In Hatha yoga (the yoga of the physical body) there are two basic categories of asanas (postures or exercises).
1. Meditative postures taken for concentration and meditation.
2. Cultural exercises for creating a healthy, trouble-free body. Cultural postures may then be broken down into two simple categories:
a. Dynamic exercises in which the individual makes movements in harmony with the breath. Each movement has its corresponding inhalation, retention and exhalation.
b. Static postures in which a specific position is held, without movement, while the individual breathes normally or deeply.
Dynamic exercises are used to warm up and prepare the body for the static postures. Beginners should do more dynamic exercises until their bodies become more flexible.
The cultural postures can be classified into six basic categories according to their effects on the body. They are as follows:
1. Exercises for the Spine, in order to create a flexible, relaxed and properly aligned spine, insuring the proper flow of nervous communication and pranic energy throughout the body. Exercises for the spine also alleviate back aches and pains.
There are five ways in which the spine should be stretched:
a) Lengthwise – increasing the distance between the vertebrae – as in the «upward stretch» and «forward stretching posture».
b) Sideways as in the «sideward bend».
c) Backward as in the «backward stretch», «cobra», «bow», etc.
d) Forward as in the «forward stretching posture» and the «plough».
e) Twisting as in the «twist», «torsion» and «spinal twist».
2. Abdominal Compression ω stimulation postures in which the abdominal area is compressed inward, such as in the «abdominal lift», «forward stretching posture», «plough» etc.
3. Head Low postures in which the head, eyes, neck and shoulders are placed lower in their relationship to the whole body, increasing the flow of blood to these areas. Examples are the «shoulder stand», «standing forward stretch», «yoga mudra», «head stand» etc.
4. Joint Flexing exercises to stretch and strengthen the joints of our arms and legs, for example «salutation to the sun», «bow’s head pose», «lotus» and «half lotus» sitting positions.
5. Balancing postures in which we learn to hold our physical-mental equilibrium by balancing on one leg or the hands, as in the «tree», «peacock» or «Lord Nataraja» poses.
6. Relaxation positions in which the whole body is completely relaxed muscle by muscle in order to lower the metabolism and give total relaxation to all the systems of the body, as in the «corpse» pose.
Obviously many asanas give us the benefits of more than one category. The «yoga mudra», for example, gives us the benefits of all the categories except number 5.
In choosing your own individual sequence of postures, seek to cover all six categories.
Also be aware to balance your movements so that forward movements are counter-balanced by backward stretches. For example, the «plough» must be followed by the «fish» and the «forward stretching posture» should be followed by the «cobra», «bow» or «camel».
Balance movements to the right with equal movements to the left.
Once you have disciplined yourself to the techniques of yoga, it is best to let go of these rules and follow the natural inclinations of your own body – how it would like to move. This is assuming you have gone inside yourself, and have developed an inner communication link between you and your body. Your body then becomes your teacher, your guide, your guru. By being aware of your body in various life situations, you will learn much about your sources of tension, pain and pleasure.
Once you have made this inner connection, there is no longer any need to ask others about what to eat, how to exercise, how to live, what is right and what is wrong. You become your own doctor, your own psychologist and your own guru.
May I suggest that beginners be wise and not overdo it. It is better to start with a few of the dynamic postures and to them every day. Then when you can do them comfortably add a few more to your series.
Many people start off with much enthusiasm and end up with aches and pains and give up. Go slowly, but with regularity, and you will succeed.
Good luck – it is an exciting moment in your life when you consider you are going to be transformed.