There's been a popular misconception that yoga only means the physical postures. In fact, yoga is a whole lifestyle that includes yoga postures as one of its many
components. Yoga postures have physical benefits, including curing disease, but the main benefit is mental - they balance the emotions and calm the mind. That's because of their effect on the glands, because it's the hormones produced by the glands that determine the way we feel.
Benefits of Yoga Postures:
Balance the hormone secretions from the glands (and therefore the mind and emotions).*
Give flexibility to the body, especially the spine.
Improve respiration, as well as blood and lymph circulation.
Massage the internal organs.
Detoxify the joints.
Relax the nerves and muscles.
Cure certain diseases.
Yoga postures are called asanas in the yogic system. "Asana" means a position
giving physical comfort and mental composure. Yogis first developed asanas after observing the posture of animals and comparing them with their mental characteristics. They found there was a link between the posture and the characteristic, so they developed a system that can balance the emotions of the mind through asanas.
Generally asanas are practised before breakfast (and before or after meditation), because it's the time of the day when there's the least food in the stomach. They also help to prepare you for the stress of the day ahead.
If you have time, practice them also before dinner. You can practice asanas without warming up, but if you like you can do some warm-ups like rotating the head gently around the neck, shoulder shrugs and rotations, swinging the arms while rotating the trunk, rotating the hips with the hands on them, loosening up the legs, etc.
A good stretching asana for the liver and spleen is:
Stand straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Extend the arms horizontally forwards at shoulder level with your palms facing. Now without moving your feet, twist towards the left as fast as is comfortable, giving a jerk. Come back to the centre and repeat to the right. Repeat the movement 8 times on each side.
Out of the many asanas known, only a few are necessary for general health. Here are three basic ones. They have a positive general effect on the health of both body and mind (more than enough to cover basic health and fitness), and they're quick and easy to do.
Sit cross-legged. Hold your left wrist with your right hand behind your back. Slowly lowering your chin, then your neck, bend down as far as you can go, breathing out as you go down. Stay there for 8 seconds with your breath held out, then rise up breathing in. Practice eight times.
Lie on your stomach. Put your hands facing down on the floor beside your ears. Supporting your weight on your palms, push up and raise the chest, looking up towards the ceiling. Breathe in while rising, and hold your breath in that position for 8 seconds. Come down to the original position while breathing out. Practice eight times.
Kneel down with your buttocks resting on your heels and your toes pointing forward. With your palms together, extend your arms up vertically next to your ears. Slowly bring your arms and head down as one, first bending your neck then the whole upper body, until your fingers hit the floor, keeping your buttocks on your heels all the time. Now stretch out with your forehead and nose resting on the floor. Breathe out as you go down, and stay there with your breath held out for 8 seconds. Then rise up breathing in. Practice eight times.
You may find it difficult to hold your breath for eight seconds at first. If so, hold it for less time, or take a quick breath in between. If you don't have time to repeat each asana eight times, repeat at least four times.