Maija’s Favourite Yoga Poses to Strengthen & Relax

By Maija Kivelä

For a very long time, yoga has enjoyed a reputation for its calming and healing benefits and often, yoga-enthusiasts look to press ‘pause’ on their hectic lives. All of that is essential, no doubt; but did you know that yoga is also an amazing way to increase strength and body awareness? Think: Madonna’s lean triceps. Here is a list of my favourite poses to strengthen and restore your body, inside and out!

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

The Mountain (Tadasana)

Tadasana looks just like a simple standing pose; but it’s the foundational posture for all the other postures and prepares you for the rest of your yoga session. This pose improves posture, increases awareness and helps to create space within the body, allowing internal organs to work more efficiently.

Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

The Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

An amazing pose to stretch out the rear of your body, from your heels to the tips of your fingers. Forward folds also build strength and flexibility in the spine. This is the perfect pose to release tension in the neck, and upper and lower back. It’s extremely calming and helps to relieve anxiety and stress.

Forward folds create space between each vertebra, encouraging circulation and helping to soothe the nervous system. The head is below the heart, which allows blood to rush to your head, giving your cells a rejuvenating boost of oxygen. For women, this pose also increases the circulation in the pelvic floor area, which can help you heal after child birth or even menopause.

Warrior I (Virabhadrasana)
Warrior II (Virabhadrasana)

The Warrior I & II (Virabhadrasana)

One of the most common poses, but overlooked in terms of how it can strengthen the lower body — from your feet to your hips — and core! The Warrior poses look simple; but you really need to focus on the mind-body connection to be able to maintain good form. For example, in Warrior I, you must square the hips, fully plant the back foot and rotate the back internally. If you do this or Warrior II correctly, you will feel it in every muscle of your body. The Warrior poses develop concentration, stamina and promote healthy digestion.

Chair (Utkatasana)

The Chair (Utkatasana)

The lower body toner and circulation booster!

The Chair pose strengthens the hip flexors and back, and stretches the chest and shoulders, all while increasing stamina and the tone of the hip and thighs.   

It also stimulates the circulatory system and boosts metabolism.

Child Pose (Balasana)

The Child (Balasana)

This lovely stress-relieving pose relaxes the front of the body while nicely stretching out the back of the torso. It’s a very therapeutic resting pose that gives you the time to restore energy and balance. It’s a great pose for releasing tension in the lower back, neck, shoulders and chest. One of the most calming poses, in my opinion.

Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana)

The Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana)

Here is a DEEP pose and, I would say, one of the best glute stretches out there! If you suffer from tight piriform issues or sciatic pain, this pose is for you. To help with piriform pain, try staying in this pose for a minimum of 60 seconds, about ten-deep-breaths-worth. Also, the more you are able to open up the hips, the less you will experience back pain and postural problems. Tight hip flexors can cause an anterior pelvic tilt when your hips are pushed forward. This makes your back feel stiffer.

For athletes, this pose is beneficial for speed, agility and overall health and muscle recovery.

Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana)

Holistic Living

By Maija Kivelä

Holistic living, as its name implies, regards everything as a whole. It promotes a lifestyle that focuses on the mind-body-spirit connection, the wellness of all our interconnected parts, and works towards the health of the entire self and not just one part of it.

‘Sickness’ transcends the physical. Holistic healing isn’t simply about restoring a balance of energy to the body after, say, a bad bout of the flu; but a constant effort to maintain health and harmony between mind and body. The body needs regular exercise, a balanced diet of proper nutritious food and enough rest to be able to function at its best through the everyday hustle and bustle. But a peaceful mind also needs good mental reinforcement, including tenacious positivity.

At school, we learned all about what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’; but few of us learned how to live in a way that respects and nourishes the whole self, preparing us to maintain satisfying and fulfilling lives in spite of busy business environments and the cacophonous rat race that is city life.If you can train your mind and engage certain key muscles daily, you can transform your entire sense of wellbeing for the better. You will also find that all your relationships will benefit from your becoming more patient and understanding.

Embarking on a holistic lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to buy into any kind of spirituality or a particular school of thought, although there are some elements of spirituality to engage in should you feel so inclined. It’s more about harnessing a deep understanding of how your actions affect your body, mind and the people around you. Remember: living holistically takes time, consistency and awareness.

In honour of a new year and what for many certainly means starting on a fresh footing, here are just a few small steps to adopt as a springboard to your holistic journey.

Eat Clean

Start your day with a healthy breakfast. Rather than choosing processed foods, opt for a more nutritious platter of organic whole grains, fruits and protein.

Practice Mindfulness

When you become able to keep your mind quiet and ‘in the now’ amidst distractions, you will find yourself a few steps ahead of the crowd! Focus your awareness on the here and now: where you are, what you are doing and what surrounds you at that particular moment. Forget the past and don’t worry too much about the future. Give yourself permission to have the fullest experience of the moment.

To help you with this mental exercise, practice taking very deep, slow breaths in and count to three in your head as you breath out. This will greatly regulate your stress levels.

Goji berries, chia seeds, pine nuts and almonds.

Respect the Power of Your Body

Maybe you feel that you are not the most athletic person or that you can’t pull off all the yoga moves that you see others doing; but, really, it’s not about that! The body is a Pandora’s box of unknown possibilities and strengths just waiting to be directed and explored. Your body can do amazing things — it’s usually your mind that limits its potential. Aim towards removing mental limitations by shifting your perspective and give your body due credit. You’ll soon find that anything becomes possible.

‘Mere philosophy will not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone. Without practice, nothing can be achieved. (3)’ — Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras

No one ever really dies… we just change states.

Drink Water

Keep a water bottle available at all times to remind you to drink enough pure water. Hydrating your body by taking regular sips will assist your body in flushing out toxins, increasing energy, improving skin complexion and boosting immunity.

Educate Yourself

Education is reformation. Keep yourself open to the new and unknown. As long as you can learn, you can improve.

‘Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.’ — Henry Ford

Tree branch.