The benefits of yoga are astounding: reduced stress, improved flexibility, improved strength, better posture, lower blood pressure, improved circulation and blood flow. Yoga not only makes you feel good, but research has shown it can actually lower cortisol levels, helping your battle stress. This is a plus for Rebecca.
“Yoga makes me feel better mentally and physically. If I have 10 minutes here or there, I can do some yoga on my own which gets me a lot of the benefits in a short period of time,” says Rebecca. “I think a lot of our customers are looking for something like this!”
“There are thousands of yoga poses you can do,” says Lea Amaral, a yoga instructor and owner of Energia Athletics in Toronto. “Newcomers are drawn to yoga because they want to be more flexible and we know injuries and pain stem from being tight. Yoga definitely helps. Most importantly, yoga teaches us to breathe: a lot of us do shallow breathing. When you take a nice long deep breath, you learn how to expand your lungs. This is so important for circulation.”
The deeper connection of yoga comes quickly, even for newcomers. “You have to be present to do the yoga poses – you can’t be on autopilot. You have to listen, you have to watch, and you have to feel. It becomes a mindful practice, whether you like it or not,” says Amaral. “As soon as you breathe with consciousness, you put your mind to breath – that reduces your heart rate, pulse rate, your nervous system relaxes. It is all tied together.”
Amaral picked five yoga poses for Rebecca’s home or at work practice. All of the poses are standing poses, except the last one: “Because it is the opposite of what we do all day,” says Amaral.
You will want a yoga mat (this Manduka mat is Rebecca’s favourite), blocks and a strap for these poses. “Blocks and straps help prop our bodies into the right position so you can access the poses more comfortably,” says Amaral. “You can rest your hand on a block instead of the floor in triangle pose, and then work you way to the floor as you improve your flexibility.”
Rebecca’s Anytime of Day At Home Yoga Sequence
Do each pose for one minute, and the repeat the poses 2-3 times.
1. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
“This pose is so important for posture awareness,” says Amaral. “The pose starts from the feet – you are grounding yourself, activating your legs and stacking your knees, feeling your weight moving forward and back. You want to neutralize your posture – when we sit, we’re tucking all the time. “
Step One: Stand with your feet together, or hip width apart, legs parallel. Feel the weight under your feet, and work your way up. Put your pelvis into an un-tucked position – “let your pelvis and spine go its most neutral and healthy position.”
Step Two: Move from your feet to the centre of your core, drawing the energy through your body. “Think of a mountain – how strong and tall it is,” says Amaral. Keep arms at your sides, with palms open, or gently press palms together at your heart.
Step Three: Breathe deeply, pressing the crown of your head up towards the ceiling, feeling the spine extend. Drop your shoulders.
2. Chair Pose (Uktkasana)
Step One: From Mountain Pose, extend both arms overhead, palms facing inward.
Step Two: Lower your hips (like you are sitting in a chair), with your thighs parallel and your upper torso folded over your thighs. Your knees might press out over your toes and that is ok. Tailbone should point towards the floor, with strength through your core and your legs.
Step Three: Breathe deeply, sinking your hips back towards the earth, and connecting through your breath. “You have two opposing forces of lifting and pushing down,” says Amaral. “This is known as ‘fierce pose’ – it is a very strong pose. You are ready for the day and ready for what comes – it is an opening pose, and it is a great position for your spine and pelvis.”
“If you want this to be more challenging, use the strap to make more use of your arms,” says Amaral. “You can hold the stray between your arms, pulling on it taut, and keeping that tension between your shoulder blades.”
3. Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
“This is strength and stretching. Use your legs to keep you grounded as you lift – all our poses are uplifting and energizing,” says Amaral.
Step One: Stand with your feet 3 to 4 feet apart, turn the right toes forward and the left toes and feet turned inwards, perpendicular. Inhale, and press the left hip out and back to the side as you exhale.
Step Two: Rotating only through the arms, raise the left arm up to the ceiling as you extend the right hand down the right leg/calf. Use a yoga block if necessary. Both palms should be facing forward.
Step Three: Hold the pose, breathing deeply. Then press into your feet and return to standing, arms at shoulder height. With your right leg forward, left leg back, point the right toe and flex the back foot so it is perpendicular.
“Blocks can allow you to enjoy the pose a lot more,” says Amaral, “whether you are flexible or not.”
Repeat on the other side.
4. Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana)
“This flows nicely from triangle pose, and it is great for building strength,” says Amaral.
Step One: With your right leg forward, left leg back, point the right toes forward and have your left foot perpendicular at 90 degrees. Sink forward over your right knee, bending at the knee, activating your quads and your glutes, and sit your hips down. Back leg should be straight and your hips should be open.
Step Two: Extend both arms out to shoulder height, and pull your shoulder blades back and together to open up the chest. Stay strong in the centre of your core, breathing deeply.
Step Three: Press into the floor with your feet, drawing energy up through your legs and into your torso, reaching both arms out to the side.
Repeat on the other side.
5. Plow Pose (Halasana)
“This is a great pose for either starting the day, or going to bed. Placing a block under your tailbone can help you achieve the pose,” says Amaral. “You get a great stretch in the back, glutes and acupressure on your shoulders: you should be able to move your head and neck. This pose takes you inside – it slows things down. It can calm you and prepare you for the day, or slow you down at the end of the night.”
Step One: Lie on the floor with legs extended up to the ceiling. Have your arms parallel to your body, extended on the floor.
Step Two: Taking a deep breath, allow your legs to go over your head 180 degrees, until your toes reach the floor – you might not get there the first time, but go as far as you can. Breathe deeply into this pose.
Step Three: After a minute, slowly release your legs out of the pose and back down to the ground.
Beginner Modification: Beginners can start having their legs up against the wall. “Inversions are great because they reduce the workload on the cardiovascular system,” says Amaral.
Here is what we know: yoga makes you happy. Research shows that a consistent yoga practice increases serotonin levels and decreases cortisol. A study from the University of Wisconsin found that yoga correlated with greater levels of happiness and improved immune function. Even if you start with this practice and build up, you are doing something great for your body!