Why are Yoga Asanas so often named after Animals: Tiger Pose

Posted on in health and wellbeing

If you are familiar with yoga you might have noticed that many Asanas took their name after an animal. In this blog series we are going to look into how this might have originated. And as the With Every Atom team has a special place in their heart for Tigers, this is the Asana we are going to start with. 

Tigers or Panthera Tigers are the largest of all big cats; a species that are often referred to as the “umbrella species”. This single fact in itself hints at how important tigers are to the eco-system. Tigers are critical to the ecosystem; being predators they help keep the jungle life in balance and maintain numbers of other species. Simultaneously, adventurers are often drawn to places where tigers still exist as they want to see them in the wild and witness this incredible sighting; thus creating economic opportunities for the locals.

Tigers are often known for their distinguished fur colour – orange with black stripes – different subspecies of tigers have been roaming our planet for about 2 million years, yet in 1969 it has been brought to attention that the population started to be on a steep decline.

The biggest threats to tigers are habitat loss caused by both climate change and timbering, and human interaction; with poaching being the most immediate and serious threat to these animals. It is estimated that there are 3,900 tigers living in the wild, mostly in Thailand, China, parts of Indonesia and India, however over 8,000 tigers are believed to be kept captive in amusement parks and farms. (https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/tiger

Considering their importance for the environment, fauna and wellbeing of the ecosystem that they thrive in, it is surprising that tigers are not given more attention and protection from humans. Quite contrary they are being stalked, poached and feared. Yet, there is a lot we could learn from these amazingly graceful cats. When yoga considered, there is an amazing Asana named after these beautiful cats – Vyaghrasana. So why is Vyaghrasana (Tiger Pose) named after tigers? The biggest benefit we get from practising Vyaghrasana is a whole-body-stretch, being on our fours, with our belly sinking towards the floor, our chin raised and gaze upward, we very much mimic the movement tigers do when they wake up and stretch to start their day. So, we would be inclined to believe that that is exactly how Vyaghrasana got its name. However, there is indeed a mythical explanation to it as well. 

The myth has it that a mystical sage Vyaghrapada, who was a sage of Patanjali, prayed for having tiger legs and one day he was gifted those. Therefore, after he practised this deep stretching Asana,  later on, it was in fact named after him and his tiger legs (Gray, 2008). No matter what you decide to believe in, there are numerous benefits to practising Tiger Pose and we are going to look into a few. 

Why include Vyaghrasana in our practice?

To perform this posture in a safe and beneficial manner it is crucial to have a good alignment. Starting in a kneeling position we place our arms on the floor directly under the shoulders and knees under the hips, maintaining a shoulder distance between our palms and hip-distance between our knees. From there, we sink our lower back and form a “cat” back, engaging our core muscles and pushing through our hands to the floor, we start raising one of our legs, bending the knee to form 90 degrees between the thigh and the calf and stretching the chest taking our gaze upwards.

We can either stay there and then repeat on the other side, or we can add a little bit of core work and take it further by inhaling, pushing the bent leg up a little bit more and with an exhale take the knee of the lifted leg towards our chest. Simultaneously, we lower our head/face down as if we wanted to touch our nose to the knee of the leg that we have taken to our chest.

No matter which option you take, you may reap the following benefits: 

  • Strengthening the muscles in the arms, thighs and around the spine
  • Practising balance
  • Opening the hips and chest
  • Gaining flexibility in the spine.
  • Internal muscles get massaged especially reproductive and digestive system organs.
Katerina Vachova, Insta: @thecolourfulkate
London for With Every Atom.

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