6 Yoga Poses for Better Health

Stimulate your inner yogi with these six essential yoga poses for better health, as recommended by seasoned local instructors.



Wearing out the soles of your sneakers running laps or spending hours sweating at the gym isn’t always necessary to stay in good health. Meet seven Pittsburgh yoga instructors, all with varying years of teaching experience (as noted after each name), who have suggested a half-dozen poses for you to do at home in a short amount of time. But don’t expect to find poses that are too easy because we want to challenge you and let you reap the benefits.

It’s typical to stay in a pose for 30 to 60 seconds and release each one on an exhalation before repeating on the other side (when possible). But before you start, remember to keep a deep, slow and steady breath throughout each pose — either solely through the nose or in through the nose and out through the mouth; breathing is a big part of yoga discipline and will help you fight discomfort and steady yourself for longer pose-time. So close your eyes, fill your body with fresh air and breath out any negative vibes. Namaste.

Half Lord of the Fishes
(Ardha Matsyendrasana)

Recommended by Kate Olson, E-RYT (5), and Jamie McLean, E- RYT (3)
(Lakeview Yoga, Peters Township; BYS Yoga, South Side; Yoga H’Om, Robinson Township)

Sitting with legs straight in front of you, bend your right knee into your chest and cross the right foot over the left thigh. Keeping your right knee up and right foot flat on the floor, shift your weight to your left hip and bend your left knee so that your left heel comes to the outside of your right hip. Distribute your weight onto both hips comfortably, sit tall and place your right hand on the floor behind your right hip. Exhale and use your abs to twist your torso to the inside of the right thigh.

For a deeper twist, bring your left arm to the outside of the right knee and keep the elbow bent. Use your abs to twist from your torso’s core and pull the front torso and inner right thigh together. You can swivel your head to gaze over the right or left shoulder. On inhalation, lengthen your spine equally in all directions and lift the chest high. With every exhalation, twist a little deeper.            

Having trouble?
If you have tight hamstrings, feel unbalanced or this position makes your lower back uncomfortable, sit on a folded blanket to elevate your hips. If it’s difficult for you to bring your heel to hip, leave it straight out in front of you with your knee and toes pointing up. If it’s difficult to squeeze the inner thigh into your torso, use a wall to prop you by sitting about a foot away (depending on your arm length) with your back to the wall. Exhale into the twist and reach for the back wall (your arm should be almost fully extended, but not quite). Continue to reach for the wall to bring your torso closer to the thigh.

Benefits:

  • Stimulates the liver, kidneys and digestion

  • Stretches shoulders, hips and neck

  • Energizes the spine

  • Helps relieve symptoms of fatigue and backache (but not advised for back or spine injury)

Supported Headstand - King of all Poses
(Salamba Sirsasana)

Recommended by Dana Malcolm, RYT (6)
(Yoga On Walnut, Sewickley)

Get on your hands and knees, and place your forearms on the mat with the elbows aligned under the shoulders. Bring the hands together, lower your head to the mat on the hairline and interlace your fingers to make a cup for the head. Press your thumbs into the back of the head and root the wrists into the floor. Turn your toes under, inhale and walk the feet toward the elbows, pressing down the forearms from the wrist to the elbow to help firm the shoulder blades against the back, prevent the shoulders from collapsing and putting too much weight on the neck and head.

To lift the legs into headstand, reach one leg up and bring the second to meet it. Draw your lower ribs back, tuck the tailbone up toward the ceiling, engage your thigh muscles and reach up through the legs into the balls of the feet. The center arches of the feet should line-up with the center of the pelvis, which aligns over the crown of the head. Keep pressing with your forearms when coming out of the position.

Having trouble?
If you’re new to headstand or feel nervous about going upside-down, practice in front of a wall. If you don’t like bringing one foot up to meet the other, try lifting both feet together by bending the knees into the chest and slowly lifting the knees to the ceiling before straightening your legs. Take caution if  you have a back or neck injury, severe headaches, a heart condition or uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Benefits:

  • Helps flush nutrients, oxygen and blood to the pituitary and hypothalamus brain glands

  • Can help depression and concentration

  • Aids circulation and digestion

  • Strengthens deep core muscles

Bridge
(Setu Bandhasana)

Recommended by Lisa Friday (4)
(Amazing Yoga, three locations)

Lying on your back with your arms at your sides, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor close to your sitting bones (you should be able to just touch your heels with your fingertips). Keep your thighs and feet parallel and in line with your hips. Press into your feet and lift your pelvis, lower back and upper back before interlacing your hands beneath your tailbone. Rolling the outsides of your arms underneath you as much as possible, press your arms into the floor and lift the chest toward the chin.

Only your feet, outer arms and the back of your head should be touching the ground. Without moving your feet, press your heels down toward the front of you to activate the tops of your thighs. Relax your glutes and hamstrings, and spin your inner thighs down towards the floor.

Having trouble?
If it bothers the back of your shoulders, place a folded blanket underneath them. Avoid this posture if you have a neck injury.

Benefits:

  • Calms the nervous system, and helps reduce anxiety, stress, insomnia and depression

  • Aids digestion

  • Stretches the chest, neck, shoulders, spine and hips

  • Strengthens the thigh and spine muscles

Balancing Half Moon
(Ardha Chandrasana)

Recommended by Heather Cunningham, RYT (3)
(Yoga Flow, four locations)

Standing with feet together, hinge forward at your hips and press your palms into the floor (your heart should remain even with or above your hips). Engage your abs and pinch your shoulder blades together to ensure that you are starting with a flat, tabletop-back. With control, raise your left leg, hip height behind you, keeping your ankle flexed and toes pulled back toward your face. Engaging your abs and entire left leg throughout the pose will help you keep your balance.

In your own time, clip your left hip with your left palm; you may need to move your right hand to the right about 10 inches in front of your right pinky toe. Keep your gaze at the floor to start and slowly stack your left hip on top of your right, opening your body to the side wall. When comfortable, release and extend your left palm toward the sky, stacking your wrist directly above your shoulder. Reach through your left fingertips and continue to press your right palm into the floor. If you fall out of the pose, fall right back in.

Having trouble?
If starting with a flat back and keeping your heart even with your hips is difficult, use a block (or something sturdy) to help you level out and add extra balancing support; the block’s height may vary based on your height and length of limbs. If you don’t want to use a block, you can try starting with your palms on your shins and keeping your right hand on your right shin when opening into the pose for a “floating” half moon — but this will add intensity.

Benefits:

  • Engages muscles for strength enhancement and toning

  • Helps relieve stress

  • Increases balance and awareness of your body

Bound Angle Legs in a Side-Twisting Shoulderstand
(Parshva Urdhva Baddha Konasana in Sarvangasana)

Recommended by Richard Gartner, E-RYT (8)
(Schoolhouse Yoga, four locations)

Place about three folded blankets under the shoulders with your head on the floor so that there is no pressure on the neck. From this position, lift your legs and trunk in the air. Bend your arms at the elbows and drive them into the blankets, placing your hands on the back torso. Lengthen the torso upward until your hands are on the ribcage to accomplish shoulderstand. Then place the soles of your feet together and extend the inner thighs in opposite directions for bound angle legs.

From here, twist the hips and abdomen in one direction. Take care so the shoulders don't distort, making sure there’s no strain on the neck. Using your abs to keep the legs in place, extend the spine and lengthen the navel, so that there is a backbend.

Benefits:

  • Aids blood circulation

  • Increases digestion

  • Helps flush the groin, abdomen and underarm lymphatic systems

Standing Bow
(Dandayamana Dhanurasana)

Recommended by Zeb Homison, Certified Bikram Yoga Instructor (5)
(Bikram Yoga, Lawrenceville)

Begin by balancing on one leg and gripping the other leg behind you (just below the ankle) with your palm facing out. As you kick into the hand, grip the foot and stretch the opposite hand forward, away from the body, as you bring your body parallel to the ground. Gradually move deeper into the posture.

Benefits:

  • Aids blood and oxygen flow throughout the body

  • Helps alleviate back pain

  • Increases concentration

  • Strengthens balance and coordination

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