You know that one of many benefits of yoga is that it can provide an excellent stretch, helping to loosen the tightest of muscles. So why not do a few yoga poses after your next non-yoga workout to cool down and stretch out the muscles you just worked?
Whether you did cardio or strength training, these five poses from Yoga52 instructor Brent Laffoon will stretch all your major muscle groups and leave you feeling relaxed. (Each pose flows into the next, and the entire sequence takes less than 10 minutes.)
Standing Forward Bend
“This is a very simple and effective way to loosen up the lower back and hamstrings,” Laffoon says.
- Stand with your feet about hips distance apart.
- Hinge at the waist and let your upper body hang down. After a few breaths, you may choose to hold onto the elbows with opposite hands. If you want to stretch your shoulders, interlace your fingers behind your back and reach the arms over the back of your head.
- If you want to go deeper into the pose, tuck your chin toward your chest, lean your weight slightly toward the balls of your feet, and actively reach the crown of your head toward the floor. Stay here for as long as feels comfortable.
Forward Bend Variation
When doing a standing forward bend, it’s normal to feel a stretch in your hamstrings and calves. But if this position causes pain or strain, there are a few ways you can modify it:
- Bend your knees slightly.
- Separate your feet for extra stability.
- If you can’t reach the floor, place yoga blocks underneath your hands.
“This is another simple and very effective stretch that helps to loosen the hip flexors and the psoas,” Laffoon says. “Depending on how far you reach the arms back, it can also be a good stretch for the shoulders and upper chest.”
- Step one foot back as far as it will comfortably reach and let that knee come down to the floor.
- Raise your chest as you reach your arms up and back. Ideally you’ll sink your hips gradually deeper toward your front heel as your arms continue reaching up and back, creating an arch through the spine.
- After 5 to 8 breaths on one side, return to a standing forward fold and repeat on the other side.
Although this pose can be challenging, it opens up the hip flexors, begins to open up the hips, and gives a nice spinal twist. “The key is to roll the top shoulder and chest open and try to create a sense of a backbend, as opposed to being hunched through the chest and shoulders,” Laffoon says.
- From your low lunge position, let the opposite hand from whichever leg is forward come down to the floor. Reach the other hand straight up in the air and try to look back toward your back foot.
- If possible, bend the knee of the back leg, and reach back with the opposite hand to catch the foot. Pull the heel gently in toward your glutes. The more you sink your hips toward the front heel and the more you can pull the back heel in toward your butt, the more of a stretch you’ll feel.
- After 5 to 8 breaths on one side, repeat on the other side.
Upward Facing Dog
This pose stretches the front of the body and the spine. “Some people have very flexible spines; others, not so much,” Laffoon says. “The key here is to learn how to work with that you’ve got.”
- Come to a plank, staying on the balls of your feet. Keep your arms straight and your belly engaged to support the lumbar spine, then slowly lower your hips toward the floor.
- If you want, you can roll over your toes and keep the legs engaged to make it a full upward facing dog. Or, if you prefer, you can let the legs rest on the ground and make it a cobra pose. Either way, roll the shoulders back and listen to your body.
- Hold for 5 to 8 breaths.
“This is another classic yoga pose that opens up the outer hips and, when done properly, feels amazing,” Laffoon says.
- From upward facing dog, shift back into downward facing dog and take a moment just to listen to your breath.
- When you’re ready, bring your right ankle behind your left wrist, lowering your hips and letting your right knee rest on the floor. (If that causes any pain — or leaves you feeling misaligned in any way — either bend the front knee to sink deeper into the pose, or simply back off until you feel balanced with your hips square to the front of the mat.)
- Once you’ve set up the foundation, walk your hands forward and fold over the forward leg. After about 10 to 15 breaths, release and switch sides.