Carole Baker of The Self Centre shows us how a few yoga poses can improve our body and mind
This month we look again at the power of yoga to bring a sense of strength, balance and ease back to the mind and body. As we head into the last month of winter (YAY!) we need to slowly bring movement back into our bodies and uncurl ourselves from the sofa. Yoga is as much a mindfulness practice as a physical practice as you learn to ‘be’ in the present moment in any pose and you become much more aware of listening to what your body needs to be in a state of ‘ease’ rather than ‘dis-ease’.
If you have never heard of Täo Porchon-Lynch the just recently turned 100-year-old yoga teacher from the USA, then please type her name into Google. She is one of the reasons I recommend anyone take up yoga. My friend recently took part in a yoga workshop she was teaching and asked her what she put her amazing health and energy down to and she replied: “You just need to turn the body upside down once a day!”
Now there is a lot of truth in that, as we have discussed before; if you want fresh oxygenated blood to your brain (reverse the ageing effects of gravity, refresh your brain power) or you want to move the lymph around your body so it will be passed through the lymph glands then an inversion is your best bet. . . and there are plenty more benefits too.
I often get asked if there are some poses that are simple for a beginner to learn and that can be practised at home easily in 10-15 mins?
So here are some suggestions for you to try with the benefits of the poses and the precautions and, of course, two of them are inversions!
Stress relief – mindfulness practice of breath and movement together
Stretches the front torso and neck and releases the lower back
Provides a gentle massage to the spine encouraging it to re-lengthen as much as possible and recreate space between the vertebrae, thereby reducing compression and possible disc issues
Great for pregnancy in releasing stiffness of the spine and encouraging the baby to move into a more comfortable position (from breech presentations!)
With a neck injury, keep the head in line with the torso.
How to try the pose:
Start on your hands and knees in a ‘table top’ position. Make sure your knees are set directly below your hips and your wrists, elbows and shoulders and your fingers are spread wide so the weight is evenly in your hands. Centre your head in a neutral position, eyes looking at the floor.
As you inhale, lengthen your spine lift your sitting bones and chest toward the ceiling, allowing your belly to sink toward the floor. Lift your head to look slightly upward. Maintain length at the back of your neck and keep your shoulders down away from your ears.
As you exhale, round your upper spine (bra strap area) toward the ceiling, making sure to keep your shoulders and knees in position. Release your head toward the floor; gently draw your chin to your chest and tuck your tailbone under (like the dog that’s been told off!)
Repeat lengthening the spine and the breath up to 12 times, slowly lengthening your breath.
Beginners tip: If you have difficulty rounding the very top of the upper back, ask a friend to lay a hand just above and between the shoulder blades to help you activate this area.
DOWNWARD DOG POSE
Calms the brain/helps relieve stress and sends fresh blood to the brain
Energises the body and increases the flow of lymph
Stretches shoulders, hamstrings, calves and spine
Strengthens the arms and shoulders and core muscles
Helps prevent osteoporosis by weight bearing in upper body
Pregnancy: Do not do this pose late-term.
High blood pressure or headache: Support your head on a bolster or block, ears level between the arms.
How to try the pose:
Come onto the floor on your hands and knees. Set your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Spread your palms, index fingers parallel or slightly turned out, and turn your toes under.
Exhale and lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Lengthen your tailbone away from you and lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling, and from your inner ankles draw the inner legs up to your hips and don’t let the arches of the feet drop or the knees collapse in.
Then with an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels down toward the floor. Straighten your knees but be sure not to lock them.
Press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. From these two points lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone. Keep the head between the upper arms; don’t let it hang.
Stay in this pose anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes. Then bend your knees to the floor with an exhalation and rest. Place your head on the floor or a cushion in child’s pose to recover.
Keep your knees very soft and work to extend the length of your spine, rather than bowing through the top of the shoulders to go for straight legs.
To challenge yourself in this pose, inhale and raise your right leg parallel to the line of your torso, and hold for 30 seconds, keeping the hips level and pressing through the other heel. Release with an exhalation and repeat on the left for the same length of time.
If you have difficulty releasing and opening
your shoulders in this pose, raise your hands off the floor on a pair of blocks or the seat of a metal folding chair.
Stretches the chest, neck, and spine
Calms the brain and helps alleviate stress
Stretches abdominal organs, opens lungs, and stimulates thyroid
Strengthens and balances quads and gluts
Therapeutic for asthma, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and sinusitis
How to try the pose:
Lie on your back on the floor, and if necessary, place a thickly-folded blanket under your shoulders to protect your neck. Bend your knees and set your feet on the floor, heels quite close to the sitting bones and hip bone distance apart.
Exhale and, pressing your inner feet and arms actively into the floor, push your tailbone upward, and lift the buttocks off the floor. Keep your thighs and inner feet parallel. Clasp the hands below your pelvis and extend through the arms to help you stay on the tops of your shoulders.
Lift your buttocks until the thighs are about parallel to the floor. Keep your knees directly over the heels, but push them forward, away from the hips, and lengthen the tailbone toward the backs of the knees.
Lift your chin slightly away from the breast bone and, firming the shoulder blades against your back, press the top of the chest toward the chin. Firm the outer arms, broaden the shoulder blades, and try to lift the space between them at the base of the neck (where it’s resting on the blanket) up into the torso.
Stay in the pose anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute. Release with an exhalation, rolling the spine slowly down onto the floor.
If you have difficulty supporting the lift of the pelvis in this pose after taking it away from the floor, slide a block or bolster under your sacrum and rest the pelvis on this support.
Once the shoulders are rolled under, be sure not to pull them forcefully away from your ears, which tends to overstretch the neck. Lift the tops of the shoulders slightly toward the ears and push the inner shoulder blades away from the spine.
Raise the arms above your head and place the back of the hands on the floor above you – if your hands don’t come to the floor just be patient – take your arms a little wider at first; gravity will eventually release your tight shoulders.
FREE HOME PRACTICE VIDEO
If you don’t have time to come to a yoga class/workshop or book a private session then I have created a short home video practice for you – it’s 12-15 minutes long and perfect to start or end your day.
You can find a link to it at facebook.com/carolebakerwellnessadvisor
It’s on YouTube under Carole Baker Health & Wellness Advisor/ Yoga teacher along with lots of other free videos.
The suggestions in this article are the personal opinion of the author. Please do not take any new remedies if you are currently on any medication without the consent of your GP.
Carole Baker is founder of The Self Centre, Bury St Edmunds