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A Guide to Some Simple Yoga Poses to Stretch and Strengthen

By Ann Pizer | Reviewed by Sara Clark on June 30, 2020

Yoga doesn't have to be hard. If you got out of bed this morning and stretched your arms up over your head, you already did a yoga pose. Yoga introduces a mindfulness to stretching so that you pay attention to your alignment and how the positions really feel in your body.

Many basic yoga postures feel very familiar. Our bodies bend and fold naturally into poses. Mindfully and with conscious breaths, you can create a sequence like the one below that is organic to how your body moves. This sequence of 10 poses looks simple but will stretch and strengthen your major muscle groups.

1. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

In mountain pose, there is a lot going on, even though it may look like just standing. The heels root down, the muscles of the legs are engaged, the bones are stacked with the shoulders directly over the hips, the shoulder blades slide down the back, and the crown of the head rises. Don't forget to breathe. 2. Raised Arms Pose (Urdhva Hastansana)

Inhale and bring your arms up and over your head. Raised arms pose is your basic morning stretch, but focus on keeping the good alignment you established in mountain pose.

Stay grounded in the heels and keep your shoulders moving away from your ears at the same time that you reach up through your fingertips. Your gaze can come up to the hands, which can be shoulder's width apart or palms touching. 3. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)

Exhale and fold over your legs into a forward bend. If the hamstrings feel a little tight at first, bend the knees so that you can release your spine. Let the head hang heavy. Keep the legs gently bent with feet hip-width apart for better stability (you can straighten the legs, but it is not necessary). You can clasp opposite elbows with opposite hands while swaying gently side to side. 4. Garland Pose (Malasana)

Move your feet out to the edges of your mat and bend your knees, coming into a squat. The toes may turn out if necessary. If your heels do not reach the floor, you can sit on two stacked blocks. This modification makes the pose more accessible for many people.

This is a position that is quite natural for children, but we lose the knack for it as adults. It's great for the hips and to counteract the effects of too much sitting in chairs and riding in cars. It's also a very useful pose if you like to garden.

5. Lunge

From malasana, come back into a forward fold with legs gently bent and feet underneath your hips. When you are ready, step your left leg to the back of your mat and bend your right knee for a deep lunge. Try to bring your bent knee directly over your ankle so your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Feel free to place your hands on blocks to bring the floor to you.

Keep the left leg straight and strong with your heel reaching back. If this is too intense, you can drop your left knee to the mat instead. Stay five breaths before returning the left foot to the front of your mat next to the right one. Then repeat the lunge with the left foot forward and the right leg back.

6. Plank

After your second lunge, step the left foot to the back of the mat. Feet should be hip-width apart. Hips should be level with the shoulders. This is the classic preparation for a push-up. Stay here for five breaths while making sure that your hips do not drop too low or rise too high.

If your elbows tend to hyperextend, micro-bend them. Bring your knees down if necessary. After five breaths, release your knees to the mat and come back to sit on your heels, resting for a moment.

7. Staff Pose (Dandasana)

After catching your breath, swing your legs around so that they are outstretched in front of you. Staff pose is the seated equivalent of mountain pose, in that it seems very simple but has a lot going on.

The legs stay strong with the feet flexed. The shoulders stack over the hips so that the spine is long and straight. The arms may be straight or slightly bent.

8. Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)

On an exhalation, bring your torso over your legs in a forward bend. Allow a gentle bend in the knees to keep this pose simple and manageable.

Work with your breath, lengthening the spine on each inhale and deepening your forward fold on each exhale. Stay for five breaths, keeping the feet flexed.

9. Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana)

Come back up to sit and bend your left leg, bringing the sole of the left foot inside your right thigh. Use the same technique described above to deepen the pose using your breath. After five breaths, sit up and switch legs.

10. Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)

Lie down on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Bend at the knees bringing the legs into a 90-degree angle. Flex your feet and hold onto them from the outside as your draw your knees downward toward your armpits. This is happy baby pose. Roll side to side a bit on your sacrum if it feels good. After five breaths, stretch your legs out on the floor and rest.

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