A yoga class is a great way to strengthen your muscles, especially the ones in your legs and back. These weight-bearing poses increase your strength over time, helping you to hold a stronger posture and reduce back pain.
This beginner yoga pose is an inverted backbend that stretches the spine, and may help relieve headaches and lower backaches. It’s a foundational yoga pose for any class.
Downward-Facing Dog Modified
Originally known as Adho Mukha Svanasana, downward-facing dog offers a full body stretch and builds upper-body strength. Moreover, it stimulates the brain and nervous system improving memory, concentration and hearing. However, it can be challenging for students with wrist, shoulder or back injuries, unmediated high blood pressure, and pregnant women.
Collapsing the shoulders can irritate and strain the muscles in the shoulders, neck and upper back. For this reason, it’s important to play around with the width of the hands to find what feels most comfortable and supportive. For example, some students might benefit from spreading the fingers out further toward the long edges of the mat to create more space for the shoulders to shift back. Alternatively, some students might want to try dolphin pose or thread-the-needle pose instead of down dog to find more space in the arms and chest.
Incorporating a rolled mat or blanket underneath the heels of the feet can take the weight off of overly tight calves and ankles. Likewise, bending the knees can help to alleviate pressure on the lower back. Finally, placing a block under the wrists can give more support for the hands and wrists to prevent injuries. Ultimately, modifying down-dog is a great way to build strength and flexibility for beginners and injured students.
The Warrior II stretches and strengthens the muscles in the legs, hips, groin, and abdomen. It also opens the chest and improves breathing capacity. This foundational posture cultivates stability and focus. Practicing it for longer periods of time builds stamina and strength. It teaches yogis to be in the moment, discern whether their desire to straighten the back leg and release the arms comes from a physical need or a mental want and act accordingly.
In the Warrior II, the spinal extensors and flexors contract in a controlled manner to maintain neutral alignment of the spine. The external oblique of the front leg side and internal oblique of the back leg side engage concentrically to rotate the chest toward the side. This action is aided by the serratus anterior and pectoralis major muscles.
For beginners, the Warrior II can be challenging because the hips may not be in a neutral position. To counter this, the front foot should be positioned at least one hip’s width away from the back foot and the back knee either parallel to or turned in slightly. If the back knee is too far forward, it compresses the low back and strains the back thigh muscles. Using a block under the front foot can reduce this tendency.
Known as Vrkshasana in Sanskrit, the Tree Pose (Vrk-SAH-sana) replicates the graceful, steady stance of a tree and improves balance, concentration, and a sense of inner steadiness. It also strengthens the legs and core, opening the hips and stretches the inner thigh muscles.
The most difficult aspect of the pose is finding your balance. It is important to start slowly, and to keep in mind that balancing for even 30 seconds can be challenging for beginners. To help you find stability, try to stand a few inches away from a wall on your straight leg side when practicing the pose. This gives you the confidence to know that if you lose your balance, you can easily reach out for support from the wall.
To perform the pose, start from Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Make sure that both feet are firmly planted into the ground with your weight distributed evenly. Then, lift the right foot up to rest on your left thigh. Keep your knee bent and the torso forward, so that you feel your back is elongated. Hold the pose and breathe deeply. Enjoy the benefits of the pose and then switch to the other leg. You can even add another challenge to the pose by closing your eyes and trying to maintain the pose without visual assistance.