When you're stuck in an afternoon slump or waking up bleary-eyed after a late night, yoga may not be the first thing you turn to for a jolt of energy. But an invigorating Sun Salutation or Virabhadrasana (Warrior II) could be exactly what your body needs to fight fatigue.
"Yoga works on unblocking stuck blocks of energy along the spine. You bring what the yogis call prana, or 'life force,' into the back and all these areas of the body through breath and movement," Vyda Bielkus, yoga instructor and founder of the Health Yoga Life studio in Boston, tells the Huffington Post. "You're moving the circulatory system and awakening the nervous system -- basically bringing new life into the body."
Active poses that stimulate the blood flow through the body -- particularly those that gently stretch the spine -- can help combat fatigue and boost feelings of vitality, and might also help to counter some of the effects of long periods of sitting.
"As we sit throughout the day, the energy in the spine gets stuck and stagnant," Bielkus says. "So when we elongate the spine, it energizes the nervous system. That's why the back bends are so invigorating. And when you're moving in a back-bending way, you're also bringing more emphasis to the heart and opening up the chest muscles, which really opens up the body."
Consider these 10 poses your yogic espresso shot -- a quick, effective way to give you the boost of energy you need in the morning or throughout the day.
Half Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara)
Sun Salutation sequences are traditionally performed as a way to awaken the body. "This is great to do upon rising, even before you have had your first cup of coffee," Bielkus says. To perform the sequence, stand up straight in <a href="http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/492" target="_blank">Mountain Pose</a> (<em>Tadasana</em>) with the feet together and arms at the side of the body with open palms. Sweep the arms up and extend them over the head on the inhale, then exhale and bow forward into a forward bend. On the inhale, lift the torso halfway up, place your hands at your shins and extend the spine. Fold forward again on the exhale. When you inhale, sweep back up and bring the palms together into prayer. Repeat this sequence three or four times. <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LPLwC4pRzk" target="_blank">Click here </a>for a video tutorial.
Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
The gentle heart-opening stretch of the camel pose -- performed either with the hands on the lower back or reaching down to touch the heels -- can be highly invigorating for the entire body. "Camel is great because it's a total front-body opener," Bielkus says. "You have the front of the legs moving forward. ... The core is stretching and the torso is lengthening up. The chest is really opening and expanding so that the lungs can expand full of breath."
Warrior II Pose (Virabhadrasana II)
"This pose combines both leg strengthening and mild back bending, bringing energy into the body," Bielkus says. "Just like the name suggests, this pose awakens the warrior within -- power and strength, but with ease." <a href="http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/495" target="_blank">Click here for basic Warrior II instructions</a>, and try adding what Bielkus calls the "breath of fire" for an extra energy boost. "A great way to rev up this posture is to add in breath of fire -- rapid belly breath, focusing on the exhalation," Bielkus says. "To start, take a deep breath in and then pump the navel in as you exhale. The inhale will take care of itself."
Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
After Warrior II, try going into a restorative Triangle Pose. Straighten the front knee and extend the arm forward and then down to the shin, the floor next to the leg, or a block. Reach the other arm up and turn to face the sky, breathing deeply for five breaths, Bielkus advises. Then, repeat on the other side. "This pose is about fully expanding not contracting," Bielkus says. "Focus less about stretching and more about expanding and bringing breath and energy to every cell, every skin pore, every fiber of your being."
Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
For the whole body-strengthening Side Plank, start in a plank pose. Turn to the right side, stacking the feet on top of each other, and lifting the left hand. Breath deeply for five breaths before repeating on the other side. If you're looking to modify the pose, Bielkus suggests bringing either the bottom knee or the forearm down to the ground. "Yoga brings our mind to a oneness and a focused attention," Bielkus says, regarding the balancing poses. "The more that we're coming into a mental clarity or focus, the less energy we're expending on that stress. The cortisol levels can drop and then we feel a little more energized."
Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
The dynamic Chair Pose is performed by standing with the feet together or hip-width apart, and bending the lower body down as if you were sitting on a chair. Raise the arms to the ears and raise the chest up to complete the pose. "This pose is literally translates from Sanskrit as 'powerful' pose," says Bielkus. "Sometimes in class, I refer to it as lighting bolt pose because [of] the amount of energy it creates in the body by using the big muscles of the legs and glutes while also creating a slight backbend, which awakens the spine."
Half-Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)
In addition to warding off stress and anxiety, the Half Moon Pose can be therapeutic for fatigue, <a href="http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/784" target="_blank">according to <em>Yoga Journal</em></a>. In a forward fold, bring the right hand about 10 inches in front of you and slightly to the right, extending the left leg up while the hips and torso open. Extend the left arm up and hold the pose for five breaths before repeating on the other side. "Any balancing poses are great for finding that inner balance," Bielkus says.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
"Back bends are all about unlocking the energy of the spine and nervous system," Bielkus says. Lying on your back, bend the knees and place your feet flat on the floor with arms by your sides. Lift the hips up high and interlace the hands together or leave the arms at the sides of the body. Breathe deeply for five breaths and repeat several times.
Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
For this strengthening pose, lie on your belly with arms by your side and palms down. Then, gently lift the arms, legs, chest and head off the floor and breathe deeply for five breaths, trying to lift up higher with each breath. Repeat three or four times, being careful not to strain the neck. For more of a challenge, extend the arms in front of you, as pictured at left. "You're really stimulating the upper, middle and lower back, and the muscles of the hamstrings are engaging" Bielkus says. "You're using so many muscles in the body to lift yourself off the earth. The neurons are firing to make that all happen."
Right Nostril Breathing (Surya Bhedana)
This energizing <em>pranayama</em> (breathing exercise) offers a counterpoint to the calming <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/30/yoga-for-sleep_n_3505226.html#slide=2629257" target="_blank">left nostril breath</a>. To perform the exercise, sit upright in a chair or on the floor in a comfortable cross-legged position, blocking the left nostril with the thumb and extending the fingers. Breathe long and deep, in and out of the right nostril for around five minutes, Bielkus advises. "The right nostril is associated with the energy of the sun," Bielkus says. "This breath is stimulating, invigorating and awakening."