When it comes to healthy habits, there are plenty of people who swear by yoga. But even if you're not a yogi yourself, you can still reap the benefits of the practice by engaging in some yoga stretches that can improve your overall health. If the thought of going to a yoga class intimidates you, or if you prefer to work out in the comfort of your own home, you can choose some one-off poses to do on your own. There are plenty of yoga stretches that work wonders for your mind and body, and you don't have to be particularly flexible or a seasoned practioner to do them.
"Yoga is good for your health in several ways," yoga teacher Sarah Ezrin, tells Bustle. "It is probably best known for being a way to both build and maintain flexibility. As we get older, we risk losing mobility and if we are not careful, certain postural patterns can lead to permanent misalignments. Yoga also builds strength. Many poses in yoga do not only build muscle strength, but bone strength as well, as they are considered isometric exercises."
In addition to be good for your body, yoga is also good for the mind, helping to lower the stress hormone cortisol. If you're looking to reap some of the benefits of yoga, you can start with some simple poses. Here are seven yoga stretches that everyone should be doing for their health, according to experts.
1. Figure-four Stretch/Thread The Needle
If you're someone who sits all day, try a figure-four stretch, which can open the hips and release tightness. "Tight hips can lead to a host of issues, including lower back pain and knee instability," Ezrin says. "The more we sit, the tighter our hips. I recommend doing this at the end of the day, to help release the body from sitting."
To do this pose, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Cross the right ankle over the left knee, in a figure-four shape. "This may be plenty," says Ezrin. "If you feel able, reach your right arm through the space between the legs and hold the back of the left thigh or front of the shin bone."
2. Hamstring Stretch (Half Split Pose)
"Another muscle group whose tightness can wreak havoc on the lower back is the hamstrings," Ezrin says. "This muscle group is located on the backs of the thighs, leading to a flattened lower back when too tight."
To release the back thighs, start in a table top position on the hands and the knees. Step the right foot forward between the hands. Very slowly begin to straighten the front leg, while keeping the hips either above the back knee or even forward of the knee.
"If you are unable to straighten the front leg fully, place the hands onto blocks or rise to the finger tips," Ezrin says. "Use the inhalations to lengthen the spine and the exhales to fold deeper."
3. Chest Stretch (C-clasp)
Most of us spend a lot of time hunched over our devices, which can lead to rounded upper backs and collapsed front bodies. This pose helps to open your heart and lungs, and you can do it either sitting or standing.
Take the hands behind the back, and interweave the fingers one-by-one. "If it is not possible to fully clasp, hold a belt or a towel in between the hands," Ezrin says. Squeeze the palms toward one another to open the chest, while resisting the low belly in and up. Take deep breaths into the space of the upper chest.
4. Upper Back Stretch (Eagle Arms)
"This upper back stretch broadens the shoulder-blades and brings more breath into the back rib cage and lungs," Ezrin says.
To do this pose, you can sit at a chair, kneel, or even stand. Take the arms in front of your chest, and cross one elbow over the other. Double cross the forearms at the wrist, if possible. "If you are unable to cross either part, do not despair," Ezrin says. "Work the arms across the body in a hug shape."
5. Hip Flexor Stretch (Low Lunge)
This low lunge not only stretches out the hip flexor group of the back thigh, but also the front abdominal muscles and belly. "This helps improve breath and digestion," Ezrin says. "Having the arms overhead has also been shown to uplift energy and mood."
Begin in hands and knees in a table-top position. Step the right foot forward between the hands, until the front ankle and knee align. Lift the torso off the front, and reach the arms up to the ceiling strongly. "Feel free to explore both sinking the hips forward for a deeper release of the back thigh and to explore shifting back to help teach lower belly support," Ezrin says.
6. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
"This pose increases awareness of overall posture, strengthening the core muscles and allowing more space for organs to perform optimally," yoga teacher Tatiana Ridley, CHHC, AADP, tells Bustle.
Stand tall with your feet together, your shoulders relaxed, and your arms at your sides. Take a deep breath and raise your hands overhead, palms facing each other with arms straight. Reach up toward the sky, and try to touch the clouds with your fingertips.
7. Torso Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
"This pose is a heart-opener that stimulates the immune system, opens up the upper respiratory muscles, and stretches the shoulders and arms," Ridley says.
Sitting on the ground or the floor, twist your torso in one direction, with your opposite arm placed down in the opposite direction. Lengthen your spine on each inhale, and twist on each exhale for three breaths.
These yoga stretches are simple and don't require experience, but they can benefit many aspects of your health.