The results of regular yoga practice may include stress reduction, enhanced fitness, alleviation of chronic health conditions and weight loss. Still, not everyone has the time, budget or inclination to attend classes at a yoga studio. To gain the benefits of yoga at home, clear a space in your living room or garage — and you can take on several hard-core yoga exercises without spending a dime.
Firing up the core abdominal muscles can help relieve stress, improve digestion, and strengthen the abdomen, hip flexors and spine. Working the abdominals also will help you to tackle other hard-core yoga exercises that require a strong core.
Try Full Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana) for an advanced core exercise. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your hands behind your thighs. Exhale and lift your shins parallel to the floor. Draw your tailbone toward the floor as you lift your pubis toward your navel. Slowly straighten your legs and angle them about 45 degrees to the floor so your body looks like a “V.” Keep your hands behind your thighs or on the floor for support, or extend your arms alongside your legs, parallel to the floor. Hold the pose for 10 seconds, eventually working up to one minute.
Arm balances work to strengthen your wrists and arms while toning the abdominal muscles. Eight-Angle Pose (Astavakrasana) is a challenging exercise that calls on your core to balance on one arm. Stand with your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart. Squat down, and place your hands on the floor outside of your feet. With your knees bent, slide your right arm inside and behind your right leg, and then position your knee high on the back of your right shoulder — as though you are slinging a backpack over your arm. Slide your left foot to the right, and cross your left ankle over your right ankle. Shift your weight onto your left arm, and lift your feet off the floor. Exhale and bend your elbows while leaning your torso forward to align it parallel to the floor. Extend your legs to the right, also parallel to the floor. Work your way up to holding the pose for one minute. Repeat the pose on your left side.
Inversions reverse the blood flow in your body, calming the brain and alleviating stress and mild depression. One of the most hard-core inversions is Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana). If you are new to the posture, practice with your heels supported against a wall to start. Face the wall, and place your hands on the floor about 1 foot away from it, shoulder-width apart. Step your feet back and press into Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), with your tailbone lifted and feet shoulder-width apart.
Bend your left knee and step the foot closer to the wall. Practice hopping up and down on the left foot a few times while keeping the right leg straight. When you are ready for the inversion, exhale and kick off the left foot. Sweep the right leg up and over in a wide arc toward the wall, keeping it straight. Immediately push off your left foot, kick the left leg up and straighten the left leg. Engage your core abdominal muscles and allow both heels to meet the wall as you align your hips over your shoulders. Hang your head and gaze toward the center of the room. Hold the pose for 10 to 15 seconds, working your way up to one minute. Carefully come out of the pose by lowering one foot at a time to the ground.
Backbends help to stretch the chest and lungs, increase energy, ease back pain and counteract depression. Upward Bow or Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) also will strengthen the arms, wrists, legs, buttocks, abdomen and spine as well as stimulate the thyroid and pituitary.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor, aligned under your knees. Bend your elbows and place your hands outside your head with your fingers pointing toward your shoulders. Exhale and push your tailbone toward your pubis as you lift your buttocks off the floor. Press your inner hands into the floor, and lift up onto the crown off your head. Exhale and press actively into your hands and feet as you lift your head off the ground and straighten your arms. Hold the pose for about five to 10 seconds. Come out of the pose just as you got into it, by lowering to the crown of your head and slowly rolling your head back to neutral as you lower the hips.
Karen Spaeder began her editorial career at Entrepreneur magazine. True to the entrepreneurial spirit, she works at a startup digital marketing firm, blogs at karenspaeder.com, teaches yoga and runs her own organic beauty business. Spaeder holds degrees in English and certifications in yoga, karate and early childhood education.