Committing to this challenge will build your core, upper, and lower body strength — and improve your balance and range of motion, too.
If you aspire to be chiller than an iced chai tea latte, more mobile than the inflatable air-dancer, or want to live a life of greater ease, then yoga has your back (and breath and brain). As a practice that involves syncing breath to movement, yoga has been shown to have several health and fitness benefits, according to Ashley Galvin, a yoga instructor with Alo Moves. “It can reduce tension in your body, strengthen your body, improve your flexibility, reduce anxiety and depression, and help you live in the present moment," she says.
In other words, implementing yoga into your routine is a no-brainer. But how do you go from wanting to be a yogi and reaping those benefits to being a yogi? One way is to participate in a 30-day yoga challenge, which is why Shape teamed up with Galvin to develop a month's worth of beginner-friendly routines to get you off to the races. “Yoga challenges make it as easy as possible to commit to adding yoga into your routine,” she says. Plus, it takes 21 days to form a habit, so a 30-day challenge helps you get over that habit-forming hump.
The best part: This challenge includes just three beginner yoga routines per week, so you don’t have to overhaul your exercise schedule to reap the benefits. Instead, you can seamlessly incorporate them into your current routine. “Some people might do it on their rest days. Others might do it as part of their warm-ups or cool-downs,” says Galvin. “There are no rules with yoga. What's most important is you make it work in your life so that it can become sustainable."
Benefits Of The 30-Day Yoga Challenge
Even if you only do yoga once a week, you’ll achieve some benefits. “During and following your first session, you will experience some mental health benefits,” says Galvin. Still, yoga is typically a case of more is better. “In general, people should try to implement yoga into their routine three days a week to reap the physical and strength benefits,” she says.
Practicing yoga multiple times per week allows people to learn positions at a faster clip, explains Galvin. Once you learn the basics of a position, you can start to become more aware of the deeper muscles that support the position, activate those muscles, and practice a greater mind-body connection, she explains.
How To Complete This 30-Day Yoga Challenge
To make it easy for you, Shape teamed up with Galvin to create the 30-Day Yoga Challenge below. Each of the four weeks in this 30-day challenge builds off of the previous week. The first week you’ll master a basic five-movement flow, which includes foundational yoga movements like the standing forward fold, downward dog, and warrior two. You will complete this same flow each of the three days you commit to doing yoga this week.
Then, in the subsequent weeks, you’ll get the opportunity to try slightly more difficult variations and additions to the original beginner yoga routine. During the second and third weeks, you tack additional poses onto the flow. Finally, during the fourth week, you’ll get to challenge yourself and try a slightly more elevated version of this flow.
This beginner yoga routine, courtesy of Galvin, is bookmarked on the front end with the standing forward fold and on the back end with the pigeon pose. The meat of the flow — which can take you anywhere from 5 to 50 minutes depending on how long you hold each pose and how many times you choose to move through it — is made up of a classic yoga vinyasa. Here is how to get started.
Standing Forward Fold
This move is particularly soothing after a long day of sitting. Starting your flow with this posterior-chain opening will help you tap into a greater range of motion during upcoming movements like downward-facing dog. “The goal of standing forward fold is to help open up your lower back and hamstrings,” says Galvin.
Stand with feet hips-width, toes pointing straight forward or slightly pigeon-toed.
Place hands on hips, and on the exhale, hinge forward at the hips.
Rest your hands on the ground, as you lower into a forward fold. If you cannot reach the ground, just go as far down as you're able.
Keep your heels on the ground, and roll your weight toward the balls of your feet for an extra stretch in your hamstrings.
Hold for 30 to 60 seconds before releasing.
High Plank Position
The high plank position is the first step in a yoga vinyasa, Galvin says. “[It] strengthens your entire body, including your midline and core."
During the first week, take note of how long you can hold the position with good form, she says. “A good goal is to build up to 60 seconds by the end of the challenge.”
Start on all fours with your wrists stacked under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
Push into the ground with your palms.
Step one foot back at a time into the top of a push-up position.
Brace your midline so that your hips are in line with your shoulders.
Chaturanga to Upward Facing Dog
Dubbed the yoga push-up, chaturanga requires a high amount of prerequisite upper-body strength. Galvin’s recommendation? Drop to your knees if a full yoga push-up isn’t yet accessible to you.
Keep your midline braced and arms strong from the high plank position.
Shift forward onto the tips of your toes.
Keep your elbows glued to your ribcage and bend them back to lower your chest and hips toward the flow in one motion.
Release your toes at the bottom of the push-up so that the tops of your feet are kissing the mat.
Keep your hips down and feet and legs active and press your palms into the mat.
Straighten your arms and pull your chest through your arms until you feel a gentle stretch in your lower back.
Release your chest and flip your toes over.
Exhale as you press your palms into the mat and straighten your arms back into a high plank position.
“Over the course of the challenge, focus on trying to lessen the bend in your knees while bringing your heels closer to the ground,” says Galvin. This will deepen the stretch of your hamstrings.
Drop to your knees from the high plank position so that you’re in a table-top position.
Press into your hands, lift your knees off the floor, and press your hips up and back toward the ceiling.
Keep your hips high, shift weight onto your feet, and lower your heels as close to the floor as possible.
Hold this position, keeping your shoulders drawn away from your ears.
The pigeon pose offers a deep stretch to whichever leg is bent, says Galvin. In particular, it stretchers your hip flexor, quads, psoas, groin, and back. “Let your current mobility dictate how long you hold the pose to start."
Twenty to 30 seconds is a great goal for the first day, but you can add more and more time as you move through the challenge. Also, don’t shy away from using props to help you access the position, Galvin adds. “A folded blanket or pillow under the front hip or back knee can help reduce the intensity of the pose."
Release your left foot from the downward-facing dog pose and lift your leg up toward the ceiling.
Sweep it down toward the ground so that your left shin rests just behind both hands.
Keep your right leg fully extended behind your body and lower your bum toward the floor.
Hold this position, gazing toward the floor in between your hands keeping your spine lengthened and pelvis centered.
During this week's version of the vinyasa flow, you are going to add a warrior two after the downward-facing dog. Once again, you will start with the standing forward fold to warm up your body. Then, you will move through a vinyasa flow.
“From the warrior two position, you will cartwheel your hands into a high plank position,” explains Galvin. Then, you will repeat the flow a second time. The difference is that when you get to warrior two, you will change the lead leg, she explains.
Here's how to do the warrior two pose from the downward-facing dog position.
Lift your left leg up behind you from the downward-facing dog position.
Look forward and shift your weight onto your hands.
Tuck your left knee into your chest before reaching the left foot down between your arms, planting the foot between your hands.
Drop your right foot down with your toes turned out and away from your body 90 degrees.
Release your hands from the ground and use your midline to pull your chest up.
Bring your hands to your hips and relax your shoulders.
Extend your arms out to the sides with your palms down.
Deepen the bend in your left knee and gaze out over your hand.
Hold the pose on this side for as long as it feels good.
By this point, you’re more than halfway through the yoga challenge! During the third week, you are going to add warrior three into rotation. Specifically, you’ll add it in between the downward-facing dog and warrior two.
As a balancing pose, warrior three will give you the opportunity to test out your increasing midline strength, as well as activate your entire lower body. Here's how to add it to your flow.
Lift your left leg into the air from the downward dog position.
Bring your left knee to your nose before placing your left foot in between your hands.
Pivot the back heel down onto the mat so that your toes are facing up.
Engage your midline to rise up while bending into your front leg.
Center your hips to face forward, which is known as warrior one.
Keep your midline tight and ground down through your front (left) foot and slowly lift your back (right) leg out behind you.
Bring your arms down along your body with your fingertips pointing back while lifting your back (left leg) as high as you can behind you.
Hinge at your hips and continue bending until there's a straight line from head to heel.
Hold as long as possible, before returning your back foot to the ground and re-taking warrior one.
“From here, you will cartwheel your hands down into a high plank, then repeat the exact same sequence,” says Galvin. The only difference is that you will switch leg leads for warrior three and warrior two.
You made it to the last week. During your three days of practice you are going to get to show yourself just how strong your side-body and core have become by giving the half-moon pose a try at the end of each flow, says Galvin. “This challenging balance pose requires a lot of side-body and midline strength, as well as strengthens them further."
So there is no confusion, this is the exact sequence you’ll be following:
Standing forward fold
Chaturanga to upward-facing dog
Warrior three with leg one
Warrior two with leg one
Half Moon with leg one
Here is how to incorporate the half-moon pose into your flow.
Get into a warrior three position on your left leg.
Bring your hands from behind your back toward the ground (or block).
Keep your left leg and fingers on the ground.
Rotate toward the right, opening your right hip toward the ceiling until it stacks on top of the left hip.
Brace your midline, then extend your right arm straight up and look up toward your right fingers.
Keep your left leg straight, flex your left foot by pulling your toes toward your head.
Hold here before returning to the warrior three pose.
How To Practice The Challenge Safely
In yoga, your body — not the instructor nor the challenge — is your ultimate guide, says Galvin. “You are your own best teacher. You know what you and your body need for the day better than anyone else.” That’s why she recommends tuning into your body and using that to guide how deep into every stretch and pose you go. “If at any point you start to experience any pain or discomfort, stop."
Discomfort is your body's way of letting you know that it does not (yet!) have the prerequisite strength, mobility, or body awareness needed to safely complete the pose, she says. Rather than pushing yourself, stay within your realm of comfort. If you need to, you can return to the previous week's variation of the flow and use that to help yourself develop baseline ability. “Yoga is here to help heal our bodies, not hurt our bodies,” says Galvin.
But for that to happen, we as yoga practitioners need to support our bodies in that goal, she says. At the end of the day, the goal of this challenge is to help you add yoga into your movement practice in a way that is both safe and sustainable.
As you move through this 30-day yoga challenge, remember that longevity — not perfection nor intensity — is your number one goal. Do that, and at the end of the day, you’ll reap all the mental and physical benefits of yoga you’ve been hearing about and desiring for so long. On your mark, get set, flow.
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Read the original article on Shape.