Our bodies always feel better at the end of the day when we make time for moving and stretching. This blog outlines a set of accessible yoga poses that together provide a relaxing and refreshing full body release — and that you can fit into even the busiest day. Also check out my free 20 minute “Refreshing Full Body Yoga Stretch” video on the Yoga At Your Door YouTube Channel to experience the benefits of these poses first hand.
The recommended postures target four lines of connective tissue in the body: the frontline, backline, lateral lines and spiral line. The final set of recommended postures address the hips, which can become tight from too much sitting. This can cause lower back and knee pain if neglected.
What are the Lines of Connective Tissue? In addition to bones, muscles, and organs, the body is made up of connective tissues called fascias. These lines of connective tissue hold everything in place, give our bodies their shape, and influence how well we move and function. Fascias also separate muscles from one another, allowing them to move past each other smoothly. When parts of the body are not functioning properly the fascial membranes begin to stick together. The fascia can build up in the low functioning parts of the body and become stiff, contributing to poor mobility and pain.
How can yoga help? A yoga practice that targets different groups of muscles and the connective tissue in the body is one of the best ways to promote healthy fascias. Fascial stretching improves blood flow to muscles, which allows them to recover from activity or injury faster with less soreness. Here are my favorite beginner yoga poses for keeping the connective tissues in the body happy and high functioning all the time.
1. Cow Pose: Cow pose is a wonderful beginner level posture for coming into the superficial frontline of the body. When you lift the tailbone, relax the belly, open the chest, raise the gaze to the ceiling and lengthen the throat, you can create a stretch from the pelvis to the chin. A similar frontline of the body stretch can also be found in Cobra or Upward Facing Dog poses. All three of these poses are also backbends. The next time you practice one of these poses, focus on the frontline of the body and see how your experience in the pose changes.
2. Downward Facing Dog: A great pose for opening the superficial backline of tissue in the body is Downward Facing Dog. In Down Dog we create a stretch from the shoulders to the sit bones, down the legs and into the feet. This pose provides a release for the low back and stretches the hamstrings and calf muscles. If you have tight hamstrings keep a bend in your knees and do not lower your heels to the mat. If you are unable to practice Down Dog because of shoulder or wrist injuries a standing Forward Fold is another easy way to open the backline of the body.
3. Side Angle: This pose is a wonderful posture for targeting the lateral line of tissue in the side body. Starting from Warrior Two, bring your front elbow to the front leg and then extend your top arm up and over the head. Notice what your hips are doing in your Side Angle pose! Work to keep them lifted and inline with the rest of the body. This posture provides a satisfying stretch from the outside edge of the foot, through the torso into the arm, and out the fingertips.
4. Twists: Did you ever wonder why that twist at the end of class feels so good? It’s because twists are fantastic for stretching the spiral line of tissue in the body. This line loops from the back to front side of the body. It crosses the middle back, shoulder, chest, navel, and hip, and runs down the leg to the outside of the foot. We can target this line of tissue with a simple supine twist, lowering your knees one direction and turning your gaze in the other way. A more advanced posture to open this line of tissue is Revolved Triangle pose. From Triangle pose, bringing your top arm to the front foot (or a block), twist the torso towards the front leg, and then extend your bottom arm skyward.
5. Figure Four: Last but not least, I recommend doing postures daily to stretch and open the mussels and tissues on the front and back of the hips. Figure Four on the back is wonderful for stretching the big muscles on the back of the hip. To find Supine Figure Four pose, cross one ankle over the opposite knee, lift your head and shoulders off the mat and hold the back of the bottom leg, then lower your upper body back to the mat.
6. Low Crescent Lunge: Low Crescent Lunge with the back knee on the ground can bring you into a great stretch for the front of the hip and the deeper hip flexor or Psoas muscle. Enter Low Crescent Lunge from a kneeling posture by stepping one foot forward and keeping your back knee grounded on the mat. Gently shift your hips forward, sweep your arms up above your head and lift through the whole spine.
Opening the hips and major lines of connective tissue daily decreases tension in the body and increases overall calm and wellbeing. Curious how these poses would work in a simple yoga sequence? Check out my “Refreshing Full Body Yoga Stretch” video on the Yoga At Your Door YouTube Channel. To learn more about the connective tissue networks, see Tom Myers’ influential book “Anatomy Trains,” which explains in depth how understanding, stretching and working the fascia promotes health and mobility.