Yoga postures I love and why you will love how they make you feel.
What is Yoga? Why is it an essential part of a lifestyle that will lead to optimal health? Yoga is a form of stretching and movement that unites our mind, body and spirit and brings balance to our lives energetically. I have always considered yoga as a moving meditation and feel it really centers my mind. Energetically, it supports me in my focus and helps me to maximize what I am able to complete during my day.
I remember when I first learned about yoga. I was 19 and had just moved out on my own. My son was young at that time. I was in College and was working to support us. Since we didn’t have a car, we had to take the bus everywhere and I remember feeling very stressed and my thoughts were always scattered. The bottom-line is that I was finding it difficult to be present in the moment.
I remember my first yoga class and the studio it was held in vividly, because it was so serene with the meditation music playing in the lobby. Just being in the studio felt so renewing and refreshing for me. During my first few classes it was hard for me to stay in the moment and not judge myself during the postures. But after some time of practicing yoga at home, I came to realize that it wasn’t about doing it perfectly or better than anyone else, but rather that yoga was about being in the moment, breathing and letting each posture feel good. This is how I trained my mind to become present in the moment, to let go of everything else that was on my mind and to give myself love.
So my advice to you is, that whenever you are practicing yoga, be mindful that you are allowing yourself to be present with your body through your breath. This will help you to relax and move further into the postures. It will also help you to know where your limits are, as yoga should NEVER be painful. Sometimes a gentle yoga stretch will be intense, but it should NEVER hurt! Remembering to breathe is a great way to get out of our heads and into our bodies. I use a technique where my exhalation is longer than my inhalation, in order to regain mental, emotional and physical balance. When I do yoga, I concentrate on my breathing as a way of not only centering, but also eliminating stress and toxins (physical and emotional).
I hope you enjoy the yoga postures below, and remember – love yourself up daily and really breathe. Life is beautiful – breathe it in and release everything that no longer serves you with your exhaled breath! Doing this supports our minds to rest and relax and assures you don’t miss out on the beauty of life in each and every moment.
#1 Breathing – As we stretch and get the blood flowing through our bodies, it is a good idea to breathe deeply in order to allow oxygen to replenish our muscles and our mind – thus rejuvenating our entire body. While warming up it is good to practice throat breathing in order to help increase body heat and to allow the muscles to relax and become more pliable. Throat breathing is when we constrict the throat and airway, creating a gasping or ocean wave like sound as we inhale and exhale.
During poses or times of concentration, try to inhale into the pose and exhale out of the pose. Just remember to keep breathing, even when holding poses and to move out of the pose on the first available exhalation. While relaxing remember to exhale for a longer count than during the inhalation.
#2 Standing Palm Press and Side Stretch
Standing with feet hip width apart, clasp your fingers in front of you, palms facing out and raise your hands to the sky with your palms up. Reach from the lower ribs, shoulders set in their sockets and shoulder blades together. Reach strongly through the legs, slightly tucking the tailbone and cinch your stomach and lower ribs in order to create a strong core. Look up at your hands. Take a deep breathe in and then out while you slowly lean your upper torso to the right. Keep your entire body in a straight line from the side as if there was a wall behind you. Slowly start to twist to the left until you can look up at the ceiling.
You should feel this in your trunk muscles as they firm and stretch. Take deep breaths in and out at the bottom of the pose and be mindful to keep stretching from the lower rib area without losing the strength in the abs. Slowly release out of the twist and come back to an upright position. Breathe in and out and repeat on the other side. Bend to the left, twist to the right, look up and really feel the torso stretch. Breathe and let it feel good. Go back to the center and repeat one more time on each side, remembering to breathe deeply into each stage.
#3 Standing Back Bend
Standing with your feet together, place your thumbs on either side of the spine of your lower back, just above hip bones. Clasp your lower back as if your fingers were in your jean pants pockets. Breathe in and imagine being supported from a rope tied to the ceiling to your heart. Keep 80% of your breath in your lungs and take in shallow sips of air. Lean back, firming the buttocks and keep your elbows pointing behind you.
If this is painful on your knees, bend them slightly to relieve pressure. Always be gentle with your knees as they are the only two you’ve got.
#4 Standing Forward Bend
Standing with feet hip width apart, bend from the waist holding your elbows and with your knees slightly bent. Point the elbows down towards the floor and pull your shoulder blades together in the back. Extend through the waist while hollowing the belly. Then try to slowly straighten the legs. Remember to never push your knees to the point of pain. Allow your body to open up – this may take minutes or years and everyone is different.
If you have neck pain you can try doing this pose with your hands clasped together behind your neck, while gently pulling the top of your head towards the floor. Be mindful not to stress the muscles in the neck and only pull with the slightest of pressure.
#5 Down Dog (Down Dog with Chair)
The best way to start this position is in plank. Plank pose is when our body, arms and legs are all straight in the top of a push-up position. With feet hip width apart and hands directly under shoulders, push back with the arms and while bringing your head toward the floor, lift your tailbone to the sky.
Imagine you are an upside down V, running from your fingers to your tailbone is one straight line and from your tailbone to your heels is another straight line. Also be sure to keep your lower ribs and abs firm in order to help support your back.
It is best to move into this pose with legs bent at first, then try to straighten your upper torso, and then straighten your legs (as long as there is no pain or strain in the back of the legs or knees). If you are at school or anywhere that it would be inappropriate to get down on the floor, or if it is hard for you to get down on the floor, but you would still love to feel the release of what the down dog pose offers you, you can do this pose placing your hands on a secure chair.
Try to emphasize the same straight V while stretching from your fingertips to your tailbone and from your tailbone to your heels. As you exhale, try to relax your shoulders down towards the floor.
#6 Up Dog
Gently push your upper body up as if doing a pushup, however leave your hips on the floor and arch your back while looking forward 3-5 feet in front of you.
Remember to breathe.
#7 Warrior 1
Start with legs slightly more than hip width apart. Turn the right foot out 90 degrees and left foot out 45 degrees as you turn towards your right. Step forward into a lunge with your right foot, hands on hips to remain balanced.
Your feet should be nearly in line and parallel in order to provide stability. Bend into the right knee with the front knee over the ankle and thigh and calf are at a right angle. Back leg should be nearly straight and weight pushing onto the outside of the back heel. Breathe in and raise the arms overhead, pulling the arms back into the shoulder sockets. Palms facing one another and shoulder blades pressed together in the back. Abs and ribs firm and pulled into your strong core. Look up to your fingertips and slightly arch your back.
Breath deeply for two breaths and then repeat on other side.
#8 Warrior 2
This pose is a great way to strengthen the legs and open the hips. It can also build muscle tone in the shoulders and arms if done properly. Start by standing with the feet slightly wider than hip width. Turn the right foot out 90 degrees so it is pointing to the side and leave the left foot facing forward or out 15 degrees.
While facing forward, raise the arms out to the sides and bend into the right leg, again with the knee directly over the right ankle (knee at 90 degrees – less if need be). The left leg should be straight and the tailbone is slightly tucked, abs and lower ribs tight, shoulder blades pressed together in the back, and arms pulled into their sockets.. Look over the right shoulder, imagining that you are opening the hips with every breath and that you are strongly rooted into the ground with your legs like a tree. Hold for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side.
#9 Warrior 3
In this pose we start off in Warrior 1 pose and then we slowly step forward with the back leg and reach the arms and torso forward as we lift the back leg off the ground until the torso, arms and back leg form the top line of a capital T, with the standing leg forming the vertical line of the T. Breathe in this pose to help with balance.
To better maintain balance, never completely lock the knee in this pose, as this allows the body to move slightly and to develop stability which will help define the muscles in the legs.
#10 Peaceful Warrior
In this pose we start off in Warrior 2 pose.
Keep your front leg bent in a 90 degree angle. The forward hand reaches back over the head as the torso bends backward.
This is a great side stretch and hip opener.
#11 Chair Pose
Start with feet together or hip width apart. Feet together will create more core strength and feet apart will create more lower body strength and toning. Bend knees and move buttocks backwards as if going to sit in a chair. Sit as far back as possible without falling over. The weight in your feet should be balanced just directly at the front of the heel, such that you should be able to raise your toes.
Raise the arms overhead and face the palms together, arms in sockets and shoulder blades pressed together in the back. Breathe calmly and hold for 3 breaths.
#12 Single Leg Forward Bend (Pyramid Pose)
Stand with feet hip width apart, turn to the right and then step back as if going into a lunge with the forward leg bent. Bend the body over the forward leg as you exhale and touch the ground with the fingertips. Allow the back leg to straighten, then gently pull the front leg straight as you are able. Bend the front knee again and breathe while moving the torso more over the front leg and then straighten again.
Hold for 3 breaths and then come up gently with the front knee bent. Repeat on the other side.
Standing on one leg place the inside of the opposite foot at either the ankle, the calf, or just inside the groin area if you are flexible enough (never place the foot directly on the knee). Open the raised knee out to the side in order to open the hips. With the hands together in prayer gently focus your gaze on one spot in order to support your balance (the body goes where the mind looks). Gently raise your arms above your head and open your chest up and out. Extend your arms like branches of a tree.
If you are feeling balanced you can look up to your fingertips, or if this is easy you can also close your eyes. Try to stay here for a few breaths and then slowly come out the same way you got into the pose, lowering the arms first, then the knee comes in and you can then lower your foot to the ground. Repeat on opposite side.
I love this posture as it is a great way to open the chest, relieve stress and correct our postures. Since most people are hunched over forward most of the time, this is a great counter-pose that will lengthen the otherwise unused and shortened chest muscles.
Start by kneeling on the ground with the knees directly under your hips and the feet 6 inches apart, with the tops of the feet on the floor. Tighten the buttocks and place your hands into the lower back, just like in the standing back bend. With elbows back, breathe in 100%, then as you exhale 20%, lift your chest to the sky and drop the head back while arching backward. If you are able to see the floor behind you then you are ready to move deeper, and you can do this by grabbing on heel at a time.
Remember to keep the buttocks tight, pushing your hips forward with the chest lifted, as if it wasn’t for your hands grasping your heels you would fall forward. Breathe at least three deep breaths and then slowly come back out the way you went in, always with the hands on the lower back to protect it.
#15 Hero Pose
Start in kneeling position, with knees hip width apart, feet behind you flat on the ground. Then reach around behind you and pull your calf muscles out to the sides as you slowly sit between your legs.
Many people who are stiff may need a block, pillow or folded blanket between your legs in order to sit and to help with knee pressure. Remember to always be gently with your knees and never push them to the point of pain.
Allow yourself to ease into the posture, and if you can sit between your legs, then center your shoulders over your hips and extend up through the waist, gently resting your hands on your thighs. If this is easy, then reach back behind you and use your arms to slowly lower backwards until you are lying on your back. Reach over your head and grab the opposite elbow, arching the back and eventually pulling the knees together.
#16 Childs Pose
Start in kneeling position with the feet together, toes touching and knees wider than hip width apart. Then lower your torso forward onto your thighs. Your arms can be in a few positions depending on how you feel in this posture.
One posture is to have your arms outstretched in front of you. If that is too easy and you are able place the forehead on the ground, then gently relax the arms on either side of the head. If that posture is easy, you can place either ear directly on the floor, and with the head turned and chin touching your shoulder, have the arms lying at the sides of legs.
Remember to switch sides for balance and breathe and relax into your legs, letting them cradle your weight and opening your hips while releasing tension.
#17 Superman Pose
Lie on your stomach and reach your straight arms forward with legs hip width apart. While exhaling, lift the arms, upper torso and legs off the floor. The only thing touching the ground should be your belly, hips and upper thighs. Hold and then lower and rest in child pose. Repeat.
#18 Plane Pose
Start on the stomach with the legs cinched together as if the tail of a plane. Arms are stretched out to the side like airplane wings. On your exhalation, pull your arms and chest upward, looking up, your legs tight together as your raise them up behind you. Breathe and lower on an inhalation. Repeat once more.
#19 Free The Spirit Pose
I love this stretching and chest opening pose, since I am always on the computer, driving, cooking or some other similar hunched forward posture. This posture will open the chest, release stress in the shoulders and help firm the neck area.
Stand with the feet slightly wider than hip width apart, arms stretched out to either side. Firm the buttocks and slightly arch the back, then move the arms in circular motions to the side, starting with small circles and the gradually allow the circles to get bigger.
Breathe continuously, then switch direction. Repeat for a count of 3-5 breaths.
#20 Posture Clasp
Reach over your head and behind your back with one arm and under and behind the back with the other arm. If you can, try to clasp the fingers together in order to better release the tension in the shoulders. Breathe for 3 counts, release, and then switch sides.
Bonus simple flow series:
Salute to the Sun (or Sun Salutation) – This is a great way to get the blood flowing in the entire body and is a great way to wake up and revitalize the body. Remember to move through each posture with the breath. Repeat at least 8 times as the number eight is symbolic of power and abundance and we all want a powerful body that has an abundance of oxygen. It is said that doing this flow series every morning for just 15 minutes can help build a stronger immune response and promote a younger appearance.