This week we celebrate the summer solstice-the official start of the summer season. What a great time to learn about how to cool down the body with a yoga breath called Shitali Pranayama. It is the cooling breath that not only calms the body but also the mind and it's fun to do! Here's how:
1. Roll your tongue into a tube and extend it out of your mouth. If you can't roll your tongue, you can breathe through a small opening in your lips.
2. Inhale through the tube and feel the cool breath inside. Hold for 4-5 seconds.
3. Place the tongue behind the teeth and exhale. You can use Ujjayi Pranayama through the nose or some people like to audibly exhale through the teeth. Repeat 5-10 times.
You can watch the YouTube video here.
Ahh, spring time! Time to get our bodies ready for summer sandals and flip flops. Are you ready to unveil your feet to the world? And, more importantly, are your feet ready for walking barefoot or being in less supportive shoes? Here are some yoga poses to help.
Thunderbolt pose (Vajrasana)
- Find a wall space. Sit with your back towards the wall. You can use your yoga mat as a cushion.
- Kneel and sit back on your heals with the tops of your feet in contact with the floor. Your soles will stretch and curve into a good arch underneath you. Keep your big toes and heals together so there is not a gap or space between the feet. If the front of your ankles are not flexible enough to rest confortably on the floor without a space, use a small towel to roll into a tight tube shape to place underneath, and gradually use smaller cloths until you no longer need this prop.
- Sit with your back and spine straight but not tense. You can use the wall to help. Let your spine lengthen upward without forcing it. Imagine a string attached to the top of your head up to a bunch of helium balloons. Inhale, relax and balance, then on the exhale allow your spine to lengthen and straighten, stretching gently upward.
- Start with about 2 minutes gradually increasing to 5 minutes.
- From a squat position, knees bent, place your hands on your mat in front of your feet.
- Slowly rock forward onto the soles and balls of the feet, lifting the heels upward.
- Rock back and forth at your own pace, massaging the bottom of the feet and gradually increasing the stretch in the heels and calf muscles.
- Kneel down on the floor with knees hip width apart. Use your yoga mat as a cushion and the wall to support your back.
- Curl your toes under and sit back on your heels.
- Lengthen the spine upward. Breathe and relax.
- Hold the pose for 2-5 minutes and relax.
- Strengthens the soles
- Helps prevent plantar fasciitis
- Develop strength and flexibility equally around the ankles
- Great for runners, walkers, gardeners as a warm up or cool down
This week we will continue our series with an emphasis on legs. The first is Pose of the Dancer (Natarajasana).
- Start by facing the wall and extend your right arm to the wall for support.
- Inhale and bend the knee of the left leg, bringing it backwards and grab hold of the ankle or foot with the hand of the same side. Take a moment to balance and then move the knees so they are in alignment with the hip joints. Hold here and breathe into the stretch from the abdominal muscles into the quadriceps.
- Inhale and extend the right arm directly up from the shoulder, towards the sky. Feel the energy move all the way through the fingertips. Hold here for several breaths. You may want to remain in this phase of the posture and work up to the final pose.
- To move further, simultaneously lengthen the arm and torso up and forward while the opposite leg lengthens back and up. In the final posture the thigh becomes parallel to the floor and the torso at an angle to the floor.
- Return to start. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain) for a few breaths before trying the other side.
- From Mountain pose, face the wall and step the right foot a foot lengths forward and shift all of your weight onto this leg.
- Inhale the arms over your head. As you exhale, lift the left leg up and out, hinging at the hips to lower the arms and torso down towards the floor, using the wall to support the arms.
- Look down at the floor and stare at a point for balance. Reach out through the left toes and the crown and fingers making one straight line. Breathe and hold for 2-6 breaths.
- Lower the left leg to the floor and stand in Mountain. Repeat on the other side.
- Releases tension in the angle and foot, helping to prevent injury
- Develops a sense of balance and focus
- Opens the chest and lungs, creating more space for the breath
- Strengthens spine and entire leg
- Stretches thighs, shoulders
- Improves balance, memory, and concentration
Continuing with our great wall of yoga series, we've already gone over how to relax your shoulders and lengthen your torso. This week we will concentrate on your abdominal region. The benefits go beyond looking good in a bikini. As you know, if your abdominal region is strong, you are also protecting your lower back. As we get into the spring season, this is an area that is on the top of many people's fitness musts. Here are a few using the wall:
- Start by facing the wall. Extend your arms so that your palms make contact.
- Inhale as you pull your belly button back towards your spine. Lift your rib cage and bring the tailbone done towards the floor.
- Press into your hands maintaing a contracted abdomin and hold for 3 to 5 breaths.
- Release your arms by your side and repeat 2 to 3 times.
- Position yourself facing the wall with your arms outstretched and your palms making contact. Your feet are about hip width apart.
- As you exhale, let the head drop down and the back round. Press the palms into the wall to drop the shoulders away from the ears. Round the spine. Pause.
- Begin your inhale. Straighten the spine, lift the stomach towards the wall. The last to come up is the head. Pause for a few breaths.
- Repeat the cycle of cat and cow for as many rounds as feels comfortable.
- Turn so that your back is facing the wall. Extend your arms behind you with your fingertips pointed downward.
- Inhale and press down into the palms to lift the hips up toward the ceiling. As the hips lift, engage the legs by pulling up the knee caps and squeezing the thighs.
- Keep the bottoms of the feet on the floor. Engage the shoulder blades and draw them together.
- Press into your hands as your breathe, trying with each breath to left the hips higher. Perhaps you can also bring the head backwards if it is comfortable.
- Release and repeat 3-5 times.
Last week we worked on bringing relief to the shoulders by doing standing shoulder stretch and thread the needle using the wall. This week we we concentrate on lenthening the torso and back, using the wall as support.
Chandrasana (Half Moon) Variation-
- Stand with your buttocks against the wall. Inhale as you stretch your arms overhead.
- Exhale gentle to the right side, keeping the arms close to or touching the wall. Breath for 3-5 breaths.
- Inhale back to center and repeat on the left side.
- Start with 3 stretches to either side. Relax at center for a few breaths before you continue.
Uttanasana (Standing forward bend)-
- Inhale the arms overhead, exhale as you start to lower towards the feet, keeping the arms extended. The buttocks and backs of the legs shouldmake contact with the wall.
- Let your arms and neck hang loose, bend the knees if you have to release the lower back and to bring the hands closer to the floor. Stay for 3-5 breaths.
- Inhale as you start to cloe upright, keeping the eyes down so you don't get dizzy.
- Stretch the arms overhead and exhale back to center.
Vrikshansana (Tree Pose Variation)
- Stand with your back against the wall. Arms start down by your side. Eyes are gazing at a point across the room.
- Shift your weight to the left leg. Lift the right leg and turn the knee out so that the ankle of the right foot is resting across the left leg at the shin area.
- Start raising the right leg up the left leg, stopping to breathe along the way. Go as far as you can up the left leg as long as it is comfortable. When you have reached your highest level , relax and breathe into the pose. Raise your arms overhead.
- Hold the pose for 3-5 breaths to start. When you are ready to come down, release the right foot to the floor, bring the arms down by the side, and realign body using the wall as a guideline.
- Repeat on the other side.
This week I'd like to start a series on using a wall as a prop for your yoga practice. It is common in restorative classes but used less so in public classes and most people forget about it at home. I was able to use it this week with my class because with our winter weather, we had enough room for everyone to have wall space.
- Stand facing the wall and extend your right arm so that the palm rests on the wall.
- Inhale, exhale and start to rotate outwards to the left.
- Using your breath, continue turning as far as you can go letting your head follow.
- Stop, breathe, and enjoy the stretch of your whole arm and shoulder.
- Come back to start. Pause if needed and repeat with the left arm extended, turning to the right.
Thread the Needle Using the Wall
- Stand facing the wall and extend your right arm out to touch the wall.
- Inhale and lift the left arm shoulder level and rotate the arm inward towards the body so that the left shoulder makes contact with the wall.
- Relax the left shoulder against the wall, Turn the head to the right so that the left cheek is also making contact with the wall. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
- Release to center and repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Both of these poses will help if your have stiffness in your neck and back. It can give a great stretch in the chest and shoulders and might help loosen tight muscles. The wall is also great to use if you have knee and hip problems, have difficulty getting on and off the mat. It's also less conspicuous at work than lying on the floor, so give it a try!
"With a thousand different voices ringing in my ear. Listen to the whisper only the heart can hear."-Anonymous
Are you hooked on Downton Abbey? I am and along with a thousand others, was saddened in a recent episode by the death of Lady Sybil from complications resulting from edema in her pregnancy. Poor circulation can cause painful fluid retention and in pregnancy, swollen hands and feet. Practicing yoga can reduce this swelling visibly. If you are in good health with some precautions and a few modifications, yoga can be practiced into your pregnancy and improve your overall circulation.
Start as always, with a centering activity and deep breathing. Remember in pregnancy you might feel uncomfortable sitting in Easy Pose (Sukhasana) for a long period of time; you can always use a pillow to sit on or uncross your legs half way through.
When standing, Mountain Pose (Tadasana) and Warrior II (Virabhadrasana) help to strengthen the legs. For balance, add Half Moon (Adrha Chandrasana).
Another sitting pose for great circulation is Cobbler's Pose (Baddha Konasana). If you are still comfortable lying down, Goddess Pose in a reclined position (Supta Baddha Konasana) is one to try. These poses also have the added benefit of of being a good hip openers.
For a safe inversion, try Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarangasana), which can also be supported with a yoga block under the sacrum.
For relaxation, Legs up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani) is a great passive pose for swollen ankles. When you finish your yoga practice, a bath with epsom salts are also helpful to reduce swelling.
Yoga can be practiced safely throughout your pregnancy to improve mood, circulation, your health and that of your baby. Be sure to get cleared by your ob-gyn before starting and select an experienced instructor or on-line video which will offer modifications, instructions, and encouragement.
In honor of Heart Month, try this meditation.
Happy Heart Breath
This week’s breathing exercise (Pranayama) – Happy Heart Breath
PART I: HAPPY HEART BREATH
- Sit comfortably with spine lengthened, begin by drawing muscles of abdomen in and upwards under rib-cage and exhale.
- Begin the next inhalation saying to yourself silently the word SO (this helps to learn how to use the throat to inhale rather than the nasal passages). The feeling is similar to a silent snore.
- Retain the breath comfortably, letting it circulate.
- Exhale audibly the word HUM. Hum exhalation is complete.
- Pause for a few moments.
- Repeat at least 3 times then remain sitting quietly and go within to tune in to the silent vibrations of this exercise. Notice the stimulation of the heart centre - Anahata Chakra. You may experience a definite beat and a feeling of peace and calm.
PART II: PULSE POINT MEDITATION
Now use the calm and serenity you feel to flow directly into this next meditation.
- Begin by focusing on the pulse beat at the heart centre. Stay here until you feel a definite beat near the surface of this centre.
- From the heart now move to the region of the neck - specifically the sides of the neck where the carotid arteries are located. Become aware of this area and tune in to the rhythmic beat close to the surface of the neck.
- From the neck move to the temples and once again concentrate on feeling a pulse beat near to the surface.
- Now the chest, neck and head are becoming one definite beat.
- Move down to your fingertips and let your awareness pick up the tingling and pulse in all fingertips.
- Move to the solar plexus and feel the beat in this area also.
- Remain in this state of meditation for up to 20 minutes experiencing the pulse of one’s being and at the same time connecting with the pulse of the universe.
LEVEL OF DIFFICUTLY: BASIC
1. From Staff pose, inhale the arms up over the head and lift and lengthen up through the fingers and crown of the head.
2. Exhale and hinging at the hips, slowly lower the torso towards the legs. Reach the hands to the toes, feet or ankles.
3. To deepen the stretch: A) Use the arms to gently pull the head and torso closer to the legs. B) Press out through the heels and gently draw the toes towards you.
4. Breathe and hold for 3-8 breaths.
5. To release: A) Slowly roll up the spine back into Staff pose. B) Inhale the arms back over your head as you lift the torso back into Staff pose.
Benefits: Seated forward fold provides a deep stretch for entire back side of body from the heels to the neck. Forward fold calms the nervous system and emotions and stimulates the reproductive and urinary systems.
- Start standing facing forward, feet together or hip’s width apart.
- Extend both arms out to the side, palms facing forward.
- Bring both arms toward the middle of the body sliding the right arm under the left.
- Reach the right hand towards the left hand. Clasp hands making the eagle’s beak. Lift the hands towards heart center.
- As an option, you may wrap the right leg around the left.
- Unclasp and repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Great shoulder stretch and balance pose.