Matsyasana – Fish Pose
Lying on your back with your arms on the ground at your sides, slide your hands — palms down — under your rear end. As you slide them, start to press the whole lower arms into the ground while bending your elbows. The effect is to lift your upper body gently upward and open your chest.You can hold your head up, if your throat and neck are uncomfortable, or gently let your head fall backward toward the ground. Take five to ten deep breaths and then carefully remove your hands from under you. Lie flat and enjoy the open sensation in your chest.
Kapotasana – Pigeon Pose
This is a more advanced pose that you can save for when you’ve practiced the others a few times. Most people need a blanket, pillow, or book to prop under their seat during this pose so prepare yourself first. Now, seated cross-legged, place your palms on the ground in front of you and shift your weight forward off your rear end. Slide your left leg backward until it’s stretched out, as pictured. The back of your left foot should be pressing against the ground.
Open your chest forward, relax your shoulders, and be sure that you place a thickly-rolled blanket or pillow under the right side of your rear end so you can fully let go. It’s both an intense stretch and a super-relaxing position.
Now carefully walk forward with your hands until your upper body is stretched over your bent right leg. Try to keep your back as straight as possible: it’s more important to keep length in your back than to bend all the way forward to the ground. Continue breathing and letting go in your head and shoulders, while allowing the stretch to extend in your hips and groin.
At the beginning you shouldn’t stay longer than one minute in the Pigeon Pose, but later you might enjoy it for up to ten minutes. And then repeat the pose on the other side!
As countless people have discovered, meditation is incredibly good for relaxing, leaving the day’s stress behind, being in the moment and letting go. Cross your legs, seated on the edge of a neatly rolled blanket or thick book. Extend your spine upwards and relax your shoulders at the same time.
It’s good to have set an alarm for the amount of time you want to sit (one, five, ten minutes or longer!). Now start to breathe more deeply. Focus on the sensation of breathing and each time your mind wanders away, just come back to the air coming in and flowing out.
If you’re distracted by a particular subject, or a feeling or experience, see if you can allow yourself to be just as you are — even if it’s frustrated, sad, angry, or excited. For right now, instead of being distracted by it, just “be” it. And come back to your breath.
Paschimottanasana – Seated Forward Bend
Sitting up, stretch your legs out flat and before leaning forward, sit up very straight. Extend your spine upward and once your back is as lengthened as it can get, bend forward.
If you want to focus more on your legs, then you can “droop” over forward with a bent back. But if you have any back problems, or if you want to include your whole body in the pose, then keep your back straight and just bend as far down as you can with a straight back. Even if it’s not at a 45 degree angle, don’t worry! Most people aren’t very flexible and the depth of your forward bend doesn’t matter at all.
Prop yourself up (to help keep your back straight) by placing your hands next to your thighs or knees depending on how far forward you can bend. And what else? You got it: breathe!
Parivrtta Sukhasana – Seated Spinal Twist
Sit cross-legged, place your right hand on your left knee and your left hand behind your left hip. Twist your upper body gently to the left. Continue to breathe (of course) and extend your spine even while you rotate. Then repeat on the other side.
Viparita Karani — Legs Up the Wall Pose
Find a free wall where there’s enough space on the ground to lie down and prop your legs against the wall. Let your arms rest at your sides and your shoulders melt into the ground. Breathe into your whole chest.
If you’re on the stiff side, you may want to be a little further from the wall for a gentler stretch. And for anyone with lower back issues, you can try tucking a blanket or pillow under your tailbone as a support.
If you’ve always been skeptical about yoga, then here’s your chance: you don’t have to go to a yoga studio filled with super-fit advanced yogis. You don’t have to chant anything or light incense (though of course you may, if you like). Quietly, secretly, without telling anyone at all, you can try these poses to help with sleep problems, anxiety, or stress, and just see what happens.
After all, it’s not just new-age gurus telling us yoga’s healthy anymore, it’s actual scientists. Lots of them. And if any of these exercises work for you, be kind and share them with a friend!