Life & Style | Health

Yoga: Leg up for wellbeing

Standing poses, surprisingly some of the most difficult, provide a firm base for other exercises and the body

  • Bharat Thakur, Special to Unwind
  • Published: 00:00 March 6, 2010
  • Unwind

  • Image Credit: Oliver Clarke, Gulf News
  • Utkatasana

Some of yoga's most challenging poses aren't the inversions or the arm balances but the standing poses. They are not only the most challenging but also the base of all the other postures. I would call them the "core" yogasanas. To master all the other postures of yoga, you need to have a strong lower body, especially strong legs.

Unlike weightlifting, which isolates particular muscle groups, the standing postures of yoga strengthen the leg as a unit. These poses also strengthen the muscles that protect the knee and the ankle joints. By teaching us to properly plant our feet and align our knees and hips, standing poses improve our posture and coordination in everyday activities. These postures facilitate proper alignment and strengthens the smaller, less-used and often-weak muscles in our arches, lower legs and the thighs. This reduces the tendency of relying only on the larger leg muscles.


 

Another neglected muscle in the leg is the hamstring. When we walk, run, jog or play, we tend to use the quadriceps. The hamstrings remain underused and, as a result, becomes stiffer with time. Stiff hamstrings are one of the main causes of a weak lower back. This also indicates that weak legs contribute to a weak spine and various other problems involving the back. Getting into a forward fold or arching backwards needs a strong pair of legs. Many beginners grumble about backaches after a couple of yoga sessions. The reason is strain on and the overuse of the back. What needs to be learnt and used as a core principal is activating and making use of our leg muscles while getting into any posture or even walking, for that matter. Walking draws your attention to the smaller muscles of your legs. Also try taking your attention off your knees, which eventually bears the brunt of the exertion.

Let us look at how the legs play a vital role in other postures. For instance, a classic posture such as navkasana (boat posture), used for the abdominal muscles, cannot be held without bringing our attention to our leg muscles. One needs to make use of the leg muscle by contracting them, focusing on smaller areas and activating various muscles in our legs. Besides working as a catalyst for improving other postures, the standing postures help in weight loss and work wonders in getting those toned legs we all dream of having.

Utkatasana

• Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.

• Bring arms straight out in front and press palms together.

• Exhale and squat. Bend knees and push butt to floor, like you are sitting into a chair. Come down until thighs are almost parallel to floor.

• Hold for 30-60 seconds while breathing normally.

• Contract abdomen muscles to protect back.

• After a minute, release pose.

Tip: Practise 15-25 squats after Utkatasana.

Natrajasana

• Stand with legs slightly apart and feet pointing outwards.

• Slowly, with an exhalation, lower hips and bring thighs parallel to floor.

• Hold for 30-60 seconds while tightening muscles of thighs and buttocks.

• Breathe normally. Contract abdomen muscles to protect back.

• After a minute, release pose.

Tip: Practise 15-25 wide-leg squats after Natrajasana.

Veerabhadrasana

• Stand straight and step forward with one leg.

• Bend at knee in front leg. Raise hands over head.

• You should raise arms high enough to get a good stretch on shoulders. Try to take deeper breaths.

• Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat with the other leg.

Trikonasana

• Stand straight with arms by sides and feet flat on floor.

• On an exhalation, step or lightly jump, placing feet about four feet apart. Inhaling, raise arms to side.

• Keeping knees straight, exhale and bend to right, sliding right hand down right leg.

• Raise left arm towards ceiling. Keep the head aligned with spine and take care not to twist body. Hold.

• Inhale as you straighten up; exhale and bend to left. Hold.

• Inhale and straighten up. Exhale and lower arms to sides.

Parshvakonasana

• Stand straight with arms by sides and feet flat on floor.

• On an exhalation, step or lightly jump to bring feet about four feet apart. Raise arms parallel to floor and swing them out to the sides, shoulder blades wide, palms down.

• Turn left foot in slightly to the right and right foot out to the right 90 degrees.

• Firm thighs and turn right thigh outwards, so the centre of kneecap is in line with the centre of right ankle.

• Roll left hip slightly forward towards the right but rotate upper torso to the left.

Tip: After holding veerabhadrasana and parshvakonsana, practise 15-25 lunges on each leg.

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