8 Easy yoga poses you can do for great health benefits
Inhale, exhale, repeat
For over 5000 years, yogis around the globe have been practising various poses and mantras, whether for spiritual enlightenment, healing or general well-being. While there are a lot of cool poses that you often see professional yogis posting on social media—like those gravity-defying headstands and scorpion variations or the contortionist-like killer praying mantis pose—most of them start out with beginner-friendly poses that anyone can follow.
The good news is that even the simplest of yoga poses have great health benefits when applied with intention. Here are eight easy poses to incorporate into your daily stretch to help improve your balance, flexibility, strength, and mental health.
Easy pose (sukhasana)
Benefits: The name of the pose says it all—it doesn’t get easier than this. (Spoiler alert: it actually does, you’ll see later.) As simple as it may seem, this pose helps to strengthen and straighten the alignment in your back. It also increases flexibility in the hips and knees, while relaxing the body and preparing it for meditation.
How to: Begin seated cross-legged on your mat with your feet tucked directly under your knees. Alternatively, you can sit on folded blankets to support your hips or use a wall for support to ease your lower back. Slowly lift the spine and open the chest, distributing your weight evenly on your sitting bones by balancing your shoulders directly above your hips and aligning your head on top of your spine. Make sure you’re not leaning forward or backward, but seated upright. Then, place your palms on your knees, relax and hold this position as you take deep breaths in and out for as long as you like. You can change the cross of your legs after and repeat the pose for a few breaths.
Cat-cow pose (chakravakasana)
Benefits: The cat-to-cow pose is a great stretching exercise for the hips, back, abdomen, chest and lungs. It helps to improve the flexibility of the neck, shoulder and spine, on top of strengthening the core and improving posture. The flow also works great as a warm up or cool down movement, and is said to relieve stress, back pain and menstrual cramps.
How to: Start by getting on all fours (in tabletop position) on your mat with your body parallel to the ground. Make sure your hands are directly below your shoulders and your knees are hip width apart. Inhale and enter the cow pose by lifting your tailbone and dropping your belly towards the ground as you look up towards the ceiling. Hold the pose for a few seconds. Then, gently exhale and flow into cat pose by tucking your tailbone in, rounding your back and looking towards your belly. Repeat this for as many times as you like.
Mountain pose (tadasana)
Benefits: Did we mention how easy some of these poses are? Well, the mountain pose certainly counts as one, and it offers multiple benefits including improving posture, increasing blood circulation, reducing tension and enhancing the flexibility of your ankles, thighs and joints. This isn’t just about standing up straight though; the key is in engaging your muscles.
How to: Stand with your feet together, press your toes down and spread them apart. Draw in your belly and keep your core engaged even as you relax your shoulders and open the chest. Engage your arms slightly and spread your fingers, palm facing forward. Make sure your head and pelvis aren’t tilting forward. Hold the pose and take slow, deep breaths to ground yourself.
Downward dog (adho mukha svanasana)
Benefits: This pose is widely popular for many good reasons. When done correctly, it helps to strengthen the entire upper body, while stretching the back, chest, shoulders, hamstrings and calf muscles. However, it may not be advisable to practise this pose if you suffer from recent or chronic injury to the hips, arms or shoulders. When in doubt, consult a certified trainer.
How to: Start by kneeling on all fours (tabletop position) on your mat. Make sure your hands are directly below your shoulders and keep your feet about one foot apart. Then, curl your toes and slowly lift your knees off the floor, bringing your butt up towards the ceiling while tucking in your belly. Try to straighten your legs if possible, but be careful not to force your feet flat on the ground if you feel a strong tension to avoid rounding your back and hurting your spine. Instead, focus on lengthening your spine and keep your head between your shoulders as you breathe and relax into the pose.
Garland pose (malasana)
Benefits: Unlike the typical 'booty-pump' squat exercise, the malasana pose more closely resembles the deep ‘Asian squat’. It is known to stretch the groin, ankles, lower hamstrings and back, while helping to tone the belly and release tension in the hips and knees. It is also touted to aid with digestion and stimulate metabolism as the pressure on your abdomen helps to massage your digestive organs and stimulate the secretion of enzymes.
How to: Start by standing in the middle of your mat in mountain pose. Plant your feet hip distance apart and turn your toes outward. Exhale as you squat and spread your knees to the sides, then inhale, bringing your palms together in front of your chest. Keep your neck long and spine straight while gazing in front, making sure your back isn’t rounded. Hold this pose for as long as you can for a deep stretch, then slowly make your way back into mountain pose.
Child’s pose (balasana)
Benefits: Besides bringing total relaxation, the child’s pose helps to relieve lower back pain and stretch the neck, hips and thighs. Slow, deep breaths are essential in this position to relieve tension in the body, as well as boost circulation. It’s also a great way to take a break in between yoga flows and more challenging poses.
How to: Kneel on your mat with your big toes touching each other. Keep your knees hip width apart as you exhale and gently fold forward to place your torso between your thighs. Stretch your arms forward and lower your forehead to the ground. Relax, breathe and release all tension. You can also place a folded blanket under your knees and/or a bolster under your torso to avoid hurting your knees, back or abdomen. Hold the pose for at least 30 to 60 seconds.
Legs up the wall pose (viparita karani)
Benefits: Putting your legs up the wall can help regulate blood flow, which, in turn, alleviates menstrual cramps and pelvic congestion. Other benefits include relieving leg and feet cramps, in addition to stretching the hamstrings and lower back.
How to: Place your mat perpendicular to a wall. Lie down flat on the mat and bring your legs vertically up against the wall. Keep your ankles and knees together. Relax your arms by your side, palms facing up. Adjust the distance between your buttocks and the wall, depending on the flexibility of your hamstrings. The closer you are to the wall, the deeper the stretch. You can also add a bolster or yoga block under your buttocks or the back of your neck for more support. Remember to breathe and hold the pose for up to 10 minutes.
Corpse pose (shavasana)
Benefits: Excuse the name, but this pose is often the best way to end any yoga class or exercise. It’s such a simple pose but the mindfulness behind it is what helps to calm the nervous system, lower blood pressure, promote mental awareness, as well as relieve stress, fatigue and anxiety. Practising it before bedtime can also promote better quality sleep.
How to: Lie flat on your back with your feet open slightly wider than hip width apart. Let your arms naturally rest on the sides of your body, with your palms facing upwards. Close your eyes, exhale all negative vibes and clear your mind, focusing on your breathing. Stay here for as long as you need. Don’t forget to thank yourself for showing up for your mind and body at the end of your practice.
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