“Health is wealth. Peace of mind is happiness. Yoga shows the way.” – Swami Vishnudevananda
Āsana is one of the eight limbs of classical yoga, which states that poses should be steady and comfortable, firm yet relaxed, helping a practitioner to become more aware of their body, mind and environment.
Swami Vishnudevananda’s basic āsana sequence comprises 12 postures which are much more than just stretching. They open the energy channels and cakras (energy or psychic centres) of the body while increasing flexibility of the spine, strengthening the bones and stimulating the circulatory and immune systems. Along with proper breathing or prāṇāyāma, āsanas also calm the mind and reduce stress. With regular practice one can ensure overall physical and mental health and the possible prevention of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and arthritis. In time, performing the poses slowly and consciously becomes a mental exercise in concentration and meditation.
Swami Swaroopanananda, a senior disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda explains the Sivananda yoga sequence in this article: Secrets of the Sivananda Yoga Sequence
1. ŚĪRṢĀSANA – HEADSTAND
An āsana in which you balance on your elbows, arms and head
śīrṣa = head
Known as the "King of āsanas" because of its many benefits, the Headstand is the first in the sequence. In the words of Swami Sivananda, “Head-stand is a panacea, a cure-all, a sovereign specific for all diseases.”
Being upside down in this āsana helps the brain to draw abundant oxygen-rich blood from the heart. It is beneficial for memory and concentration, thereby helping with meditation practice. This posture facilitates better energy flow to the head area. The headstand energises the ājñā cakra and also channels energy to the maṇipūra cakra.
2. SARVĀṄGĀSANA – SHOULDERSTAND
An inverted pose, with the body resting on the shoulders
Sarva = complete
Considered to be the “Queen of āsanas”, Sarvangāsana strengthens the entire body. In this posture, the chin is pressed against the throat because of which the thyroid gland is regulated which in turn balances all other glands in the body assuring healthy functioning of all the body systems and organs.
The Shoulderstand removes the energy blockages from the neck area and relieves stress in the neck and shoulder region.
It directs the energy to the solar plexus and stimulates the viśuddha cakra.
3. HALĀSANA – PLOUGH
A pose with hands and feet on the floor resembling a plough
It's name is derived from the Sankrit word hala meaning plough. Halasana tones and invigorates the spine and corrects exaggerated lower back curvature (lordosis). It relieves problems like indigestion and constipation as the abdominal organs are massaged.
It removes energy blocks from the neck and back area. The maṇipūra cakra or the solar plexus is energised in this posture.
4. MATSYĀSANA – FISH
Resting on the arms, arching the back and expanding the chest
matsya = fish
By adopting this posture, one will be able to float in water like a fish, hence the name matsyāsana.
This posture helps overcoming respiratory ailments like chronic bronchitis and asthma by promoting increased lung capacity and easier breathing.
Matsyāsana removes stiffness from the cervical, thoracic and lumbar regions, bringing an increase of blood a supply to these parts. The parathyroid, pituitary and pineal glands are stimulated.
The anāhata cakra is activated in this posture and energy blockages are removed from the throat and neck region.
5. PAŚCIMOTTĀNĀSANA - SITTING FORWARD BEND
Stretching the spine forward
paścima = west (the back of body)
uttāna = stretched out
This simple looking posture is one of the most powerful and important of all the postures. It helps to ease the spinal compression caused by standing upright. Continued practice contributes greatly toward keeping the back supple, joints mobile, nervous system invigorated, and internal organs toned. It also helps in preventing diabetes by giving a natural massage to the pancreas.
Paścimottānāsana releases the energies in the main nāḍīs (astral tubes) along the spine.
It stimulates the maṇipūra cakra.
6. BHUJAṄGĀSANA - COBRA
Arching the upper body and expanding the chest
bhujanga = cobra
This is the first of the three backward bending postures in the series.
The arching of the spine in this posture increases flexibility, rejuvenates spinal nerves and brings a rich blood supply to the spine. It strengthens the neck and upper back.
The Cobra is especially beneficial for women as it relieves menstrual problems by exerting pressure on the pelvic organs.
The powerful contraction stimulates the maṇipūra cakra which channels energy to the rest of the body.
7. ŚALABHĀSANA - LOCUST
Lying on the front with lifted legs
śalabha = locust
Śalabhāsana facilitates intestinal function, strengthens the abdominal walls and relieves sluggish digestion. The backward bending of the spine in this posture promotes flexibility of the cervical region and relieves lower back pain and sciatica.
This posture is very helpful in developing will power.
The stimulation of maṇipūra cakra in Śalabhāsana energises the rest of the body.
8. DHANURĀSANA - BOW
Balancing on the abdomen in the shape of a bow
dhanur = bow
Dhanurāsana combines and enhances the benefits of Cobra and Locust postures.
By working on the entire spine, this posture brings flexibility to the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral regions. It massages and invigorates the digestive organs which in turn helps relieving a host of ailments.
Another beneficial āsana for women as it relieves menstrual problems.
The Bow stimulates the maṇipūra cakra and energises the entire body.
9. ARDHA MATSYENDRĀSANA – HALF SPINAL TWIST
A twist for the entire spine
ardha = half
matsya = fish
eendra = king
This āsana is named after the great yogi Matsyendranath.
Half Spinal Twist mobilizes the vertebrae by rotating them in both directions, enhancing the mobility of the spine.
The abdominal organs receive a deep massage in this posture, thereby relieving digestive problems.
This posture allows a nourishing fresh blood supply to reach the roots of the spinal nerves and the sympathetic nervous system.
Ardha Matsyendrāsana balances the left and right sided nāḍīs (astral tubes).
11. PĀDAHASTĀSANA - STANDING FORWARD BEND
Bending forward in a standing position
pāda = leg
hastā = hand
Pādahastāsana mobilizes the joints of the body and stretches the spine making it elastic. It increases the blood supply to the brain and invigorates the nervous system.
The practice of Standing Forward Bend promotes perennial youth.
This posture releases energy in the main nāḍīs (astral tubes) along the spine and stimulates the svādhiṣṭhāna cakra.
12. TRIKOṆĀSANA - TRIANGLE
A lateral bend resembling a triangle
trikoṇa = triangle
The lateral stretch in Trikonansa keeps the spine elastic and promotes hip and leg flexibility.
General circulation is invigorated, the liver and spleen are massaged and peristalsis of the digestive tract is increased.
The body becomes lighter and other asanas are improved.
This posture balances the left and right sided nāḍīs (astral tubes).