This morning I woke up as I would any other typical morning. I did a little stretching with a side of “parting is such sweet sorrows” with my bed, heated up a cup of coffee, attempted to get inspired for my morning workout by scrolling through my Instagram feed – then spewed a little coffee out of my nose when I ran across my photo from Jenga and Wine Wednesday, remembering the Jenga pieces tumbling into our guacamole and spilling candlewax across the entire booth. Oops – and a little internal pep talk as I laced up my running shoes to head out the door in a pretty upbeat and ambitious mood for a Friday morning.
Then for a moment I paused as I realized that this time next week, my life will be boxed up and put away in storage, I will have completed everything on my checklist for my Yoga Teacher Training in Bali, and my bags will be packed as I prepare to take off for my 100 day venture around Southeast Asia. All of which none is currently even remotely close to being checked off. O-M-G. Wait let me rephrase that, OOOM-M-G. Yes, that’s the yogi in me coming out to sooth my anxiety because not only am I getting ready to live, breath, and sweat yoga but it’s also National Yoga Month! I feel compelled to share my enthusiasm – and distract myself from the packing that I should be engaging in – by sharing eight of my favorite postures at the moment, as they do change about as frequently as the nail polish color on my toes.
So move your coffee table out from the middle of the living room, tell Fido to resist joining you in downward dog (or if your pets are like the animals in this video, then please film and share for the rest of us to enjoy), and turn on some yogi beats because we’re about to get our Namaste on!
Reclined Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Why I love it – As a runner, I have very tight hips, inner thighs, and achy knees. Wait, isn’t that most humans?? I start and end nearly every yoga practice in this pose and find that it helps me open up and also relax and gain my focus when paired with Pranayama.
Benefits – Stretches inner thighs, groins, and knees. Reduces stress and effects of menstruation, depression, and menopause. Improves circulation and stimulates heart and abdominal organs. Personal tip – I increase the stretch in my inner thighs by placing a yoga block under my pelvis. The higher the block, the greater the intensity. To make this not as intense, elevate your feet with a block or blanket under them.
Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Why I love it – Don’t be deceived by this “basic” resting posture. Once I learned the correct alignment, not only did I find it to be one of the most expansive and releasing poses for me, but it also quickly has become one of the most continuously challenging poses no matter how many times I engage in it. Which is quite frequently. Next to my pup, Sunni, this just may be my next favorite dog!
Benefits – What can this pose not do?? It’s energizing, releases stress and calms the body, strengthens arms and legs, improves digestion, aids in relieving back pain and headaches, prevents osteoporosis, and stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, wrists, and hands. This posture will also help with standing and arm balancing postures.
Tips – Keep your hands no more than shoulder’s length apart and feet hip’s width. Spread your fingers as far apart as you can while placing the most pressure in your index and thumb fingers. Externally rotate your arms as if you were trying to rotate your biceps towards your ears. Avoiding letting the head hang as you keep your neck in line with your spine without straining it. Keep your shoulders from scrunching towards your ears by firming up the shoulder blades and drawing them towards your tailbone. Strengthen the core by working your navel in towards your spine. You may think you need to press your heels into the mat but it’s more important to have a bend in the knees to help move your sit bones up and backwards. This helps with tight hamstrings and lengthening the spine. Basic? I think not!
Extended Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
Why I love it – Once again, this is a great stretch for the hips and shoulders. Whenever I go into triangle and slowly extend my arm upwards, it’s as if the yoga heavens have opened up and I feel my chest open and am able to take in the deepest breath. I love to revolve fromthis posture into Peaceful Warrior and then slowly, with control, into Half Moon for an even deeper stretch and core strengthener.
Benefits – Relieves achy backs and neck pain, stress, and anxiety. Stretches hips, thighs, hamstrings, groin, calves, ankles, shoulders, spine, and chest. Also improves digestion and stimulates abdominal organs.
Tips – Avoid sticking the booty out by rotating the upper hip back and tucking the pelvis inwards. A block can also be used to support the hand if this stretch feels too deep.
Sage Balance II (Eka Pada Koundinyasana II)
Why I love it – This posture has been quite humbling for me and I’m still working on the full extension. Some days are better than others, but when I am able to flow from Lizard to this, I feel that “aha” moment and everything clicks. And it’s a fun little posture to play with.
Benefits – This is a great wrist and arm strengthener as well as toning the spine and torso.
Tips – Look towards your foot in front of you rather than down while pressing your heel out as much as you can. This will help to tip your back leg up without toppling over. Make sure your Chaturanga is strong before attempting this.
Side Crow (Parsva Bakasana)
Why I love it – I love twist postures as they help release tension and help to lengthen the spine. Crow was the first arm balancing postures I learned so when I was able to go into side crow I was elated to say the least. This pose will definitely test your sense of balance! Benefits – Strengthens wrists and arms as well as toning and strengthening the core. Tips – Like in downward dog, spread your fingers and push into the fingertips. Look ahead while squeezing the inner thighs together to help with balance and lifting as you draw your shoulders in and down your spine. For a challenge, start to extend the legs straight out while pushing through the heels.
Headstand (Salamba Sirsasana)
Why I love it – There’s something about having your whole world turned upside down, literally, and still having the ability to maintain control over your body when you’re out of your comfort zone. Your focus becomes stronger and there’s a feeling of clarity that takes over your body. It took me awhile to finally be able to master that “aha!” moment on this, but it was definitely worth all the falling over backwards and humbling myself in class as I would tumble and lose my balance trying to get this pose.
Benefits – Relieves stress and depression, calms the nerves, stimulates the pituitary and pineal glands, and improves digestion, insomnia, sinusitis, asthma, and infertility. Strengthens the core, lungs, arms, legs, and spine.
Tips – Start off practicing against a wall with your body in plank on your elbows, no further than shoulder width apart. Keeping your elbows in place, clasp your hands together and place your head between them with the crown of your head on the ground and hands grasping the back of your head. Bring your feet in so you’re in a modified downward dog. Move your weight completely into your elbows as you bring your knees into meet the elbows. Hold this posture until you can extend your legs completely straight, squeezing your inner thighs together as you tighten your core. Just as it’s important to go into your posture with control, remember to use control as you exit the posture to help gain strength and ease.
Compass into Eight Angle Pose (Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana into Astavakrasana)
Why I love it – Compass allows me to release tension and feel an expansion down my torso. I love the transition into Eight Angle Pose and the freeing feeling as you slowly expand your legs out to the side. I have my good days and bad days with this one, but it’s such a breath of fresh air – literally! – on the days where this one clicks!
Benefits – Strengthens the core and arms. Tones the inner thighs and abdominals while improving balance.
Tips – When you bring your knee up and over your arm, try to hook your shoulder under your knee. Once you’ve brought your opposite ankle over the other, look forward as you bring your torso parallel to the floor while lifting both legs and work on straightening them as you squeeze the inner thighs together for stability.
Single Nostril Breathing – Surya Bhedana Pranayama
Why I love it – Though yet another basic posture, this can be one of the more complicated ones for me if there’s a lot on my mind or my life feels like it’s slightly chaotic at the time. Surya Pranayama helps to quiet my thoughts and prepare me for my practice. I even have used Bhedana Pranayama when I have trouble falling asleep or need to rest my mind.
Benefits – Surya symbolizes the sun and the syllable “HA” and is used as a heating energy by inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the left. Bhedana represents the moon and the syllable “THA” and is used as a cooling energy for the body by inhaling through the left nostril and exhaling through the right. The idea is that by using the “warming” and “cooling” effects of these two breaths, the body will find balance. Both have been shown to reduce stress, improve the cardiorespiratory system, and help ease the mind into meditation.
Tips – Sit in a comfortable position and place your index and middle finger on your forehead while using your thumb to block your nostril. Try to hold the end of each inhalation and exhalation to enhance the benefits of this pranayama. Make each exhale longer than the inhale and never force your breath so that it feels unnatural.
In honor of National Yoga Month, what’s your favorite yoga posture?