Friday, October 29, 2010

Opening & Release: Part 2 - Back

Today's entry is Part 2 of our 4-Part Opening & Release Series. The focus of this home yoga practice is your back.

The Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana) is a basic yoga posture that help you to find and feel relief in your lower back. It can also help with release of tension in your neck and shoulders.

Start by standing in Mountain Pose. Stand very tall with a lengthened spine to begin the process of creating space in your back. Inhale to extend your arms overhead. this is Extended Mountain Pose. Hold this pose for 3-5 breaths. This, too, will continue that lengthening process.

Inhale again to grow even taller then Swan Dive forward and downward. Feel free to keep your knees bent as much as you need to. By bending your knees, you will be able to main a flat back as you descend forward to touch your toes. At the end of the picture with your hands or finger tips touching the ground, your back will curve naturally. In this posture with gravity assisting you, you may experience a delightful stretch rough your lower back. Allow your head to hang heavily, too. This will help to release any tightness you may be holding in your neck and shoulders. If it feels good, gently twist left and right to add more of a release sensation in your low back and hips.

To ascend, lift your head and extend forward to re-lengthen your spine. Complete a full inhale to return to a standing posture with your arms over head. Exhale to bring your arms down to your sides. Repeat this sequence one more time.

If you need more relief to your back, repeat the home practice described in the "Back Massage" blog entry.

Be sure to provide feedback by posting a comment. Thank you and Namaste.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Opening & Release: Part 1 - Hips

Where in your body do you hold most of your tension? Your shoulders? Your neck? Back? Hips? Maybe in all of these places, right?

For the next four blog entries, we will focus on these four areas of your body to help relieve tension and tightness. We will start with your hips. Pigeon Pose, described below, is a fantastic hip opener.

Pigeon Pose
Come to you hands and knees on your mat. Starting with your right side, gently slide your right knee toward your right wrist. Once your knee is touching your wrist, move it slightly to the right of your wrist. If you are able, guide your right foot closer toward to the top of your mat until your bent leg forms a 45 degree angle. If you happen to have more flexibility, perhaps you can align your right shin so it is parallel to the front edge of your mat.

Next, extend your left leg straight out behind you. To deepen the pose, use your knee and your toes to extend that leg farther back. You will experience a deep stretch in your inner right thigh, outer hip, and glute. Moving slowly, lower your heart down toward your right leg. This, too, will deepen the pose. Hold for 10 to 20 breaths. To release the posture, rise back up to your hands, bring your left leg forward, then return to your hands and knees. Repeat the sequence on the other side.

If this pose is too stressful on your knees, here is an alternative way to experience a similar stretch. Lie flat on your back, knees bent with your feet flat on the floor. Cross your right ankle over your left knee (actually just below the knee). With your right hand, gently push the right knee away from you. You may experience sensation in your right glute as a nice stretch. This will also open the hip. To add more sensation to this pose, lift your left foot and draw that knee toward your chest. Continue to gently push the right knee away from you. Hold for at least 10 breaths and repeat the sequence on the other side.

Complete your practice by lying in Savasana for 3 to 5 minutes. Use this restorative posture to continue the intention of tension release.

Our hips tend to hold a lot of emotional stress and tension. Use this practice to help find emotional relief and relaxation.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Back Massage

Fall is here. We are entering a season of change. The leaves of the trees are turning colors and they are already falling from their limbs. Have you begun to rake up those dropped leaves yet? A typical Fall day chore, right? For some reason, raking leaves makes me think of the back muscles: the bending, the pulling, the twisting, the repetitive motion. Or how about those that work in a job where one sits at a desk all day. I think of the many software designers, secretaries, or teachers that find themselves glued to a desk chair staring at computer screens, spreadsheets, or Timmy’s history assignment hunched over their work. Or perhaps you work in a job where you stand all day. One of my yoga students is an anesthesiologist and he finds himself standing for up to 18 hours a day. I can’t help but think with these professions...what is happening to their backs?

This home yoga practice will focus on finding release in the back. We find ourselves in a constant state of "forward folding:" sitting, bending, etc. This, among other things, can cause stress, tension, and tightness in the back. Let's find a way to counter that state of the body to find release and opening. We will focus on two simple poses that flow from one to the other...

Cat Pose and Cow Pose

Start by coming to your hands and knees on your yoga mat. Feel free to place a blanket underneath your hands and knees to relieve any tension on your joints. Be sure your wrists are directly underneath your shoulders and your knees are underneath your hips. With an inhale, lift and head and heart toward the sky. At the same time, arch your back creating a U-shape with your back. Further, tilt your pelvis back toward the wall behind you. This is Cow Pose. As you exhale, tuck your pelvis drawing your navel up toward your spine. you will create a bow shape with your back as you round it. Finally, your chin will tuck in toward your chest. This is Cat Pose.

Continue to move between these two poses. Focus on each breath and the flow of the body. See if you can initiate movement with the breath. That is, start the inhale first, then begin to move your body. Likewise with your exhale. Further, see if the tail-end of your body can be the first body part that moves as you initiate the breath. For example, begin the exhale, then tuck the pelvis creating the rounded back.

As you move through this fluid sequence, you may experience an undulation of the spine, I like to think that you are giving yourself a gentle spinal massage with this simple flow. Perform this vinyasa flow 5-10 times. Finish your practice in Child's Pose.

Hopefully, with this practice, you will have experienced a release and an opening of your entire back.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Sit In Your Perfect

Take a look in the mirror. Do you like what you see? I hope you do. You are beautiful. You are handsome. You are amazing! Do those words sound foreign to you? They shouldn’t! Because they are true.

Sometimes we look at ourselves and become our own worst critics: I’m overweight. I have blotchy skin. I’m too short. My hair is going gray. (Shall I go on?)

We forget about the beauty that we possess inside and out. We forget that we are only human a human experience, capable of making mistakes, but also capable of accomplishing great things. We sometimes forget about our gifts, traits, and talents: I’m organized. I can play the flute. I can make a mean pumpkin pie!

In spite of our perceived flaws....we are perfect. YOU are PERFECT! You are the way you are supposed to be. Media likes to tell us differently; we need to be someone or something else. Turn off the television!

Let’s take a moment in our yoga practice today to remember the reality of your perfection.

Take a seat on the floor. You will move into what is called Perfect Pose. It’s like sitting in a cross-legged position, but you will place one leg in front of the other or stack one leg on top of the other rather than interlacing the legs (see picture).

The Sanskrit word for Perfect Pose is Siddhasana. Siddha means Semi-Devine Being with Great Sanctity. The posture gets its name because the person performing the pose attempts to emulate a sage who is perfect or a prophet who is accomplished. (That sounds just like YOU.)

This pose is suitable for a seated meditation which is what you’ll do for your home yoga practice. As you sit in Perfect Pose, begin your deep yoga breath to bring awareness and focus to your inner self. Call to mind all your positive traits, talents, and qualities. Name the things you like and love about yourself. Even bring to mind events or circumstances in your life that made you proud and smile (e.g. job promotion, graduation.) Sit in your perfection. If negative thoughts, ideas, or beliefs enter your consciousness, take a deep Ujjayi breath to clear that thought from your Being. That is NOT your TRUE SELF. Only bring to mind those positive aspects and features of yourself. Remain here for 3-5 minutes.

After this practice, return to the mirror and say THREE POSITIVE things about yourself OUTLOUD. Then smile.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Work & Rest

What does a typical day look like for you: out of bed, rush through breakfast (piece of toast and slurp of coffee), feed the kids, drive them to school, off to work for a full day of meetings and deadlines, pick up the kids, run to the grocery store, prepare a quick meal at home, watch the evening news, then off to bed. Then you get to get up the next day and do it all over again....right?

With this type of daily routine, you may start to feel you’re running on empty. How do you regain the energy you need to get through each busy day? Are you eating enough? spending enough time with your family? spending enough time with yourself?

With a busy schedule like this, one sure prescription is rest....Yes, rest! Sit down....relax.....take a nap...sleep 8 hours a night. Are you offering yourself these luxuries?

In the yoga practice, we move through a series of poses. We bring stress, tension, and sensation to the body. At the end of the practice, what is the one pose that is always performed? Savasana. Corpse Pose. This is the time to rest, relax, and acknowledge the hard work you have put into the last 50-80 minutes. One intention of the yoga practice is to work through the tension and stresses of the body so that you can sit and meditate without bodily distractions.

Perform this yoga sequence at home to practice the gift of rest at the end of your hard work.

Start in Mountain Pose and perform 5 to 10 Sun Salutations. This may take some time to do. You will generate heat in your body, muscle fatigue perhaps, and even sweat. After your flow, come to Corpse Pose and remain here for at least 10 minutes. Give your body (and breath) an opportunity to find ease and relaxation.

Remember this sequence as you walk through your daily routines. Find times throughout the day to take at least 3-5 minutes of rest time: take a walk outside, sit still in your office, doing a breathing meditation in your car before picking up the kids, go to bed early and get at least 8 hours of sleep. Your body, mind, and spirit will appreciate the gift of rest.