With Yoga movement and breathing, visualization, and relaxation techniques, pain and fatigue can be reduced, deeper sleep can be achieved, and stress can be eased. Inappropriate yoga exercises can result in increased distress, but there should be no adverse side effects from adapted yoga. Most people feel better right away after a yoga session. My yoga students often report that they are sleeping better, they have less tension in their muscles, and they have learned ways to cope with stress. They tell me that yoga has improved their quality of life.
Not all yoga poses and techniques are appropriate for everyone, so before starting, talk with your doctor or health care provider about which poses and exercises would be best for you and which you should avoid. Then listen to what your body tells you. If a pose or an exercise doesn’t feel right, do not do it. But at the same time, don’t be afraid of working to make changes.
Each pose or exercise has a foundation, which varies from pose to pose, exercise to exercise. In standing poses, your foundation is your feet. Make sure you are standing correctly, with your feet lined up, not turned out or staggered, one more forward than the other. You then work up from your feet to align the rest of your body.
In sitting poses, your hips and pelvis are the foundation, so make sure you start your pose balanced evenly on each side of your buttocks, with both hips level and aligned. If your foundation is out of alignment when you begin a pose, it can nullify any benefits the pose might have offered and possibly provoke other problems.
When you complete a pose or exercise, remember to focus on your foundation once again, to make sure you end up in alignment.
Yoga Mountain Pose
Stand on your mat, with your feet a few inches apart and your arms at your sides. If possible, keep your eyes closed. Otherwise, focus on one spot in front of you to keep your eyes still, which will help your balance. Feel the contact of your feet against the mat and the support you receive from the floor. Let your feet feel heavy.
Move your focus up to your legs. Do not lock your knees; feel your legs supported by your feet and ankles. Then move your focus to your pelvis. Are your hips balanced? Does one side feel lower than the other? Does one side feel more forward than the other? What can you do to bring yourself into balance?
Let the tension in your buttocks, lower back, and abdomen release.
With each exhalation, soften the upper back muscles and relax your shoulders. Do not pull them back, just let them drop, and feel the weight of your arms hanging at your sides. Let your hands feel heavy. With each inhalation, feel your upper body expand and open.
Continue from your spine up into your neck to your head. Move your chin forward gently, and then draw it back, as you lengthen the back of your neck and your throat. Find the spot where your head feels balanced on your neck, and let it rest there. Relax the muscles in your eyes and face and release your jaw, gently separating your upper and lower teeth.
Shift your body weight slightly forward, onto the balls of your feet, without lifting your heels. Then shift your weight back onto your heels, keeping your toes on the floor. Finally, find a spot between your heels and toes where you feel centered.
Focus your attention on your breath. With each inhalation, feel the energy rise evenly on both sides of your spine, toward the top of your head. Lengthen your spine, rising upward like a mountain from its base toward the sky. When you exhale, be aware of your feet in contact with the floor, and let them feel heavy and stable, supported like a mountain by its base. Finally, visualize a thread running from the top of your head, down through your body, to a spot between your feet. See how still you can stand around this thread, without the feeling of swaying.
Hold Mountain Pose for 10 gentle breaths. On the eleventh breath, inhale, your arms out to the sides and straight up, elbows by your ears. Keep your shoulders relaxed down from your ears. On the exhalation, gradually lower your arms out to the sides, feeling your hands slowly moving through space until they come to rest at your sides. Stay in this position for one more breath before coming out of the pose. You’ll be amazed at how relaxed and strong you will feel.
Yoga Seated Mountain Pose
When standing or seated, your hips and pelvis are the spine’s foundation. We’ll start by aligning them. Place your chair at the edge of your mat. Sit toward the front edge of the chair seat, with your spine lengthened and your knees and feet about hip-width apart. Place your feet on the mat, directly below your knees, not angled out or in or one forward of the other.
Your abdomen can relax more if your knees are angled slightly below your hips. If they are not, sit higher by putting a folded blanket or pillow on the chair seat. Rest your hands on your thighs, palms down, relaxed.
Relax and release your shoulders down, away from your ears. Let your elbows feel heavy, and soften your abdomen. Bring your awareness to your sitting bones, which are the two bony structures at the base of your pelvis that you are sitting on.
Roll back onto your buttocks, and notice what happens to your posture. You slouch, your shoulders around forward, your chest contracts, your chin moves forward, and you compress the back of your neck. Now roll forward onto the center of your sitting bones. Feel how the spine lengthens and seems lighter. Your chest opens, your chin moves back, and the back of your neck lengthens. Do it again. Sitting in alignment takes less effort and reduces muscle tension in the hips and pelvis. You may experience a feeling of melting release in your abdomen. It can also make your back feel less tired.
Now bring your awareness to your neck and your head. Quietly move your chin forward, then draw it back, lengthening the front and back of your neck evenly. Come to the spot where your head feels balanced on your neck, and let it rest there. Relax the muscles in your face and release your jaw, separating your upper and lower teeth.
To begin, lie on your back on your mat (or on a carpeted floor). If lying on the floor is uncomfortable for your back, try Relaxation Pose with your calves resting on the seat of a chair. For comfort, you can place a folded blanket on your mat and a pillow under your head (or under your neck and head). If you tend to get chilly, cover up with a blanket.
Place your feet hip-width apart and yours arms by the sides of your torso.
Lift your right leg a few inches, point your toes, then push your heel forward, and gently lower the leg. Repeat on the left side: lift the leg, point the toes, flex the foot, and lower it back down. Let both feet completely relax and flop open. Lift your hips, draw your tailbone toward the ceiling, and lower back down. Leave your head on the floor as you lift your chest and shoulders, roll your shoulders back and down, and then lower them.
Lift your right arm a few inches, make a fist and tense it, then stretch your fingers out, turn your whole arm so your palm faces the ceiling, and lower the arm. It should be about 12 inches from your hips. Repeat on the left side: lift the arm, make a fist and tense it, stretch the fingers open, turn the whole arm so the palm is up, and lower it back down.
Now roll your head slowly from one side to the other and back to the center. Do you notice any residual tension in your body? Where is it? Inhale all the tension up into your face. Squeeze your eyes shut, scrunch your lips, and tighten your facial muscles. Then open your eyes and, with your mouth wide, stick out your tongue. Then let your face settle into relaxation, as you close your eyes and mouth. Inhale slowly, and on the exhalation let out a long, audible AAAHHH.
Stay in the pose as long as you want. To come out, bend one knee at a time, and roll onto your right side. Remain there for a few breaths, and then use your arms to help you sit up.
practice with Care:
If you have a cold or difficulty breathing easily, skip this pose.
practice yoga with Care:
If you have low blood pressure, sit down if you start to feel light-headed.
Yoga is an art and science that began in the Indus Valley civilization thousands of years ago. The word yoga means “union”: of the body, the mind, and the spirit.