It seems like all the yoga we do these days is to strengthen our abs and tighten flab, but as we enter the holiday season, we need a great way to relax too. Certain yoga stretches are prime de-stressing tools. But don't start reaching for your toes just yet. Forward bends put a lot of pressure on your back. Stretching while lying on your back is a great way to become more flexible in your legs and hips without putting too much pressure on your spine.
The simplest way to begin is by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Press your belly into the floor as much as possible, but do know that there is a natural curve in your lower back that you should not flatten out all the way. Raise your right leg up to the ceiling and hold your shin, ankle, or foot.
Next, you have a couple of options. If you like, you can straighten your leg and put a towel or strap around your foot to grab onto. Or, if you're not that flexible yet, you may keep your leg straight but hold your leg wherever it feels comfortable. For example, holding the back of your thigh will allow you to get a deep stretch without pushing yourself too hard.
Once you have established your comfortable version of this stretch, check in with the rest of your body. Your head and shoulders should be on the floor completely. If your hand placement has made you lift up off the floor, you're pushing too much. Back off until your head and shoulders can relax back down. Keeping the belly firm, draw the right leg in as far as is comfortable.
The left leg remains bent until you know you are in a good spot. Only then, if you are relaxed and know you can go deeper, do you straighten the left leg onto the floor. If you are doing this, press the left leg totally straight, roll the thigh in, and press the leg into the floor as much as possible. If this feels like too much, go back to the bent knee version.
Hold this reclined leg stretch for 10–30 breaths, or 30 seconds to 2 minutes per side. Dont push, but the longer you hold the pose, the more effective it will be. Release and try the stretch on your other side. This is a great pose to do after cooling down from a run or Spin class, or as you're winding down to go to bed.