Yoga is a mental and physical practice that is aimed at creating a peaceful internal state and a fit, flexible body. Combining exercise with meditative principles, yoga can be a wonderful way to improve strength and flexibility while providing relief from stress and exhaustion. There are hundreds of different yoga stretches, also known as poses or asanas. Creating a yoga practice can be done easily by combining a few basic yoga stretches to make a daily routine.
When performing yoga stretches, remember that yoga focuses on the whole body. While a stretch may benefit a primary muscle, the rest of the body remains active and serves as support, strength and even resistance or opposition against a stretch. In every pose, check the entire body to see that every part is performing its function in the move. Remember not to strain muscles to the point of pain, and use deep breaths to help the body relax and release farther into each pose.
One of the most basic yoga stretches is called mountain pose or tadasana. Performed standing, this basic pose stretches the muscles of the back while resting on a firm, stable core. To try mountain pose, stand with feet slightly apart, hips forward and shoulders down. Keeping the pelvis tucked under the body and the legs rooted, try to lengthen the spine from the base to the head, all while keeping shoulders down, head centered, and the arms relaxed. Imagine that the spine is a long string being steadily and gently pulled upward, while the lower body resists slightly and keeps the string taut.
From mountain pose, it is easy to move forward into uttanasana, a deep forward bend. From mountain, swan dive forward, rolling the back vertebra by vertebra while reaching toward the floor with hands. At first, hamstrings may be very tight, so keep knees bent and slowly straighten them with each exhale until the body is folded in half. This is a great stretch for releasing tension in the legs and can be particularly beneficial to runners.
Downward facing dog is one of the most common yoga stretches and forms the starting and ending point for many yoga pose series. Start on hands and knees with the back flat, then lift from the hips until the body forms an upside-down V. Keep shoulders relaxed, but press hands firmly into the ground to push the hips back as far as possible. Firming the thigh muscles will help provide strength to drive the heels toward the ground. This versatile pose works on strengthening the whole body and creating flexibility in the hips, legs, and back.
To achieve quiet relaxation through yoga stretches, consider the simple and effective child's pose. Kneel down with feet close together but knees wide apart, then walk hands and upper body forward until the forehead can rest on the floor. Push hips back to rest on top of the feet, and breathe deeply and evenly for one of the most peaceful yoga stretches imaginable.