For a more relaxed body and mind, get your asana on
Aching back? Menstrual cramps? Next time you’re hurting, grab a yoga mat. That’s right your favorite fitness class might also help heal you.
For example, a new study in the Journal of Rheumatology found that among sedentary adults suffering from arthritis, 8 weeks of yoga helped improve their pain levels and general health and well-being. This adds to other research showing it might also ease annoying body problems like headaches and menstrual cramps.
Wondering how yoga can help you? Here are 10 poses that help with some of the most nagging issues, provided by Katie Brauer, chief program officer of Yoga Six, which has studios in California, Missouri, and Illinois.
Often treated with over-the-counter painkillers and birth control pills, monthly menstrual cramps are a real bummer. Performing these poses at the height of your pain may be helpful.
Sitting, extend your left leg out straight and bend your right leg, with your right foot pressing into the inside of your thigh. Fold forward over your extended leg hinging from the hips, elongating your spine and breathing.
How it helps: This move not only works to reduce anxiety and stress levels to help you relax, but also bending from your groin stretches muscles that are tense from cramping.
Start in standing position with feet hip width, toes turned out. Squat down deeply. Bring your hands together at heat center in prayer position as you press your elbows into the inner thighs. Option to open twist to each side. For support, a balancing block can be placed under the butt.
How it helps: The malasana will stretch your body through the thighs, groin and lower back. Additionally, this move helps to supports digestion, and the ascending and descending colon to help ease any discomfort in your lower abdomen.
So stressed your jaw hurts? You might be suffering from “bruxism,” aka teeth grinding. In severe cases this can lead to jaw disorders, headaches, on top of dental problems, but for many people teeth grinding is an unconscious habit brought on by stress or anxiety. (It can also happen while you sleep; seeing a dentist for chronic teeth-grinding is recommended.)
To ease the after-effects of a (literally) grinding day, you can use these poses to relieve stress and tension in the neck, upper shoulders, and trapezius, Brauer says.
Sitting up straight, put both arms out in front of you. Wrap your right arm under the left and catch your wrist or palms. Then, lift your fingertips straight into the air, whilst pressing pinky fingers forward in space. Take several breaths, repeat, wrapping your left arm under right.
How it helps: Eagle arms stretches out your rhomboid muscles, which helps to relieve any built up tension in your shoulder blades.
The chest stretch can be done in a seated or standing position. Take your arms behind you and interlace them, stretching out your chest. Bring your chin to chest and roll your neck gently, side to side.
How it helps: By rotating your neck while doing this stretch, you stress the back and side of the neck in order to reduce tightness from your clenched muscles surrounding your jaw.
Fact: we all spend entirely too much time hunched over our phones and computers. Research shows looking down at your screen may put as much as 60 pounds of added weight to your spine. This poor posture over time can lead to killer back pain. See: text neck.
“Open up your spine with the cat-cow pose—start in the table top position and curve and collapse your spine 10-15 times—to open up your whole spinal column,” Brauer recommends. Then move on to:
Start by lying on the ground with your knees bent and feet planted firmly on the ground. Then, raise your hips up straight to the sky, holding the stretch. For a modification, you can place a block under your lower back for stabilization.
How it helps: The bridge pose helps open up your hip flexors and chest, while creating through the front line of the body decreasing tension and stress in the muscles.
When a big meal leads to gas and an upset tummy, a few minutes of yoga may be just what you need. Brauer says that many of the yoga poses that work to ease menstrual cramps may also help bloating. “Focus on movements that will activate or stimulate the digestive system,” she says.
Sit up straight with your legs out in front of you. Bend your right leg at the knee and take it over your left, with your foot planted on the floor. Inhale to create length in the spine, and exhale while twisting to the right. Use your right hand behind you like a kickstand. Take several breaths and continue to grow through the spine and twist more deeply with your exhale. Unravel and repeat on the other side.
How it helps: This move helps to the muscles of the torso and outer hip, while the twisting action helps move gas through the stomach.
Deep belly breathing
Sit up straight or lay down with your hands placed over your diaphragm. Breath deeply, through your belly, so that your abdomen expands and contracts (as opposed to your chest).
How it helps: This form of breathing through the abdomen helps stretch our your digestive muscles and organs.
Also known as tinnitus, chronic ringing ears affects approximately 40 million Americans. Treatment often involves medications to help patients to control anxiety, depression, or insomnia. This is because stress can actually increase symptoms of tinnitus, which is why yoga, a known stress reliever might help, too.
“Yoga in its broadest sense—especially breathing exercises and some basic postures—will immediately dilute and dissipate stress,” explains Brauer.
Breathe in and out through your nose. When inhaling, relax the abdomen, allowing it to expand with your breath rising through the belly, ribs and chest. Exhale from top to bottom.
How it helps: This breathing exercise is so relaxing, you just might melt.
Start in standing position with your legs stepped wide apart. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees, keeping your left foot facing forward. Lift both arms straight, parallel to the floor, and then reach your right hand down your right foot and left arm straight into the air, bending at the waist. To release, straighten your upper body back up and repeat on the opposite side.
How it helps: Triangle pose opens your whole body, allowing you to focus on stretching outward and letting go.
Lie on your back and take both legs up to sky. Bend both knees and bring them toward your body, down to your head to muffle your ears. Because this is an advanced move, beginners can use a modification. Put a yoga block under your hips and lying on your back, stretch your legs up a wall. Then take both hands and cover both ears.
How it helps: This move works to create a gentle suction on your ears as you relax your body and focus on your breathing to eliminate stress.
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