Last term we worked on grounding postures including ones which had lots of earth contact and ones that worked especially in the pelvis area. Hopefully this work gave an experience of feeling supported, having strong ground beneath us and good foundations on which to build both stable postures and a stable life. In the last couple of weeks we worked with Janu Sirsasana, a complex forward bend. Read on to learn the benefits of this posture.
Janu Sirsasana (JAH-new shear-SHAHS-anna), may look simple, but it combines elements of a forward fold, twist, and side body stretch. The Sanskrit name translates to ‘Head-to-knee pose’ and it stretches the hamstrings, back, and groin while offering the benefits of a twist, such as massaging and stimulating internal organs. Because it is soothing to the central nervous system, Janu Sirsasana is also a great way to relieve stress in the body and mind.
Due to the intensity of this stretch it’s not advised to practice it on it’s own at home – you do really need to build up to the opening of the hips and lengthening of the back and back of the legs. Also, for this pose especially, it’s good to take your time to prepare with the various modifications we have talked about in class. It’s always best to practice safely – if you fancy some home practice over the half term try the Cat Sequence that was handed out in week 4.
You can also work with the cat and cow postures as detailed in a previous post here
Yoga breathing practices aren’t just for relaxation and helping us to feel calm…
You can literally alter the temperature of your body so that you feel a little more chilled – try it for yourself – it’s easy and may help you to keep your cool in this heat!
If you are able curl up the sides of your tongue to form a tube. Inhale through the mouth – well through you tongue – a feeling of chilled air will hit your mouth and throat. If you find it difficult to roll the tongue then inhale through the teeth – the same effect can be felt.
Draw the breath in nice and slowly, then close the mouth and hold the breath in slightly before breathing out through the nose. Do it 9 times and feel the coolness of the chest.
This practice is known as Sheetali Pranayama – Chill Out and enjoy!
Sit in a kneeling position with the heals rolling outwards and your bottom in the hollow of your feet.
Place the hands on the knees, soften the gaze and breath gently through the nose.
Vajrasana is useful to stretch out the tops of the feet. There are many benefits gained in the pelvis and pelvic floor region to spending 5 minutes or so in this posture. It also engages the muscles of the core and back so that they become used to supporting an upright posture. In time this becomes an effortless position to sit in.
This is a great posture for meditation because the spine is naturally straight. It is also increases the efficiency of digestion as the contents of the abdomen sit in an upright position allowing gravity to help.
Smile and repeat to yourself
“I am fully present in my body, in the light of consciousness”.
Often people find that the feet become cramped and the legs are tight when they first try Vajrasna. Sit for a few minutes to start with – don’t over do it – use a block or folded towel under your bottom. Practice, practice, practice. Be patient with yourself and over time you will become used to the posture. There are many benefits to achieving a comfortable Vajrasana and several other postures begin in Vajrasana so it’s a very good thing to get used to it 😉
Got a question about yoga? Want to know where to put your arm in Trikonasana? How does Downward Dog help your shoulders? Why do we chant OM? In this new series I’ll try to answer all your questions… this one is often asked in the Beginners Yoga class…
What’s the right breathing for Marjariasana (cat and cow postures)?
The Cat and Cow postures begin on all 4s. First off, check that your posture feels solid, that your hands support your shoulders and your knees support your hips. If you feel any discomfort in your knees find a towel and make a soft pad to kneel on. If you feel any discomfort in your hands or wrists, again get a towel and place it under your wrists to see if this helps. If you can’t get comfortable then this exercise is not for you at this time.
When you are set up, visualise your spine like a thick rope with your head at one end and your bottom at the other. With this picture in your mind, begin to notice the breath and the next time you breathe in allow the ‘rope’ to sink down in the centre, then as you breathe out pull the ‘rope’ up wards towards the ceiling at the centre point. Don’t jerk, keep the breath and the movement smooth and continue with each in and out breath to see the rope moving, bending gently down and up.
This is breathing in.
This is breathing out.
When you feel like you’ve had enough, take a rest, sink your bottom down to your heels and support your head either on your arms, hands or the floor. Use your hands to push yourself up to kneeling when you feel ready.
Marjariasana is very beneficial for spinal flexibility and improvement of hand/arm strength. It is one of the fundamentals of yoga and is a great foundation on which many other postures are based. With that in mind it is really good to practice every day for a few rounds, you will then be able to glide gracefully into the plank, down dog, the cobra and many many more postures.
This term our theme of ‘FREEDOM’ will shift from the hips up to the spine. We’ll be working with a number of asana (postures) to free up the different areas of the spine and learning/feeling the difference this can make to how we feel and live our lives.
One of our main postures will be the bridge – which is often cited as the yoga answer to a back massage!
So – if you have a particularly stiff spine or have always wanted to be able to give yourself a back massage, why not sign up for a place and come along???
Classes are one hour long and held at Tinwell Village Hall on Mondays (7.15), Preston Village Hall on Tuesdays (8.00) and Ryhall Village Hall on Wednesdays (6.00).
Step by Step Instructions for Bhujangasana (cobra pose)
Lie on the front of the body, legs straight and soles of feet upwards and forehead or nose on the mat.
Place the palms of the hands (fingers together) on the mat, keeping the upper arms in contact with the sides of the body and the elbows pointing backwards.
Relax the whole body, particularly focus on relaxing the spine and the buttocks.
On inhalation, slowly raise the shoulders, neck and head, using the back muscles to lift. Gently continue to lift pressing the hands down and using the arm muscles.
Be aware that you are using the back muscles more than the arms.
On exhalation, gently lower – again using first the arms and pressure through the hands and then use the back muscles to come down to the ground, to the start position.
Develop the posture with the breath to begin with. When the back is comfortable with the bend try to hold – developing the length of time in the position.
In the final position, the hips and pubic bone remain in contact with the mat and the navel is lifted to a maximum of 3cm. The arms remain soft so that there is no danger of locking the elbows and sinking down in between the shoulder blades.
Regarding the head, opinion is split. I favour feeling length in the back of the neck, but you can and it feels good to you, tilt the chin upwards to curve the cervical spine.
The arch of the spine should feel balanced and smooth, certainly with no ‘tweeks’ or feelings of compression. If this is happening to you, then you need to reduce the arch somewhat and you may need to consider building up strength in your back muscles and flexibility in the vertebral joints with other asana before tackling this posture. If you speak to me in class I can advise what is best for you.
ROLL OUT YOUR MAT ANY TIME FOR A SHORT DAILY PRACTICE TO ENHANCE YOUR VITALITY AND KEEP YOUR SPINE YOUNG! (Remember – always practice within your capability – people with lower back problems or high blood pressure should take extra care and I advise working with an experienced yoga teacher so they don’t worsen the condition.)
1 Gently Swaying Palm Tree
Standing with feet parallel and slightly wider than hip width apart, this gentle side bend begins by inhaling and taking the linked fingers overhead. This deep inhalation helps to lengthen the spine. As you exhale gently bend to one side keeping the feet, knees and hips still – a small bend coming from the waist and keeping the shoulders square to the front of your mat. On inhalation return to standing – thinking all the time about lengthening the spine upwards. Then repeat the motion with the breath to the other side. Practice 3 to 5 times each side.
BENEFITS – lengthens the spine, tones the abdominals and sides of the waist.
Now come down onto all 4s – make a strong box shape. Have the knees aligned under your hips and your hands – fingers stretched out – shoulder width apart but a little in front of the shoulder line. Look down toward your mat and take the awareness to your breath; notice how it feels. Become aware of the breath in and the breath out. Lengthen and deepen the breath, and as you do so, allow the spine to relax. On inhale feel the abdomen and chest filling up as the spine sinks down toward the floor. On exhale draw the abdominals in toward the spine and allow the spine to round upwards towards the ceiling. Keep following the breath with the movement for 6 – 10 rounds.
BENEFITS- increases the lung capacity and flexibility of the spine, strengthens the shoulders, arms and wrists.
3 Downward Facing Dog
From the all 4s, ‘box’, position, come to a neutral spine (neither up nor down). Take an inhale and tuck your toes under and then, on the exhale, lift your buttocks up and back. Keeping the elbow and knee joints soft, prevents hyper extension of the joints. Breath in the posture for 1 or 2 breaths and then on exhale bend knees and return to the box position. Repeat 1 more time. Build up to holding the position for 10 breaths.
BENEFITS- the inversion of the head below the heart will bring fresh blood to the head and face (if you suffer from High Blood Pressure don’t take the head down, you can do this posture against the wall – see this page for more instructions), stretches out the spine and the backs of the legs, builds strength in the shoulders, arms, elbows and wrists.
Sit on the mat with the legs stretched out in front. Feel the sitting bones in contact with your mat. Place the hands on the mat at your sides, as you inhale feel the back long and strong and push gently with the heels away from you. On exhalation relax a little but don’t let the posture collapse. Work up to 10 smooth, long breaths.
Remain in Staff pose. Bring the right foot over the left leg and draw the thigh into the body using the crook of the left arm. Inhale and feel the crown of the head lift up toward the sky, as you exhale turn toward your bent knee and take the right hand to the mat behind you. Feel the twist in the torso, if your neck is comfortable turn the chin around to the right shoulder. Remain in the twist for 3 – 5 breaths and then undo on the inhalation. Repeat to other side.
BENEFITS- detoxifies the body and aids elimination.
Legs-up-the-Wall posture is an excellent way to gently introduce your body to the benefits of the shoulder stand.
These are numerous, but include improved circulation and alleviation of nervous exhaustion. It’s a great pose to rejuvenate a tired body and unsettled mind – great for stress management. You can hold it for up to 5 minutes.
It is safe for everyone to practice; if you wish to experiment adding blocks or folded blankets under your hips, give it a try – adding a little height at a time. Take care as raising the pelvis increases blood to the head and can make some conditions such as high blood pressure and eye problems worse. Also, there are some traditions of yoga that advise against women raising the pelvis during menstruation.
Give me gentle waves of breath to sooth my beating heart
Let my ears have the patience to listen
Let my eyes have softness to accept
Let my mouth have words of encouragement
Let my hands and heart be open
Breathing in, I live in this very moment
Breathing out, I know this is the only moment
Over the summer I took advantage of the fabulous weather and did a photo shoot with the fantastic Lizzie Adams (‘blooming’ photographer of Uppingham). The results were out of this world – such fabulous scenery, sun light and clicking of the shutter!!
Huge big thanks go out to Lizzie – I’ll be working with the images over the coming weeks to update my website and replenish my post cards stocks.
Why not practice a little yoga at home? This asana makes a great morning wake up exercise.
Come onto the floor on all 4s. Ensure you support your hips by having the knees slightly apart and the thighs vertical. Support the shoulders in a similar way by placing the hands underneath or very slightly in front of the shoulders.
Breathe in to first position – allowing the tummy to come down.
As you breathe out contract the tummy, pushing navel up to the spine.
Follow the rhythm of your breath – breathing in allow the abdomen to lower and exhaling squeeze the navel to the spine. Allow the inhale to finish completely before beginning the exhale. Do 5 slow rounds.
Improves flexibility of the whole spine
Strengthens wrists, arms and shoulders
Develops breath awareness and capacity
Avoid straining the wrist – use fists + do little & often
Place padding under knees if they are uncomfortable
Don’t take the head back until you are confident in your neck
Work with ujjayi breath
Add mulabandha at the end of the exhale
Enjoy the asana – do not strain – relax into Shashankasana when you feel ready!