People always say things to me like: If you could only do ONE yoga pose, what would it be?
Believe it or not, that's an easy one: Downward-facing dog! (Adho mukha svanasana)
If I only have 30 seconds to practice a yoga pose, this is the one I do. After a jog, before a party, when I wake up, before bed. Before tennis, after tennis. Tired, sad, mad, lonely. This is my "go to" pose.
Downward dog stretches out your shoulders and back, your hamstrings, calves, arches... the whole back of your body. It really strengthens your arms and legs. It is both energizing and calming at the same time. It can help digestion, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue. It's great for runners and walkers who need to lengthen and stretch hamstrings and calves.
When you first start practicing this pose, it might not feel wonderful. Women, especially, might not have a lot of upper body strength, so it might be difficult to hold the pose for longer than a few seconds... that's okay! You will get stronger very quickly by practicing this pose.
I'll give you some instructions here, if you want to give it a try. Don't try this if you're pregnant or if you have carpel tunnel. It's always best to learn from an experienced and/or certified yoga instructor, but I know some of you are do-it-yourself-ers :-) Maybe, if you like this pose, you will be inspired to learn more! The crazy thing about yoga is: the more you do it, the more you WANT to do it! (Oh, you might recognize your favorite puppy in this pose. Dogs (and cats) do this stretch almost every time they get up! We really can learn from our pets.)
1. Start out on your hands and knees, with your knees right underneath your hips and your hands a few inches forward of being under your shoulders. Spread your fingers wide, middle fingers pointing straight ahead.
2. Turn your toes under and lift your knees up off the mat. Keep your knees softly bent for now.
3. Straighten your elbows. Elongate your spine. Relax your neck, letting your head rest between your arms. Lift your sitting bones up towards the ceiling. Draw your shoulders down away from your ears and press the mat away from you with your hands.
4. Now straighten your knees. It's okay if your heels are up in the air! You might want to try "walking the dog," by first bending your right knee, and pressing your left heel down, then bend your left knee, and press your right heel down. Come to rest in a comfortable position. Hold for 1 to 3 minutes, then rest.
These are really pithy directions! There are lots of places on the web where you can see more pictures and get more complete directions. Here are a few:
And now, for the most important rule of yoga: HAVE FUN!!!