The Best Yoga Poses for YouBy Lara Rosenbaum
If Jennifer Aniston's perpetually toned bod or a coworker's serenity during stressful times has convinced you to give yoga a try, you've come to the right place. We've put together a primer on styles that burn calories, promote relaxation, or increase your flexibility. Read this and soon you'll be reaping the om-azing benefits of this ancient form of exercise.
Reasons to Do Yoga
Get a Cardio-Style Endorphin Rush
Pack water and a towel—most Bikram studios have a tropical climate, with temperatures around 105°F with 40 percent humidity. "The heat promotes sweating and warms up the body, making your muscles more flexible so they can stretch with less risk of injury," says Jennifer Lobo, co-owner of Bikram Yoga NYC. This workout (and take our word for it—it's a legit workout) is set up like a typical fitness class: a warmup, 20 minutes of cardio (through a series of quick, heart-revving poses), followed by a cooldown.
Signature pose: Standing Head to Knee (stretches and strengthens legs). Standing on your right leg with knee straight, lift your left leg and clasp your hands beneath your left foot. Straighten your left leg in front of you as much as you can, then lower your forehead toward your left knee. Hold for a few breaths, then repeat with the other leg.
Reduce Your Stress Level
Can't drop everything and Eat, Pray, Love it off to an ashram? Try restorative yoga. Props such as bolsters, blankets, and blocks support your body so you can feel a deep release, poses are often held for 15 minutes, and snoozing is completely couth. "Letting go physically encourages the mind to do the same," says Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., author of Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times. "When we give the body support, that feeling can spill over into our emotional well-being," she says.
Signature pose: Back Release (eases mental and physical tension). Sit on the floor facing a chair or couch, then lie back and place your lower legs on the seat. Your knees and hips will be bent. Support your head with a pillow, cover your eyes with a small cloth or towel, and let your body sink into the floor.
Drop a Few Pounds
Pick: Vinyasa Flow
This flab-melting workout will have you moving continuously (but not effortlessly) from pose to pose. Because each vinyasa flow class is different (the pace, poses, and sequences vary), your muscles will constantly be challenged in new ways, which burns extra calories. And there's a bonus for boozehounds:
"The twisting poses are great for recovering from a hangover," says Kathryn Budig, a vinyasa flow instructor in Los Angeles. "You're wringing yourself out, like a sponge."
Signature pose: Chaturanga (works your core, shoulders, and arms). Get into a pushup position, wrists beneath your shoulders. Gaze forward and slowly lower yourself halfway, keeping your shoulders over your wrists and squeezing your elbows close to your body.
Boost Your Spirits
Think of it as Prozac in a pose. This method unwinds your body while lifting your mood. Each class focuses on an inspirational idea (like feeling grounded or embodying confidence), which the style's founder, John Friend, calls a "heart theme." Expect some chanting and oms (feel free to speak up or sit quietly) and lots of classic moves such as lunges and planks. You'll probably partner up with a classmate for a pose or two to experience "the joy of community" and for some extra stretching you wouldn't be able to do on your own. (If your gym doesn't offer anusara, hatha is a worthy stand-in.)
Signature pose: Downward-Facing Dog (stretches arms, shoulders, and legs). Get into a pushup position. Push your hips back while keeping your arms and legs straight so your body forms an upside-down V. Slide your shoulder blades back, allowing your neck and chest to relax.
Build Strength Inside and Out
Pick: Power Yoga
This style may sound hardcore, but its name was actually inspired by the inner strength it develops. "Each session improves your posture and creates more confidence, which breeds self-empowerment," says Rudy Mettia, founder of Corporalita Power Yoga in Los Angeles. That's not to say your muscles get off scot-free. Hardly. There's plenty of toning and lean muscle building for your core, legs, and glutes.
Signature pose: King Dancer (boosts strength and balance). Stand on your left leg and bend your right knee so you can grab the front of your right foot with your right hand. Then extend your left arm in front of you and press your right leg behind you, leaning your torso forward slightly. Allow your right hand to grasp your ankle. Hold for a few breaths, then switch sides.
Get a Competitive Edge
Pick: Yoga for Athletes
"Both competitive athletes and average women do lots of repetitive motions, which can lead to muscle imbalances and overuse injuries," says Emilie Smith, a yoga for athletes instructor in New York City.
"Yoga for athletes works your body through its full range of motion to create symmetry and balance." After a dynamic warmup sequence and targeted strength-building poses, you'll finish with 15 to 20 minutes of longer, restorative stretches. Each class is designed to address specific student issues and rebalance the body.
Signature pose: Warrior III (builds strength and balance). Stand on your left leg with your right leg extended straight behind you, and raise your arms overhead, palms facing each other. Keeping your core tight, raise your right leg as you lower your torso toward the floor until your upper body forms a straight line with your right leg. Hold for a few breaths, then switch sides.