The basic yoga class

A closer look at the practice and the benefits

Initial relaxation
The practice always begins with a few minutes of relaxation. These few minutes can make the difference between having a good session, and a session where you are not satisfied with your practice. During this time, the body has a chance to prepare itself for the practice and the mind can concentrate on the task ahead. The breathing also calms down and becomes more rhythmic, regulating and concentrating the prana (energy). slowly you bring your awareness and attention to the practice, away from your daily cares and concerns. In this way, your session becomes highly productive and beneficial.

​Invocation
We start the yoga class with an invocation, an initial prayer to the higher energies. This is another way of focusing the attention on the practice through the power of mantras.

​Kapalabhati
The first set of practices are centred around breathing.
The first breathing exercise is kapalabhati.
kapala in Sanskrit, means skull
bhati means shining
It is a series of short, sharp, forced exhalations from the nostrils
The abdomen moves towards the spine during exhalation
Due to the abdomen’s movement, the diaphragm, the muscular tissue under the lungs, moves upwards towards the lungs
This forces the breath out of the lungs, emptying it of carbon dioxide, impurities and other toxins
The abdomen then relaxes
This releases the diaphragm away from the lungs
Automatically fresh air enters the lungs to fill the vacuum created
We do three rounds of kapalabhati
Each round consists of 60, 70, or a maximum of 80 pumpings
The breath is retained briefly at the end of each round
Kapalabhati clears the sinuses
It opens up the breathing passages
It invigorates and improves the functioning of the lungs
It stimulates all the abdominal organs and improves digestion and assimilation of nutrients
It also improves the functioning of the hormonal glands, and brings a glow to the face, thereby justifying the name

Anuloma Viloma (Alternate nostril breathing)
Alternate nostril breathing is a pranayama
The left hand is kept on the left knee in chin mudra
The right hand is kept in vishnu mudra
This is done by folding the index and ring finger into the base of the thumb
You use the thumb to block the right nostril, and the last two fingers to block the left nostril
The breathing is done alternately with each nostril
The ratio is 1:4:2
You breathe in to a count of 4
You retain the breath for a count of 16
And you breathe out from the opposite nostril on a count of 8
The practice always begins by breathing in from the left nostril
It always ends by breathing out from the left nostril
Anuloma Viloma calms the mind
it purifies all the nadis or astral channels
it balances the activities of the left and right hemispheres of the brain
it brings about physical, mental and emotional balance
we do six to eight rounds of alternate nostril breathing in a session

Surya Namaskar (Sun salutation)
Basic set of twelve postures, or asanas
Strung together in a sequence.
Done before any asana practice
Aims to warm up the body and awaken the energy.
Do a minimum of six rounds
or twelve sets, one starting on the left leg and one on the right leg

Leg raising exercises
Helps to strengthen abdomen
Stretches hamstrings
Keep the knees straight
Single leg raises help to loosen up the leg muscles, stretching and toning them
When doing double leg raises, keep your hands under the thighs, palms facing down, if you have a weak or tender lower back
Avoid double leg raises if you have chronic back pain or slipped disc

​Shashankasana (Child’s pose)
Preparatory pose for the headstand
Relax and breathe in the pose
Wonderful asana to remove stress
Brings a glow to the face
Improves digestion, memory and eyesight
Removes mental and physical tiredness

​Sirsasana (Head stand)
Invigorates the entire body
Refreshes the brain
Stimulates the hormonal glands
Improves memory, eyesight, concentration and overall health by Balancing the body, mind, emotions and spirit
Take the eight steps
Always do in the middle of the room away from obstructions
Learn with a teacher until you have experience
Have the body weight evenly distributed on the forearms, and the crown of the head
Be still, and hold for a maximum of three minutes
Breathe deeply, and with awareness, keeping eyes closed if necessary
Come out of the pose whenever you feel uncomfortable, tired or unable to breathe properly
Do not do if you have a detached retina, glaucoma, high blood pressure, heart ailment or any medical condition requiring the advice of a doctor
Do not practice during the menstrual period

Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)
Queen of the asanas
Stimulates thyroid and parathyroid glands
Deeply relaxing and refreshing
Quells anxiety
Come into the asana smoothly, avoiding jerks
Stay only as long as comfortable
Transfer maximum weight of the body onto the shoulders
Initially weight may be on the arms and elbows
Slowly with practice heels, hips and shoulder blades will form one line
Breathe deeply, and with awareness, keeping eyes closed if necessary
Be still, and hold for a maximum of three minutes
Come out of the pose whenever you feel uncomfortable, tired or unable to breathe properly
Avoid if you have chronic back pain, until you have strengthened your back
Do not practice if you have cervical pain, or back, or heart condition requiring medical advice
Do not practice during the menstrual period

Halasana (Plough)
First lower one leg at a time behind your head
Always keep both knees straight
Keep your hands supporting the back
Lower each leg only upto a point where you can hold without discomfort
Do not have a target for getting the toes to touch the floor
Now lower both legs down
Keep supporting your back
If your toes touch the ground behind your head comfortably, then release your hands from the back
Keep your hands relaxed on the ground or interlock them
hold the pose for a maximum of two minutes or until you feel comfortable
Breathe deeply, and with awareness, keeping eyes closed if necessary
Plough or Halasana intensifies the benefits of the Shoulderstand, Sarvangasana
Gives a good stretch to the back
Stimulates the abdominal organs
Improves digestion
Stretches the hamstring muscles
Quells anxiety

Sethubandasana (Bridge)
Keep your hands in the same position as the Shoulderstand, Sarvangasana
Slowly lower the legs forward, until the feet touch the ground
hold and breathe in the pose
If you cannot come into the pose from the Shoulderstand, come down and then keeping the legs bent and the feet on the ground, lift you hips up and place your hands under the lower back
After holding the pose for about a minute, raise both legs slowly back up into the Shoulderstand
To come down, lower your legs 45 degrees over the head, place your hands on the ground, one vertebrae at a time, roll out of the pose

​Matsyasana (Fish)
Fish, or Matsyasana is a counter pose for the Shouldersatnd and the Plough
Bring your hands under your thighs
Keep your elbows under the lower back, close together
Keep your arms extended as much as possible
Lift your chest and shoulders off the ground
Tilt your head back
Keep the crown of the head on the floor
Hold and breathe deeply, and with awareness, keeping eyes closed if necessary
Retain the posture for about a minute, or quarter of the duration that you hold the shoulder stand
Intake of oxygen and removal of carbon dioxide is maximized as the chest is open in the pose
Stimulates thyroid and parathyroid glands
Removes tiredness around the shoulders
Therapeutic for the upper back

​Paschimottanasana (Sitting forward bend)
Keep the legs stretched out in front
Keep the back of the knees firmly on the ground
Keep the toes bent towards you
Stretch the arms up and bend forward
Hold any part of the leg that is comfortable
Breathe deeply, and with awareness, keeping eyes closed if necessary
Hold for about tow to three minutes or as long as comfortable
The asana alleviates digestive problems
Helps to reduce fat from the waist
Stretches the back
Quells anxiety, and removes stress
Stretches and tones the muscles of the legs, especially the hamstrings
Do not practice if you have chronic lower back pain, sciatica, lumbago or a slipped disc without the express consent of a specialist medical practitioner or a qualified yoga teacher

Purvottanasana (Inclined plane)

Is a gentle but effective counter stretch for the lower back after the forward bend
Breathe deeply, and with awareness, keeping eyes closed if necessary
Hold for ten to fifteen seconds

​Bhujangasana (Cobra)
The backbends start with the Cobra, Bhujangasana
Keep the forehead on the ground
Keep your hands next to the shoulders, and the arms tucked into the body
Keep the heels together
As you inhale bring your head, shoulders and chest off the ground
It is important to keep the heels and toes touching, and the arms tucked in to the body
Keep the shoulders relaxed and away from the ears
Keep the face relaxed
Hold the pose, and breathe deeply, and with awareness, keeping eyes closed if necessary
Stay in the posture for 30 to 45 seconds
The Cobra helps alleviate back pain
It removes tiredness around the upper back and shoulderblades brought about by constant sitting, driving and work on the computer
It strengthens the arms, wrists and shoulders
By opening the chest area, it helps the breath to become deeper and improves the function of the lungs and the heart

​Shalabhasana (Locust)
This is one of the more difficult asanas in the sequence
If you have chronic backache, or a slipped disc, or sciatica or any long-standing back problem, it is best to let the back become stronger with other practices in the sequence before attempting the locust
Keep your arms closely underneath the abdomen
Hands in any appropriate and comfortable position
Keep the chin on the ground
Begin by raising one leg at a time
Do not rotate the hips
When you lift both legs up, lift them just to the point that you can breathe deeply, and comfortably and with awareness
Hold the posture for 15 to 30 seconds

Dhanurasana (Bow)
The final backward bend in the sequence
Keep the knees separated so that you can hold the ankles, and not the foot
Lift your head, shoulders, chest, knees and thighs off the ground
Hold and breathe deeply, and with awareness
Keep eyes closed if necessary
Stay in the pose for 30 to 45 seconds
The bow relieves constipation
It helps reduce upper and lower back pain
Improves the breathing capacity
Increases the cardiovascular activity
Strengthens the arms and shoulders
In the beginning you may not be able to get the knees off the ground
Sometimes you may not be able to reach your ankles with your hands
Allow the body to become more flexible with the regular practice of other asanas in the sequence, and you will be able to practice the bow also comfortably

​Ardh Matseyendrasana (Half spinal twist)
A lateral stretch for your entire spine
After inverting the spine, bending forward and back, the spine is given a lateral twist to retain its complete range of mobility
The pose allows more nourishment to reach the roots of the spinal nerves and the sympathetic nervous system
It also stimulates the abdominal organs
Cleanses all internal organs by gently kneading out venous blood and toxins
Remember to sit on both buttocks
Keep the rear hand behind you in line with the spine on the ground
Look over the shoulder and not at the ground or tilt your head backwards

Kakasana (Crow)/Mayurasana (Peacock)
These two balancing pose requires a little strength, a little skill and a whole lot of confidence
All balancing poses provide physical, mental and emotional balance and stability
Be careful when you practice the crow, keep a cushion in front of you if Necessary
Learn both balancing poses with a teacher first, if possible
Hold the poses as long as comfortable, breathing with ease and awareness

Padahasthasana (Standing forward bend)
Like the sitting forward bend, keep the knees straight, and locked
Reach down and hold any part of the leg that you can hold comfortably
Relax the shoulders, arms, neck and face
Hold for about a minute and a half, breathing deeply, and with awareness
Inverting the torso provides some of the benefits of the other inverted poses
The brain and hormonal glands are stimulated by a fresh supply of blood and oxygen
The face and eyes receive excellent nourishment
The back of the legs and the entire back gets a good stretch
The mind is calmed

​Trikonasana (Triangle)
The 12th and final asana in the sivananda class sequence
Provides a lateral stretch to the spine
Keep the legs more than shoulder width apart
Bend sideways only up to a point where you can breathe comfortably and with awareness

​Savasana (Final relaxation)
The most important part of the class
Integrates the benefits of the whole practice
The best way to practice final relaxation is to be completely still for about 10 minutes
Through auto-suggestion, give a mental command to each part of the body to relax
Relax the internal organs
Withdraw your senses
Calm down the conscious and subconscious mind
Rest in stillness, silence and peace
To finish, bring your awareness back to the present slowly
Take your time
Move your toes and feet
Move your arms and legs and head from side to side
Breathe a little more deeply
Stretch
Turn to one side and sit up with your eyes closed

Final prayer
The Shanti (or peace) mantras are meant to generate peaceful vibrations for the student and also for the entire universe. It is a prayer of harmony, serenity and peace, and a beautiful way to end your practice. The mantras are chosen from many vedas for their healing properties and have been chanted by millions of people throughout the ages since times immemorial.

Salutations to the Gurus
In the truest oral tradition of the Guru Shisya Parampara (teacher disciple relationship), the spirit and the energy of the guru is passed on to the student through an unbroken lineage. We acknowledge this tradition by saluting the teacher at the end of every session.

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​© sivananda yoga  centre, gurgaon 2004

Sivananda Yoga Centre, Gurgaon (SYCG) is a RYS 200 and a RYS 300 Registered Yoga School with Yoga Alliance®, USA. (www.yogaalliance.org)

The International Yoga Teacher Training Courses conducted by Sivananda Yoga Centre, Gurgaon qualifies candidates to apply to the Yoga Alliance, USA for a RYT 200 hours and a RYT 500 hours status respectively.

Sivananda Yoga Centre, Gurgaon conducts its yoga classes, retreats and teacher training courses independently,

and is not affiliated to any yoga organization, in India or anywhere in the world.