Tag Archives: Yoga poses

Balance in Your Home Yoga Practice

Easy Pose

Easy Pose

 

Balance In Your Home Yoga Practice
by Trina
 

We tend to do more of what we like and less of what we don’t like. This practice also bleeds over into our home exercise practices, but we must learn to balance even when our instructor isn’t around to remind us or to choreograph our routine. 

Yoga teaches that balance is extremely vital to the practice and our bodies. When we inhale, our exhale should be the length of our inhale. When we work our right side, we must work the left side. Every muscle that we contract, we must lengthen or stretch. In Yoga, each pose has a counter pose to create the necessary balance. 

I want to emphasize the importance of balance in your home routine, specifically when you work your abdominal (abs) muscles. Everyone wants great abs, so people tend to do extensive abdominal exercises, especially at home, where people are enamored with sit ups and crunches. But as you strengthen your abs, you must also stretch out the ab muscle that you worked AND strengthen and loosen your lower back. The abs and the lower back work together to provide strength and stability and to support vital organs and stabilize the skeleton. 

Have you ever seen those body builders whose arms are so huge and thick that their shoulders round over? That is an example of imbalance. We are inclined to develop the muscles and body parts that we can see, the front of our body, often neglecting what we don’t see, the back of our body. 

In your home practice, I encourage you to do more than crunches and sit ups. Try some of the poses listed below that not only work your abs, but they also work your Core. When you work your abs, include poses that loosen, stretch, and strengthen your lower back too. Essentially, you want to make sure that when you work or contract a muscle, you also lengthen and stretch it, for example, after Bridge Pose (contracting the back and stretching the abs) do Plow Pose (stretching the back and contracting the abs). 

Bridge Pose

Bridge Pose

 

       *After Bridge Pose, do Plow Pose 

Plow Pose

Plow Pose

 

Camel Pose prepares the body for more difficult Backbend Poses. It makes the lower back flexible, while limbering the shoulders and opening the chest. Child’s Pose is an excellent counter pose to Camel

Locust Pose

Locust Pose

 

 Locust Pose strengthens the lower back muscles, while opening the chest, and encouraging good breathing. A good counter pose to Locust is to lie on your back and hug your knees to your chest. 

 Bow Pose  induces flexibility in the spine, tones the abdominal muscles, and also helps to relieve backaches. Child’s Pose is a good counter pose. 

Balancing Poses, such as Tree Pose and Chair Pose, also strengthen your abs and your lower back. 

Upward Facing Dog

Upward Facing Dog

 

The Sun Salutations series contracts the abs when you are in forward bends, such as Standing Forward Bend, and it lengthens the abs in back bends, such as Upward Facing Dog

Here are Core Poses that loosen, stretch, and strengthen your Core muscles

Full Boat Pose
The Hundred
Dolphin
Plank
Bridge Pose

Staff Pose
Dolphin Plank Pose
Upward Plank Pose 

Resources:
The Yoga Bible by Christina Brown
The Yoga Journal
About.com
Althea Lawton-Thompson of Aerobics Yoga & More 

*Disclaimer: As with any exercise regimen, consult your doctor or physician before you start. Make sure that you have adequate instructions about how to do these poses before you do them. Leisure Living, it’s contributors, or listed resources are not responsible for any injuries. 

© 2009 KaTrina Love

Yoga Basics Part 4: Alignment

AlignmentisKeyThere are Yoga poses that seduce, challenge, and humiliate you. Some poses will make you smile with satisfaction, while others illicit a grunt of frustration. What ever the pose, and regardless of how it makes you feel, the most important aspect of a Yoga pose is alignment.

Alignment is the combination of technical intricacies of the pose that enable you to properly position yourself into the pose without causing injury. While it might take some time for your pose to echo your teacher’s example, a picture you see a lot, or the fitness lady on the DVD, if your alignment is correct, then with practice, your body will eventually ease into the pose. Of course unless you have injuries that prevent it.

You want to make sure that every part of your body is correctly positioned. Let’s talk about some actual poses as examples.

When you get into position, mentally start at your toes and move up to the top of your head to ensure that you are properly aligned.

Alignment Checklist for Downward Facing Dog

When you get into the Downward Facing Dog position, mentally check that you are:

  • Pressing the heels of your feet towards the ground. It is the act of pressing that is important, and not that your heels actually make it to the mat.
  • Pressing your tailbone up towards the ceiling
  • Pressing your chest towards your thighs.

Also ensure that your:

  • Arms are straight
  • Head is hanging down
  • Neck is loose and not lifted
  • Gazing between your knees
  • Palms are pressed into the mat with your weight on your palm, thumb and first finger to prevent injury to your wrist
  • Fingers are spread wide

These are the technical intricacies of Downward Facing Dog that put you into proper alignment. These alignment principles prevent you from straining your neck, arching your back, and injuring your wrist. They help to lengthen and stretch your hamstring and calf muscles, strengthen your arm muscles, and loosen and strengthen your shoulder muscles.

Take your mind through that mental checklist every time you do Downward Facing Dog. Your pose might not look the way you want it to just yet, but 95% of the battle is getting the alignment correct; the rest is just practice.

Alignment Checklist for Camel Pose

When you get into Camel position, mentally check tha you are:

  • On your knees
  • Pressing your hips forward
  • Pressing your shoulders down and back
  • Lifting your face towards the ceiling
  • Not recklessly hanging your head back
  • Contracting your buttock muscles
  • Opening your chest
  • Putting your hands either on the heels of your feet or in the small of your back

When most people see Camel , they immediately try to reach their arms to their heels, even if it means that they are not up on their knees as they should be. Touching your feet is not the most important thing of the pose. The most important thing about Camel pose is that you are pressing your hips forward while you are on your knees. This stretches and opens your hips, rib cage, ab muscles, shoulders, and chest.

Yoga is a life long investment into your physical, mental, and emotional prosperity and wellness. Take your time to learn the basics, so that you maximize the results. Don’t rush through the Yoga moves. Take your time to breath, listen to your body, and focus on how you feel in each pose. Pay careful attention to the technical instructions of the pose, and do a mental check as you ease into the pose. Alignment is more important than the aesthetics of the position.

*Disclaimer: As with any exercise regimen, consult your doctor or physician before you start. The Leisure Living Blog, its contributors, or listed resources are not responsible for any injuries.

© 2009 KaTrina Love Abram

Yoga Basics Part 3: Focus, Intent, Attitude

FocusAttitudeIntentYogaIn this Yoga Basics series, we discussed how important it is to breath and listen to your body when you practice Yoga. In this article, we discuss the third most important aspect of Yoga: Focus, Intentions, & Attitude.

If you are concerned with what other people in your class are doing, you lack Focus. If you are unhappy with your current Yoga practice, then you must assess your intentions. If you are not getting the mental benefits of Yoga, check your attitude.

Focus

For most people, the Yoga Balancing Poses are their least favorite. Why? Because balancing poses require total Focus, as well as balance, control, and concentration. You must be totally in the moment, in the current pose, and Focused, to be successful. Yoga teaches us to Focus and concentrate, which is the only way that you can remember all of the correct placements of each part of your body in a specific Pose. You must Focus on you. Forget that there are other people in the class. Exorcise the images on DVDs of perfect bodies in perfect poses. To totally be who you are, where you are, in each specific pose, you must Focus. Concentrate on the instructions that your teacher gives you, how your body feels in each Pose, and on the specifics of the Pose that you’ve learned.

Intentions

What are your intentions with your Yoga practice? Is it to lose weight, to become more flexible, to exercise, to become more aware of yourself, to gain peace and calm, to eradicate depression, to treat an injury, or to become stronger? There is no wrong intention; however, you must identify your intentions. When you know what your intentions are, then you can choose the type of Yoga practice that aligns with your intentions. If you want to lose weight, then Gentle Yoga is probably not what you need to take. Bikram (Hot) and Ashtanga Yoga are faster moving, more intense Yoga practices, which are better for weight loss. If you want to stretch and relieve stress, you probably want more Gentle Yoga. Checking different Yoga Studios and classes and talking to the teachers and discussing your intentions and goals will help you to get the most out of your Yoga practice and to get started in the Yoga practice that is more beneficial to you. Visit the Studios. Research the different types of Yoga, so that your practice mirrors your intentions.

 Attitude

A positive Attitude is imperative. A negative Attitude works against you and obstructs the healing principles of Yoga. Yoga connects your mind and body, soothing your conscious, and increasing the positive functions of your body. Your mind is one of the most important organs of your body. There is a process for everything…Yoga is no different. Stay positive that you will reach your goals and reap the benefits of your Yoga practice. Every time you practice Yoga, notice the strides that you make. And you do make positive, productive, forward strides every time you practice Yoga. Your Attitude affects the mental benefits of your Yoga practice. A positive Attitude helps you to Focus and Concentrate better. It also helps you to stay mindful of the intricacies of each Pose that you are tasked with remembering and putting to practice. During every warm up session, establish your intentions and have a positive attitude.

Conclusion

Maximize the benefits of your Yoga practice by focusing inward, establishing your intentions, and having a positive attitude. Yoga is what you make it. You cannot approach Yoga with a competitive mindset, skewed intentions, and a negative attitude. If you do, you are counteracting the positive benefits of your Yoga practice. Your Yoga practice is about you. Focus on you!

Yoga Basics: Part 1
Yoga Basics: Part 2

*Disclaimer: As with any exercise regimen, consult your doctor or physician before you start. The Leisure Living Blog, its contributors, or listed resources are not responsible for any injuries.

© 2009 KaTrina Love Abram
http://www.leisurelivingblog.com

Yoga to Relieve Shoulder, Neck, and Upper Back Stress and Pain

HELPMy girlfriend sent me an urgent SOS message this weekend: HELP, my neck and shoulders are killing me. Whether you are stressed, overworked, tense, intense, or just uptight, you can get relief from aching, sore shoulders, arms, and upper back. Yoga is a great way to relax, center, focus, and prepare. You can also do yoga to loosen up and stretch during the day.

I am a writer and editor, so all day long I sit at a computer typing and reading. If I sit tense, with my shoulders hunched, intensely concentrating, and deeply thinking, I get shoulder pain. When I type a lot, my arms get fatigued. Several times during the day, I do Yoga poses and breathing to eradicate the pain associated with stress and overuse. I encourage you to do these poses during the day to loosen up your muscles and reduce pain and strain.

The calming Yoga breathing and some specific poses can help to reduce the stress that you’ve accumulated in your body. Most of us carry our stress in our shoulders. I’m going to give you a series of exercises to help you alleviate shoulder stress. Some of these poses you can do while sitting at your desk and in other convenient locations.

Warming Up

EasySeatedPoseMy warm up routine includes stretching and soothing my neck muscles, shoulders, and spine. To start, get into a comfortable seated position. I sit cross-legged, but if that is not comfortable for you, arrange your sitting position for your comfort. Just make sure, that your base remains strong and steady on the mat. Sit up straight, lifting your rib cage out of your waist, straighten your spine, lift your head so that your nose is pointed straight ahead. It is important that your posture is lifted. Make sure that your shoulders are down and slightly back. During all of these poses, remember to inhale and exhale, matching your breath to each movement, keep your shoulders down, and tune in to what you are feeling in your body.

Calm, focused breathing

Still your mind and think only about your intentions in this session. You want to calm, soothe, and alleviate stress and the pain it brings. Breathe in and out through your nose (not your mouth). Take a deep breath in: slowly fill the chest with air, imagining that you are pulling in joy, love, peace, and light. Deeply and completely exhale the breath: you will actually use your abdominal muscles to push the breath out, imagining that you are expelling all toxins, stress, and tension. Keep taking those breaths until you feel yourself relax.

Neck Rolls

After about three to five minutes, add head movements to your breathing:

When you inhale, lift your face to the ceiling, and when you are ready to exhale, slowly put your chin to chest. Do this movement 3 times each way for a total of 6. Don’t rush.

100_2693 100_2694

On your last exhale, with your chin to your chest,  roll your head around until your right ear is100_2692 above your red shoulders (make sure your shoulders are down and not hunched up near your ear). You will feel a stretch in your neck and as your neck is stretching, extend your left hand out to your side with your fingers tinted on the mat. Take a couple of deep breaths, and then roll your head to the left side, so that your left ear is over your left shoulder. Note: As you roll your head from side to side, roll it in the front of your body with your chin to your chest. This movement is an exhale. You can alternate back and forth from each side.

When you are ready, do an entire slow neck roll, matching your breathing to your movement. Inhale when your face and head are up and exhale when your face and head are down.

Seated stretches (back & forward)

YogaBackkStretchWith your legs folded, put your rightOpenChest hand on your right knee and your left hand on your left knee. Pull your shoulders forward, round your back, pull your navel into your spine, as you sit back on your tail bone. You should feel a deep stretch in your back and shoulders. Counter this pose by putting your hands palms to the floor behind you, push your chest and rib cage out, and lift your face to the ceiling. Continue back and forth between the two poses 3 to 6 times.

100_2697In your seated position, bend forward with your chin to chest, heading towards the floor. Reach out of your shoulders with your arms out in front of you and stretch. To get a stretch in your shoulders, clasp your hands behind you and lift them up as much as you can.

If it is too painful for you to get your arms up, alternately, sit up, bend your arms clasping your100_2698 fingers together behind your head. Stick your chest and rib cage out while you simultaneously press your shoulders back. Your scalpulas are contracted towards each other.

100_2696Seated Side Stretch

Sit cross-legged. Lift your left arm up to the ceiling, reaching out of your waist, and then bend your torso towards the right, bringing yoursidestretchleft arm over parallel to your ear. Your right arm should be on the floor supporting you. Gaze toward the ceiling. When you sit up, inhale, and when you bend to each side, exhale.

You can also do a side stretch with your fingers linked and your arms above your head. This move is going to help your shoulders and your oblique muscles of the side.

 

Seated Twist

YogaTwistSitting with your legs folded put your left hand on your right knee. Inhale, lifting your chest and rib cage, while you put your right hand behind you, and exhale as you turn to the right as far as you can and attempt to look over your right shoulder. Keep your shoulders down and back and your right arm straight. Don’t lean on the right arm, use it to push you up. You want to remain erect. Remember to breath. Do the same thing on the other side. Not only does this move help your shoulders, but it also massages your internal organs, helping digestion, and it massages and stretches your spine.

Poses that open and increase strength and flexibility in your shoulders

Poses that open, release, and stretch your shoulder and arm area:

Seated Eagle Pose

100_2688Eagle Pose is a balancing pose; however, we are modifying the pose. Sit100_2689 down cross-legged. Bend your arms so that your hands are in front of you. Close your arms with the elbows and palms toward each other. Cross your right arm over your left arm, and put your left hand in your right hand. Take a couple of deep breaths and relax into the pose. Don’t force it. Eagle ArmsYou should feel a good stretch in your shoulders.

  

  

Seated Eagle 

 

Cow Face Arms

CowArmThe positioning of the arms in the Cow Face position opens, stretches,cowposefront and relieves the shoulders. Only go as far as your body tells you to go, and be mindful of how your body feels in the pose. You can use a towel or band to help if you cannot get your fingers interlocked. Don’t push it. If you practice often, the pose will get easier to get into because your body will become more flexible.

Thread the Needle

ThreadNeedleThreading the Needle stretches and opens your shoulders. Get on yourThreadNeedle01 hands and knees. Take your right arm and curve it through the opening made by your straightened left arm and your body.

Take the right arm through until you are laying on the side of your face.

 

Cat/Cow

cowOn your hands and knees, arc your back up and tuck your tail bonecat under. Push your back up as much as possible. This is Cat. You should feel a stretch across the top of your back and shoulders and the middle of your back. For Cow, drop your stomach, stick your tail bone up, and lift your face. When you are in Cat, exhale. When you are in Cow, inhale.

 

camelCamel Pose

Camel Pose is a backbend that stretches the chest, abdomen, and quadriceps. It also improves spinal flexibility. Click here for detailed instructions about Camel Pose.

© 2009 KaTrina Love