Yoga poses, called asanas, are essential components of the practice of yoga. There are hundreds of different poses that are used in combination to create a yoga routine or practice. Understanding some of the basic ones and their purposes can help both beginning and advanced practitioners practice to the most effective degree.
Some are considered resting or meditative poses. These are generally ones where the body is largely still, and emphasis is placed on breathing, steadying the body, or relaxing, rather than stretching the body. Mountain pose is a resting and readying pose used at the beginning of most standing series of movements, and is meant to bring the body into perfect alignment by lengthening the neck, curving the belly inward, and rooting feet to the floor. Child's pose is performed by resting on the shins with knees far apart and toes close together, while the torso rests on the thighs and arms stretch out to rest on the floor in front of the body.
Balancing yoga poses require the whole body to work together to keep steady and avoid falling into any nearby people or furniture. Tree pose requires the standing practitioner to bring the sole of the right foot to rest on the inner thigh of the left leg, while the arms are in a prayer position over the heart. From this position, it is easy to move into dancer pose by kicking the bent right leg back and grabbing it with the right hand, then bending forward with the torso, stretching the left hand forward, and pulling the right leg high above the body. Performing this series of tree and dancer on both sides of the body can help improve balance and strengthen the core body.
Poses for strength generally deal with shifting body weight around to work certain muscle groups. Plank pose is an excellent move to help strengthen the abs and the arms, and has many variations to increase its difficulty. For a basic plank pose, a person should get into a high push-up position but align the body so that it makes a straight diagonal line from head to heels. After only a few seconds, it will likely become apparent that this is more difficult to hold than it sounds. To increase difficulty, individuals can try rotating the whole body so that only the right foot and arm are touching the ground, while the left arm stretches straight up and the left leg rests on the right leg for side plank. For star pose, the person starts in a secure side plank position, then lifts up the top leg.
Some yoga poses will be easier for some people than for others, depending on how strong or flexible different parts of the body are for them. It's easy to come to hate a certain pose for its difficulty or feel that it is impossible, but it is important for individuals to remember that yoga is about practicing, not necessarily mastering. People should move at a personal pace and hurt themselves by trying too hard.