Yoga has been practiced since ancient times and is still widely adored across the world. Its many benefits for the mind, body and soul make it a timeless way to stay fit and retreat from life’s frenetic pace. Whether you’re in the comfort of your own home, at the yoga studio or basking on the beach in Bali, you can roll out your mat and reap yoga’s many health benefits. Here are the top four yoga poses for overall health and how they nurture your body.
#1 Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
Despite it's appearances, vrksasana can be a challenging pose to master. Depending on the placement of your raised leg and your balancing abilities, you may sway like a banyan tree or topple like an oak. The beauty of tree pose is that, like many asanas, there are several modifications to make it right for you. It is especially beneficial for people with postural issues and helps strengthen the thighs, calves, ankles, back and internal obliques through its upright, spine-lengthening posture.
Begin standing in tadasana (mountain pose). Slowly shift your weight on your left foot, being mindful of your balance. Bend your right knee and reach down to grasp your right ankle. Bring the sole of the right foot to the inner left calf or thigh, toes pointing down. Align your hips and drop your tailbone. Place your hands at the heart chakra in anjali mudra, and gaze directly in front of you. Hold for six to 10 breaths then repeate on the opposite side.
By incorporating your drishti (gaze) into this asana, you’re better able to develop concentrated intention that will extend beyond your practice. Make note of how you feel the next time you step out of vrksasana. Do you feel more rooted like a tree? (Learn more in Tree Pose and it's Many Benefits.)
#2 Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Perhaps one of the most fundamental asanas is adho mukha svanasana. It is full of benefits for the entire body. Not only does it help build strength in the upper arms and legs, it opens the back, neck, chest, hips and shoulders so your body is better aligned when sitting and standing.
From table pose, ensure your wrists are under your shoulders and your knees are under your hips. Pushing into your hands, lift and straighten your knees away from the floor. Keeping a micro bend in your knees, gradually lengthen your sit bones toward the sky while dropping your heels toward the mat. Pedal your legs to deepen the stretch then come into stillness for a count of three to six breaths.
Whether this asana is practiced alone or weaved together with others, it has a unique ability to calm the mind, helping the body feel more relaxed. (Learn more about calming the mind in Vritti: Calming the Waves of Your Mind.)
#3 Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
As part of the natural aging process and a sedentary lifestyle, our joint mobility and hip flexibility can lessen over time. Baddha konasana is an important pose for maintaining and improving flexibility in the hips, which are the most important joints in your body. Strengthening this area through yoga has full-body benefits such as eliminating low back and knee pain as well as stimulating abdominal organs and kidneys. For women especially, this pose can help ease menstrual discomfort, menopause symptoms and even help with childbirth.
Sitting upright on your yoga mat, bend your knees and bring your heels in toward your pelvis. Let your knees fall open, creating a diamond shape while pressing the soles of your feet together. If you’re able, pull your heels inward and hold the toes with your second and third finger. Tilt from your pelvis while maintaining length in your spine.
You should notice a stronger core and increased stability in your center after releasing baddha konasana. You may also notice more supported movement when walking or exercising.
#4 Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Don’t let this starfish-shaped pose fool you. Although it’s a resting asana, it is one of the most important poses to seal your yoga practice. For those experiencing a hectic lifestyle, savasana can help reduce headaches, fatigue and insomnia as well as lower blood pressure. Doing a breathing exercise, such as kapalabhati, beforehand will help circulate fresh oxygen throughout your body, allowing you to absorb all the benefits of corpse pose.
Gently lay down on your back ensuring your body is in a neutral position. Bring your legs mat-width distance apart. Place your arms alongside your torso, turning the palms upward. Close your eyes, relax the forehead, release your jaw and let the tongue rest at the back of the throat. Imagine your body melting into the mat like ice cream on a sunny day. Surrender yourself completely, resting in this pose for five minutes before rising.
Beyond the physical health benefits, this supine asana pacifies the mind, creating a greater sense of equilibrium between the mind and the body.
In the words of the honored yogi, Bikram Choudhoury, “Yoga maintains youth, it keeps the body full of vitality and immune to diseases, even at an old age.” By incorporating these asanas into your yoga practice, you’ll notice many health benefits from head to toe.