Yoga moves you can master

By Kassabaine Petersen


When you’re leading an active lifestyle, tight muscles and injuries are a given. Whether you’re running long distances, playing tennis or swimming, overall body strength will help keep you injury-free.

Yoga's benefits include: Strengthening muscle and improving stamina and flexibility, making it the perfect complementary activity. An added bonus is that it helps to still the mind, leading to greater clarity and mental endurance, which will give you the edge and help you stay focused during the final gruelling kilometres of a long run, for instance.

"Physiological benefits identified in numerous research studies include better control of blood pressure, respiration and heart rate, improved immune function and better quality of sleep," says Kathy McQuaide of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA).

We asked biokineticist and qualified yoga instructor Georgina Human to outline her top five poses to add to any training regime. "When done with proper technique, these poses may help prevent injuries and improve posture and mobility," says Human.

1. Child’s pose

Target Use this pose during warm-up, and as a resting position between poses.

Benefit It aids a deep stretch in the lower back and bum muscles.

How it’s done Start in a kneeling position. Drop your bum towards your heels as you stretch the rest of your body down and forward. In fully stretched position, rest your arms in a relaxed position along the floor, rest your tummy on your thighs and rest your forehead on the mat.

2. Downward dog

Target This single pose integrates the whole body. Great for tight hamstrings and calf muscles (but take care not to overstretch).

Benefit Builds strength in shoulders and back while stretching arms, buttocks, and legs.

How it’s done Come onto your hands and knees with hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below hips. Spread your fingers wide and tuck your toes under. Inhale and lift your knees off the floor, pressing your hips up towards the ceiling. Draw your heels down to the floor or keep a slight bend in your knees. Press your hands firmly into the mat and draw your shoulder blades down. Keep the head between the arms (don’t let it hang). Take five deep breaths.

3. Front plank

Target This all-in-one move strengthens the body from neck to feet.

Benefit Since it develops the core strength that may help alleviate lower back pain and sports injuries, the plank is one of the best moves for helping the whole body.

How it’s done Starting at the top of a push-up position, bend your elbows and lower yourself down until you can shift your weight from your hands to your forearms. Your body should form a straight line. Contract your abs and hold for 30–60 seconds. Focus on form, don’t drop your hips or raise your bum.

4. Side plank

Target Works the whole body, particularly abs and obliques.

Benefit Builds core strength.

How it’s done Lie on your side, legs straight, feet stacked. Prop your body weight on your right elbow and forearm, with your elbow under your shoulder, placing your left arm on left hip. Brace your core by contracting your abs. Raise your hips so your body forms a straight line from ankles to shoulders. Don’t allow hips to drop. Hold for 30 seconds. Work up to 1–3 minutes. Repeat on other side.

5. Cobra

Target Stretches both the hip flexors and the abdominal muscles simultaneously and strengthens the back.

Benefit “This is one of the most important poses as it opens up the hip and the chest – beneficial because of the amount of time we spend sitting with shoulders hunched, which puts us at risk for shoulder and lower back pain,” says Human.

How it’s done Lie on your tummy with your legs spread at hip width and the tops of your feet on the floor. Rest your forehead on the floor and relax your shoulders. Bend your elbows and place your forearms on the floor with your palms turned down and positioned near the sides of your head. As you inhale, engage your back muscles, press your forearms against the floor, and raise your chest and head. Look straight ahead. Keep your forearms and the front of your pelvis on the floor, being mindful of relaxing your shoulders. Stay in this position for 30–60 seconds. (If you have lower back problems, separate your legs wider than your hips and let your heels turn out and your toes turn in.)

6. Crescent lunge

Target A number of muscle groups are simultaneously targeted, however now the focus is on the lower body. Balance comes into play as the stabilising muscles of the legs and the pelvic girdle work hard to keep the legs aligned and to prevent you from falling over.

Benefit Great for runners, it strengthens the quadriceps muscles, the foot, ankle, knee and hip stabilisers of the front leg, as well as strengthening the gluteal muscles and the stabilising muscles of the foot, ankle, knee and hips of the back leg. Expands your chest, lungs and shoulders and improves balance, concentration and core awareness.

How it’s done Begin in Downward Dog pose. Step your right foot between your hands. Lower your hips into lunge position and shift your weight onto the ball of your back foot, bringing your hands to hips. Stay on the ball of your back foot and lift your upper body so that you’re standing straight up. Keep your hips squared the entire time. Bring your arms above your and reach for the ceiling. Palms should be facing each other. Hold for 30–60 seconds, then switch sides.

* As with all exercise, caution should be taken that these poses or movements be performed with proper technique or injuries can occur. Those with existing injuries consult a professional (physiotherapist, biokineticist or qualified yoga instructor) before attempting these poses.

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