The postures of hatha yoga, known as asanas, are designed to increase strength, endurance and flexibility. Over many generations, these asanas acquired simple names for convenience, including The Wheel, Downward Facing Dog and The Lord of the Dance. Familiarizing yourself with the names of these poses and their descriptions allows you to move through classes more easily; when your instructor calls for Cat and Cow, you'll know exactly what to do.
Many yoga postures are named after the shapes made by your body. In Triangle, for example, you stand with your legs 3 to 4 feet apart, arms outstretched and torso bent sideways parallel to the ground. The stance of your legs then creates a triangular shape with the base formed by your heels and the apex at your pelvis. Balancing on your palms and your feet with your body arcing upward in a back bend creates a rounded shape to the spine; this asana is called Chakrasana or The Wheel Pose.
Many asanas are named after common animals. To perform Cat and Cow, kneel on all fours and first round your back up toward the ceiling like an angry cat, then gently reverse the curve in your spine to a gentle arch. Another classic yoga posture, Downward Facing Dog, asks you to place your hands and feet on the floor and straighten your arms and legs while shifting your hips backward, like a dog stretching itself after resting.
Some asanas have brief instructions built into them, such as Janu Sirsasana which literally translates as Knee and Head Pose. To perform the pose, sit with one leg bent and that heel tucked against your inner thigh then lean forward and stretch your head towards your extended knee.Translation of yoga terms from their original Sanskrit forms reveals that some yoga posture names employ compass directions. A simple Seated Forward Bend, in which you sit on the floor, legs extended together in front of you and hinge forward from the hips while reaching toward your feet, is called Paschimottanasana, or West Facing Pose.
According to "Yoga Journal," several asanas are named after figures from the folklore of India. An example is Garudasana, or King of the Eagles, in which you stand on one foot, arms and legs intertwined. Sitting on the floor in a split position with one leg stretched out in front and the other behind you is called Hanumanasana, or King of the Monkeys. The Lord of the Dance, named after an aspect of the Hindu deity Shiva, requires you to lean forward in space while lifting one leg behind you, holding that foot in your hand and balancing on the other leg.
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