Is yoga really as good for the mind as it is for the body? Give these specially chosen moves a try and see for yourself.
Unless you’ve been living under some kind of zen-proof rock, you’ve probably heard about the benefits of a yoga routine. Hitting the mat at least three times a week can lead to lower stress levels, increased flexibility and stronger bones for those who commit to regular stretch sessions. So, we understand how flexibility and being centered improves the body, but what about the oft-discussed yoga goal of achieving a “steady mind”?
As a certified yoga instructor, students come to me daily with testimonials about how yoga has changed their lives. Some talk about the weight loss they’ve seen; others mention how their newfound quality of breath has helped them in times of panic. However, there is a shift I see in nearly all of my students that few of them recognize automatically. Perhaps it’s because these kinds of transformations can’t be measured by a mere scale or lung capacity reading. Instead, I see it in their glowing faces, their smiles — and their posture.
It’s that yoga has sent their confidence levels soaring to new heights, often without them even realizing. This may sound contradictory to new students who have struggled in class, failing to differentiate one warrior pose from another (There’s three?!) Here are five not-so-scary poses to get you on this path to loving yourself again. Namaste!
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Tadasana might seem like the easiest pose of all, but it’s actually quite advanced. New yogis may confuse this triumphant pose for “just standing,” but let’s be real: for many people “standing up straight” has become a thing of the past. If you text, type or left-side lean as much as I do everyday, chances are you’ve avoided stacking your joints the way your skeleton intended.
Start by finding yourself at the top of your mat with your big toes together and your heels slightly apart. Ground yourself through all the corners of your feet including your big toe mound, pinky toe mound and both edges of your heels. Breathe deeply, lifting your chest toward the sky. Draw your belly button in toward your spine and tuck your tailbone under. Without arching your back, draw your shoulders back, internally rotating your arms so that the eyes of your elbows are pushed forward and your palms are open. Keep the crown of your head reaching toward the ceiling and tuck your chin slightly. Look forward with a soft gaze. Take three deep breaths in through the nostrils, then out. You’ll instantly feel several inches taller — and a strong sense of pride to boot!
Kumbhakasana (High Plank)
This high pushup position may send some minds spiraling back to the days of the “President’s Fitness Challenge,” when as children we were expected to support our weight with upper body strength alone. Oh, how wrong our PE teachers were! Kumbhakasana allows us to use not only our arms but also our abdominal muscles, spine and pectorals to bear our weight as well. Find yourself on all fours with your fingers spread wide and your shoulders, elbows and wrists stacked in one straight line. Next, extend one leg toward the back of your mat and then over, curling your toes under to help lift your legs from the mat. Draw your belly button toward your spine and activate your abdominals, pressing the crown of your head toward the front of the room to achieve length in your spine, all the way from your skull to your sacrum. Use your breath to maintain this posture. A floating booty will compromise this pose, so draw your glutes down to align the back. Hold for three breaths, and drop your knees back down to the mat. Repeat this sequence five times to build heat. You may never have to resort to using the term “girl push-ups” again.
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog)
This heart opener is a true pose of empowerment! Find yourself flat on your belly with your elbows bent, hands flat and fingers spread wide, right outside your rib cage. Press into your hands, and begin to straighten your arms. When you have enough height, lift your pelvis and thighs up from the mat and use the top of your feet to support you as you press your chest through your arms. Finally, send your chin upward in space, allowing the energy to pulse from the center of your sternum. Yes, you are fierce! You can easily curl your toes under, send your tailbone back and let your chest reach toward your thighs to transition into a favorite counterpose – downward facing dog.
Malasana (Squat Pose)
There’s something about a sturdy squat that reminds us of the body’s pure, compact strength. Start by taking your feet as wide as the mat (about two-and-a-half feet) with all 10 toes facing forward. Bring your arms up and overhead, allowing the palms to touch, then draw the thumbs toward heart center. Slowly descend by bending your knees, bringing your pelvic bone to hover above the mat. Press the elbows toward the inside of your knees to push the chest forward. Hold for five breaths, or transition into a flow by placing your hands into a wide-legged forward fold with your head hanging heavy. You can flow back and forth, bending the knees and switching between the malasana and your forward fold to maintain strength.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
This combination heart-and-hip opener is truly a fool-proof stress reliever and confidence builder. Start by lying flat on your back, then draw the soles of your feet together, allowing the knees to splay out wide toward the edges of your mat. Draw your shoulders back, allowing your shoulder blades to press into the mat and your palms to fall open toward the ceiling. While this may make some yogis feel vulnerable, this posture is great for letting go of stale emotions and old feelings. A simultaneous release of both the hips and the heart will leave you feeling rejuvenated and new. Make this pose extra juicy by leaning back on a pillow or bolster to add extra elevation to your back body.
Last modified: August 19, 2018