In many forms of yoga you move through a set sequence of postures, starting with a warm up, followed by sun salutations, standing postures and then onto the floor. If you're wondering why you do certain groups of postures and what their benefits are, here is some background:
In most classes you will start with a warm-up. The purpose of this is to wake and warm our bodies up and prevent injury. This is often the introduction to a class where certain postures will be introduced based on the theme of the class (e.g. hip/heart opening) and gives the opportunity to bring intention to the practice.
The sun salutation is a spiritual practice in itself. It starts increasing the circulation in the body, increasing internal heat and is when you start to fully become aware of your breath. It is a purifying and renewing (detoxifying) practice that stretches the body and helps to balance all 11 body systems as well as increasing your metabolism. If you do in the morning at the same tempo it will reflect your tempo of life.
Standing poses literally teach us to feel and be grounded, connecting us with the earth. Out of all the postures they tend to feel the most natural. They help to balance both our mental and physical sides as well as increasing strength and flexibility. They promote a sense of well being by calming our nervous systems hence brightening our moods. They work on nervous balance in the brain and promote an increase in stamina.
Forward bends through their inward nature can promote introspection and self-connection as well as stimulate intuition. They are poses where you come inwards and downwards allowing your mind to rest. They help to strengthen and stretch the spine, counteracting compression as well as massaging internal organs. People with tight hamstrings and an inflexible lower back can find forward bends a challenge. It is not about how deep you can go with forward bends but more how deeply you can release, really connecting with your breath to do this.
Twists tone the muscles in the trunk, increase flexibility and stimulate the spinal column, massage and stimulate internal organs and aid detoxification. When you twist the spine toxins are replaced with fresh, rejuvenating blood. They have a very strong effect on the body and are associated with health and vitality. From a mental point of view they give you insight and provide a systematic way of solving our problems, helping us to adapt to changes in our lives.
Arm balances not only strengthen our arms and wrists but are also hugely empowering. They improve focus and concentration and serotonin is released when performing them. They develop physical and mental balance and work on the abdominals. They are a great and fun way to loosen up practice and often enable students to start interacting with each other.
Backbends can be hugely emotional, stimulating and frustrating postures. They are associated with the attitude of embracing life as you turn your body out to face the world and people tend to be more receptive and open after backbends. From a physical point of view they create space between the intervertebral discs and help with spine flexibility and strength. They also stretch the shoulders and abdominals and allow you to get deep into hip flexors and expand your breath, increasing space to breathe and also increasing space within ourselves. In addition to all this they purify and enrich blood in the back region, massage the liver and kidney and help with digestion and also help with menstrual disorders.
Inversions are one of the most beneficial set of postures. With the head below the heart, there is a changing flow of energy and blood, with lots of fresh blood going to the head. They are good for the brain, rejuvenating, anti-aging and empowering and flush out toxins and nourish cells. From a mental point of view they are associated with facing fears, seeing things in a new perspective and creating balance. They can help you feel more comfortable with new situations in life as well as change normal patterns of being. They are refreshing and revitalising and associated with decreasing anxiety and stress and increasing self-confidence and concentration.
This brings your heart back down to resting and allows you to assimilate everything you've done, creating homeostasis in the body. It allows you to absorb all the amazing benefits of practice, release stress, decrease your energy levels and settle the class into your entire being.