Yoga aficionados know that this ancient practice can tone muscles and calm the mind. But few people are aware of yoga's ability to cure everyday ailments that can cause pain and sap our energy.
As a low-impact exercise that focuses on physical postures (asanas) and breathing techniques, yoga helps relieve a number of chronic conditions—by increasing blood flow, for example, and improving range of motion.
And even though regular yoga practice offers the broadest range of health benefits, doing targeted yoga moves, as needed, can often help you feel better within minutes. Do not worry about doing the move perfectly—simply breathe deeply while gently moving your body into position.
If you suffer from arthritis, exhaustion, foot cramps or sleep problems, consider trying the single, carefully chosen yoga pose described here. This can help other treatments, such as medication, work more effectively—or, in some cases, the pose alone may alleviate the problem. Best single-pose yoga cures (stay in each pose for five to 10 deep, long breaths)…*
Pose to try: "Hands and knees fist release." For many people, this pose helps the swelling, joint pain, stiffness and limited range of motion that accompanies rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis—especially in the hands. What to do: Gently, get on your hands and knees. Make tight fists with both hands. Bend your elbows out to your sides, and place the tops of your hands on the ground, with your knuckles facing each other. Begin to straighten your elbows, but keep your fists tight and only do as much as you can without causing pain. You should feel a stretch on the tops of your wrists.
How it works: Whether you have arthritis or just sit at a desk all day, which dramatically limits your range of motion, this move increases flexibility in the wrists, hands, arms and back—important in easing arthritis pain.
Pose to try: "Cat cow." What to do: While on your hands and knees, spread your fingers wide. Be sure your wrists are directly under your shoulders and your knees are under your hips. Keep your spine straight and long—not arched or curved.
Bring your attention to your breath, taking five long, deep inhalations and exhalations. Then, beginning with your next inhalation, drop your belly toward the ground. While looking up, allow your spine to curve downward (cow pose). Next, as you inhale, round your back and look inward toward your navel (cat pose).
How it works: This pose uses gentle movement to awaken your entire system by stretching the spine, which is the body's main energy source, according to yoga philosophy.
Pose to try: "Runner's stretch." What to do: Gently, move into a low lunge with your right foot forward. Tuck the toes of your left foot so that they point forward, and lower your back knee to the ground. Shift your hips back to sit on your back heel to stretch the arch of your foot. Relax your torso over your right leg. Stay in the pose for five long, deep breaths. Then do the pose with the other leg.
How it works: Foot cramps typically respond quickly to the even pressure this pose places on the foot and arch. This move also helps maintain the foot's flexibility, which is important for balance.
Pose to try: "Reclined single knee hug twist." What to do: Lie on your back, hugging your right knee into your chest. Move your right leg toward your left side.
While in this pose, relax your arms out to your sides and take 10 long, deep breaths. Repeat on the other side. You can also do this move in bed.
How it works: This simple twist releases tension in the spine, hips and back, which can interfere with a good night's sleep. The deep breathing helps you wind down, allowing you to release worries.
*If you have a chronic medical condition, check with your doctor before doing the poses, which should be done on a mat or carpeted floor.
Source: Tara Stiles, the founder and owner of Strala Yoga in New York City. She is the author of two books, Yoga Cures (Three Rivers) and Slim Calm Sexy Yoga (Rodale). Stiles has also created several yoga DVDs with Jane Fonda, Deepak Chopra and others. TaraStiles.com
Photos: Thomas Hoeffgen