One of the ways I like to keep up with fitness and health trends is by reading research projects. I actually enjoy it. There’s so much misinformation out there about healthy living practices, reading research straight from the source helps me know what trends I can trust, and where I can most efficiently focus my own health and fitness efforts. That’s how my current yoga kick got started. This study funded by the Norwegian Cancer Society is to blame.
Basically, it found evidence that yoga causes some pretty rapid changes in people’s gene expression, 3 times more than hiking does. Did you catch that? In case you didn’t: THREE TIMES! People who did two hours of yoga had 97 unique genes affected, while people who hiked had only 24 genes affected. These gene alterations are suspected of being the cause of positive long-term health effects…better immunity and less risk of disease. So the more genes affected, the better the chance of improved health. I find this fabulously compelling.
Reading that caused me to amp up my yoga, as my personal training clients can attest. I’ve been adding a variety of yoga poses to everyone’s training plans, not just my own. This gets mixed reviews from my trainees and comments like this,
“I feel like a granola-loving hippie.”
“Is that even humanly possible?!”
“Help! I’m stuck!”
Here are a bunch of poses I’ve been working on with my trainees, and I hope you fit RVers will give them a try, too. They all have an “energizing” component, which is why I picked them, plus they complement each other nicely when done together. Yes, some are challenging, but go slow, do the ones you can, and stick with it. Your body will work with you if you persist. With practice, the poses will get easier.
Energizing Yoga Poses (that’ll hopefully affect 97 of your genes)
Bharadvaja’s Twist Variation
This posture, named after an ancient Indian sage, rejuvenates the spine and is gentle for all levels. Twisting in this pose massages and stimulates the organs in your torso, which improves digestion, regulates metabolism, and aids the organs in detoxification. It also helps to relieve lower back pain, neck pain, and sciatica. To perform it, side-sit with both feet to your right. Try to pull your right heel in as close as you can. Take your right hand and place it outside your left knee. Reach your left arm behind you and place it on the ground, opening your chest as you twist your shoulders gently to the left. Try to keep your spine straight up or arched slightly…anything but rounded. Look over your right shoulder with a slight tilt to the back, as shown. Hold the pose for around a minute, breathing mindfully and controlled. Repeat on the other side.
Camel pose is a favorite of mine, especially after sitting or driving a long time. It opens up the hips nicely, and also counteracts the rounded posture we tend to have from sitting. If you have poor posture, camel pose will help correct that. Kneel with your knees directly under your hips and the tops of your feet down on the ground. Place the heels of your hands on the top of your glutes, with your fingertips pointed up. Drive your elbows together to open your chest more. Gently arch your back while trying to keep your hips forward. It should feel like you’re sticking out your stomach. Keep your neck long and aligned with your spine (don’t hyperextend it). Hold for around a minute, breathing mindfully and slowly.
Locust Variation Lift/Lowers
This move warms up your back and prepares it for the full locust pose you’ll be doing after the next pose. It’s a great way to strengthen your posterior chain muscles, and not as taxing as full locust. To do it, lie on your stomach. As you inhale, lift your opposite arm and leg off the floor, keeping them straight. Palms face inward. Don’t hyperextend your neck, try to keep it long and look slightly up. As you exhale, slowly lower your forehead, arm and leg back down to rest. Continue to lift on the inhale, and lower on the exhale for about 8 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Modified Side Plank Pose
This balancing pose is a great way to build strength in your wrist, shoulder, core, and legs, as well as improving your stability and coordination. Spread your fingers on your planted hand and keep the arm straight. Try to also keep a straight line from your top shoulder down to your ankle of the top leg (try not to bend top hip). Rest your bottom knee on the mat to help share some of the weight-bearing demands. With top arm, reach straight up to the sky, turn your palm forward, and look towards your fingertips. Breathe mindfully and hold the pose for about a minute (or as long as you can) before switching to the other side.
Locust Pose (Palms Up Variation)
Locust pose provides the foundation for doing deeper backbend poses, so it’s a good one to practice regularly. Lie on your stomach and lift your legs, keeping feet no wider than hip width and making sure not to turn heels in or out. Lift your chest off the floor and draw your shoulder blades together as you lift your arms off the mat with palms up. Hold for about a minute using mindful, deep breathing.
Thread the Needle
This yoga posture will give you a nice stretch through the chest, shoulders, and back. It requires a gentle twisting motion through the spine to help with spinal mobility…which gets less efficient with age. If you are dealing with shoulder or back pain, this posture may relieve tension. To perform, get on all 4’s. Reach your left arm through the space between your right arm and leg; keep the arm straight and turn your palm up. Place your left ear on the floor. Reach your right arm forward in front of you until it is straight. Hold for a minute and then repeat on the other side.
Upward Pigeon Pose
Now, here’s where I should mention that yoga is not a one-size-fits-all exercise modality. Pigeon Pose is incredibly beneficial on the hips for people who have the range of motion to handle it. However, people with extremely tight muscles and fascia in the hip joint should start elsewhere, like with THIS variation. With our bodies adapting to modern lifestyles that involve way too much sitting, poses that stretch the hips can be difficult for many. And actually, Upward Pigeon is a good test of where you’re at with your hip health. It is far from an advanced pose, however it does require healthy levels of hip mobility to perform. If you can’t do it comfortably, you’ll know you could use some work on your hip mobility. And then there’s the knee component. Some people with compromised knees might feel pain from the deep knee flexion required of the front leg (and should not do this pose). That said, when in good health, Upward Pigeon is an extremely efficient way to work healthy hips (and knees). The front leg is working in external rotation and the back leg is positioned to stretch the psoas major. So, you’ve got two fabulous hip stretches happening at once. And, for me, this pose feels so good I don’t want to come out of it. To perform, bend your left knee forward with the outside of the left leg against the floor, and place your left foot near your right wrist. Lift your chest and pull your shoulders back. Hold for about a minute before switching to the other side. And if you could handle that without any difficulty, fold your upper body down to the floor over your front bent leg like this:
Downward Pigeon Pose
This is a popular yoga posture for people with healthy low body joints and general flexibility, because it can feel wonderful on the hip. To perform it, follow the steps of Upward Pigeon Pose, and then simply rest your forehead on the ground. It’s my favorite pose to end a yoga session with. If the posture is too intense for you, try lying flat on your back and hugging one knee into your chest and then gently bringing the knee out to the side.
AND THERE YOU HAVE IT!
I don’t know what it is about yoga, but after a good session, I always feel like I just got a massage. You know that relaxed, but yet energized feeling? Yeah, yoga does that to me. Running doesn’t. Must be caused by one of those 97 genes that yoga hits, one of the ones running doesn’t!
Anyways, give these a try and let me know your yoga thoughts down below in the comments!
Namaste, RV friends!