After you’ve been cooped up in a car or a plane, there’s no better feeling than unfurling your limbs and getting some fresh blood flowing down the arms and legs. Here is an easy yoga sequence to stretch out the main offenders during holiday travel—hips, hamstrings, and shoulders.
1. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Benefits: Uttanasana is great for opening up the hamstrings and lengthening the back body. For this version, bend your knees to make the pose more restorative and take some of the pressure off the lower back.
Step by Step: Starting in Tadasana, extend your arms upward and hinge at the hips to fold forward. Bend your knees to a level that feels good for your anatomy. Bend the arms and grab opposite elbows, hanging in space. Let the neck lengthen and relax. Stay here for at least 10 breaths or for up to a minute.
2. Low Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Benefits: This low lunge stretches the hip flexors, which commonly tense up after spending time in a seated position.
Step by Step: From Uttanasana, step the left foot back and lower the left knee down to the floor, bending the right (front) knee to a 90-degree angle, with the knee lined up over the ankle. Inhale to reach the arms up overhead with the fingertips extending upward. Slowly shift your gaze upwards, and remain here for five breaths. Step back to Uttanasana, and repeat with the left foot forward.
3. Head to Knee pose (Janu Sirsasana)
Benefits: This pose is a double-whammy, hitting both the hips and hamstrings in one sitting.
Step by Step: Sit down with your legs extended in front of you. Draw your right foot in towards your pubic bone, and rest your foot on your left inner thigh. Extend the crown of your head up towards the ceiling. Angle your torso over your left leg and hinge at the hips, slowly moving your hands forward towards your left foot and descending your chest over your left thigh. Using a strap or your hands, reach for your left foot, and stay for five breaths. Come up, switch sides, and repeat.
4. Pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
Benefits: Although the name might seem lowly, Pigeon is the queen bee of hip openers.
Step by Step: I like to enter Pigeon pose from Downward Facing Dog, but you can also move into it from an all-fours position.
From Downward Facing Dog, sweep your right leg underneath you towards the front of the mat, letting it land down at the top of your mat—your right knee will take the place of your right hand. Walk the hands back to either side of your hips, and extend your left leg behind you on the mat. Finally, reach the crown of your head tall towards the ceiling. Stay upright for five breaths, or slowly walk your hands forward. Your right leg will be in external rotation, which really gets into the hip joint, so pay careful attention to your right knee. It can easily get torqued, so only move forward if the knee says it is appropriate. Slowly walk the hands back, transition into Downward Facing Dog, and switch sides.
5. Eagle pose (Garudasana)
Benefits: Eagle pose is a heavy hitter because it stretches the six major joints in the body—shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. Score!
Step by Step: Start in Tadasana (Mountain pose), and extend the arms out so they are parallel with the floor. Sweep the right arm under the left arm; then bend the elbows and draw the forearms together like a twisty-tie. If possible, connect the palms of your hands and press them into each other. Stay steady with the arms, lifting them off your chest, and then move down to the standing legs. With a slight bend in the left knee, sweep the right leg over left leg to cross above the knees. If possible, loop the right foot behind the left calf muscle. Reach the crown of the head up, and simultaneously root down through the feet, lifting the elbows off the chest. Stay here for five breaths. Then unravel the limbs, and repeat on the left side.
For more holiday yoga poses, check out “Om for the Holidays: 15-Minute Sequence for Holiday Stress.”