Melt Into One of These Expert-Recommended Yoga Poses Each Day to Release Stress and Sore Muscles
A daily yoga practice is a great habit in theory: strengthening for your body, relaxing and restorative for your mind. Making it work in practice can be another story. Sometimes even a 10-minute flow feels like more than you can manage, and that's OK. When I don't have time for a full flow, folding into just one of my favorite poses can relieve some of the stress and soreness I've been carrying around.
With that in mind, I wanted to know: if a yoga teacher could recommend just one pose a day, something that relaxes your body, unknots tension, and helps you stay loose, what would it be? In response, I got not just one but 15 gentle, rejuvenating moves to choose from, any one of which would be a great choice for some fast relief. Next time you're decompressing from a stressful day or just looking to get in a quick stretch, grab one (or two!) of these poses, sink in for a few seconds, and feel some of the soreness ebb away.
You can do a simple Mountain Pose anywhere and anytime, said yogi Anita Perry. It's simple "but so beneficial for the mind and body," providing a lengthening and posture-improving stretch in your feet, legs, and spine.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands by your sides or pressed together in front of your chest as pictured.
- Elongate through your torso, engaging your core and staying strong from your thighs. Imagine that you're lengthening your whole body through the crown of your head.
- Take at least five deep breaths.
Standing Forward Fold With Clasped Elbows
According to LA-based yoga instructor Vinnie Salemno, Standing Forward Folds "decompress the vertebrae in your spine, relax your neck and shoulders, and lengthen and stretch your legs and hamstrings all at the same time. I do them all day long!" It's also a wonderful tension reliever, added CorePower Yoga instructor Alexa Hirschberg.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Take a breath in, and as you exhale, hinge at your hips, folding over your thighs.
- Bend your arms and take hold of opposite elbows.
- Keep your weight pressing forward as you enjoy this stretch for the lower back and hamstrings for five breaths.
Wide-Legged Forward Bend
This stretch lengthens and tones the backs of your legs, often a tight area for many of us, said Michelle Thielen, founder of YogaFaith. "This pose can be invigorating and possibly replace your daily caffeine intake — it's that powerful!" Michelle told POPSUGAR.
- Stand with your feet three to four feet apart, placing your heels slightly wider than your toes.
- Bring your arms behind your back, clasping your fingers and pressing the heels of your palms together in a fist.
- Fold forward, hinging at your hips, drawing the crown of your head and your hands toward the floor. Relax your toes, and try to shift the weight of your hips forward so they're in line with your feet.
- Stay here for 10 deep breaths. Then press into your feet, engage your quads, and inhale as you stand up.
As a yoga teacher and avid runner, Downward-Facing Dog is Val Minos's go-to pose. "It provides length and flexibility in the back of the legs and through the spine," she said, while relieving tension between your shoulder blades. It's also an inversion, which Val said helps to clear and energize her mind and body.
- Come onto your hands and knees with your wrists underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
- Inhale as you tuck your toes under your heels. Then exhale to lift your hips, coming into the classic upside-down "V" shape called Downward-Facing Dog.
- Spread your fingers wide and create a straight line between your middle fingers and elbows. Work on straightening your legs and lowering your heels toward the ground. Relax your head between your arms, and direct your gaze through your legs or up toward your belly button.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
Yoga instructor and NASM-certified trainer Liz Galloway recommended this simple, classic pose because of the lower-back and spinal release it provides. It opens up your whole body and is a "great slow wake-up position," Liz said.
- Begin in a high plank position with your shoulders over your wrists.
- Inhale a breath as you scoop your chest forward, balancing on the tops of your feet and your hands, coming into Upward-Facing Dog. Lower your head back between your shoulder blades. Pull your shoulder blades down your back and hold for five breaths.
"Backbends and spinal movement are key to sustaining the health of our spines, especially these days where we spend a good portion of our day hunched over!" said yoga instructor Sara Quiriconi. Moving back and forth between these two complementary poses loosens all of your back muscles. The movement can be done as a warmup, as part of your yoga practice, or on its own if you only have time for one posture.
- Begin with your hands and knees on the floor. Make sure your knees are under your hips and your wrists are under your shoulders. Begin in a neutral spine position, with your back flat and your abs engaged. Take a big, deep inhale.
- On the exhale, round your spine up toward the ceiling, and imagine you're pulling your belly button up toward your spine, really engaging your abs. Tuck your chin toward your chest, and let your neck release. This is your cat-like shape.
- On your inhale, arch your back, let your belly relax, and go loose. Lift your head and tailbone up toward the sky — without putting any unnecessary pressure on your neck. This is the Cow portion of the pose.
- Continue flowing back and forth from Cat Pose to Cow Pose, and connect your breath to each movement — inhale for Cow Pose, and exhale on Cat Pose.
- Repeat for 10 rounds.
Low Crescent Lunge
If you're sitting down for most of the day, chances are your hips are pretty tight. "A properly executed crescent lunge will help to open the hip flexors, engage the glutes, and strengthen the muscles of the torso — all super important for proper posture and back health!" said Julie Erickson of Endurance Pilates and Yoga.
- From Standing Forward Fold, step your right foot back, and lower your right knee to the floor. Keep your left knee directly over your ankle.
- Inhale to raise the arms up, sinking the pelvis toward the floor to intensify the stretch in the hips. Look up to intensify the stretch, and open your chest. You can also hold the pose with your hands on your knees.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Come out of the pose by curling your right toes under, placing your hands on the ground.
- Come into a plank position, then walk back into Standing Forward Fold.
- Repeat with your left leg.
Lifted Head to Knee
"This pose helps you work into the hips, the hamstrings, and the lower back, so it's great for overall flexibility," said certified yoga teacher Alex C. Wilson. It also involves a slight forward fold, which Alex said gives it a calming, introspective energy. She recommended doing it as a dynamic posture, moving smoothly between Low Crescent Lunge and Lifted Head to Knee (also called Half-Splits).
- From Low Crescent Lunge, place your hands on either side of your front foot.
- Exhale to shift your weight back, straightening your front leg and folding forward with both feet flexed.
- Hold for 10-20 seconds.
- Shift back and forth between Lifted Head to Knee and Low Crescent Lunge, hitting each pose three to four times. Repeat on your other leg.
Yoga instructor Brooke Diaz of Yoga Joint recommended daily chest-opening stretches, like this Cobra Pose, for spinal strength. "Each and every day, our back is aging, and back extensions like Cobra and Upward-Facing Dog are extremely helpful for overall strength," she explained. Cobra Pose will also open up your heart and chest, which can release stress and emotional tension.
- Lie on your belly with your legs hips-width distance apart. Extend your arms straight out in front of you.
- As you lift your head up off the ground, begin to slowly walk your hands in, keeping your hips and thighs on the ground, but gently arching your lower back. Walk them in as far as you can, keeping your elbows slightly bent.
- Actively relax, keeping your gaze forward or lowering your head back between your shoulder blades. Stay here for five breaths, opening through your chest and abs, and then lower your torso back to the mat.
Lying Spinal Twist
If you only had time for one pose, yoga instructor Kathleen Clemons recommended doing Lying Spinal Twist, or Supine Twist. "This shape is gentle enough for anyone to do with simple modifications and has some truly amazing benefits," she said: decompressing and improving flexibility in your spine, lengthening your hip rotators, and relieving pain throughout your torso. "Your whole well-being is connected to the health of your spine, and this is my favorite way to easily open, release, and improve it!" she said.
- Lie on your back, bending your knees into your chest.
- Extend your arms out in T-position.
- Slowly lower both knees to the right. Rest them on the ground, and turn your head to the left. You can increase the stretch by crossing your left knee over your right thigh.
- Hold here for at least five breaths, feeling your spine lengthen and twist. You may even hear some "cracks."
- Use your abs to lift your knees back to center, then repeat on the other side.
This soothing pose stretches your piriformis muscle, which runs below your glutes and can cause sciatica-like pain when it's tight, said Mary Home, a yoga instructor at Daily Burn. Stretching this muscle on a daily basis can not only ease pain and inflammation but also help you process and release negative emotions, Mary added.
- Lie on your back with both legs in the air. Place your right ankle on your left thigh above your knee. See the shape of the number four? It is there, just upside down.
- Reach your right hand through the open space created by your right leg and grab your left hand, which is reaching around the outside of your left thigh. Slowly bend your left knee toward your chest. You should feel a stretch on the outside of your right hip.
- After five breaths, repeat on the other side.
"A pose I suggest everyone do each day is Child's Pose," said Paris Alexandria, cofounder of BK Yoga Club. She described it as a restorative pose that encourages you to center your thoughts and focus your breath while relieving lower-back tension and pressure. "Very much recommended for the person who's always on the go," she said.
- Kneel on your mat with your knees hips-width distance apart and your big toes touching behind you. Take a deep breath in and, as you exhale, lie your torso over your thighs. Try to lengthen your neck and spine by drawing your ribs away from your tailbone and the crown of your head away from your shoulders.
- Rest your arms beside your legs, with palms facing up, or try extending your arms out in front of you.
- Stay here for five breaths.
Legs Up the Wall
Yoga instructor Morgan Balavage recommends making this restorative pose the first and last thing you do every day. "Your tired legs are using gravity to drain lactic acid and excess fluid toward your kidneys," she explained. Meanwhile, "your aching back muscles are sighing at the firm support of your floor and gradually relaxing." In the evening, this stretch helps you relieve stress and ease insomnia, while in the morning, it can energize.
- Sit down as close as you can to the wall. Lie down on your back, place your feet on the wall with your knees bent, and scoot your butt against the wall.
- Extend your feet straight up, resting your heels on the wall. Keep your arms by your sides or by your head (this position will stretch your shoulders).
- Close your eyes and allow your entire body to relax, feeling gravity pulling you down as the wall supports you, holding for five or more breaths.
Supported Fish Pose
"I haven't met someone who didn't need Supported Fish Pose," said yoga instructor Lucile Hernandez Rodriguez. This pose is a great antidote for the hunching posture many of us are guilty of when working at computers or on phones. "This is a gentle restorative backbend that will set you up for relaxation," Lucile added.
- Lie on your mat with your back flat on the floor. Place a block beneath your midback and another beneath your head.
- Bring your arms close to your sides, palms facing down. Keeping your butt on the floor, inhale as you arch your back, pressing your hands and forearms into the ground.
- Keeping your legs strong, hold for five breaths, then relax your back.
Don't let the look of this posture fool you; according to yoga teacher and triple board-certified physician Monisha Bhanote, MD, "the real difficulty comes in the art of relaxing." If your life is fast-paced and hectic, with your mind "constantly bouncing from one idea to another," a daily Savasana provides time for relaxation, balance, and stress reduction, she explained. Try this pose before a meditation session or at the end of the day to promote deep, restful sleep.
- Lie on your back and close your eyes. In order to relax and open your body fully, extend your arms a few inches away from your body, with your palms facing up. Put about 15 to 20 inches between your heels, allowing your feet to fall open with your toes pointing out. Actively shrug your shoulder blades down toward your hips. Lengthen through your spine as much as possible, relaxing your lower back toward the floor.
- After you've found a comfortable position, stay here for as long as you want, around 10 minutes or more, if your schedule allows for it. If you're short on time, remain in Savasana at least until your heart rate slows down and your breath returns to its natural soothing rhythm.