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10 Yoga Poses to Strengthen and Stretch

By , SparkPeople Blogger
This series of yoga poses will help you open your hips, stretch your hamstrings and energize your body. Designed for someone with a basic knowledge of yoga, use these poses to strengthen and lengthen.

You'll need a yoga mat for this practice, along with a block, if you use one. The photos here show the sequence on the left side of the body. Hold each pose for at least five breaths, and repeat on the other side.

Be sure to warm up, either with some cardio or a few sun salutations.

Before you begin, remember these precautions:
  • Do not start a yoga routine or any other workout without clearance from your doctor.
  • These poses are not suitable for pregnant women.
  • Each pose should be done in a slow and controlled manner, without bouncing or forcing, which can cause your muscles to tighten, increasing your risk of injury. Stretch in a slow, steady motion to the point of “mild discomfort.” If you are stretching to the point of pain, you have stretched too far. Learn to "respect your edge"--never go beyond it.
  • A breath is one full inhalation and one full exhalation through the nose. Hold each pose for five breaths, or longer if you'd like.
Start at the top of your mat. Feet together, arms by your sides, belly pulled in. Begin breathing through your nose, using ujjayi breathing.

Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana 1--photo is above)
Inhale, step your left foot back about four feet, pivoting it to about 45 degrees. Lunge your right leg, keeping the knee directly over the ankle. Bring arms overhead, press palms together, and gaze at your thumbs. Hips stay level and face forward. Press into both feet, and keep the shoulders relaxed away from the ears (don't scrunch them).

Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2)
Exhale, bring your arms out into a T, opening your hips to the left. Sink deeper into your lunge, and shift your gaze to your front middle finger. Let the shoulders relax; keep the arms active. Press into both feet, paying special attention to the outer edge of the back foot.

Reverse warrior
Inhale, drop the left hand to the left thigh or calf, and extend the right arm overhead, leaning into a slight backbend. Flip the right palm and gaze up to look at it. Keep the abs strong and pull the bellybutton toward the backbone.

Extended side angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
Inhale, press into both feet and bring arms back to a T, then drop the right forearm to the right thigh, extending the left arm overhead. Create one long line from the left ankle to the left fingertips. Gaze under the left shoulder to the left palm.

Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana)
Inhale, press into both feet to stand tall and straighten both legs, bringing the arms back to a T. Step the back (left) foot forward about a foot, exhale lean out and over the front leg, and reach for the right big toe with the first two fingers and thumb. (Or rest the hand on the shin, ankle, or a block.) Let the left arm extend straight up, and shift the gaze to the left fingertips. Press into the front foot, and keep the body lifted and active (don't collapse into that bottom hip and hand--lift toward the sky and keep abs strong).

Pyramid (Parsvottanasana)
Inhale to come up, then exhale as you turn to face the front leg. Take the hands behind you in "prayer" position or grab opposite elbows with your hands. Inhale stand taller, offering a slight backbend, and exhale, lean over the front leg, centering the chest over the right thigh and being careful not to lock out the front knee. Gaze past the end of the nose and tuck the chin.

Inhale, press into the front foot as you stand tall, and exhale as you undo your hands.

Runner's Lunge
Inhale, step your right foot forward about a foot, coming into a low lunge. Drop the left knee and the top of the left foot to the floor. Keep your hands on either side of your right leg for support, and when you feel steady, bring both hands to your right thigh. Keep the chest as tall as possible, and gaze past the end of the nose.

Lizard (Utthan Pristhasana)
Inhale and carefully place your hands along the inside of your right leg, working your way onto your forearms and interlacing the fingers. Gaze past the end of the nose as you relax into the pose.

Revolved Lizard
Inhale, come back tall, first standing your hands inside the line of the right leg, then bringing them together in "prayer" at your heart. Exhale there. Inhale and twist, placing your left elbow on your right knee. Press hands together and elbow into knee to deepen the twist. Gaze over your right shoulder.

Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Inhale, look forward, place your hands back on the floor on either side of your right foot and press into them as you curl the left toes under and come into a lunge. Step your right foot back and shift your hips up into downward facing dog. (Or come to hands and knees, tuck the toes and shift into down dog.)

From down dog, look up at your hands, inhale and walk your feet up between them and come halfway up, keeping the back flat. Exhale fold forward. Inhale stand tall, bring the arms overhead and gaze at the thumbs, then exhale, relax the arms by your sides before repeating the entire sequence on the other side.

Which pose do you like best? Which is the most challenging for you?

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