and most of these are suited for beginner students. Seated yoga postures tend to be energetically grounding and focus more on stretching than strength. Sitting on the floor creates a stable position to relax and open the body with little effort and greater ease. They are easy to adapt to any level of strength and flexibility. They also help us become aware of the breath and how it affects the body. In addition, they improve posture by engaging the core muscles and helping us to sit upright.
Seated poses are ideal for developing flexibility and range of motion, especially for stretching the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and back body. They also offer a lower risk of injury due to their stability, low center of gravity, and control.
3. Supine poses
Supine yoga postures are done lying down on your back. These poses are generally easier to perform than standing poses because they require less balance and coordination. Supine postures release stress and promote flexibility. They are calming, nurturing, cooling, integrating and supportive. They are great for relaxing the body and mind, and they can be particularly helpful for those who suffer from insomnia or anxiety.
They are also useful for relieves stress and tension in the back, neck, and shoulders. Asanas that are performed lying on your back allow us to take advantage of gravity to build strength in backbends, and flexibility in the spine and legs.
Supine asanas are perfect for winding down after a long practice. Yoga teachers often sequence these asanas at the end of a class. They allow us to release tension in the spine and limbs, and they give us time to reflect on what we have learned during our practice. Some people find them relaxing and peaceful, while others prefer to use them to wind down before falling asleep. Either way, these poses are wonderful ways to finish your practice and prepare for Shavasana.
4. Prone poses
Prone asanas are postures done with the belly or torso facing the floor. Most prone yoga poses are back bends, which energize the whole body, tonify the kidney system, and strengthen the heart, lungs, and diaphragm. They can also improve digestion by stimulating the digestive organs and increase circulation.
Prone postures can be done anywhere during a practice, but they are often used toward the middle of a class when students have had time to warm up their bodies. Prone postures are simple and accessible for beginners, yet they can be quite challenging to hold for long periods.
Prone yoga poses are beneficial because they build strength, heat and endurance in the leg muscles, hips, and back. They can be used as a way to increase stamina and strength, and to increase flexibility in the hamstrings, shoulders, and chest, too. Prone asanas help us to build confidence and self-esteem by helping us to feel strong and stable in our bodies.
5. Twisting poses
Twisting yoga poses are often used to release tension in the spine and increase flexibility throughout the entire body. They strengthen and lengthen the muscles that protect your back. Twists are great neutralizing postures that rebalance the body after a series or backbends or forward bends. They can also help open our hips, strengthen the abdominal muscles and improve digestion.
Twists penetrate deep into the center of the body to squeeze out toxins in the internal organs and provide them with fresh, oxygenate blood. They also encourage mentally letting go of what is not serving us. Twisting sequences can help improve muscular balance, core strength, and coordination. Twists open up the lungs and release tension in the chest. They are also great at calming the nervous system, clearing the mind, and boosting our energy and vitality.
6. Balancing poses
Balancing yoga poses are usually done standing on one foot, so they require more stability and core strength than other types of poses. Balancing poses are excellent for building strength, balance, and concentration. They can also strengthen the legs, arms, neck, and back. Balancing poses are also good for improving posture and increasing awareness of how we stand and move, and they can help prevent falls and injuries.
Balancing poses are especially useful for those who want to work on developing greater balance, body awareness and coordination. These asanas strengthen and energize the mind, and build confidence, grit, and determination. They also help us to become aware of our breath, enhance our focus, and deepen our connection to ourselves.
Balancing poses are often practiced in the middle of a sequence to use their invigorating and energizing effect for going deeper into more challenging and advanced poses. Balancing poses are challenging, but with practice, they become easier. The key is consistency, focus and patience.
7. Core strengthening poses
If you’re looking for ways to improve your overall fitness level and avoid injury, then it might be time to incorporate some core strengthening yoga poses into your routine. They strengthen the abs, which help us stabilize ourselves when we stand or sit. They also build strength in the muscles that stabilize the hips and pelvis, which helps prevent lower back pain and injuries. In addition to building strength, these poses also improve flexibility by opening up the hips and lengthening the hamstrings.
Core strengthening yoga poses help reduce the risk of falling during practice, which could lead to injuries. Core strengthening asanas help you feel stronger, more confident, and better able to handle difficult poses. They also help us have better overall alignment in our poses and develop strong mental fortitude and resilience.
8. Forward bending poses
Forward folds are poses that bring the front of the upper torso closer to the lower body. Forward bends are considered calming, soothing, and introspecting. They stretch out tight muscles and release tension in the entire back side of the body. They can relieve stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, headaches, and fatigue.
When learning a forward bend yoga posture, it is important to slow down and practice with correct alignment and awareness. Avoid pulling and forcing your body into the pose. Instead, focus on relaxing and softening into the pose, rather than pushing and pulling yourself deeper. If you feel any discomfort during a forward fold pose, hold the pose with a flat back and lengthen your spine.
If you have tight hamstrings, then try forward bends with the knees bent. If your hands don‘t reach the floor easily, use a set of block supports for support and to help lengthen the spine. In seated poses, you may want to use a blanket or pillow under your hips to help prevent rounding your lower back. You can also use straps to help reach your feet.
9. Back bending poses
The backbends are one of the most important parts of the yoga sequence because they stretch the spine, release tension from the lower back, and improve posture. They activate prana life force energy, increase circulation, boost mood, and activate the heart chakra.
Back bending poses are great for opening up the front body and provide a great opportunity to focus on breathing. If you feel any discomfort in your back, it may be due to tight muscles or poor alignment. Try to find a comfortable place to sit where you can relax your shoulders and neck. This will allow you to breathe deeply into your belly without straining your upper body. If you sit at a desk most days, backbends may be challenging to practice because they require a certain level of mobility in the hips and lower back.
Rooting down through your hands, legs, or hips creates a strong foundation for your backbends. engaging Uddiyana Bandha (belly lock) helps stabilize the spine and prevents injury. Engage Uddiyanna bandha by pulling the navel into the spine and lifting the pubic bone away from the tailbone. This will strengthen the abdominal wall and prevent strain on the lower back.
10. Hip opening poses
Hip opening yoga postures are any position that opens the hips and helps to stretch the six groups of muscles that create movement in the hip joint. These include mostly floor poses that support the weight of the body to encourage deeper stretching. Hip openers are often done after a warm-up or cooling down period, but some people prefer to do them before starting their yoga routine.
Hip opening yoga poses are an effective means of stretching tight hip flexors and hamstring muscles that are often caused by excessive sitting. They are also helpful for improving posture and balance; increasing flexibility; relieving stress; reducing the risk of injury, particularly in the lower back; and improving flexibility and range of movement in the hips, legs, and back. They are a great complement to other forms of physical activity such as running, cycling and dancing.
Hip openers tend to be energetically grounding and focus more on flexibility than strength, but they can be used to increase strength and mobility throughout the hips, knees, and ankles. Most hip opening asanas are suitable for beginning level students, as the majority are easily adapted to any level of strength or flexibility.
11. Side bending poses
Side bends are a group of yoga postures that target the side body. They are excellent for releasing tension in the arms, shoulders and sides of the torso. Yoga side bends are a great for opening the ribs and expanding the chest. As we breathe into these stretches, we can feel the energy flow through our bodies, releasing any tension and opening up the spaces where we hold ourselves back.
Side bends are especially useful for balancing out the nervous system, relaxing the mind, and clearing the lungs. Side bends helpful for building core strength, increasing spinal mobility, and improving flexibility. They also build stamina, endurance, concentration, and memory. A regular practice of side bends will also strengthen the lungs, improve circulation, and boost immunity and energy levels.
Inversions are asanas where the head is below the level of the heart and hips. These are generally poses where you are upside down or “inverted” from your normal upright position, but also include less obvious asanas like downward dog or a standing forward fold.
Yoga inversions are one of the best ways to invigorate the nervous system, stimulate the immune system, and improve overall health. Inversions are beneficial for strengthening the entire musculoskeletal system, including the neck, back, legs, and arms. These poses also improve self-esteem, mood, mental clarity and memory. Inverting the body naturally improves blood flow and lymphatic drainage, which helps decrease inflammation.
13. Meditation poses
Meditation poses are specific seated positions that are used for meditation practices as well as used during breathing exercises. These include only a few asanas but these are essential to master, as they are often taught at the beginning and end of a yoga class.
In any meditation pose, it is essential to lengthen your spine and maintain the natural curve of your lumbar region. If you find yourself rounding forward, sit up straight by using a pillow or bolster to elevate your hips.
A comfortable, seated posture should eliminate or reduce pain during meditation. A posture with a long and erect spine will encourage your chakras or energy centers to be open and balanced. It is especially helpful for your heart center to be open to encourage a compassionate and loving flow of energy during meditation. In addition, by maintaining proper alignment in these poses, you will feel more energized, focused and relaxed.
Sequencing the different types of yogasanas
The goal of yoga is to create balance, harmony and peace within oneself. This balance can be created by how one sequences a series of yoga postures. Each yoga pose has its own unique benefits, but they are often similar to poses that are the same type. Therefore, it is best to practice sets of similar poses together in order to achieve greater results than if you were practicing them randomly.
Ultimately, the most important thing when practicing the physical postures is to find what feels right for you. There are many ways to do yoga, but there is only one way to feel great. The practice of yoga encourages you to experiment and play to find out what works best for you.