In the midst of a heart-pumping workout, you’re probably not contemplating the long-term consequences of every single burpee and plank jack on your body. If you’re like me, you’re focused on maxing out your workout so that your post-sweat snack and shower feel extra deserved. (Oh, and PS: There’s actually a scientific reason why you love to feel the burn).
But here’s the thing: Sooner or later, you might start thinking about your future and the role your fitness routine plays in living your happiest, healthiest life. According to Baxter Bell, MD and certified yoga teacher Nina Zolotow, authors of Yoga for Healthy Aging, discovering the secrets to healthy aging, like so many of life’s dilemmas, begins with unrolling your yoga mat.
“Our bodies are quite sophisticated in telling us when we’re getting into trouble, and our job is noticing it and actually paying attention, and doing something about it.” —Baxter Bell, MD
Not to be confused with longevity—a major wellness trend of the moment, which involves elongating your time here on Earth through biohacking everything from your coffee to your orgasms (seriously)—Zolotow and Bell concentrate on teaching moves that’ll improve your overall quality of life throughout the years you do have. Which means—you guessed it—taking a good, hard listen to what your body has to say.
“Our bodies are quite sophisticated in telling us when we’re getting into trouble, and our job is noticing it and actually paying attention, and doing something about it,” says Bell, “I think that when a yoga practitioner becomes more in tune with their body, they’re much more interested in treating the body really, really well, and not ignoring those really clear signals.”
Ready to give your body a little T.L.C.? Keep reading for Bell and Zolotow’s 9 go-to poses—straight from Yoga for Healthy Aging.
1. Reclined leg stretch
For the first move, go ahead and grab a strap (or towel) and start by lying flat on your back. From there, the authors say to “bring your right knee into your chest, place a strap over the arch of your right foot, and stretch your right foot toward the ceiling. Walk both hands up the sides of the strap until your arms are straight, and lengthen your left leg along the ground. Adjust your right leg forward or back until you can easily straighten your right knee and still feel a stretch through the backside of your leg. Relax your shoulders and make sure your lower spine is either softly touching the floor or slightly arched away from it.”
When you’re ready to come out, “bend your right knee, slip the strap off your foot, lower your right leg to the floor, and bend both knees. Shake out your hands and wrists.” Repeat on the other side.
2. Downward facing dog
Next up, the OG yoga move for strengthening your back and shoulders, and stretching your back body. “From a hands and knees position, move your hands forward about one hand length and turn your toes under,” instruct the authors. “Press your hands firmly into the floor and straighten your elbows. Lift your knees off the floor and push your hips up and back, away from your hands, as you gradually begin to straighten your legs. Release your heels onto or toward the floor and lengthen from your wrists to your sitting bones. Keep some muscular tone in your belly if you tend to sway your back, and float your head in line with your spine.”
Once you’re ready to come out, just bend your knees and return them to the floor.
3. Standing forward bend
Now it’s time to tackle those hamstrings. “Start standing with your feet about hip-distance apart and your hands on your hips. Tip forward from your hip joints, keeping your spine in neutral alignment as long as you can,” write the authors. “When you feel your pelvis bones no longer roll over your upper thighbones, allow your spine to gently round forward and down until you reach a comfortable stretch. Place your hands or fingertips next to or in front of your feet, or, if they can’t reach the floor, place blocks under your hands and bend your elbows and clasp opposite arms. Keep your arms and the sides of your torso strong and active.”
Once your hammies have loosened up, come up slowly and stand with a straight spine.
4. Seated forward bend
Next, bring that same stretch onto the floor. If your hamstrings tend to be on the tighter side, Bell and Zolotow recommend placing a pillow (or a bolster) under your hips and keeping your strap handy. “Sit with your legs straight out in front of you, ankles and feet bent to 45 degrees or flexed to 90 degrees,” instruct the duo. “With an extended spine, reach your arms overhead and tip forward from your hips. When your hips stop rotating, reach your hands toward your feet, wrapping either your fingers or a strap around them. Then mindfully release into the forward bend, without pulling your chest closer to your thighs. Back off if the stretch is too intense.”
When you’re ready to come out, “engage your leg muscles, release your hands, and swing to an upright position, with your arms reaching above your head. Then release your arms.”
5. Reclined twist
To get into your twist, start by lying down. Then, “bring your knees in toward your chest until your thighs are vertical and your shins are parallel with the floor. Stretch your arms out to your sides, with the palms of your hands facing up,” they write. Next, “drop your legs and hips gently to the floor to your right so your outer right hip and leg are resting on the floor. Keep the ends of your knees even with each other. If you feel pinching in the back of your left shoulder, lift your left shoulder blade and arm a few inches off the floor and reach your left arm toward the left side of the mat.”
Once you’ve twisted to your heart’s content, return to center. Then repeat on the opposite side.
6. Child’s pose
Before coming into the pose, the authors recommend placing a yoga blanket (or another of your faves) on your mat. Then come on to your hands and knees. “Keeping knees about hip-distance apart, slide your feet closer together so your big toes touch,” they write. Then, “slowly lower your hips back and down toward your heels. Gently round your back forward and down, with your chest toward or onto your thighs. Release your head, resting your forehead on the floor. Sweep your arms back alongside your body, with the backs of your hands near your feet. Release your shoulder blades away from your spine.”
To come out of the asana, walk your palms back toward your knees and come upright, sitting on your heels.
7. Bridge pose
Lie back down on your mat, with your feet directly below your knees. Make sure your heels are about four inches from your hips. “With thighs parallel, push down into your feet and lift your hips straight up, maintaining your natural lower back arch,” explain the authors. “Stop when the stretch on your front body is strong or your knees come apart. Press the backs of your upper arms firmly down while actively lifting the lower tip of your breastbone. Now, either keep pressing your arms firmly down into the floor or roll your upper arm bones under your chest and clasp your hands together under your body. Keep your head and neck relaxed and centered.”
Come out slowly. Bring your arms to your sides, then lower your hips down to the floor.
8. Legs up the wall pose
This restorative inversion (one of Elle Macpherson’s favorite yoga poses, BTW) is next on your list. “Sit sideways to the wall, about six inches away, with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor,” advise the authors. “Then swivel toward the wall, extending your legs up the wall as you use your hands to slowly lower your back and head to the floor. Straighten your legs, with your heels resting on the wall. Bring your arms into a cactus position by your ears or relax them by your sides. Close your eyes and practice simple breath awareness or any other meditation technique.”
Getting out of this one takes a little finesse. “Slide your feet down the wall and bend your knees toward your chest,” explain the authors. “Then, gently roll to one side and use your hands to slowly press yourself up to a sitting position, resting for a few breaths.”
9. Corpse pose (AKA savasana)
Start by lying on your back with your knees bent. “Straighten your legs and position them 8–10 inches apart. Turn your arms out so your palms face up and your hands are 6–8 inches from your body,” instruct Bell and Zolotow. “Position your head evenly between your shoulders and face straight up toward the ceiling (not turning to one side). Adjust your body so it’s as symmetrical as possible, and your weight is evenly distributed. Make a commitment to staying still and turning your awareness inward.”
If you (ever) want to come out, start by bending your knees and bringing the soles of your feet to the floor. Then pull yourself up to a seated position.