You don’t need to bend over backwards to reap the many benefits of yoga. While a regular yoga routine is scientifically proven to optimize overall well-being and quality of life, even simple poses sprinkled throughout the day have the power to transform many aspects of your physical and mental health.
“Yoga practice can be traced back to northern India for at least 3,000 years and has truly stood the test of time as a health and healing modality,” says Dr. Renae Thomas, MD, MPH, a Lifeforce Physician, who completed yoga teacher training (YTT200) in Rishikesh, India, where yoga originated. “It can be used therapeutically as part of a treatment plan by utilizing certain postures and practices that help prevent, reduce, or alleviate a wide variety of physical and psychological symptoms.”
According to Dr. Thomas, yoga can be beneficial for:
Physical fitness and flexibility
Chronic pain, including back pain
Anxiety and depression
High blood pressure
Overall quality of life
“It’s important to remember that yoga is much more diverse than just the physical aspect we are typically most familiar with, which is called asana”, says Dr. Thomas. “Yoga also includes breath work, meditation, visualization, lifestyle and diet changes, and more.” Above all, it gives you an opportunity to check in with your body and mind.
In honor of International Day of Yoga, Emily Morwen, certified yoga instructor and co-founder of Modo Yoga LA, guides us through five restorative yoga poses to level up your focus, mood, sleep, and more. Try these poses a la carte, or whenever you need a quick boost of energy or moment of calm. Want more mind-body benefits? Strike a pose at least two to three times per week, building toward a daily practice.
5 Yoga Poses to Improve Your Life
For More Focus: Eagle Pose
Your goal: Improved focus and concentration
Your pose: Garudasana (eagle pose)
Optional props: Yoga block
Garudasana is a balancing pose that challenges balance and flexibility while forcing you to focus on a point. “Unlike many balancing poses where our focal point is in the distance, in Garudasana, we soften and steady our gaze on the wrists,” says Morwen. “That brings the focus closer and thwarts the tendency for eyes to dart around the room.”
Step 1: While standing, bend your knees as if you’re about to sit in a chair, and lift your left leg, crossing it over your right thigh. Your left toes should be pointing downwards. Hug your thighs together for stability. Balance your left foot on a block if you need to.
Step 2: Bring your arms forward and parallel to the floor. Cross your right arm over your left and bend your elbows so your arms are perpendicular to the floor. Press your palms together and lift your fingers upwards.
Step 3: Focus your gaze on your left wrist and stay in the pose for a few breaths.
Step 4: Slowly release your hands and legs. Repeat on the other side.
Pro tip: To further challenge your balance and focus, try lengthening the spine in the inhale and rounding the spine on the exhale, all while maintaining focus on one point on the wrist.
For Better Posture: Low Crescent Lunge
Your Goal: Reverse the effects of sitting all day
Your Pose: Anjaneyasana (low crescent lunge)
Optional props: Mat, blanket, or cushion
We spend so much time sitting, whether that’s at a desk or in a car. “This tightens and weakens the hip flexor muscles that run along the fronts of the hips and connects to the spine, often resulting in lower back pain,” says Morwen. “Anjenayasana is a great pose to help stretch and lengthen these muscles.”
Step 1: Starting in a plank position with your hands and feet on the mat, pull your right leg up and place it next to the inside of your right hand, making sure your knee doesn’t extend past your ankle.
Step 2: Extend and straighten your left leg behind you, drop your knee to the mat, and press the top of your foot down into the mat. To help strengthen the hip flexor muscles, feel your back knee energetically move forward with the resistance of the floor. If this pose puts too much pressure on your back knee, place a blanket or cushion underneath it for additional support.
Step 3: Pressing into your feet, lift your arms skyward. For a more stable stance, place your hands on your front thigh. Lengthen your tailbone down and bring your pelvis forward to give your lower back more length. Hold this position for several breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.
Pro Tip: Add a slight back bend to deepen your stretch after reaching your arms up.
For Increased Energy: Camel Pose
Your Goal: Improved energy
Your Pose: Ustrasana (camel pose)
Optional props: Mat, yoga blocks
Heart-opening backbends are energizing because they stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, which controls your flight-or-fight response. “With slow and steady breath, this can translate to a boost of energy,” says Morwen.
Step 1: Come to your knees on a mat with your legs hip-width apart and your hips directly over your knees. If you feel overwhelmed or dizzy with your hips stacked over your knees, sit your buttocks on your heels and place your hands on your low back (stay here until you’re ready to progress).
Step 2: Squeeze your thighs toward each other, engage your abdomen, and reach your tailbone toward your knees.
Step 3: Lift your chest and draw your elbows toward each other behind you. Reach your hands toward your heels and press your hands into the heels of your feet. If you don’t have the spinal flexibility to do this comfortably, place your hands on blocks on the outside of each ankle.
Step 4: Gently extend your head and neck backward and stay in this pose for 30 to 60 seconds. Be sure to keep your tailbone down to avoid compressing the low back.
Step 5: To come out of the pose, bring your chin to your chest, your hands to your hips, and your thumbs to your sacrum to support your lower back as you come slowly back up to your knees.
Pro tip: When reaching for your heels, start with your toes curled under and progress to toes pointed.
For More Calm: Legs Up the Wall Pose
Your Goal: Relaxation and reduced anxiety
Your Pose: Viparita karani (legs up the wall pose)
Optional props: Blanket or cushion
Viparita karani is a type of inversion. Morwen says it’s one of the best poses for stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, a network of nerves that relaxes your body after stress and helps with digestion. The pose also helps your lymphatic system, she says, which in turn may support the health of your immune system.
Step 1: Lay down on your back, lift your legs, and rest your calves on a couch or bench. Place a blanket, towel, or cushion under your calves and head for added support.
Step 2: Hold the pose for at least three to five minutes.
Step 3: To come out of the pose, bend your knees and roll to your right side to come up.
Pro Tip: Move toward straight legs against a wall (only if you have the flexibility in your hamstrings). The key is to be able to relax. You can add a calming breath (inhale through the nose for three counts and exhale through the mouth for five counts).
For Better Sleep: Savasana
Your goal: Deep, restorative sleep
Your pose: Savasana (corpse pose)
Optional props: Mat, blanket, bolster, eye pillow
“There is no better pose to practice the art of rest than savasana,” says Morwen. “It translates into ‘corpse pose,’ which might sound morbid, but the intention is to let the identification we have to our thoughts, histories, projected future, etc., die and for us to connect with our ability to observe our experience passing in and out. Once we can observe our constant identification and its resulting tension, we can soften, release, and experience peace and deep rest.”
Step 1: Lie comfortably on your back on a mat with your arms and legs slightly stretched out. Your palms may face up or toward your body.
Step 2: Do a quiet scan of your body and determine if you need any extra support. You may want to place a blanket under your head or a bolster underneath your slightly bent knees. For some comforting weight, you can drape a blanket on top of you or place an eye pillow over your eyes.
Step 3: Relax! In the beginning — even for a seasoned practitioner — it can be challenging to quiet the mind. Counting your breath can be a great tool to help you focus. Inhale for a slow count of three and exhale for a slow count of five. Start with a two-minute savasana and build up from there.
Step 4: To come out of this pose, wiggle your fingers and toes, slowly hug your knees into your chest, and roll to your right side to press up to a sitting position.
Pro tip: Try increasing to 10 minutes a day. Or even try a “stop, drop, and savasana” and take two to 10-minute savasanas throughout the day. Doing so at least a couple of times daily is a powerful way to punctuate the rut of being busy with intentional rest. Incorporating it into a daily routine is a game changer, Morwen says.
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This article was medically reviewed by:
Renae Thomas, MD, MPH; ABFM Board Certified in Family Medicine, ABPM Board Certified in Public Health, & General Preventive Medicine; ABLM Board Certified in Lifestyle Medicine
Shera Raisen, MD, ABFM Board Certified in Family Medicine