For many people their daily lives consist of a lot of sitting; whether that comes from work, school or driving, we sit for many hours these days than previous times. Some people try to balance that with exercise, such as walking, running, cycling swimming or cardio, but how many of us spend quality time stretching our muscles, tendons and ligaments? Lack of stretching leads to immobility of joints, mainly the hips and shoulders, causing stiffness and, often at times, pain. How does your lower back feel? How about the muscles between your shoulder blades? Where do you carry your stress? We spend a lot of time on our cell phones, computers and tablets, hunched over. This shortens the muscles in the front of the shoulders, this atrophies the hip flexor muscles. To combat this, practicing the above yoga poses on a daily basis can begin to reverse the effects of tight hips and shoulders. Just a few minutes of yoga can make a big difference for your overall well-being!
We often use and abuse our shoulders a lot more than we realize. Whether it’s sitting at a computer, lifting weights, or even doing a few too many Chatarungas, it’s important to balance all of that strengthening or lack of movement with opening postures. Try these shoulder-openers when your shoulders are feeling tight or especially overworked.
Forward fold with chest expansion
Begin in a forward fold with your feet at least hip-width apart. Allow your head and neck to relax. Interlace your hands at your lower back. If your shoulders are tight, keep a soft bend in your elbows. Slowly draw your palms forward, over your head, to open through the chest and shoulders. Take the shoulder opening to your limit, and breathe here for as long as it feels good.
Begin in chair pose, or Utkatasana. On an exhale, swing your right arm under your left, and bring your right palm to meet your left in front of your face. Lift your right leg over your left leg and compress your inner thighs, finding a tight wrap. Find a bind with the right foot behind the left calf, or use your right foot as a kickstand. Breathe here with a strong core, and draw your elbows away from your chest, and your palms away from your face. Switch sides when you’re ready.
Begin on your belly with your chin facing forward. Bend your knees, drawing your heels up to your gluts, and reach back and capture your feet or ankles from the outside. Exhale, and as you inhale, kick your feet into your palms, lifting your chest away from your mat. Gaze straight forward, and try to rock your weight into your belly. Draw your knees toward one another and breathe.
Kneel and walk your knees toward the front of your mat. Lift your hips over your knees, and bring your palms to your lower back, fingertips facing down for a deeper shoulder opening. Squeeze your elbows toward one another and lift your gaze while you open through your chest. Keep your hips stacked over your knees, and arch your spine while you lift through your heart. Find five breaths in your fullest expression, and keep pressing your elbows toward one another to open through your shoulders.
Begin in a seated position. Bend both knees, and swing your left leg underneath your right. Nestle your left heel next to your right hip. Stack your right knee over your left, and let your right foot rest on the mat beside your left hip. Extend your left arm high, bend at your elbow, and reach your left palm in between your shoulder blades. Bring your right arm behind your back, bending at your elbow and reach up to grasp your left fingertips with your right. If you can’t grasp opposite fingertips, you can use a towel or a strap. This is a very intense shoulder opener – either stay here, or fold forward from your hips. Switch sides after 5 or 7 breaths.
Yoga is one of the best aerobic exercises that can be done on a regular basis. It is beneficial for to the body, mind and soul. Although some men prefer sweaty, energetic workouts, yoga can be very challenging and can provide a holistic workout along with innumerable health benefits. Apart from enhancing fitness levels, yoga also increases stamina levels and is a great exercise regimen for men of all ages and all fitness levels. To help men build a stronger base for their gym exercises, decrease stiffness and increase stamina, the yoga poses mentioned below can go a long way.
Standing Forward Fold
Uttanasana, or Standing Forward Fold, opens the back of the legs, the hips and the back. Men can easily modify this pose by keeping the hands on the thighs, calves or ankles or use blocks to shorten the distance.
In addition to stretching muscles, Standing Forward Fold lowers blood pressure, eases headaches, improves circulation and helps you sleep better.
This posture stretches men where they need it most—the hips and shoulders. On top of opening these tight areas, Virabhadrasana is a strengthening posture. It builds the muscle of the thighs along with the areas around the knees, which means more stability and protection for sensitive joints during high impact sports.
Chair pose works the quads, ankles, butt and shoulders, while also opening the chest—helping to develop greater stability. It’s also useful for improving flat feet and stimulating the abdominal organs.
Downward Facing Dog
Downward Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, brings the attention to those tight areas in men; the hamstrings, calves, arms, shoulders, back, hips and more. And while it stretches the body, Down Dog also strengthens the arms and legs.
This pose also strengthens the heart as it improves circulation, reduces stress and helps high blood pressure.
Low Cobra Pose
Cobra pose can help to open the chest and strengthen the back and arms. This posture will help anyone who sits behind a desk all day by opening the abdomen and hip flexors.
*For men who also enjoy more strenuous forms of exercise, Upward Facing Dog is another great way to warm up and get the muscles stretched and blood flowing before expecting the body to go all out.
Boat Pose (modified)
Boat pose, or Navasana, will not only strengthen the core, but it also strengthens the hips flexors and spine. This posture is particularly beneficial to men for what it does to stimulate the prostate gland and reduce tension in the pelvic region.
Baddha Konasana increases blood flow to the pelvis, kidneys, prostate and bladder. It’s also a good way to draw attention to mula bandha, the root lock, which brings awareness and more energy to the area around the hips.
This posture is can be quite challenging, but you can ease yourself into it as your hips open more and more. Since it’s a powerful way to open the glutes, hamstrings, abductors and hip flexors, Half Pigeon can help men when they take part in physical activities. Once the tension is released in the hips, men will feel the benefit in the lower back and other areas of the body.
It’s not unusual for men to experience tight muscles throughout the torso, so Bridge pose can help open the upper body and release tight muscles. Whether most men realize it or not, tightness in this area makes for shallow breathing and can make other physical activities more challenging.
Over time, practicing bridge pose will create more space in the chest and make for easier, fuller breathing.
Reclining Hand to Big Toe
This posture opens the lower back to get energy moving more freely, and when it does, it also stimulates the prostate gland and improves digestion. *Try using a yoga strap to make the pose easier especially if you’re not quite flexible.
Now it’s time to really relax. As the asana suggests, you simply lay on your back, eyes closed with your hands at your sides or on your chest. Breathe normally and let your worries dissipate as you exhale.
Yoga can be very challenging and mastering these yoga poses will help strengthen and stretch the muscles, prevent workout injuries and improve posture and overall balance.
The word Setu Bandha comes from the Sanskrit word “Setu” which means Bridge; and Bandha meaning contraction or bind. Hence, when we try this pose our body looks like a bridge.
Setu Bandhasana is a great to pose that can help solve any number of ailments. From developing strength in your core and glutes (which helps alleviate low back pain) to opening the chest. Bridge Pose is an excellent beginning backbend which is a versatile pose to help learn proper alignment and strengthening for more advanced back bending poses. There are so many variations for this pose that anyone can practice it.
Getting into bridge pose
Lay on your back, bend your knees at ninety degrees and place your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart and parallel. You may choose to have a folded blanked under your shoulders to support your neck. Arms are by your sides with your palms facing down. As you exhale, press your inner feet and arms actively into the floor, and your pelvis up toward the ceiling. Slowly lift the buttocks off the floor. Be sure to keep your legs parallel and not let your knees splay apart.
To take the pose deeper, you can roll your shoulders and chest open, and clasp your hands under your pelvis and extend through the arms to help you stay on the tops of your shoulders.
Lift your buttocks until the thighs are about parallel to the floor. Keep your knees directly over the heels, but push them forward, away from the hips, and lengthen the tailbone toward the backs of the knees. Lift the pubis toward the navel. Don’t move your head from side to side, but gently lift your chin way from the sternum slightly and open your chest by pressing the shoulder blades into the floor. This will allow you to press the top of the sternum toward the chin. Keep firming the outer arms, broadening the shoulder blades, and lifting the chest.
Hold the pose for 30 seconds or a minute if you can, and release with an exhale, rolling the spine one vertebrae at a time onto the floor.
Those having injuries to the neck, shoulder and spine should not practice this pose.
Pregnant women should always consult a doctor in the last 6-9 months of pregnancy before practicing Bridge pose to avoid any complications.
Always consult a doctor first before beginning any exercise regimen, including yoga.
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) is a standing pose that stretches the obliques and strengthens the legs and the core. When you think of stretching and flexibility, most people picture sitting on the floor and reaching for your feet or contorting your body in different and challenging ways. Poses like Extended Side Angle are very effective in opening the hips and stretching the torso. Using your body weight against gravity is an excellent way to open tight muscles and release connective tissue. In the traditional Extended Side Angle pose you reach your hand all the way to the floor. This is an excellent stretch, however not possible for everyone due to an inflexible spine or tight hips. Resting your elbow on your knee (as pictured) eases up some on the stretch and allows you to rest as much or as little weight on your knee as you wish. Once you are able to complete this stretch with elbow on knee you can begin to reach your hand to the ground for a deeper stretch.
How to: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Step your feet apart, about 3-4 feet. Lift your arms out to the sides until they are parallel to the floor. Focus on reaching out through your fingers, palms down. Turn your left foot in slightly and turn your right foot out 90 degrees. Anchor the outside of your left foot into the mat and bend your right knee. Bring your left arm up toward the ceiling and turn your palm toward your head. Look to your left. Exhale and bend to your right, trying to put the right side of your torso on your right thigh. Place your right fingertips or hand on the floor or a block just outside of your right foot. If that stretch is too deep, place your right elbow on your right knee with the palm up. Hold the pose for 5 long breaths, then release and repeat on the other side.
Caution: Do not practice this pose if you are currently experiencing headaches, insomnia, or high or low blood pressure. If you have a neck injury or current neck pain, do not turn your head upward in the pose. Instead, keep your gaze straight ahead with both sides of your neck evenly extended. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
Eagle pose (Garudasana) is one of the 84 original poses (asanas) listed in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The pose is named after Garuda, “the mythic king of the birds” whose spirit helps him to overcome obstacles and discover his true potential. Significantly, this pose works to strengthen the body and improve concentration and awareness.
Begin by putting all your weight on your left leg. Bend your knees as though you are about to sit in a chair. Keep your spine extended long. Lift your right leg and place it across your left leg. It should start to look like you are sitting in a chair with your legs crossed.
If it is possible, your right thigh should be above your left knee. In time and with practice you will be able to hook your right ankle behind the left lower calf. If that is not possible, place the top of the right foot on the left calf or press it against the inner left calf. Take time to squeeze the inner thighs together. This will bring you into a more solid center.
Keep your hips squared to the front of the mat, and try to bend the left knee even deeper.
Bring your arms out to the side, cross your left elbow over the right in front and center of your body. Keep wrapping and twisting your arms until the palms come together. This full expression of the pose may take time and practice for your shoulders to open enough to perform it.
Relax your shoulders out of your ears, and keep the shoulders squared to the front of the mat just like your hips. Gently raise your elbows to shoulder height, and slowly press your hands toward the front of the mat until you feel a nice opening between your shoulders and deep in the joint. From the waist down feel your body sink. From the waist up lift and lengthen. Maintain the pose for several deep breaths, and slowly unwind the body and repeat on the other side.
Tips for Beginners
Modify this pose until you can reach the full posture.
1. If the balance is too much or you can’t hook your toes behind you, keep your toes on the ground or along the outside of your shin.
2. If you feel any pain in your shoulders, bring your palms and forearms together in front of you or stack your elbows and connect the top of your hands instead of your palms.
If you suffer from any knee problems, don’t try to hook the toe behind you. Instead, bend your knees slightly, or place one leg on top of the other without pain, do so while keeping your toe on the ground.
If you suffer from shoulder problems, follow the modifications listed above.
Kurmasana, or tortoise pose, in all it’s variations provides the opportunity to withdraw from external distractions and pull deeply inward physically, mentally and even emotionally.
"After completing this pose, one feels refreshed, as though one had woken up from a long undisturbed sleep." -B.K.S. Iyengar
The evening wind down sequence focuses on stretching the hips, hamstrings, and shoulders; all areas that accumulate tension during the course of the day. You’ll notice that there are no Sun Salutations at the beginning of the sequence and that’s intentional. The idea is to gently nurture yourself by stretching, breathing, and tuning your awareness to your body and breath; really turning inward. This act of focusing on exactly what you’re doing in your body and breathing will help slow down the momentum of your mind so that when it’s time to let go and sleep, it’s easier to do that.
*Take 5-10 breaths in each pose and do each side before moving to the next. Rest, savor, and repeat often with this evening-sequence.
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