Your spirit is like a parachute, it will only function if it's open. - Frank Zappa

Sun salutations, dynamic yoga, prenatal yoga... the awareness and practice of yoga has expanded over the last few years. Expanded and become democratised because a large number of people from all walks of life, beginners and well-advanced, practice yoga.

Even if you've never so much as rolled out a yoga mat, you know what the cobra pose is and maybe even how to do the downward-facing dog, don't you? At the very least, you must recognise those names.

World Yoga Day is the 21st of June and, thanks to growing awareness, we're coming to understand that the discipline offers a number of benefits. Among them, enthusiasts count increased flexibility, greater abdominal strength and an exponential ability to relax. Even the medical community can't help but notice that, the more people practice yoga, the better global fitness statistics look.

As with other sports and fitness regimens, the movements and activities that constitute the practice of yoga are numerous - by some accounts, they number in the thousands. Some are more iconic than others and, combined into a complete routine will work specific parts of the body in sequence.

With that philosophy in mind, Superprof presents our selection of classic yet effective yoga poses.

Note that, if you're familiar with the discipline, you'll see we snuck a few serenity-inducing asanas into our line-up to foster inner peace. Namaste!

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The Best Poses to Work Your Legs

The practice of yoga suggests that we work different parts of our body in different ways. When speaking of working one's legs, we are often tempted to render them more supple while still building and toning their muscles. Luckily, regular yoga sessions allow for all of these qualities thanks to targeted poses.

Yoga instructors help their students pose properly
A yoga instructor will make sure your downward-facing dog is done properly Photo credit: angelntini on Visualhunt / CC BY

Toned, sculpted legs permit smoother and more graceful movement. Such a sure-footed (sure-legged?) condition allows for more harmonious usage of our entire physique which, in turn, yields a sense of inner calm. The key to realising these benefits lies in reproducing the poses exactly, holding them properly and, above all, breathing well.

If you practise yoga at home, you should try out new asanas before incorporating it into your routine. Ideally, as a novice yoga practitioner, you should take a yoga class so you can get the necessary guidance from a qualified yoga instructor. Such a yogi will guide you through a cycle of asanas all while correcting your poses as needed. That's the best way to launch yourself onto the path of lifelong wellbeing.

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For your legs, you'll find that many classic poses work best, among them:

  • Downward-facing dog: the goal is to form an inverse "V" - keep your spine straight to see maximum the effect on your legs
  • The High Lunge flows from the downward dog position. Make sure to alternate your legs to ensure equal suppleness for both.
  • Warrior Pose I: similar to the lunge, it requires balance to strengthen your legs
  • Warrior Pose II: stretch your adductors and sculpt your lower body
  • The Half-bridge pose: shoulders and feet on the mat, raise your pelvis
  • Candle pose: A classic yoga pose to improve leg strength and flexibility.
  • And many more...

This short list of poses shows that one can work their legs in many different ways. But we shouldn't look at yoga as merely a workout.

It's a mind-body-spirit discipline that, when done properly, engages everything from your mental powers to how you breathe. That means that, as you target the muscles of one part of your body, other parts are working as well.

The same holds when you work your arms!

Top Poses to Strengthen Your Arms

Listening to the voice in your heart is to find the path to happiness. - Monique Moreau

When you think about it, our arms generally come into focus far more than our legs. Ice skaters and dancers entrance us with their graceful arm movements, orchestra conductors wave their arms to signal everything from tempo changes to which instrument sections should play. What about you? Could you imagine life with incapacitated arms - or no arms at all?

Because of the heightened focus on arms, asanas to tone and strengthen them are plentiful. Because we use our arms for just about everything, it's vital that we cater to them.

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Side planks help build and tone your arms
The side plank is a great asana to work your arms. Source: Visualhunt

Sequential moves that blend mind and body, and draw on one's sense of balance play a large role in keeping our arms in good shape. Some may like weight lifting to build big muscles but yoga, being an all-encompassing discipline, focuses on every part of your arm, not just bulging biceps.

From among the 84 poses ascribed to Hatha yoga - among them the 13 that feature in Kundalini routines, these prove to be the most efficient for working your arms:

  • Downward-facing dog: this pose works as well for your arms as well as your legs
  • The Plank pose: often considered the ultimate abs workout, it works wonders on your arms, too, particularly your forearms
  • The side plank: a more strenuous variant of the classic plank, this version works your arms, one after the other
  • Chaturanga pose: it's like holding the downward stroke of a pushup. With your body parallel to the floor, what a workout it gives your arms!

There are many other poses that will work your arms but these are among the most effective. It's important that, as you assume and hold these poses, you keep your breathing even and your mind clear.

After all, is yoga is meant to promote the clearing of one's mind and breathing to release negative energy.

The Best Asanas for Your Abdomen

Whether in yoga or any other fitness training regimen, one of the body's areas most often targeted is the abdomen.

No matter that you're new to yoga or have been a years-long devotee, whether your preference runs to yin yoga or yoga nidra, the abdominal area is of principal importance. It's difficult to maintain good posture and balance, let alone avoid a whole host of ailments - from headaches to digestive issues if your stomach muscles can't hold you up.

Among those with excess abdominal fat and those who just want to finally be rid of those stubborn love handles, a goodly number want to know how they can condition their bellies with yoga. For them and you, we present these 10 poses that specifically target that region:

  1. Cobra pose will help dislodge visceral fat and tone those muscles
  2. Plank pose: as mentioned earlier, it is the ideal pose to strengthen abdominal muscles
  3. Lateral arc pose: effectively reinforces the abdominal area
  4. Boat pose: meant to build concrete abs and sculpt a flat stomach
  5. Side plank: don't neglect your obliques!
  6. Wind release pose rids you of that bloated feeling
  7. Chair pose: an overall toning and sculpting pose that nevertheless targets the abs
  8. Camel pose: great for your abs and does wonders for your spine!
  9. Downward-facing dog: the iconic pose that works the entire body
  10. Table pose: held with a straight spine, it will help condition your pelvic girdle

As always, whether you're new to yoga or have long been a devotee, remember to adapt your breathing to your moves and poses. Listen to your body - harmonise with it and you will see the effects of that accord on your abdominals.

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Improve your body and balance through such stretches
Such a pose works your entire body while improving your balance. Source: Visualhunt

Strengthen Your Posture With These Poses

The asanas that work posture are especially prized considering how much time we spend sitting in the car or bus, at work and at home. Think about it: between 60-80% of the entire UK population regularly suffers back pain!

That could be one reason why more people are turning to yoga; faithful practice helps to relieve back pain, even as our moves and poses help us improve our overall balance, posture and wellbeing.

Done in tandem with pranayama (breathing exercises), the list of poses to improve posture is long. Each one revolves around the dual concepts of balance and letting go of stress and tension. Does that sound tempting?

Here is our short selection of poses meant to do just that:

  • Child's pose: ultimately relaxing, it releases your spine
  • Cobra pose works to reinforce your back muscles
  • Laying twist poses: to work out spinal kinks and realign vertebrae
  • Plank pose: as for your abs, so too your back muscles
  • Downward-facing dog: quality stretching!
  • Cat pose for loose, supple muscles that are deceptively strong

By no means is this a complete list of asanas but these few will start you on a path of improvement for all parts of your body and posture. Just think that you may again walk pain-free and wake up without creaking and groaning, your entire body protesting yet another day, seated in front of a screen or slouched in a car seat!

It may sound counter-intuitive that yoga, being the total-person discipline that it is can also be targeted toward specific parts of the body and even the psyche.

If you're plagued with stress and you can't find the time or energy to tone your body as you've long wanted to, these yoga asanas are perfect. However, before throwing yourself wholeheartedly into the practice, beware: one badly executed move could cause you harm.

That's why you need somebody who is experienced and proficient in practising all types of yoga, from restorative (if you're recovering from illness or injury) to Ashtanga - widely believed to be the most intense and strenuous type of yoga.

Working with a yoga professional, you will learn the best asanas to reach your fitness and lifestyle goals. S/he will ensure your safety and offer gentle corrections as you hold each pose. Most importantly, s/he will make sure you don't inadvertently do yourself more harm in the process of getting better.

A Superprof yoga instructor will do more than ensure your physical wellbeing as you practise yoga. S/he will help you find your path to serenity and inner peace, too. What are you waiting for? All of this is yours for the asking!

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