Yoga is about more than just backbends, well-coordinated outfits, and shareable sunset poses. Each asana, or pose, when done properly can benefit your everyday life. “While the aesthetics of yoga can be blown up by things like Instagram and ego, it’s the time spent on a foundational, energetically-led practice that’s going to benefit real-life issues like stress, digestive disorders, posture, and anxiety,” says Kala MacDonald, Los Angeles-based yoga instructor and wellness blogger. From stabilizing muscles to easing tightness, these seven expert-recommended poses are great additions to time spent on the mat. Seek out the one that works for you or cycle through them all.
7 Yoga Poses With Real-World Benefits
To help relieve lower back pain, tight hips, and weak glutes, try: Warrior 2
“Warrior 2 offers a double-whammy: external rotation of the hip in the front leg and abduction (moving away from the midline) of the back leg,” says Jenny Finkel, a Fitbit local ambassador and certified yoga, barre, and group fitness instructor. “Because this pose allows the legs to separate laterally, the outer glutes strengthen through external rotation, and the inner thighs get a nice stretch.” Warrior 2 forces you to open up your hips, improving hip mobility which can help ease lower back pain. Weak glutes are also combatted through external rotation, which helps with activation and proper firing.
1. Facing the long edge of your mat, step your feet wide apart.
2. Angle your left toes slightly in, and turn your right foot all the way out so that all five toes are facing the short edge of your mat.
3. Bring your hands to your hips to make sure they stay level with each other, and bend into your right knee. You’re working toward a 90-degree bend in the right leg, but it’s okay if you don’t bend that deeply! If your knee juts out beyond your toes, step your feet wider so that your knee still stays stacked on top of the ankle. Make sure your hips stay even with each other, and your spine stays neutral.
4. When your spine is nice and tall, your hips are square, and your right knee is directly atop (but not beyond) your right ankle, extend your arms out to shoulder height, and gaze out over your right fingertips.
5. To come out, straighten your leg and turn your feet back to parallel. Then repeat these steps on your left.
To help release lower-back tension, and possibly ease gas and constipation, try: Supine Twist
Relaxing stretches can do wonders for easing tension. This one promises to do double-duty, relieving tummy pain, too. “This gentle, moving twist is great for beginners,” says MacDonald. “It’s calming, meditative, and easy on your joints and back.” Plus, the move has anecdotally been linked to relieving belly bloating. “I have students who swear it helps improve gas and gets things moving in their GI tracts,” she adds.
1. Lie on your back with your arms extended in a “T.” Your palms can can be up or down.
2. Bending your knees, rest the soles of your feet on the floor, hip-width apart or slightly wider.
3. Let your knees gently fall toward the right. Lift them back to center, then let them gently fall to the left.
4. Repeat as many times as you’d like, closing your eyes for added relaxation.
To help stand up straight and strengthen your neck and back, try: Half Cobra
“It’s not a newsflash that modern-day life depends on computers, smartphones, and other posture-killers,” says Finkel. “This leads to a weakening of the muscles in the upper back, tightening of the muscles in the chest, and—in extreme cases—risk of disc herniation.” Belly-down backbends, such as half cobra, can strengthen the upper back and spinal erectors while opening up the front shoulders and chest (and, since the belly is supported by the floor, there is a reduced risk of hyper-extending through the lower back). A full-wheel or king cobra pose may feel inaccessible, but half cobra is a good building block.
1. Lie on your stomach with wrists in line with or just behind your shoulders, palms down and fingers spread wide, elbows pulled back and towards your spine.
2. Maintaining a neutral neck position throughout the asana, inhale and lift your shoulders and chest up and back, away from the floor. To ensure you’re lifting with the muscles along your back and not pushing with your hands, you can float your palms off the floor.
3. Exhaling, slowly lower back to your starting position.
4. Repeat, moving with your breath as many times as you like.
To help alleviate tight hips and groin muscles, try: Double Pigeon
“Double pigeon is a great hip-and-groin opener that’s scalable based on your flexibility,” says MacDonald. Stacking your legs allows for a deep stretch that engages both hips at once. Take your time moving in and out of this pose. You can use props like yoga blocks or large cushions to support your knees as needed.”
1. Sitting on a mat, extend your legs in front of your body.
2. Bend your right knee to about a 90-degree angle and then rotate your right leg so that the outside of it rests on the mat, foot flexed and shin parallel to the front of your mat.
3. Do the same with your left leg, but stack it on top of your right, aligning your shins.
4. Once your legs are stacked, you can either sit upright, holding the pose with your hands resting on your legs, or gently begin walking your hands forward to come into a forward fold.
5. If you are in a forward fold, carefully walk your hands back towards the body.
6. Once you’re sitting tall again, use your hands to move your legs out of double pigeon, allowing your left leg to leave the pose first.
7. Shake out your legs, then repeat the pose with your right leg on top of your left.
To help improve posture and stabilize muscles, try: Mountain Pose
It looks easy, but mountain pose is often performed incorrectly—by both beginners and seasoned yogis! “While it seems like you’re just standing upright, it’s up to you to make it a meaningful stance,” says MacDonald. “Keep the name in mind: A mountain is alive, growing, sturdy, and unwavering. Mastering mountain pose should translate to full-body activation and alignment.”
1. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and big toes parallel. Rock back and forth and side to side on the balls of your feet before grounding your feet firmly into the floor. Maintaining a micro-bend in your knees to activate the legs, find the proper tilt of the pelvis by pulling your abdomen back as you guide your tailbone down slightly.
2. Shrug your shoulders up toward your ears, then roll your shoulder blades down and back.
3. With your arms by your side, palms facing forward, and fingers spread wide, turn your biceps outward so that the backs of your arms are “glued” to your side and biceps are facing out away from your torso. Keep your chin lifted and your jawline pulled back to activate your “neutral neck” (where your head is aligned and stacked atop your spine).
4. Close your eyes if desired, and maintain this asana as long as it’s comfortable without strain.
5. For an added challenge, find and hold your Mountain pose as you slowly come up onto the balls of your feet/toes. This is a good way to work stabilizing muscles and build strength in leg and ankle joints.
To help build balance, focus, and strength, try: Warrior 3
“Warrior 3 is one of the most challenging standing balances because, rather than being upright, most of your body is parallel to the floor (or working towards it),” says Finkel. Your standing leg is supporting most of your body weight, which builds balance; your lifted leg is targeting your glutes while working to keep your hips square, which builds stability and strength. The pose is also helpful for restoring focus. “If you’re having a hard time finishing an assignment or concentrating on a project at work, hop up and try to hold this post for a few breaths on each foot,” says Finkel. “Multitasking is tough in standing balance poses, so they really help you cut distraction and tune back in!!”
1. Begin in mountain pose at the top of your mat. Stand up tall with your hands together at your heart.
2. Step into your right foot, and lift your left knee up toward your chest.
3. Hinge forward from your hips, reaching your head and your heart forward, as you slowly press your left leg back behind you until it’s straight. Try to keep your spine as long, chest as open, and hips as square and level as they were when you were standing upright in mountain pose.The toes on your lifted leg are a pretty good indicator of whether or not your hips are square: If all five left toes are aiming down toward your mat, your hips are likely square. If they are aiming out to the left, one or both of your hips is probably externally rotating.
4. Feel free to keep your hands at your heart while you focus on maintaining the alignment of your spine and hips while staying balanced. If you feel steady, reach both hands forward, creating one long line from your hands to your left heel.
5. Come out slowly and with control, and repeat on the other side!
To help strengthen your core and engage your entire body, try: Plank
Set your timer and challenge yourself to a 2-minute plank hold. “The great thing about planks is that they strengthen your entire core while keeping your spine in a neutral position, so there’s no compression on the discs,” says Finkel. Staying contracted in a static (still) position can help build isometric strength, which has been shown to lead to better muscle activation and lower blood pressure.
1. Starting on hands and knees, find your neutral spine. Think of lengthening the crown of your head forward and pulling your tailbone back. Keep your collarbones wide as you draw your ribs up and in.
2. Tuck your toes under and hover both knees one inch off your mat for “Table Top Plank.” Keep that same, perfect posture in your spine!
3. Hold for a few breaths, then release your knees back down.
4. Next, keep your shoulders stacked on top of your wrists with your fingers spread, and step your feet back one at a time. Your hips should be just about at the same level as your shoulders, or perhaps a little bit lower.
5. Keep your eyes focused on the top edge of your mat—avoid the temptation to drop your head and look back towards your belly button.
6. Follow the same alignment notes for the forearm plank: shoulders stacked on top of your elbows, hips in line with—or slightly below—your shoulders, legs long and straight, and eyes at the top edge of your mat or between your thumbs.
7. Challenge yourself to hold this pose for as long as long as you can maintain proper alignment.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.