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It’s no secret that practicing yoga can boost your mental, physical, and spiritual health. This ancient practice is known for its ability to reduce stress, ease minor pain, relieve anxiety, and improve the quality of your sleep.

But did you know that yoga can also pack a serious punch when it comes to your legs? That’s right: Both standing and supine (lying face up) yoga poses may help improve balance, flexibility, and strength in your lower body. 

Let’s get into how yoga can benefit your legs and the poses that can be especially helpful.

How can yoga benefit your legs?

According to Mara Olney, yoga teacher and owner of LÜM Health Studio, your legs will definitely feel the love during a yoga class. 

“In yoga, it’s not uncommon to hold some of the standing strength and balancing poses until your legs are shaking. This allows you to feel the muscles being activated, creating the essential mind-body connection, which makes yoga a mindful form of exercise,” she said.

What makes some yoga postures so beneficial for your legs, says Olney, is that they balance strengthening and stretching — the key to having healthier, stronger, more flexible legs. 

According to a small 2016 study, male college athletes who participated in a 10-week, biweekly yoga group increased their flexibility and balance more than the group that didn’t practice yoga.

The researchers concluded that adding a yoga program to traditional training methods helped enhance the athletes’ fitness and sports performance. 

Another study from 2014 looked at the effectiveness of Hatha yoga compared with that of calisthenics in a group of older adults. The researchers found that after 1 year, Hatha yoga more effectively improved their flexibility compared with calisthenics. 

Yoga poses for your legs

Ready to stretch, strengthen, and boost the health of your legs? Here are seven yoga poses and stretches to get you started.

1. Downward-Facing Dog Pose

Downward-Facing Dog Pose is one of the most recognized yoga poses, especially for beginners.

Benefits: This pose stretches your hamstrings, glutes, calves, and lower back. It also stretches several muscles in your upper body, including your shoulders and upper back. 

How to do this pose:

  1. Begin on your hands and knees. You can use a yoga mat for support. 
  2. Make sure your hands are directly under your shoulders and your knees are under your hips. Engage your core muscles, too. 
  3. Take a deep breath, press your weight into your hands, tuck your toes under, and lift up off your knees. Your palms should be shoulder-width apart and your heels hip-width apart. Keep your arms straight but avoid locking your elbows. Your legs should be straight as well.
  4. Lengthen your tailbone and spine. Keep your hands pressed into the floor. Your weight should be evenly distributed on both sides of your body. 
  5. Look at your toes. Your body should be in a straight line from your wrists to your shoulders to your hips. 
  6. Unless you’re very flexible, there will likely be some space between your heels and the floor — that’s perfectly OK. Press both heels toward the mat as far as you can without straining; hold this pose for 1 minute. 

2. Warrior II Pose

“Warrior II is the ultimate standing pose for toning and lengthening the muscles in your legs,” said Olney.

Benefits: This strong pose energizes your legs, helps you develop better balance and stability, and stretches your hips and groin muscles.

How to do this pose:

  1. Stand with your feet wider than your shoulders, about 4 to 5 feet apart. 
  2. Turn your right toes out to face the short end of your mat and your left toes forward to face the long edge. Align your front heel with the center of your back instep. 
  3. Deeply bend your right leg while keeping your left leg straight and strong. Keep an eye on your front knee. Notice if it’s extending beyond your ankle or dropping in toward the midline. 
  4. Lift your arms up to shoulder height and extend them out. Keep your gaze over your front middle finger.
  5. Actively press your front knee out. If possible, put a 90-degree bend in your front leg — that deep bend is what helps to lengthen and stretch your groin and inner thigh muscles. If your knee can’t reach that far, don’t worry; just go as far as you can without any pain.
  6. Press down through your front heel and feel your quads, hamstrings, and glutes light up.
  7. Press the outer edge of your back foot firmly into the floor. Notice how your back leg engages more when you seal the outer edge of your foot down. Your calf muscles, quads, and hamstrings are now active.
  8. Hold this pose for 30 to 60 seconds. Reverse your feet and repeat for the same length of time on the other side. 

3. Triangle Pose

Benefits: Triangle pose focuses on stretching and lengthening the muscles in your thighs, hips, and back. You should also feel a good stretch in your hamstrings.

How to do this pose:

  1. Begin in Warrior II Pose, then shorten your stance a tiny bit. Align your heels. Straighten both of your legs. Keep your arms extended wide like in Warrior II. 
  2. Let your hips shift back as you reach your front arm forward and lean into your front leg. 
  3. Bring your front fingertips down to the floor, or rest them on a block placed just inside your front foot. 
  4. Reach your other arm up to the sky, with your shoulders stacked. Gaze up at the top of your hand. If your neck feels strained, focus your gaze down toward your front big toe instead.
  5. Engage your back leg by sealing the outer edge of your back foot against the mat, just like you did in Warrior II.
  6. Hold for up to 1 minute. Reverse the position of your feet and repeat for the same length of time on the other side. 

4. Half Moon Pose

Benefits: This standing pose helps strengthen your quads, glutes, ankles, and core. It also stretches your hamstrings, calves, and groin muscles. 

How to do this pose:

  1. Begin in Warrior II Pose.
  2. Shift your weight into your front leg and lean into it.
  3. Reach your right fingertips down to the floor in front of your toes, toward the pinky toe side of your foot. If it’s difficult to reach the ground, you can place your hand on a block instead.
  4. Spring your back foot off the ground and engage your leg as you lift your foot to the height of your hip. Flex your lifted foot to engage your calf muscles. 
  5. If you’re having trouble with balance, try bending your front leg. This may help make the pose easier for you.
  6. Reach your left arm to the sky and stack your shoulders. Gaze up toward the top of your left hand.
  7. Hold this pose for 30 to 60 seconds, then reverse your feet and repeat for the same length of time on the other side.

5. Sugarcane Pose

If you want to add more challenge and variation to Half Moon Pose, Olney recommends Sugarcane Pose.

Benefits: This variation is a great way to open the hip flexors of your top leg.

How to do this pose:

  1. Start in Half Moon Pose.
  2. Bring your gaze down the tip of your nose. 
  3. Begin to kick your back heel toward your glutes. Bend your front leg to help you balance. 
  4. With your top arm, reach back toward your foot or ankle. You can simply draw your heel in and feel a deep stretch in your quads or, for a more active variation, kick the top of your foot against your hand and create tension. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Switch your legs and repeat for the same length of time on the other side.

6. Bridge Pose

Benefits: Bridge Pose can help strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. It’s also an excellent hip and chest opener.

How to do this pose:

  1. Lie on the floor on a yoga mat or thick blanket, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Keep your arms at your sides. 
  2. Engage your core and glutes, press your feet into the floor, and lift your buttocks off the floor. 
  3. Raise your buttocks until your thighs are parallel to the floor — or as close to parallel as you can get.
  4. Check that your knees are directly over your heels and your body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. This is the top of the position. 
  5. Stay in this pose with your glutes and core engaged for 30 seconds. As you get stronger, increase the hold time to 1 minute. 

7. Waterfall Pose

After you work on the active poses above, Olney recommends a recovery pose.

Benefits: “Waterfall Pose helps to relieve swelling in the feet and legs and is wonderful if you suffer from varicose veins, sciatica, or any condition that causes pain in your legs when you are standing,” she explained.

How to do this pose:

  1. Place a yoga mat or thick blanket on the floor. 
  2. Lie down with your legs stretched out straight and your arms by your sides. 
  3. Bend your knees in toward your chest, then extend both legs up toward the ceiling. Your legs should be touching, and you should flex your feet so the bottom of each foot is facing the ceiling.
  4. Stay in this position for as long as you can maintain the correct posture. 

Safety tips

Yoga — especially beginner poses and sequences, as well as restorative yoga — is usually safe for most people. That said, there are ways to make the practice safer. 

Keep these tips in mind whenever you practice yoga:

  • If you’re pregnant or have any health conditions or injuries, talk with your doctor before starting a yoga program.
  • Listen to your body, and if something doesn’t feel right, stop. Yoga poses shouldn’t cause sharp pain.
  • Remember to keep breathing deeply while you’re holding a pose.
  • Don’t rush. Take your time to find the correct alignment.
  • Don’t bounce while holding a pose.
  • During a straight-leg or bent-leg pose, keep your knee pointed in line with your second toe. 
  • When performing a straight-leg pose, make sure you shift your weight forward toward your toes. 
  • During a bent-knee standing pose, make sure your weight is in your heels. 
  • If needed, use yoga blocks for support and to help you hold a pose for longer.
  • Use a yoga mat or thick blanket for poses that require you to lie on the floor. 

Bottom line

Doing specific yoga poses, like the ones outlined above, may be especially helpful for improving balance, stability, strength, and flexibility in your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles.

Some poses may also help ease leg pain caused by standing.

If you’re new to yoga, be sure to start slowly. Consider working with a yoga instructor to ensure proper form and technique.

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