How to Do Yoga (Without Doing Yoga)

You’ve heard me talk about how adding a touch of yoga to your life or workout routine can greatly enhance your day-to-day performance. Yoga is widely known to improve muscle tone and endurance while increasing range of motion and flexibility. Doing it regularly can help head off injury and make your non-yogi pursuits much more enjoyable.

But even if you can’t get to a class anytime soon, there are several ways to benefit from the practice right now. Here are just a few of my favorites:

If you engage in activities requiring focus and patience… I’ve been astounded at how much yoga breathing impacts my favorite hobbies: (currently) fly fishing and indoor climbing. Both activities stretch my capacity to focus and practice patience as I aim my next cast or plan my ideal route. And both are deeply enriched by the power of Ujjayi breathing. Yes, it’s more than just a lyric in Ziggy Marley’s “On a Beach in Hawaii” (great jam, by the way). Ujjayi teaches breathing as an art form with the pulling in and pushing out of breath creating a rhythmic sound similar to ocean waves. In this way, breath becomes both powerfully energizing and deeply relaxing – for me, it encourages focus while setting a good mental pace for physical activities.

If you engage in lots of typing (or work with your hands) and sit for long periods of time… For over 30 years, my mom has owned a popular salon in Southern California, where she worked as a nail technician (#EntrepreneurGoals ) After several years of working with her hands, she experiences a lot of wrist and inner upper arm pain and often has to rely on pain medication just to make it through the day. Her work also requires that she remain in a squatted position much of the time, so I recommended she start doing wide-legged standing forward folds (or forward bends) throughout the day to stretch out her tightened hamstrings while also placing the palms of her hands on the ground and turning the wrist so inner forearms face front and fingers point behind her to stretch the inner arms – a pose my wife now does regularly, as well, since her work as a writer has her sitting and typing for long periods of time. I also suggested that my mom start practicing handstands (and, eventually, walking on her hands) to help strengthen the wrist and inner arm. Crow pose is also a fantastic upper arm strengthener.

If you stare at a computer screen for much of your day, or do work that requires you to hunch over… As I said above, my wife works as a writer, so she spends a lot of time hunched over her computer. In the evenings, she’s made a habit of laying in supported fish pose, using a yoga block to help open up her chest and (hopefully) undoing a bit of the damage done. She also clasps her hands behind her back throughout the day in reverse prayer and cow face pose, stretching her arms and opening her shoulders (you can lower the intensity here by holding a yoga strap). For added benefit, you can combine this stretch with a wide-leg forward fold to relieve tight hamstrings.

If you experience back and neck pain… When I left my life in the military, it wasn’t without a handful of physical reminders of my time in service. For years, I was unable to find complete relief from shooting back and neck pain. If I over-exerted myself (which, at that time, wasn’t hard to do) or even turned my head too quickly, my neck would stick in that position. For me, yoga was the only thing that brought real healing. Today, I am totally free from back pain and my neck has full range of motion, even after jumping on the trampoline with my kids or hauling the remains of a dead tree out of my backyard (suburban life, amiright?) I believe this is because I do forward folds (or forward bends) throughout the day and right before bed, grabbing opposite elbows for added weight and turning my head gently from side to side to relieve pressure and release my spine. A big factor, as well, in my healing is the general strengthening of my back and neck muscles through regular yoga practice (#ShamelessPlug).

If you run, cycle, experience sciatic pain, or feel stressed… Our legs do so much for us throughout the day, carrying us from place to place. Rarely do we stop to return the favor. That’s why I highly recommend pigeon pose to stretch the poor, overlooked hip flexor muscles which rarely receive their due attention. Tight hip flexors can slow you down when running, cycling, or working out. We also hold a surprising amount of physical stress in these muscles, so anyone – particularly those managing sciatic pain – can really benefit from this pose. Runner’s lunge is also fantastic for stretching this area – for an added challenge, take the upper body for a twist toward your front bent leg to increase the stretch.

And there you have it: a few simple, not-too-terribly-time-consuming ways to use yoga for immediate benefit. Find something else that works well for you? I’d love to hear about it!

Please note: I am not a medical professional and everyone’s body is different. Please consult a real physician before attempting these poses to avoid injury.