Yoga Poses

  • Yoga Poses
  • Pilates Poses
  • Child
  • Downward Facing Dog
  • Eagle
  • Head Stand
  • Mountain Pose
  • Shoulder Stand
  • Standing Forward Bend
  • Sun Salutation
  • Triangle
  • Warrior 1
  • Warrior 2
Child

Child’s pose is a restful pose that can be sequenced between more challenging asanas. Sanskrit name: Balasana (pronouced: bah-LAHS-anna), bala = child.

Benefits
* Gently stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles
* Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and fatigue
* Relieves back and neck pain when done with head and torso supported

Contraindications and cautions
* Diarrhea
* Pregnancy
* Knee injury: Avoid Balasana unless you have the supervision of an experienced teacher.

Step by step

1. Kneel on the floor. Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels, then separate your knees about as wide as your hips.

2. Exhale and lay your torso down between your thighs. Broaden your sacrum across the back of your pelvis and narrow your hip points toward the navel, so that they nestle down onto the inner thighs. Lengthen your tail bone away from the back of the pelvis while you lift the base of your skull away from the back of your neck.

3. Lay your hands on the floor alongside your torso, palms up, and release the fronts of your shoulders toward the floor. Feel how the weight of the front shoulders pulls the shoulder blades wide across your back.

4. Balasana is a resting pose. Stay anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. Beginners can also use Balasana to get a taste of a deep forward bend, where the torso rests on the thighs. Stay in the pose from 1 to 3 minutes. To come up, first lengthen the front torso, and then with an inhalation lift from the tail bone as it presses down and into the pelvis.

Modifications & props

If you have difficulty sitting on your heels in this pose, place a thickly folded blanket between your back thighs and calves.

Variation

To increase the length of the torso, stretch your arms forward. Lift your buttocks just slightly away from your heels. Reach the arms longer while you draw the shoulder blades down the back. Then without moving the hands, sit the buttocks down on the heels again.
Subsequent Poses

Beginners tip

We usually don’t breathe consciously and fully into the back of the torso. Balasana provides us with an excellent opportunity to do just that. Imagine that each inhalation is “doming” the back torso toward the ceiling, lengthening and widening the spine. Then with each exhalation release the torso a little more deeply into the fold.

Downward Facing Dog

 

Downward-facing dog is an all-over, rejuvenating stretch. Sanskrit name: Adho Mukha Svanasana (pronouced: AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna), adho = downward, mukha = face, svana = dog.

Step by step

1. Come to your hands and knees with the wrists underneath the shoulders and the knees underneath the hips. Spread your fingers, the middle fingers should be parallel, pointing straight ahead.

2. Curl the toes under and as you exhale lift the knees, push back raising the hips and straightening the legs.

3. Ground down from the forearms into the fingertips, press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. Your weight should be evenly distributed between the hands and feet.

4. Outwardly rotate the upper arms broadening the collarbones, firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the hips.

5. Allow your neck and head to relax between the upper arms. The important thing is to work on lengthening the spine.

6. Straighten your knees but try not to lock them. Firm the outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward slightly. Keep the tail bone high and sink your heels toward the floor.

7. Downward Facing Dog is one of the poses in the traditional Sun Salutation sequence. It’s also an excellent yoga asana all on its own. Stay in this pose anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes. Then bend your knees to the floor with an exhalation and rest in Childs Pose.

Benefits
* Builds strength, flexibility and awareness
* Calms the brain and helps relieve stress
* Energises the body
* Stretches the spine and hamstrings
* Strengthens the arms and legs
* Rests the heart and improves digestion
* Helps relieve insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
* Helps prevent osteoporosis
* Therapeutic for asthma, flat feet (by strengthening the arches of the feet), sciatica, sinusitis
* Reduces stiffness in shoulder blades and arthritis in shoulder joints, wrists and fingers
* Therapeutic for high blood pressure when head supported on a bolster or block
* Relieves menstrual discomfort when done with head supported

Contraindications/cautions
* Carpal tunnel syndrome
* Diarrhea
* Chronic inflammation of the wrists, elbows or shoulders
* Rheumatoid arthritis also will make it difficult for the hands tosupport you –  though sometimes it might help to practice the pose fora short time
* If you have eye problems such as detachedretinas, high pressure in the eyes or cataracts, do downward dog withyour hands on the wall
* Pregnancy: don’t do the full pose late-term, keep the knees down on the floor.

Eagle
Eagle pose is a challenging balancing posture which builds lower body strength, increases concentration and coordination, and opens the hipsand shoulders. Sanskrit name: (gah-rue-DAHS-anna) Garuda = the mythic “king of the birds,” the vehicle of Vishnu. The word is usually turned into ‘eagle’ in English, though according to one dictionary the name literally means ‘devourer’.

Benefits
* Strengthens the arms, belly, and legs
* Stretches and strengthens the wrists
* Stretches the backs of the legs (in the full version described below)
* Improves sense of balance

Contraindications and cautions
* Recent or chronic injury to the knees, hips, arms or shoulders.

Step by step

1. From the mountain pose we featured last month, with both arms raised, exhale and wrap the left arm under the right, bend the elbows and bring the palms together with the thumbs crossed. Gently pull the elbows down, working on bringing the fingertips below the level of the nose.

2. Exhale and bend both knees squatting down and back as in standing squate pose.

3. Shift your weight to the right foot. Inhale and lift the left up, crossing it over the right knee and wrapping it around the right leg. Bring the left toes behind the right ankle.

4. Stare at one point on the floor or on the wall in front of you for balance.

5. Keep the knees and elbows in line under the nose. Press the shoulders back to keep from leaning forward.

6. Breathe and hold for 2-6 breaths.

7. To release: inhale and uncross the arms and legs, lifting both arms up towards the ceiling, placing both feet back on the floor in mountain pose.

8. Repeat on other side.

Modification
Hold thumb or wrist of opposite hand or interlace fingers together.

Head Stand

Headstand is often called the king of yoga asanas because of its manybenefits. It is a heating pose suitable for intermediate to advanced students and should not be attempted for the first time without supervision of an experienced teacher. Sanskrit name: Salamba Sirsasana(pronounced: sah-LOM-bah shear-SHAHS-anna), salamba = with support (sa= with, alamba = support), sirsa = head.

Benefits
* Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
* Stimulates the pituitary and pineal glands
* Strengthens the arms, legs, and spine
* Strengthens the lungs
* Tones the abdominal organs
* Improves digestion
* Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
* Therapeutic for asthma, infertility, insomnia, and sinusitis

Contraindications and cautions
* Back injury
* Headache
* Heart condition
* High blood pressure
* Menstruation
* Neck injury
* Low blood pressure: don’t start practice with this pose
*Pregnancy: if you are experienced with this pose, you can continue topractice it late into pregnancy. However, don’t take up the practice ofSirsasana after you become pregnant.

Step by step

1. Use a folded blanket or sticky mat to pad your head and forearms. Kneelon the floor. Lace your fingers together and set the forearms on the floor, elbows at shoulder width. Roll the upper arms slightly outward, but press the inner wrists firmly into the floor. Set the crown of yourhead on the floor. If you are just beginning to practice this pose, press the bases of your palms together and snuggle the back of yourhead against the clasped hands. More experienced students can open their hands and place the back of the head into the open palms.

2. Inhale and lift your knees off the floor. Carefully walk your feetcloser to your elbows, heels elevated. Actively lift through the topthighs, forming an inverted V. Firm the shoulder blades against your back and lift them toward the tailbone so the front torso stays as long as possible. This should help prevent the weight of the shoulderscollapsing onto your neck and head.

3. Exhale and lift your feet away from the floor. Take both feet up at the same time, even if itmeans bending your knees and hopping lightly off the floor. As the legs (or thighs, if your knees are bent) rise to perpendicular to the floor, firm the tailbone against the back of the pelvis. Turn the upper thighs in slightly, and actively press the heels toward the ceiling (straightening the knees if you bent them to come up). The center of the arches should align over the center of the pelvis, which in turnshould align over the crown of the head.

4. Firm the outer armsinward, and soften the fingers. Continue to press the shoulder bladesagainst the back, widen them, and draw them toward the tailbone. Keepthe weight evenly balanced on the two forearms. It’s also essentialthat your tailbone continues to lift upward toward the heels. Once thebacks of the legs are fully lengthened through the heels, maintain that length and press up through the balls of the big toes so the inner legsare slightly longer than the outer.

5. As a beginning practitioner stay for 10 seconds. Gradually add 5 to 10 seconds onto your stay every day or so until you can comfortably hold the pose for 3 minutes. Then continue for 3 minutes each day for a week or two, until you feel relatively comfortable in the pose. Again gradually add 5 to 10 seconds onto your stay every day or so until you can comfortablyhold the pose for 5 minutes. Come down with an exhalation, withoutlosing the lift of the shoulder blades, with both feet touching thefloor at the same time.

Modifications and props

Balancein this pose is difficult at first. Perform Sirsasana against a wall.Bring the knuckles of the clasped hands to the wall. If possible, dothe pose in the corner of a room, so that the right-angled walls touchyour shoulders, hips, and outer heels.
Some schools of yoga recommend doing Sirsasana before Sarvangasana, others vice versa.

Mountain Pose

Mountain pose can be practiced as a starting position for standing poses, in between standing poses, or by itself to improve posture. Sanskrit name: Tadasana (pronounced: tah-DAHS-anna), tada = mountain.

Benefits
* Improves posture
* Strengthens thighs, knees, and ankles
* Firms abdomen and buttocks
* Relieves sciatica
* Reduces flat feet

Contraindications
* Headache
* Insomnia
* Low blood pressure

Step by step

1. Stand with the bases of your big toes touching, heels slightly apart (so that your second toes are parallel). Lift and spread your toes and the balls of your feet, then lay them softly down on the floor. Rock back and forth and side to side. Gradually reduce this swaying to a standstill, with your weight balanced evenly on the feet.

2. Firm your thigh muscles and lift the knee caps, without hardening your lower belly. Lift the inner ankles to strengthen the inner arches, then imagine a line of energy all the way up along your inner thighs to your groins, and from there through the core of your torso, neck, and head, and out through the crown of your head. Turn the upper thighs slightly inward. Lengthen your tail bone toward the floor and lift the pubis toward the navel.

3. Press your shoulder blades into your back, then widen them across and release them down your back. Without pushing your lower front ribs forward, lift the top of your sternum straight toward the ceiling. Widen your collarbones. Hang your arms beside the torso.

4. Balance the crown of your head directly over the center of your pelvis, with the underside of your chin parallel to the floor, throat soft, and the tongue wide and flat on the floor of your mouth. Soften your eyes.

5. Tadasana is usually the starting position for all the standing poses. But it’s useful to practice Tadasana as a pose in itself. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing easily.

Modifications & props

You can check your alignment in this pose with your back against a wall. Stand with the backs of your heels, sacrum, and shoulder blades (but not the back of your head) touching the wall.

Variations

You can alter the position of your arms in a variety of ways; for example: stretch the arms upward, perpendicular to the floor and parallel with each other, with the palms facing inward; interlace the fingers, extend the arms straight in front of your torso, turn the palms away, then stretch the arms upward, perpendicular to the floor, so the palms face the ceiling; cross the arms behind your back, holding each elbow with the opposite-side hand (be sure to reverse the cross of the forearms and repeat for an equal length of time).

Shoulder Stand

Shoulder Stand is an inverted, cooling pose. Sanskrit name: Salamba Sarvangasana (pronounced: sah-LOM-bah sar-van-GAHS-anna), salamba = with support (sa = with alamba = support), sarva = all, anga = limb.

Benefits
* Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
* Stimulates the thyroid and prostate glands and abdominal organs
* Stretches the shoulders and neck
* Tones the legs and buttocks
* Improves digestion
* Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
* Reduces fatigue and alleviates insomnia
* Therapeutic for asthma, infertility, and sinusitis

Contraindications and Cautions
* Diarrhea
* Headache
* High blood pressure
* Menstruation
* Neck injury
* Pregnancy: If you are experienced with this pose, you can continue to practice it late into pregnancy. However, don’t take up the practice of Sarvangasana after you become pregnant.
* Salamba Sarvangasana is considered to be an intermediate to advanced pose. Do not perform this pose without sufficient prior experience or unless you have the supervision of an experienced instructor. Some schools of yoga recommend doing Salamba Sirsasana before Salamba Sarvangasana, others vice versa. The instruction here assumes the former order.

Step by step

1. Lay on the floor on your back with your arms on the floor alongside your torso, then bend your knees and set your feet against the floor with the heels close to the sitting bones. Exhale, press your arms against the floor and push your feet away from the floor, drawing your thighs into the front torso.

2. Continue to lift by curling the pelvis and then the back torso away from the floor, so that your knees come toward your face. Stretch your arms out parallel and turn them outward so the fingers press against the floor (and the thumbs point behind you). Bend your elbows and draw them toward each other. Spread your palms against the back of your torso. Raise your pelvis over the shoulders, so that the torso is relatively perpendicular to the floor. Walk your hands up your back (toward the floor) without letting the elbows slide too much wider than shoulder width.

3. Inhale and lift your bent knees toward the ceiling, bringing your thighs in line with your torso and hanging the heels down by your buttocks. Press your tail bone toward your pubis and turn the upper thighs inward slightly. Finally inhale and straighten the knees, pressing the heels up toward the ceiling. When the backs of the legs are fully lengthened, lift through the balls of the big toes so the inner legs are slightly longer than the outer.

4. Soften the throat and tongue. Firm the shoulder blades against the back, and move the sternum toward the chin. Your forehead should be relatively parallel to the floor, your chin perpendicular. Press the backs of your upper arms and the tops of your shoulders actively into the blanket support, and try to lift the upper spine away from the floor. Gaze softly at your chest.

5. As a beginner, stay in the pose for about 30 seconds. Gradually add 5 – 10 seconds on your stay every day or so until you can comfortably hold the pose for 3 minutes. Then continue for 3 minutes each day for a week or two, until you feel relatively comfortable in the pose. Again gradually add 5 – 10 seconds onto your stay every day until you can hold the pose for 5 minutes. To come down, exhale, bend your knees into your torso again, and roll your back torso slowly and carefully onto the floor, keeping the back of your head on the floor.

Standing Forward Bend

Standing forward bend is a simple, highly effective pose for tight legs and sore backs. Sanskrit name: Uttanasana (pronounced: OOT-tan-AHS-ahna), ut = intense, tan = to stretch or extend.

Benefits
* Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
* Stimulates the liver and kidneys
* Stretches the hamstrings, calves, and hips
* Strengthens the thighs and knees
* Improves digestion
* Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
* Reduces fatigue and anxiety
* Relieves headache and insomnia
* Therapeutic for asthma, high blood pressure, infertility, osteoporosis, and sinusitis

Contraindication
Back injury: Do this pose with bent knees, or perform Ardha Uttanasana (pronounced ARE-dah, ardha= half), with your hands on the wall, legs perpendicular to your torso, and arms parallel to the floor.

Step by Step

1. Stand in Tadasana, hands on hips. Exhale and bend forward from the hip joints, not from the waist. As you descend draw the front torso out of the groins and open the space between the pubis and top sternum. As in all the forward bends, the emphasis is on lengthening the front torso as you move more fully into the position.

2. If possible, with your knees straight, bring your palms or finger tips to the floor slightly in front of or beside your feet, or bring your palms to the backs of your ankles. If this isn’t possible, cross your forearms and hold your elbows. Press the heels firmly into the floor and lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling. Turn the top thighs slightly inward.

3. With each inhalation in the pose, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly; with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward bend. In this way the torso oscillates almost imperceptibly with the breath. Let your head hang from the root of the neck, which is deep in the upper back, between the shoulder blades.

4. Uttanasana can be used as a resting position between the standing poses. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. It can also be practiced as a pose in itself.

5. Don’t roll the spine to come up. Instead bring your hands back onto your hips and reaffirm the length of the front torso. Then press your tailbone down and into the pelvis and come up on an inhalation with a long front torso.

Beginner’s tip
To increase the stretch in the backs of your legs, bend your knees slightly. Imagine that the sacrum is sinking deeper into the back of your pelvis and bring the tailbone closer to the pubis. Then against this resistance, push the top thighs back and the heels down and straighten the knees again. Be careful not to straighten the knees by locking them back (you can press your hands against the back of each knee to provide some resistance); instead let them straighten as the two ends of each leg move farther apart.

Sun Salutation

 

Sun Salutation is a sequence of postures coordinated with the breath which help warm the body in preparation for other, deeper poses. Sanskrit name: Surya Namaskar (pronounced: SUR-ya Nam-ARS-car), Surya = sun, Namaskar = Bengali word for Namaste, “to bow”, salutation, greeting or praise.

Benefits
* Warms and opens the body
* Prepares the body for deeper yoga poses

Contraindications and cautions
* See each pose in the sequence to learn contraindications and cautions of each

Step by step

1. Sand facing the direction of the sun with both feet touching. Bring the hands together, palm-to-palm, at the heart.

2. Inhale and raise the arms upward. Slowly bend backward, stretching arms above head.

3. Exhale slowly bending forward, touching the earth with respect until the hands are in line with the feet, head touching knees.

4. Inhale and move the right leg back away from the body in a wide backward step. Keep the hands and feet firmly on the ground, with the left foot between the hands. Raise the head.

5. While exhaling, bring the left foot together with the right. Keep arms straight, raise the hips and align the head with the arms, forming an upward arch.

6. Exhale and lower the body to the floor until the feet, knees, hands, chest and forehead are touching the ground.

7. Inhale and slowly raise the head and bend backwards as much as possible, bending the spine to the maximum.

8. While exhaling, bring the left foot together with the right. Keep arms straight, raise the hips and align the head with the arms, forming an upward arch.

9. Inhale and move the right leg back away from the body in an wide backward step. Keep the hands and feet firmly on the ground, with the left foot between the hands. Raise the head.

10. Exhale slowly bending forward, touching the earth with respect until the hands are in line with the feet, head touching knees.

11. Inhale and raise the arms upward. Slowly bend backward, stretching arms above the head.

12. Stand facing the direction of the sun with both feet touching. Bring the hands together, palm-to-palm, at the heart.

Triangle

Triangle pose strengthens the legs, stretches the groins, hamstrings, hips, and opens the chest and shoulders. Sanskrit name: Utthita Trikonanasa (pronounced: oo-TEE-tah trik-cone-AHS-anna), utthita = extended, trikona = three angle or triangle.

Benefits
* Stretches and strengthens the thighs, knees and ankles, neck and shoulders
* Stretches the spine, chest and abdomen, hips, groins, hamstrings and calves
* Improves balance and concentration
* Broadens the pelvis
* Helps to develop a more balanced functioning between the left and right sides of the body
* Gives access to the spine through freedom of movement of the hips
* Helps relieve stress and anxiety
* Stimulates the abdominal organs
* Improves digestion, relieving constipation
* Increases blood flow to your pelvic region
* Tones and improves the function of your reproductive organs
* Therapeutic for flat feet, infertility, neck pain, osteoporosis, and sciatica
* Relieves backache, especially through second trimester of pregnancy

Contraindications and cautions
* Diarrhea
* Headache
* Low blood pressure
* High blood pressure: turn head to gaze downward
* Heart conditions: practice against a wall, keep top arm on hip
* Neck problems: keep looking straight ahead, keep both sides of the neck evenly long
* Back problems: rest front arm higher up the leg
* Avoid locking your knees, bend your knees during the transition into the pose, keeping your thighs firm
* Do not rest your hand directly on the knee as this creates too much pressure on the knee

Step by step

1. Stand with your feet approximately 3 to 3 ½ feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and reach them actively out to the sides, shoulder blades wide, palms down. Spread the fingers and look along the right arm.

2. Turn your left foot in slightly to the right and turn your right foot out to the right 90 degrees. Align the right heel with the left heel. Firm your thighs and rotate your inner right thigh outward, so that the center of the right kneecap is in line with the center of the right ankle.

3. Exhale and extend your torso to the right directly over the plane of the right leg, bending from the hip joint, not the waist. Anchor this movement by strengthening the left leg and pressing the outer heel firmly to the floor. Rotate the torso to the left, keeping the two sides equally long. Let the left hip come slightly forward and lengthen the tail bone toward the back heel.

4. Rest your right hand on your thigh, shin or ankle. Stretch your left arm toward the ceiling, in line with your shoulders. Keep your head in a neutral position or turn it to the left, eyes gazing softly at the left thumb.

5. Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Inhale to come up, keeping your thighs firm and press the back heel strongly into the floor while reaching the top arm toward the ceiling. Reverse the feet and repeat for the same length of time to the left.

Beginners
Place your back heel or the back of your torso against a wall if you feel unsteady in the pose.

Warrior 1

Warrior I is a strong pose and a standing backbend that can take several years to finesse. Sanskrit name: Virabhadrasana I (pronounced: veer-ah-bah-DRAHS-anna). Virabhadra is the name of a fierce warrior, an incarnation of Shiva, described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, and wielding a thousand clubs, and wearing a tiger’s skin.

Benefits
* Stretches the chest and lungs, shoulders and neck, belly, groins (psoas)
* Strengthens the shoulders and arms, and the muscles of the back
* Strengthens and stretches the thighs, calves, and ankles

Contraindications and cautions
* High blood pressure
* Heart problems
* Students with shoulder problems should keep their raised arms parallel (or slightly wider than parallel) to each other.
* Students with neck problems should keep their head in a neutral position and not look up at the hands.

Step by step

1. Stand in Tadasana. Exhale and step or lightly jump your feet wide apart. Raise your arms perpendicular to the floor and parallel to each other and reach actively through the little-finger sides of the hands toward the ceiling. Firm your scapulars against your back and draw them down toward the coccyx bone.

2. Turn your left foot in 45 to 60 degrees to the right and your right foot out 90 degrees to the right. Align the right heel with the left heel. Exhale and rotate your torso to the right, squaring the front of your pelvis as much as possible with the front edge of your mat. As the left hip point turns forward, press the head of the left femur back to ground the heel. Lengthen your coccyx toward the floor, and arch your upper torso back slightly.

3. With your left heel firmly anchored to the floor, exhale and bend your right knee over the right ankle so the shin is perpendicular to the floor. The more flexible you are you can align your right thigh parallel to the floor.

4. Reach strongly through your arms, lifting the ribcage away from the pelvis. As you ground down through the back foot, feel a lift that runs up the back leg, across the belly and chest, and up into the arms. If possible, bring the palms together. Spread the palms against each other and reach a little higher through the pinky-sides of the hands. Keep your head in a neutral position, gazing forward, or tilt it back and look up at your thumbs.

5. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute. To come up, inhale press the back heel firmly into the floor and reach up through the arms, straightening the right knee. Turn the feet forward and release the arms with an exhalation, or keep them extended upward for more of a challenge. Take a few breaths, then turn the feet to the left and repeat for the same length. When you’re finished return to Tadasana.

Warrior 2

Warrior II is a graceful, powerful pose that helps build stamina. Sanskrit name: Virabhadrasana II (pronouced: veer-ah-bah-DRAHS-anna). Virabhadra is the name of a fierce warrior, an incarnation of Shiva, described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, wielding a thousand clubs, and wearing a tiger’s skin.

Benefits
* Strengthens and stretches the legs and ankles
* Stretches the groins, chest and lungs, shoulders
* Stimulates abdominal organs
* Increases stamina
* Relieves backaches, especially through second trimester of pregnancy
* Therapeutic for carpal tunnel syndrome, flat feet, infertility, osteoporosis, and sciatica

Contraindications and cautions
* Diarrhea
* High blood pressure
* Neck problems: Don’t turn your head to look over the front hand; continue to look straight ahead with both sides of the neck lengthened evenly.

Step by step

1. Stand in Tadasana. With an exhale, step or lightly jump your feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and reach them actively out to the sides, shoulder blades wide, palms down.

2. Turn your right foot in slightly to the right and your left foot out to the left 90 degrees. Align the left heel with the right heel. Firm your thighs and turn your left thigh outward so that the center of the left knee cap is in line with the center of the left ankle.

3. Exhale and bend your left knee over the left ankle, so that the shin is perpendicular to the floor. If possible, bring the left thigh parallel to the floor. Anchor this movement of the left knee by straightening the right leg and pressing the outer right heel firmly to the floor.

4. Stretch the arms away from the space between the shoulder blades, parallel to the floor. Don’t lean the torso over the left thigh: keep the sides of the torso equally long and the shoulders directly over the pelvis. Press the tail bone slightly toward the pubis. Turn the head to the left and look out over the fingers.

5. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Inhale to come up. Reverse the feet and repeat for the same length of time to the left.

  • Cat - Cow Pose
  • Double Leg Stretch
  • Leg Circles
  • Roll Downs
  • Saw
  • Seal
  • Spine Stretch
  • Swan Pose
  • Teaser
  • The Hundreds
Cat - Cow Pose

Step by step

1. Start on all fours, bringing the wrists underneath the shoulders and the knees underneath the hips

2. Think of the spine as a straight line connecting the shoulders to the hips. Visualise the line extending forward through the crown of the head and backwards through the tailbone

3. Curl the toes under

4. Drop the belly

5. Take the gaze up toward the ceiling

6. Let the movement in the spine start from the tailbone, so that the neck is the last part to move

7. On the next exhale, release the tops of the feet to the floor

8. Round the spine

9. Drop the head

10. Take the gaze to the navel

11. Repeat the Cat-Cow stretch each inhale and exhale, matching the movement to your own breath

12. Continue for 5-10 breaths, moving the whole spine. After your final exhale, come back to a neutral spine

Double Leg Stretch

Step by step

1. Lie on your back with your knees pulled into your chest

2. Place the palms of your hands on top of your shins

3. Lift your head, neck and shoulders off of the mat

4. Inhale as you extend your legs in front of you and your arms overhead, allowing only your buttocks and your back to touch the mat

5. Exhale to bring your knees to your chest and return your hands to the top of your shins

6. Repeat 5 times

Tips
* Make sure your head and shoulders stay lifted as your arms and legs move
* Keep your torso completely still
* Tighten your abdominals-no belly bulge!
* Gaze between your thighs throughout the entire exercise
* Support your head with one hand if your neck feels strained
* If you want more of a challenge during your exhale, exaggerate your extension and then scoop the air as you circle your arms down and bring your knees into your chest

Benefits
* Strengthens your abdominals – helps create enviable abs
* Lengthens and tones your torso
* Enhances your coordination

Leg Circles

Step by step

1. Lie on your back with your legs extended and your arms by your sides, lift your right leg to a 90-degree angle, with your toes toward the ceiling in a natural foot position (neither pointed nor flexed)

2. Inhale as you move your leg clockwise through the first half of the circle; exhale as you complete a full leg circle

3. Repeat 5 times and reverse directions, moving your leg in counter-clockwise circles, switch legs and repeat

Benefits
* Strengthens your abdominals, your quadriceps, your back  and trips your hips and thighs to increase circulations in your hips and joints
* Challenges your core stability

Tips
* Draw an imaginery circle on the ceiling with your big toe
* Engage your abdominals and your quadriceps to move your leg, rather than using your hips and torso
* Make sure that your hips do not roll or move
* If you cannot lift your working leg to 90-degree angle, bend your supporting leg and place the heel close to your buttocks
* Drop your navel to your spine on each exhalation

Roll Downs

Roll downs help release tension in the spine, shoulders and upper body, and teach correct use of the stabilising abdominal muscles (transversus abdominis) when bending. They help mobilise the spine, creating flexibility and strength.

Step by step

1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart in parallel. Keep your weight evenly balanced on both feet. Check that you are not rolling your feet inwards or outwards and keep your knees soft. Make sure that your spine is in neutral and keep your tailbone down

2. Breathe in to prepare, lengthening up through your spine, and soften your head and neck

3. Breathe out, zip up and hollow your abdomen, drop your chin to your chest and allow the weight of your head to help you roll forward slowly, with your arms hanging and keeping your knees soft

4. Breathe in as you hang like a rag doll, letting your head and arms hang

5. Breathe out, zipping yourself up firmly, as you drop your tailbone down and slowly come up to standing, rolling through your spine vertebra by vertebra

6. As you roll back up, imagine you are rebuilding your spinal column by stacking each vertebra on top of each other to lengthen our the spine

7. Repeat four to six times

Watch for:
* You may like to take an extra breath during this exercise. This is fine, but make sure that you breathe out when you roll back up again
* Make sure that you roll down from your centre and do not sway to one side
* Do not roll the feet in or out. Keep your weight evenly balanced and try not to lean forward onto the balls of your feet or backward onto the heels

Modifications – back problems
* Stand against a wall sliding your feet about 45 centimetres from the wall – the distance really depends on your height, but you should feel comfortable
* Keep your knees bent with feet hip-width apart and parallel with your weight evenly balanced on both feet
* Your lower back will touch the wall as you roll down and up again
* For more security, you may also like to slide your hands down your thighs as you roll down and back up again

Saw

The Saw pose is a flexibility stretching exercise for back, spine and hamstrings. The pose trims your waistline, eases lower back tension, stretches your hamstrings and increases the flexibility in your spine.

Step by step

1. Sit on your mat with your legs extended a little wider than shoulder-width apart and your feet flexed

2. Life your arms out o the sides of your body, palms facing down

3. Inhale as you lengthen your spine and lift the crown of your head toward the ceiling

4. Exhale as you rotate your torso to the right, round over, and reach your left hand past your right pinky toe

5. Stretch your right hand behind your back, with your palm up

6. Count to three

7. Inhale as you lift your spine back to the starting position

8. Repeat on the other side

9. Complete three sets or do the entire exercise 6 times

Watch for:
* Always lift your ribs away from your hips and grow tall in your spine before beginning a rotation
* When rounding over, move your ear toward your opposite knee
* Slide the pinky of your front hand along the outside of the opposite pinky toe
* If you have lower back issues, check with your doctor or practitioner before doing any twisting

Seal

Step by step

1. Sit on the mat with the soles of your feet touching the mat and your knees slightly open

2. Bring your hands to the inside of your thighs and wrap your arms under your knees

3. Reach around to the outside of your ankles and grab your feet

4. Inhale as you lift your feet off the ground

5. Exhale as you roll back

6. Inhale as you roll up

7. Balance on your sit-bones and clap your heels together three times (like a seal clapping its flippers)

8. Repeat 5 to 8 times

Tips
* Your head and neck should never touch the mat-roll on your upper back only
* Keep your gaze on your bellybutton
* Drop your shoulders away from your ears
* Engage your abdominals by pulling your bellybutton to your spine
* Balance on your sit-bones by lifting through your spine and then rounding over, creating a deep scoop in your belly

Benefits
* Eases spinal tension
* Enhances your coordination and balance
* Develops core control
* It’s fun!

Spine Stretch

The Spine Stretch is great for alleviating back tension, stretching the spinal muscles as well as strengthening abdominals.

Step by step

1. Sit on your mat with your legs extended a little wider than shoulder-width apart and your feet flexed

2. Lift your arms parallel to your thighs

3. Inhale as you lift your spine, reaching the top of your head toward the ceiling

4. Exhale as you round over, dropping your chin toward your chest

5. Keep your spine rounded, as if it were draped over a large beach ball

6. Repeat 5 times

Tips
* Bend your knees if you feel sinking in your hips or if you can’t sit tall
* Relax your shoulders away from your ears
* Pull your navel to your spine as you round over
* Completely exhale to engage your abdominals and stretch your spine
* Your goal is to stretch your spine-not to lay your chest on your thighs or to wrap your hands around your feet

Benefits
* Strengthens your abdominal muscles
* Stretches your spinal muscles
* Lengthens and strengthens your postural muscles
* Stretches your hamstrings
* Eases tight back muscles
* Reinforces good posture

Swan Pose

Step by step

1. Lie on the mat face down. Keep your arms close to your body as you bend your elbows to bring your hands under your shoulders. Shoulders away from the ears. The legs are usually together but it is acceptable to do this exercise with the legs shoulder width apart

2. Your whole body is stretching long as you engage the abdominal muscles and lift the belly button up away from the mat. Keep the abdominals lifted throughout the exercise

3. Inhale and lengthen through the top of your head as you press your chest forward, articulating the spine as you arc the upper body in a smooth lengthening motion. The elbows stay close to the body, head stays in line with your spine and hips are on the mat. Keep your shoulders wide. The shoulder blades are settled down on the back, not popping up

4. Exhale and keep your abdominals lifted as you release, sequentially through the spine, starting with the low belly

Teaser

Step by step

1. Lie on your back

2. Straighten one leg up to a forty-five degree angle from the floor and glue it to the inside of your opposite knee. Turn out slightly in the hip and thigh and squeeze your buttocks and inner thighs together tightly

3. Reach for the outstretched foot, staying lifted in your chest. Lift tall out of your waist as you inhale. Imagine being pulled up by the force of a magnet.

4. As you exhale, begin rolling your spine down to the mat and stretch your arms back overhead

5. Repeat with the other leg without allowing your knees to come apart two or three times and end by pulling your knees into your chest and releasing you back

The Hundreds

The Hundreds strengthen the abdominal group of muscles (the transversus abdominis and latissimus dorsi. It’s preferrable to warm up to the Hundreds with other pilates poses and basic stretches.

Step by step

1. Lie on your back with the knees to your chest, hands relaxed on the ankles

2. Breathe out as you contract forward, lifting your head and shoulders off the mat. Extend the hands forward and stretch through the fingertips, palms down, about 15 cm from the floor

3. Raise your legs vertically into the air, flexing your feet and externally rotating your legs from the thighs. Touch the back of the knees together to stretch the hamstrings and connect the inner thighs (this will take the pressure off the front of the thighs). Contract the buttocks slightly

4. Keeping the eyes on the knees, engage the lower abdominals, then breathe in for 5 seconds and breathe out for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 breaths in and out without resting (the 10 seconds in and out by 10 repetitions equals 100, hence the name The Hundreds). Take no more than a 10 second rest between each set of 100

Watch out
* Keep the rib cage drawn to the hips at all times, shoulder blades off the mat and relaxed forward, eyes on the knees
* If the shoulders drop back on the breath in, contract forward further and scoop the abdominals
* If the back arches or strains, turn the legs in and bend the knees slightly, when the knees are bent keep the heels in a vertical line with the buttocks to keep the back flat
* If you feel neck strain, place a cushion under the head, raise the head on each breath out and rest on the breath in, remembering to keep the abdominals active even in the rest position. As the neck becomes stronger raise the head up for 2 breaths and so on

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Meet our Teachers

Bassam Younes
Meditation

Bassam Younes is a certified holistic counselor, transformational coach, and speaker. He has been teaching meditation for seven years.

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