Next to bubble baths, a hardcore spin class, and naps, we know that yoga is a top stress buster. But besides helping us power through life's annoyances, this ancient practice can also help curb other wellbeing woes like cramps, stomach issues, and lower back pain.
To find out which poses bring the biggest pain relief, we chatted with yoga instructor Dina Smirnova of Y7 Studio in Brooklyn. Next time you're aching, hop off on the couch and onto the mat, and you'll find comfort in no time.
1. Plank Pose: Bust Period Pain
Start on your knees. Stack the wrists directly underneath the shoulders and press the ground away to keep the back straight and stop the shoulder blades from falling in. Step both feet back, keeping the ankles and big toes together. Smirnova also notes that it's key to engage the core and kegel muscles to get the most out of this pose. Hold the plank for as long as you can, starting at 30 seconds and increasing the time to hike up the challenge. "Plank pose forces you to engage the core and pelvic floor, building strength and control in the muscles around the uterus, which in turn helps beat menstrual cramps and aches," she explains.
2. Eagle Pose: The Hangover Cure
Bending both knees, cross the left leg over the right and wrap the left foot behind the calf of the right leg. Wrap the right arm underneath the left, keeping the shoulders down and relaxed, and pressing the forearms away from the face. Stay in this position, or if you want to up the intensity, bring the elbows to the knees and the chin to the chest. "Eagle pose calls us to bind at the joints and find twists in the body. Naturally, this wrings out the organs and encourages any floating toxins to be eliminated," says Smirnova.
3. Supported Bridge Pose: Ease Lower Back Pain
Lie down on your back and place the feet hip-width distance apart, directly underneath the knees, so you are able to graze the heels with your middle fingers. Press all four corners of each foot into the mat to lift the pelvis up. Place a block underneath the lower back and breathe into the vertebrae of the spine. "A block is super helpful when you have back pain, because it becomes easier to relax the glutes and thus remove any unnecessary tension in the pelvis and lower spine," she says.
4. Seated Spinal Twist: Calm Indigestion
Keeping both sitz bones (ischial tuberosities) on the ground, cross one leg over the other. Twist the torso to the opposite direction, grabbing the big toe or planting the palm to the foot or outside of the hip. It helps to imagine you are sitting against a wall so you can broaden the shoulders away from one another. "Any twists, especially twists in the mid-back, perk up large organs such as the stomach and intestines, improving their function, which is to digest food," she explains.
5. Modified Hamstring Stretch With Rotation: Zap IT Band and Joint Pain
Keeping the back foot tucked, lengthen the front leg so the knee is straight and the front heel is in line with the hip. Flex the foot as hard as possible and place the pinky toe to the mat. Fold the torso over the externally rotated leg, and keep the core engaged to protect the lower back. "This stretch targets the iliotibial band, a ligament that connects the top of the hip to the knee. Many joint issues stem from IT band tightness, which can pull joints out of alignment and cause pain," she explains.
6. Plow Pose: Chill Out and Focus
Lie on your back and bring the feet overhead, with the toes tucked or untucked. You can keep the legs straight, keep the knees bent, or bring the knees to the outside of the ears. Allow the hips to stack on top of the shoulders, keeping the abdominals engaged, and pressing the chin toward the chest. Hands can be interlaced or rest face up on the sides of the mat. "As an inversion, plow pose calms the brain and thus, relieves stress and encourages the body's relaxation response," she says.
7. Headstand: Amp Up Confidence
Feeling emotionally defeated? This pose could help. Start against a wall. Interlace the fingers, creating a basket-like shape, and place them on the ground, with elbows in a narrow V-shape. Put the head into the basket, using the hands to protect the back. Find a downward facing dog position and continue to walk the feet towards the face until the pelvis and head are in a vertical position. Bring one or both legs overhead, heels flexing hard toward the ceiling. Make sure to keep the ankles attached, with the core and inner thighs engaged the entire time. Smirnova notes that inversions of any sort send new blood and oxygen to the brain. "Also, going upside down causes a literal and metaphoric shift in perspective. Coming into an inversion may seem scary at first, so building up the courage to do so naturally builds confidence," she says.
Image Credit: Fotolia/Mennis2185; Maggie Puniewska