The practice of yoga has so many incredible healing benefits to both our mind and body. The word Yoga in Sanskrit actually means, to yoke or bind, to unite [mind, body and spirit]. Far too often I hear people say that they aren’t flexible enough to go to a yoga class. If that’s you – this stops now! Yoga is a life-long practice that has no goals or expectations, that’s the beauty of it. In addition to strength and endurance, flexibility is an essential component to leading a healthy, fit life as we grow older. In the words of K. Pattahbi Jois (founder of ashtanga yoga), “Whether you do your first downward dog at 14 or 44, it’s not your history but your presence on your mat that counts.”
These are 7 beginner yoga poses that you can do at home everyday to increase flexibility. Here are some free, short at-home yoga videos you can watch too.
1. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend): Contrary to what it looks like, this pose is not just flopping forward over your legs. Stand evenly on both feet hip-distance apart, micro-bend your knees to avoid hyper-extension and hinge over your legs from your hip joint (not your upper back). Engage the quadriceps and hamstrings so vigorously that you feel yourself finding more extension in your back and folding deeper. Keep tucking your lower belly in to avoid too much rounding in the low-back. Inhale, find length in the back and exhale, fold deeper.
2. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose): This is a great intro to deeper backbends. Lie on the floor with the tops of your feet, thighs and pubis bone pressing firmly into the mat. Place your palms underneath your shoulders and on an inhale, lift the sternum. Draw your shoulder blades down the back to create space in the neck. Work on pressing your palms into the mat as you find length in the upper back, possibly straighten your arms–but be careful not to compress the lower back (this might mean you keep your arms bent, as pictured). Stay for 10-15 breaths.
3. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog): This is an incredible stretch for your entire body. Start on your hands and knees with your hands 4-5 inches in front of your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Inhale, and on your exhale begin to lift the hips and straighten the legs. Press firmly into all 10 fingers, especially the index fingers and thumbs. Gaze at your belly or in-between your thighs. Read more on alignment for this pose here.
4. Crescent Pose (High Lunge): This is a great hip flexor stretch that simultaneously strengthens the hamstrings and quads. Stay on the ball of your back foot, start with your back leg bent instead of straight and make sure your front knee is over your ankle. Lift your lower belly in and back ribs up as you find even length in your torso. After 5-10 breaths, begin to straighten the back leg without losing length in your upper body. Gaze forward or up towards your palms.
5. Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle): This pose stretches the hamstring, groin and chest with a great balance of strength and stability. Step into a wide-legged stance on your mat and extend your arms out–you hands should be directly over your feet (that’s how you know you’re in correct alignment). Moving from the hip joint, externally rotate your right leg to face the back of the mat and angle your left foot slightly in. Your right hip should be tucking back. Extend your right arm over your right leg to find length in the side body. Place your hand down onto a block outside of your foot (as pictured) and straighten your left arm up. Stay for 10-15 breaths and repeat on other leg. More alignment points on this pose here.
6. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose): This is a great pose to find space in your thoracic spine without compressing your low back and prep for bigger backbends. Starting on your back with your ankles directly underneath your knees, roll your tailbone down towards your heels (this is a micro-movement but very important to protect the back). Begin walking your shoulder blades underneath your back to open the chest, then press into the feet and lift your hips up. Relax the buttocks and either clasp your palms underneath you or press your palms into the mat. Do not move your neck here!! Stay for 15-20 breaths.
7. Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle “Butterfly”): Begin sitting up straight with your feet together and knees splaying outwards. Bring your heels as close to your pelvis as you comfortably can, and place your hands onto your feet as open them up – like you’re reading a book. Keep your lower belly drawing in, after 10 breaths here, begin to fold forward over your feet. Keep your back flat – which means you might not fold very far, that’s ok! Consider sitting on a pillow or blanket here to help you find more length in your spine. Stay for 20-30 breaths.
You will be amazed how much your hamstrings, hips, chest, shoulders (the list goes on) opens up if you practice these 7 poses every day. Visit here more pose breakdowns. Namaste!