You don’t always have to strain for good stretch or a good workout.
Sometimes less is more. Case in point: Here are some simple, yet effective, yoga poses, which help keep you in shape even when you’re not in the mood for a killer workout.
Sounds almost too good to be true, right? Thankfully, it’s not. In fact, yoga is known to improve overall fitness, promote weight loss, relieve stress, increase energy and flexibility, improve immunity and better intuition and relationships, among many other things. And you don’t even need to engage in vigorous forms of yoga to reap these benefits. Not too shabby for some simple stretching if you ask me.
All it really takes is around 15-30 minutes of yoga daily, or an hour-long practice a few times per week, to notice changes in your mind, body and spirit.
A consistent yoga practice changes your mind and shifts the way you approach your life, your body and your eating habits — thus resulting in weight loss and an overall healthier mentality. Yoga teaches you to appreciate your body and fill it with the best fuel and nutrients possible.
And another perk: You always have the option to tailor your yoga practice to suit your mood on any given day, which is especially handy when you’re too tired to workout. So if you’re looking to stretch it, but not strain it, try giving these yoga poses, in order, a go and repeat as many times as you want.
1. Downward-Facing Dog
Pose benefits: Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches of the feet and hands, as well as strengthens and tones the arms and legs.
From Mountain pose (standing position), reach your hands down to the floor, bending your knees if need be. Walk your hands out about three to four feet in front of your toes. Pushing into your palms, lift your hips up toward the sky and press back into your heels, trying to get them flat to the ground. Keep your gaze toward your legs and continue pressing your chest toward your thighs to create a nice flat back.
2. Warrior II
Pose benefits: Strengthens the legs and opens the hips.
From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot through and place it in between your hands at the top of your mat, aligning your front heel with the inside of your back foot (front toes should be facing the front of the room, while the back foot is parallel with your yoga mat, toes facing the side). Keeping a deep bend in the front knee and making sure the knee is directly in line with your ankle, cartwheel your arms up as you raise your chest off your thigh, reaching your arms in opposite directions. Hips face the side of the room, while your gaze remains over your right shoulder, toward the front of the room. Repeat on opposite leg.
3. Tree pose
Pose benefits: Strengthens the thighs, calves, ankles and spine, while also stretching the groin, inner thighs, chest and shoulders.
Starting off in Mountain pose, clasp your hands around your right knee and bring it in toward your chest. From here, grab a hold of your right ankle and rest the inside of your foot along the inside of your supporting leg, either up above the knee on the thigh, or down below the knee along your calf. Bring your hands to a prayer position at your heart or raise them up towards the sky, creating branches with your arms. Hold for four to eight breaths.
Note: Make sure to avoid resting your foot directly on your kneecap as this can lead to injuries.
For an extra challenge, grab a hold of your big toe with your middle and index fingers and extend your leg out to the side, straightening it as much as possible. Keep your supporting leg straight and extend your opposite arm out to the side. You can also twist the direction of this pose by taking the extended leg across your body towards the opposite direction and switching the grip of your foot with your hands.
Pose benefits: Plank pose increases the tone of your deltoids, entire abdominal wall and quadriceps. Chaturanga strengthens the arms and wrists, as well as the abdomen.
From Downward-Facing Dog, raise up onto your tiptoes, and rolling over them, come into a high push-up position. Hold here for a few deep breaths, making sure your wrists are directly in line under your shoulders, heels are lifted towards the sky and hips are lowered and in line with the rest of your body. Keep your gaze a few inches in front of your finger tips, creating one straight line with your head, neck and back. Then, begin to slowly lower your body down to the ground through Chaturanga. Try to lower your body in one straight line, keeping your gaze forward and elbows in towards your sides and pointing back behind you.
For an extra challenge, alternate lifting your legs and holding for five to eight breaths on each side. You can also keep one leg lifted as you lower down through Chaturanga.
5. Side Plank
Pose benefits: Builds arm, shoulder and core strength.
From a high Plank, lift your hips up slightly, then shift your weight into one hand as you roll your whole body open to the side. Stack your hips, knees and ankles vertically on top of each other. Your shoulders, hips and ankles should be in one straight line. If you find it hard to balance, try placing your top foot in front of the other on the ground. Reach your top arm straight up, forming a line from your planted wrist through your top fingers.
For an extra challenge, bend your top leg into a Tree pose and use your index and middle fingers to grab a hold of your big toe, trying to extend the top leg straight up towards the sky. Make sure to press through your supporting leg and foot, raising your hips up as much as possible.
6. Crow pose
Pose benefits: Builds strength in your arms, inner thighs and abdomen.
Come into a squat position with your feet about as wide as your mat, toes facing out to the sides. Plant your palms on the ground under your shoulders. Bend your arms slightly, keeping your elbows pointing towards the back, and squeeze your knees firmly around your elbows or upper arms. Rock your weight forward into your hands, coming up high on your toes. Lift your feet off the ground.
7. Boat pose
Pose benefits: Strengthens the abdomen, as well as the back, neck, quadriceps and hamstrings.
Sit down on your mat with your knees close to your chest, feet planted on the floor. Keeping your body close to vertical, hold behind your knees and lift your feet to bring shins parallel to the ground. Release your hands and stretch arms straight forward.
For an extra challenge, try straightening your legs and raising your arms up towards the sky.
Images: Karen Cox/SheKnows