Yoga can feel intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but you don’t have to bend over backwards to reap the benefits of stretching.
The word ’yoga’ can illicit visions of women upside down and in twists so complicated it can put off those who have never practiced before. But you don’t have to squeeze in a 90-minute classes every week and perfect your headstand in order to destress from a busy week.
Working some basic stretches into your routine can help you feel all the physical and mental health benefits the practice has to offer, according to Donna Noble, founder of Curvesomeyoga which aims to make yoga inclusive, diverse and accessible for all.
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What are the benefits of yoga?
First, there’s the physical benefits of yoga, such as “keep the body strong and supple while increasing flexibility and helping with the realignment of the body,” says Nobel. “All of these things can help your body to achieve its full potential and well as protect it from injury when you’re performing other physical activities such as weight training and cardio.”
But yoga is also very calming, and as a result it can aid sleep and even help to alleviate insomnia. In fact, according to the Sleep Foundation, when insomniacs perform yoga daily, they sleep for longer, fall asleep faster, and return to sleep more quickly if they wake up in the middle of the night. This can help to reduce sleep deprivation and restore energy and vitality.
Yoga’s calming effects don’t just help with sleep. “Practising moves such as downward dog and warrior poses soothes and centres the nervous system, which in turn helps to relieve stress and associated issues,” says Nobel. It also helps you to get in touch with your body, teaching you to breathe fully, trust your body, and make you more mindful, Nobel explains. “All of this makes yoga a great thing to include “as part of your self-care practice.”
How often do you need to do yoga to feel the benefits?
The short answer is that “some yoga is better than no yoga”, says Nobel, so even if you only find time to do 10 minutes of yoga stretches every day, you will still experience some of the benefits. In the short-term, yoga stretches may offer you a way to relax after a busy day, wind down before bed when you’re feeling stressed, or stretch out your aching muscles following an intense gym session.
Because of its huge calming effect, there’s no better time to practise some simple postures than during your work day, when stress levels are peaking. As part of Stylist magazine’s Work It Out campaign, Strong Women is encouraging everyone to take their Work 5-a-day, five scientifically backed breaks from your computer, with at least one break focusing on moving your body. So, try walking away from your desk for five minutes of gentle stretching and see how you feel.
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The best yoga poses for beginners
If you want to start working yoga into your schedule, Nobel has a few simple poses and stretches that are great for beginners to try.
Child’s pose stretches the thighs, hips and ankles, and it is often performed to rest in between poses in longer practices. This stretch is great for helping to relax the body and the mind, and so Nobel says staying in position for as long as you like.
- Start out on all fours on the floor and then take your knees out as wide as your mat with your toes touching.
- Sit back so that your bum is resting on your heels.
- Stretch your arms forward and lower your chest and forehead to the floor.
- Let your entire body release down into the mat.
“This forms the foundation of all standing poses,” according to Donna, making it a great pose for beginners. Hold this pose for between five and eight breaths.
- Stand up straight with your feet placed wherever feels natural, either together or apart, and your arms by your side with your palms facing forwards.
- Press your weight into your feet and spread the toes wide.
- Engage your quads and abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button in towards your spine.
- Lift your chest and pull your shoulders down and back – you should feel the shoulder blades coming towards each other.
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How to do a downward facing dog correctly
Even if you don’t know much about yoga, you’ve probably heard of downward dog. Known and loved for its simplicity and the way it strengthens and stretches the entire body, it is one of Nobel’s go-to postures, and is used in most yoga practices and classes. Hold this position for five to eight breaths.
- Start on all fours with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Tuck your toes and press through your hands to lift your hips up off the floor.
- Pull your sit bones towards the ceiling as youdraw your belly button towards the spine and your torso towards the thighs.
- The aim is to get your heels down to the floor and your legs straight, although you can keep your knees slightly bent if you are a beginner or have tight hamstrings.
For more ways to improve your yoga practice, including our Strength Training For Yoga workout series, sign up to the Strong Women Training Club.
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