Twist & Twirl to Beat Fall Stress

It’s in the air…. shifting seasons… shifting schedules. The modern fall / holiday season can be challenging for many reasons. Nature is beckoning us to slow down and take some time to renew and restore. We resist. We persist. It’s ok. Whether you go with the cycling of the seasons or stay busy, everyone can benefit from practices that center, ground, and encourage a smooth energy flow. Twists are great for “fall” Yoga as they are neutralizers in the yogin’s tool box. Keeping the pelvis & hips stable, the spine long, and twisting from the belly will maximize the benefits of the twist and will promote spinal health. Deep twisting is not recommended if you have severe spine issues. I’ve included a range of twists that run from a therapeutic chair twist on up through a fun arm balance twist in this sequence. Check the slides for some notes on each.

This twist sequence is inspired by my kids. When we get the “grumble bugs” we grab each other and shake them out! As much as the holidays are meant to bring us together in celebration of life, it’s easy for those grumble bugs to make an appearance as well. It’s nice to have some techniques to counter your frazzled nerves. At the very least, pause, breathe deep, let go, move on. Life is too short ~ Best to find a way to enjoy the ride. Namaste.

Blocks for Better* Backbends

Yoga Blocks can help you feel both more support and provide an opportunity for you to open more deeply depending on how you use them. I love that my “style” of yoga focuses on both the therapeutic and challenging aspects of Hatha/Vinyasa Yoga. The slides here demonstrate how to use the blocks to:

  1. Rest your lower back & help to lengthen your spine in a fairly neutral position. Use this for low back injury or strain as long as it doesn’t cause more pain. It is also an excellent way to lengthen your Psoas muscle without strain. This is a great pose for people who spend a lot of time in a sitting position throughout the day. It is a nice Restorative Yoga Pose.
  2. Use the block behind your shoulder blades to help open your upper back & chest. Use this if you slouch much or are just wanting to open up deeper in backbends.
  3. Use the block for stability to help open your shoulders for backbends & inversions.

*See the slide captions for a little commentary;-)

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    *Better is a loaded word – in this case – longer spine aids backbending / heart opening with less strain for your back & shoulders. Play nice – be kind to your body – it’s the only one you’ve got. xo Kate

Open Your Hips & Learn to Fly ~ Malasana > Bakasana

I began the week with a nod to the Mala for my #MeditationMonday blog at ShineYoga.com. A Mala is the strand of meditation and prayer beads that you will often see adorning a modern yogin’s wrist or neck. Malasana or “garland pose” is a deep yoga squat that helps you to begin to open your hips, lengthen your spine, strengthen your core, and improve flexibility and balance for your legs. Deep squatting is an essential component in my PreNatal Yoga classes for it’s myriad benefits during pregnancy and it is generally a great pose to use to aid digestion. Malasana can also help you develop the the strength, flexibility, and coordination necessary for many of the fun yogic arm balance poses. Malasana can be challenging if you have knee issues or tight muscles in your legs. While many of the yoga poses will cause sensation in your body as stretch and strengthen, joint pain or sharp shooting pain should always be observed and responded to with loving modifications.

Watch the slideshow for both therapeutic modifications/variations – and to see how Malasana can be a launchpad for some adventure in your yoga asana practice.

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Heart Opener ~ Chest & Shoulder Stretch

Use this short exercise to help open your heart center…. chest, shoulders, lungs. Directions are down below the slideshow.

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Interlace your fingers, and then unlock the pinkies – make a little temple with the little fingers to alleviate any knuckle pressure during the pose. Important – keep your elbows close to keep your shoulders safe and to receive the full benefit of the pose. Place your elbows against the wall at shoulder height. Keeping your elbows shoulder distance, walk your feet back until you feel you are in a comfortable position to lean your chest in towards the wall. With your heart and head reaching to the wall, stretch your hips back away from the wall to stretch your spine and open your heart center. As your flexibility increases, slide the elbows lower down the wall. Again, keeping the elbows close, begin to press your chest towards the floor. Remember that the purpose of the pose is to open your upper body, keep your low-belly toned so that you don’t overarch your lower back. In this deeper variation, you will be creating a sense of open-ness and integration that will aid you in some of the more advanced postures like full wheel and forearm balance. Be kind ~ breathe deep ~ Namaste.

Low Back Attack

Often when you strain or injure your back, the back muscles and muscles that support the back, seize up in an attempt to brace your back and prevent further injury. This natural reaction is a good thing. But… sometimes the muscles have a hard time letting go of the tension. When you add chronic tension to a low back strain or injury, a chain reaction is enacted where stiffness, tension, and pain get caught in a feedback loop that limits mobility and slows healing. This short exercise or sequence allows the back to rest supported in it’s natural alignment without strain. It also allows the muscles to rest in their contracted state. Once the tension begins to dissolve in their protective contracted state you can begin to encourage greater movement and length in the muscles that is necessary for everyday comfort and ease. As is in all things, nothing works for everyone 100% of the time. Use your intelligence, pain as a guide, and your doctors recommendations to promote your fullest healing/recovery.

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To perform this therapeutic Yoga exercise…. Lay on the floor with about the thickness of one or two yoga blankets long against your spine – so your hips are on the floor but your low back curve, spine, and head are supported on the floor. Best to let your head rest back onto the blanket without additional height. Keep your knees bent and try to get your body to trust you as you hold steady and make space for any chronic tension or spasming to release. Once you feel yourself relax and as long as you are 100% pain free – start to stretch one leg very slowly towards straight – it might only be 2 inches to start. This will help your psoas to relax and lengthen so you don’t have unnecessary tension in your low back.

To begin the leg extensions, gently engage the muscles of your leg and begin to stretch it towards straight. Use pain & tension as a guide. If either arise go back to the start position and practice resting easy before you move again.

If you are able to extend the leg straight, keep your  muscles gently engaged and ground the back of you leg into the floor to extend it fully straight at the knee. This will gently lengthen the muscles on both the front and back of the leg and help them release their grip on your back.

Only if you can extend your leg fully (with no pain!) allow the leg to relax and rest for a few minutes. Repeat the sequence on the other leg and then give it a try with both legs. It may be helpful to use a rolled up towel under your knee if full leg extension is not comfortable.

Back pain is tough – I hope you feel better soon! Namaste

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