What are the 12 Main Sivananda Yoga Asanas?
In Sivananda yoga, a subtype of yoga developed from Hatha yoga, there are 12 core poses that the series centers around. Though in traditional Sivananda classes these poses are practised in a set sequence as outlined below, these main yoga asanas (or postures) are popular among many types of yoga, especially hatha yoga.
The core concept of these 12 main yoga asanas is that they combine, together with deep breathing exercises and deep relaxation, to offer spiritual growth alongside physical and mental wellbeing. Whether you want to practise Sivananda yoga in your own time, or develop your Hatha yoga practice by working on these core asanas, this comprehensive guide will take you through each of the 12 asanas and how to utilise them in your yoga practice.
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1. Headstand (Sirsasana)
The first, but arguably the most advanced, of the 12 main yoga postures in the sequence is one that should be developed over time and not rushed into without the proper alignment and foundation. The Headstand (or Sirsasana in the original Sanskrit) is a core inversion for any yogi to work on. With benefits including calming of the mind, stimulation of the lymphatic system and strengthening of the upper body and core muscles, why not work Sirsasana into your yoga practice in the future?
As a beginner, you should first consider thoroughly developing your shoulderstand alignment and technique, as well as your standing forward bend to ensure core foundation before rushing into a headstand.
2. Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana)
The second of the 12 main yoga asanas in this sequence is the shoulderstand — or Sarvangasana in the original Sanskrit. To prepare for your shoulderstand, first work on your plough pose and your shoulder supported bridge pose to ensure your shoulder and core muscles are well prepared to carry you throughout this inversion.
To follow up your shoulderstand you should balance this inversion and the muscles in your neck with a deep backbend like wheel pose or camel pose.
To Practise Your Shoulderstand:
- From your strong plough pose, one at a time reach your feet towards the ceiling, lengthening legs as feels comfortable. Take at least 3 deep breaths here.
- To come down, soften the knees toward the forehead and come back down into the plough pose, before slowly lowering each vertebrae back down to the mat.
3. Plough (Halasana)
The third of the 12 main yoga asanas is the plough (or Halasana in the original Sanskrit) as mentioned above. The benefits of plough pose include strengthening your shoulders, arms and legs, as well as preventing and relieving tightness in your neck, shoulders, and back and increasing flexibility.
To Practise Your Plough Pose:
- Lie on your back, with your palms pressing into the floor, before lifting your legs up to 90 degrees, using your abs, lift your hips and bring your feet back and over your head until your toes touch the floor behind your head. Keep your legs straight and your hips aligned over your shoulders for stability.
- Bring your palms together on the mat, keeping your arms straight as you interlace your fingers. Stay here for 5 long, deep breaths.
- To come out, first release your arms and lower your palms back to the mat. Lift your feet back up using your abs, then slowly roll each vertebrae back down to the mat. Keep your feet together and your legs straight.
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4. Fish (Matsyasana)
Fourth in this sequence of yoga asanas is the fish — or Matsyasana in the original Sanskrit. The benefits of plough pose include stretching the front of the body, strengthening the upper back and neck muscles and improving spinal flexibility!
To Practise Your Fish Pose:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet and palms on the floor. Then lift your hips slightly off the floor, and slide your hands underneath your buttocks, before sitting your buttocks back down onto your hands. Keep this alignment throughout.
- Next lift your upper torso and head away from the floor. Arch your back and lift your chest before lowering your head so the crown is resting on the floor. Keep your legs bent or straighten here, yogi’s choice!
- Stay for 3-5 deep breaths before gently lowering and releasing.
5. Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
The fifth asana in this sequence is the seated forward fold — or Paschimottanasana in the original Sanskrit. As one of the core yoga asanas with benefits such as stretching the spine, and hamstrings as well as helping to improve digestion, flexibility and symptoms anxiety.
To Practise Your Seated Forward Fold:
- Sit comfortably with your legs out in front of you and make sure to keep your back as straight as possible. Gently hinge forwards from the hips, keeping the alignment in your back.
- Lean forwards as far as you feel comfortable resting the hands on the knees, shins or grabbing the bottoms of your feet.
- To come out of the pose, begin to sit back up slowly, vertebrae by vertebrae.
6. Cobra (Bhujangasana)
Up next in this list of key yoga asanas is the cobra pose — or Bhujangasana in the original Sanskrit. A great way to mix up your upward facing dog after a Chaturanga Dandasana flow. There are a world of benefits to this pose, including strengthening the spine, opening the heart and building shoulder and upper back muscles.
To Practise Your Cobra Pose:
- Laying face down with your palms flat on the ground underneath your shoulders, bend your elbows straight back and hug them into your sides.
- Keep your neck in a neutral position while you inhale and lift your chest off the floor as high as feels comfortable.
- Exhale and release back to the floor.
7. Locust (Salabhasana)
The locust pose, also known as Salabhasana in the original Sanskrit, has many benefits, including improving posture, strengthening the muscles of the spine and stretching the shoulders. Why not include a Salabhasana in your yoga practice today?
To Practise Your Locust Pose:
- Lie face down with your arms by your side and your forehead or chin on the mat.
- Pull your navel in towards your spine, engage your leg muscles and inhale as you lift your head, chest, arms and legs off the floor. Imagine your hands are being gently pulled to deepen this asana and lift as high as comfortable.
- Stay for 3-5 slow and steady breaths, before lowering on an exhale
8. Bow (Dhanurasana)
Eighth in our list of 12 main Sivananda yoga asanas is the bow pose or Dhanurasana in the original Sanskrit. To prepare for your bow pose, first try working on your upward facing dog and wheel pose to build flexibility and strength to ensure you don’t damage your back.
To Practise Your Bow Pose:
- Lie flat on your stomach. With your knees bent, before grabbing a hold of both your ankles.
- Inhale as you lift the heels away from the mat, keeping a hold of your ankles. Draw your tailbone down to the mat to deepen your stretch.
- Hold for 3-5 breaths before exhaling and releasing.
9. Half Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
With many benefits, including toning and strengthening the abs and obliques, increasing flexibility in the spine and opening the shoulders, neck and hips, the half spinal twist is a great pose to incorporate into your yoga practice. Also known as Ardha Matsyendrasana in the original Sanskrit, the half spinal twist is great for beginners and professionals alike.
To Practise Your Half Spinal Twist:
- Sit with both legs out in front of you, before lifting your right knee to a 90 degree angle.
- Twist at the waist to the right, bringing the fingertips of your right hand to the centre of the mat behind you, spread like a spider. Only use your fingers for stability, don’t force the twist further than feels natural.
- Twist your left elbow to the outside of your right knee and press to deepen the stretch. Keep your back aligned upright throughout.
- Hold for 3-5 breaths before urgently releasing on an exhale and repeat on the other side.
10. Crow (Kakasana)
10th in this list of key yoga asanas is the crow pose, also known as the Kakasana in the original Sanskrit. Though a notoriously tricky posture, benefits of the crow pose include toning the abdominal muscles, stretching the upper back and opening the groin area. If you’re struggling with your crow pose, try working on your deep yogi’s squat as well as a modified crow pose!
To Practise Your Crow Pose:
- Start in a deep yogic squat with your toes slightly turned out and heels on the ground. Plant your hands shoulder-width apart on the ground between your knees and pull your shoulders away from the ears and into the body.
- Bit by bit, walk your feet closer to the body, until your knees can fit in the space underneath your armpits. Shift your weight forward onto your fingertips and point your toes up into the air, keeping your gaze down at the mat.
- Try to hold the posture for a few seconds, adding to the time you can hold it for as you grow stronger.
11. Standing Forward Bend (Padahastasana)
The standing forward bend (or Padahastasana in the original Sanskrit) is the penultimate asana in this list of key hatha yoga postures. With benefits such as aiding circulation, stretching the hamstrings and helping to alleviate stress and anxiety, why not work a Padahastasana into your practice today?
To Practise Your Standing Forward Bend:
- Stand with your feet parallel and hip-width apart, keeping your feet parallel, before hinging forward at the hips and pressing your head down towards the floor. Plant your palms on the floor, or grab your shins for more stability.
- Hold the pose for some slow deep breaths before hinging back up from the hips and releasing on an exhale.
12. Triangle (Trikonasana)
As a classic and gentle twist utilised in many styles of yoga, the triangle pose, or Trikonasana is great for both beginners and those looking to deepen their practice. Benefits include stretching and building flexibility in the spine alongside opening the chest and the lower back.
To Practise Your Triangle Pose:
- From a standing position take a big step back with your right foot, making sure your front foot is facing forwards and your back foot is angled slightly inwards at about 45 degrees.
- Raise your arms out to your sides as you hinge your upper body forward over your front leg.
- Twist at the waist, dropping your right fingertips to the floor or grab your shin, while raising your left fingertips straight up into the air. Keep your gaze up towards your fingertips.
- To come out of the pose, gently release on an exhale, lowering your top hand and bringing both hands to the waist for extra stability as you lower your body back down to the mat.
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