Sara Klimek

I first entered the yoga universe when I was in talk-therapy for mental illness.  My therapist noted that yoga has been used as a tool for relaxation and mindfulness since its inception.  Since I was already a dancer, I figured that yoga was just a more mind-centric way of exercising.  After trying it, however, I found that yoga can be practiced at both a spiritual and a physical level.  If your mind isn’t in its place, then you might as well just jump on the elliptical and skip the yoga.

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What do you need to start yoga?  Well, it’s very simple.  You don’t need to purchase $80 Lululemon leggings or build yourself a ‘yoga cave.’  All you need is comfortable clothes, a space that allows you to stretch and move, and a mat (if you are working on a hard surface).  Some practicing yogis will use candles and put on calming music when they complete their session, but that is completely optional.  You can do yoga outside or indoors, and you can decide if you’d like to do these stretches in a warm place (e.g. hot yoga) or in a cool place.

Now that you’ve prepared a space, here are some basic yoga poses and stretches.  As you become more balanced and confident in your abilities, you will find that the poses come easier and that you can try more difficult movements.

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

This is one of the most iconic yoga poses for both beginners and more advanced yogis.  To start, stand with your legs a little wider than hip-width apart.  Slowly lower your shoulders and upper body downward so that you are in a ‘hanging’ position.  Feel the stretch down your back and your legs.  Slowly reach forward with your hands and walk them away from your feet.  Once you are comfortable, you can adjust your feet so that they are closer together.  Your butt should be at the highest point.  From there, push your shoulders downward and rock back on your heels so that you can stretch your upper body.  As you inhale, visualize yourself stretching out your back and pulling your hips towards the sun.  As you exhale, think about pushing your shoulders deep towards the ground.

Child’s Pose (Balasana)

You can move from downward facing dog to this pose.  Lower your knees to the ground from the previous pose and sit back.  Push your shoulders to the floor to get the most out of this stretch.

Cat/Cow Pose (Marjaryasana/Bitilasana)

Move to a table-top position.  Lift your stomach upwards and bridge your spine, then slowly arch your back downwards.  Repeat as needed.  And remember to sync your breath with your movement for optimal relaxation and flow.

Plank Pose (Phalakasana)

Not only is this a great way to improve your abdominal strength, but is helps you control your breathing.  Lift from push-up position and tighten your core to hold yourself balanced.  You can place a knee on the ground if needed.  This pose is best done in small segments rather than in one long span of time.

Half Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

This exercise is perfect for easing my sciatica and stretching out my legs.  Sit on the floor with your right leg bent over your left.  Place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee, pushing it to the left.  Simultaneously twist your body to the right.  Switch after about 30 seconds.

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

This exercise is more about breathing than stretching.  Standing up tall, place your hands together at heart-level.  Feel the energy moving from the tips of your toes, up your spine, and to your hands.  Imagine that you are lifting your shoulders and heart upwards, stretching your body to the ceiling and back to its place.

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

Lay flat on your stomach.  Push your body up with your arms, arching your back and leaving your feet flat on the floor (similar to if you were going into plank position).  You will feel this stretch at the bottom of your back and down your legs.

Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

This is by far my favorite pose!  First, sit in a butterfly position (base of the feet together, knees bent so that they are open.)  Leave your right leg in the same position and extend your leg behind you so that your knee is flat on the ground.  Your back should be straight as you gently push your shoulder backwards.

Yoga can be an optimal tool for both relaxation and exercise at all ages.  Before and after completing various poses, be sure to take a few minutes to breathe deeply and ground yourself in your surroundings. What can you see?  What can you hear?  Then, take time to close your eyes and remove yourself from your current place and drift away into your thoughts. In this state, you will find simplicity.

 

Sara is a editorial intern at bSmart and a student at the University of Vermont. She plans on attending law school following graduation.

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