Here’s what you probably already know about yoga: It can flatten your tummy, tone your arms, and calm your thoughts when your mind is acting like an untamed monkey. But beyond these body-and-mind makeover benefits, few people realize that specific poses may be able to cure all kinds of mental and physical aches and pains, too. To get you started, we spoke with Tara Stiles—star of the Yoga Anywhere DVD series and author of the new book Yoga Cures—to get her 10 best fixes for frustrating everyday problems. And don’t worry: You don’t have to be bubble-gum flexible or as patient as Buddha to reap the rewards. Here, our 10 favorite yoga cures for everything from hangovers and sugar cravings to sleepless nights and shin splints.
“We've all been crammed in the car for too long, and there are some simple poses to help open up your body,” says Stiles. “Standing side opener is great because you're bringing length back into your side and spine, a reversal of when it gets crunched in the car.”
Try it: Stand with your feet parallel, shoulders aligned with your hips. Inhale and reach your arms out and up. Grab your left wrist with your right hand. Gently pull your left arm up with your right hand. Let your torso naturally arch over to your right side. Stay here for three breaths and then work the other side, too. Looking for more relief? Try these Tips to Prevent Lower Back Pain if road trips and long days at the office are wrecking your back.
“Twists are great for helping toxins move their way out of your body—and out of your life,” says Stiles.
Try it: Start seated (as shown), inhale and lift your left arm straight up. As you exhale, grab your right knee with your left hand. Press your right fingertips into the ground behind your hips. Inhale and sit up tall. Exhale and twist your torso further toward the right. Then switch your legs and repeat on the other side.
This is a very mild, gentle movement that is designed to relieve pressure on the shins, says Stiles. “The even pressure feels great for most runners.”
Try it: Stand on your knees so they are aligned under your hips. Press the tops of your feet down and into the ground. Press your thumbs into your legs, behind your knees, open your calves out to the sides and sit your hips down to the ground (if your butt doesn’t touch the ground, sit on a yoga block or a rolled up yoga mat). Hold for 10 breaths. Download this free workout to Get Fit, Firm, and Flexible Fast.
“This move is great to sooth the mind, the mood, and cramps,” says Stiles. “The gentle pressure from the blanket and your torso is really grounding and comforting, and just plain feels great.”
Try it: Roll up a blanket. Sit down with your legs straight in front of you. Place the blanket on your upper thighs. Gently fold your torso over the blanket. Stay here for 10 long, deep breaths.
“Yoga trains and reprograms the mind so it can come back to a calm and neutral state free of anxieties and cravings,” says Stiles. “This seated meditation with arms up in a V gives your body just enough to do to allow your mind to focus. Spend a few minutes in this position and you'll be able to conquer your sugar cravings with ease.”
Try it: Starting in a comfortable seated position, raise your arms overhead into in a V shape. Relax your shoulders down your back and reach out through your fingertips. Stay and breathe here for 3 minutes. Finding the ease in staying here for several minutes will clear your mind and release loads of tension from your body.
“Regular yoga can help ease and reverse depression, bringing people back to their natural state of happiness and ease,” says Stiles. “Standing poses like tree have a lot to do with that. Finding balance in different ways on our feet translates into our lives. The key is being gentle and consistent.” Yoga is just one example of a natural remedy that can save you a trip to the pharmacy. Here are 10 Natural Alternatives to the 10 Most Prescribed Drugs.
Try it: Stand tall with your feet parallel and a few inches apart. Shift your weight into your left leg. Bend your right knee into your chest and hug your shin with your hands. Grab hold of your right ankle with your right hand and press your right foot into your left inner thigh. Either stay here with your hand holding your ankle for balance, or reach your arms straight up. Stay here for five long breaths. Try the same thing on your other side.
“Our hips store a lot of tension from all sorts of anxieties and stresses,” says Stiles. “The energy has to go somewhere and often it winds up in our hips. Pigeon is a super-calming pose for the mind and will give you a deep tension release in the hips.”
Try it: Start in a cross legged position and then lean into your right hip and reach your left leg long behind you (as shown), keeping your right leg in front of you and bent at the knee. If your hips don’t reach the ground, sit on a pillow or a block. Turn your hips and shoulders so they both face forward. Stay here for 10 long, deep breaths. Switch legs and repeat.
“This technique is known for keeping people from getting colds or the flu, as well as helping them get better faster,” says Stiles. “It's great for clearing congestion. It also does wonders for cultivating an easy mind, so even when the flu strikes you'll feel easy and calm while you are recovering.” Here are 11 Other Tricks to Bounce Back Fast From a Cold.
Try it: Sit up tall, however you can sit comfortably. Take your right hand and curl down your index and middle finger into your palm. Press your ring finger over your left nostril and inhale for 4 counts. Close off your right nostril with your thumb so both nostrils are closed. Hold all the air in for 4 counts. Release your ring finger and let all the air out your left nostril for 4 counts. Repeat this breathing pattern for 3 to 5 minutes.
“Recurring migraines can be so multi-factorial and, of course, everyone is different, but yoga has been known to help,” says Stiles. “A little pressure on the head with a prep of a headstand can bring blood flow to the head… and it just does the trick! Deep breaths of course!”
Try it: Sit on your heels with your shoulders above your hips. Interlace your fingers loosely and place them on the ground. Place the top of your head on the ground so your fingers cradle the back of your head. Stay here for a few breaths to get comfortable in the position. If you are comfortable, tuck your toes and straighten your legs like you would in a down dog. Stay here for 10 breaths.
“So many people have major problems getting to sleep and staying asleep,” says Stiles. “Yoga has been known to help out, big time. A simple lying down twist helps to release any tension in the spine and mind that can be getting in the way of a good night's rest. You can even do it when you’re in bed!”
Try it: Lie down on your back and hug your right knee into your chest. Twist your right leg over toward your left side. Relax your arms out to the sides. Stay here for 10 deep breaths and repeat on the other side.
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Adapted from YOGA CURES. Copyright @ 2012 by Tara Stiles. Reprinted by Permission of Three Rivers Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.