I don’t always have time to hit up a 60 minute yoga class everyday. On the other hand if I waited to do yoga until I thought I had time then my body and mind would surely resent me. These 10 poses however are something I do every day. Maybe not all at once. Maybe not even on my yoga mat. But these poses target a little bit of the major parts of the body. It keeps the body flexible especially if it is a few days between a full class. It also keeps my mind in check and decreases the amount of stress I feel on a daily basis. So give it a try.
1. Child’s Pose ~ Balasana
Child’s pose is generally a resting pose. But don’t be fooled. Your hips, thighs, and ankles will still feel a stretch. This pose is great to reclaim your attention to the breath and fill up the upper lungs. It can also be done at anytime during a class when the body needs to ground and re-center or take a break from a difficult pose or sequence.
To do this pose start on your mat knelt down on your hands and knees. Touch your big toes together and then take your knees as wide or as close apart as is comfortable. Exhale and lean your torso down between your knees. There are a few variations you may do with your arms. In this picture I have them stretched out to the front of my mat while gently pushing the front of the mat away to encourage my hips down toward my heels. I also have my elbows lifted with a slight internal rotation in my shoulders. I find when my arms are engaged in this way I get a stretch in my upper back, however in a full resting childs pose I would either allow my elbows to rest on the floor or reach my hands back facing palm up and resting on the mat by my ankles.
2. Cat/Cow ~ Marjaryasana/Bitilasana
Shown in the picture is cat pose. Cat and Cow is often a cycle of two poses that moves with the breath. This cycle helps to awaken and loosen the vertebrae along the spine. It also helps to massage the abdominal organs and to stretch the abdominal, neck, and back muscles.
To do this pose start in a neutral table top position knelt down on your mat on your hands and knees. Cat: As you exhale, begin to round your spine starting from the tailbone and finishing by gently tucking the chin in toward the chest. Imagine a string is attached to your heart and is pulling it through your thorax up to the ceiling. Cow: As you inhale, begin to sink your navel toward the mat starting from the tailbone moving up the spine until you reach the chin where it should be parallel to the floor yet not hyperflexing the cervical spine. Imagine you are dragging the palms of your hands toward your knees without actually lifting them off the mat to engage the rectus abdominus muscle. Move through cat/cow a few times to really warm up the spine.
3. Downward-facing dog ~ Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downdog is a common pose found in yoga practice. It’s benefits are many. As a basic inversion, this pose is great for bringing blood to the brain, allowing you to feel more focused and energized. It also stretches the back, hamstring, and calf muscles as well as strengthens the arms, shoulders and abs. It is a great releif for headaches, menstrual cramps and menopause symptoms. It helps improve digestion and can be therapeutic for high blood pressure and sciatic pain.
Often students have their hands either too far or too close to the feet. To check the proper distance between the hands and feet start your pose off in a high plank. Hands would be directly under your shoulders and your head, neck, shoulders and hips would be in a straight plane with your heels which would be lifted off the mat.
I often get students to start this pose from a table top position. Because the most important alignment in this pose is in the spine, and not so much in the legs, I find students can maintain that alignment easier this way rather than starting off in plank. So while in table-top begin to lift your knees off of the mat a few inches. Then begin to push the front of your mat away from you as you keep the knees bent and begin to straighten the spine. The head should be in-line with the shoulders and the chest should remain open while engaging the muscles around the shoulder blade to squeeze them in and down toward the spine. Once you have found length in the spine then you can begin to straighten the back of the knees being sure not to change the alignment of the pelvis. Encourage the armpit muscles to reach up in the direction of the upper thighs. The heels either touch the ground or not, this is not an important aspect of this pose. However, to encourage length in the backs of the legs begin to pedal the feet back and forth bending one knee and then the other while still pushing the front of your mat away and pulling the navel in toward the spine.
4. Standing Crescent Pose ~ Indudalasana
Aka: Crescent moon pose. This posture is great for stretching the side body and improving balance. A key pose in the moon salutation series, it also strengthens our oblique abdominal muscles and helps get rid of those pesky love handles. Try keeping the hips square and facing forward as you reach with clasped hands first straight up and then over. We have a tendency to splay our hips out to the opposite side our hands are reaching. But you will feel a deeper stretch in the intercostal (rib cage) and latissumus (upper back) muscles if the hips are square over the ankles.
5. Yoga squat ~ Malasana
Malasana is a great hip opener. It also stretches the ankles and groins while stregthening the upper back muscles. To prevent any injury to the knees be sure to always have them pointed in the same direction as your toes.
To do this pose from standing (or mountain) take your feet a little wider than hip distance apart. Then externally rotate your legs so your toes are pointing outward at approximately 45 degrees. Begin to squat down, bending the knees until the torso fits snugly between the thighs. Bring the hands into a prayer position while gently pressing the elbows to the inside of the knee encouraging the groin muscles to stretch open. Then begin to lengthen the spine while finding a balance on the four corners of the feet. Again the heels either touch the floor or not, this is not a major part of the pose. If you find it too difficult to hover your heels off the ground but can not comfortably get them to the ground try placing a rolled towel or a folded mat under the heels. You may also play with the distance between the feet seeing what feels best.
6. High or Low Crescent Lunge with an Arm Bind ~ Anjaneyasana
Shown is high Crescent lunge where the back knee is lifted off of the mat as opposed to a low lunge where the back knee would be resting on the mat. Either one is great for stretching the hip flexors and psoas (posture) muscle. I also like to bind my hands behind my back in this pose to get the added benefit of a heart/chest opener and a slight back bend.
To do this pose, start from standing at the front of your mat and stepping one foot back as far as is comfortable toward the back of the mat. Begin to bend the front knee to a 90 degree angle (or as close to it as possible), while keeping the back heel lifted off of the mat. Engage the the thigh muscles while encouraging the posterior knee of the back leg up toward the ceiling. Be sure not to let the front knee collapse in or outward. That knee should be pointed toward the middle toe. Then clasp the fingers behind the back and gently lift them off of your glutes squeezing the shoulder blades together but trying to keep the tops of the shoulders relaxed away from the ears. With any back bend the tendency is the hyperflex the cervical spine. Although a slight lift in the chin is ok try to keep the bend in the back of the neck to just a gentle curvature.
7. Chatarunga into a Cobra Vinyasa ~ Bhujangasana
Chatarunga’s are great for strengthening the arms and wrists while toning the ab muscles. And cobra is great for stretching the abdominal muscles, bringing heat into the back body, stretching the chest and strengthening the tricep muscles (the back of the arms). Shown above is a low cobra pose. A full vinyasa from plank to cobra usually starts in a high or low plank position. In plank the wrists are directly under the shoulders. Knees can be on the mat. The yogi then lowers the body or torso as a plank to the mat by tucking the elbows into the ribs and engaging the triceps and abdominal muscles. You then end in Cobra by pushing the front of the mat away from you as you gently roll the chest off of the mat beginning at the lower abs and ending at the cervical spine, remembering to keep the chin slightly tucked. While in cobra the pinky toes should be encouraged to the mat allowing the inner thighs to engage upward allowing the legs to slightly externally rotate, yet keeping the glutes engaged. Try to keep the tailbone slightly tucked while allowing the pubic bone to rest into the mat. This pose is less about the height of the torso and more about keeping proper alignment, so if you need to lessen the back bend and keep the chest a little closer to the ground then please do that. It’s your body, you just have to listen to it.
8. Pigeon Pose ~ Kapotasana
A great pose to lengthen the hip flexors and the psoas muscles and to stretch out the glute muscles.
To do this pose start in a table-top position on your hands and knees. Then slide one knee up toward the wrist on the same side. Encourage that shin to move parallel to the front of the mat. Don’t worry if it is not exactly parallel. I have been practicing this pose for years and am still at more of a 45 degree angle. Then begin to slide the back foot toward the back of the mat as you lower the open hip down toward the mat. If there is any strain in the front knee try sliding the back foot closer to the middle of the mat. You can use blocks under your hands to lift the chest higher creating a bit of a back bend and feeling a deeper stretch in the hip flexor — known as active pigeon. Or another variation is to lengthen the spine and then lower the torso to the ground or a bolster to get a deeper stretch in the glute muscle — known as resting pigeon.
9. Two-kneed twist ~ Supta Matsyendrasana
An amazing restorative pose, this two-knee twist helps to eleviate pain and stiffness in the back. It helps stretch the chest, neck, shoulders, spine, and glutes. It’s also thought to help improve digestion, balance our emotions, and clear the sacral chakra – associated with creativity, self-esteem, and sexuality.
To do this pose start by lying on your back. Bend the knees so both feet are planted on the floor. Then bend the knees toward the chest and gently allow them to lower over to the side perhaps even resting on the floor. If you feel pinching in the lower back then slide the knees up closer to the chest. Be sure to keep both shoulders down on the mat. To get a stretch in the neck turn your face in the opposite direction of the knees and take the arms out long at the sides. Feel free to use any props in this pose. Sometimes it feels good to prop a rolled blanket under the knees. Take your time in this pose, allowing the whole body to relax into the twist can take several minutes.
10. Easy Pose ~ Sukhasana
Used in yoga and meditation alike. The benefits of this physical pose include opening the hips, strengthening the back and posture muscles, as well as stretching the knees and ankles. However, there can be many other benefits to this pose depending on what you are doing whilst in it. For example, dhyana, one of the limbs of yoga often happens in this posture. Dhyana also known as meditation helps to decrease stress and enhance mental health and emotional regulation among other benefits. There are many different ways to meditate (I’ll save that for another post) but one I do everyday is breath awareness or mindfulness meditation.
To do this pose simply cross the legs while seated directly on your mat or on a block under your buttocks. I like the block because it helps open the hips more and encourages length in the lower back. For longer stretches of time in this pose I’ll often find a pillow and blanket to sit on instead of a block.
Many of the limbs of yoga can be practiced in this position: Pratyahara – the practice of turning inward while withdrawing from the senses; Pranayama or breathwork such as alternate nostril breathing. Asanas or yoga poses were actually historically done to prepare the body to sit in easy pose longer with more ease and comfort. So try practicing this pose and finding stillness on your mat for that special journey inward.
In all these poses the most important thing to remember is that the look of the pose really doesnt matter all that much. Every body is different. How it feels in the body is most important. Be sure to focus on the breath and try not to let your inner critic make judgements on your practice. When we practice with kindness we allow ourselves to show up just as we are.
Thanks for reading dear yogis.