Yoga poses don't have to only be done in a classroom full of spandex-clad people and burning incense. I've actually found that they're most useful when they're used outside of the studio, during parts of the day when I feel particularly stressed or stiff as a board. During my time teaching yoga, however, I've found that people have a hard time grasping this concept. They think of yoga, and they automatically think they have to set aside a whole hour at the end of their workday to stretch out their aches and pains in an established studio with a veteran instructor. The truth is, there are all sorts of ways you can do yoga poses anywhere; each best suited to the morning, afternoon, and night.
A 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine showed that 100 million Americans live in chronic pain, much of which is caused by the long hours we spend at a desk, hunched over and unaware of our posture. As a result, we face back and neck pain, stiff shoulders, and tight hips. That's precisely why we should all start thinking about adding a few minutes of yoga to our day, even if we're at the office. All it takes is a small amount of space and an even smaller window of time in order to experience immediate relief.
Bustle spoke with Felicia Tomasko, the editor-in-chief of LA YOGA Ayurveda and Health Magazine and a yoga instructor for the yoga and meditation app YogaGlo, who says adding more movement to your day is especially helpful if we want to keep ourselves supple and flexible. "Yoga decompress the spine, stretch out the sides of the body, and counteract the slouching or hunching that may be some of our body's default mechanisms," she says. All of this will give us more energy to actually enjoy the summer, as well as ease the chronic pain many of us deal with on a daily basis.
Here are 12 of what I think are some of the best yoga poses to do in the morning, afternoon, and at night.
You probably feel stiff in the morning, which is totally normal after several hours of sleeping, so it's best to focus on stretches that will gently wake up the body. Simple folds and twists are good places to start. These "are particularly helpful for encouraging circulation through the lymphatic system," Tomasko tells Bustle. The lymphatic system is an immune system network that prevents infection, brings fatty acids to the circulatory system, and removes interstitial fluid in your intestines, so it needs to be in the best shape possible.
By activating your lymphatic system early in the morning, you'll give yourself a boost of energy and set yourself up for a clearer day. However, keep in mind that you shouldn't go to your absolute maximum in these postures. The a.m. is for gentle waking up, not pushing yourself to the limits.
Standing Forward Fold
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and fold over your legs. Let your hands rest on the floor or grab your opposite elbows to swing back and forth. Roll forward so most of the body weight is in your toes and keep your abdominals engaged to protect your lower spine. Hang here for three full minutes — and see if you don't get a pleasant head rush on your way up.
Standing Side Stretch
"We have hundreds of lymph nodes underneath the arms, along the sides of the chest, and in the abdominal area," Tomasko says, which is why side stretches can do wonders for waking up our lymphatic system. Start with your feet hip-width apart, bring your right arm up, and bend over to the left. Keep your gaze down to keep tension out of the neck. Stay here for 30 seconds on each side. Alternate as many times as you'd like.
The easiest of twists can feel divine in the morning. Lie on your back, bring your knees into your chest, and let them fall to one side. Extend your other arm out and bring gaze that way. Stay here for a few minutes, or as much time as you have. Switch sides.
This will get your lower half warmed up for the day. Step one foot back in a lunge and set your knee on the ground. Sink into your front knee but don't let your knee track out over your toes. You should start to feel this in your hip flexor and front thigh area. If you feel comfortable here with your hands on your leg, stay where you are. If you want a little more oomph, bring your arms over your head and look up. Stay for 3-5 full breaths and switch sides.
You're full from lunch, you're sore from sitting all day at your desk, and you're starting to feel a coffee crash. This is the most opportune time of day to get your yoga on, even if only for a few minutes. Tomasko encourages us to incorporate a few backbends in order to "reverse the hunched over position." Additionally, strong poses that fire up the lower half of the body are useful, since they bring new blood flow to stagnant areas.
Hopefully you can find some space in the breakroom to lie on the floor on your stomach. Keep your feet hip-width apart, press them into the floor, and use your hands to push you upright until your belly button just comes off the floor. Look up if it doesn't put strain on your neck and draw your shoulders down your back. Stay here for 3-5 full breaths and lower down. Do a few sets.
Your inner thighs are going to talk to you in this one. Turn your heels in, toes out, and sink down into a squat, ideally until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Root your heels down, keep your torso upright, and bring your arms out the side in any variation. Stay here for five full breaths and release. Repeat twice. Hello, groin!
Here's a pleasant way to stretch out the sides of your body, while also strengthening your thighs. Come into Warrior 2, flip your front hand over, and reach up and over. If your neck allows it, gaze upwards, but if not, keep your gaze down. Continuously sink into your front knee. Stay for 3-5 breaths and switch sides.
Wide Leg Standing Forward Fold
This easy inversion gives you a much needed rush of blood to the head while stretching out your hamstrings, which have been shortened from all that sitting around. Start with your feet about four feet apart, fold over, and grab your big toes with your peace fingers. Pull yourself toward the floor and roll forward so the body weight is in your toes. Engage your abs to protect the lower spine and let your head completely dangle. Stay here for five full breaths. Repeat two more times.
You're getting ready to climb into bed at this point of the day (you should be anyway, so start wrapping up that show), so you're not trying to build excess heat. All you want to do at this time of day is slow your heart rate down and stretch out the last few kinks. Do them at the foot of your bed, after you've brushed your teeth, so you're ready to climb under the covers as soon as you're done.
Lie down on your stomach, bend your knees, and grab your ankles from the outside. Kick into your hands until your chest and knees lift off the floor. Look straight ahead or down if your neck feels tender. The more you kick, the more you'll feel the gentle backbend. Keep your feet flexed and do three sets.
Sit down on your heels with your knees together. Separate your feet and try to sit down between your heels. It may look like there isn't much going on, but this posture can be extremely difficult for those of us with stiff or injured knees. If you can't sit your hips all the way down to the floor, use your hands to take some of the weight, or find a block to sit on top of. Keep your torso upright and chin parallel to the floor. Stay here for five full breaths and repeat once.
Bring one leg forward and the other extended behind you. The closer your front foot is to your groin, the less intense the stretch will be. Walk your forearms on the floor and fold over. You'll feel this in your outer hip, so breathe deeply. Stay for five breaths and switch sides.
You could do this in bed if you wanted. Keep your feet together but spread your knees apart. Sit back onto your heels, stretch your arms forward, and let your forehead melt into the floor. Take a few twisting variations (walk your hands to one side and then the other) or bring your arms back to rest alongside your legs. Just do whatever feels the most relaxing for you, as that's what will prepare you for the deep, glorious sleep you very much deserve.
Images: Gina Florio