If you feel rather sluggish now that the Easter Holidays (and chocolate) have left the building and landed on your waist – why not try a few yoga moves to give you some energy and elongate your muscles? Stand with feet in the correct alignment – knees under hips and ankles under knees. Interlock the fingers and take the arms up overhead turning the palms to face the ceiling. At the same time lift your heels and raise up onto your tip toes. All this happens in tandem with a nice long in breath and on the out breath return the arms and heals back to the starting point. Watch out if you have any shoulder problems – try it without the fingers locked. And if you find the raises give you too much wobbling issue just do the arms bit and try raising the heels when you have a stronger core. This move is called ‘Tadasana’ or sometimes ‘Tadasana with breath’.
The benefits include –
develops your balance
stretches the whole length of the spine
loosens shoulder joints
stretches the stomach area and the abdominal muscles
improves the ankle joint and calf muscle
improves lung capacity
Do 5 – 10 repetitions daily and you’ll soon feel the benefits!
This term we’ll continue our tour of body parts… having explored our FEET, LEGS and HIPS we now move onto the BACK.
We’ll be revisiting the structure of the spine and have a really great sequence of postures that will strengthen and stretch out the back – from the bottom to the top.
At the end of term I will give out the sequence in diagram form so that you can continue to practice at home – I think this sequence is one of the best things you can do to avoid a bad back! Great news for all that gardening that awaits us during this Spring Season.
This is a fabulous all round posture – it’s a balance which improves concentration and co-ordination, back bend which improves posture and breathing and when done dynamically with the breath is energising, warming, clearing the respiratory system and improving circulation. Start with 5 each side increasing to 10 gradually.
Find a space where you can practice – warm, clean and free from furniture/low ceilings.
First take your arms out to the sides and up overhead 3 times slowly. Then place your hands onto your hips and alternate taking the legs back without leaning the body forward 3 or 4 times on each side slowly. This warms up the muscles and IMPORTANTLY ensures that you have enough space around you to work.
To practice Holy Fig Tree dynamically –
Stand tall in Tadasana
Place your weight into your right foot.
Lift your left foot to the back, left arm out to the side and right arm up to the ceiling as you inhale
Return to Tadasna as you exhale.
Repeat x 5, rest for 5 breaths then do 5 on the Left side.
ALWAYS PRACTICE WITHIN YOUR CAPABILITY – IF YOU GET TIRED OR DIZZY THEN STOP
I’m not certain who first said this, but they really do have a point. Keeping the back healthy is so vital to our well being and enjoyment of life that we can’t afford to ignore any niggles or signs that something is wrong.
The spine is made up of 33 individual bones stacked up on top of each other rather like a tube of polo mints. In between these bones (vertebrae) are discs like mini rubber rings filled with fluid. Down the ‘hole’ in this structure runs our spinal cord which is like the body’s ethernet cable with telephone wires leaving this main cable at each intersection in the vertebrae. Whilst this is a very simplified ‘model’ of our spine, it gives us a few things to think about. 33 bones means 33 joints, which means 33 areas for problems to occur. The vast amount nerves running down the and through these joints means they can get easily caught up or trapped and stop working in many different ways. (And unlike your computer there is no such thing as simple as turning it off and on again!)
When the spine is in good alignment with all discs nice and plump and the nerves running freely, the body feels healthy, light and our reflexes (messages travelling through the nerves from all parts of our body) are fast. In short, we feel alive!
What keeps the spine stable, upright and with the right size of holes for the nerves to fit through is the ligaments and muscles of our back and core. What makes your back ache? Having uneven muscles which mean the vertebrae settle out of alignment. Another way to view your spine is like a tent pole – if the guy ropes (muscles) are not working to pull in the different directions then it will bend and break and fall over.
So to keep the spine in optimum condition the ancient yogis devised many practices to move the vertebrae through their comfortable range of movements – forward and back bending, side to side (lateral bending) and twisting. In our yoga and stretch and relax classes the focus is often on a specific theme (this term Big/Small and Feet) however, we always work through these 6 movements of the spine in a gentle and comfortable manner. This is what makes you feel more relaxed at the end of the class 🙂
If you want your back to get stronger, it’s fairly simple really, work a few postures every day. The benefits are too many to relate here, but back ache will be a thing of the past and your posture and breathing will improve enormously. In turn you will feel like eating less food (yes really) because you get more energy from the air that you breathe. Not only that, but also, as you strengthen the muscles they will become more balanced and strengthen your resistance to and recovery from injury. It’s a big win to keep your spine flexible.
On Saturday 24th February I’ll be running a Workshop from 10 – 1 to help people look after their backs. The spine is one of the main focuses of yoga – it is said that you are as old as your spine is flexible…
With this in mind I’ll be concentrating on gentle exercises that students can learn at the workshop to do at home on a daily or as-and-when basic to ease low back pain, strengthen the back muscles and increase flexibility. Yoga is now proven to help people with back ache more than the traditional remedies (painkillers, hot/cold packs).
In a recent trail led by the University of York and funded by Arthritis Research UK of over 300 people, those offered a 12 week yoga course experienced a 30% greater improvement in back function than those offered GP care alone.
Back pain affects 80% of adults in their lifetime. It’s the top reason for a visit to the GP and costs the UK over £5 billion a year as 4.9 million working days each year are lost due to back pain.
Half of the test group were given the yoga option received a book and CD as well as 12 weekly yoga classes. The participants were encouraged to practice at home in between classes and continue regularly once the classes had finished. The other half were treated in the typical GP way with a combination of painkillers, manipulation, hot/cold packs and exercise.
If you, or someone you know, suffers with backache, why not come along and see if yoga can help you. The Workshop will be supported by handouts of a variety of exercises for students to work on at home. Please contact me to book your place.
Did your know that your posture effects the alignment of the spine and this can have a knock-on effect on the nervous system?
As the nerves travel through the spine – down the central cavity and in between the vertebrae – it stands to reason that any misalignment due to injury or bad posture will have and effect on your body and mind.
When the body is in correct alignment there will be less tension and the nervous system will run smoothly, unimpeded as nature intended.
Below is a which indicates problems and their possible sources if nerves become pressured by the spine…
This is only meant to hi-light how important posture and alignment are in our lives – not for self diagnoses or to worry you.
Stretching out the spine in the 6 main directions, as we do in yoga, and awareness of good posture should enable all of us to move with grace and live without pain.
If you want to read more about what goes on inside you… try Spine Universe where you can watch their short video.
If you would like to work on your posture and gain a greater understanding of the spine and how to strengthen the muscles around it, why not come along to my workshop in Ryhall on Saturday 24th February? We will be looking at exercises to do just that – you can see more information here or contact me to see if there is a place.
Twists are great ways to reduce tension in the back muscles and they also help to undo knots in our minds as well… (It’s the yoga magic!) Additional benefits include a wringing action in the soft tissues which squeeze out fluids and then upon release of the twist refill with fresh juices – FEELS GOOD!
Here in pictorial format, I thought I would show you the development of the seated twist from basic to advanced. YOU know where you are on this scale – look out for the key alignment of the spine in all these postures and then work on it yourself. I know I don’t have to tell you – but it is best to feel accomplished in the first posture before attempting the next stage.
If you are able to sit cross legged, this is the best start for a twist. Use your blocks to get comfortable in Sukasana (cross legged) and then place the hand on the opposite knee, breathe in and as you exhale twist the shoulders around and place the finger tips on the floor behind you. Stay for 3 – 5 breaths and then untwist on the inhale. Work both sides. Keep the spine aligned throughout. Cross the legs in the opposite direction now and repeat.
If cross legged is not comfortable then begin in Dandasana with the legs outstretched. (This is also stage 2 if you did work in the cross legged pose.) Cross one leg over the other and hug the knee into the torso with the opposite arm; breathe in, and as you exhale twist the shoulders around and place the fingers on the floor behind you. NB Keep the spine aligned CROWN OVER TAIL BONE it is so easy to lean back but this doesn’t help the twist. Also, if you find this causes lower back discomfort, you can sit on one block.
Keep working on stage 2 until the shoulders comfortably twist into alignment with the outstretched leg. There are a number of different variations with different arms. This is where most people spend time working ( 3-5 breaths for each side is enough in each practice). Gently encourage your spine to twist as you exhale. Keep the spine aligned throughout.
As the twist movement comes with ease, you can begin to bend the outstretched leg. Do the previous version first and then try the new leg position in a 2nd round. Take your time with these advancements – don’t force anything. Breathe and relax the body will stretch over time – and by time I mean months and years.
In the final stage (Ardha Matseyendrasana), the shoulders twist easily around enabling the arms to ‘bind’ underneath the upright knee. The example here shows the spine beautifully aligned and the head twisted around (not as relaxed as the rest of the posture seems though). It is the ease of the legs and arms which your are seeking – this yogi feels relaxed in the posture. A feeling of being in the posture rather than pushing to achieve it – which is what you want to aim for in your practice.
No matter what stage you are at – this is the right stage for you now. Don’t force anything. If you are unsure about what you’re doing – pay attention next time you are in class! Get in early and sit at the front, I regularly demonstrate postures at the beginning of when we practice and then get up and move around the room. If it suits you better, come along for a 1-2-1 in my yoga room, great gains can be made with a few moments spent in preparatory movements to open up a particularly tight area of your body – this can’t always happen in a class environment.
Happy Twisting – and remember spine upright and practice safely x
In the Yogafit classes this term we have been developing a pose called Anjaneyasana – a deep lunge which sinks the hips down and stretches the groin. Ooh-er Mrs! This is extremely beneficial for us all to have a go at – obviously when suitably warmed up and when the time is right – don’t be tempted to spring into this one first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
Whilst it may be obvious that this pose is a hip opener, it would be very easy to argue that most of our work in yoga is opening the hips as there are many muscles that help to move the hip/leg joint.
There are over 20 muscles that cross the hip (the collection of inner thigh muscles known as the adductors, the collection of outer thigh muscles known as the abductors, the hip flexors in front, deep lateral rotators in back, and more), so any movement that stretches any of these muscles could be considered a “hip-opener.”
If you take a closer look at the diagram you will see that some muscles even span through the pelvis and hip joint, actually joining the upper leg bone to the lower back vertebrae. All of the muscles that move the hips can become weak due to a sedentary lifestyle (too much sitting on your ass) and so this puts an increased pressure on the spine as you compensate movements with the back muscles because your hips have become a bit lazy and tight.
Tight hips affect everything from your ability to do Anjayneyasana to simply being able to pick your socks up off the floor. More movement of the hips means more strength in the muscles and more circulation generally in the pelvic area. This will lead to decreased back pain, relief from constipation, decreased menstrual cramps plus opening the hips can create an energetic shift or release as well. The yogic tradition holds the hips as a storage ground for negative feelings and pent-up emotions, especially ones related to control in our lives. Hip-opening can also create space for the birth of new ideas and new pathways….
Opening the hips gives us access to freedom of movement in the body and in our own unique expression — creatively, physically, and spiritually. Enjoy – even simple cross legged pose will do it!