Although we refer to Yoga in the singular (“Yoga is practiced…”), there are, of course, many styles of practice. Around the world, we refer most often to the Hatha style when we discuss it generally. Hatha is a style of Yoga linking breath, movement, and meditation. Yogi Swatmarama, a 15th century Indian Hindu sage, is often credited with developing this style, which became well-known in western countries, starting in about 1850. Hatha Yoga training involves a series of asanas, or positions, performed with specific breathing patterns. Some of the asanas have very picturesque names, such as Ardha Matsyendrasana, or Half Lord of the Fishes. Others have less flashy names, such as Chaturanga or Plank pose.
Yogic practices have gained in global popularity – to the point where asanas have become recognizable even to non-practitioners. The following five most popular, or at least familiar, asanas, according to an unscientific poll, could be considered as high ranking candidates for the list.
1) Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog
The name of this asana finds its way into blogs, books, and other popular media, as synonymous with Yoga itself. Practiced at least once in nearly every Hatha class, bringing the heels to the floor is a goal for everyone new to Yoga training. Yet, skeletal compression may prevent the heels from coming down to the floor.
2) Balasana, or Child’s pose
Child’s pose has been adopted by other forms of exercise, and even dance, as a gentle stretch and resting pose between muscle movements. It has become so common that even Zumba instructors rarely need to explain when saying, “Now push back into Child’s pose.”
3) Savasana, or Corpse pose
Much like Downward Facing Dog, Savasana is part of nearly every practice. The quiet, relaxing, resting pose is the high point of class for many practitioners of all levels. People, who are unfamiliar with Yogic terms, sometimes refer to this pose as “when you just lie there.”
4) Virabhadrasana I, or Warrior I
This pose, preferably done on a beach, or in a tropical setting, is the archetype asana for promoting Yoga. The long lines created, photograph very well, which perhaps, explains why many class brochures seem to feature it.
5) Sirsasana, or Headstand
This asana finds its way into the plotlines of movies for character development, when someone needs to be shown doing something difficult. It can also be seen during chase sequences, when a bad guy must be pursued through a Yoga school full of students in headstand.
All joking aside, the recognition of asanas, in general society, is a positive development. Encouraging everyone to think of their “five favorite asanas” could be a great conversation starter at your next social event.
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