For the competitive strength training athlete and even recreational exercisers, injuries from repetitive movements such as squats, overhead presses and even gripping iron dumbbells and barbells can lead to pain and discomfort over time. Not only that, but frequent intense training sessions can wreak havoc on your endocrine system if not properly balanced with stress-relief methods.
Here are eight yoga poses to help you not only feel balanced in your body but also awaken to the mental and spiritual benefits yoga has to offer.
Downward Facing Dog
Begin on your hands and knees with your knees stacked directly under your hips and your shoulders in alignment with your elbows and wrists. Spread your fingers wide and press all five fingers evenly onto the ground. (If you have sensitive wrists, turn your hands slightly out.) Tuck your toes under and with an exhalation lift your knees away from the ground and push your thighs back, pressing chest towards thighs and heels towards the ground. (If your hamstrings are tight, keep a slight bend in the knees and allow heels to remain slightly elevated.) Get your arms straight, rotate your upper outer arms back and keep your shoulder blades hugged back. Allow your head to be relaxed and hang in between your arms. Look towards your navel.
BENEFITS: Strengthens hands and wrists. Stretches shoulders, hamstrings, and Achilles tendon. Decompresses the spine and promotes a calming effect.
Forearm Side Plank
Begin in forearm plank. Turn your right arm so the outer edge of your forearm is parallel to the top of the mat. Bring feet together and kick both heels to the right. Stack your feet. Lift your hips and extend your left arm towards the sky in line with your right shoulder.
BENEFITS: Strengthens rotator cuff muscles, core, and hips. Helps prevent shoulder injuries, IT band syndrome, and low back pain.
Stand with feet together. Step or jump feet 2.5-3.5 feet apart. Spread your arms out to the sides in line with your shoulders, palms facing down. Turn right foot to the right 90 degrees and left foot in slightly to a 45-degree angle. Firm your thighs, press into the outer edge of the left heel and extend your torso to the right. Place your right hand on your shin, ankle or the ground on the outside of your right foot as you reach your left arm upwards to the sky in line with your right shoulder. Gaze upward towards your left arm or straight ahead.
BENEFITS: Improves hip mobility; stretches hamstrings, hips, shoulders, chest, and spine.
Low Lunge, Variation
Start in a low lunge with your right leg forward, knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your hips square to the front of your mat. Avoid leaning into the pose and over-arching the low back. Place your right hand on your thigh for support. With an inhale reach your left arm up. Exhale as you side bend to the right.
BENEFITS: Stretches tensor fascia latae at the top of the IT band, psoas and latissimus dorsi.
Lie on your back with your feet hip distance apart and your arms at your sides. Bend your knees bringing your heels towards your glutes. With an inhalation lift your hips off the ground. Interlace your fingers under your back. Lightly firm the outer glutes and lift the hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor. (For a restorative version place a block under your sacrum.) Extend your tailbone towards the back of the knees, but keep your knees in line with your ankles. Elongate your cervical spine by slightly lifting the chin away from your sternum. Firm the shoulder blades against your back. Get your arms totally straight. Rotate the triceps down so the eye of the elbow turns upwards, and try to get the palms to touch.
BENEFITS: Strengthens glutes and hamstrings. Stretches chest, neck, and shoulders.
Starting in downward facing dog, lift your right leg up, lunge your right foot in between your hands. Drop the left knee to the floor. Release your left toes and slide your left leg way back. Walk your right foot to your left hand and drop your right knee to the floor. Make sure your right shin is parallel to the front of your mat. Keep your right foot flexed to protect the knee. (Modification: Keep a block under your right hip.) Square your hips by rolling your left hip down. Rotate your left inner thigh to the sky. Pull your sternum forward. Depending on your flexibility, remain upright, lower down to your forearms or reach arms forward.
BENEFITS: Stretches hip flexors, thighs and glute muscles. Helps prevent back pain.
Reclined Spinal Twist
Start lying on your back with legs extended out. Hug your right knee into your chest. Release your right arm out until the right palm faces up. Look to the right. Drop your right knee over to the left side of your body. Scoot your left hip back 1-2 inches to the right.
BENEFITS: Balances nervous system, releases tension in the low back.
Lie on your back with legs extended and arms relaxed at your sides with palms facing up. (For comfort, roll a blanket under your knees and neck.) Relax your body and quiet your mind. Remain in this pose for 5-10 minutes or as long as necessary.
BENEFITS: Releases tension and stress. Calms the body and mind and helps you absorb the benefits of your practice or workout.