If you still think yoga is about twisting yourself into impossible pretzel shapes, think again. Yoga is one of the most beneficial activities for your body. It improves flexibility and range of motion, strengthens muscles, and increases focus and mental strength. Not only will yoga lengthen and tone, but it also is linked to improved circulation and digestive function, relaxation, and pain relief. Even a daily 10 minutes of yoga can be beneficial to your overall health and wellbeing. Jump start your yoga routine with these top 10 yoga poses four to five times per week.
1. Downward Dog
Downward Dog is one of the most widely recognized yoga poses, and for good reason. It is a dynamic pose that builds strength in the legs, arms, shoulders and spine, while simultaneously stretching the entire body. As a mild inversion pose, Downward Dog is a great stress reliever and can also help relieve headaches, mild depression, insomnia, and fatigue.
The Pose: Begin on all fours, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Exhale as you curl your toes under and straighten your legs. You should be in the shape of the letter “A”. Press into the floor with your hands as you lengthen your spine. You can also walk your feet back to get into a more comfortable position.
2. Standing Forward Bend
The Standing Forward Bend is deep stretching pose that can help rejuvenate your whole body. Like Downward Dog, your head is below your heart during the Standing Forward Bend (known as “inversion”). This position gives your cells a boost of oxygen, calming the mind and nerves in the process. Standing Forward Bend also stretches the hips, hamstrings, and calves, and helps relieve tension in the spine, neck, and back.
The Pose: Stand with your feet together and hands on your hips. As you exhale, bend forward from the hips. Focus on lengthening your torso, and continue the bend until you are folded over your legs. Your arms can hang loose, press into the floor, or wrap behind your legs.
3. Pigeon Pose
Pigeon Pose is one of the best cures for tight hips. This pose is especially important to incorporate into your daily routine if you’re guilty of prolonged sitting. Pigeon Pose stretches both the hip rotators and the hip flexors, builds focus, and releases tension. Additional benefits include improved posture, alleviation of sciatic pain, and stimulation of internal organs.
The Pose: Begin on your hands and knees. Bring your right foot to the front of your mat between your hands, and place your knee on the floor pointing towards two o’clock. Then slide your left foot back as far as possible. Sink your hips forward and down. For a deeper pose, you can rest your forearms or chest on the ground.
4. Crescent Pose (also known as High Lunge)
Stimulate and awaken your entire body with Crescent Post. This pose stretches, strengthens, and promotes balance and stability. It’s another great pose for stretching the legs and hip flexors. Crescent Pose also opens your chest and heart, increases energy, and tones the thighs, abs, and butt.
The Pose: From Downward Dog, step your right foot through and place it gently between your hands at the front of your mat. Bend your right knee to 90 degrees, making sure the knee is directly over the heel. Come on to the ball of your back foot, and activate your back leg. Inhale and raise your torso upright as your arms sweep up and over your head. Lift your head so you are gazing forward. Your shoulder blades should be drawn firmly into your back, and extend out of the top of your head to lengthen your upper body.
5. Warrior II
Like Crescent Pose, Warrior II (along with Warrior I and III poses) will lengthen and strengthen your legs, arms, and everything in between. Tone your legs, glutes, shoulders and arms with this full body pose. If you are looking to build endurance, hold your Warrior II pose for a longer length of time. Warrior II not only builds stability and strength, but also concentration, stamina, and balance.
The Pose: From mountain pose, step your left foot back about 3 or 4 feet. Turn your right foot 90 degrees so it points towards the top of your mat. Your left foot should be turned slightly inward. Raise your arms to shoulder height. As you exhale, bend your front knee, making sure your knee is directly over the ankle. Begin sinking your hips as you turn your gaze to look out over your right middle finger. Be sure to keep your gaze soft and your shoulders relaxed.
6. Cat and Cow Poses
The combination of Cat and Cow Poses are important stretches for your back, neck, and abs, and can help you quickly unwind after a long day in the office. Cat Pose (think of a cat arching its back) gets the blood flowing and increases mobility in the spine. The Cow Pose is opposite the Cat Pose, and stretches abs and chest muscles. Cat and Cow combo is a powerful stress reliever, and can even massage and stimulate internal organs in your gastrointestinal tract.
The Pose: Start in a table top position. Cow – Inhale as you push your belly towards the floor and bring your gaze upwards. Cat – Exhale and round your back by tucking your pelvis and your chin into your chest. For a more dynamic pose, flow through the two poses in sequence. Inhale your back arches towards the ground in Cow Pose, and inhale as your back rounds into Cat Pose.
7. Seated Spinal Twist
Another great pose to stretch out a day of sitting at your desk, the Seated Spinal Twist is particularly helpful with realignment of the spine. It is one of the best poses for relieving back pain, sciatica, and even discomfort from menstrual cycles. Though it may seem like an easy pose, the Seated Spinal Twist will get your blood flowing and help stimulate your internal organs.
The Pose: Sit on your mat with your legs stretched out in front of your toward the top of your mat. Bend your right knee to bring your right foot up towards your body. Place your right foot on the mat a few inches from your left knee. Place your right hand on the mat just behind the right glute. You can either hug your right knee into your chest, or twist your body and bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee.
8. Garland Pose
The confines of a desk job can wreak long-term havoc on your body. The Garland Pose combats the negative effects of sitting all day by opening the hips and inner thighs. You will also feel lengthening of your spine. The Garland Pose is important for maintaining mobility, and is also great for toning your abs.
The Pose: With your feet wider than hip-width apart, turn your toes out slightly to the opposite walls. Bend your knees and pretend like you’re sitting down into a chair. Bring your hips down between your legs as low as possible without rounding the spine.
9. Plank Pose
If you want strong, defined abs, be sure to dedicate part of your day to the Plank Pose. Though oftentimes used as a transitional pose, the Plank Pose can be held for longer periods of time to build strength and endurance. In addition to killer abs, this pose also strengthens the arms, shoulders, and spine. It’s an excellent pose for beginner and advanced yogis alike.
The Pose: From Downward Dog, roll forward onto the balls of your feet. Lower your stomach and hips until your shoulders are over your wrists. Keep your abs and leg muscles active and engaged. For an easier version, lower your knees to the ground.
10. Child’s Pose
Child’s Pose is one of the most relaxing yoga poses. It calms the mind and is excellent for recovery – especially after strenuous activity. Child’s Pose releases tension in the lower back, and stretches the hips, thighs, ankles, lats, and shoulders. Use Child’s Pose to restore and relax.
The Pose: Start on your hands and knees. Push your hips back so your butt is resting on your heels, with your forehead resting on the floor.