Yoga Moves to Improve Wellness

Yoga has become a popular exercise that is often associated with a plethora of health benefits. It can improve overall wellness by relieving stress, encouraging healthy lifestyle habits, promoting better mental/emotional health, and improving sleep quality and balance.

Getting started in yoga can feel intimidating, especially for beginners. But, you don’t need to be an expert to reap the benefits of this ancient practice.

1. Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, stretches the back body and is known to help relieve neck pain. It also energizes and rejuvenates the entire body.

Ensure your hands and feet are in one inclined line and the eyes of your elbows point toward the space between your thumbs and index fingers. Likewise, make sure your shoulders are aligned with your wrist creases.

Beginners often struggle with a lack of dorsiflexion at the ankle joint, which limits their ability to hold the pose. For this reason, rolling up a blanket to put under the front of the mat is an excellent modification.

2. Cat-Cow Stretch

The Cat-Cow Stretch is a gentle yoga movement that improves posture, balance and flexibility. It also helps relieve back pain, stress and fatigue. The movement synchronized with breathing strengthens the back muscles and calms the mind.

Begin on all fours in tabletop position, with your knees under your hips and your wrists beneath your shoulders. On an exhale arch your back to come into Cow pose and on an inhale lower your belly and open your chest to come into Cat pose. Repeat 10 cycles of cat and cow.

3. Extended Side Angle

Stretch the sides of the torso with this simple pose. It is an example of sthira and sukha, or steadiness and ease, in yoga.

Stand with your feet a foot-distance apart and align the center of your left ankle, knee and thigh with the center of your right hip. Place your bottom hand on the floor or a block on the outside or inside of the front foot (whichever feels best).

Then lift your top arm alongside your head and open your chest.

4. Warrior II

Named for the incarnation of Shiva, Warrior II (Virabhadrasana B) enhances balance and stability while strengthening the legs and ankles. It also stretches the hips, groin, and chest.

If your students experience difficulties with this pose, encourage them to lower their stance width or place a block between the front knee and the floor. This reduces the amount of balance required to remain upright. This pose also helps to improve concentration, like a Zen archer zeroing in on the target.

5. Trikonasana

The Trikonasana (Sanskrit: , “tri = three, kona = corners or angles, and asana = pose”) or Triangle Pose requires balance, strength and flexibility. It strengthens the legs and hips, and stretches the back and shoulders.

The front leg hamstrings and the back leg gastrocnemius muscles are stretched, as well as the intercostal muscles. The pose also stimulates the lungs, and improves metabolism. It is important to practice on both sides of the body for balance. The Triangle symbolizes Mind, Body and Spirit.

6. Warrior III

Virabhadrasana III is a great pose to help strengthen your legs, hips and core. It teaches you to focus and concentrate as well as gives you an inner sense of balance.

Activating your lifted foot (Pada Bandha) is an important part of this pose to help find stability. Make sure to push down the outer edge of the back foot and balance your weight evenly between both feet. Also lengthen the torso and keep the neck long to avoid dizziness.

7. Triangle

Triangle is a full-body pose that strengthens the ankles, knees, legs, and inner thighs. It also improves balance and concentration. And it stretches the abdomen, chest, and spine.

The full Sanskrit name for this pose is utthita trikonasana, or extended triangle pose. It’s often shortened to triangle pose in Western yoga. Adding props to this pose intensifies the stretch and challenge of the posture. Then, it’s easier to focus on synchronizing the movement with your breath. This allows you to move deeper into the posture over time.

8. Rag Doll

Rag doll is a gentler variation of forward fold yoga pose. The goal of this posture is to relax the upper body and release tension. It also stretches the hamstrings and back.

Begin with your feet hip distance apart and slightly bent knees. Micro-bend your knees as you bend forward at the hips, clasping opposite elbows and letting the head hang heavy. You can stay in this pose or gently sway side to side. Avoid this pose if you have back or neck injuries.