When most people think of yoga, they automatically think of physical exercises and meditation. They are not off the mark because this is what they see practitioners doing everywhere. Known as hatha yoga, it is a physical branch of the ancient Indian philosophy that focuses on building a sound body and mind towards the goal of achieving inner peace and happiness. This branch of yoga is primarily concerned with the regular practicing of hatha yoga asanas (postures), pranayama (controlled breathing) and dhyana (meditation).
Asanas, or postures, are physical exercises that focus on strengthening or curing specific parts of the body. There are postures for every part of the body. In fact, there are over 200 different asanas. They are always accompanied by pranayama, or controlled breathing. There are several different types of pranayama. The physical exercises are usually a preliminary to dhyana, or meditation, which involves focusing the mind on a particular thought to achieve inner peace.
Hatha yoga asanas can be basically divided into five categories: standing poses, sitting (seated) poses, resting (supine) poses, back bends, and balancing poses. It is not possible to list and describe all the different postures in this primer. However here are three popular postures from each category that beginners can learn and master quickly.
Adho mukha svanasan, or downward facing dog
Utthita parsvokanasana, or extended side angle pose
Tadasana, mountain pose
Baddha konasana, or cobbler's pose
Paschmottanasana, or seated forward bend
Upavistha konasana, or seated wide legged straddle
Balasana, or child's pose
Savasana, or corpse's pose
Viparita karani, or legs up the wall
Setu bandha sarvangasana, or bridge pose
Bhujangasana, or cobra pose
Ashtanga namaskara, exercise for the knees, chest and chin
Vrksana, or tree pose
Balancing on hands and knees
The above hatha yoga asanas are some of the most popular yoga poses. They can be easily learned and mastered by anyone and have several health benefits. They strengthen, revitalize and develop the bones and muscles. They help the flow of oxygen into cells so that the body gets energized for the optimum performance of daily activities. And they prepare the body for the next higher step, which is dhyana (meditation) to develop the mind and achieve inner peace.