12 Yoga Poses That Fight Pain


These postures represent what yoga medicine expert Tiffany Cruikshank hopes will become standard medical protocol. Here's how to feel better fast.

THE PAIN: INFLAMMATION
"Restorative postures like these are about deep relaxation, not stretching," says Cruikshank. "They quiet the nervous system, allowing your body to rest and begin the healing process."

The Move: Restorative Reclining Bound Angle Pose


Lie on the ground with your knees bent and feet flat, rib cage on bolster and head on folded blanket. Bring soles of feet together and let your knees fall to the sides, placing 1 block (pillows work, too) under each thigh for support. Allow arms to rest by sides, palms up. Close your eyes and completely relax. Rest there 3 to 5 minutes.

The Move: Restorative Child's Pose


Sit on your heels and spread knees about hip-width or slightly wider with big toes touching. Place bolster (or stack of pillows and folded blankets) in front of you high enough and firm enough to support you. Lean forward and rest torso on padding, turning head to one side and draping arms over sides. Close your eyes and completely relax. Rest there 2 to 5 minutes.

THE PAIN: KNEE
If you have knee pain, poses that target the muscles on the outsides of your thighs—which, when tight, can lead to discomfort in both areas—can help. "It's also important to strengthen the muscles around the kneecap," says Cruikshank. 

The Move: Twisted Figure Four


Lie on your back and bend knees with your feet on ground. Place right ankle on left knee, then allow both legs to fall over to your left. Rest the sole of your right foot on the ground as your right knee points up toward the ceiling or away from your head. If this is too difficult, move the legs down a few inches away from your head. "The key to this one is to let your pelvis hang toward the floor and to relax your lower back as you allow the outer thigh and hip to gently stretch," says Cruikshank. This stretch may be mild or more obvious. Either way, try to relax to allow the area to adapt to the position. Hold 1 minute, then repeat on other side.

The Move: Warrior II


Place feet about 4 to 5 feet apart, turning right foot forward and left foot parallel to back of mat and pointing inward slightly. Bend right knee over ankle and stretch arms apart, gazing over fingertips of right hand. Hold 30 seconds, building up to 60 seconds. Repeat on other side.

THE PAIN: BACK
"Back pain is often caused by tight hips," says Cruikshank. "These poses allow the lower back to release."

The Move: Half Happy Baby Pose 


Lie faceup and draw right knee to your chest with right arm. Grab outside of right knee with right hand and bring it over to the right side. Relax your lower back. For a deeper stretch, grab the sole of your right foot with your right hand and draw your foot down so right knee comes toward the ground by your right side, keeping right ankle over right knee. Stay 1 minute. Repeat on opposite side.

The Move: Supine Twist 


Lie on your back. Pull knees to your chest, then take both legs over to left, stacking right knee on top of left, resting both legs on the ground. If you're not able to get your knees to the ground, put a pillow or prop under left knee. Stay 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat on opposite side.

THE PAIN: SCIATICA
"The searing pain that radiates down the leg can often be relieved by stretching the tight deep-hip rotators," says Cruikshank. 

The Move: Figure Four 


Lie faceup and bend your knees, keeping feet on the ground. Take right ankle to left knee and draw legs in toward chest. Grab around left hamstrings or shin and gently draw legs in toward chest. Rest head on the ground and try to drop hips toward the ground. Relax and stay 1 to 2 minutes, then repeat on other side.

The Move: Reclined Cow Face Pose



Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat. Cross right leg over left. Raise both legs off the floor and grab hold of shins or knees. If you feel a stretch in your right outer thigh, stay there; otherwise, flex both feet, then grab feet, drawing them toward your hips or shoulders. Hold 1 minute, then slowly switch legs and repeat.

THE PAIN: SHOULDER
This pose helps to restore function to the rotator cuff muscles, easing discomfort, says Cruikshank.

The Move: Cow Face Pose


Grab a strap or towel in your right hand reaching overhead and draping the strap over your back. Take your left hand and reach up your back to grab the strap. Walk your left hand up the strap until you feel a gentle stretch. Back off enough so that you can relax your neck and shoulders as you hold for 1 minute on each side.

THE PAIN: NECK/HEADACHE
"Most of us spend hours a day at a computer, carrying heavy bags, or with poor posture, all of which are a perfect recipe for neck pain," says Cruikshank. Headaches are the second most common reason for visits to the doctor, with the most common type of headache being tension headaches. These poses are especially helpful when the headaches are more related to muscle tension and stress.

The Move: Restorative Chest Pose




Roll a mat or towel to 3 to 5 inches in diameter. Lie with the roll vertically behind your spine and head. Let your body be heavy on the roll as you close your eyes and relax here. Stay for 2 to 5 minutes. Releasing tension in the chest is crucial to the long-term effects on the neck. "When the chest muscles get tight and start to pull the head and shoulders forward, it puts more pressure on the neck muscles, forcing them to overwork and to become chronically tense," says Cruikshank. "This pose allows you to relax and be supported so the chest muscles can release and reposition for the long-term relief of the neck."

The Move: Eagle Pose Arms


Cross your right arm over your left and touch the backs of the palms or the palms together. Drop your head toward your arms and breath deeply though the upper back. Close your eyes and relax as you hold for 1 minute. Then repeat with other arm on top. "This pose addresses the most common sources of tension in the neck and shoulders that lead to tension that can cause headaches," says Cruikshank.

The Move: Legs Up the Wall


Roll up a towel and keep it close at hand as you lie on your back and place your legs so they are resting up against a wall. Scoot in to a comfortable distance from the wall. Then push your feet against the wall to lift your hips; place the rolled towel under your pelvis. Relax your pelvis back down and rest your legs against the wall again. Close your eyes and extend your arms to the sides in a comfortable position. Relax in that position for 5 minutes.