by Yvette Jain: Yoga is a beautiful practice, and it’s called a practice because it takes practice…
Everyone (at some point) starts at the beginning and builds on their practice over time. But doing more yoga isn’t the only way to improve your practice, you know. There are other exercises and stretches that can help take your yoga abilities up a notch, whether you’re a beginner or seasoned yogi. So if you’re looking to improve your yoga practice and prevent injury, give these moves a try!
Wrist stretches and wrist curls
Many yogis tell me that their practice is limited because their wrists start to hurt during the practice. Stretching and strengthening your wrists will improve any movement where you bear weight on your hands (e.g., down dog, planks, etc.).
Having injured my wrists twice (non-yoga-related incidents), I have found these exercises to be effective. You may feel sore if you’ve never done these before, but after some repetition over a couple of weeks, you’ll start to feel stronger and less fatigued in your vinyasas.
How to do a wrist stretch
Start on all fours, stacking all your fingertips under your shoulders, with your index fingers pointing directly forward and the other fingers turned out. This is the starting position.
Pivoting off your right index finger, turn your right hand counterclockwise so that your right index finger now points back at you, and allow the other fingers to land naturally. Repeat on the left hand.
Pivot off your right hand once more and now turn it 360 degrees (or as far as you can) clockwise, so that again, your right index finger points back at you. Repeat on the left hand.
Pivot off your right hand clockwise 180 degrees, so that your index finger points forward, away from your body and comes back to the starting point. Repeat on the left hand.
How to do a wrist curl with light hand-weights (1-3 lb.)
Rest your right forearm on a bench or table, with your right wrist hanging off the edge. Hold the weight facing up toward the ceiling.
Starting in neutral position, curl the weight in, toward your body, then bring it back to neutral. Repeat 10 to 15x. Repeat on the left hand.
You’ll want to strengthen both sides of both wrists.
Now go back to the right hand and hold the weight, this time with the back of your hand facing up toward the ceiling. Starting in neutral position, curl the weight in, toward your body. Repeat 10 to 15x. Repeat on the left hand.
Wall slides and prone lateral raises
When you develop a stronger back, you can create a softer front, improving chest openers and backbends (e.g., cobra, wheel, etc.). The rhomboids and other muscles in the upper middle back tend to get neglected in the yoga practice. To create balance, it’s important to strengthen these muscles. My favorite exercises to do so are wall slides and prone lateral raises.
How to do a scapular wall slide
Stand against a wall, draw your navel and ribs in, tuck your tailbone to protect your lower back, and bend your knees slightly. Extend your arms directly above you, palms facing out. This is the starting point.
Keeping your navel and ribs drawn in, slowly bend your elbows and draw your arms down until your elbows are in the same line as your shoulders. As much as possible, keep your back, the back of your palms, and elbows on the wall. Hold for a full breath.
Maintain your navel and ribs in, and lift your arms back to the starting point.
How to do a prone lateral raise
Lie on your belly on a bench, with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a light hand-weight in each hand. Rest your head on the bench so it’s in a neutral position.
Extend both of your arms away from your body, slightly lower than shoulder level. This is the starting point.
Lift your straight arms up until they reach shoulder level (arms are parallel to the floor).
Squeeze the shoulder blades together, lifting the arms up, focusing on your upper back. Breathe and hold for one count.
Slowly lower your straight arms back to the starting position.
Walking lunges are one of my favorite exercises to strengthen the core, improve hip flexor flexibility, and strengthen the legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes). This move is particularly applicable (and beneficial) to your yoga practice since we so often stretch these same muscles. This exercise can be done with or without weights.
How to do a walking lunge
Start by standing tall, feet together (optional: Add an 8- to 10-lb. dumbbell in each hand; rest your arms by your side).
Ground down through your left foot and activate your core muscles as you lift your right knee up toward your chest and take a controlled step forward.
Bend your right knee, stacking it directly above your right ankle. Bend your back knee and point it toward the floor while maintaining your torso upright. (For a deeper hip-flexor stretch, let your back knee hover 1 inch off the floor).
Ground down through your right foot and use your core muscles to stabilize you as you step your left foot forward to meet the right foot in a standing position.
Repeat the above steps, starting with the left foot stepping forward.
Walk across the length of a large room, or about 20 to 30 steps on each leg.
To make this more intense, you can hold the weights directly above your head, challenging your core stability more and/or lunge with each step (skipping the stand in between).
Adding any of these simple cross-training exercises to your routine is bound to improve your yoga practice in no time! If you want even more ways to improve your yoga practice (both mentally and physically), check out the five yoga poses you should do first thing in the morning or the best yoga poses for reducing inflammation.