Not only can yoga improve your flexibility and increase your strength, it can also improve your energy levels, reduce stress and anxiety, and aid in weight management.
Whether you’re a beginner to the practice or an advanced yogi, there are benefits to yoga at all levels.
Some days, it’s just not possible to put in a full hour of yoga. But most days will allow for this 10- to-15-minute sequence that stretches the back, hamstrings, and hips. Think of this sequence as a maintenance plan that will keep you running smoothly until you have time for a full tune-up.
Standing Forward Bend
Swan dive down into standing forward bend. To get a good hamstring stretch, move into the fold slowly. Once folded, you can choose how you want to hang out in this shape. Options include bending the knees, clasping opposite elbows with opposite hands, or pedaling the legs.
While in this forward bend, you may want to do a few variations to bring yourself deeper into the pose. You can try taking a yogi toe lock with your fingers hooked around your big toes to deepen your forward fold.
If that’s easy, try slipping your upturned palms under your feet. Another modification is to bend the knees and bring the palms flat next to your feet, then work on straightening the legs while keeping the palms flat. When you do this pose at home, you can take as much time as you want with it, a chance you don’t often get in a class.
For your hip opener, do pigeon pose, placing padding under your hips as necessary. From downward-facing dog, bring your right knee forward to the floor on the outside of your right hand. Release your left knee to the floor. Square your hips towards the front of your mat. If you feel stable, bring your torso down into a forward bend over your right leg.
It’s best to stay in a forward fold in pigeon for 10 to 20 deep breaths to give your body time to release. If you do this every day, you’ll really notice a difference.
If you prefer, take eye of the needle pose (Sucirandhrasana) instead. This is essentially the same stretch but done lying on your back. It can be gentler if pigeon is too intense.
Straighten the back leg if you’ve dropped that knee to the floor. Slowly straighten the front leg as you forward bend over it. Try to keep the front foot flat on the floor and don’t force the leg to come straight. You can use blocks under your hands if they don’t easily reach the floor when you straighten the front leg. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths, then step back into downward dog.
Step the left foot forward next to the left hand and take your low and straight-leg lunges on that side. Come back to a downward dog when you’re finished with the left leg.
Low LungeStep your right foot forward next to your right hand, coming into a low lunge. You may want to drop your back knee down to the floor at first for a nice stretch in both hips. Keep the back leg straight and lifted if you want to begin to work into your hamstrings, which run along the back side of your thighs. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths.
Downward-Facing DogFrom hands and knees, press back into downward-facing dog. Bend your knees and reach your butt up high, then slowly straighten the legs. Use any other movements that help you settle into the pose. When you feel ready, hold the posture for 5 to 10 breaths, pedaling your legs (bend one knee, then the other) if you want to further stretch the hamstrings, calves, and feet.
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The first few pelvic tilts will reveal any traces of low back pain and stiffness. Do them slowly and keep going until the movement feels fluid. After 10 to 20 reps, notice if you feel any relief in your back.
Remember that pelvic tilts are subtle. You’re simply rocking your hips towards your face, without lifting your butt off the floor. Start off with your lower back just slightly curved, and as you perform the movement you should feel your lower back pressing into the floor.
Continue warming up the back with 5 to 10 cat-cow stretches. If the movement feels familiar, it’s because the pelvis is moving in essentially the same way as in the pelvic tilt. The cat-to-cow stretch extends that movement along the entire spine, helping to awaken and invigorate your whole body, increasing flexibility in the spine. Initiate each movement from your tailbone and let it ripple up the spine, moving your head last of all.
Be sure to pay attention to your breath as you move between these poses. Inhale when you arch the back and exhale when you round the spine.
Mountain Pose and Raised-Arms Pose
Walk your feet to the front of the mat until you’re standing in a forward bend. Bend the knees and slowly roll up to stand in mountain pose.
From here you may want to do several half sun salutations. Try to match each breath with a movement as you do the sequence of poses. If you have the time and the inclination, you can do full sun salutations, a longer version of the sequence, instead.
From mountain pose, take the arms out to the side and up to the ceiling. Press the palms together, coming into raised-arm pose. Invite the shoulders to relax.