Yoga Moves to Strengthen Your Body and Improve Your Health

yoga moves

Whether you are an athlete looking to relax after a hard workout or simply seeking ways to improve your health, yoga offers many benefits. It strengthens muscle over time, improves posture and stretches the body.

The first yoga moves to learn are basic stretches, such as the Cat-Cow Stretch. This gentle backbend helps loosen your spine.

1. Downward Facing Dog

Denis teaches his students that Downward Facing Dog is not just a resting or transitional posture, but an important movement that strengthens and lengthens the back and shoulders. Students who struggle with the shoulder stretch or wrist pain associated with this pose often use blocks under their hands to reduce strain on the palms and fingers, allowing them to feel the movement without hurting themselves.

For some people, extending the legs in Downward Facing Dog may cause the spine to round instead of lengthen, a problem that can be addressed by widening the feet and bending the knees. This allows the hips to reach back and up toward the ceiling while keeping the upper body in a long, straight line. This is the kind of movement that feels like a puppy waking from a nap: long and limber.

2. Cat-Cow Stretch

Cat-Cow Stretch is a gentle back-strengthening exercise that’s also great for strengthening the abs and improving posture. This simple movement is often used as a warm-up or cooling down move in yoga classes and can be practiced anywhere.

Inhale and arch your back as you come into Cat pose. Allow the movement to ripple up from your tailbone and round your spine. Make sure your abdominal muscles hug your spine and draw your navel in.

This is a good posture to do if you’re feeling bloated or if you have a recurring headache. It also relieves stress and tension by allowing the spine to stretch and release. Adding this stretch to your daily routine can help prevent future injuries or back pain. Whether you’re new to yoga or a seasoned veteran, it’s never too late or too early to work on your flexibility.

3. Extended Side Angle

Utthita Parsvakonasana, or Extended Side Angle is a common posture often incorporated in the standing sequence of Vinyasa classes. This pose stretches and strengthens the legs and back, improves hip awareness and opens up the chest and intercostal muscles.

If you’re new to this posture it may be helpful to use a block on the front knee so that it doesn’t collapse inward. Resting the forearm on the thigh also helps with alignment if you’re not quite ready to lift it up to your chest.

If you have a shoulder injury it’s best to avoid bringing the top arm up to your chest. Try moving into Bound Extended Side Angle instead, which combines this pose with a bind and open twist. This is a great challenge for students looking to build strength and stability.

4. Triangle

The Triangle is a shape of power, strength and stability. It represents the Trinity of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in Christianity. It appears in Hindu Yantras, which are mystical diagrams used to power chakras and inspire courage and creativity. It’s also used as a symbol of enlightenment in Buddhism.

In relationships, the Triangle is a powerful model of healthy interaction. In calm periods, two people are comfortably close “insiders.” An uncomfortable outsider makes predictable moves to become closer to one of the insiders.

In the workplace, Triangles are leaders who can focus on goals and deliver results. They can be dogmatic and shoot from the hip, and they like recognition and status symbols. They are self-confident and tend to be good at communicating with others.