15 Poses of Classical Yoga: What Ancient Yogis Practiced

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

In the 1500s, a yogi called Svatmarama wrote The Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Along with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it remains one of the most important texts on classical yoga. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika starts with a discussion of asana—the physical practice of yoga. The text lists a mere 15 poses of classical yoga.

The word “pradipika” means light. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika sheds light on the practice of yoga. It consists of four chapters: asana, pranayama, mudras, and samadhi

When Svatmarama wrote the text, yogis had already been practicing for centuries. However, in India, the teachings of yoga were passed from student to teacher, one to one. Nothing (or not much) was written about the practice. Patanjali had written the Yoga Sutras by the time Svatmarama compiled his text, but as we’ve seen, the sutras mention almost nothing about the physical practice or how to do specific yoga postures.

Asana Practice in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika

In the first chapter on asanas, Svatmarama describes 15 poses. The poses have very specific effects. Each does something to prepare the body for the goal of yoga, which in this case was to contain the life force—prana—within the central channel of the body. By holding prana in the central channel, yogis sought release from illusion and transformation into immortal beings of light.

Is that your goal when you roll out your yoga mat?

Whether you seek immortality or practice yoga mainly to relieve stress, the point is in the beginning, the physical postures did not dominate yoga. In general, yogis still practice the 15 poses of classical yoga, though some have been altered and many more poses, as well as style of yoga, have come along.

If you’re a back-to-basics kind of person or a yogi interested in the origins of the practice, it’s worth knowing the poses described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. (If you’re seeking enlightenment and immortality, knowing these poses may be essential!)

The 15 Poses of Classical Yoga in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Here general descriptions of each pose in Svatmarama’s text. It’s important to note that some of these poses are difficult, perhaps impossible, to practice correctly without a teacher’s guidance. Others you will already know and be able to do.

  1. svastikasana –easy sitting pose with one ankle crossed over the other
  2. gomukhasana – cow-facing pose
  3. virasana – hero’s pose
  4. kurmasana – tortoise (or turtle) pose
  5. kukkutasana – a pose in which you place the hands between the knees and thighs while seated in a cross-legged position and lift the body
  6. uttanakurmasana –turtle pose on your back
  7. dhanurasana – bow pose
  8. matsyendrasana –seated twist
  9. paschimatanasana – seated forward bend
  10. mayurasana – like plank or a pushup with the legs off the ground extended straight out behind you
  11. shavasana – corpse pose
  12. siddhasana – a seated pose known as “accomplished pose” done by pressing the heel of the foot against the perineum and gazing is between the eyebrows
  13. padmasana – a seated pose in which hands are clasped together and the chin is placed against the chest
  14. simhasana – a seated pose with on the knees, mouth open, and the gaze at the tip of the nose
  15. bhadrasana – like bound angle pose with the ankles pressed into the groin and the hands clasped around the feet

How close to classical is your yoga practice? Comment below and share your experience!

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Maria Kuzmiak

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