Pose Categories & Families Intro

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we explore how and why asana is classified into categories and into families.


Understand the importance of function over form and how knowledge of pose categories and families informs teaching.


Reflect on the fundamental fact that poses are chosen by the purpose they intend to serve (function) as opposed to how they look (form). Explain the primary concern when choosing or teaching a pose and how this determines its general classification as a forward bend, backbend, twist and so on. Explore how this categorization provides a general sense for how to sequence and teach the pose. Describe various classification systems and define common pose categories.


Here we explore the classification of asana into categories and into families. By considering the qualities and characteristics of these groupings, we learn how individual poses relate to — and differ from — others, thus supporting the process of choosing and sequencing asana.

Poses are chosen by the purposes they intend to serve (function) as opposed to how they look (form).

Of primary concern is the position of the spine in the pose and, thus, its general classification as a forward bend, backbend, twist and so on. This categorization provides a general sense for the purpose of the pose and therefore, in a general sense, how to sequence and teach it.

Function Precedes Form

Function always preceded form.  Yogis of the past were practical and purpose-driven.  They created tools and techniques based on the purposes they were intended to serve, rather than the other way around. – Kausthub Desikachar

Why We Practice a Pose and How to Teach It

When we describe a pose, we always start by identifying the position of the spine, since the position of the spine gives us immediate clues about what the pose is meant to accomplish… This type of classification is important for understanding the function of individual poses; it is not about the purity of the spinal position itself… Janu Sirsasana has an element of lateral bending, but it is mostly a forward bend; Adho Mukha Svanasana has an element of forward bending, but it is mostly an axial extension posture; and so on. Knowing where the pose belongs classification-wise helps us understand both why we do it and how to teach it. – Olga Kabel

Details Below

First, you’ll see a few expert approaches to categorizing poses. Next is a summary of categories that draws from the expert approaches to organize postures based on their key anatomic actions and energetic functions.

Expert Approaches to Categorizing Asana

T.K.V. Desikachar: Movements of the Spine

  1. Samasthiti – reference point for other postures
  2. Pascimatana – Forward Bends
  3. Purvatana – Backbends
  4. Parsva – Lateral Bends
  5. Parivrtti – Twists
  6. Viparita – Inversions
  7. Visesa – Special (includes arm balances and postures involving some unique action that does not fall within the other types)
  8. Mudra – Positions with the hands, head and body that are intended to elicit a particular energetic quality

Ray Long (The Key Poses of Yoga)

  1. Preparatory Poses
  2. Sun Salutations
  3. Standing poses
  4. Hip Openers
  5. Forward Bends
  6. Twists
  7. Back bends
  8. Arm Balances
  9. Inversions
  10. Restorative Poses

Silva Mehta (Yoga: The Iyengar Way)

  1. Standing Poses
  2. Sitting Poses
  3. Twists
  4. Supine & Prone Poses
  5. Inverted Poses
  6. Balancings
  7. Backbends
  8. Jumpings
  9. Relaxation

Joseph LePage (Yoga Teachers Toolbox)

  1. Warm Ups
  2. Standing
  3. Stabilization
  4. Hip Openers
  5. Twists
  6. Back Bends
  7. Lateral Bends
  8. Forward Bends
  9. Balance
  10. Inversions

Dharma Mittra (Asana: 608 Yoga Poses)

  1. Sun Salutation & Hero Series
  2. Standing Poses
  3. Inversions
  4. Floor & Supine Poses
  5. Arm Balancing Poses
  6. Twists & Seated Poses

Mark Stephens (Yoga Sequencing)

  1. Standing Asanas
  2. Core Awakening
  3. Arm Support Asana
  4. Back Bends
  5. Twists
  6. Forward Bends
  7. Hip Openers
  8. Inversions
  9. Savasana

Warm Up

  • Stretches, gentle dynamic movement, non-traditional asana or simple asana designed to prepare the body for more demanding postures
  • Flows / Mini Vinyasas
  • Asana Index – search for “stretch”

Standing Poses

Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations)

  • A set series of postures with transitions accompanied by a particular phase of the breath
  • Surya Namaskar

Standing Balance

Core Strengthening

Other Strengthening & Stabilization

  • Focuses on bringing balance to strength and flexibility
  • Anatomy Hub

Arm Balancing

  • Weight of the body is placed primarily on one or both hands or forearms
  • Arm Balance



  • Focus is rotation of the spine
  • Twists

Forward Bends

Hip Stretching


  • Feet are above heart
  • The term “Mild Inversion” typically refers to having the head below the heart, such as in Adho Mukha Svanasana
  • Inversions


  • Intention is not on stretching or strengthening, but on releasing tension
  • Restoratives

Neutral Spine & Axial Extension

Pose Families

Tadasana Family

Uttanasana Family

Virabhadrasana I Family

Virabhadrasana II Family

More Ways to Classify Asana

Mukunda Stiles teaches that we can categorize poses by the features they resemble or evoke.

Yogis have found that when asana are done properly they stimulate the quality that they are named for. Hero Pose (Virasana) done in the prescribed manner will promote feelings of courage, self-confidence and stamina. Lotus Pose (Padmasana) will generate an opening of the lotus petals of the subtle body’s chakras, producing a feeling of emotional and spiritual expansion. – Mukunda Stiles




Stages of Life

Body Parts


Geometrical Figures

Stiles goes on to classify asanas according to their primary effects, such as these:

Affects Spinal Column

Addresses Muscles of Extremities

Hollow Organs

Endocrine Glands & Sense Organs

Induces Relaxation

Promotes Meditation or Pranayama