Why do you do yoga?
As Marlynn Wei, M.D., J.D., notes in her article for Psychology Today, yoga actually changes the gray matter. Yes, your brain goes through structural changes the longer you practice yoga, and the most significant benefit is that yoga helps prevent a natural decline in brain matter volume as we age. For those who regularly practice yoga, their brains retain the volume of a young person. [Read full article here]
Many yoga practitioners also note the increased sense of feeling connected to God, the earth, and other people the longer they practice. Learning to accept yourself and others is a part of it, as is reaching for a higher power through a habit of gratitude and reverence. For many, that feeling of being present and lifted out of selfish thoughts is a reason to keep going.
Whether you’re new to yoga or have been a practitioner for years, yoga poses offer many health benefits. We’ve compiled a list of seven poses that are particularly effective at promoting increased health along with a sense of inner peace and connectedness—and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a newbie or a master.
Garland Pose (Malasana)
Do you sit at a desk all day? The Garland Pose is one of the best ways to stretch out stiff legs, open the hips, and stretch the groin, ankles, thighs, and torso. It also helps to improve colon function, which is essential for good digestion and good elimination. Energy and blood circulation improves in the pelvis, leading to higher sexual energy. And, finally, Malasana (muh-LAH-suh-nah) is excellent for pregnant women as it works to reduce the strain of carrying the weight of the baby while preparing the body for childbirth.
To do Garland Pose, stand at the edge of your mat with feet about hip-width apart and slowly lower down into a squatting position, opening the thighs to either side.
If your heels come up off the floor, feel free to place a rolled towel or blanket under them for support.
Place your arms in front of your thighs so that the upper part of your arms can gently press the thighs further outward. You can rest your fingertips on the floor for balance, or, as you become more comfortable, bring the hands together at your chest with palms touching and fingers pointed upward in a prayer position. Breathe deeply.
Extended Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
This standing pose releases lower back tension, strengthens the core, and stimulates the abdominal organs. It also stretches the legs, torso, hamstrings, calves, hips, groin, shoulders, chest, and spine.
Stand with feet about three-and-a-half or four feet apart, toes forward. Raise your arms to shoulder height, palms down. Turn the left foot slightly inward for balance and turn your right foot 90 degrees outward, keeping your kneecap in line with your right ankle.
Bending at the hip, bend your torso over the right leg, keeping your chest forward. Rest your right arm on your shin, on a block behind your right leg, or on the floor. Extend your left arm to the sky. Keep your head neutral or turn to the left to gaze at your left thumb. Maintain the pose from 30 seconds to one minute.
Supported Bridge Pose (Salamba Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Open your chest and back, stimulate the abdominal organs, lungs, and thyroid, improve your digestion, and calm your stressed-out brain with this relaxing pose. You will need a yoga block to complete this pose.
Lie on your back with your feet on the floor below your hips, with knees up. Lift your hips and place a block under your sacrum (lower back). You can manipulate the block to whatever height is comfortable for you. As you inhale, expand your middle and upper chest. As you exhale, release all of your weight into the block.
Legs-up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
This pose relaxes tired legs at the end of the day as well as working to reduce insomnia.
Lie on your back with your legs straight up a wall. You can use a blanket or bolster under your hips for comfort or just keep your hips flush against the wall. Relax your feet, or you can gently extend them to stretch the calf muscles.
Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana)
Warrior poses help build strength and stamina. This powerful pose will also help you build confidence while you stretch your hips and thighs and build power throughout your entire lower body and core.
From a standing position, step your left foot back to lunge length. Press your left heel to the floor and rotate your toes outward enough to gain stability. Your right leg is bent so that your knee is directly over your ankle.
Raise both arms above your head, palms together and chest open, head at neutral. Hold and breathe. Repeat on the other leg.
Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II)
Another powerful pose, Warrior 2 stretches and opens the chest, thighs, and groin while building leg and core strength.
From standing, move your left leg back into a lunge position, heel down, rotating the toes to 90 degrees outward. Your right leg is bent at the knee, with the knee directly over your ankle, toes facing forward. Extend your arms to shoulder height, palms down, and gaze at your right hand. Hold the pose for eight breaths before switching legs.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s Pose is wonderful for stretching out your back at the end of a long day. This simple but very relaxing pose is also good for any time when you feel the need to find mental and physical relief.
Stand on your hands and knees on a mat. Relax back onto your heels, bringing your forehead down to the mat and keeping your arms extended. You can use a block or pillow under your forehead if you wish. Stretch or relax for as long as you like.
Yoga is a wonderful method of building strength, stamina, and mental clarity without jarring your joints. A few minutes of yoga poses in the morning or evening (or both!) can be wonderfully refreshing.