Yoga and the practice of yoga fall under many different headings from spirituality to health. For the purpose of this article we are going to be considering yoga as it relates to fitness. In the fitness world, yoga can be most basically seen as a method of stretching to release muscles after an arduous workout or as a way to strengthen the body through poses that require more muscle recruitment and balancing actions. Brief descriptions of the postures in this article are included for illustrative purposes, but in-person consultation with a certified yoga trainer is recommended before attempting any of the movements.
Warrior 1 – You begin warrior one from mountain pose. Spread your legs wide and plant them firmly to the floor. Breathe in and extend your arms up and over your head in a fluid motion. Turn your right foot to where the heel of the right foot is in line with the arch of your left foot. Then, turn your left foot in slightly. Turn your hips and upper body to the right. Breathe in again and reach up through your arms, and as you exhale bend your right knee as though you were sinking into a lunge. Try to make your thigh parallel with the floor. (Keep your knee over your heel!) Extra credit is looking up to your hands at the end of an exhalation. After resting in this pose, alternate with the left leg.
The warrior one pose will help strengthen your entire lower body and help improve balance.
Warrior 2 – You can also begin warrior one from mountain pose, and the introductory motions are also the same as in Warrior one. For instance, in this pose you also spread your legs wide and plant your feet firmly on the floor. Then, you raise your arms out to shoulder height on either side of your body with your hands facing the floor. Turn your right foot so that the right heel is in line with the left arch. Inhale and turn your head to face the right. On an exhale, you will again sink into a lunge. Your goal is to try to bring your right thigh to a parallel position with the floor. After raising up on an inhale, this pose can be done with the alternate leg.
The warrior two pose also strengthens your entire lower body and helps improve balance.
Warrior – Virabhadrasana, or Warrior, is also referred to as balancing stick by some. This pose requires a moderate amount of strength and balance, so prior practice is a must! Begin this position with your arms by your side, fingers elongated. Your left leg is positioned in the front, bent at a 90 degree angle. Your right foot is turned slightly in toward your left leg (as in Warrior One). On an inhale raise your arms up and extend them overhead. On your exhale bend forward from the hips while keeping your feet planted firmly on the ground. As you bend, reach the arms out, moving them down as you lower your torso. On your next exhale bring your weight forward to the left foot and left leg. While looking at the floor being to raise your right leg off of your mat while keeping your foot extended, toes pointed. Try to bring your right leg to a parallel position with the floor. If you feel confident in this position, try to straighten your supporting leg while maintaining the extension of the right leg and look from the floor to your hands.
Like the previous two warrior poses this will strengthen your lower body and give you unbelievable results in overall stability practice. An added bonus is the euphoria you will feel at conquering a pose that was undoubtedly quite hard to master the first time around.
Downward Facing Dog is a glorious yoga posture. It feels great, and it does great things for your body. If you have tight hamstrings, this pose will help you increase their flexibility in a big way. This stretch also helps soothe the spine and sends a nice supply of blood to your brain. You being downward dog from an all-fours kneeling position. Your knees are directly below your hips, and your hands are directly beneath the shoulders with your fingers facing forward. On an exhale, curl your toes under, push back on your hands and lift your hips, pressing your heels down into the floor. (If you are just beginning with yoga and stretching, your knees will likely be quite soft (bent slightly) or your heels will not quite sink down. Do your best and in time your flexibility will improve!) Make sure your weight is equal between your hands and feet when you have fully extended into the pose (which resembles an upside down V). Also, be sure to keep your abs pulled in to the spine to help support your lower back.
Cat Stretch is another really great yoga stretch that will help relax your back after a tough workout or a long day in an office chair. You begin this stretch like you begin downward dog, on all fours with your hands and shoulders in line as well as your knees and hips. Fingers are, again, extended. On an inhale, hollow your back and raise the head to where your eyes are looking ahead to a position several feet in front of you. Be sure to keep your neck long. On your exhale, round the back by pulling the belly-button into the spine, and lower your chin to your chest within the same motion. This stretch is best if repeated a few times.
Yoga affords you untoward health benefits, provides strength, and helps improve balance and flexibility. It can be used as a stand-alone workout or as a stretching method to release tight muscles after an intense cardio activity, such as running on a treadmill or kickboxing. The postures in this article will help you and your body today and tomorrow, so check with your doctor and sign up for a yoga class where you can practice them on a regular basis!