Yoga is an ancient practice that involves balancing the mind and body through exercise, meditation and breath control. Yoga offers both mental and physical health benefits to people of all ages. A comprehensive review of one year yoga research in 2020 shows that people who practiced yoga regularly saw significant improvements in stress and anxiety, blood pressure levels, body composition, inflammation and different metabolic markers in people with diabetes. Another study reported that yoga can improve muscular strength and body flexibility, enhance respiratory and overall cardiovascular function, reduce stress, anxiety, symptoms of depression and chronic pain, improve patterns of sleep and improves total well-being and quality of life. Another study in 2017 points out that yoga has the ability to lower chronic back pain.
There are different types of yoga and different yoga poses come with different physical health benefits. When we talk about yoga we always think about a sequence of postures and stretches done on a yoga mat or in a yoga studio. But things are about to get a lot simpler than that. Even if you don’t consider yourself a yogi, these five simple yoga poses can still offer you some amazing health benefits.
On top of the health benefits that each pose can offer, this sequence will also help you slow down and start your day with intention. We all sleep and wake up on our beds right? And if you are like most people, you probably wake up and jump right into your busy schedule. Therefore, the next morning when you wake up, before you hop off your bed, even while still on your pajamas, you can follow this 5-pose sequence from start to finish. Or, choose any of the pose(s) that you think your body needs for that day.
Before you begin make sure you have a flat and comfortable surface, therefore you will need to remove all your pillows and put all your comforters aside.
1. Knees to chest Pose (Apanasana)
How to do a knees to chest pose.
Knees to chest is a very simple pose that can be done on the bed. Start by laying down on your back, then pull both of your knees to the chest and hug your knees with both of your hands. (If you can’t fold both knees, start with one leg followed by the other). Keep your lower back pressed on the bed. Close your eyes and relax on this pose for (at least 30 seconds) try to be present and take 5-10 deep breaths. You can rock gently from side to side, this will help massage your lower back muscles.
Knees to chest is a wonderful beginners pose that has been shown to help ease the tension/tightness in the lower back (lumbar spine). This pose can also reduce spinal pain (back and neck pain) especially in people with chronic back pain. Practicing knees to chest regularly can Increase flexibility and range of motion.
2. Happy baby pose (Ananda balasana)
How to do it
This pose does not require much effort, all you need to do is Lie on your back, bend your knees, and use your hands to hold onto the outside edges of your feet. Pull your knees toward the bed using your upper body strength. Allow yourself to deeply relax into the asana for at least 30 seconds, just breath deeply to any areas you feel stiffness, take 5-10 deep breaths, then slowly release your legs.
Happy baby pose will open your hips and offer a good stretch for your hips, your lower back and ankles. This pose simultaneously lengthens your spine, relaxes your back muscles and helps relieve any tension in your pelvis. This pose is also beneficial because it massages your digestive system.
3. Reclining Spinal twist
How to do this pose
Spinal twists always feels amazing on the spine, while laying on your back cross your left knee over your body to the right as you extend your right leg to the floor. Then extend your left arm out and turn your head and look on your left shoulder. Hold this pose for about 30 seconds, take 5 long deep breaths, be present and feel your spine lengthening and twisting. As you exhale allow any tension built in your abdominal area to melt away.
Lift your left knee back to center. Hug both knees in and then switch sides. Repeat the same process with your right knee. Relax for another five deep breaths. Then hug both knees into your chest again. If you have back problems you may want to skip this pose.
Health benefits: Reclining spinal twist is a wonderful posture that offers a number of health benefits. It gives your back muscles and the glute muscles a good stretch. It lengthens, relaxes, and realigns the spine. Therefore people sitting on a poor posture all day might benefit from this pose. This yoga pose can also massage your abdominal organs and strengthen the abdominal muscles. Meanwhile your digestive organs will also get a good flow of fresh blood.
4. legs on the wall
How to do it
The easiest way is to just lie on bed and walk your legs up the headboard. If your bed has no headboard, you can start by moving your hips as close to the wall as possible, then walk your feet up on the wall with your body in an L position. Relax on this pose, with your arms on the side or both of them rested on your abdomen. Be present, focus on your breath, take long deep breaths, inhale through your nose, and slowly exhale through your nose, let go of negative thoughts and relax deeply into this posture.
Try to stay in Legs Up The Wall pose pose for at least 10 – 15 minutes for optimal benefits.
Health benefits: This pose can calm the nerves and help you relax deeply and can bring the body back to its own innate capacity for self-healing. legs on the wall pose increases circulation and facilitate blood flow back to the heart which can reduce leg swelling and fatigue in people with oedema or low blood pressure. If you spend much time standing this pose can also be beneficial for you. This pose also relieves pressure and tightness on the lower back, while also relaxing muscles in this area.
5. Shavasana (Corpse pose)
How to take Shavasana.
Lie on your back with your arms relaxed alongside your body with your palm facing up. Close your eyes, relax your breathing, and take deep long breaths. Try to clear up your mind. When thoughts come up, acknowledge them and let them go. Breath deeply into your body, welcome that fresh oxygen into your blood flow, as you exhale let go of what no longer serves you. You can stay in shavasana from 5-10 minutes, or longer.
When you are ready to end your shavasana you can slowly open your eyes, then roll on your right side, then slowly move into a comfortable seated position ready to begin your day.
Shavasana might look like a nap at the end of this sequence rather than a yoga pose, but it is one of the most researched yoga poses and comes with a lot of health benefits if you approach it with mindfulness and intention.
Furthermore, by focusing on your breath while relaxing your body, research shows that this pose Calms the sympathetic nervous system and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. therefore, it reduces stress and promote a calm relaxed state of mind and body.
Studies have shown that practicing shavasana plays an important role in stress related diseases like hypertension, coronary heart disease and insomnia. A study published in the national journal of Basic Medical Sciences concluded that “Shavasana is found to be beneficial especially for people living in a stressful environment and it can be a useful tool to incorporate it as part of our lifestyle in prevention of stress related cardiovascular complications”. Other health benefits of shavasana include the ability to reduce headache, fatigue and anxiety.
As you begin to experiment on these simple yoga poses, try to build a sustainable routine. Even 5 minutes a day with the poses of your choice is a good start.
Breathing deeply in these yoga poses, will evoke a meditative state. When you breath deeply, surrender and let go, you will find yourself slipping into a relaxed, peaceful and blissful state.
Melania Laurent (M.D, MPH)
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