March 09 2023 – Hunter DeRusha
What are the best yoga poses?
Let me begin by saying that I don’t believe that there are poses that are ‘better’ than others, they all have their challenges, benefits and place within a practice. So although (in my opinion) there isn’t such a thing as a ‘best’ yoga pose, you can narrow it down to those that are the most multifaceted, that will benefit numerous aspects of the body and mind.
In a perfect world, we’d all have an hour or two to dedicate to yoga every day, with an abundance of poses to feel balanced and fit. However, the reality is that our lives are busy, we don’t always get onto the mat as much as we’d like and an entire hour for yoga isn’t always accessible.
My goal as a yoga teacher is to help people discover the practice in a way that is expansive and supportive, and sometimes that means working within a manageable window of time each day. Based on my own experiences as a teacher and lifetime student of yoga, here are some yoga poses that can be practiced every day, in a sequence that can range from 5-30 minutes, depending on how many repetitions and how long you hold each pose.
Roll the soles of your feet with a massage ball
(1-3 minutes each foot)
Okay, so technically this isn’t a pose, but by hydrating the connective tissue at the soles of your feet (plantar fascia) you can notice improved flexibility through the entire back of the body, including hamstrings, back and shoulders. Rolling the feet regularly can improve circulation and stimulate blood flow to the arch. It’s also believed to reduce cortisol levels, helping you relax and release tight muscles – which is very helpful before practising yoga or starting your day. I recommend using eco-friendly cork massage balls but a golf ball or firm tennis ball can work as well. Simply put the weight into one foot (you can hold a wall for balance and support) and lower the opposite foot gently onto the ball and slowly roll along the arch. You might notice areas of tension or ‘trigger points’ that you can hold onto for a few breaths to help it release. Roll for 1-3 minutes on each foot. It feels like a mini massage - the most delicious way to start your day.
Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) A
Sun salutations are a powerful way to get your physical body moving and encourage flow of prana (energy) through the physical body. When done correctly, several rounds of Surya Namaskar A will prepare and strengthen the entire body and by connecting the flow to the breath it becomes a rhythmic, moving meditation.
The pose sequence for Surya Namaskar is:
- Tadasana – Standing in Mountain Pose.
- Urdhva Hastasana in Tadasana – Reach the arms up as you inhale.
- Uttanasana – Standing Forward Fold Pose. Fold yourself to the Earth as you exhale. Remember, you can bend your knees here if you need to!
- Ardha Uttanasana - Half Standing Forward Fold Pose. Lengthen the spine to halfway lift. You might like to have your fingertips on the shins or hands on blocks.
- Chaturanga Dandasana - Four Limbed Staff Pose. Step back into a plank pose, keep the elbows in beside the body and exhale as you lower halfway down (you can have your knees on the mat for extra support)
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana - Upward Facing Dog Pose. Inhale to straighten the arms (maintaining shoulders over wrists) and open your heart. NOTE: Instead of 5. and 6. You can lower all the way onto your belly, untuck the toes and take a gentler back bend Bhujangasana (cobra pose). Keeping your lower architecture on the floor, keeping the elbows bent and lifting just the head and chest from the floor.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana - Downward Facing Dog Pose. Roll over the toes or untuck the feet one at a time, press the hands into the mat and lift the hips to the sky, with the feet hips width apart and the heels energetically moving towards the Earth. Take several breaths here.
- Ardha Uttanasana - Half Standing Forward Fold Pose. Walk, step or jump feet to hands at the top of the mat, inhale to halfway lift.
- Uttanasana - Standing Forward Fold Pose. Exhale to fold forward.
- Urdhva Hastasana in Tadasana – Inhale to rise, reaching to arms into the air, connecting the palms at the top.
- Tadasana - Mountain Pose. Exhale bring the hands down by your sides, back into tadasana.
You can find a simple guided Sun Salutation flow in our ZONE Online Yoga Library.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
(3-5 breaths each variation)
I’ve chosen this as my number three pose because balancing is so beneficial for the stabilising muscles of the physical body (including your core!) and also your focus and breath. Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana is a balancing posture in which you raise one leg at hip level and hold onto its big toe with your hand or use a yoga strap for extra length. Variation A Is the leg out in front, B is a hip opener to the side and C is holding the leg at hip height in front, with both hands on the hips so you are engaging more muscles (hello abs!) to keep the leg up. This pose will strengthen your feet, ankles, calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes, abdominals and back muscles, which is why it feels so challenging and is SO good for you. Try holding for 5 mindful breaths in each variation. Using your Drishti (focused gaze) on one place will help you stay balanced and steady in this pose. This pose will help keep you grounded in the present moment. You can’t be thinking about breakfast or an email you need to send, because you’ll very quickly fall out!
Janushirasana (head to knee pose)
(1-5 minutes each side)
This pose is another one that can be considered a bang for buck yoga pose. In one pose you are targeting the lower back, obliques, hamstrings and hips. It is a hip opening, twisting forward fold all in one! Sit on your yoga mat, with both legs out in front, then take the sole of one foot to the inner thigh of the opposite (straight) leg. This can already feel quite juicy on the hip, lower back and hamstring so if this is the case then you can keep your torso upright and perhaps support yourself with hands on the earth or blocks behind you. If you’d like to deepen your experience (and your back and hamstring feels okay) begin to fold over your straight leg, leading with the heart to keep a nice straight back. You might be able to interlace your hands around your foot or even use a Yoga strap to help you find extra length. This pose can be practiced as an active stretch, with the straight leg foot flexed or perhaps you prefer a more restorative version and might like to fold onto a bolster or some blocks on either side of the straight leg, enjoying a more passive experience.
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
Reclining into this shape will open the heart and chest, support the nervous system and open the hips, inner thighs and knees. Lie onto your yoga mat (or use blocks or a bolster to support your torso) and bring the soles of the feet together, making a loose diamond shape with your legs. Allow your arms to open out to the sides, with your palms facing up for extra heart opening. If you have any discomfort on the outer knee or hips in this shape you can place a block underneath each knee for additional support. I love this pose for so many reasons; it is really relaxing and allows you to focus on your breathing; it targets the glutes, spine, hips, thighs, knees; it stretches out your abdominals and energetically it can be used to target all of the chakra regions.
As long as you can
The seat of meditation is the only asana (pose) that is mentioned in the Yoga Sutras. The practice of Yoga is designed to allow you be strong enough in body and mind to sit comfortably in meditation and unlock the purpose of the practice, to calm the waves of the mind. So whatever your physical practice looks like, remember to take some moments in stillness afterwards, either sitting in a comfortable seat or even lying on your back in Savasana to slow your mind and allow yourself to reap the full benefits of yoga.
You can use this mini sequence throughout your day, whenever you find yourself with a fifteen minute window. It might be your preparation before work or the gym, a lunchtime pick me up, or evening wind down.
To cultivate yoga into your daily routine try our Online Yoga Library FREE for 30 days.
And you can find eco-friendly yoga accessories (including cork yoga mats, cork yoga blocks, cork massage balls and jute yoga straps) here.