Five Yoga Poses to Do Every Day
I started a practice of doing daily Yoga exercises several decades ago, mainly to manage chronic low back pain as a result of a series of unfortunate accidents. But even for those without chronic pain, daily stretching can help to keep the body in balance and avoid chronic pain syndromes from developing.
In Yoga, there are six main categories of poses: forward bending, backward bending, lateral bending, rotation, inversion, and balancing. The first four categories enhance our ability to move our bodies in all directions. Inversion poses are considered beneficial to counteract the forces of gravity on the body.
Another important principle of Yoga is lengthening the spine, which increases the subtle energy (prana) flow through the main energy channel (the sushumna nadi). This is equivalent to the idea in acupuncture of chi energy flowing through meridians.
Most CrossFitters don’t need to work on their ability to balance, so I’ve listed poses that focus on the five other principles of Yoga. There are actually seven exercises here, because the Lying Twist feels better followed by a counter-stretch pose, and I added a bonus exercise for an area that CrossFitters do need to work on: tight glutes and IT bands (from all those squats and Olympic lifts!)
I suggest doing these exercises daily. Hold each position for at least one minute, or 12 slow breaths. You can do them any time of day, but after exercising or later in the day is ideal, because you will be warmed up and can go deeper into the stretches. Always breathe continuously, and stay within a pain-free range of motion (although some slight discomfort in the muscles while holding a stretch is to be expected).
- Lateral Bending: Standing Crescent Moon – Stand sideways to a wall, chair back, counter, etc. and hold the support with one hand. Cross the outer foot in front of the closer foot. Reach the free arm up and over, and reach the hips outward to feel a lateral stretch in the outer hip, the side of the torso, and the shoulder of the stretching side. After one minute, repeat on the other side.
- Backward Bending: Seal (Supported Cobra) – Lie face down with hands under shoulders. Press up into a back extension stretch. Depending on your comfort level, you could keep the hips on the ground, or lift higher with the hips coming off. You can experiment with relaxing the abdominals versus engaging them to see which feels better and gives you the best stretch. Keep the shoulders relaxed downward away from the ears. (In case you’re wondering, what differentiates this pose from the Upward-Facing Dog is that in that pose only the feet and hands touch the ground.)
- Forward Bending: Downward-Facing Dog – From a position on hands and knees, move the hands one hand-length further forward, so the hands are slightly in front of the shoulders. Have the middle fingers facing forwards, and the fingers spread out slightly. Turn the inner elbow creases somewhat forwards and keep them turned that way during the pose. Grip the floor with the toes, and lift the knees off the ground, keeping them bent at first. Reach the hips up and back to straighten the back. You may want to experiment with shifting first one hip back and then the other, or with pedaling the feet (alternate pressing one heel down while the other knee bends further forward). Then hold the stretch, gradually straightening the knees and lowering the heels, but not to the extent that the back loses its straight line. Keep the head relaxed with the ears below the upper arms.
- Rotation: Lying Spinal Twist – Lie on the back with arms to the sides in a “T” position, palms facing upwards. Bend the right knee and lift the foot off the floor. Use the left hand to pull the right knee across the body, allowing the right hip to lift. Keep the right shoulder on the floor. Turn the head to look at the right hand.
After one minute, do the Single Knee to Chest Pose as a counter-stretch – Lift the right knee up to bring the pelvis level again. Use both hands to pull the right knee towards the chest and the right shoulder. Lift the forehead towards the right knee, flattening the low back to the floor. Then repeat the series on the left side.
- Inversion: Legs-up-the-Wall Pose – Lie sideways on the floor with the buttocks against the wall. Swing the legs up the wall and move the body perpendicular to the wall. Reach up with the heels and pull the toes toward the knees to get a stretch in the calves and hamstrings. Stretch the arms out to the sides, palms upwards to get a shoulder stretch. Have the buttocks as close to the wall as you can while keeping the knees mostly straight, and the lower sacrum and tailbone resting on the ground (move further from the wall if the sacrum is lifted off the floor). Think of lengthening the spine along the floor. (You can do this pose on a bed with a high headboard, but in that case I suggest putting a small pillow under the lower back for support, since the body will tend to sag into the mattress and not maintain a straight spine.)
Bonus! Lateral Hip Rotator Stretch: Figure “4” on the Wall – From the Legs-up-the-Wall Pose, scoot backwards far enough that you can come into the Figure “4” position while still keeping the lower sacrum and tailbone on the floor. Bend the right knee and place the right foot flat on the wall. Cross the left ankle over the right thigh, keeping the left foot dorsiflexed. Actively move the left knee away from the right shoulder and towards the wall. After one minute, repeat on the other leg.
By doing these poses daily, you should feel more mobile and flexible in not only your CrossFit classes, but in your every day life!
Paul Kevin Smith has a M.Ed. degree in Kinesiology from U.T. Austin, and is a Level 2 certified provider of the Functional Movement Screen. His other certifications include ACSM Clinical Exercise Physiologist, ACE Health and Wellness Coach, PhysicalMind Institute Pilates Mat Work Instructor, Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (500 hours), and IAYT Yoga Therapist. Paul is an Adjunct Professor of Exercise Science and Student Development at Austin Community College, and also teaches yoga and Pilates classes and leads personal training sessions at BodyBusiness Fitness Club.