As a yoga teacher, I’ve had many friends and family ask me for advice on how to strengthen or stretch various parts of the body. Yoga is a pretty transformational practice in general; even holding a few poses for 4-5 minutes at a time can help tone the body and ease your mind of stress and anxiety.
If you ever find yourself too busy to take a class but you still want to experience some of the benefits of yoga practice, here are 5 great poses — or asanas in Sanskrit — that you can easily do at home.
- Strengthens: Core (abdominal muscles), thighs, shoulders
- Health benefits: Helps strengthen and stretch your arms and legs, opens up tight hips for those who spend a lot of time sitting
- Start standing with your legs wider than your hip. Rotate one foot with toes pointing forward (the direction you wish to face). Keep the other foot flat on the mat, rotated 90º from the other foot. Your feet should now be about 2-3 feet apart, and you can draw a straight line from the back heel of the front foot to the arch of the back foot.
- Spread your arms open, fingers pointing in opposite directions, facing forward. Start to stretch your front arm forward towards the front of the mat, as much as you can.
- Once you cannot reach further, begin to pivot your front arm towards the mat, the other arm towards the sky. Your arms should be extending in opposite directions in a straight line.
- 4. Focus your attention on your core, and make sure you are not collapsing towards the mat. Sometimes I encourage students to image a string tied to the arm extending upwards, pulling your weight up towards the sky.
- If you would like, bring your gaze to follow your arm towards the sky.
- Once you are done holding the pose, slowly come up to standing with your arms stretched, and slowly release them. Switch to the other side.
- Strengthens: Legs – calves, thighs, ankles
- Health benefits: Improves body balance, stretches out spine
- Start in a natural standing posture, with the soles of your feet planted down firmly on the mat.
- Relax your shoulders, and place your palms in prayer position at your heart.
- Bring one foot to rest on the standing leg. The soles of the lifted foot can rest on the ankle, calf, or the upper thigh of the standing leg. Do not place it on your knee, as it may bring damage to your knee if pushed too hard.
- Find your balance by focusing tucking your tummy in (engaging the core) and focusing on the standing leg.
- Optionally, you may want to extend your arms up towards the sky for Tall Tree pose.
- Slowly unwind as you came in to the pose, and switch to the other side.
- Strengthens: Core muscles, arms – shoulders, biceps, triceps, and upper back
- Health benefits: Stretches hamstrings and calves, brings relief to feet arches
- Start in high plank – a high push up position. Zip your legs up together, toes touching. Shoulder are aligned and stacked right over the wrist.
- Engage your core by sucking your tummy. Keep your body flat like a wooden plank; I’ve found students tend to stick their hips high and this prevents the core from really working out.
- Slowly start to bring your arms down to your forearms. Shoulders should now be aligned with your elbows.
- Place your forearms parallel from one another, palms flat on the mat. For a modified position, you may also bring your palms together right underneath your head.
- Strengthens: Lower back, Hamstrings
- Health benefits: Helps relieve digestion or menstrual discomfort, opens up tight shoulders.
- Start on your back, lying flat and legs extended out long.
- Bring the soles of your feet to the mat and slowly walk them towards your hips until you can almost reach your heels (about a few inches apart)
- Start to shimmy your shoulders underneath your body, and bring your shoulder blades closer together. Keep your gaze directly upwards.
- Slowly start to lift your hips up towards the sky. Take a moment to check in with your glutes (your butt muscles), make sure they are staying relaxed. You should be using your hamstrings and your lower back muscles to push your weight up. Your gaze should stay steady directly above you, as you are on a vulnerable part of your neck.
- To come out of the pose, carefully lower your body back down towards the mat. Slowly straighten and extend your legs out as you have started.
- Strengthens: Strengthens the core, hips, thighs
- Health benefits: Stimulates the kidneys and thyroids, lengthens the spine
- Start seated comfortably on the mat with the legs extended out flat on the mat.
- Bring the soles of your feet to the mat and bend the knees.
- Place your hands under your knees for support. Sit up straight, with the crown of your head extended towards the sky.
- Slowly with the back remaining flat, start to lower your upper body halfway down towards the mat. You will start to feel your core (lower belly) engaged as you start to lower.
- Lift one foot so that the shins are parallel the mat. Then, lift the other foot parallel. They should be stacked next to one another evenly.
- When you are ready, you can release one hand, arms stretched out with palms facing the sky. Then, release the other arm.
- Find yourself balanced here, and breathe.
- For a greater challenge, you may slowly start to extend your legs out straight and even lift your arms up, fingers pointing towards the sky. Follow your gaze up towards the sky.
- To unwind, slowly bring the legs back to the mat and put your arms back down, grabbing underneath the knees.
So, grab a yoga mat and try these out! If you have any questions about any of the poses, or if you have any specific poses you would like recommended for your body’s idiosyncracies, feel free to leave a reply.