There’s a reason why yoga has developed so many devoted followers. Aside from being a great way to get exercise, it has many other benefits. It increases oxygen flow to your blood, calms your mind and even leads to an increased sense of well-being. Many people want to try yoga to experience these benefits, but are either intimidated or don’t know where to begin.
We spoke with a yoga instructor who has taught yoga for fourteen years, and asked her for five basic poses that anyone can do to start their day. She recommended the following:
Start on your hands and knees. Place your hands directly underneath your shoulders. You want your knees directly underneath your hips and your spine straight (it can be helpful to look in a mirror while you do this). Now, as you inhale, press your belly button towards the floor and look toward the sky. As you exhale, pull your belly button towards the ceiling, drop your head and look towards your stomach. Think of the way a black Halloween cat arches its back- this is what yours should look like at the top of this pose. Repeat this between five to ten times, trying to co-ordinate your breath with your movement.
After you finish your cat/cow, return to a neutral spine. Make sure your knees are still hip width apart. From here, straighten your legs and push your hips towards the ceiling. Straighten your arms so you look like an inverted “V.” The goal is to have your legs straight and your heels pressed towards the floor. If you are a beginner, you can do this with your knees slightly bent. As you get more advanced, experiment with bending one knee slightly and keeping the other straight. After a few breathes, bend the opposite knee (making the other leg straight). Hold this pose for up to ten breathes, trying to keep your breathing slow and even.
When you finish your downward dog, come to a comfortable seated position with your leg in front of you. Keep your legs together and point your toes towards the ceiling. Inhale deeply, bringing both arms towards the ceiling. As you exhale, lean forward and stretch your fingers towards your toes. If you’re able, grab onto your toes or the sides of your feet. If you can’t do this yet (don’t worry- most people can’t touch their toes when they start yoga), bring your hands underneath your calves or knees. Look towards your feet and take five deep breathes. When you finish these five breathes drop your head and take five more breathes, relaxing the back of your neck. You can bend your knees slightly if it allows you to relax your neck and back more.
Lay on your back and bend your left knee, keeping it pointed towards the ceiling. Place your right ankle over your left knee- ideally, your right knee should be pointed towards the right wall. Bring your hands behind your left knee and lightly pull it toward you until you feel a stretch in your right hip. Take five to ten slow, deep breathes here. On each exhale, try to relax a little more and feel the stretch in your right hip. When you finish, switch legs. Hold the stretch on this side for the same number of breathes as you did before.
Return to lying on your back. Bend your right leg and, keeping your shoulders and back on the floor, bring your right knee across your body, trying to touch the floor about two feet to the left of your left knee. Your right knee should be pointed towards the wall to your left (see photo). Take five to ten breathes here, and then repeat on the opposite side. With each breath, try to relax a little more into the pose.
When you finish these five poses, lie on your back and close your eyes. Take a few moments for yourself to let yourself completely relax, and allow the benefits of the yoga you’ve just done to be assimilated by your body.
If you do these five poses every morning, you’ll start your days feeling relaxed and refreshed.