Yoga is perfect for anyone looking to burn calories and relieve stress—which is pretty much everyone nowadays. Starting your day with a couple of downward-facing dogs or cat-cows can wake up the muscles after a long night’s sleep. But yoga can also be just the thing for common problems such as stress, back pain, and arthritis. So kick off your socks and hop on your mat to shake off the pain and stress of the day.
“People with pain, injuries, and illnesses can benefit from yoga because yoga is more than just the poses (asana); it also includes meditation and breathing practices (pranayama), which have been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety,” says Liz Alvarez, director of Honor Yoga Therapeutics. “Yoga works on many different levels in the body, which can help people in a variety of ways, whether it be the ability to be more present, deal with stress and anxiety in a different way, or begin to improve the quality of the movement of their bodies.”
“About 85 percent of people say that their goal in yoga is to reduce their stress,” says co-owner of Honor Yoga Maria Parrella-Turco. Child’s pose is simple enough for any yoga newbie, and it’s great for stretching the lower back and letting go of stress.
How to: Start out in a kneeling position and drop down so you are sitting on your feet. Place your hands on your thighs and slowly bend forward, extending your arms out in front of you and bringing your forehead toward the mat. Close your eyes and breathe deeply while holding the pose, relaxing into the stretch with each exhale.
Maintaining flexibility and strong core muscles is one of the most effective ways to stave off back pain, and yoga is excellent in that department. Some simple poses to stretch out tight back muscles include downward-facing dog and cat-cow—two of my favorite poses for any time of the day.
How to: Start out on your hands and knees, and take a deep inhale. Then curl your toes under, lift your knees from the floor, and slowly push your hips backwards and upwards toward the ceiling as you exhale. Your body should look like an inverted “V.” Hold the pose, relaxing deeper into the stretch with each breath. As you practice this pose and become more flexible over time, aim for straight knees and get your heels as close to the mat as possible.
How to: Start out on your hands and knees, with your toes pointed toward the back of your mat. Take a deep breath, and then on an exhale, round your back into an arch and drop your head toward the floor, keeping your tailbone tucked. Feel the tension easing out of your neck and enjoy the stretch in your back. On an inhale, slowly lift your head so that you are looking forward, draw your shoulder blades down your back, and open up your chest. Push your tailbone toward the ceiling. Repeat the sequence and be sure to keep breathing deeply.
A program of yoga poses, breathing, and relaxation can make a big difference in joint tenderness and swelling, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Because yoga is a low-impact activity that can be easily modified, it’s a great form of exercise for those with arthritis. You are going to want to avoid putting of strain on sensitive joints, so standing or seated poses that stretch your body are ideal. Poses such as child’s pose and seated spinal twists are ideal because they stretch out your muscles without putting any pressure on your joints.
Seated spinal twist
How to: Begin by sitting on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you. Bring your left knee toward your chest and cross your left leg over your right leg so that your left foot is firmly placed on the outside of your right leg. Pull your left foot as close to your right hip as possible without creating any discomfort. Take a deep breath. Wrap your right hand or arm around your left knee and, on an exhale, gently twist your upper body to the left, feeling the stretch through your back and spine. Be sure to sit up straight, as if someone is pulling the top of your head toward the ceiling with a string. Repeat on the opposite side.
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent. Press your arms, hands, and feet firmly into the mat, and slowly lift your butt off of the floor and raise your hipbones toward the ceiling. Lengthen your arms as much as possible and keep your forearms pressed into the mat. You can use your hands to support your hips. Hold this pose for up to a minute, and then slowly release, letting your spine find the mat one vertebrae at a time.