Nizha Periaswamy

Yoga is more than a 5,000-year-old holistic approach to a "complete" life. It involves breathing, body movement, cleanses the internal and external aspects of a human body, unifies us to the universe, and in some cases, guides us to the spiritual aspects of life.

Hatha yoga is known as the most original form of yoga and many other practices evolved from this, as the root. In Sanskrit, Ha means Sun and Tha means moon, thus, Hatha translates into a force that balances life energy.

According to one of the oldest Hatha Yoga scripture - Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Lord Shiva (the founder of Hatha Yoga) taught all the 84,000 asanas to his consort, Goddess Parvati. But as time went by, many asanas were either reduced or modified until there were only a few hundreds left. Of this, only 84 are generally known and are of importance.

According to the Goraksha Samhitha (another Hatha yoga scripture), out of the 84, only 32 are considered "most useful" to mankind.

Of this 32, only the first 4 are said to be vital to attain yogic perfection, especially in the practice of breathing and meditation. They are Siddhasana, Padmasana (lotus pose), Bhadrasana (bound angle butterfly pose), and Muktasana (liberation pose).

Below are the 32 asanas considered useful for humans, and their respective benefits:

1. Siddhasana (perfectly seated) - Stabilizes the sexual energy, which is beneficial for deep meditation.
2. Padmasana (lotus) - Keeps the spine straight.
3. Bhadrasana (bound angle butterfly - Develops the flexibility of legs.
4. Muktasana (liberation) - Good for meditation and Pranayama.
(First 4 poses are for breathing and meditation).
5. Vajrasana (thunderbolt) - Stimulates the vajra nadi which facilitates digestion
6. Svastikasana (prosperous – Similar to Siddhasana, except the top foot is on top of the opposing thigh) - stimulates energy channels.
7. Simhasana (lion) - Relieves tension in the face and chest.
8. Gomukhasana (cow face) - Relieves chronic knee pain.
9. Virasana (hero) - Relieves the symptoms of menopause.
10. Dhanurasana (bow) -Effective in weight loss.
11. Mritasana (Shavasana, corpse) – Relaxes the body.
12. Guptasana (hidden) - Helps in reaching achigher state of awareness.
13. Matsyasana (fish) - Stretches and stimulates the organs of the body.
14. Matsyendrasana (Lord of the Fishes, seated twist) - Stimulates the liver and kidneys.
15. Gorakshana (Saint Goraksha) – Awakens the kundalini.
16. Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend) - Soothes headaches, anxiety and reduces fatigue.
17. Utkatasana (chair) - Strengthens the ankles, thighs, calves, and spine
18. Sankatasana (difficult) - Improves mental concentration.
19. Mayurasana (peacock) - Detoxifies the body and helps get rid of skin problems such as acne, dark spots and pimples.
20. Kukkutasana (cock or rooster) - Develops a sense of balance and stability.
21. Kurmasana (turtle) - Stimulates your abdominal organs and eases flatulence.
22. Uttanaskurmasana (inverted tortoise) - Improves respiratory rate.
23. Uttanamandukasana (lifted frog) - Improves diaphragmatic movement and helps improve lung capacity.
24. Vrikshasana (tree) - Improves balance and stability in the legs.
25. Mandukasana (frog) - Prevents Diabetes
26. Garudasana (eagle) - Strengthens and stretches the ankles and calves.
27. Vrishasana (bull) - Leaves you in a state of rejuvenation.
28. Shalabhasana (locust) - Improves one's posture.
29. Makarasana (crocodile) - Helps cure slipped disc, spondylitis, and sciatica.
30. Ushtrasana (camel) - Stretches and strengthens the shoulders and back.
31. Bhujangasana (cobra) - Soothes sciatica.
32. Yogasana (staff or Dandasana) - Nourishes your body's resistance to back and hip injuries.

Yoga is seen as the gift to mankind. It provides immense health benefits not just in terms of asanas (postures and movement), but through pranayama (breathing), dyana (meditation), shatkarma (cleansing), mudra (hand gestures) and more.

Hatha yoga, while seen as a gentle form of yoga that focuses on static poses, can still be physically and mentally challenging for beginners.

Nizha Periaswamy is a yoga instructor and freelance writer.

Photo source: FB Yoginizha Yatra