30 Yoga Poses for Optimal Physical and Mental Performance
with additions by MJ Kelly
Over the past decade, yoga has taken the western world by storm.
And it’s not surprising: Yoga– partly because it’s a form of physical activity– has been proven to offer a wide range of health benefits.
The physical health benefits are aplenty; yoga is known to improve strength, flexibility, balance, blood circulation, alleviate pain and the list goes on. In addition to enhancing the body’s well-being, yoga also works to support mental and emotional health.
A regular practice helps reduce stress, relieve anxiety and manage depression symptoms by promoting mindfulness.
The only problem is, if you’re an athlete looking to take advantage of the benefits of yoga to aid your performance, an entrepreneur looking to maximize your energy, or you simply want to adopt a simple yoga routine at home to optimize your performance and improve your health, it can be really confusing.
It’s hard to know how to choose the best poses for optimizing your body and mind as there are about as many forms and offshoots of yoga as there are positions, so you’re liable to become overwhelmed before ever taking action.
Feeling too pressed for time? The truth is not everyone has the option to go to a one-hour yoga class everyday, but the good news is that incorporating just a short, 10-minute practice into your daily routine is more than enough to reap all the goodness yoga provides.
That’s why we’ve organized 20 powerful and diverse yoga poses that you can regularly perform to optimize your performance.
Not only is yoga excellent for flexibility, but it is also a great tool for longevity and injury prevention, as it allows for internal body awareness.
– Kyle Shewfelt
1. Hindu Squat
Why it’s good: Stretches everything from the calves to the inner thighs and relieves backaches.
How to do it: Squat down with toes pointed out, heels pulled in, and hands at prayer position placed in front of the chest. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
2. Half Moon
Why it’s good: Stretches several leg muscles and improves balance and strength.
How to do it: From a standing position, tip to one side with that side’s arm outstretched until it’s placed on the floor. Lift the opposite leg so that it’s parallel to the ground with the opposite arm stretching up towards the heavens.
3. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Why it’s good: Releases stress and anxiety to help balance the mind.
How to do it: Find a comfortable sitting position. Place one hand’s thumb over the nostril of the corresponding side and breath evenly out of the opposite nostril. Switch sides after one to two minutes.
Why it’s good: Said to stimulate the adrenal, pituitary, pineal, and thyroid glands.
How to do it: From a standing position, legs shoulder width apart, drop to your knees and allow the tops of your feet to rest flat on the ground. Place your hands either on your heels or your lower back depending on your flexibility.
5. Bound Angle
Why it’s good: Said to relieve menstrual and prostate symptoms.
How to do it: Sit down with your feet pressed together flat, knees down and to the side. Let your upper body fall forward with arms outstretched so that your torso touches your legs, maintaining a straight spine.
6. Warrior 1
Why it’s good: Great for relaxing the abdomen, particularly the psoas.
How to do it: From a standing position, step forward into a lunge by about four feet. Your front thigh should be parallel to the ground with your knee just above your ankle. Point your back toes at a slight outward angle. Finally, extend both arms upward and let your torso, shoulders, and hips pull slightly forward together.
7. Wheel Of Vitality
Why it’s good: Emphasizes breath meditation style and promotes the cardiovascular system.
How to do it: Stand with feet four or so feet apart, heels turned inward and toes pointing out. Now, bend your knees out toward your toes while squatting. Place your hands in a prayer position at the heart. Using the hands: open the arms outward, pull them back in the original position, raise them to the sky, then down to the floor, sweeping back towards your heels, then circling forward and up, backward and back down, and finally back to their original prayer position. Repeat this movement three times.
8. Half Lord Of The Fishes
Why it’s good: Great for improving digestion and relieving back pain.
How to do it: From a sitting position with legs lying flat, lift the left knee. Lift the left knee over the right leg and place the foot flat. Place your right hand behind you. Finally, place your left elbow on the outer right thigh to activate a deep twisting stretch. Repeat on the other side.
9. Forearm Plank
Why it’s good: Builds upper-body strength and core muscles.
How to do it: Get into a push-up position but instead place your elbows where your hands would be, with forearms and hands lying flat and pointing forward. Make sure the body is flat and even and your elbows are right below your shoulders.
10. Low Lizard to Easy Twist
Why it’s good: This pose is great for stretching the abdomen and back muscles and relaxing the pelvic area.
How to do it: Place the body in a push-up position and lift your right foot forward and just to the right of your right hand. Allow the body to sink down and relax. Exhale, then drop your right elbow to the floor, holding the position as you inhale and extending your right arm up towards the sky as you twist your torso and exhale. Repeat 10 times on each side.
11. Prone Scorpion
Why it’s good: Great for stretching the abdomen and shoulder muscles.
How to do it: Lay flat on your abdomen with legs together and arms stretched out horizontally in a ‘T’ shape and palms flat on the floor. Turn your torso sideways onto your right hip and bend your left knee so that you can reach your left toes with your right hand. Do this five or more times on each side.
Why it’s good: Great for counterbalancing the effects of long-term sitting.
How to do it: Lie flat on your stomach. On exhale, lift your lower legs as close to your buttocks as possible while reaching back with your hands to grab the tops of your feet. Keep your knees about hip-width apart and, on inhale, lift your ankles up towards the sky using your leg muscles (keep your back relaxed). Look upward and focus inward on your breathing for several seconds.
Why it’s good: Helps fix bad posture by strengthening the back and realigning the spine.
How to do it: Lay flat on your back with knees raised and feet flat on the floor, pulled back as far towards your buttocks as possible. Exhale and push off from your arms and feet to raise your pelvis up. Clasp the hands together.
Why it’s good: While a bit difficult on the knees, it’s great for stretching the hips and butt.
How to do it: Start on all fours with hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Pull your right knee forward towards the corresponding wrist and let the lower leg extend sideways and flat. Slide your left leg back until it’s nearly flat on the floor. You should now be laying on top of your right leg. Hold the stretch for one minute before repeating on the opposite side.
Why it’s good: One of the more well-known yoga poses, this is a great stretch to relax the spine and nurture spine injuries.
How to do it: Lie flat on the floor with the tops of your feet placed flat on the floor. Place your hands just under your shoulders as if you were to do a push-up and spread your fingers out. Maintaining your elbows at your sides, inhale then push your torso up from your hands. Focus on spreading your torso outward.
Why it’s good: This pose stretches a huge range of muscles, helping maintain mobility.
How to do it: Get down on your hands and knees, letting your forearms fall flat so that your shoulders are above your wrists. Lift your knees so that your legs are straight, making an inverted ‘V’ shape.
17. Low-Lunge Crescent
Why it’s good: Great all-around pose for relaxing the upper body, lower body, and core.
How to do it: Step forward into a lunge with either leg, placing both hands on top of the lunging thigh. Your knee should be directly above your heel. Next, drop your back knee to the floor and allow it to slide backward until you feel a good stretch, with that leg’s foot resting flat on the ground. While inhaling, swing your arms up and to the side while keeping your upper body perpendicular, shoulders down, and neck straight. Switch sides after one minute.
18. Supported Backbends
Why it’s good: Great for deep relaxation, speeding up recovery from difficult physical activity.
How to do it: Lie flat on your back using blocks to support both your head and upper back and let your arms lay slightly stretched out to each side.
19. Reclined Easy Twist
Why it’s good: Eases back and neck tension and stretches the torso.
How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees up and feet together flat on the floor. On exhale, pull your knees together forward towards your chest and then lower them to one side. Try to keep your shoulders pressed to the floor. Hold for 30 seconds or longer.
20. Reclining Big Toe
Why it’s good: Strengthens the knees and loosens the IT band, a common problem area for runners. Can also relieve backaches and sciatic pain.
How to do it: Lie down flat on your back, lift one leg, and use the hand of the corresponding side to grab the tips of your big toe. Repeat with the other side. Make sure to keep the leg and arm of the other side firmly on the ground.
21. Downward Facing Dog
Why it’s good: Downward Facing Dog energizes and stretches the whole body. It calms the nervous system, helps relieve stress and strengthens the arms, back and shoulders.
How to do it: Begin in table position, on your hands and knees. Your wrists should be aligned directly under your shoulders and your knees stacked below your hips. Spread your fingers, press your palms and knuckles firmly into the ground and exhale as you tuck your toes under and lift your knees off the mat. Keep your knees slightly bent and your heels lifted away from the floor. Lengthen your tailbone and lift your sitting bones up towards the ceiling. Draw your shoulder blades into your upper back, rotate your arms externally and draw your thighs towards your chest, pressing the mat away from you as you lengthen spine. Your ears should be parallel to your upper arms, you can relax your head but don’t let it hang. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
22. Sphinx Pose
Why it’s good: It helps relieve stress, strengthens the spine, opens the chest, lungs, shoulders and abdomen.
How to do it: Lying down on your back, keep your arms by your sides and your chin on the mat. Reach your toes towards the wall behind you, press your feet down into the mat. Bring your elbows underneath your shoulders and your forearms on the floor parallel to each other. Inhale as you lift your head and upper torso off the floor while you engage your legs, rotating your outer thighs towards the floor. Drop your shoulder blades down, away from your ears and draw your chest forward. Lightly lift your lower belly away from the floor and draw your chin in toward the back of your neck. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
23. Upward Facing dog
Why it’s good: This powerful pose strengthens the wrists, arms and shoulders and offers the chest, shoulders and abdomen a good stretch. It reinvigorates the whole body and provides stress and fatigue relief.
How to do it: Lying face-down on the floor, rest the tops of your feet on the mat. Place your hands on the floor alongside your body, parallel to your lower ribs. Hug your elbows into your ribcage and take a big inhale as you press your hands firmly into the floor. Then straighten your arms while you lift up your torso and legs a few inches off your mat. Make sure your shoulders are aligned directed below your wrists. Press down through the tops of your feet and engage your thighs to keep your legs lifted off the floor. Keep your shoulders blades down and lifting your chest towards the ceiling. Look straight ahead, relax the muscles in your face and hold.
24. Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Why it’s good: This forward bend helps calm the mind and helps relieve headaches and fatigue. It tones the abdominal organs and stretches and strengthens the backs of the legs as well as the spine.
How to do it: Stand in mountain pose and make sure you’re facing one of the long edges of your mat. Step your feet between 3 to 4 feet then rest your hands on your hips. Inhale, lift and lengthen your chest and on the exhale, lean forward from the hip joints, bringing your torso parallel to the floor. Press the tips of your fingers onto the floor under your shoulders. Extend your elbows, press into your feet, and bring your hips up towards the ceiling to help lengthen your legs. Your arms and legs should be parallel to each other and perpendicular to your mat. Keep your neck long and hold.
25. Standing Forward Bend
Why it’s good: This forward bend stretches the hips, hamstrings and calves and strengthens the thighs and knees. It’s also a great pose to help reduce fatigue, anxiety and helps relieve stress.
How to do it: Start in Mountain Pose, hands on your hips. On the exhale, bend forward from the hip joints, not from the waist. Lengthen your torso, keeping your knees straight or slightly bent, and place your hands or the tips of your fingers either infront or beside your feet. If you can’t reach, bring your hands to the backs of your ankles. Press your heels into the floor and lift your sitting bones up towards the ceiling. Hold for 10 to 15 breathes.
26. Warrior 2
Why it’s good: This version of Warrior pose stretches the legs, ankles, chest, lungs and shoulders. It’s a great pose if you’re looking to improve your stamina.
How to do it: Starting in Mountain Pose, take a deep breath and on the exhale step or gently hop your feet 3 to 4 feet apart. Raise your arms so that they’re parallel to the floor and reach them out to your sides, keeping them engaged. Pivot your right foot slightly to the right, and turn your left foot to the left, to 90 degrees. Engage your thighs, turn your left thigh outward so that your knee cap is in line with the center of your ankle. Bend your left knee so that your shin is perpendicular to the floor. Stretch your arms parallel to the floor, keep the sides of your torso long, keep your chest open wide and hold for 10 to 15 breathes. Repeat on the opposite side.
27. Warrior 3
Why it’s good: This invigorating pose tones the abdomen, improves balance, memory and concentration. It strengthens the legs, ankles, shoulders and back muscles.
How to do it: Start in mountain pose, bend your knees and reach your right right foot back, landing in a high lunge. Stretch your arms forward parallel to the floor and to each other. Begin to lift your right foot off the floor, pressing firmly into the left leg. Focus on reaching your right foot back and straightening your left leg. Keep a slight bend to avoid locking your knee. Your body should be parallel to the floor, making a straight line with your mat. Hold and repeat on the opposite side.
28. Bow Pose
Why it’s good: This empowering pose helps relieve stress, anxiety and fatigue. It stretches the entire front of the body, strengthens the back muscles and helps improve posture.
How to do it: Lie on your belly with your arms resting alongside your torso, palms facing up and feet hip-width apart. Take an inhale and on the exhale, bend your knees and reach your hands back to hold your ankles. Lifting your chest and thighs off the ground, keep your back muscles soft and your shoulders away from your ears. Press your shoulder blades together and keep your head in line with your spine. Hold for 10 to 15 breathes.
29. Four-Limbed Staff Pose
Why it’s good: Practiced as part of the Sun Salutations sequence, this pose strengthens the upper body and tones the core.
How to do it: From Downward Facing Dog, come into a regular plank pose. On the exhale, very slowly lower your body down, in a straight line, to hover a few inches off the floor. Reach the crown of your head forward, tuck your tailbone in towards your navel and keep your legs active. With your elbows bent a 90 degree angle, squeeze them by your sides as your reach them back towards your heels. Keep your core engaged, legs slightly turned inward, your head looking forward and hold.
30. Extended Triangle Pose
Why it’s good: This pose does it all. It stretches the thighs, knees, ankles, hips, hamstrings, shoulders, chest and more. It helps relieve stress and is great pose to help strengthen your core.
How to do it: Start standing in Mountain pose. On an exhale, step or gently hop your feet about 4 inches apart. Lift your arms so that they are parallel to the floor, actively reaching them out to the sides. Align your right heel with the left heel, slightly pivot your left foot to the right and turn your right foot out, to a 90 degree angle. Engage your legs, press into the feet and pull up your knee caps, making sure the center of your right knee cap is in line with your right ankle. On an exhale, bend from the hip joint and extend your upper body to the right, so that the tops of your shoulders are stacked over each other and your arms come into one straight line. Rest your right hand on the floor outside your right foot. If that’s not possible, rest it on your shin or ankle. Slightly turn your torso to the left, reach your left arm towards the ceiling, keep your head neutral or turn it to the left. Hold and repeat on the opposite side.