Beginning a life centered on fitness and better health can be confounded simply by the vastness of options and seemingly contradictory theories on what better health looks like. While the flukes and phony’s will come and go, there is just one exercise program that has stood the test of time by carefully matching and adapting to the needs of the practitioners.
Yoga, as a philosophical practice and a system of exercise, has evolved much over the thousands of years since its foundation. However, the central goals of attaining better health and life through the balancing of the mind and body hold fast and are as applicable now as they were in the Vedic Era at the birth of civilization.
You may not have the time to visit the local yoga studio and receive instruction from an experienced yogi, but that doesn’t mean the healthy benefits of this age-old practice are beyond your reach. Just a few minutes of time spent in some of the more simplistic yoga postures, also known as asanas, can have a remarkable effect on your energy levels, health and how you feel from day to day.
Following are the Top Seven Yoga Asanas that you should practice each day for better health alongside some indications on proper execution for each one. Pregnant women, as well as those with health conditions, should always seek qualified medical advice before beginning any routine for physical fitness.
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Malasana: Garland Pose
If you were going to pick a single yoga asana to do each day for the rest of your life, the Malasana or Garland Pose would be an excellent option. In addition to stretching and strengthening the hamstrings, thighs, and groin, it also improves the posture and facilitates good digestion. This pose is good for all, especially pregnant women hoping for a natural delivery, as it opens the pubic symphysis in the pelvis. However, pregnant women SHOULD NOT perform the Malasana after the 35th week as it can induce labor.
How To: Stand with feet a bit more than shoulder-width apart and toes pointing slightly outwards. Squat down to the floor and allow your thighs to extend further than your torso. Slowly lean your torso forward until it is between your thighs and breathe slowly and deeply for a full minute. Rise slowly on the out breath.
Ardha Chandrasana: Half Moon Pose
The Half Moon Pose works to balance the energies of the body and, more importantly, build awareness of these energies. Regular practice of the Half Moon will improve the conditions of the brain and optimize neural transmission.
How To: While standing relaxed, shift your weight to the right foot and right hand while lifting the left leg parallel to the floor and pointing the left hand to the ceiling. Keep your movements fluid and graceful and keep breathing steady. Maintain the position for 6 to 8 breaths and slowly return to the starting position.
Adho Mukha: Downward-Facing Dog
Start your day off right and begin with a Downward-Facing Dog pose that engages the whole body and prepares the muscles for even basic motor function. The stretching and flexing through the back, hips, arms, and shoulders feel terrific and energizes the body for the day ahead.
How To: Begin on all-fours and slightly extend your hands past the shoulders and your knees just below your hips. Engage your quadriceps and remove your knees from the floor while keeping your heels off the floor as well. Finally, lengthen the spine and straighten the legs as the hips are rotated inward and the tailbone held high. This can be used as a transition pose or resting pose between other asanas.
Anjaneyasana: Low Lunge
The Psoas muscle (pronounced: SO-as) is more important than many people consider, and very few modern exercise programs address “the most vital muscle” in structural anatomy. The Psoas muscle is a flexor and the only core muscle that connects the spine with the legs. When tense, this muscle can cause teeth grinding and general tension throughout the body. The Anjaneyasana engages this muscle, stretching and relaxing it. The low lunge also opens up the chest and torso.
How To: Beginning in Downward Facing Dog, take a big step forward with your right foot, placing it close to your right thumb. At the same time, lower your left knee to the floor behind your hips. On the in breath, raise your hands upward, bringing your biceps to your ears and as you exhale, allow your hips to settle forward slightly. This is where you will feel the Psoas muscle being fully engaged.
Ustrasana: Camel Pose
Camel Pose is great for gaining mobility and flexibility in the spine while fully engaging the muscles of the shoulders, back chest, and arms. Ustrasana also has important implications for energizing the vital organs and is the traditional remedy for fatigue and anxiety.
How to: While kneeling on the yoga mat, rest hands on the ankles of lower back depending on your capacity. While exhaling, drop the head and shoulders backward as comfortably as possible and maintain the position for 3 to 5 breaths.
Navasana: Boat Pose
Navasana is one of the best ways to engage the core muscle groups, build strong, sexy abs and improve balance and mobility throughout the body. Navasana is also the traditional remedy for a lagging metabolism or conditions of high stress.
How To: Begin sitting with your feet flat on the mat and your knees in front of your chest. Slowly tilt back and lift your feet from the floor until your shin bones are horizontal. Depending on your capacity, you can make this pose easier by holding the back of your knees in your hands. For the advanced method, try pushing your feet higher till your legs are straight and hold your arms parallel with the ground. Hold this pose for as long as you’d like.
There are several poses that can help you to get started in practicing Yoga every day. The ones mentioned above are our picks for some of the most effective poses. However, don’t limit yourself to only these poses – explore more into the world of Yoga to find what poses work best for you. Check out our blog for more articles about the history and benefits of practicing Yoga.
Photo credits: MindfulMediaCreations/shutterstock.com, fizkes/shutterstock.com