Every class that I teach I ask the students to set an intention for their practice.
Why did you come to yoga today?
What do you hope to gain from this next 60 minutes of breath and asana (poses)?
It’s important to set an intention, in my opinion. How can we expect to gain anything if we don’t make it known? When you want a raise at work but haven’t gotten it yet, most people will say, “Well you should ask for one!” Yes! How will your boss know that you want a raise if you haven’t told him/her? You have to put it out there.
Luckily, this should be easier than asking for a raise, since you’re basically asking yourself for something. You have way more control over the outcome. So send your intentions out into the universe; be very clear about what you want so that you can make it happen. Often times we lose that connection between our minds, bodies, and spirits, so when we set an intention we are creating an opportunity to come together for a common goal.
But can’t I just get on my mat, get a good sweat going, and be done with it? Yes, you absolutely can do whatever you want! But adding an intention gives your practice meaning. You are probably aware that yoga is much more than asanas (poses).
The asana practice is a tool. It is just one part of your path and all of the parts are connected. Maybe your intention is to get a sweat going and get your heart pumping and burn some calories. But why? Why do you want to sweat? Is it because you want to be stronger? Is it because you want to do something good for your body? And there’s your intention. “I am here to better myself.” Simple. Intentions never need be complex. How beautiful is that?
I remember my first studio yoga class. The teacher did ask us to set an intention. I recall glancing around the room wondering, “Does everyone already have an intention. What does that even mean?” Because of this common, new student dilemma, I offer a simple intention to those who wish to use it: feel good.
I figure, at the very least, people come to a yoga class to feel good. Whether it be in mind, body, or soul we are seeking a positive experience. This is true even if you are practicing at home. When we allow ourselves to feel good we are creating harmony within. Yes, of course we always want to feel good but we have to plant that seed so that it can work on a subconscious level.
So here are my favorite “feel-good” yoga poses. Enjoy them on their own, in the sequence, or weave them into your own practice. Included, is a little bit about why I consider the pose a “feel-good” pose. Please note that I only list a few of the many benefits of these poses and you may find them feeling good for you for another reason.
So, first things first: set your intention!
1) Crocodile Pose—Makarasana
Lie on your stomach with your legs stretched out and slightly wider than hips distance. Let your feet flop out to the sides or wherever they fall comfortably. Take your elbows wide and stack one hand on top of the other (it doesn’t matter which one is on top). Rest your forehead on the back of the top hand. Take a couple of moments here to settle in and observe your breath.
Why It Feels So Good: This pose allows us to just be for a moment. While lengthening the spine we are decreasing compression in the lower back. Many of us spend a lot of time sitting which is causing energetic blockages in this area. By lengthening this region, we can create space for fresh, new energy. Breathe into that space and feel it restoring.
2) Child’s Pose—Balasana (with wide legs)
From makarasana, draw your feet in towards each other with the tops of the feet down. Place your palms flat on the mat and push your hips back to your heels, keeping your big toes together and the knees wide. Feel your belly expanding against your thighs on your inhales. Move your head side to side giving your third-eye a mini massage into your mat.
Why It Feels So Good: Child’s pose is another restorative posture that allows us to simply breathe. Physically feeling your breath in this posture can be very therapeutic. This really allows us to start to make that connection between mind, body, and soul by bringing full awareness to our breath. This is also a great time to throw a little bit of gratitude out there. Thank you, breath, for giving me life.
3) Downward Facing Dog—Adho Mukha Svanasana
From balasana, extend your arms and reach your fingers forward so that your elbows lift up off the mat. Keep pressing the palms of the hands down as you lift your hips up and back coming into downward facing dog. Keep the hands at shoulder distance, palms flat, fingers wide, and keep the feet parallel at hips distance. Bend your knees slightly, if needed, so that you can lift the hips to the ceiling while lengthening the tailbone. Draw your heels down and back. Do not collapse into the shoulders here; keep the upper arm bones externally rotating to broaden the upper back. Maintain the integrity of the pose as you take a couple cleansing breaths here.
Why It Feels So Good: This pose is great for so many different parts of the body. It is beneficial for your back, hamstrings, calves, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, digestive system, and I could go on! This is where I start to really connect to my body’s needs for the current practice and day. Know that these needs may change daily. The body starts to “wake-up” here which allows you to send your breath into any areas that may need special attention.
4) Wild Thing Pose—Camatkarasana
From adho mukha svanasana, lift your right leg towards the sky. To start, keep the hips square and the toes facing down. Once you are set up and stable here, then open up the hip and bend the right knee drawing your right heel down towards your glutes. Reach the right knee up towards the sky. If you have a shoulder or back injury, you may choose to stay here as your modification. Otherwise, reach the right leg behind you and to the left so that the right toes come onto the floor. Keep the left leg straight and keep the left shoulder plugged in and strong. Reach the right arm up and over head and let your gaze follow your right hand. It’s also a yummy option to take the right hand directly to the heart. You may find that it gravitates toward your heart center. And that’s awesome. Keep the left shoulder strong as you swing the right leg back around to adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog). Switch sides.
Why It Feels So Good: Backbends are so energizing. This pose is sure to give you a little boost. Again, many of us spend a lot of time sitting. As your reading this, if you’re sitting, take note of your chest and shoulders. Are you hunched over? I don’t blame you. As I wrote that I sat up a little bit straighter myself! This pose allows us to counteract that hunched position. We literally do the opposite here. Not only does this feel awesome for your shoulders, chest, and back, but it creates a sense of freedom and openness.
5) Standing Spinal Twist Variation—Katichakrasana Variation
From adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) put a bend to your knees, lift your hips high, look forward, and walk your feet to the top of your mat. Roll your spine all the way up to stand. First, find a solid foundation in tadasana (mountain pose). The weight of your body should be evenly distributed to all four corners of each foot. Your tailbone should be lengthening to the floor and the crown of your head is gently reaching towards the sky. Step the right foot back directly behind the left heel. Your right toes may even come in contact with the left heel. On your inhale, lift your arms straight out in front of you with your palms facing inward towards each other. On your exhale, draw the right arm back like you are pulling on a bow and arrow. Reach the right arm all the way to the back of your mat. If your balance is shaky today, keep the gaze focused on one spot on the floor in front of you. If you are feeling stable, your gaze may follow your right hand as it extends to the back of your mat. Take a couple breaths here, keeping the spine nice and long and reaching through the crown of the head. On an inhale, your right foot steps to meet the left as the arms sweep up overhead in urdhva hastasana (upward salute pose). Exhale and release your hands to prayer in front of your heart. Switch sides.
Why It Feels So Good: Katichakrasana is a gentle twist that helps improve flexibility in the spine. We are, yet again, creating space between the vertebrae and removing energetic blockages. Twisting postures are detoxifying because they increase mobility of the organs resulting in digestive success!
6) Rag Doll Pose—Uttanasana Variation
Standing in tadasana, mountain pose, on the inhale, sweep the arms up overhead to urdhva hastasana (upward salute). On the exhale, dive forward, hinging from the hip creases into a standing forward fold (uttanasana). Keep the knees soft here; they can even bend if you need a gentler variation. Grab opposite elbows and let your upper body hang. Let the head hang heavy and feel free to shake the head side to side to loosen up the neck a bit. Sway side-to-side if it feels good; peddle out the knees if the hamstrings are tight. Let all of the stagnant energy drain from your body. Stay here for as many breaths as is needed. Enjoy this one to the fullest.
Why It Feels So Good: This is, on most days, my favorite asana. Not only are we lengthening the body in the spine, hamstrings, quadriceps, and neck, but we are doing it by simply letting go. We literally can just hang out here. Try visualizing the stagnant energy just flowing out of the crown of your head. See the space clearing out, making a lot of room. Maybe you can even see your stresses flowing out and away from you.
7) Wide Legged Seated Forward Fold—Upavistha Konasana
From uttanasana (standing forward fold) bend your knees and make your way onto your seat. Take your legs wide and come into a wide legged seated position. Flex your feet and press your hamstrings down into the mat. Check out your feet and knees. Are they knocking inward? If so, take your legs closer together until you are able to slightly externally rotate the legs. Lift up nice and tall in your spine reaching through the crown of the head. On the inhale, sweep the arms up over head and, on the exhale, release your arms and gently walk the hands forward between your legs. Do your best to keep the spine long here. Reach through your heart center. Check back in with your knees and your feet. If they are starting to knock inward again, either take the legs closer together or come out of the fold a little bit. Keep the hips opening.
Why It Feels So Good: This pose gets into many regions of the legs and the groin. It also encourages a tiny bit of engagement in the core region. And not surprisingly, it is almost natural to slow down the breath in this posture. You’re off your feet and gently releasing any last bits of tension that may remain in the legs and the spine. This is just oh-so calming for the mind.
8) Knees to Chest Pose—Apanasana
From upavistha konasana (wide legged seated forward fold) gently walk your hands back up towards your body. Bend your knees if needed, and draw the legs together. Rock onto your back and hug your knees into your chest. Come into a little ball. Rock side-to-side and back and forth. Move freely here to massage your low back into the mat.
Why It Feels So Good: This is another one of my favorites. After all the work that you just put in, you’re finally on your back. Giving yourself a little back massage against the mat and letting the spine round for a bit to counteract all of the lengthening we’ve done is very relieving. Here is a great opportunity to give yourself a big squeeze and a big thank you for doing your body well. If you try hard enough, you can literally feel the new energy that you’ve created in and around your body.
9) Happy Baby Pose—Ananda Balasana
From apanasana (knees to chest pose) widen your knees to come down towards your sides. Take the soles of the feet towards the sky and grab the big toes (or the outer edges of the feet), and continue to draw the knees down. Try to keep the tailbone grounded. If you are unable to reach your feet, you may grab the backs of your thighs but keep facing the soles of the feet to the sky. Rock side-to-side if it feels good. You can even play around with straightening one leg at a time for a deeper stretch, if needed.
Why It Feels So Good: If you practice this pose often, you can see why babies are often rolling around holding onto their feet. It feels so good! This posture is generally offered towards the end of practice. Releasing tension in the hips will allow you to fully relax in your final poses. This pose also brings a bit of nostalgia to many practitioners. It is a natural thing for humans to do as infants, yet we may never do this again if it weren’t for yoga.
10) Legs Up the Wall—Viparita Karani
For the final pose of the sequence, take your mat to a wall space. Keep the short end of the mat against the wall. Take either hip against the wall, roll onto your back at your legs roll up the wall. Extend your legs towards the ceiling. You may need to adjust your distance from the wall here. Make yourself comfortable. Take your hands to your belly and feel the rise and fall of your breath. Let the blood flow reverse bringing clarity to the mind. Take rest.
Why It Feels So Good: Inversions allow the blood flow to reverse, which does the body all sorts of good. It brings clarity to the mind and even alleviates headaches. In this particular pose, you get the benefits of the inversion, but also the calming effects of a restorative posture. This is the time to surrender and fully immerse yourself in your intention of feeling good.
Whether you practice daily or sporadically, these 10 poses are almost guaranteed to feed the soul. Take them slowly or flow through them a few times with your breath. You really can’t go wrong. Enjoy, yogis. Namaskar.
Author: Andrea Valerino
Editor: Travis May
Photos: Author’s Own