As a runner and soccer player I ignored yoga for years, thinking it was far too low-key and relaxed to help me with my more high intense athletic activities. However, I could not have been more wrong. Yoga is a tremendous way to stretch, tone muscles, and keep the body balanced. It is a beneficial activity on its own, but yoga augments other exercise as well. While a number of yoga positions can take years to master, there are a few that introduce novices to the benefits and relaxation of the practice.
#1: Downward-Facing Dog
Downward-facing dog (also known as “down dog”) is one of the best-known and most easily recognized yoga positions. To get into this position, start on all fours, with your hands shoulder-width apart and your knees aligned with your hips. Slowly lift your knees off the ground, and push your hips into the air to make what looks like an upside-down “V” shape. Extend your elbows and lift your hips as high as possible while straightening your legs. At the beginning this may be a deceptively difficult position. However, with time, you will see this position as a way to relax in the middle of a longer routine. You should feel the stretch in your calves and hamstrings, and perhaps some strain in your arms and shoulders.
#2: Cat-Cow Positions
The Cat and Cow positions go together easily and help stretch the back and stomach. Go back to all fours, with your knees below your hips and your arms shoulder-width apart. Slowly raise the small of your back into the air, arching it like a cat. Understandably, this is the cat position. Hold that pose for a moment, and then slowly lower your back. Keeping your position in all fours, lower the small of your back toward the floor, letting your knees sink down and stretch your head up into the air. This is the cow position. Hold it for a moment, and then move back into the cat position. Repeat the pair of positions two or three times before relaxing again.
#3: Child’s Pose
Child’s pose is the perfect way to end a yoga routine, as it helps relax and stretch muscles. Start again on all fours, then sink backwards so that your buttocks are resting on your heels. Stretch your arms out in front of you and lower your forehead to the floor. Relax your shoulders, reach out your fingertips, and feel your body sink into the floor. Hold this position and feel the stretch in your back.
In all three of these basic positions, focus on stretching and releasing tension from muscles. Regularly practicing yoga can help tone muscles for other sports as well as provide a calmer outlook for exercise, and introducing yoga into your exercise routine three to four times a week will generally improve your health.