After a long strenuous day a good stretch can really help with muscle tension, calming and clearing the mind, and help getting a better night’s sleep.
Here are a few yoga stretches we recommend. Try turning them into a routine to do right before bed. You’ll wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day.
Standing Side to Side Half Moon (Shoulders and Side Body) (hold 15 sec per side)
- Begin in Mountain Pose standing with feet together or walking distance apart, arms at your sides. Press down evenly feeling all four corners of your feet firmly into the ground. Both feet are grounded the entire time; thighs firmly engaged. Squeeze outer shins towards each other. While drawing the belly in slightly, bring pelvis to its neutral position, keeping hips even with the center line of your body. Widen sits bones by rotating thighs slightly inward; quadriceps activated while drawing tops of thighs up and back.
- On your next inhale, sweep arms out to the side and then up overhead. Interlace fingers, and point index fingers upward in temple mudra position.
- Root left foot and left hip, extending torso, lifting up and out through the length of your spine and arms, bend to the right. Keep the heart open and perhaps gaze slightly upward. Hold for five breaths.
- Root right foot and right hip and, extending the torso – inhale and come back through center, lifting up and out through the length of your spine and arms – exhale, bending to the left. Keep your chest open. If accessible, gaze upward. Root left foot, return to center. Hold for five breaths.
- To come out: Exhale, sweep your arms back down to the sides of the body. You may decide to repeat this sequence up to 10 times.
Modifications: Avoid raising your arms completely overhead if you have shoulder or neck injuries.
Standing 1 Leg Quadricep Stretch (Quadriceps) (hold 30 sec per leg)
- Stand tall, holding onto a chair or wall for balance if necessary (not pictured). Keep your feet hip-width apart, your back straight and your feet parallel.
- Reach back and grab your left foot in your left hand, keeping your thighs lined up next to each other and left leg in line with the hip (not pulled back behind you).
- Breathe deeply and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.
Special Instructions :Stretch to the point of “mild discomfort,” not to the point of pain. Never bounce. Straighten but do not lock the knee of your standing leg. If you are too inflexible to keep your knees next to each other, allow the bent leg to come forward slightly and gradually progress to a position where the thigh of the bent leg is perpendicular to the floor.
Standing Forward Fold (Low Back and Hamstrings)(hold 30 sec)
- From Mountain pose exhale forward hinging at the hips. Bend the knees enough to bring the palms flat to the floor and the head pressed against the knees.
- Feel the spine stretching in opposite directions as you pull the head down and in and press the hips up. Work on straightening the legs to deepen the stretch in the backs of the legs.
- Breathe and hold for 4-8 breaths, actively pressing the belly into the thighs on the inhalation.
- To release: bend the knees keeping the back straight, inhale the arms out to the sides and inhale the arms and torso up back into Mountain pose.
Kneeling Low Lunge (Hip Flexors and Quadriceps)(hold 30 sec)
- From Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), exhale and step your right foot forward between your hands, aligning the right knee over the heel. Then lower your left knee to the floor and, keeping the right knee fixed in place, slide the left back until you feel a comfortable stretch in the left front thigh and groin. Turn the top of your left foot to the floor.
- Inhale and lift your torso to upright. As you do, sweep your arms out to the sides and up, perpendicular to the floor. Draw the tailbone down toward the floor and lift your pubic bone toward your navel. Lift your chest from the firmness of your shoulder blades against the back torso.
- Take your head back and look up, being careful not to jam the back of your neck. Reach your pinkies toward the ceiling. Hold for a minute, exhale your torso back to the right thigh and your hands to the floor, and turn your back toes under. With another exhale, lift your left knee off the floor and step back to downward-facing dog.
Downdog (Shoulders, Back, Hamstrings, Calves)(hold 30 sec)
- From all fours (on your hands and knees) bring your hands slightly forward of your shoulders.
- Middle finger pointing forward with your fingers spread,
- Firm your hands down, pressing through the outer edges of the palm and the finger tips – imagine clawing into the ground to create a little suction cup of air in the middle of your palm (Hasta Bandha).
- Keep your upper arms and shoulders rotated outwards while your forearms rotate in.
- Tuck your toes under (feet are hip distance apart).
- On an exhalation, engage your lower belly drawing the navel back to the spine. Press the floor away from you, lift your hips back and up to push yourself back into an upside-down V pose.
- Keep your knees initially bent to lengthen the spine, taking the hips up and away from you. Then if possible straighten the legs, while maintaining the length in the spine. Taking the top of the thighs and knees back.
- Press upper arms towards each other, shoulder blades down along the spine, but keeping the space across the tops of the shoulders.
Pigeon Pose (Hips and Knees)(hold 30 sec per side)
- Begin in downward dog. Your knees should be right below your hips on the mat. Your hands should be slightly ahead of your shoulders
- Raise your right leg so it extends away from you. Slide it forward to the back of your right wrist. Angle your right shin under your torso and bring your right foot to the front of your left knee, behind your left hand.
– The outside of your right shin should now rest on the floor. The further forward your right heel is, the deeper and more intense the pose will be.
– Keep your right foot flexed to help protect your knee.
– If you are a yoga beginner, bend your front knee as much as you need so it feels comfortable and not tight or tense. Its important to protect your knee in this pose to prevent irritating the joint. As you continue to practice this pose, you will be able to bring your shin more parallel with the front edge of the mat.
- Slide your left leg back behind you. Straighten it and let the front of your thigh sit on the floor. Look behind you to make sure your left leg is extended straight behind you, not out to one side.
– Make sure your back thigh is rotating inward. Press all five toes of your back foot onto the mat.
- Lower the outside of your right buttock to the floor. Position your right heel so it is in front of your left hip.
– Your body will want to avoid putting weight on your right hip, especially if it is tight. Try to maintain equal weight in both hips.
- Place your hands on either side of your leg. Inhale and rise up on your fingertips. Try to elongate your spine. Lengthen your lower back by pressing your tailbone down and forward.
- Exhale and lay your torso down over your right leg. Dont worry about putting your head on the mat. Only lower to a point that is comfortable for your hips but also gives them a deep stretch. Focus on placing equal weight on both hips and keeping your spine long.
– If your hips are flexible or open, stretch your arms forward and stack your hands on top of each other. Rest your head on your hands, laying your torso over your right thigh.
- Hold this pose for 4-5 breaths. Inhale and exhale deeply through your nose. Continue to maintain equal weight in both hips and extend your spine forward and down.
- Rise up and place your hands back on the floor. Inhale as you carefully slide your left knee forward. Exhale and lift your right leg up and back into Downward Facing Dog Pose. Keep your right leg lifted to release any tension in your right hip for 1-2 breaths.
- Exhale as you lower your right leg down. Drop down on your knees to all-fours. Repeat the same pose with your left leg.
– Make sure you position your left leg correctly and breath deeply with each movement.
Childs Pose (Mid and Low Back)(hold 30 sec)
- Start in a kneeling position.
- Drop your butt toward your heels as you stretch the rest of your body down and forward.
- In the fully stretched position, rest your arms in a relaxed position along the floor, rest your stomach comfortably on top of your thighs, and rest your forehead on the mat.
Seated Forward Fold (Low Back, Hamstrings)(hold 30 sec)
- Sit on the floor with your buttocks supported on a folded blanket and your legs straight in front of you. Press actively through your heels. Rock slightly onto your left buttock, and pull your right sitting bone away from the heel with your right hand. Repeat on the other side. Turn the top thighs in slightly and press them down into the floor. Press through your palms or finger tips on the floor beside your hips and lift the top of the sternum toward the ceiling as the top thighs descend.
- Draw the inner groins deep into the pelvis. Inhale, and keeping the front torso long, lean forward from the hip joints, not the waist. Lengthen the tailbone away from the back of your pelvis. If possible take the sides of the feet with your hands, thumbs on the soles, elbows fully extended; if this isnt possible, loop a strap around the foot soles, and hold the strap firmly. Be sure your elbows are straight, not bent.
- When you are ready to go further, dont forcefully pull yourself into the forward bend, whether your hands are on the feet or holding the strap. Always lengthen the front torso into the pose, keeping your head raised. If you are holding the feet, bend the elbows out to the sides and lift them away from the floor; if holding the strap, lighten your grip and walk the hands forward, keeping the arms long. The lower belly should touch the thighs first, then the upper belly, then the ribs, and the head last.
- With each inhalation, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly; with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward bend. In this way the torso oscillates and lengthens almost imperceptibly with the breath. Eventually you may be able to stretch the arms out beyond the feet on the floor.
- Stay in the pose anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes. To come up, first lift the torso away from the thighs and straighten the elbows again if they are bent. Then inhale and lift the torso up by pulling the tailbone down and into the pelvis.
Seated Twist (Thoracic Spine)(hold 30 sec per side)
- Begin with sitting in a cross-legged position on the ground. Increase the length of your spine by sitting tall, exhaling, and then pulling in your abdominals. You may relax the shoulders and let them fall away from the ears.
- While inhaling, raise your arms above your head. Then exhale and twist your body to the right while slowly lowering your arms down in synchronicity with your breath. The right hand should be on the ground beside you, and the left hand on your right knees outer edge. Now rotate your head so that you look over the right shoulder.
- Remain in this position for five to 10 slow, calming breaths. As you inhale, visualize yourself getting taller, and as you exhale, twist a little deeper into the pose. Your lower spine should be drawn inwards to the belly, making you sit tall.
- When done exactly as advised, it looks as if the twist began from your pelviss core and ended at your head. Now twist to the left and raise your arms up as they reach near the center and then again bring them down. Remain in this position for some breaths.
You can then repeat this twist more number of times or till you begin to feel its effects.
Seated Wide Leg Forward Fold (Inner Thighs & Low Back)(hold 30 sec)
- Sit on the edge of a firm blanket with your legs extended in front of you in Staff Pose (Dandasana).
- Place your hands on the floor behind your body and lean your torso back slightly.
- Then open your legs as wide as it is comfortable. Press your hands firmly into the floor and gently bring your buttocks forward along the floor, helping to widen the legs even further. Work toward opening your legs to a 90-degree angle (with the pelvis as the apex), or even wider. Keep the tops of your kneecaps and your toes pointing straight up toward the ceiling. Flex your feet and strongly engage your thigh muscles, pressing your legs down toward the floor. Reach out through your heels.
- With your spine long and straight, begin to walk your hands forward between your legs. Maintain the length of your front torso; do not let your back round. You might only walk your hands an inch or two forward, and that is fine.
- Continue to increase your forward bend until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, but do not push it too far. If your spine rounds or if you feel any pinching pain, ease up.
- As you come deeper into the pose, reach your arms to the sides and clasp your big toes by making a loop with your thumbs and first two fingers. Bend your elbows out to the sides. Keep the front of your torso long. Gaze forward and place your chin on the mat.
- Hold for up to three minutes. Gently walk your hands back toward your body, bringing your torso upright while keeping your spine long. Bend your knees and bring your legs back together in Staff Pose.
Modifications & Variations:Wide-Legged Seated Forward Fold is a calming and rejuvenating stretch when practiced correctly. However, that might sound unattainable if your hamstrings are tight! With practice and dedication, though, your hamstrings and spine will lengthen and become more limber. Remember to take it slowly and never push yourself in the pose. Try these changes to find a variation of the pose that works for you:
If your hamstrings or low back are tight, bend your knees slightly. If youre very stiff, you can place a rolled-up blanket or yoga mat under your knees.
For a greater challenge, widen the angle between your legs beyond 90 degrees.
If you are not yet able to bring your torso forward to the floor, rest your torso instead on a bolster or folded blanket placed in front of you between your legs.
Lying on Back Thread The Needle (Hips, Glutes)(hold 30 sec per side)
- Lie on your back, both knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
- Take the right ankle across the left knee.
- Flex the right ankle by pressing into the heel and pulling the toes back.
- Allow the right knee to move forwards away from your chest. This might be enough of a stretch and if so stay here.
- To go further, lift the left foot off the floor and hold around the back of the left thigh with both hands.
- Deepen the stretch by drawing the left knee in towards the chest.
- Keep the shoulders and head relaxed.
- Hold for 5 to 10 breaths then release and repeat on the other side.
Modifications & Variations:
Easier: Keep the left foot on the floor.
Harder: Draw the left knee in towards the chest.
Happy Baby (Inner Thighs and Low Back)(hold 30 sec)
- Lie on your back. With an exhale, bend your knees into your belly.
- Inhale, grip the outsides of your feet with your hands (if you have difficulty holding the feet directly with your hands, hold onto a belt looped over each sole.) Open your knees slightly wider than your torso, then bring them up toward your armpits.
- Position each ankle directly over the knee, so your shins are perpendicular to the floor. Flex through the heels. Gently push your feet up into your hands (or the belts) as you pull your hands down to create a resistance.