This has been my mantra this week! I am letting uncertainties become labeled as problems when they are only uncertainties. What in life isn't? Yet, when our plate is full or we are questioning our decisions, we go into fetal position and want to hide. So this week I have been teaching and practicing simple abdominal breathing.
This breath exercise is to remind our body of the way we breathed deeply and easily as a child, when our whole lungs filled and moved our diaphragms down so that our stomachs expanded like a balloon when we breathed in and deflated a bit when we breathed out. Sit in a comfortable position, preferably with hips elevated on a blanket or bolster. First, “center” with both hips even, and sit with an erect, but natural spine. Relax your shoulders.Close eyes or have a soft gaze. Breath normally and just notice your breath. Does it feel deep or shallow? Where do you feel it?
This is one of those yogi-in-a-pretzel poses that some might find difficult: those with tight hips, tight psoas, knee issues or shoulder issues. So why do it? Cow Face stretches the hips, thighs, ankles, chest, triceps... just about everything!
For ease in the lower body try sitting on a folded blanket and then crossing legs with ankles tucked to the sides. Be sure knees are stacked. If there is strain on the knees, do this pose reclined, crossing the knees and holding at the ankles. You can always practice the arms separate.
For the arms, use the option of holding a strap between the hands, behind the back, one elbow lifting as the other descends, your hands walking toward each other on the strap. I like to give my lower arm and assist by reaching behind my back, grasping my wrist, helping my hand to reach up my back, then reach up with the opposite arm. Another alternative arm placement that I love is arms in eagle arms, with one wrapped over the other, palms touching. This opens up more the back and shoulder blades instead of the chest. Or simply focus on the lower body, bringing the hands to each ankle.
In any of these positions you can increase the stretch by folding forward in the pose. Don't forget to breathe!
The first warrior pose seems simple at first glance. If done with strength and extension, Warrior I is an excellent pose to find rooting in the lower body, while lifting the ribcage and torso away toward the ceiling. Warrior I can be surprisingly difficult to someone with hip or psoas issues. The “old” cue (that some teachers still use) is to the square your hips to the front of the mat. While the hips are meant to be more forward than not, I find it unnecessary to over torque the hip and put too big a strain on the psoas to get a benefit in the pose. Work where you feel a stretch, pull back if it is too much.
Modifications include keeping your hands at heart center instead of raising them overhead, going deeper or less deeper into your lunge and adding a bit of a back bend. Don't forget to breathe!
The third warrior pose is great for working on balance and core strength. It can be done with arms on a chair or table to start, then next level with arms against a wall or. After these are mastered try arms on blocks in front of you, then move hands to heart center, perhaps next flying arms at your sides, then ultimately extending your arms long in front of you. Lengthen, pushing your heel behind you as you strongly pull in the abdominal muscles.
I love doing Warrior III first with palms on the wall and extending the leg out, practicing the leg extension, leveling the pelvis and engaging the core; then try with your leg against the wall extending the arms out (much more demanding!). Don't forget to breathe!
Virabhadra= the name of a fierce warrior, an incarnation of Shiva, described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, wielding a thousand clubs, and wearing a tiger's skin. Yikes!
One of my favorite poses, Warrior II is accessible to everyone. Regulate how deeply you go in this pose by how deep your lunge is. Be strong in the lower part of the body and rise up in the torso at the same time. Extend the arms, reaching from finger tips to finger tips. Try a variation with arms on a bow, with one arm drawn back, elbow bent, as if you are going to shoot an arrow. Use this pose to balance weight in both legs, strong in the bent leg through the heel and strong in the back leg on the pinky toe side of the foot. Warrior II can easily be done supported in a chair by coming to the front edge of the seat and turning to one side, bending one knee and extending the other. Don't forget to breathe!
Starting in forward fold or downward facing dog, step to lunge. Press into the front foot, especially rooting into the heel as you rise up. Hands can stay in prayer hands or extend your arms overhead. Keep the back heel lifted, letting the lower body sink as the torso and arms rise. Bend as deep into the lunge as your knee stability and quadricep strength allow. A supported version of this pose is to drop the back knee to the ground. I love this pose for the stretch in my ribs and obliques. Don't forget to breathe
Start in a lunge with left knee bent. Drop your right knee to the mat. Extend your arms at shoulder height out to the your side. Open into a twist toward your left knee, keeping your left arm extending behind you at shoulder height and placing your right hand on your left outer knee. Press your knee against your hand and your hand against your knee You can lessen or deepen the twist depending on your body.
This is an excellent stretch in the obliques and the pectorals. Don't forget to breathe!
The intense part of uttanasana (uttāna= "intense stretch") says it all for someone with tight hamstrings. Taking a bit of the stress out of the hamstrings can help you ease into forward bends.
Deeply bending the knees is highly recommended. You can also try Uttanansa with hands on blocks to bring the floor closer. I also like the variation of walking hands forward about 12-15 inches so that you hang as if rounded over a barrel more than a deep forward fold. After several breaths as your muscles relax a bit, walk your hands closer to your feet and come deeper into the fold. Keep a softness in the knees so that they do not lock. Just as in child's pose you want a long back with it's natural curves and arches. Clasp your elbows if it feels good for your body. You can also try stepping feet wider apart. It can take years to get into a deep forward fold. It did for me.
Be patient, be easeful and don't forget to breathe!
To recover from anxiety or grief, take some simple self-care. I like many others feel helpless after mass tragedies. Taking a few minutes of self-care can restore clarity and balance. Share with others. Give hugs.
To set up for this pose simply lie on your back and bend your knees open to the sides. Let the souls of your feet touch. Arms rest at your side, palms up. Variations include using props. Bound angle pose can be hard on the knees so my first recommendation is to put blocks under each knee or add more padding with two bolsters. It is nice to make a recliner under the back with a bolster on a block and a blanket for a pillow. Try any additional propping that feels good until you are fully supported. Hold for 3-5 minutes. Don't forget to breathe.
I made a goal for myself to do a pose a day with variations that you can try, too.
Let's start with something easy: Child's Pose, Balasana. I find people either love or hate this pose. Those with tight hips, psoas or hamstrings and even back issues can find this pose really challenging. Child's pose is intended as a resting pose. Finding something that works for your body can make your practice more easeful. Another area not often addressed in child's pose is shoulders.
Here are some variations I love:
Wide-leg child's pose: Keep your feet close together and let your knees be as wide or wider than your mat, letting your belly sink to the ground. I feel more grounded and supported in this variation. You may find more ease in the shoulder blades and shoulder girdle. You may find more ease in the hips, as I do, or if your hamstrings are tight this might not be the variation for you.
Puppy dog pose: Though some might argue this is another pose, a lot of people that have tight hamstrings find much more ease in puppy pose than child's pose. I always offer puppy pose as an alternative to child's pose during a class. By keeping the hips stacked over the knees, the hamstrings stay more lengthened and the hips find more room. More length may be found in the back. My caution on this variation is the that shoulders float more so if you have shoulder issues, try doing puppy pose over a bolster. You can also so a hybrid of child's and puppy by placing a bolster beneath the hips and thighs.
Elbows bent: Bend the elbows and bring the palms of the hands together behind your head. For me, this brings great ease to my shoulder area.
Props: Experiment with both hands on blocks, a block under your hip or hugging a bolster. Props are a way to help us get even more grounded and more ease in a pose. My favorite version of a restorative child's pose is teddy bear pose. Place a bolster longways on your mat propped up on two blocks, one on each end. Sit at the short end of the mat, folding over the bolster and hugging underneath with your head to one side on the bolster. Hold for 1-3 minutes, then turn your head to the other side and hold.
Remember to breathe!