May 06, 2011

If you’ve never been a believer in using yoga to get in shape, you’re missing out on one of the most practical, time-sparing workouts you can do for your body. Why is that? Because if you take away all of the spirituality of yoga, the poses themselves are still terrific non-impact stretches and body-resistance exercises that help you loosen up and strengthen your muscles simultaneously—using nothing more than your own sense of balance and bodyweight.

Need more reasons to try it? Yoga can help recorrect the alignment of your spinal column, improving your body’s overall posture so you can breath deeper and feel more energized throughout the day. It also teaches your muscles to work together, helping you build functional strength that can improve your performance in any activity or sport.

That said, I have four poses you can do right now—no experience necessary—that can improve your life dramatically. Four moves that can help alleviate back problems, prevent muscle strain, improve your posture, increase your circulation and even help you burn a few calories. Best of all—all you need is a quiet space and a few minutes to spare to do them.

BEFORE YOU START
For each of these poses, always perform them barefoot for better stability. Also, every time you breathe, do it deep and slow through your nose, taking at least four seconds to inhale and four seconds to exhale. I recommend performing each of these poses in any order at least three times weekly, taking a day off in between until your muscles become more familiar with the moves. Eventually, you can try to do them each and every day if you wish.

The Boat
Sit on the floor with your legs bent in front of you, knees together and feet flat on the floor. Reach your arms forward so they touch the outside of your knees, palms facing towards each other. Keeping your legs fixed in a bent position, slowly lean back, raising your feet up about 12 inches up off the ground. Balance yourself on your tailbone and try to hold this position for six to eight deep breaths.

The Lightning Bolt
Start with your feet together and your back straight. Straighten your arms overhead and press your palms together. Bend your knees until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor, then bend at the waist and lean forward slightly. Your body should now look like a lightning bolt. Hold this pose for five to six deep breaths.

The Cobra (pictured above)
Lie flat on your stomach with your legs together and hands flat on the floor along the sides of your chest. The tops of your feet should be flat against the floor. Keeping your elbows in close to your body, inhale as you slowly straighten your arms and raise your head, chest and stomach off the floor—imagine you’re being peeled backwards, tilting your head back, then slowly arching your back to raise your chest and ribcage.

Concentrate on letting your abdominals and lower back do all the work. Look up toward the ceiling, hold this pose for five to six deep breaths, then slowly curl yourself back to the floor.

The Triangle
Stand straight and spread your feet about three feet apart. Point your left foot forward, but point your right foot outward so that it points to your right. Finally, place your right hand on your outside of your right leg.

Looking straight ahead, slowly bend to the right, letting your hand slide down your leg toward your right foot as far as you comfortably can. Simultaneously extend your left arm above you so that your fingers point straight up to the ceiling. Turn your head to look up at your left hand, then hold this pose for four to five deep breaths. Slowly return to the beginning position, then repeat the pose again (this time to your left side).

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