The New Year’s resolutions have been set, and progress is well under way to make this a year of great positive change and growth. As I have talked about before, winter is a season of rest, recovery and preparation for the spring…and burning off those pounds from our festive season’s overindulgences! Here are five Yoga poses that will boost your metabolism and help you achieve a more sculpted and shapely form, as well as actively burn fat in the process.
Urdhva Dhanurasana or wheel pose is a fantastic calorie burner requiring flexibility and leg, back, and arm strength. To enter into this pose, start by lying on your back on the mat, checking that your spine is straight and relaxed. Bring your feet up and place them on the mat so your knees are bent and your heels are about twelve inches away from your buttocks. Place your hands palm down on the mat beside your head, fingers pointed towards your shoulders. Lifting into the hips first, push yourself up until the crown of your head is gently contacting the mat. Keep your feet and knees parallel throughout the lift and the pose. A note of caution: Make sure you do not allow your neck to support your body weight in this position.
Straighten your arms, allowing your head to rise off the mat and naturally hang as you move to complete the position. The less flexible you are, the greater leg and arm strength it will take to move into and hold this position. Keep the knees together, stretch through the legs and entire back, relax the shoulders and buttocks and try to bend the full range of your spine gently and evenly from vertebrae to vertebrae.
Virabhadrasana III or Warrior III pose is a fantastic pose that improves your balance and core strength while working the legs in particular. Start from Mountain pose and then raise your arms over your head, palms facing each other and arms perpendicular to your mat. Slide your right foot back as you lean slightly forward, while maintaining a straight back and your arms outstretched and in line with your back and your right leg.
Lift your right foot and straighten your left leg simultaneously, keeping your arms parallel to the floor. At this point, your raised leg, upper body and arms should all be parallel to mat. Lengthen the entire spine by actively stretching your arms and your legs. Breathe through the belly and pay attention to your lower back. Reverse the steps to return to Mountain pose, and repeat on the other leg.
Utkatasana I or chair pose may look relatively simple, but when performed correctly and maintained for durations of thirty seconds to two minutes, it is an intense calorie burner. Beginning with mountain pose, inhale and raise your arms and stretch them towards the sky to lengthen your spine. Exhale while bending your knees, and move your upper body forward to a forty-five degree angle.
Check to ensure your lower back is straight. A good tip to help keep the lower back straight is to focus on letting your upper body weight flow down through your pelvis, while consciously relaxing the calf muscles. Your breathing should be relaxed and with little effort. If your breathing becomes laboured or difficult, it is usually a sign the lower back is out of alignment, thereby contracting the chest and making correct breathing impossible. Chair pose may be performed for durations of thirty seconds to over two minutes. Start with ten to fifteen seconds, and pay close attention to form to achieve the best results in this asana.
Chaturanga Dandasana or four limbed staff pose is a great pose for strengthening the arms and wrists, as well as toning the abdomen. From plank pose, fix your shoulder blades against your back ribs and press your tailbone toward your pubis. Exhale and slowly lower your torso and legs to a few inches above and parallel to the mat. To avoid the lower back sinking toward the floor in this position, lock the tailbone into place and keep the legs active throughout the pose. Lift your head, and enjoy the view a little closer to the mat! Feel free to enjoy this pose for durations from ten seconds up to a minute.
Adho Mukha Vrksasana
Adho Mukha Vrksasana or handstand pose is one of my favourite strength-building asanas, although I still find it necessary to be at least near a wall to be comfortable. Standing on your hands increases your heart rate by virtue of the inversion itself: It takes much more effort to pump blood upwards through two-thirds of your body as opposed to the short distance between your heart and your head.
Start by performing downward dog, with your fingertips an inch or two away from a wall, hands shoulder-width apart and parallel. Firm your shoulder blades against your back and pull them toward your tailbone. Spread your palms shoulder width apart and splay the fingers to form a solid foundation. Rotate the arms outward, keeping your hands parallel to each other. This allows your shoulder blades to remain as wide as possible.
Bend inward and push off or ‘hop’ yourself upside down. As soon as you push off, use your abdominals to help pull your hips up and over your shoulders. Don’t panic if you put a few dents in the wall from your heels; after a couple of attempts, you will know how much force you need to get upright (downright?). Vary the ‘starting leg’ every time you perform handstand pose, allow your head to dangle comfortably from your neck, and enjoy this pose for anywhere from ten to fifteen seconds to several minutes if you wish the challenge.
Handstand pose increases balance and strength in the entire shoulder girdle, arms, and wrists. Inversions like handstand pose also take pressure off the organs and spine as well – a short vacation from the normal effects of gravity when we are upright.
Incorporate these five poses into your Yoga routine and watch the festive pounds melt away long before spring! Of course, good nutrition and keeping your new year’s resolutions will help too. Until next week…