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 shown to improve circulation and muscle health, reduce stress, and infuse the body with lasting energy among many other benefits.
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.
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.