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Yoga has been known for so long as the thing to do when you want to get more flexible. But here’s the thing: Yoga can also strengthen most of your muscles, if you make sure to practice a few simple, accessible postures.
Building muscle is known to improve bone density, boost your metabolism, improve sleep, and increase brain health. This power sequence will build muscles in your arms, legs, and core—and it doesn’t involve going to the gym or working with any weights.
Start on your hands and knees and lower your elbows to the floor, placing them shoulder-width apart. Interlace your fingers and tuck your bottom pinky in so it doesn’t get squished. Root down through the length of your forearm to the base of your wrist and extend one leg at a time behind you, keeping your toes tucked under. Bring your torso parallel to the floor and gaze at your thumbs. Lift your navel toward your spine and as you root down into your elbows, imagine you’re trying to pull your elbows and feet toward each other. Hold this for 1 minute or longer.
Low Side Plank
Keeping your core engaged, lean over to your right side, pressing down firmly with the length of your right arm that is touching the floor. You can place your palm flat here. (It’s OK if your arm is still on a diagonal.) Roll to the outer edge of your right foot and see if you can place your left foot on top of your right. Hug your legs together and use your core for support to balance in this pose. Your top hand can be on your top hip or, if you feel balanced, you can reach your top hand to the ceiling. Stay for 5 to 10 deep breaths, then repeat on the left side.
From Low Plank, start to walk your feet forward toward your hands. Dolphin is just like Down Dog except you are on your elbows instead of your hands. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees and don’t expect your heels to touch the floor. Keep your feet and legs hip-distance apart and gaze at your feet. Root down and forward with your elbows, moving your chest back toward your thighs. Stay here for 5 breaths, then lower down to your knees to rest.
Chair Pose, variation
Standing at the top of your mat, take your feet hip-width distance apart. Make sure your feet are in two straight, parallel lines. Raise your arms out in front of you at shoulder height and keep your hands shoulder-width apart. On an inhalation, lift your heart; on an exhalation, bend your knees and shift your hips back in space, as if you were going to sit in a chair. Lift your navel toward your spine and keep your breath even and smooth. Holding this position as best you can, begin to lift your heels up off the floor so you are balancing on your toes. If the balance is too difficult or if you have any toe issues, you can keep your feet flat on the floor. Hold here for 1 minute or longer.
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Stand tall at the top of your mat. Shift your weight into your left foot and bring your right knee up in front of you. Grab your right ankle with your right hand and place your foot on your upper inner left thigh. If you can’t place it that high up, place it below your knee. Just make sure not to place your foot on the inner edge of your left knee. Firm your outer upper left leg into the sole of your right foot and keep your hips level to the floor, making sure one hip is not higher than the other. Place your hands in Prayer Pose in front of your heart. If this feels easy, raise your arms overhead, keeping your hands shoulder-width distance, and spread your fingers wide, reaching your fingertips toward the ceiling. Breathe evenly here, releasing the posture after 5 to 10 breaths. Then, switch sides.
From the top of your mat, take a big step back with your left foot. Keep your hips and shoulders squared forward toward the front of your mat. Your stance should be long enough that your front leg is at a 90 degree angle. Stack your knee on top of your ankle and point the center of your front knee toward the second and third toe of that foot. Lift your lower belly up and away from the front of your front leg, and make sure your torso is vertical and perpendicular to the floor. Lift your inner back thigh towards the ceiling and press back with your back heel toward the wall behind you. If you have a block handy, hold it between your hands and lift your hands overhead. The block should be in its widest position. Squeeze your hands on the block and imagine you’re trying to lift it up to touch the ceiling. If you don’t have a block, imagine one is there and do the same thing. On an inhalation, push down with your front foot, straightening your front leg. On an exhalation, come back to the bent leg position. Repeat, moving with your breath, 5 to 10 times before switching sides.
Face the side edge of your mat and take a wide stance, with your feet about 3 to 4 feet apart. The taller you are, the wider you’ll want your stance to be. Open both feet out to about 45 degrees, then start to bend your knees, making sure your knees are pointing toward your toes (don’t let them fall in or out). Stack your knees over your heels and lift up through your low belly, making sure your torso is upright. Place your hands in Prayer Pose in front of your heart center and stay here for 1 minute or longer.
Standing in the middle of your mat facing the short edge, take your feet about as wide as your mat and fold forward. Open your feet toward the edges of your mat and bend your knees as much as you can. Line your knees so they are pointing in the same direction as your toes and bring your hands to Prayer Pose in front of your heart. If your heels can’t stay grounded on the floor, use your hands for support.
From the squat, walk your hands forward toward the front of your mat and round your spine. Start to lift your hips halfway up so your heels are comfortably on the floor and bring your hands back so they are about 12 inches in front of your toes. Separate your hands shoulder-width distance apart and spread your fingers wide. Shift your gaze forward and bend your elbows slightly. Place your knees on the backs of your upper arms, as if they were a shelf, and keeping your fingertips hugging into your mat start to lean your weight forward so your toes start to feel light on the floor. Keep your chest and gaze facing forward and continue to push firmly down with both hands evenly. If you are able to rock enough weight forward (do this slowly), your feet will come up off the floor and you’ll be balancing on your hands. When that happens, draw your toes together to touch and lift your feet toward your hips. Hold for a few breaths, then release.
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Make your way over to a wall and come onto your hands and knees with your toes tucked under touching the wall, hips stacked over your knees, torso parallel to the floor, and shoulders stacked over your wrists. Place your hands shoulder-width distance apart and spread your fingers wide. Root down into both hands, especially pressing down with your thumb and index fingers, then start to lift your hips up. (It will feel like you’re moving into a short Down Dog.) Keep your hands grounded and arms straight and start to walk your feet up the wall. Bring your feet up to hip height, not higher. Bend your knees slightly and press your chest toward the wall. If your hamstrings are open enough to straighten your legs, feel free to do that here. However, if you try to straighten your legs and it pushes your chest forward, keep your knees slightly bent. Continue to press firmly down with both hands and keep your arms straight. Hold for a few breaths, then walk your feet down the wall and rest on your knees.
Come onto your hands and knees facing a wall, with your hands about one full hand length away from the wall. Line up your hands so they’re shoulder-width distance apart (make it a little wider if your shoulders are tight) and spread your fingers wide, pressing firmly down into both hands. Shift your gaze forward to the space between your thumbs and hold your gaze there. Feel your outer upper arms firming in and keep your arms straight and strong as you tuck your toes under and lift your hips up. You will feel like you’re in a short Down Dog. From here, step and kick up. Don’t worry if you don’t get all the way up at first; it takes practice! Try kicking up with both legs and see which one feels better. Once you’re up, bring your heels together and reach them up toward the ceiling, keeping your gaze between your thumbs the whole time. This is a hard pose, especially if you’re new to it, so try to have a positive approach and know that you’re doing your body a lot of good, even if it takes a while to get up.