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 Cobra pose
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Is it a man or a cobra?

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NPR's resident yogi, Kelly Fisher, explains the meaning behind 10 of the most common postures.

SEE a slide show of some of the most commonly practiced yoga postures.

Tadasana (mountain pose)
Stand tall, feet hip width apart, arms relaxed by your sides. Your eyes can be gently closed and focus on your breath. You may stand as long as you like, keeping your attention on your breathing. Tadasana promotes good posture and circulation, relaxes the internal organs, and makes the mind still.

Vrksasana (tree pose)
Begin in tadasana, softly gazing forward at an eye-level point that is not moving. Shift your weight to the left foot and turn the right knee outward. Bending your right knee, lift the right foot and place it on the inside of your left thigh, balancing on the left leg. Arms are in namaste position, palms together at your heart center. Press the right knee as far out as possible, opening the hips while keeping them facing forward. Remaining balanced, lift the arms above your head, palms together. Hold the pose for 30 seconds and then release and practice with the other leg. The tree pose promotes steadfastness and balance as well as patience and a calm mind.

Trikonasana (triangle pose)
Stand with feet three to four feet apart, hands in namaste. Turn the left foot out 90 degrees and the right foot in approximately 45 degrees as the hips remain facing forward. Inhale lifting the arms outstretched to the sides of the body at shoulder height. On the exhale, lengthen both sides of the body as you lean to the left, keeping the body, arms, hips and legs in the same plane. Drop the left arm down to the ankle and lift the right arm up to the sky. Turn the head to look up toward the right fingertips. Breathe and hold. To release, inhale and lift the arms and trunk of the body upward until standing. Bring the arms back into namaste. Repeat on the other side. Triangle pose strengthens all parts of the body. It removes stiffness from the hips and legs as well as opens the hips and shoulders.

Adho mukha shvanasana (dog pose)
Start on your hands and knees in tabletop position. Index fingers parallel and pointing forward, knees and feet about hip width apart. Keep the shoulder blades on the back and down as you inhale lifting the hips. The legs should be straight, balancing on the balls of the feet, and your arms and head should be in a straight line to your hips, forming an upside down V. Hold this posture while breathing deeply. To release, bring the knees back down to the floor, to kneeling again. Dog pose invigorates the entire body, opens the shoulders and chest and strengthen arms, legs, and back.

Sarvangasana (shoulder stand)
Lie on your back with legs bent, feet flat on the floor near your hips, and arms by your sides with elbows bent and hands pointing up into the air. Exhale while slowly lifting the hips, until you can wriggle your shoulders and arms under your back and place your hands just above your hips for support. Gently kick the legs up, lifting them to the sky while using your hands on your back as support. Your chin should be touching your chest, and you should be resting on your shoulders. It is good to have a spotter for this pose because of potential injury to the neck. Breathe and hold. This posture takes pressure which builds up from daily activity off of the legs and feet, allows better blood flow to the brain, and massages the thyroid gland. It is an excellent rejuvenator.

Matsyasana or Matsyamudra (fish pose)
Lie down in padmasana or lotus pose, legs crossed with feet up on the thighs. Rest the crown of the head on the floor by lifting the heart upward, slightly arching the back. Grasp both your big toes with your hands. Practice immediately after sarvangasana and hold for half as long as you held shoulderstand. This posture also stimulates the thyroid gland and is a good complement for sarvangasana.

Bhujangasana (cobra pose)
Lie down on your stomach with arms bent and hands placed by the shoulders, elbows off the floor. Legs are together, tailbone tucked down but muscles are soft. Inhale, supporting your weight on your palms, and lifting the head and the heart upward. The back of the neck should remain long, but look upward to the sky with your eyes. Hold your breath for eight seconds, and then exhale, releasing and bringing your head back down. Practice eight times. The cobra pose strengthens the lower back helping to alleviate many types of pains, and it also opens the heart.

Matsyendrasana (spinal twist)
Sitting down, fold the right leg so the foot is under or right next to your left hip. Cross the left leg over the right so the left foot is on the ground opposite the right knee and the left knee is bent in the air. Inhale and lift the spine tall. Twist the spine, lifting upward from the base of the spine so the right shoulder is to the outside of the left leg, and with your right hand, grab the left big toe. Twist the left arm behind your back and reach around toward your belly button. Turn your head as far to the left as possible. Hold for 30 seconds and then release, practice on the other side as well. The spinal twist improves flexibility in the spine and strengthens the nervous system. It massages the internal organs and aids the digestive process. It is also an excellent invigorator.

Savasana (corpse pose)
Lie down on your back with arms by your sides, hands about six inches away from your body and palms facing upward. The legs are relaxed, so the feet may rest outward. The shoulder blades are comfortably down your back and the tailbone is tucked in slightly. All of your muscles are relaxed and soft. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath. You may rest here as long as you like, but the idea is to concentrate and therefore calm the mind, not to fall asleep! It is good to practice savasana once completing a series of asanas to rest and bring the mind to a deeper state of relaxation. When the mind is focused and still, resting in savasana is more complete than sleeping.

Padmasana (lotus pose)
From a seated position, place your right foot on your left thigh and your left foot on your right thigh. Feel how the spine becomes erect and tall in this posture. Place your hands in your lap, close your eyes, and breathe. Padmasana is an excellent posture for meditation. It calms the conscious mind and allows your awareness to travel to the deeper levels of mind.

Illustrations come from the book Ananda Marga Caryacarya, Part III by Prabhat Ranjain Sarkar (Acarya Pranavananda Avadhuta Press, 1979).