Yoga is an excellent complement to any other form of physical activity. Yoga is a beautiful practice that both strengthens and stretches your muscles and fascia to create a strong and limber body. Working with any form of physical activity, it is important to have your muscles warm and lengthened and supple enough to be able to consistently work hard. Yoga is the perfect practice to stretch deeply into your tight muscles to help improve your fitness in all other aspects. The practice also deeply strengthens muscles that we tend to overlook allowing for a more balanced and holistic body approach. Practice these twelve yoga poses and watch your fitness drastically improve.
12 Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)
This simple asana, or posture, is very straightforward and unassuming, but it is also super important to maintain the safety of your hamstrings. Hamstrings tend to be shortened and tightened by many physical (and sedentary!) activities such as running and sitting. To open them, this basic posture creates a world of difference in your body. Start standing with your hands on your hips and your knees slightly bent. Elongate through your spine and exhale to lead forward with your chest (keeping a “flat back” position) as you dive your torso forward over your legs. You can allow your hands to relax toward the floor, you can catch a hold of your calves or ankles gently drawing your torso closer to your legs, or you can take a hold of opposite elbows, simply allowing the weight of your torso to melt down toward the floor. Let your spine become heavy. Feel free to keep your knees bent, or if it feels appropriate to you, you can start to straighten through your knees while maintaining a full and slow breathing pattern.
11 Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
Because of our typical lifestyle of sitting often (while driving, typing, eating, etc.), our hips tend to hold a lot, a lot of tension. Couple this with most forms of physical fitness and you have a recipe for disaster with tight hips and therefore lower back pain (with the hips pulling down on the lower back). To remedy this, a simple low lunge yoga pose can work wonders. Start in a standing position and take a huge step back with your right foot (take up at least 80% of your yoga mat). From here, release your back knee to the floor. Lengthen your spine toward the ceiling and relax your tailbone toward the mat. On an exhale, begin to shift the weight of your body forward in space as you bend deeply into your front knee (try to keep your front heel flat against the floor). Hug your belly button in and up keeping your core firmly engaged and relax the rest of your weight forward as you breathe into the stretch. When you feel ready, switch your legs.
10 Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
Another great yoga posture for releasing your tight hips, lizard pose stretches deep into the whole hip joint. From your low lunge position with the right leg forward, walk both hands to the inside edge of your foot (the big toe side of your foot/the left side of your mat). Slide your foot as far toward the right side of the mat as you can. Elongate your spine forward and try to reach the crown of your head and your left heel in opposite directions. Engage the muscles of your abdominals and relax the weight of your hips toward the floor. If you’d like to deepen the stretch, you can lift your back knee up off the mat or even relax your forearms toward the floor. Find a place in the pose where you can breathe deeply and hold for a few moments. When you’re ready, practice it with the opposite leg in front.
9 Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
This posture is an awesome opener for your side body, hips, and hamstrings as well as a great strengthener for your legs and core. Start standing facing the long side of your mat. Step your feet apart from each other until you are in a very wide stance taking up at least 80% of the length of the mat. Turn the toes of your right foot to point straight forward toward the short edge of your mat. Keep the toes of your left foot and your hips pointing toward the side. Open your arms out wide into a T-shape. Inhale as you lengthen your spine and reach your right arm as far forward as you can toward your right foot, allow yourself to hinge at your hip joint. Once you’ve reached your fullest extension, relax your right hand wherever it reaches (onto your thigh, shin, ankle, a block or the floor). From here begin to twist in the belly as you spiral your chest to reach up toward the ceiling and lengthen your left arm up toward the sky as well. Press the floor away from you with your feet. Try to keep length through your right side body as you expand the crown of your head away from your waist. Continue to rotate and spiral through your torso. Maintain your breath and switch sides when you feel ready.
8 Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose)
This posture is great for strengthening the legs and core and elongating the spine all while utilizing incredible balance. It’s a fire-building posture to challenge any athlete. Start standing at the top of your mat with your feet touching and your spine lengthened. Bring your palms to meet at your heart. Focus your eyes to one non-moving point that is about in line with your belly button. Keep your gaze consistent on this point to help maintain your balance. Shift your weight into your left leg and lift your right foot up off the floor. Flex your ankle hard and flare out through your toes to activate through your whole leg. Slowly, with control, begin to kick and extend your right leg straight back behind you while allowing your torso to naturally move parallel to the floor. Kick back with more force than you think you should. Imagine that your right foot is kicking into a wall. Try to bring that leg parallel to the mat, working to create a perfect 90-degree angle between your legs. Inwardly spiral your thigh-bone down toward the floor to keep your hips squared down to the mat. If it feels appropriate to you, you can reach and extend your arms forward in front of you, reaching forward with the same amount of energy that you kick back to keep counterbalancing your weight. Make sure to breathe fully here. Work this balance on each leg for the same period of time.
7 Navasana (Boat Pose)
This yoga pose awakens typically dormant (but essential!) core muscles to maximize your core strength. Start sitting down with your knees bent and your feet flat against the floor slightly in front of your seat. Take a hold behind your knees and press your sit-bones down into the floor to reach the crown of your head up toward the ceiling. Focus on keeping your spine lengthened throughout the whole posture. Draw your chest close toward your thighs and “turn on” your core. Imagine you are tightening a corset around your whole waistline. Flex your feet and lift them up off the mat drawing your shins parallel to the floor. Keep the integrity of your spine and your chest moving toward your thighs. Make sure that you are still breathing fully, and if you would like, you can release your hands and extend your arms forward by the sides of your legs deepening the core strengthening. If you can keep the length of your spine, you can even straighten through your legs. Hold for as long as you would like before relaxing and releasing.
6 Adho Mukha Dandasana (Plank Pose)
Full body strengthening is essential for just about any form of physical activity. This posture targets just that: the whole body. Start in a tabletop position on all fours. Align your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Spread your fingers wide and press down evenly into all corners of your palms. Point the creases of your wrists straight forward toward the top of your mat. Draw your belly button in toward your spine and then up toward your rib cage. Feel the strong engagement of your whole core muscular system. Press down firmly against your palms and lift your knees up off the floor. Slide your feet back ever so slightly until you can create a straight line from the top of your head down through your heels. Extend energy back through your heels, kicking as if you’re pressing against a wall. Softly lift your thigh-bones up away from the floor and relax your tailbone toward your feet. Hug the belly in and press down firmly against your palms. Maintain the integrity of your spine. Do not allow your hips to sag toward the floor. Hold for as long as you can maintain the form and your breath before releasing.
5 Chaturanga Dandasana (Low Push-Up)
This powerful posture strongly activates your arms, chest, and core to fire up these muscles groups for your fitness needs. Start in a plank position. Begin to shift your weight forward toward the top of your mat until your shoulders move past your wrist creases. Engage firmly through your core and, as you exhale, bend your elbows straight back behind you while hugging them in against your ribs. Bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle as you lower toward a push-up position. Do not let your shoulders dip below the elbow joints and keep your elbows aligned directly above your wrists. Hold for a moment or two before pressing the floor away to rise back up into a plank position. You also have the option to relax your knees to the floor and release all the way down flat against your belly to release the pose.
4 Bakasana (Crow Pose)
This powerful arm balance is another posture that utilizes the full body. Start in a low squat and place your palms against the floor shoulder-width apart and spread your fingers evenly and wide. Hug your belly button in toward your back and slide your knees as high up on your arms as you possibly can (aiming to reach them toward your armpits) while maintaining contact with the floor with the balls of your feet. Hug your elbows toward each other and start to lean your weight forward into your hands. Keep leaning your weight further and further forward until your legs become light and naturally lift up off the floor. Round your spine and press the floor away from you. Hold for as long as you’d like before relaxing back down.
3 Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand)
This strong posture is an excellent strength builder for the shoulders and core and a wonderful balancing pose as well. Start kneeling on the floor, sitting onto your heels. Interlace your fingers and hug the heels of your hands toward each other. Release your forearms to the floor and align your elbows directly underneath your shoulders. Squeeze your elbows in toward each other and relax the crown of your head to the floor in between your arms. Firmly press the floor away from you and elongate through your neck. Lift your knees up off the mat and start to walk your feet as close toward your body as you possibly can (ultimately trying to align your hips directly over your shoulders). You can stay here, or if it feels available to you, you can press the floor away with your arms while floating your feet up off the mat and hugging them in toward your chest. Make sure never to jump into a headstand. It should be a transfer of weight to make you float (not hop!) off the floor. If you feel steady, you can straighten and extend your legs up toward the sky, reaching your feet up and pressing the floor away with your arms. Try to maintain 80% of your weight in the arms, being very light on the head. When you feel ready, release out the same way that you came in.
2 Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand)
This super empowering posture again utilizes the full body to find strength and balance. Start kneeling on your knees again and place your forearms down against the floor shoulder-width apart. Squeeze your elbows in toward each other and press the floor away firmly. Hug the belly in and lift your knees up off the mat, walking your feet as close toward your hands as possible (again attempting to align your hips over your shoulders). Look forward between your thumbs and keep your head lifted off the mat. Keep actively pressing the floor away and lifting your chest up away from the floor. If it feels appropriate, lift one foot up off the floor and extend up through your toes. Try to keep that leg as straight and strong as possible, as you bend the other leg and lightly hop your foot up off the floor trying to hug the knee toward your chest. Steady your balance (and feel free to use a wall behind you for support) and work to extend both legs straight up toward the sky, hugging them into the mid-line. Press down against the mat with your hands and reach up toward the ceiling with your feet. Try to elongate your whole body in opposite directions, making a straight, long line from head to toes. Keep your breath full, and release out whenever you feel ready.
1 Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)
This ultimate fire-building posture is an excellent full body strengthener. Start in a plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart and your fingers spread wide, evenly distributing your weight across your palms. Feel free to use a wall behind you to help maintain your balance (and/or catch your fall!). Walk one foot halfway toward your hands and lift your other leg straight up toward the ceiling. Keep the lifted leg straight and strong with your hips squared to the floor. Hug in firmly on the belly and shift the weight of your torso forward until your shoulders move past your wrist creases. Press the floor away and take a gentle hop lifting the opposite leg off the mat and trying to hug the knee firmly toward your chest. Try and stabilize your balance, still firmly pressing the floor away from you. Extend both legs up toward the sky and squeeze them in toward each other. Try to create a straight line from head to toes with your feet stacked over your hips, which are stacked over your shoulders, which are stacked over your wrists. Hug the belly in and lift your tailbone toward the sky. Hold for as long as you would like and relax and release out when you’re ready.