When we think of our physical health, we often focus on what we can see. We use our size and weight as a barometer of how healthy we are. While our weight can give us some useful information, there is SO much more going on in our bodies – we tend to give less importance to what we can feel.
How many of us have dismissed recurring headaches as nothing more than an annoyance? Or that pain in your shoulder you keep meaning to get looked at by a doctor? Or maybe your digestion isn’t as it should be, but you’re too busy getting on with life to pay much attention? We have become experts at ignoring pain and discomfort until it becomes normalised and a part of our everyday lives.
In fact, poor circulation is what tends to get the least of our attention, and is often connected to the issues at hand. Its main symptom is a feeling of pins and needles in our fingers or toes. A few minutes of discomfort, and then we’re back to normal. No big deal, right?
Symptoms: signs you have poor circulation
If left unchecked, poor circulation can develop into a bigger issue (1) so don’t ignore the signs! When blood travels throughout the body, it provides oxygen and nutrients to your organs, therefore when you have poor circulation, your organs don’t get everything they need to function at 100%. You can end up experiencing a huge range of issues and symptoms, including:
• Digestive problems such as cramping, diarrhoea and constipation
• Cognitive problems including memory loss and difficulty concentrating
• Low energy levels and fatigue
• Joint pain and muscle pain in the arms, hands, legs and feet
• Tissue damage and blood clots
How to improve blood circulation naturally
The great news is that improving your circulation doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t involve any weird procedures. The benefits of improved circulation include increased concentration, healthy looking skin, high energy levels and much more – so how can we stop putting it off? Simply, you can start to improve your blood circulation right now with nothing more than a yoga mat.
Yoga for blood circulation
As a Good Zing reader, you’re probably no stranger to the vast benefits of yoga. The ancient practice is good for the mind, body and soul. It has been scientifically proven to promote healthier eating habits, reduce stress and anxiety and improve strength and flexibility (2).
While studies are still in their infancy, there is more and more evidence emerging that yoga can also improve circulation. Some postures help to relax the muscles surrounding sympathetic veins, allowing blood to flow more easily. Others, namely inversions, use the power of gravity to help blood flow.
Yoga is also an excellent choice because it’s a low impact exercise which can be adapted for all levels, and you can start in the comfort of your own home. Event 10 minutes a day can make a difference to your circulation and your overall wellbeing.
The majority of yoga poses are easy to understand and safe to practice at home for beginners. But, while yoga really is for everyone, some postures are more complex and have a higher risk of injury if done incorrectly. These should not be practiced at home by beginners, as they should be learned under the watchful eye of a teacher.
We’ve put together some yoga poses for better circulation below, and indicated which are not suitable for beginners so you can practice in confidence!
Once you have tried these out, there are tons of videos online which you can practice along to – just search ‘yoga for circulation’ and you’ll find plenty to choose from.
Yoga poses for better circulation for beginners
The below is a full sequence for yoga for better circulation, however, you can pick and choose which poses to try, change the order around or even do it backwards if you want!
If at any point you feel dizzy or unwell while practicing, just come to child’s pose and breathe deeply until you feel better.
A note on breathing: throughout the sequence, breathe deeply through your nose. Breathe into your abdomen rather than your chest and try to keep your inhales and exhales an equal length.
1. Child’s Pose. Level: BEGINNER
• Step 1: Start on your hands and knees in tabletop position. Your wrists should be directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.
• Step 2: Open your knees out wider, as wide as your mat if possible.
• Step 3: Push your hips back towards your heels and drop your forehead down towards the mat.
• Step 4: Relax your body and take 5-10 deep breaths here.
• Tip: Your hips may not touch your heels, and that’s totally fine! But do make sure your forehead is touching the mat so that you can fully relax into the posture.
• How does Child’s Pose improve circulation? Your hips are above your head, encouraging blood flow towards your head.
• Transition: Lift yourself back into your tabletop position.
2. Downward Facing Dog. Level: BEGINNER
• Step 1: Tuck your toes under.
• Step 2: Press into your hands and your toes to lift your knees off the mat.
• Step 3: Straighten your legs as much as is comfortable, pointing your hips up towards the sky so that you’re in an upside down ‘V’ shape.
• Step 4: Spread your fingers wide and keep pressing into the centre of your palms. Look towards your belly button or the tops of your thighs.
• Step 5: Press your heels towards the floor.
• Step 6: Take 5 deep breaths here.
• Tip: Don’t worry if your heels don’t come all the way down to the mat!
• How does Downward Facing Dog improve circulation? This is an inversion, so your hips are above your heart, and your heart is above your head. This means that gravity can aid the flow of blood to your head (which usually happens against gravity).
• Transition: Step your right leg between your hands. Raise your upper body and stretch your hands up towards the sky. This is called high lunge.
3. Warrior 2. Level: BEGINNER
• Step 1: Swivel your back foot so that the sole of your foot is on the floor and your toes are pointing towards the top corner of your mat.
• Step 2: Open your arms out so that they are parallel to the floor. Keep your shoulders relaxed
• Step 3: Keep a deep bend in your front leg but ensure your knee doesn’t go past your ankle. If it does, step your foot further forward. Your back leg should be straight.
• Step 4: Keep your torso opened out to whichever side you are facing, but turn your head to look over your front hand.
• Step 5: Take 5 deep breaths here.
• How does Warrior 2 improve circulation? This pose causes your leg muscles to contract and relax repeatedly. This produces a pump-like effect, encouraging circulation.
4. Triangle. Level: BEGINNER
• Step 1: Straighten your front leg so that now both of your legs are straight.
• Step 2: Keeping your arms raised, reach forward with your front hand, leaning your upper body forward.
• Step 3: Swivel your arms so that they are now perpendicular to the floor. Your front arm is now pointing downwards, with your hand resting on your shin. Your back arm is now reaching for the sky.
• Step 4: Look up at your top hand.
• Step 5: Keep your chest open to the side and your arms should form a straight line.
• Tip: For an extra challenge, instead of resting your hand against your shin, press the back of your hand against your leg to help you open your chest more.
• How does Triangle improve circulation? This pose causes your leg muscles to contract and relax repeatedly. This produces a pump-like effect, encouraging circulation.
• Transition: After you’ve completed the right side, bring your hands down to the mat and step back into your downward facing dog. Step your left foot between your hands and repeat Warrior 2 and Triangle on the other side.
Once you’ve finished both sides, lift your upper body up and step your back leg to the front, so that you’re standing at the front of your mat. Bring your hands into prayer position at the centre of your chest.
5. Forward Fold. Level: BEGINNER
• Step 1: Stand with your feet together or if you are new to yoga or have any lower back problems, have your feet apart, directly below your hips.
• Step 2: Bend your knees gently and fold your upper body forwards.
• Step 3: Drop your hands towards the floor and let your upper body hang heavy.
• Step 4: Look towards your belly button.
• Step 5: Take 10 deep breaths here.
• Tip: If your hands don’t quite touch the floor, you can bend your knees more until they do – or just let them hang towards the ground.
• How does Forward Fold improve circulation? This posture increases the flow of blood to your pelvic area.
• Transition: Place your hands on the floor and step back into downward facing dog. Drop your knees to come into a tabletop position.
6. Headstand. Level: EXPERIENCED
• Step 1: Drop your elbows to the mat, directly under your shoulders, and clasp your hands together.
• Step 2: Place the crown of your head on the mat so that the back of your head is in contact with your hands.
• Step 3: Tuck your toes and press into them to straighten your legs, lifting your hips towards the sky.
• Step 4: Walk your feet forwards to bring your hips directly over your shoulders.
• Step 5: Continually press your wrists and forearms into the ground to relieve pressure from your head and neck.
• Step 6: Raise your legs straight up into the air so that your whole body is in a straight line.
• Step 7: Stay here for 10 breaths.
• Tip: If you find it difficult to raise your legs straight up, first lift them into a tucked position with your knees close to your chest and then straighten them from there.
• How does Headstand improve circulation? This is an inversion, so your hips are above your heart, and your heart is above your head. This means that gravity can aid the flow of blood to your head (which usually happens against gravity).
• Transition: Come back into your tabletop and then push back into child’s pose. From here roll up to sit on your heels. Shift your hips onto the floor and swivel your legs straight out in front of you.
7. Seated Head to Knee. Level: BEGINNER
• Step 1: Bend your right leg so that the sole of your foot is pressing into your left thigh and your knee is falling outwards.
• Step 2: Raise your arms towards the sky as you inhale, then fold over your left leg as you exhale.
• Step 3: Hold onto your foot, shin or thigh - but never your knee - and relax into the posture, dropping your head towards your knee.
• Step 4: Stay here for 5-10 breaths.
• Tip: This is a passive pose so don’t try to pull your upper body down - just relax and breath into the posture.
• How does Seated Head to Knee improve circulation? This pose improves circulation to the extremities.
• Transition: Straighten both your legs in front of you and lower your upper body down onto the mat.
8. Shoulder Stand. Level: EXPERIENCED
• Step 1: Bend both your knees so they are pointing towards the sky.
• Step 2: Rock your hips up and bend your arms so that your elbows are on the mat and your hands are supporting your hips.
• Step 3: Shuffle your elbows inwards so they are better supporting your weight, and walk your hands further up your back, towards your shoulder blades.
• Step 4: Once your upper body is in position, stretch your legs towards the sky.
• Step 5: Keep your legs squeezed together and your pelvis tucked.
• Step 6: Stay here for 10 breaths.
• Tip: Don’t move your head or neck while you’re in shoulder stand.
• How does Shoulder Stand improve circulation? This is an inversion, so your hips are above your heart, and your heart is above your head. This means that gravity can aid the flow of blood to your head (which usually happens against gravity).
9. Alternative to Shoulder Stand: Legs Up the Wall. Level: BEGINNER
• Step 1: Move next to a wall and lie with your back on the floor and your knees bent.
• Step 2: Shuffle your hips as close to the wall as possible.
• Step 3: Straighten your legs so that they are resting against the wall. If your hips are not already touching the wall, shuffle them closer.
• Step 4: Relax your arms by your side with your palms facing upwards and close your eyes.
• Step 5: Stay here for 10 breaths.
• Tip: You can put a pillow under your hips to elevate them slightly, increasing the benefits of the posture.
• How does Legs Up the Wall improve circulation? Blood flows from the lower part of your body towards the heart.
• Transition: Let your legs fall to one side and then shuffle away from the wall so you can lie flat.
10. Savasana. Level: BEGINNER
• Step 1: Separate your legs as wide as your mat and let your toes fall outwards.
• Step 2: Rest your hands by your side away from your body with your palms facing upwards.
• Step 3: Scan your body and try to relax every muscle.
• Step 4: Close your eyes.
• Step 5: This is where you end your practice so you can stay here for as long as you like!
• How does Savasana improve circulation? The body becomes completely relaxed in this posture, improving the flow of blood through the body.
Whether you regularly experience symptoms like pins and needles or simply want to do what you can to improve your health and wellbeing, practicing these poses is a great place to start! With nothing more than a mat and a quiet place to practice, you’ll feel more relaxed and more energised all at once and maybe feel the benefits of improved circulation faster than you expected.