What are the "Twelve Basic Asanas" and why are they so fundamental for a yogi to practice?
“The Twelve Basic Asanas” is a sequence of 12 postures that Swami Sivananda carefully selected as an optimal yoga practice. Pam trained with Sivananda School in 2003 and, although she has learned many other styles of practice along the way, she always comes back to the basic 12. They create a comprehensive full-body workout that twists the spine and stimulates all organs, leaving you feeling energised, vitalised, and relaxed.
“We are as young as our spine is flexible.” - Swami Sivananda
This practice does wonders for your immunity and health. Do this every day and you will be glowing. It is also very meditative, allowing us to go inward, taking long deep breaths, leading to deep states of meditation.
Note that the order is important, there’s good reasons for that order. Also, it is necessary to rest for 5 breaths in Savasana between each posture. The resting period is just as important as the postures themselves - it allows you to absorb the benefits!
You’ll find a video tutorial of the full practice on my website, but here is a breakdown of each of the postures and their benefits:
1. Headstand [Sirsasana]
While it’s called a headstand, it’s actually balancing on your elbows, arms, and head. It is known as the ‘king of the asanas’ due to its remarkable benefits: it improves concentration and memory and transforms libido into powerful life force. You might be surprised, but it does not require extreme strength or flexibility - just learning the technique, and practice!
2. Shoulder Stand [Sarvangasana]
The Sanskrit name comes from the word “sarvanga”, meaning ‘all parts’. This asana strengthens the entire body. The blood is directed to the thyroid gland, a very important gland of the endocrine system, improving and balancing the metabolism of literally every cell in the body.
3. Plough [Halasana]
This yummy supine inversion massages the abdominal organs and thyroid gland, calms and nourishes the brain, stretches the back body, loosens hamstrings, and lengthens the spine - invigorating the entire spine.
4. Fish [Matsyasana]
The perfect complement to the plough posture, this is a backbend that extends the spine, opens the chest, lungs, heart and throat, stimulates endocrine and immune functions, and improves posture. This asana also does wonders for opening our heart chakra.
5. Sitting Forward Bend [Paschimothanasana]
This forward bend stretches the spine and hamstrings, calms the nervous system and massages the organs of the abdomen and pelvis. This posture looks, and is, simple – provided we relax into the position, rather than forcing ourselves into it. It reminds us to just let go and breathe into the stretch. Great for those who sit at desks all day.
6. Cobra [Bhujangasana]
This backbend looks easy, but your arms and trunk might not agree! Cobra posture stretches the entire front body, lengthens, strengthens and energizes the spine and nervous system, opens the chest, shoulders, lungs and heart, strengthens the neck, and provides a rich blood supply. Practice raising up slowly and in stages, with the chin leading.
7. Locust [Salabasana]
This one works on developing the willpower. Unlike the other asanas which are done slowly, the Locust is done by making a single powerful muscle contraction, similar to that of a locust jumping. This action simultaneously brings together thought, breath, movement, and Praṇa – vital energy. This posture strengthens and extends the spine and entire back body, opens the chest and shoulders, and massages the abdominal and pelvic organs (and in some variations, also massages the heart and the lungs).
8. Bow [Dhanur]
The bow gets its name because our body is bent back like a bow and our arms are held straight and taut like a bowstring. This posture engages the whole entire body, combining and enhancing the benefits of both the Cobra and the Locust. It gives a full backbend and a good massage to the abdominal region, especially the digestive organs.
9. Half Spinal Twist [Ardha Matsyendrasana]
After the forward and backward bending of the spine, the Half Spinal Twist provides a lateral stretch in which each vertebra is rotate in both directions, helping relieve general lower back pain and muscular rheumatism of the back and hips. Sometimes known as half lord of the fishes pose, this posture stretches the legs, hips, shoulders & neck, energises the spine, has many beneficial effects on the kidneys, liver, gall bladder, spleen, intestines, and improves digestion.
10. Crow [Kakasana]
Besides increasing physical and mental balance, the Crow develops mental tranquility and also strengthens the wrists, arms, and core while toning abdominal organs. One of the most beneficial balances, it increases the powers of concentration and removes lethargy.
11. Standing Forward Bend [Pada Hasthasana]
The first of the standing postures is a delicious elixir of youth. The Standing Forward Bend quickly lengthens the muscles and ligaments of the entire posterior side of the body – from our heels to the middle of our back. It stretches our spine and increases the blood supply to our brain.
12. Triangle [Trikonasana]
The last of the 12 basic asanas augments the movement of the Half Spinal Twist. The Triangle pose stretches the spine and strengthens many muscles on the side of the body, and also helps with balance.
With the completion of this sequence, you will have stretched the spine in every direction: front-to-back, side-to-side, and twisting to both sides. Do this every day and you will be glowing - you will develop a strong immunity and fight off illness and disease. There are thousands of postures out there as many people want a varied practice filled with a range of new, exciting postures. This is great as we continue to explore our body’s and mind’s abilities, however, it is very important to come back to basics.
You can get more information on the Sivananda website.
Let me know how you get on by leaving a comment or DM'ing me on Instagram @thefullseven!
Love & Light.