In the U.S., much emphasis is placed on attaining a "tight" body via exercise. Even within the more mental and spiritual arena of yoga, the phrase "tight is light" is thrown around with abandon. However, approaching exercise from this perspective seems to supply only half the equation our bodies need. Ironically, the more I engage in yoga, the more I find that it's not necessarily becoming tight that helps our body as much as loosening our joints, ligaments, etc. which can deliver enjoyable and long lasting benefits. In general, finding the space between our joints and muscle fibers serves as the yin to their contracted and uptight yang. So while we may not be able to escape the painful aspects of exercise that make us tight, we can practice postures and exercises which balance us out and make us loose and more relaxed. A few of my favorite postures from the Bikram yoga series which can help in such endeavors lie below.
Standing Head to Knee Pose: In Muladhara, I talked about my strong distaste for standing head to knee. To be honest, it just friggin' sucks... likely because I'm not the most flexible of yogis. While most people use exercise to tighten, I more and more use my routine to loosen joints wound tight enough through stress and anxiety. However, at the beginning of head to knee, there exists a moment in which you can truly feel your joints (read: shoulders) loosen in the most satisfactory way.
Rabbit Pose: I was originally going to go with (the much easier) half-tortoise pose when moving down from the shoulders to a stretch which would loosen the joints in the back. However, as I came to realize, half-tortoise, an intuitive pose you've likely done since childhood (see: child's pose), stretches the shoulders more than the vertebrae of the spine. As such, I was forced to go with rabbit pose, a more difficult but ultimately more "loosening" stretch for one's back. To begin, one sits "Japanese-style" with their knees bent and their bum on their feet. Gripping one's heels with their hands, the head moves down to the floor while the hips move up towards the sky. In a much more lucid explanation, (and one necessary to watch since rabbit pose can do some damage if preformed incorrectly), the video offers more step-by-step instructions on the posture. Either way, "rabbit" provides a method by which one can feel the muscles stretch away from each other (and the spine) in the back, allowing blood and nutrients to flow through one of the most vital parts of the body.
Half-Moon: As we descend down the body from shoulders to back to hips, we seem to ascend the pain scale in regards to associated postures. The last posture from the Bikram series which can be applied to the loosening of the joints is half-moon pose. While I've always had a distaste for standing head-to-knee, half-moon pose was one I found to increasingly dislike as I increasing engaged in yoga. Standing tall with one's hands clasped over one's head, the warm up is easy enough as one moves from side to side, creating an invisible arc with their arms. The real pain, however, begins with the real posture. Stretching upwards towards the sky, one arches over to their right, holding the pose at their maximum ability from 30-60 seconds. Such action is then repeated on the left before moving backwards and forwards with the arms. However, painful the posture is (however) the benefits after are amazing. Able to pinpoint the location at which the muscles stretch away from the hips, the pose stretches the entire side of your torso, essentially making you look taller afterwards. Perhaps it's a placebo effect but the pain of the posture is worth the feeling afterwards. For further explanation, please see the following video.
So there you have it... several poses to stretch the important cross-sections of your body without attending an entire yoga class. Done in the morning, such postures can deliver an extra eye (and joint) opening effect as we wake not only our minds but our bodies from their gentle slumber (ha!). However, whichever time you choose to engage in such postures, try to find the "space between" events in your day to get'em did.