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6 Yoga Poses to Get You Through the Day

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Flowing through an hour-long yoga routine is a great way to keep your muscles loose and recharge your mind at once. But sometimes just getting yourself to the studio for class seems like more stress than it’s worth—or, with your busy schedule, not doable at all. Good news: Unlike some workouts, hitting the mat doesn’t have to be all or nothing. “Doing a few poses throughout the day, whenever time permits, has major benefits,” says Sarah Neufeld, co-founder of Modo Yoga in New York City. “It helps you reconnect to your breath, calm your nerves, and refocus—and it has an allover energizing effect.”

We asked Neufeld for her favorite poses to do for a few minutes throughout the day. Try her six suggestions below, tailored to meet your needs—whether that be to recharge or unwind. While you might feel a little kooky bending your body into a pretzel in front of coworkers, you can do these poses virtually anywhere, from next to your bed or behind your office door. If possible, dim the lights and put on a relaxing song. Then just strike a pose … and get ready to say ahh.

1. TO GET ENERGIZED IN THE A.M.

Try: Child’s Pose and Downward Dog

Start in child’s pose: Kneel on the floor, sitting on heels with your knees about hip-width apart, then lower torso to the floor in front of you, arms extended on the floor overhead. Then move into downward dog: Tuck toes underneath your feet and straighten your legs to push your hips toward the ceiling, until your body forms an upside down V. Move back and forth between the two poses, holding each for a few breaths. (The above video adds some gentle back arches —cat-cow poses—to the sequence.)

Why It Works: Neufeld loves flowing first thing in the morning because it boosts your energy. Plus, moving between these two poses “opens up the legs and the shoulders and starts to build heat in the body,” she says.

2. TO LOOSEN UP AFTER SITTING ALL DAY

Try: Half Pigeon

Start in downward dog. Bend your right knee forward, toward your right wrist, letting your shin hang down on a slant. Lower your body to the floor, so your right shin is under you. Try to feel both hips facing forward. Lean forward and rest your head on the floor or your forearms. Hold for 10 breaths, then repeat on opposite side.

Why It Works: “Half pigeon is a wonderful pose to drop into to open up the hips and lower back,” says Neufeld. Shoulders also tight from sitting for too long? While in the position, reach your left hand under your right arm and toward the right, palm facing up. Then repeat with right arm under left.

3. TO FEEL MORE FOCUSED

Try: Warrior 2

Stand with your right leg three to four feet in front of your left, right foot pointing forward and left foot pointed slightly out. Raise arms to shoulder height, right pointing forward and left pointing behind you, as you bend your right knee until your thigh is parallel to floor. Hold for five breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.

Why It Works: “I love this pose when I need to shake things up,” says Neufeld. “You don’t need to go very deep to wake up your whole body and help you refocus.”

4. TO GET THROUGH AN AFTERNOON SLUMP

Try: Sun Salutation

Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands at your sides. Extend arms overhead, gently arching back, then sweep arms back down and bend forward, bringing hands toward feet. Put hands on floor and step feet back to plank (push-up position). Bend your elbows to lower your body to the floor, then straighten your arms halfway (cobra pose) or all the way (into an upward-facing dogand arch back. Lift your hips and shift back to downward dog (body forming an upside down V), then step forward into a lunge. Step feet together or hip-width apart, with torso folded over legs, then stand and lift arms overhead, arching back. Return to start.

Why It Works: “Sun salutations really get the blood moving and re-energize your whole body,” says Neufeld. It’s the perfect sequence to wake you up when you’re feeling that 4 p.m. energy zap. Do it in order for five minutes to feel instantly recharged.

5. TO JUMP-START DIGESTION AFTER DINNER

Try: Savasana with Knee Bends

Lie faceup, arms extended at sides with palms up. Take a few deep breaths, then bend right knee and interlace hands around the shin, pulling the leg toward your right shoulder. Hold, then lower and repeat on opposite side. (See a slightly more involved variation on this sequence in the video above.)

Why It Works: Lying on your back in savasana is not just the best for relaxing (and maybe catching a few Zs) at the end of class; adding the knee bends makes it a great way to get your digestive system going too, says Neufeld. It’s also soothing for your hips and lower back.

6. TO RELAX BEFORE BEDTIME

Try: Legs Up the Wall

Lie face-up and move next to a wall, so your butt is close to it and your legs are propped up against it. Relax and take several deep breaths.

Why It Works: It feels great to kick your feet up after a long day, right? “This is very calming for the nervous system,” says Neufeld. “Plus, it promotes restful sleep.” Sweet dreams!

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Smiling Could Improve Your Athletic Performance—But Your Grins Can't Be Fake
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Athletes obviously enjoy breaking a sweat, but it’s not often that you’ll see one break into a smile while in the throes of competition. Yet that’s exactly what many coaches instruct them to do: Grinning mid-race has been said to relax muscles and boost physical performance. Recently, a group of researchers put this theory to the test, according to The New York Times. Their findings were published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

Researchers from Ulster University in Northern Ireland and Swansea University in Wales instructed a group of 24 non-professional runners—both men and women—to shift between smiles and scowls while running on a treadmill. The volunteers were told that the experiment would measure how certain factors affected the amount of oxygen they used while jogging at various running speeds.

For the experiment’s first stage, runners wore face masks that measured their breathing. As they exercised until fatigue, researchers asked them to rate how they felt and report their coping strategies—for example, whether were they ignoring their pain or embracing it.

The study’s second segment required volunteers to engage in four individual runs, each lasting for six minutes. Mid-run, they were told to smile both genuinely and continuously, to scowl, to relax their torsos using a visualization technique, or to simply fall back on their usual endurance mindsets.

Smiles didn’t always improve runners’ performances. A few subjects picked up the pace while grimacing, possibly because these “game faces” made them ultra-determined to beat their personal records. But overall, runners with smiles were nearly 3 percent more efficient than normal. While seemingly insignificant, this difference is large enough to affect someone’s race performance, experts say.

Keeping in mind the study’s small size, the authors conclude that exercising while smiling might reduce muscular tension and thus amp up performance. But in order to gain this positive effect, athletes must beam genuinely. Fake smiles, like the kind you’ll see in school pictures, don’t work as many facial muscles, and therefore result in lower levels of relaxation.

Since it’s hard for anyone (let alone a focused athlete) to maintain an authentic smile during prolonged periods of strenuous activity, scientists suggest smiling near a race’s end, in 30-second intervals.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
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Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

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