Finally a Yoga Guide that makes it simple to Lose Weight, Feel Great, and Enjoy a Healthier Life!… **AWESOME BONUS: Your
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Finally a Yoga Guide that makes it simple to Lose Weight, Feel Great, and Enjoy a Healthier Life!… **AWESOME BONUS: Your
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Finally a Yoga Guide that makes it simple to Lose Weight, Feel Great, and Enjoy a Healthier Life!… **AWESOME BONUS: Your
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This is simply the perfect introduction to yoga! This complete illustrated practical guide reflects some of the most im
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You work hard all day! Don't you deserve a break? Recent studies have proven that sitting for extended periods of t
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Do you want to learn how to make better coffee at home? Over the past few decades, the quality of our coffee has decline
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Fitness is something we would all try to do to maintain a decent standard of physical health. Yet deciding what exercise
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Fitness is something we would all try to do to maintain a decent standard of physical health. Yet deciding what exercise
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This book:•More than doubles the number of variations, while still keeping the original variations from "A Chair fo
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Table of contents :
Chapter One: Yoga
Chapter Two: Stress, Your Health and Yoga
Chapter Three: Where Do I Start?
Chapter Four: How To Unlock Yoga’s Secret Power
Chapter Five: 6 Warm Up Exercises For Beginners
Chapter Six: 13 Powerful Poses
Chapter Seven: 11 Yoga Poses For Stress Relief
Chapter Eight: Yoga For Weight Loss
Chapter Nine: Cultivating Mindfulness
Chapter Ten: How To Decide If Yoga Is For You
Yoga At Home
A Step-By-Step Guide With Pictures
Welcome To The Simple Self Improvement Series
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Who is This Book For? This book is meant for busy people like you. People juggling jobs or careers, families, and hobbies. People who have heard about yoga but don’t where to start. People managing physical or mental health issues, or recovering from injury. People wanting to improve their physical fitness, and people who want to lose weight. People who suffer from anxiety and stress, and people who just want to make the most of their lives. The good news is that both this book and yoga can help you. I know that many people are very busy - so busy in fact that they would prefer to skip the sections that don’t pertain to them. If this sounds like you, here are some shortcuts that will help: Yoga For Stress Chapter Two will tell you how stress affects your health, and why yoga helps. In Chapter Seven, you’ll find step-by-step instructions for yoga poses that specifically reduce stress. Chapter Nine will provide you with information on mindfulness, an effective tool for stress reduction. Yoga For Weight Loss Chapter Eight is dedicated to weight loss. The short answer to your question is yes, Yoga can help you lose weight and keep it off. Already Active?
Chapter Six lists 13 powerful yoga poses that can help you build core strength, flexibility, and pump up your overall fitness level. The detailed how-to guides for each posture will give you a good technical foundation, and teach you learn the best and safest way to get into and out of each pose. Of course, you can always read through the entire book. Especially if you want to understand yoga and science behind why it works.
What Will This Book Teach You? As a beginner, there is a lot you should know about yoga and it’s practice. Here’s a highlight of some of the topics this book will teach you: The Science and History Of Yoga and Why It Works So Well What You Need To Buy To Do Yoga (Very Little) The 13 Different Styles Of Yoga And Which One Is Right For You The Most Common Yoga Myths And Mistakes Exactly How To Employ Mindfulness Strategies In Your Life That Result In A Happier, Healthier, More Balanced You. The Do’s and Don’ts Of Practicing Yoga How To Instantly Deepen Your Connection To Your Body Yoga Terminology (How To Speak Like a Certified Yogi Master) The Step-By-Step Instructions For Doing 30 Simple But Powerful Yoga Poses - All Within The Comfort Of Your Home BONUS: How To Find A Yoga Class That Works For YOU So let’s get started!
Table of Contents Introduction Chapter One: Yoga Chapter Two: Stress, Your Health and Yoga DON’T MISS OUT! Chapter Three: Where Do I Start? Chapter Four: How To Unlock Yoga’s Secret Power Chapter Five: 6 Warm Up Exercises For Beginners Chapter Six: 13 Powerful Poses Chapter Seven: 11 Yoga Poses For Stress Relief Chapter Eight: Yoga For Weight Loss Chapter Nine: Cultivating Mindfulness Chapter Ten: How To Decide If Yoga Is For You DON’T FORGET Conclusion
Chapter One: Yoga
What is Yoga? Yoga is a physical fitness regime and a spiritual pursuit. It is an art and a science. It is a holistic system of theory and practice, a unified approach to healing the body, mind, and spirit to achieve balance, peace, bliss, and wellbeing - all at the same time. Yoga’s objective is to help every practitioner (yes, even you!) learn to use your body and breath to develop self-awareness around individuality and connectedness to all creation. It really can be, and is for many - that big. What yoga isn’t, is a fad. Yoga’s philosophical and physical foundations were first recorded about 200 AD in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali lays out the ashtanga, an eight-step approach to reduce the mind’s restlessness and to experience peace. These eight-steps, or eight limbs, can help lead every individual toward his or her own connection to peace. Calm, quiet, blissful peace. In this book we will spend most of our time on the Asanas and Pranayama, which are described by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras as the highest form of selfdiscipline for body and mind.
Yoga’s Eight Limbs Yama: Universal Morality
Compassion for all living things Commitment to truth Take nothing that does not belong to us
Sense of control/responsible behavior Limit the drive to achieve and retain wealth Niyama: Personal Observances
Purity Contentment Disciplined use of our own energy Self study Celebration of spirituality Asanas: Body postures
The most commonly-known of all aspects of yoga “Asana” means “staying” or “abiding” in Sanskrit Physical practice coupled with quieting the mind Pranayama: Breath Control
Measuring, controlling and directing breath Connecting in-breath and out-breath brings balance, relaxation and peace Pratyahara: Control of the Senses
Withdrawal of sensory attachment to external things Emotional rebalancing by regaining control over our response to sensory stimulation Dharana: Concentration and Inner Awareness
Still the mind to achieve complete focus “in one direction” rather than many Unleashing the powerful potential for inner healing Dhyana: Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
Fine-tuned concentration clears the mind Recognition of the universal self Unhappiness and fear disappear Samadhi: Union with the Divine (enlightenment)
No distinction between self and non-self Intellectual activity gives way completely to the experience of consciousness Discovery of absolute joy
"The needs of the body are the needs of the divine spirit which lives through the body. The yogi does not look heaven-ward to find God for he knows that He is within." - B.K.S. Iyengar
Where, when, and why did it begin? It’s ancient, but that’s about all scholars and practitioners can agree on today with respect to yoga’s age. Until recently, Western scholars believed yoga originated in ancient India in approximately 500 B.C. Within the last hundred years, archaeologists have discovered soapstone seals that many believe show yogis in poses similar to those practiced today. This opens up the possibility that yoga may, in fact, be more than 5000 years old. So, what about the word yoga? It comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj”, and means “yoke”, or “to join”. Dr. Suzanne Newcombe, in her paper The Development of Modern Yoga: A Survey of the Field (2009), says the word “yoga” has also been used to mean “skill in work, desire-less action, acquisition of true knowledge, indifference to pleasure and pain, addition (in arithmetic) and conjunction (in astronomy)”.
Yoga in the United States Yoga arrived in the United States in the late 1800's when Swami Vivekananda (Swami means “master”), a monk from India, first visited the USA, according to Georg Feuerstein in his book entitled A Short History of Yoga. Swami Vivekananda vaulted to prominence at the Parliament of Religions conference in Chicago in 1893 where he charmed and fascinated his audiences with his deep understanding of Eastern and Western cultures, and his passionate and peaceful promotion of both yoga and Hinduism. Vivekananda wasn’t the first yoga master to travel to Europe or the U.S. from India, but he, more than any of the others before him, is credited with
cultivating a genuine following and laying the groundwork for the modern yoga craze we see in North America (and other parts of the world) today. “Vivekananda’s immense success opened a sluice gate for other adepts from India, and the stream of Eastern gurus has not ceased.” – Georg Feuerstein, A Short History of Yoga Yoga’s Eastern roots are far more spiritual than most of the modernized yoga practiced today in the West. In North America, the majority of the yoga practiced is quite secular, focusing more on the physical (Asana) side of yoga, with less attention placed on the spiritual side of the practice. Today yoga is practiced in cities, small towns, tourist destinations and rural retreats in every corner of the globe. Indeed, yoga is big business. According to a survey conducted by The Yoga Journal in 2012, in the United States alone, more than 20 million people reported they practice yoga and collectively they spend more than $10 billion each year on yoga related products and activities. Nearly half of those who don’t practice yoga indicated they would want to.
“May yoga unite you with yourself, your breath, your body and the new life you are creating.” – Rajashree Choudhury, Yoga Therapist, Founder of United States Yoga Federation and International Yoga Sports Federation
Chapter Two: Stress, Your Health and Yoga
How Yoga Can Improve Your Overall Health? If you’ve been suffering from one or more chronic illnesses, or even if you just don’t feel as well as you’d like, I think you’ll find this chapter of particular interest. At least, it will give you more reasons to start practicing yoga. Yoga’s beneficial impact on physical and mental health is profound. One of many research examples comes from the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). In a 2011 paper from the International Journal of Yoga (IJOY), findings from several dozen studies of the health effects of regular yoga practice were assessed. The conclusions confirmed that health benefits include: Reduced anxiety and stress Enhanced mood and increased sense of wellbeing Alleviated chronic conditions like depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia Reduced risk factors for heart disease and high blood pressure Boosted immune system function Decreased pain and inflammation Weight loss and a more balanced metabolism Increased balance and flexibility Better muscle strength, tone and range of motion, and Helped access inner strength that allows more effective handling of the fears, frustrations, and challenges of life.
Cautions for Certain Health Conditions
There are precautions and modifications to adapt yoga practice to virtually any medical condition, but it is always wise to be informed, and prepared. Yoga can help. In the step-by-step pose instructions in the chapters ahead, you will see posespecific cautions and modifications as much as possible. Check with your doctor or health care practitioner before embarking on any of the poses included in subsequent chapters to be sure you’re getting the best advice.
Osteoporosis, Herniated Disks or Spinal Stenosis If you suffer from severe osteoporosis or herniated disks, you may wish to avoid forward bends. If you have spinal stenosis, where there is pressure on the spinal chord due to a narrowing in the spinal column, backward bends may cause pain. We use “may” here quite purposefully: there is no conclusive medical evidence that we’ve found that suggests a direct causal link between these conditions and certain poses. In fact, as many people with these conditions benefited from the poses mentioned here as reported pain.
Neck or Back Injuries, Glaucoma or Cerebrovascular Problems Inversion poses including headstands and shoulder stands have tremendous health benefits, including strengthening the diaphragm, relieving symptoms of bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. For those of you with back or neck problems, glaucoma, or one of the cerebrovascular conditions that affect blood flow to the brain, inversions may not be for you.
Hip Replacements If you’ve recently had a hip replacement, use caution or employ a modification in some of the twist poses to be sure you don’t damage the
prosthetic in your joint.
Multiple Sclerosis Some physicians recommend that those with MS should avoid Bikram or other forms of hot yoga, as the heat may exacerbate some of the symptoms. There are many differing medical views, and virtually unlimited variations between the severity and symptoms of individuals who share the same medical condition. You and your doctor, together, are in the best position to determine what specific risks there may be for you, and what specific modifications may be recommended, before starting on your yoga path and changing your life - for the better.
Understanding the Physiology of Stress
Aren't we all so stressed these days? Stress is a precursor of, and contributor to, many health ailments. Here’s why. When you experience stress in any form, whether positive or negative, your brain thinks “Emergency!” and releases a flood of the hormones cortisol and norepinephrine. This was helpful much earlier in human evolution when we needed that hormone and adrenalin boost to outrun an angry tiger and live another day. Most of the stress you feel today isn’t the result of a life-threatening situation at all. In addition, a lot of cortisol coursing through your veins can lead to high blood pressure, ulcers, bone density loss, poor immune function, and sleep disorders. It can also lead to weight gain, because when under stress, your body holds onto as much fat as it can to help it weather the ‘emergency’.
Role of the Nervous System in Stress Our nervous system has many branches. The one that controls our inner organs has two parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic. Sympathetic The sympathetic system ramps up when you are stressed, sending you into ‘fight or flight’ with that blast of cortisol. It is responsible for the increased adrenalin, super-focused brain, and heightened sensory awareness that would be put to good use if you were about to be attacked by that tiger. Parasympathetic The parasympathetic system, on the other hand, controls the day-to-day functions that are often referred to as the ‘rest and digest’ state. When your sympathetic system is active more often and for longer periods than your parasympathetic system, your body does not get the time it needs to rest, heal, and regenerate. You become out of balance.
Destructive Coping Mechanisms Versus Yoga Alcohol, food, drugs, shopping, gambling, eating, even sleeping or exercise, are all used at some time, by some people, as self-medication (or a form thereof) to provide “relief” from the agony of excess stress. These activities are encouraged societally - liquor ads, campaigns to legalize marijuana, the proliferation of fast food outlets, tourist destinations that use gambling as a hook, and so on. There’s no end of easy access to the things to stimulate “pleasure” in the hopes of offsetting pain. I am not judging or begrudging anyone who attempts to combat stress in any of these ways. But these mechanisms are all potentially destructive, causing
the body more harm in the long term, compounding the negative health effects of stress and leading to more illness. Exactly the opposite of what was intended. Self-medication habits are formed and solidify over years, even decades. Making a change in your personal response to stress and the destructive tools you may have been using to cope can be a daunting idea. So how do you start? Yoga practice, even one or two times per week, can introduce a sense of freedom, happiness, even euphoria, that immediately brings down stress levels with absolutely no negative side effects. You read that right: freedom, happiness, and euphoria. Who needs anything else after that?
“Yoga has a sly, clever way of short-circuiting the mental patterns that cause anxiety.” - Baxter Bell, MD, Yoga Instructor
Bring Stress Into Balance It’s a mistake to think that the objective is to eliminate stress. Stress is always present when our lives are full and rewarding. It is about learning how to better respond to stress, which yoga does by teaching your nervous system how to bring itself back into balance. You want your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems to have equal time, not reverse the domination of one over the other.
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Chapter Three: Where Do I Start?
Finding Your Yoga Style There’s at least one style of yoga that will work for you, maybe more than one. Under the broad umbrella of yoga are many different styles and variations to suit different levels of fitness and overall health, different personality styles and energy levels. Indeed, there are more than 100 different types, or schools of yoga, all of which include a mixture of the fundamentals of breathing, meditation, and physical poses (asanas) that stretch and strengthen different muscle groups. All these different types of yoga mean it is possible for anyone, at any level, and with nearly any health condition, to start reaping the benefits of yoga. Today. Due to the commercial influence on this ancient practice, the difference between one type and the next can have more to do with marketing differences than substantive departures in the actual experience on the mat. In Chapter Ten, I will give you a step-by-step action plan to help you figure out which style or type of yoga might be best for you. But first: I’ve done the research for you and have outlined here the most significant, popular and accessible forms of yoga to help you find the one – or ones – that speak to you.
13 Yoga Types As you start to explore yoga options in your community, you will see references to these 13 yoga types.
Hatha Hatha is the physical branch of yoga, and forms the foundation for almost all of the Western yoga practices on offer. A Hatha class will be fairly straightforward, with a classical approach to breathing and postures, and can generally be expected to be more easily managed by a beginner than either Ashtanga or Vinyasa. The pace will be a little slower and instructors often provide more detailed technical coaching on the subtle elements of each posture.
Anusara Anusara yoga is a relatively new form of Hatha yoga designed for students of all levels, with a conscious focus on attitude, alignment and action. Classes involve specific poses, in specific sequences, designed to explore one or more of the five “Universal Principles of Alignment”, which are: Open to grace Muscle energy Expanding spirals Contracting spirals, and Organic energy.
Ashtanga K. Pattabhi Jois, founder of the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, is credited with popularizing Ashtanga yoga, so-named after the eight limbs of yoga
articulated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Ashtanga has a rigorous style and specific posture sequencing. Each movement is linked to breath in this physically demanding practice, sometimes also called power yoga, or flow yoga. The Americanized version of Ashtanga is all about pumping up the sweat and building lean, mean muscles. You will often find Ashtanga yoga offered at health clubs or gyms that also provide heavy-duty aerobic exercise along with bodybuilding. Watch for this influence if you’re new to exercise or coming back from injury. The more authentic Ashtanga practice and its sequence of poses that build on top of one another can slowly acclimatize the newcomer’s body and build strength. Ask the facility for more information on their Ashtanga classes before you commit, so you know exactly what you’re getting into.
Bikram Bikram yoga, developed by Bikram Choudhury, is a series of 26 Hatha postures done in a room heated to 105 degrees F/40 degrees C. Because yoga alters the body from the inside out, the philosophy behind the heat is to soften the body first, creating a more flexible and receptive physical environment (the body) for building strength and flexibility. Bikram works every part of the body: muscles, veins, ligaments, and internal organs, cardiovascular and nervous systems, giving them everything needed for maximum function and optimal health. Expect lots of sweating, from both the hot room and the workout. All that perspiration helps flush impurities and toxins and refreshes the circulatory system. First-timers often experience dizziness, and are encouraged to take Child’s Pose or Savasana (both described in later chapters) as needed until strength
and stamina are built up. Dizziness can also be a sign you haven’t consumed enough water in the 24 hours before class.
Hot Yoga Hot yoga classes are based on all the same principles as Bikram. However, the studio chooses to set its own posture sequencing rather than follow Bikram’s order of 26 poses, which means they are not permitted to use the “Bikram” brand.
Iyengar Iyengar yoga (eye-yen-gar) is a purist form of yoga, named after founder B.K.S. Iyengar, that aims to get students more precisely into each pose through the use of yoga props like blocks, straps, bolsters or blankets (which we will discuss more fully later.) Iyengar challenges participants physically and mentally through this detailed focus on the correct and safe pose composition. Iyengar won’t elevate your heart rate the way Ashtanga or Bikram will, but you will be building an excellent technical foundation of knowledge that is beneficial, whether you’re recovering from an injury, managing a chronic health condition, or just want to build proficiency in your yoga practice.
Jivamukti Jivamukti yoga places priority on a core philosophy of compassion for all beings and our relationship to the earth. Classes augment the physical poses and movements by incorporating the five tenets of Jivamukti yoga: Shastra (scripture: the study of the ancient yogic teachings)
Bhakti (devotion: chanting helps express and set intentions for practice, based on the belief that self-realization is the goal of all yoga practices) Ahimsa (kindness: nonviolent, compassionate lifestyle promoting veganism and animal rights) Nada (music and deep listening), and Dhyana (meditation: deep connection to the self).
Kundalini Kundalini yoga, sometimes described as ‘yoga of awareness’, is a school of yoga that aims to awaken the spiritual energy, or life force, located at the base of the spine. Kundalini taps into this energy, helping it travel upward along the spine right through to the crown of the head through meditation, breathing (pranayama), chanting, and physical poses (asana). Kundalini classes will include these major components: Tuning in and chanting Pranayam (breathing) and warm up Kryias (spontaneous poses) or stretching Relaxation, and Meditation. Kundalini is suitable for beginners, but you’ll want to be sure you’re ready for the chanting and meditation. If you’re used to the loud bump and grind of high-impact aerobics, this type of yoga will take some getting used to.
Restorative Restorative yogais all about relaxing and resting in passive, soothing poses that require little exertion; a great antidote to the frantic pace of modern life. Props like blankets, blocks, straps and bolsters (explained later) help keep
you effortlessly in each pose, allowing the body to experience the full benefits of the pose without having to push yourself to get, or stay in a particular position. Blankets are often used to help warm you up, since you won’t have the same active movements of other classes to increase your body temperature. A restorative class will leave you feeling refreshed, relaxed and feels better than a nap .
Sivananda Sivanandaintegrates many forms of yoga including the traditional Hatha approach . Classes typically start resting in savasana, or corpse pose, and then progress through the same series of 12 poses, in the same order, every time. The first of what are now nearly 60 International Sivananda Yoga Vendanta Centres was set up in 1957 in Montreal, Canada, by a disciple of Swami Sivandana, whose mission it was to spread joy, health and peace through yoga. Here too there are five areas of focus, but they differ from the Jivamukti five described earlier, and they are: Proper exercise (asanas) Proper Breathing (pranayama) Proper relaxation (savasana) Proper Diet (vegetarian) Positive Thinking (Vedanta) and Meditation (Dhyana) Sivananda weaves this 5-point philosophy into each class and is a good option for newcomers looking for a spiritual experience while building proficiency in the 12 poses.
Viniyoga may be best suited for those over 50 just starting into yoga, for those recovering from injury, or those with chronic health conditions. Viniyoga focuses on “adaptation and appropriate application” for individual needs, and on function over form, which is the other end of the spectrum from Iyengar’s highly technical, purist approach. For example, if you have knee or back problems that prevent you from being able to get into Chair Pose (Uttkatasana, described in detail later), a Viniyoga therapist would provide modifications using an actual chair, thereby helping you gain the core benefits of the posture without causing additional pain or injury. Created by Gary Kraftsow, Viniyoga’s philosophy includes the belief that to reduce risk of injury and speed healing, a muscle should always be warmed and contracted before it is stretched.
Vinyasa Vinyasa grew out of the Ashtanga method in the late 1980's to help attract those high-impact, high-energy aerobics fans. Like Ashtanga, Vinyasa yoga is sometimes called “power yoga”, or “flow yoga”, and each instructor will compose his or her own sequence of postures, meaning your experience can vary widely from class to class. Generally, a Vinyasa class will have you moving through poses fairly quickly, aiming to align in-breath or out-breath with movement into or out of a particular pose. This is what gives the style its athletic appeal. However, this is also what increases a beginner’s risk of injury, potentially not getting into the proper alignment of the pose before hurrying to the next one to keep up with the class. Do expect this class to be challenging, but most instructors will also offer modifications that help beginners adapt and follow along.
Yin Ahhh. Often part of a restorative class, Yin is a quiet yoga practice that focuses on adding length to connective tissues. Intended to help balance the more powerful types of “yang” yoga, the Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa, etcetera, Yin involves passive poses that you’ll stay in for longer periods of time… while you relax.
What You’ll Need “The most important pieces of equipment you need for doing yoga are your body and your mind.” - Rodney Yee, Gaiam/Living Arts Yoga Instructor
What you need to embark on your yoga journey, in addition to your body and your mind as Rodney Yee suggests, will depend on whether you plan to try yoga in the privacy of your own home, or seek out a class at a yoga studio or gym. Here is a basic list of items along with general descriptions.
Comfortable, stretchy clothes are a must. But not too loose, especially shirts. A very loose t-shirt will get in the way, or gape conspicuously, when you’re in an inverted pose like Downward Dog. Athletic fabric with sweat-wicking properties will be more comfortable than cotton. Yoga is performed in bare feet, so no shoes or socks are required.
Water is one of those nice healthy things you should be doing for yourself on a daily basis, whether or not you’re practicing yoga, and whether or not your yoga class is a vigorous Ashtanga or Bikram. If you’re even slightly dehydrated, you can experience symptoms like dizziness, lethargy, and decreased mental focus. Water lubricates your entire system, making it easier for your heart to pump oxygen and nutrients to your muscles so they work more efficiently, while helping flush out toxins and replenishing the liquid lost through sweat. It’s more important to hydrate before and after class than it is to drink throughout a class. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring water in, or that you shouldn’t take a sip if your body tells you it wants water during a class, but beware that water during a class can have some unintended consequences: Disrupting your neighbors with the sounds of opening and closing your bottle, and the sound of you glugging Distracting you from focusing on your least favorite poses. The mind has a wonderful way of putting up roadblocks that prevent you from fully experiencing something that might be new, potentially uncomfortable, or challenging. Some yoga studios will discourage you from bringing water into certain classes. So, look for the rules of the facility. Listen to your body and your mind. Pay attention to the real cues it sends you as to whether the wanting of water is really a physical need for hydration, or a mental trick to pull your focus out of your practice. How much water should you drink before a class? If you’re planning to take in a Hot Yoga or one of the athletic styles, like Vinyasa, a guideline is to start with 16 ounces about 30 minutes before the start of the class.
The yoga mat is a standard tool today, but historically, yoga Asanas were not practiced on a mat. It’s true. Indeed, the yoga mat is the relatively recent invention of Angela Farmer, who, in 1968, started using carpet underlay to counter an inability to perspire from her hands and feet. Soon her students wanted these “mats” too, and Angela’s father became the first retailer of yoga mats. Today it is as uncommon to see yogis without a mat as it used to be, pre-Angela Farmer, to see them on one. There are debates as to which is better: without a mat, your body must use isometric contraction to keep your feet and hands from slipping away, thus increasing strength first and flexibility second. Your hands and feet won’t slip as much with a yoga mat. Some believe this has turned yoga into a discipline that builds flexibility first, strength second, and injuries can result because the reduced isometric contractions leave us hanging on hip and knee joints that aren’t designed for this extra pressure. Debate aside, the yoga mat has several purposes: Provides you with your own space in the class – no other yogi can cross the boundary of your mat, step or drip onto it. It’s your own little area in what are often crowded studios Helps reduce slippage Provides a little cushioning to make postures that make use of your hands, knees, elbows or hips a little more comfortable, and Can be a metaphor for the space we create in our minds as we practice yoga for stress relief.
A yoga towel is optional for most classes, but consider it a must if you’re going to do Bikram or Hot Yoga. The amount of sweat that will drop onto your mat in a hot yoga class will quickly result in a wet, slippery surface,
increasing the risk of injury. A good yoga towel will absorb the perspiration and help keep your mat clean. Yoga towels are made specifically for yoga, so they are the same shape and size as your mat. They’re often made of microfiber that is anti-slip and antibacterial. Even if you’re not planning to do hot yoga right away, a yoga towel can be used during regular classes in the same way. There are yoga studios that provide both yoga towels and yoga mats to their members, and they manage the professional cleaning and sterilization between each class. Know which type of studio you are heading to in advance so you can be prepared.
Yoga blocks help support the body and allow deeper relaxation as you get into poses. Using them during the early phase of your yoga practice as support for hands, legs, and even to sit on, will help prevent over-stretching while allowing you to experience the fundamentals of each pose. Most yoga studios also provide blocks, but if you plan to practice at home as well, you may wish to invest in one or two. You can find yoga blocks made of cork, dense foam, or wood.
A belt or strap will help you get into positions that might otherwise be out of reach until you’ve developed more flexibility. A seated forward bend, for example, that suggests you pull on the toes you just can’t reach, is a common
experience for beginners. With a strap that you can loop around the bottoms of your feet and grab with your hands, you will be able to get into the right position and you will build confidence as you progress toward doing the pose without the strap.
The Yoga Commandments: 13 Do’s and Don’ts
There are some things many first-time yogis or yoginis discover the hard way. I’m here to make your yoga journey easy. Here is a list of tips that I hope will help make you more comfortable, right away.
1. Don’t eat a big meal 1-3 hours before class Your stomach needs time to digest before you ask it to compress and contort comfortably in the yoga studio. You’ll learn what works best for your body as you learn to pay attention to it, but a large meal of heavy proteins and complex carbohydrates that leave you feeling full a few hours before your class will result in an unhappy yoga experience.
2. Do ensure you’re nourished Eat a small, nutritious, and healthy meal (whole grains, fruit, vegetables) about 3 hours before your class. About 30 minutes before your class, plan to eat a few almonds, a small granola bar, an apple or banana. This should keep you from focusing on hunger, and sensations in your stomach shouldn’t distract you while in Child’s Pose or Chaturanga.
3 Don’t compare yourself to others
3. Don’t compare yourself to others Yoga may be done in a classroom setting with other people, many of whom, we admit, will be svelte, lithe and clad in the latest yoga gear. Your first job will be to forget about everyone else, and focus on you. Yoga is a noncompetitive, individual pursuit, and with the exception of watching your instructor’s form for clues as to where your knee should be, relative to your toes, for example, don’t worry about what anyone else is doing.
4. Don’t force or push If your hamstrings are telling you they’re at their limit, honor that message and don’t go further. It’s okay to feel tension, but never pain. Listen to your body, and it will let you know what the limitations are.
5. Don’t bring your pager or smart phone to class Leave your pager or cell phone outside the studio. If you must bring it in with you for security or other reasons, then turn it off and leave it at the back of the room, far away from the sacred space you will be creating with your yoga mat. If not for your own practice, then do this for the other practitioners whose yoga experience will be negatively affected when your ring tone bounces off the walls.
6. Do be quiet Inside the yoga studio is not the place to be social. It is the place to be with yourself, quietly. If you must say something to your neighbor, keep it brief and whisper. Be aware of the sounds you make unfurling your mat, setting
your water bottle down, arranging your props, and do it all as quietly as possible.
7. Don’t arrive late to a class Every moment of the class is part of the evolution of the class. If you arrive late, you will miss the grounding section where the instructor helps you get into the right frame of mind. You’ll disrupt all the others in the class, you’ll try to rush into whatever pose is happening when you arrive, and that increases your risk of injury. Also, rushing is just plain anathema to calm. Yoga is about achieving calm.
8. Don’t leave a class early The same principle applies to the end of the class. Savasana, which we’ll explain later, is the closing pose in almost all yoga classes and one of the most important because it cultivates your ability to relax and regenerate. By leaving early, you cheat yourself of this sacred time, and you also disrupt the peace of the pose for those around you as you pack up your things and walk out.
9. Do your best, and know this will be different each day Yoga is all about the self, including self-effort. Doing your best with each pose, each series, and in each class is an essential part of the practice. But, doing your best doesn’t mean that every tomorrow you are going to be “better” than every yesterday. Progress is never a straight line in any pursuit and yoga is no different. Your body, mind, environment, and mood all fluctuate from day to day and you will notice that, as a result, your best doesn’t always produce the same physical result.
Do practice limiting your “busy” thoughts
Leave your to-do list outside with your shoes. Give yourself permission to be in the class, and then “be” in the class. Be fully in the class. If you notice your mind wandering, and it will, just gently nudge it back to focus on the feelings inside your body, and your reactions to each pose.
11. Do let your instructor know about injuries or chronic health conditions Your instructor can help you achieve the most from your practice if he or she is given the right information. If you’ve had a knee injury, the instructor can provide modifications to poses that make it safer or more comfortable for you. High blood pressure, dizziness or heart conditions are all things your yoga instructor should be alerted to, so that they can offer variations and help guide you through a safe practice.
Do concentrate on breathing
We get into breath in more detail in the next chapter, but it is important to remember to breathe throughout your practice, especially when you’re in a challenging pose. Your breath feeds much-needed oxygen to your extremities and large muscle groups, and it helps your body relax and your mind focus.
Do rest and relax
The rest and relaxation elements within yoga are key elements of the balance that we’re all wanting to achieve. This means resting when you need to, and letting your mind rest as fully as possible whenever you’re in Savasana, and especially at the end of the class.
Most Common Yoga Misconceptions, or Myths I’m sure you’ve heard them all. I just want to make sure you don’t believe them after you’ve read this book.
Myth #1: You must practice yoga every day Marketing campaigns, promotions, or competitions like “30 yoga classes in 30 days” help disseminate messages that yoga should be practiced every day. There are lots of yoga enthusiasts who do practice daily, and they may encourage you to practice yoga every day, too. There’s nothing wrong with daily yoga, if that works and keeps you in balance, but it isn’t necessary. This is especially true if you’re just starting yoga; it’s like going from zero to 60 in less than 10 seconds. One of the important messages from the yoga world is this: taking time off to relax, rest and rejuvenate is equally as important as pushing yourself to your limits – not beyond - and working hard. There’s a difference between “regular” practice, and “daily” practice. While it isn’t necessary to practice yoga every day, if you want to really reap the benefits, I do recommend that you find a way to practice regularly.
So, I suggest you figure out what schedule is best for keeping you balanced, and aim for that.
Myth #2: You have to be flexible to do yoga No one is flexible when they start yoga, unless, of course, they were already a dancer or gymnast. Yoga is about increasing flexibility in reasonable, gentle increments. Don’t worry about your flexibility today, just start your practice, and watch what happens when you stick with it. Where you started isn’t important: it’s where you’re headed that counts.
Myth #3: Yoga isn’t only for slim, trim bodies You will see slim, trim bodies in every yoga class, but you will also see bodies of all types. Yoga is an individual practice. Anyone can do it, no matter what your body type, size, shape, age or gender.
Myth #4: Working harder is always better Feel better and find balance. That’s the goal of yoga practice. Pushing harder, challenging yourself to go as far and as deep as possible in every pose and every class will not necessarily help you feel better or find that sense of balance. You might, in fact, find yourself injured, and unable to practice until you’ve healed. Where’s the balance in that?
Myth #5: If you practice yoga you will have to chant If you’ve read this far then you know there are spiritual roots to the practice of yoga. There are classes you can choose that include mindfulness, meditation, and some classes will indeed include saying “ohm”. If that freaks you out, just ask about the class in advance. Commercial gyms that offer yoga classes, in addition to bodybuilding and aerobics, typically focus most on the athletic poses with little or no vocalizing. A studio dedicated to yoga, and only yoga, will include at least some elements of mindfulness. You get to choose what makes you most comfortable. Just be ready for a change: what you’re comfortable with in your yoga today may not stay the same after a period of regular practice. And that’s okay too.
Myth #6: You do/don’t need any exercise other than yoga Yes, there are at least two perspectives on this one. Many believe that yoga should only be part of a fitness routine, and that you need more cardio, or more strength training. If this is what you believe, great. There are just as many who believe that yoga is all the exercise you need. You can bring your heart rate up to get a cardio workout with a series of sun salutations (a series of poses comprised of Tadasana, Uttanasana, High Plank, Chutaranga, Upward Dog and Downward Dog) and coordinated breath. Many of the postures include holding, lifting, or pressing your own bodyweight, and that builds strength. If you’re doing nothing now, and are thinking of starting yoga and only yoga, do it. If you’re already engaged in a fitness regime and are thinking of adding yoga, do it. You’ll feel better for it either way.
Chapter Four: How To Unlock Yoga’s Secret Power
I am going to take you through some step-by-step yoga poses, or Asanas. So much of what is fundamental to yoga has to do with how you breathe, and how you connect with your breath. So, I will ask for your indulgence for just a few more minutes while I talk about tapping into the power in your breath. Let’s start with a little background and explanation. Breathing is as fundamental to yoga as it is to life. We can survive for weeks without food or water, but only a few minutes without breath. Breathing affects cellular function and brain performance, fuels the burning of oxygen and glucose, which in turn is what sends energy to muscles so they can contract, to glands so they can secrete, and to the brain so it can process information. It is also one of the ways the body gets rid of toxins and waste.
Shallow Versus Deep The quality of our breath is inextricably linked to the health of both body and mind. The more of our lives we spend shallow breathing, the less healthy we
are going to be overall. Every breath is a gift, according to Eoin Finn, yoga instructor and founder of the Blissology Yoga System. Finn tells the story of how ancient yoga masters thought of our lifetime of breaths as a type of bank account: every deep, relaxing breath is a deposit; and every shallow breath a withdrawal. Based on that analogy, I think many of us would be in overdraft! The average adult takes over 21,000 breaths every day, and most of those are shallow or low-quality breaths that don’t use our full lung capacity. Think back to the last time you were angry. What was your breathing like? For most of us, being angry or upset brings breathing that is very fast and very shallow. Now, recall a time when you were feeling calm and relaxed. Can you see how your breathing was different? In a contented state our breath is much more mellow, measured, and yes, relaxed. That’s what I want you to aim for.
Pranayama: The Art of Breathing Yogic breathing, called pranayama, is a powerful tool for human healing. The word pranayama comes from two Sanskrit words: prana = life force, and yama= control/self-control/restraint. Pranayama, therefore, is the controlled regulation of breath. Through a series of pranayama breath patterns, yoga helps your parasympathetic nervous system activate its ‘rest and digest’ state (as discussed in Chapter One). Practicing pranayama teaches you that controlling your breathing can help you control your body, quiet your mind, and reduce stress.
There are three phases of every natural breath: 1. Inhale: contraction of respiratory muscles 2. Exhale: passive or relaxation phase, lasts roughly twice as long as inhalation 3. Pause: the pause after you exhale happens naturally, until an instinct deep within your body triggers the impulse to breathe in – inhaling – again. Typically, yoga breathing is in and out through your nose, because that is where the air is warmed, moistened and filtered. Think of each inhale as bringing in new life, each exhale as releasing tension, anger, fear and negativity.
Five Pranayama Techniques There are several different types of pranayama which involve deep breathing, quiet breathing, fast breathing, and more. The five most popular are highlighted here. Dirga Pranayama Dirga Pranayama is the three-part breath, a deep and full breathing approach that helps you unlearn the shallow, mouth-breathing that contributes to tension in the body and anxiety in the mind. The three parts refer to the three distinct areas of your torso into which you will actively draw breath: your low belly, lower rib cage, and upper chest. The first few times you practice dirga pranayama, it is helpful to rest your hands on each area into which you are breathing to help you isolate each position.
1. Place your hands on your low belly, the area just under your belly button. Start your first inhale, breathing to expand only into your low belly. Hold this for a count of three. 2. Move your hands to the sides of your lower ribcage and bring in a little more air so that you can feel your lower ribcage expand, and hold this for a count of three. 3. Next lift your hands to rest on your upper chest, and bring in the last bit of air and feel the expansion of your upper chest. Hold this for a count of three. 4. Start to exhale, controlling the rate of your exhale so that you can count to six before your breath is fully emptied from your lungs. 5. Repeat this process several times, working your way up to a 12-count exhale.
Ujjayi Pranayama Ujjayi breath is the basic form of breath used in many Ashtanga and Vinyasa classes. It is balanced, both energized and relaxed, and is one of the only pranayama techniques practiced at the same time as the physical postures (Asanas). The key to ujjayi breath is that you breathe in and out through your nose, making the sound of an ocean wave at the back of your throat without taking in more air. It is a subtle shift in the quality of your breath and takes some practice.
Kapalabhati Pranayama You’ll find this type of pranayama at the end of a Bikram Yoga class.
1. It starts with a full inhale. Then, with the help of a series of about 15 pulsing abdominal contractions, a forceful exhale empties all the air from your lungs. 2. After the next full inhale, repeat this forceful exhale between 15 and 30 times, quickly, without taking in another conscious inhale. You will actively contract your abdominals with each pulsing exhale. 3. After you’re finished, return to a few natural breath cycles, before repeating the process for a second round.
Nadhi sodahana pranayama Also called ‘alternative nostril breathing’, nadhi sodahana pranayama helps generate equal breath through each nostril while building lung expansion capacity. 1. To start, clench all the fingers of your right hand into a fist, except your thumb. Press your thumb to your right nostril to close the airflow. 2. Deeply inhale through the left nostril, and hold your breath. 3. Change to your left hand, and left nostril, and follow the above steps on the left side. 4. Repeat the process 15 to 20 times.
Sithali pranayama This is a cooling breath that can quickly bring your body temperature down. 1. Start by curling your tongue into a length-wise tube. 2. Inhale through this tube, and then close your mouth to the count of 5 or 10.
3. Breathe out slowly through your nose. 4. Repeat up to 15 times, and as often as you need to feel comfortably cool.
Tips or Things to Avoid If you have a cold, asthma, lung problems or heart disease, check with your doctor before you start breath control exercises. Avoid pranayama when the air is too hot, or too cold. As often as possible, practice in fresh air, outdoors or with a window open. Avoid polluted or smoky areas, including incense. Stay relaxed during your pranayama exercises and avoid straining. Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
Chapter Five: 6 Warm Up Exercises For Beginners
Finally, to the action! I’m easing you into it with a few warm up poses that I recommend you start with, especially if you’ve never done any yoga before. Keep these warm-up exercises in your back pocket for when you’re really busy, or really stressed; just doing one or more of these warm-up poses will make you feel better right away. And you’ll want to do more yoga. I’m quite sure of it. Most yoga classes will begin with an instructor-led warm-up sequence. It’s always good to have some of your own yoga warm-up exercises for when you: Arrive to class early, and want to start getting your body and your mind into the right space Are about to do your own yoga at home, either on your own or with help from a DVD or YouTube video Just want to unwind at the end of a long day. A SPECIAL THANKS to our certified yogi Jessika who is depicted in most of the photos & shows us how to correctly perform each pose. Jessika is the creator of Body By Jessika an online health-coaching program. She currently certified as a Personal Trainer through (ACE) American Council of Exercise, Nationally Certified through Yoga Alliance RYT 200 HRS and a Mat Pilates teacher and trainer. For her workout programs, tips on weight loss/muscle gain, positive vibes, nutritional guidelines or even just support in your goal, you can contact Jessika through Facebook.
Pelvic Tilts This is a very subtle movement that helps to loosen and warm up the spine. Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Builds core strength by conditioning the transverse abdominal muscles (TVA), low back and gluteal muscles Provides stability to the low back and helps alleviate low back pain.
How to Do The Pose 1. Start by lying down on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor, just a few inches from your
buttocks. Encourage the natural curve of your spine so your low back is slightly off the floor. 2. As you exhale, engage your abdominals, tuck your tailbone under, and gently engage your buttocks to slightly lift your hips, without bringing them off the floor. You should feel your lower back press into the floor. 3. Hold for 3 seconds, then inhale as you return to neutral. 4. Repeat 5 – 10 times. Tips or Things to Avoid Pelvic tilts are not the same as pelvic lifts. In pelvic tilts, your buttocks do not actually leave the floor. You should feel stretching or tightening in your lower back, butt muscles and lower pelvic region, but you should not feel pain. To help visualize what should happen here, imagine there is a round pebble resting on your pelvis. As you contract your buttocks, the pebble would roll onto your belly.
Eye of the Needle: Sucirandhrasana This is an excellent pose to practice in preparation for the more advanced Pigeon Pose, (see page 41). We hold a lot of emotional tension and stress in our hip joints, and this is a good pose to incorporate regularly to reduce stress and anxiety.
Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Stretches the posterior and abductor muscle groups on the outer hips Helps to lengthen the lower back Conditions the quadriceps and hamstrings of the clasped leg Helps to open up the groin or pelvic area
How to Do The Pose 1. Start on your back in Corpse pose or Savasana (see page xx). 2. Equally distribute your weight through the back of your head, ribcage and sacrum. Let the natural curve of your spine remain, so there is a slight gap between your lower back and the mat. 3. Flex both feet by pulling your toes up toward your knees. 4. Bring your right knee up and gently hug it to your chest. 5. Engage your abdominals to support your low back as you bend your left knee until your left foot is flat on the floor. 6. Cross your right foot over your left knee so that your lower shin, just above your right ankle, rests on the thigh of your left leg. 7. Double check that both feet are still flexed. 8. Let your left knee fall away from your chest.
9. Using the strength of your left leg, slowly lift both legs toward your chest. 10. Interlace your hands behind the left knee and lift gently for a little deeper stretch, if this is comfortable for you. 11. Breathe into any discomfort you may feel, but if you experience numbing, fiery or sharp sensations, ease off the stretch until those sensations disappear. 12. To exit the stretch, release your hands, lower your legs until your left foot is flat on the floor. Bring your right knee back to your chest and then slowly lower your right leg to the floor. Lower your left leg to the floor and settle back into savasana for a moment. 13. Repeat on the other side.
Tips or Things to Avoid If you have any groin, low back, hip or knee injuries, be careful not to go too deeply until you’ve developed more flexibility. Do not flatten your low back to the mat, instead allowing it to retain a natural curve.
Goddess Pose: Supta Baddha Konasana You’ll likely see many yogis or yoginis practicing their Goddess poses – and nothing else - before the start of a class.
Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Stretches groin and inner thigh muscles Allows energy to flow throughout pelvic region Stimulates and improves mobility in abdominal and digestive organs Relieves stress, mild depression, PMS or menopause Calms the mind and nervous system
Photo Courtesy ((https://misericordiau.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/mu-does-yoga/))
How to Do The Pose 1. Lie on your back, on your mat, or on the floor. 2. Bend your knees, bringing your feet together and flat to the floor. Bring your feet as close to your pelvis as is comfortable. 3. As you exhale, engage your abdominal muscles and tuck your tailbone under and toward the pubic bone. Notice how this pelvic tilt has stabilized the spine and added length to your low back. Keep this pelvic tilt for the duration of the pose. 4. On your next exhale, let your knees fall apart naturally, as if they were floating toward the ground, and feel the stretch across your groin and inner thighs. 5. Bring the soles of your feet together so that the outer sides of the feet rest on the ground. Keep your heels as close to your groin as comfortably possible. 6. Notice whether your low back is arching, and if so, reconnect with your pelvic tilt to stabilize it. 7. Move your shoulders down and away from your ears, spread your shoulder blades, and relax your shoulders. 8. Move your arms 45 degrees out from your body with the palms facing the sky. 9. To help you settle into the pose, use your hands to manipulate the outward rotation of your thighs and feel that your inner groin is relaxing into the pelvis. 10. Resist the temptation to force your knees toward the floor. Instead, set your focus on relaxing the groin area. As your groin releases, your knees will float closer to the floor. 11. Breath in and out slowly for up to 1 minute. Or, if your knees are supported with cushions or blankets you can stay here for up to 5 minutes. 12. To release the pose, exhale and engage your abdominals. Press your low back into the mat and bring your hands to your outer thighs. Inhale and use your hands to press your knees together. With knees together, lift your feet and circle your knees several times to the left, and then the right. This helps massage the hip joints, pelvis and sacral area. Hug your knees into your chest and gently rock from side to side.
Cat Pose: Majariasana
This is a simple pose that helps relieve or prevent back pain, improve abdominal strength and spinal flexibility. Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Increases vertebrae mobility Releases tension in your spine Helps strengthen and tone arms and abdominals Stretches back, abs, and neck muscles Helps increase spinal fluid circulation Lays the groundwork for correct pelvic movements for later forward and back bends.
How to Do The Pose 1. Begin in “table-top” position, on all fours with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under the hips. 2. Spread your fingers wide and point your middle finger straight ahead. 3. Keep your spine in a straight line between shoulders and hips with no sag in the middle. The straight line of your spine continues through your neck at one end and tailbone on the other. 4. With your gaze to the mat, note how in this neutral position your back and front body feels equally long. 5. Tuck your toes under, giving a good stretch to the bottom of your feet. 6. Exhale as you press slowly and evenly into your hands. Contract your abdominal muscles and lift them toward your spine. 7. Round your spine, lifting it to the ceiling as you tuck your tailbone and chin toward your chest. Feel your back pushing up and out of your shoulders.
8. Inhale, relaxing your stomach muscles and reversing the angle of your hips. Lengthen your front body as you look up to the ceiling and pull your pubic bone forward through your legs. 9. Feel your chest reaching away from your waist as you slide your shoulder blades down your back and turn your sit bones upward. Keep your arms long but don’t lock your elbows. 10. Be careful not to allow your shoulders to sag. Release tension along the front of your neck and let your mouth fall open. 11. Repeat the flow of this arching and contracting motion several times, in conjunction with your breath 12. Finish with a neutral spine once again, and release back into Child’s Pose (explained shortly).
Tips or things to avoid If this pose bothers your knees, try placing a towel or blanket underneath, or folding your mat over to give an extra layer of cushion. If this causes pain in your wrists, try with your elbows on the floor. Keep the elbows directly below the shoulders, your hands open and shoulder width apart. For neck pain when looking up, look forward only and not up to the ceiling.
Downward Dog: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward dog, sometimes referred to as “down dog”, is an inversion pose fundamental to the practice of yoga. It is used in warm-ups, throughout the class as a resting pose, and as a transitional pose in sun salutations. It stretches the entire back body including hamstrings and achilles, and builds strength in the back, arms and shoulders.
Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Lengthens and releases tension from the spine Strengthens back, shoulders and arms Stretches hands, hamstrings, calves and arches of the feet Relieves insomnia, fatigue, headache, back pain, and menopause symptoms Calms the nervous system
How to Do The Pose 1. Begin in “table top” position, on your hands and knees, placing the palms of your hands slightly in front of the shoulders, and your knees directly below your hips. 2. Spread your fingers, keeping your index finger pointing straight forward, and evenly distribute the pressure throughout your hands by engaging your fingers. 3. Curl your toes under, and as you inhale, lift your knees off the ground as you reach your hips and sit bones toward the sky. 4. Pause with your knees bent slightly and your heels off the floor. 5. As you exhale, lengthen upwards through your tailbone, and press your abdomen toward your heels.
6. Gently lower your heels, lengthen and straighten your legs only to the point where you feel a stretch but no strain. 7. Slightly roll your inner thighs inward and back, as you roll your heels slightly out. 8. Keep even and light pressure at the base of your index fingers. 9. Spread your shoulder blades and let them slide down your back. 10. You neck stays long and in line with your arms. 11. Keep some softness in knees and elbows, especially if you are a beginner, and avoid locking the joints. 12. As you keep weight evenly on your hands and feet, lengthen your spine. Drop your heels toward the floor as you work to straighten your legs. If your heels don’t reach the floor, you can work with bent knees until you build your flexibility. 13. Hold the pose and bring your focus to your breath for 5 – 10 breaths in and out through your nose. 14. Come down to rest in Child’s Pose (next).
Tips or things to avoid If you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis in your wrist, consider doing the pose on your elbows, or with a wedge beneath your palms. Women in late term pregnancy may wish to avoid this pose.
Child’s Pose: Balasana
Child’s pose is a rejuvenating resting pose that also stretches the thighs, hips and ankles. This is a wonderful go-to pose for you when you’re just beginning your yoga practice journey – your instructors will encourage you to take a break in child’s pose whenever you feel a need to, at any point in the class.
Muscles Strengthened or Stretched Provides gentle stretching for your ankles, knees, thighs, hips and lower back Relaxes neck, shoulders and spine Massages internal organs Relieves stress by calming the mind and central nervous system
How to do the Pose
1. Begin by kneeling on hands and knees. 2. Rest the tops of your toes on the mat, and separate your knees, either hip width apart or wider, to the edges of your mat. Keep your toes together and lightly touching. 3. Exhale as you lower your sit bones slowly toward your heels. You will feel your tailbone lengthen away from your pelvis. 4. Fold your torso over your thighs, lengthening the back of your neck and then resting your forehead to the floor. 5. Place your arms beside your thighs, with your fingers pointing toward your toes and your palms facing up. Let the weight of your shoulders naturally spread and relax your shoulder blades. 6. Breathe into your lower back and belly, and stay here for several breath cycles. 7. To release the pose, inhale as you lengthen your torso forward over your thighs. Engage your abdominals, press your tailbone down toward your heels, and rise up.
Tips and Things to Avoid If your forehead does not reach the ground comfortably, or if doing so raises your tailbone away from your ankles, use a cushion or fist underneath your forehead. An alternate position for your arms is straight out in front you, shoulder width apart, palms facing down. If this pose causes discomfort in your knees, place a cushion between your knees and your sit bones. If you experience cramping of the feet, or feel pressure in your ankle joints, place a rolled up towel or thin cushion between your ankles and the floor.
Summary Before a class, you can choose to do each of these warm-up poses in sequence, or choose your favorites, or pick just one! If you need a quick dose of wonderful at home and you don’t have time for a class, doing your favorite combination of these poses will leave you feeling refreshed and focused.
Chapter Six: 13 Powerful Poses
I have chosen the following 13 poses because they are powerful transformational postures that help you build strength and flexibility, whether you’re a beginner or advanced yoga practitioner. Do them in the same order we’ve presented here, or mix them up to create your own practice.
A Word About Core Strength Not sure what exactly core strength is? Some people make the mistake of thinking that the abs are the only muscles that contribute to core strength. In fact, every muscle in your torso – abs, back, chest, shoulders, etcetera contributes to keeping your body stable and balanced. Think of your torso as a bridge between your upper and lower body. If the bridge is weak, it may sway dangerously from side to side as cars (energy) try to move from one side to the other. When that happens, efficiency drops and the risk of crashes (injury) increases. Your core muscles can be grouped into two categories: stabilizers and movers. Your stabilizers are the interior muscles that are directly attached to your spine. The movers are the outer muscles that provide support to the stabilizers, and help you move smoothly and safely. In virtually all yoga poses, there is an opportunity to engage and strengthen the core. In the pose descriptions that follow, you’ll see prompts like “engage your low belly”, or “slide your shoulder blades down your back”. These, and
others, are cues that the pose also offers an opportunity to condition your core. This, in turn, will keep you healthier and injury-free.
Mountain Pose: Tadasana
Tadasana is all about conditioning your body to the basic posture that is a foundation for all the others. It opens your chest, your heart center, and allows your lungs more room to fill and send oxygen-rich blood to your brain, muscles, nerves and organs. Tadasana helps develop correct posture and helps to clear your mind and calm your nervous system.
Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Tones stomach/abdominal muscles Strengthens feet, ankles and thighs
How to Do The Pose 1. Stand straight and tall, with your toes lightly touching and your heels slightly apart. 2. Let your hands fall naturally at your side, but keep your fingers together. 3. Imagine a string pulling you up through the crown of your head. 4. Drop your shoulders away from your ears and let your shoulder blades slide down your back. You will notice this opens your chest – what we call “heart center” in yoga. 5. Close your eyes, and breathe.
Tips or things to avoid Notice whether your back is arching, or your shoulders start to drift forward. To keep your back in healthy alignment, engage your abdominal muscles, lift through your pelvic floor, and engage your thigh muscles. Remind yourself to drop your shoulders away from your ears, and reimagine your shoulder blades sliding down your back.
Standing Crescent Pose: Indudalasana
A beginner-friendly side bend pose, Indudalasana opens your ribcage and chest to allow for deeper breath cycles that calm the nervous system. It also helps you improve your posture. Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Strengthens abs and intercostals Lengthens side body Gentle warm-up for shoulders and hips Builds balance through grounding of feet and engaging the legs
How to Do The Pose 1. Start in Tadasana. 2. Bring your feet together, with your toes touching and your heels slightly apart. 3. Extending through your fingertips, sweep your arms up over your head 4. Either press your hands together, as in prayer, or interlace all your fingers except your index fingers, leaving the index fingers pointing together to the sky 5. Take a deep breath in. 6. As you exhale, bend to the left. 7. Engage your core, keep your feet rooted to the ground and breathe into your right side body. 8. To add challenge and depth, turn your chest toward the ceiling – heart center to the sky – and look up. 9. Inhale as you return to neutral, and repeat on the other side.
Tips or things to avoid Keep your gaze forward if you have any neck issues Don’t do this if it aggravates any neck, shoulder or hip injuries.
Tree Pose: Vrksasana
Tree pose is a single-leg balancing pose. It helps focus the mind – tough to think about anything else when you’re trying to balance on one leg! It builds confidence, too, because it is easy for you to notice improvements in balance and control as you continue to practice.
Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Stretches shoulders, groin and inner thighs Strengthens core, feet, calves and thighs Builds posture and develops balance Calms the mind, relaxes nervous system Increases awareness of your body and mind.
How to Do The Pose 1. Start from Tadasana/mountain pose. 2. Find a focal point about 6-8 feet in front of you. Keep your gaze here throughout the pose. 3. Engage your core muscles, and slowly transfer your weight to the left foot. 4. Inhale, and lift your right foot and place the sole, with your toes pointing down, either on your ankle, shin, lower thigh or upper thigh. 5. Your knee should be pointing out to the side, comfortably, not forward 6. Keep shoulders and pelvis parallel with the ground 7. Feel the energy connect between the inner arch of your left foot and inner groin. Keeping your core muscles engaged will help and keep you balanced
8. Once you feel balanced, centered and confident, lift your hands into prayer position at heart center. 9. For more challenge, raise your hands over your head, either keeping the palms together or separating them so your arms are parallel. 10. Hold for several breaths. 11. To release the pose, lower your hands and your foot slowly and return to Tadasana. 12. Switch sides and repeat.
Tips or things to avoid For help with balance, touch a finger or hand to a wall, or keep the toes of the raised foot lightly touching the floor Be very careful not to press your foot into the knee of your standing leg. This can cause undue stress to the knee joint.
Chair Pose: Utkatasana
Chair pose, sometimes called awkward pose, is a symmetrical posture where both sides of your body will be working simultaneously. It strengthens your legs, and because you are using one of your largest muscle groups, and your cardiovascular system works a little harder (cardio!) to heat you up.
Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Stretches and strengthens calf muscles Opens shoulders and chest Conditions hip flexors, front of your thighs, adductor muscles (inner thighs) and gluteal muscles. Stimulates abdominal organs and your heart.
How to Do The Pose 1. Start in Tadasana (mountain) 2. Stand with your big toes touching and your heels slightly apart. (A beginner modification is to have your feet slightly apart. If this works for you, great.) 3. Lift your toes and spread them apart. Feel all four points of the foot grounding to the floor: the mounds of your big and baby toes, inside and outside of the heel.
4. Engage your low belly and let your shoulder blades slide down your back. This helps broaden and open your chest and collarbones. 5. As you inhale, lift your arms over your head with your palms facing one another. 6. Be careful not to “shrug” your shoulders: keep your shoulder blades sliding down your back and your shoulders away from your ears. 7. Contract your upper abdominals to pull your lower ribs toward your pelvis. 8. Exhale, and sit back as though you about to sit in a chair. Maintain the natural curve in your lower back. 9. Continue to draw your low belly in while you think of sending your tailbone to the floor. 10. Lift the crown of your head toward the sky as you lift your gaze up to the corner of the ceiling and the wall. 11. Breathe slowly in and out as you hold the pose.
Tips or things to avoid Be careful not to let your knees come forward over your toes. If you feel low back pain in this pose, be sure you are maintaining the natural curve of the spine and your low belly is engaged to support your back. If lifting your arms over your head causes you pain in your shoulders, lift them only as far as you can without causing your ribs to thrust forward, and keep your arms at least shoulder width apart. If you suffer from neck pain or dizziness, keep your gaze forward and do not look up.
Lunge Pose: Anjaneyasana
Most yoga classes will include this basic pose, or one of its Warrior variations, in every class. Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Gluteus or butt muscles, quadriceps or thighs Stretches psoas (main connector between torso and leg that affects posture and stabilizes the spine… often the cause of low back pain) Can relieve sciatica pain Builds stamina in thighs Helps improve core awareness, concentration and balance
(Photo courtesy http://www.brigiddineen.com/yoga/yoga-pose-gallery)
How to Do The Pose 1. Starting from Downward Dog, lift your right foot as high up and as far back as possible. 2. As you exhale, engage your core and bring your right leg forward, under your body, and place your foot on the floor beside the thumb of your right hand. 3. Drop your left knee to the mat, making sure it is right behind your hips 4. As you inhale, lift up your torso and bring your arms over your head, palms facing each other. Your biceps should be beside your ears. (If this is too challenging, just rest your hands on your front knee.) 5. As you exhale, let your hips settle, dropping down until you feel a stretch along the front of your back leg. 6. Keep your front knee and ankle stacked in a straight line, and keep your back straight. 7. Lengthen your lower back and engage your core while you draw your thumbs toward your back, lift your heart, and look toward the sky for a gentle backbend. 8. Hold this pose, or, for more challenge, lift your back knee off the mat. 9. To come out of Anjaneyasana, return your hands to the mat, step your right leg back, and return to downward dog. 10. Repeat on the other side.
Tips or things to avoid If you have shoulder injuries, or raising your arms causes shoulder pain, keep your hands on the front knee. Avoid taking the back bend if you have neck or spinal injuries, keeping your eyes looing forward or downward instead. The key is to feel comfortable. Challenged and comfortable, but no pain.
Warrior I: Virabhadrasana
This is the first of three variations on the Warrior pose. Warrior is a standing leg strengthener, arm/shoulder toner, and it helps stretch the inner thighs. Because you are working major muscle groups in this pose, you will heat up as your heart pumps a little harder to deliver more freshly oxygenated blood to your muscles. (If you’re wondering why such a violent name for pose in such a non-violent practice? In the Warrior poses, what is really being celebrated is the “spiritual warrior”, waging war against self-ignorance.)
Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Gluteus or butt muscles, quadriceps or thighs Stretches psoas (main connector between torso and leg that affects posture and stabilizes the spine… often the cause of low back pain) Can relieve sciatica pain Builds stamina in thighs Helps improve core awareness, concentration and balance Strengthens arms, shoulders, legs and back Opens up shoulders, chest and lungs Stretches hip flexors and abdomen Builds endurance in thighs and core Improves balance, core awareness, and concentration Stimulates digestion and the abdominal organs
How to Do The Pose 1. Start in Tadasana, Mountain Pose. 2. Exhale while you step your left foot about three or four feet behind your right. 3. Rotate your left foot out about 45 degrees, keeping your right foot facing forward. 4. Bring your hips parallel to the front of your mat. 5. Ground the outside of your left (back) foot as you rotate your shoulders and hips toward the front of your mat.
6. Inhale while you lift your arms straight up over your head, keeping them parallel to one another and shoulder width apart. 7. Draw your shoulder blades down your back as you drop your shoulders away from your ears. 8. Exhale as you engage your core, tilting your pelvis forward to move your tailbone down and under. 9. Slowly bend your right/front knee until it is stacked directly over your ankle. 10. Continue breathing, anchoring your right heel until you can lift and spread your toes. This helps stabilize and take pressure off your knee. 11. Continue to tuck your tailbone under and draw it toward your pubic bone. Imagine that your pubic bone is lifting toward your navel. 12. Your head should remain in a neutral position with your eyes gazing forward. 13. Hold the pose for up to a minute, and concentrate on breathing slowly in and out. 14. To come out of the pose, lower your hands to your hips. Inhale while you press your weight into your right heel and then bring your left leg forward. Exhale as you adjust your hands and feet back into Tadasana. 15. Repeat on the other side.
Tips or things to avoid Do not let your bent knee come any farther forward than directly over your ankle. Beginners may find it beneficial to move the back heel out so it is not directly behind the front foot. This can improve stability.
Triangle Pose: Utthita Trikonasana
Trikonosana stimulates the internal organs, helps improve digestion, relieve symptoms of stress, menopause and backache. Can be therapeutic for osteoporosis, sciatica, flat feet and anxiety.
Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Helps increase the mobility of your neck and your hip joints Stretches muscles of the spine, hips, inner thighs, hamstrings and calves Opens up chest and shoulders Tones and strengthens thigh muscles
(Photo courtesy http://www.ekhartyoga.com/media)
How to Do The Pose 1. Begin in Mountain Pose, at the top of your mat. Step your right foot back, about 3 feet, turning your right foot about 45 degrees while keeping your left toes pointing forward. Your hipbones, or hip points, face the side of your mat. 2. Inhale and lift your arms straight out to make a “T”, keeping your palms facing the floor. Relax your shoulders and let your shoulder blades slide down your back. 3. Exhale as you hinge at the hip toward your left (front) leg, reaching toward the front wall with your left fingertips. 4. Reach up through the crown of your head, lengthening your spine while keeping both sides of your side-body equally long. Contract your left quadriceps to lift your left kneecap on your front thigh.
5. Let your left arm gently float down toward your shin, or if you are more advanced, toward a block placed next to the inside of your left foot. Make sure your spine stays long without bending at the waist. 6. Lift your right arm up as though it were floating toward the ceiling, keeping your arms in that “T” formation. 7. Pull in your low belly to provide support for your lower back. 8. Lengthen your neck toward the crown of your head, tuck in your chin just a little, and look up toward your right hand. 9. Ground through the outside of your back foot, feeling your connection to the ground, and root through all four corners of your front foot. 10. Hold the pose as you breathe comfortably. 11. To release the pose, exhale as you look down to your left foot. Again feel your low belly pull in to support your back, root down through both feet, and inhale as you lift your torso up. 12. Turn, step back up to the top of the mat where you began, and repeat on the other side.
Tips or things to avoid If you are experiencing neck pain, keep your gaze looking forward. If you feel low back pain in the pose, try turning the back foot in a little more, allowing the hip to rotate inward naturally. A better opening in shoulders and pelvis can be achieved by backing off from your furthest limit in the pose. Move from your feet to open the pelvis without stressing the joints across the low back. If you have a heart condition, practice this pose against a wall and keep your top arm on your hip.
Dolphin Plank Pose: Makara Adho Mukha Svanasana
There are a series of “plank” poses in yoga. As you get stronger, you can progress to Low Plank (Chutaranga, described next), Plank or High Plank Pose (done with straight arms), Side Plank, and Single-Leg Plank Pose.
Let’s start with Dolphin Plank, done from your forearms. Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Strengthens chest, arms, shoulders and core Stretches hamstrings, calves and arches of the feet Tones and conditions gluteal muscles and abdominals Helps relieve depression and stress
How to Do The Pose 1. Start lying face down on your mat as if you were going to do a pushup. 2. Bring your forearms parallel to one another and flat to the floor, with your elbows directly below your shoulder blades, your palms facing down. 3. Engage the muscles around your shoulder blades to stabilize your upper back. 4. Curl your toes under and engage your abdominal muscles as you lift your body 3-4 inches off the floor. 5. Push back through your heels as you rotate your inner thighs inward. 6. Draw your tailbone toward your heels, and keep your gaze on the floor between your hands. 7. Move your focus to your breath as you hold this pose for a few seconds. 8. You can move in and out of this pose to repeat the hold a few times if a consistent hold is too challenging.
Tips or things to avoid For a further beginner modification, you can do this pose with your knees on the floor. If you have neck or spinal injuries, use a block underneath your forehead.
Low Plank Pose: Chutaranga
Chutaranga is one of the key transition poses in the sun salutation series, performed at the beginning of many yoga classes to help warm up the body. This pose is sometimes called “half-plank”, or “four-limbed staff pose”.
Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Builds strength and flexibility in the wrists Strengthens arms, shoulders, and upper back Tones and lengthens the core muscles
How to Do The Pose
ow to Do
1. Begin in Plank Pose, with the outside edges of your shoulders lined up directly above your middle fingers, which are on the ground. 2. Spread your fingers and grip the floor with all four corners of your hands, so that your fingers are slightly curled and there is a small air pocket between your mat and the middle of your palms. 3. Lengthen from the crown of your head through your heels as you inhale. 4. Exhale, and slowly lower your body down, keeping your elbows tucked in so they graze the side of your body as you bend your arms. Stop when your upper arms are parallel to the floor and there is a 90 degree angle in your elbows. 5. Check that your spine is still in a straight line between your head and toes, that you neither dropped nor raised your hips. 6. Hold. 7. To release the pose, exhale as you return to plank pose or upward dog.
Tips or things to avoid Use caution and discretion if you have shoulder, arm or wrist injuries. For an easier modification of this pose, curl your toes under and drop your knees to the floor.
Pigeon Pose: Eka pada rajakapotasana
Traditional yoga scholars believe pigeon pose helps increase circulation to the reproductive, digestive and urinary systems, and to regulate sexual desire.
Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Stretches and opens up your groin muscles, hip flexor muscles (psoas, rectus femoris) and your hip rotator muscles (gluteus medius and minimus) If you have sciatic nerve tension or chronic low back pain, this position may provide you considerable relief.
How to Do the Pose 1. Start from your hands and knees. Bring your right knee up and place it on the floor just behind your right hand. 2. Lean slightly to the right to help your right thigh rotate outwardly, which will allow you to move your right foot to a position in front of your left knee. The larger the angle of your knee, the more challenging this pose becomes. In other words, keep your right foot closer to your body for a less challenging pose, farther from your body for more challenge. 3. Flex your right foot as much as possible to align your shin with your ankle and reduce pressure on your knee. 4. Straighten out your back leg so that your shin, knee and thigh are all touching the floor behind you. 5. Pull your inner thighs toward one another, which will slightly lift your pelvis. 6. Square your pelvis to the front and allow your weight to be evenly distributed between both the left and right side. 7. If your right hip is not on the ground, put a towel, blanket or bolster underneath it. 8. Check that you back leg is straight behind you, with your ankle in line with your shin. 9. As you inhale, ground your tailbone to the earth and lift the crown of your head to the ceiling. 10. Exhale, slowly walking your hands out in front of you. 11. Work toward getting your elbows on the floor, and for a more advanced stretch, let your torso drop to the floor with your arms straight out in front of you. 12. Breathe slowly and deeply in and out for at least 5 full breaths.
Tips or things to avoid If you experience low back pain in the pose, ease up, pull in your low belly and lengthen through your spine to release any compression. Try adding a blanket, bolster or block beneath the thigh of your bent leg if you find it too intense. If these tips do not relieve the pain, stop. Never practice through pain in yoga. Keep the ankle of the bent knee flexed, with toes up, to help align the shinbone and protect the knee. This should help avoid knee pain that can result from the side-to-side pressure, delivered through the body on one side and the floor on the other, to the knee. If you feel tension or pain around the front knee, move the foot back, closer to the groin, and try a blanket, block or bolster under the thigh.
Locust Pose: Salabhasana
Locust is an energizing pose that helps “heat” the body. It helps strengthen all of the back muscles, improves posture, and is a great antidote to the weak upper back muscles many of us have developed from sitting at desks all day.
Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Strengthens chest, arms, shoulders and core Stretches hamstrings, calves and arches of the feet Tones and conditions gluteals and abdominals Helps relieve depression and stress Strengthens arms, legs, upper and lower back Stretches the abdominals, shoulders and chest Helps prepare you for deeper backbends Improves posture
How to Do The Pose 1. Lie on your tummy, with your legs straight. Press the tops of your feet against the mat. 2. Place your arms beside you, palms facing down. 3. Rotate your inner thighs toward the sky and engage your leg muscles. Engage your core and tilt your tailbone slightly forward as you draw it toward your feet. 4. As you inhale, lift your hands, arms, chest, head, legs and feet off the floor, as high as you can. 5. Roll back your shoulders, engaging your back muscles. Try to release your gluteal muscles (no clenched butts!). 6. The back of your neck should remain long, your eyes focused forward, not up. 7. Breathe here for 30 seconds or at least 3 full breath cycles, then release slowly. 8. Push back into child’s pose for a rejuvenating counter-stretch.
Tips or things to avoid Not advised for pregnant women in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. For an easier modification, keep your feet and legs on the mat and lift only the upper body. If you have a neck injury, use a block underneath your forehead. To further open the chest, interlock your hands behind your back as you lift.
Bridge Pose: Setu Bandhasana
This is a pose that helps open up your hips, abdominals, and chest. Bridge pose helps to relieve stress and mild depression, anxiety, headache, backache, insomnia and menopause symptoms, and stimulates the thyroid glands and lungs.
Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Strengthens chest, arms, shoulders and core Stretches hamstrings, calves and arches of the feet Tones and conditions gluteal muscles and abdominals Helps relieve depression and stress Strengthens arms, legs, upper and lower back Stretches the abdominals, shoulders and chest Helps prepare you for deeper backbends Improves posture Stretches hips, spine, neck and chest Strengthens hamstrings, buttocks and back
How to Do The Pose 1. Start lying flat on your back on the floor. 2. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, about hip-width apart, directly under your knees. 3. Place your arms beside your body, palms pressing into the floor. 4. Lightly lift your chin away from your sternum so your neck maintains a natural curve. 5. While you exhale, engage your abdominals and tuck your tailbone under and toward the pubic bone. Notice here how that pelvic tilt has flattened your lower back to the mat and lifted your hips off the ground. 6. Hold this pelvic tilt. Inhale while slowly lifting your hips and low back off the mat. Press into the inside edges of your feet to help keep your legs and knees parallel. 7. Continue lifting your mid and upper back to bring your hips up to the height of your knees. 8. Continue with the pelvic tilt to avoid arching your low back. 9. Firm your shoulder blades onto your back as your arms ground onto the mat. Be sure not to exert too much pressure onto your neck. 10. Hold for up to a minute, breathing slowly and deeply.
11. To release the pose, start from the upper back and slowly lower the mid back, low back, then hips. 12. Once your hips are back on the mat, lift both knees to your chest, give them a good hug, and rock gently from side to side.
Tips or things to avoid If you’re just beginning your yoga journey, lift only the hips, low back and some of the mid back. Create a straight line with your spine from shoulders to knees. Avoid this pose if you have a neck injury. Use caution if you are in late-term pregnancy. Your knees should be directly over your ankles.
Seated Twist: Ardha Matsyendrasana
After a long day at the office, or on the job site, this is a powerful stretch for your neck, shoulders, and hips. Seated twist relieves stress and mild depression, anxiety, headache, backache, insomnia and menopause symptoms. It also stimulates the thyroid glands and lungs, and releases tension in the mid or thoracic spine, chest and shoulders.
Traditional yoga scholars believe Ardha Matsyendrasana stimulates digestive fire, massages abdominal organs and help detoxify the kidneys and liver.
Muscles Stretched or Strengthened Strengthens chest, arms, shoulders and core Stretches hamstrings, calves and arches of the feet Tones and conditions gluteal muscles and abdominals Strengthens arms, legs, upper and lower back Stretches the abdominals, shoulders and chest Helps prepare you for deeper backbends Improves posture Stretches hips, spine, neck and chest Strengthens hamstrings, buttocks and back Increases range of motion and flexibility in your spine Strengthens abdominal oblique muscles Stretches hip and hip rotators
How to Do The Pose 1. Sit on the floor, bend both knees and place your feet flat on your mat. 2. Slip your left foot under your right leg until it is just past the outside edge of your right hip.
3. Lift the right foot over the bent left knee and place it outside the left thigh. 4. Beginners often benefit from keeping the left, or bottom, leg straight for this stretch. 5. Keep your weight evenly distributed across both sit bones, so they are both equally in contact with the mat. 6. Your right knee should be pointing toward the ceiling rather than either of the side walls. 7. Place your right hand on the floor behind you for stability. 8. Your left arm can wrap around, or hug, the right knee, as long as it helps pull your back straight and tall. You do not want to be hunched over in this pose. 9. If you feel you can go deeper, lift your left arm up, helping to open the torso and spine. As you exhale, bring your left elbow outside your right thigh. Hold your hand up as though it was a stop sign. 10. Starting from the abdomen, twist to the right – away from your right foot – as far as you can without becoming uncomfortable. 11. Gaze over your right shoulder, keeping your spine tall and your head high. 12. With each inhale, lifting through your spine up to the crown of your head. With each exhale, deepen your twist. 13. Breathe slowly and stay here for up to a minute. 14. To release the pose, gently return your gaze to the front, followed by your shoulders, and mid back. Release your legs and reverse these steps to stretch the other side.
Tips or things to avoid If you have lumbar disc disorders, don’t round your back and ensure you keep the natural curve in your lower back. If you have any neck issues, keep your gaze forward and your head balanced on your upright spine. If you have knee injuries, do this posture with the bottom leg straight.
Chapter Seven: 11 Yoga Poses For Stress Relief
“You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.” - Mr. Yoga’s Daniel Lacerda
Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting nearly one in four people. Practicing yoga eases anxiety and stress symptoms by focusing attention on the breath and body, and the physical nature of the postures help to release physical tension. Try this sequence of yoga poses in the order here, or choose one of them at a time, whatever works best for you. If your main interest in yoga is as a tool for stress relief, and you have been leading a sedentary lifestyle or have significant health issues, these postures are designed to gently assist you in easing into the idea of yoga practice, while generating the significant benefits of bringing a greater sense of calm and balance to your life. Whenever you are ready to practice at a slightly more challenging level, move on to the postures outlined in our “warm up” and “powerful poses” chapters.
Salutation Seal: Anjali Mudra
This gesture is used throughout East Asia and amongst yoga practitioners around the world to show respect, often accompanied by saying “Namaste (nah-mah-stay’)”. The word Anjali is Sanskrit for “divine offering” or “a gesture of reverence”. Anjali Mudra encourages a meditative state of awareness.
Benefits Opens the heart, calms the mind, reduces stress and anxiety Builds flexibility in wrists, hands, fingers and arms Completes an energetic circuit between hands and heart, helping to harmonize the two hemispheres of the brain
How to Do The Pose 1. Start either standing or sitting comfortably. 2. Inhale, and bring your palms together, resting your thumbs lightly on your sternum, or breastbone (this is often referred to as “heart center” in yoga). 3. Evenly press your fingers and palms together. Notice whether your dominant hand seems to press with more strength than your nondominant hand. This is common. Adjust the pressure, if necessary, until you sense balance between the two sides.
4. Drop your chin slightly, and adjust your neck until you feel it balanced at the center of your head. 5. Lift and expand your heart center, by pressing it toward your thumbs, out to the backs of your upper arms and your armpits until you feel your elbows hanging heavily downward. 6. Remain here for up to 5 minutes before your practice, or any time you feel a need to ground yourself.
Easy Pose: Sukhasana
A comfortable, seated, cross-legged position that is good for meditation or pranayama. The definition of the Sanskrit word “Sukh” says it all: comfort, happiness and joy.
Benefits A gentle hip-opener that also lengthens your spine Promotes inner calm and grounded-ness Helps to build serenity and reduce anxiety Relieves mental and physical exhaustion
(Photo courtesy http://thewellnessproject.net.au/)
How to Do The Pose 1. Fold a blanket or towel and put it under your bum, so that your sitbones are on the front edge of the blanket and your hips are 4 – 6 inches off the floor. 2. Cross your legs, bringing your left leg in first. 3. Let your knees fall apart comfortably as you cross your shins and slide each foot under the opposite knee. 4. Adjust the gap between your feet and your pelvis, bringing them as close together as you can without discomfort.
5. Lean slightly forward on your sit-bones so that your back is not rounding and you can sit with a straight spine. 6. As your sit bones ground down into the cushion, pull down the front ribs slightly, and feel how you are neither leaning back nor arching forward, instead easily balancing your spine over your pelvis. 7. Allow your thighs to roll outward while your knees melt further toward the mat. 8. Rest your hands on your knees, or thighs, with your palms down for more calm and palms up for more energy. 9. Inhale and lift up through the spine and the crown of your head. 10. As you exhale, relax your shoulders. See if you can broaden the collarbones and chest without bringing tension to the space between the shoulder blades. 11. Close your eyes and relax. 12. Without tilting your head forward, slightly lower your chin. 13. Let the tip of your tongue rest against the roof of your mouth just behind your front teeth. Relax your nostrils, jaw, and all of your facial muscles. 14. Breathe slowly, in and out through your nostrils, for as long as it is comfortable, consciously focusing on the rhythm of your breath. 15. To exit the pose, slowly release your legs until they are straight out in front of you. Shake them a bit. 16. Repeat the pose with your legs in the opposite position (your right leg inside your left.)
Tips or things to avoid If you have a hip or knee injury, adding height to the blanket beneath your sit bones may help. If you experience knee discomfort, try keeping the leg straight.
Chair Lower Back Stretch
Benefits Stretches the lower back and hips Massages internal organs, improves digestion and helps clear mucous from the lungs Helps relieve and reduce stress, insomnia, headaches Calms your mind and helps your central nervous system relax
How to Do the Pose 1. Sit in a chair with your legs wider than hip width apart. 2. Bend forward from the hip, dropping your head as low as it will go without forcing it. 3. Let your arms float over your head, either holding on to opposite elbows or letting your hands fall toward the ground. 4. Relax your neck, back, and entire body. 5. Hold this position as long as you like. Inhale deeply, and with each exhale focus on deepening your relaxation.
Tips or Things to Avoid If this is uncomfortable, put a rolled towel or small blanket in the hip crease and try folding forward again.
Right Angle Wall Pose
This is a great stress-reliever and if you’re just beginning your yoga journey, it will help you build up to Downward Dog. All you need is body-width patch of wall without furniture or art in the way.
Benefits Stretches calves, thighs, hips and low back Helps strengthen shoulders, knees and thighs Will help you get into Downward Dog as your yoga practice progresses.
How to Do the Pose 1. Stand facing a wall, about an arms length away. 2. Place your palms flat on the wall, about shoulder height. 3. Without removing your hands from the wall, walk your feet backward, while walking your hands down the wall. 4. Stop when your torso is parallel to the floor, and your legs are directly under your hips. 5. Aim for a flat horizontal line between your hips and your hands – if you can’t get there the first time, this is the position to work toward. 6. Firmly press your hands into the wall, as though you wanted to push it over. 7. Lengthen your spine by sending your hips back, and keep your elbows and knees straight.
8. Engage your abdominal muscles by tucking them up toward your spine. 9. Once you are in position, shift your focus to your breath. 10. Hold for at least 5 full cycles of deep inhales and exhales through the nose. 11. Release the pose by stepping toward the wall.
Tips or Things to Avoid Check with your doctor before attempting this pose if you have a back or hamstring injury. For a further beginner modification, keep a slight bend in your knees.
Knees to Chest
Hugging both knees into your chest offers a gentle stretch to the hamstrings and releases tension in the back.
Benefits Stretches hips and lower back Massages internal organs
How to Do the Pose 1. Lie flat on your back on a mat or on the floor. 2. Tilt your pelvis so that your tailbone tucks under, spreading your lower back comfortably. 3. Keep a light, natural curve in your lower back. 4. Let your pelvis rest on the ground. 5. Slide your shoulder blades down your back as you consciously distribute pressure from your bodyweight evenly between your left and right sides. 6. Lengthen your legs, bringing them either hip-width or mat-width apart, whichever feels better for you. 7. Bend your knees, bringing both feet flat to the floor about hip width apart. 8. Gently lift your right knee toward your chest, supporting it with your right hand on your right shin, just below the knee, and then do the same on the left side. 9. Hug both knees into your chest, and gently rock from side to side. You should feel a massaging sensation in your lower back. 10. Breathe deeply, focusing on sending your breath into your low back. With each exhale, relax your entire back at little bit more.
Tips or Things to Avoid If you experience knee pain during this pose, roll up a facecloth and place it behind the knee.
Seated Forward Bend: Paschimottanasana
We sit a lot on comfortable, soft furniture, which makes this easy-looking pose surprisingly difficult to do properly. The muscles on the backs of our legs and in our hips are powerful, and it can take quite some time to loosen them up in order to come fully into this pose.
Benefits Stretches spine, lower back, and hamstrings Helps to release worry, calms the mind Helps to improve digestive processes Stimulates ovaries, uterus, kidneys and liver Reduces fatigue, anxiety and relieves headache
How to Do the Pose 1. Begin sitting on a mat or the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. 2. Inhale and lift your arms up to the ceiling, lifting and lengthening up through the crown of your head and fingertips. 3. Exhale as you hinge forward at the hips, without bending your waist. 4. Reach your hands to your toes, feet, ankles or shins, whichever is right for you to feel a comfortable stretch. 5. Hold here for a few breaths, then start to deepen the pose using your breath. With each inhale, lengthen and lift your front body. With each exhale, release a little deeper into the forward bend. 6. To release the pose, engage your abdominals, and slowly roll up, starting with the low back first.
Tips or Things to Avoid Do not force yourself into any forward bend. It’s common for a beginner’s forward bend to look more like sitting straight up. If you cannot reach your toes, use a strap around the bottom of your feet to help keep you aligned at the hip joint as you pull yourself a little deeper into the pose.
Head-to-Knee Forward Bend: Janu Sirsasana
In addition to the stretches to the back body, Janu Sirsana will give you a stretching sensation around your kidney area. Faster progression in flexibility will be noticed if you do this pose more frequently, perhaps each day.
Benefits Stretches back muscles, spine, groin and hamstrings Stimulates and massages internal organs Helps heal gastric distress and improves digestion Helps relieve headache, fatigue, depression and anxiety Calms the nervous system and the mind
How to Do the Pose 1. Sit on the floor on a folded blanket or block. 2. Straighten your left leg out in front of you, bend your right knee and rest the sole of your right foot against the inside of your left thigh. 3. Your right knee should touch the ground comfortably. If it doesn’t, support it by placing a folded towel or blanket underneath. 4. For improved alignment, shift your pelvis and left sit-bone back until your left leg is perpendicular to your pelvis. 5. Adjust your torso so your belly and chest are square with your left leg. 6. Put your hands on the floor beside your hips for support. 7. Inhale, and lift through the crown of your head to lengthen your back and front body. 8. As you exhale, lengthen through your left leg, spread your left toes, keep your foot flexed, and gently tip your pelvis forward. If you feel a good stretch here, hold. 9. If you feel ready to go deeper, inhale and reach both arms up, creating more length through your spine. As you exhale, fold forward from the bottom of your hips, as opposed to the front hip creases. Bring your hands to rest on either side of your left thigh. 10. Hold, keeping a steady, even breath. Think about sending your breath into your hamstrings, groin, and back. 11. Keep your right foot activated, engaging the top of your right foot to sink into the floor and press your right heel toward the groin. 12. Remain in this pose for up to 3 minutes. 13. To release, engage your abdominal muscles, inhale and lift your torso back to up vertical. Straighten your right leg and shake out both legs. 14. Repeat on the other side, holding side two for the same duration as side one.
Tips or Things to Avoid Placing a cushion or folded blanket under your hips may help you get into the pose by bending at the hip rather than by rounding the low
back. Using a strap or belt around the toes of your straight leg can help you keep your pelvic properly aligned and your spine lengthened. Be careful not to pull on the strap too forcefully or you risk straining your hamstring.
Legs Up The Wall Pose: Viparita Karani
This is a gentle, relaxing and restorative inversion pose with many health benefits, including improved circulation, often used for a cool-down pose near the end of a yoga class. Just 5 minutes in this pose will do your body, mind and nervous system a world of good.
Benefits Mild stretch for lower back, legs and hamstrings Calms the mind, eases stress and anxiety Can help mitigate insomnia, high or low blood pressure, headaches and arthritis Brings relief to cramped or tired feet and legs Relieves symptoms of PMS, menstrual cramps and menopause
(Photo courtesy http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/legs-up-the-wall-pose/)
How to Do The Pose 1. Lie on your back, perpendicular to a wall. 2. Walk your legs up the wall until they are straight. 3. Your buttocks should be touching the wall, if necessary adjust yourself closer to the wall.
Tips or things to avoid If this is uncomfortable for your low back, place a small pillow in the small of the back. Those who haven’t done this or other inversion poses before sometimes report a tingling feeling in the legs. If this happens to you, walk your legs down the wall and pull your knees gently into your chest, then walk your legs back up.
Supported Chest Opener
This is a particularly effective pose for those suffering from fibromyalgia, as the tension held between the shoulder blades and through the chest can cause significant discomfort.
Benefits Relieves tension in the upper back and chest areas Helps open up the chest and breath cavity to begin to accept deeper breathing cycles
How to Do the Pose 1. Roll up a towel or blanket, so that the diameter is between 4 and 6 inches. The larger diameter the deeper the stretch. 2. Sit on a mat or the floor, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. 3. Place your roll on the floor behind you, perpendicular to your spine and approximately where your lower shoulder blades will be once you lie down. 4. Carefully lie back onto the roll, adjusting the position as needed so that the top of the roll is at the bottom of your shoulder blades. 5. Breathe, close your eyes and relax. Stay in this position for up to 5 minutes.
Tips or Things to Avoid If you experience cramping sensations in any area of your back, adjust the roll either up or down until you find a comfortable position. A variation on this pose is to turn the roll lengthwise so it runs with the spine. Lie on it with the top of the roll just below your neck and the bottom of the roll just above your waist. Repeat the breathing and relaxation steps.
Standing Forward Bend: Uttanasana
Uttanasana is both revitalizing and therapeutic. With your head below your heart, blood flows easily to the head delivering a welcome boost of oxygen.
Benefits Helps strengthen knees, thighs Stretches calves, hamstrings, hips and low back Relieves stress, headache, insomnia, fatigue Can be therapeutic for osteoporosis.
(Photo Courtesy http://ihanayoga.com.au/)
How to Do the Pose 1. Begin in Tadasana with your hands on your hips. Make sure you feet are parallel, with your middle toes pointing forward. 2. Inhale. 3. On your exhale, gently bend or soften you knees and start to fold slowly forward from the hip crease, not the waist. 4. Move your hips and tailbone back a little as you lean forward.
5. Keep the slight bend in your knees, point your sit bones up to the sky, and feel your hipbones rolling onto your upper thighs. 6. Hold onto your elbows, or, if you can, rest your hands on the floor beside your feet. 7. Encourage your heart center to float down to the top of your feet while you pull your belly up toward your spine, increasing the space between your chest bone and your pubis. 8. Double check you are not rounding in your low back, and that your fold occurs at your hip joint. 9. If your hamstrings are comfortable here, slowly straighten your knees while you send your sit bones higher toward the sky. 10. Gently feel your weight rooting into your heels. Rotate the top of your thighs inward to help align and isolate the inner hamstrings. 11. Let your head hang so that the top of your head reaches to the floor. Focus your eyes through the legs. 12. Hold for several breath cycles. 13. To release the pose, engage your core muscles (abdominals, back, side body). 14. Inhale and bring your hands to your hips, bend your knees, and reach your chest forward. Keep your back long as you rise up, lengthening your torso as you return to standing.
Tips or Things to Avoid Keep your knees bent if you have lower back issues, or a hamstring or back injury. A modification to make the stretch a little easier is to open your feet to hip width distance apart.
Corpse Pose: Savasana
Savasana doesn’t take much physical effort, but when you can let yourself relax fully into the pose, it is one of the most powerful poses of them all in terms of its ability to counteract the effects of, and eliminate, stress.
Benefits Calms the mind, relaxes the central nervous system Relieves stress, relaxes the body Reduces insomnia and improves sleep overall Reduces headache and fatigue Helps relieve depression
How to Do The Pose 1. Lie on your back. Tilt your pelvis so that your tailbone slides away and spreads your lower back comfortably. 2. Keep a light, natural curve in your lower back. 3. Let your pelvis rest on the ground. 4. Lengthen your legs, bringing them either hip-width or mat-width apart, whichever feels better for you. 5. Let your feet fall apart, toward the outer edges of the mat, and allow your groin to soften. 6. Lift arms and shoulders just enough to feel your shoulder blades and back ribs spread. Gently ease your shoulders away from your ears, lengthening your neck. 7. Let your arms fall easily beside your body at about a 45-degree angle. Turn your palms face up to help encourage your shoulders and chest to open. 8. Lengthen your neck just a little by dropping the chin slightly toward the chest. 9. Once you are comfortable with these adjustments, take a slow, deep inhale. 10. As you exhale, letting all your breath out, let your body fully relax and melt into the mat. 11. Stay still, breathing slowly in and out, relaxing your body and quieting your mind. 12. Think about your entire body resting and rejuvenating. 13. Let your eyes relax in their sockets. Let your tongue relax and fall back in your mouth. Soften the lips and the jaw. Let the muscles between your eyes and on your forehead relax. Let the lungs, heart and other organs all relax.
14. Turn your gaze inward, and watch your body and mind rest. 15. Remain here for as long as you wish, from 5 to 20 minutes. 16. To come out of Savasana, slowly bring your legs to your chest as you exhale. Hug your knees and slowly rock from side to side. 17. When you are ready, roll onto your right side. Stop here and observe your mentally centered state. 18. Push up to sitting position, easy pose. Take a moment here to sit tall, feeling the bliss that Savasana has created within you.
Tips or things to avoid If you have lower back problems or a back injury, modify this pose by putting a blanket or bolster under your knees.
Chapter Eight: Yoga For Weight Loss
There are many debates about whether yoga burns enough calories to be considered a catalyst for weight loss. If we’re talking about caloric consumption alone, a Bikram class, where you sweat buckets, most certainly burns enough calories to qualify. A few relatively fast sun salutations in a vigorous Ashtanta or Vinyasa Flow class will bring your heart rate up and tone muscles that will burn more fuel even at rest after the class. For those of you, or those of us, who spent the 80’s and 90’s embracing with ferocity our career pursuits, exercise pursuits (go hard or go home!), working to deadline, taking on more and never saying no… you may recognize that the odd late-night plate of fries and gravy, or chocolate and ice cream, or beer and pizza, was your attempt to combat the stress of all that striving. We’ve already talked about what stress can do to the body, firing up the sympathetic nervous system, and producing lots of cortisol that actually causes the body to hold on to fat, making weight gain a by-product of stressful living. Add emotional eating to the mix, super-size-it restaurant plate-loads, and ladies and gentlemen: we have a problem! With weight gain comes the seemingly endless pursuit of weight loss. More striving. There is the Grapefruit Diet, the Cabbage Soup Diet, the South Beach Diet, the Atkins Diet, the Paleo Diet. There’s Jenny Craig and Herbal Magic and Dr. Bernstein and Weight Watchers. A multi-billion dollar industry is ready to help you “gain control” (more striving) over your eating.
Emotions and the Psychology of Weight Loss
It seems it isn’t only about control, after all, but is largely about emotions. Forty-four percent of the 1300 psychologists responding to a survey reported that “understanding and managing the behaviors and emotions related to weight management” were essential strategies for helping their clients deal with weight-related challenges. Forty-three per cent said that “emotional eating” was a barrier to weight loss. (The American Psychological Association published results of the survey in 2013.)
How does yoga help?
It may seem counter-intuitive. Yoga and its mindfulness may help people lose weight, at least in part, through the very act of not trying so hard. Call it sugar for your soul. “The buzzword here is mindfulness - - the ability to observe what is happening internally in a non-reactive fashion,” says Alan Kristal, professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health. “That is what helps change the relationship of mind to body, and eventually to food and eating.” At the University of Washington’s Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Centre, Professor Kristal and a team of researchers followed 15 thousand overweight adults over the age of 50. Those who did yoga at least once per week over
four years lost an average of five pounds, compared to those who didn’t practice yoga who gained an average of 13 pounds over the same time period. Kristal said the results were “independent of physical activity and dietary patterns.” Hypothesizing that mindfulness learned through yoga, could be what was positively affecting eating behavior, the team conducted a follow-up study in 2009, which was published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, and confirmed the hypothesis. Responses to a Mindfulness Eating Questionnaire led Kristal and his team to conclude that people weighed less if they also ate mindfully, reporting that they: Knew why they ate, and Stopped when satiated. Kristal’s team also found a “strong association” between eating mindfully and yoga practice, but no association at all between mindfulness and other forms of physical activity like walking or running. Yoga helps practitioners develop mindfulness in a variety of ways. For example, focusing on breath helps calm the mind, and that allows an accepting, non-judgmental observation of one’s discomfort while holding a challenging pose. Kristal, who is also a long-time yoga enthusiast, explains, “This ability to be calm and observant during physical discomfort teaches how to maintain calm in other challenging situations, such as not eating more even when the food tastes good and not eating when you’re not hungry.” In yoga we learn that “what we do on the mat is what we do off the mat”. So, as we work to change the way our brains control our reactions to stress, we may sever the tie between emotions and eating, make healthier diet decisions, and as a result, lose weight.
Chapter Nine: Cultivating Mindfulness
“Negative attitude is nine times more powerful than positive attitude.” – Bikram Choudhury, Founder of Bikram Yoga
This idea of “separating” emotions from our responses, or actions, is founded in Pratyahara, which removes the link between the senses and the mind. Remember back in Chapter One, when we introduced you to the eight limbs of yoga? Pratyahara, control of the senses, is one of the eight limbs after Asanas (physical practice) and Pranayama (breathing control). Pratyahara literally means “gaining mastery over external influences”. It is a retreat, or drawing back. “Ahara” is nourishment, “prati” means against, or away; pratyahara is the withdrawal of oneself from those things that nourish the senses. In yoga, this is practiced through detachment of the senses from external things, objects, or occurrences. “It means our senses stop living off the things that stimulate; the senses no longer depend on these stimulants and are not fed by them any more,” says William J. D. Doran, in his book The Eight Limbs, the Core of Yoga. Pratyahara is all the more important, and powerful, when juxtaposed against the sensory bombardment we experience in our techno-saturated mass-media
culture. Sensory overload has become the norm in our society, where streaming internet, computers, email, television, radio, and advertisements use sophisticated tools to stimulate our interest through bright, fast-moving colors, loud noise and other dramatic sensations. Everywhere we go, everywhere we turn, someone is trying to lure our attention and evoke a sensory response. In pratyaraha, it is not just learning to sever the sensory inputs to our brain, but also to be aware of, and control, the way we “process” the information from our senses. The impressions, or filters we apply to information coming in, is often negative, and therefore harmful to our wellbeing. Pratyahara strengthens the powers of immunity in our mind by helping us withdraw from negative impressions.
Notice Your Processes Notice when and if you are often disturbed by the things happening around you. Does the neighbor’s barking dog keep you awake at night? Do you have trouble concentrating on tasks if the radio or television is on? Are you agitated when you have to wear a color you really dislike? By practicing Pratyahara, you will learn to separate stimulus from your state of being and take back control over what you allow in to your brain, as well as what filter you apply to that impression. It’s a powerful concept. As we lose our attachment to sensory distraction, we increase our access to internal peace. “Pratyahara itself is termed as Yoga, as it is the most important limb in Yoga Sadhana.” - Swami Shivananda
Beyond Pranayama, into Pratyahara
In Chapter Four, we introduced you to the idea of focusing only on your breath as a key mechanism to introduce calm into your system. Pratyahara takes that concept of focus a step further, by cutting off the mind’s access to sensory input. You’ll likely be familiar with the images of three monkeys sitting in a line, one covering his eyes (see no evil), the next covering his ears (hear no evil), and the third covering his mouth (speak no evil). Pratyahara in action! There are a couple of Pratyahara techniques to help you close off the senses. The first, yoni mudra, involves the simple act of using your fingers to cover or block your ears, eyes, nostrils and mouth, and then letting your energy and attention shift inward. You can do this for short periods of time, right after Pranayama, but not long enough to starve yourself of oxygen. The second and most common approach, shamghavi mudra, is to stop paying attention to our external senses and shift our focus into ourselves. Buddhist meditation is based on this technique.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness brings your awareness into the present moment without reaction or judgment. Yoga instructors frequently help practitioners with mindfulness by reminding them to simply notice their thoughts and feelings, without getting caught up in them. Noticing and accepting what’s happening right now paves the way for appreciation and gratitude, which feel so much better and brings more positive health benefits than do the alternatives of anger, impatience or tension. Mindfulness is paying close attention, without judgment, to our experiences as they occur and as they dissipate. Instead of trying to escape from, deny, or avoid experiences we perceive as difficult, we practice how to “be” with them. Not just when things are difficult either. Mindfulness can help in our pleasant or positive experiences too. You might be surprised to know how common it is for people not to be mindful, or present, with happiness, often turning it into something else. Does this sound like you? For example, worrying the happy feeling won’t last, or disbelieving that it is happening because you “don’t deserve it”. Being mindful means “showing up” for our lives. We don’t miss what’s actually happening by being distracted, or hoping for something different. And if there is something in our lives that needs changing, mindfulness helps us be present enough to know what needs to be done. Notice that we haven’t suggested that mindfulness will get you to some “other” place. This is not an escape. Instead, mindfulness meditation helps you become aware of what is already true right now, in this minute, regardless of what it is. It helps teach you how to be present and observe what is, instead of resisting the things we don’t want to be true. You might be thinking, “Wait! I’m reading this book because I want to change where I am now!” Yes, I get that. But learning to be mindful is a change, and it is a big one. Buddhist teachings tell us that the true source of our suffering lies not in the pain, or the wife or husband or illness or job, but rather in our attempts to
escape from our current situation (resistance). In other words, it is by trying to get away from pain, whether physical or emotional, and seeking ways to hold on to pleasure, that actually causes our suffering and leads to illness.
There are many different techniques. To explore mindfulness and meditation further, you might like to take a class or engage a meditation instructor. Here is one basic exercise to get you started.
Set Up Your Environment This exercise is an “eyes open” practice, so what you have in front of you will make a difference. Don’t sit in front of the television, or your computer – you’ll want a space that makes it easy for you to focus. Choose a corner of a room or other spot in your home. Choose a plain wall, or create a small “altar” of some kind and decorate it with your favorite objects, photographs, candles or incense. Choose your seat – cushion on the floor, low bench, or chair. As long as it is something stable. If you choose a chair, be careful that the seat doesn’t tilt forward, that your feet can comfortably rest flat on the floor and your hips are slightly higher than your knees.
Begin the Practice Sit down and get into a posture that is upright, without being rigid. Your back should be straight, but maintain the natural curve in your low back. If you’re on a cushion on the floor, comfortably cross your legs. Rest your hands on your thighs, palms facing down. Find a spot to rest your gaze, somewhere in front of you. Wherever it lands is fine, just let it rest where it rests. Don’t stare or do anything special with your gaze, the idea is that what’s there is what’s there. Let your front body feel open, and your back strong. Just sit in this posture for a few minutes. If you notice your mind wandering, and you will, just gently bring it back to your body and the environment you’ve created. Gently is key.
Work With Your Breath Lightly let your attention rest on your breathing. Notice how it feels coming in, and going out, just as it is, without any special breathing technique. If you notice that you are exercising some control over how you are breathing, just notice this and do not try to change it. This is fundamental to mindfulness. What is, is. Sit for a time in this environment, with your breath, and in this position. Watch for a balance between the amount of your attention that is on your breath, and the amount of your attention that is on your environment. There’s no “perfect” split, but in general, about 25 per cent of your focus can be on your breath.
Work With Your Thoughts You’ll notice that thoughts will come in, sometimes in a flood. You might have thoughts of last night’s television show, your vacation plans, things you remember from the past, and there can be so many that you lose sight of your breath. This is common, especially when you first start practicing meditation. The idea is simply to notice that it is happening. When you do notice that your thoughts have started to dominate your awareness, maybe so much that you’ve forgotten you’re sitting quietly in a room, just gently bring your awareness back to your breath. As you do this, make it a neutral observation without judgment. Say something mentally to yourself like “Thinking has been spotted in the vicinity.” Remember that mindfulness meditation is not about getting to a state where there is no thinking. It is about being mindful of whatever happens. There are forms of meditation where the goal is to remove thoughts from the equation and become blank, but that’s not the goal of this exercise. Try not to “resist” the fact that you’re having thoughts. That’s counter to the purpose of mindfulness, which is being with ourselves just as we are, instead of trying to create a version of ourselves to be something we think we ought to be.
“You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.”
Sharon Gannon, co-founder, Jivamukti Yoga
Chapter Ten: How To Decide If Yoga Is For You
Finding Your Yoga Groove
By now you know that whether you are looking to yoga for stress relief, pain relief, injury recovery, or spiritual pursuit, yoga can deliver. Now it’s time to get your head and your heart aligned, get your yoga bag packed, and make it happen. I promised you a step-by-step plan to help you figure out which type of yoga is best for you, and to help you get started. Get ready to put the book down, and grab your mat.
Set Your Intention, But Don’t Let it Limit You Setting your intention is similar to setting a goal, except that you don’t use your rational brain to intellectualize all the things you will do and say. Instead, you consciously “intend” the outcome you want, aligning what you really want in your heart with the consciousness of the intent. All the rationality can get in the way at this point. Recognize it as the voice that tells you “you can’t because….” Summon up and write down all the reasons you are thinking about embarking on a yoga journey, and what result or results you would like to see. Call these results goals, if you like, but recognize the difference
between intention and goal. Intention reveals a heart-felt aspiration and is grounded in the present moment. Goal is an external state visualized and rationalized, at some point in the future. Intention is infinitely more powerful. So yes, write your list, and then put it away, at least for a while. Remain open and curious to what else you might discover – about yourself, about yoga – when you’re not limiting yourself to the items on today’s list. People seek out yoga for many reasons. People often continue their yoga practice for completely different reasons.
Review the 13 Yoga Styles Review the yoga styles in Chapter Three and identify the top two or three that seem to feel right to you, based on your intention.
Try On Your Feelings Around Where, and How Fitness club? Yoga studio? One-on-one with a yoga-trained personal trainer? In your home with guidance from a DVD or the Internet? Your intentions and goals will reveal to you the where and how that will work best to get you started. Listen to your heart, your feelings, as you go over the location options.
Remember Your Physical Limitations Be realistic about what physical condition you are in right now. Check with your doctor before you take your first class and listen to what he or she has to say. And then always start with a beginner’s class.
Check Your Instructor’s Credentials and Experience The range of certifications available for yoga instructors is wide. What is your instructor’s teaching experience, where did he/she receive training? Ask, and listen for cues that your instructor is committed to ongoing education, safety and professionalism.
Ask Questions Before the class, talk to the instructor about your physical condition, your intentions and goals, and ask whether the class will be appropriate for you at this time.
Listen to Your Body
The body never lies. Listen to your body, and never try to get your body into poses that cause pain. Don’t force, or strain, and remember to breathe.
Try Many Classes What one type of class sounds like as you’re reading this book might deliver a completely different experience than you expect. Try several different classes, instructors, and facilities until you get the hang of what’s going to work for you.
Be Patient Yoga is not a race, or a contest, and it does take time to learn. Be patient with your body and with your mind. Know that the more you give to yoga, the more it will give to you.
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You’ve taken this much time out of your busy life to read this book. That’s a good sign that you’re ready to take the next step on your personal yoga and life journey. There is so much more to yoga than I’ve captured here, but I hope I’ve given you a solid foundation from which to build your own experience with yoga.
Rest and Relaxation Remember that some of the most powerful elements of yoga involve rest and relaxation. Especially for those of us pressed for time and juggling deadlines, this alone can be the catalyst to major improvements in quality of life.
Mindfulness in Yoga, in Life So many of us miss so many things before we learn to be mindful. We miss a child’s first step, because we’re rushing to get out the door, or we’ve already left. We miss the smell of the roses because we’re running to catch the pedestrian-crossing light before it turns red. We miss the miracle of our being here at all because we’re chasing that idea of what we think our lives should be like.
Balance Versus Imbalance Expending mental or physical energy trying to suppress unwanted sensations, or heighten those we think we want more of, will eventually lead to physical, mental, or emotional imbalance. This, in turn, leads to illness. In a sense, if we’ve become emotionally unbalanced, it is our own creation. When you start practicing yoga, and if you hope to find inner peace, you will start to see that it was there for you to experience from the beginning. You just had to know how to tap into it. Yoga is a practice and a process that helps us stop and observe what’s happening in our bodies and in our minds. Yes, that elusive happiness, blissfulness, and peace is right there within you, once you know how to look.
“Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they're meant to be." -B.K.S. Iyengar