Want to Relax? Try Yoga

Stress is ever present. Fortunately, we’ve got yoga, which is proven to help reduce stress and the health effects it causes. The best part? You don’t need any prior experience to benefit from the practice. Whether you are at home, work or somewhere in between, yoga is always here to help you relax. We’ll show you how to get started.


A 5-Minute Relaxing Yoga Practice

This short sequence works the body and rests the mind in just five minutes.


PIOTR REDLINSKI FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

WHAT YOU NEED

You don’t need anything but yourself. If you have a yoga mat, that’s great but not necessary. A towel works, too, or you can just sit on the floor. Find a comfortable spot where you can be alone and uninterrupted for only five minutes. Depending on how your body feels, you may want to use a yoga block, blanket or meditation cushion to place underneath your body to support your body in a comfortable seated position.

You can also take this same yoga and mindfulness practice outside for a change of scenery and influx of nature. Experiencing the vibrant colors, sounds and feel of the outdoors during your yoga practice can provide a positive energy boost.

START WITH SOME MINDFULNESS

Let’s start with your breath. This is a great way to slow down, become present in the moment and connect with yourself:

  1. While sitting, allow your shoulders to relax.
  2. Extend your tailbone down and contract your stomach, which will help to straighten your back and lengthen your back from the top of your head.
  3. Inhale for six seconds while pushing your stomach away from your body.
  4. Exhale, allowing your stomach to come back to your body.

Do this four times (or more if time permits).

NOW BEGIN

As you go into each yoga posture think about your own self-care, self-respect and a curiosity toward yourself and your moment-to-moment experience. This will put you in the right mindspace for the exercises.

1. Easy Pose (Sukhasana). Begin in a comfortable seated position, legs crossed. Relax your feet and allow your pelvis to be in a neutral position. Think about how you are breathing. Feel the sensations in your body. Sit for a minute and feel the sensations that come with being unrushed, still and internally aware.

2. Neck Roll: Allow your head to fall toward your chest and slowly move your head around in a full circle to the right three times and then to the left three times. Invite the feeling of letting go. Return to the easy pose and lift the crown of your head up.

3. Shoulder Roll: Roll your shoulders in forward circular motions four times and then backwards four times. When you are finished inhale, bringing your hands over head and exhale, placing your hands together at chest level.

4. Tabletop Position (Bharmanasana):Slowly move onto your hands and knees, placing your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Your palms should be on the floor, fingers facing forward with your weight evenly distributed on your palms. Center your head in a neutral position and soften your gaze downward.

5. Cow Pose (Bitilasana): Inhale as you drop your belly toward the mat. Lift your chin and chest and look up toward the ceiling. Pull your shoulders  away from your ears.

6. Cat Pose (Marjaryasana): Exhale and pull your stomach toward your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. Gently release the top of your head toward the floor.

7. Repeat Cat-Cow five to 10 times in an unrushed and peaceful rhythm.

8. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): Tuck your toes under your feet, press your palms into the floor and lift your hips up, extending your tailbone toward the ceiling. Push your heels back and slightly down toward the mat. They do not have to touch the ground. Allow your head to drop so that your neck is long. Stay here for a few deep breaths.

9. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana): Slowly move your hands to your feet, and release the muscles in the neck and shoulders. Also release the weight of your head and allow your legs to be straight.

10. Cross your forearms. Place your right hand in front of your left upper arm and weave your left arm behind your right upper arm. Press your heels into the floor and extend your tailbone up to the ceiling. Shake your head back and forth to release your neck. Stay here for at least three breaths before releasing the arms from the crossed position.

11. Mountain Pose (Tadasana): Bend your knees, pull your stomach toward your back and roll your body up.

12. Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana): Extend your tailbone down. Inhale here and place your hands together at chest level.

13. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana): Slowly move your hands to your feet, and release the muscles in the neck and shoulders. Also release the weight of your head and allow your legs to be straight.

14. An additional option is to bend the knees slightly to place one palm flat on the floor or onto a block or anywhere on your leg other than your knee and raise the opposite hand over the head. Try to align the shoulders, slightly twist and look up following the length of the extended arm. Do this on both sides.

15. Child’s Pose (Balasana): Softly come to your knees in a kneeling position. Extend your hands forward in front of you. Allow your torso to relax down and back onto your thighs. Allow space between your knees  and the toes to touch. If possible, allow the buttocks to touch the  heels of your feet.

Breathing Exercises

We do it mindlessly, over and over, but with a little thought, the process of breathing can be transformative.


PIOTR REDLINSKI FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

BREATH REGULATION

The key components of yoga include postures, meditation, relaxation, and breathing exercises. These features of yoga are not exclusive and do complement each other, but the one that transcends most profoundly is breath. Breath is often thought of as the guide in all areas of yoga. Yoga helps bring more awareness to the breath which has both physical and psychological benefits. When we are stressed, we often will hold or shorten our breathing or breathe in a short, stilted manner. Being able to continue to inhale and exhale calmly and deeply throughout life is a tremendous stress reliever.

Throughout yoga class, teachers will remind you to regulate your breath and this is one of the most transferable skills that you can very quickly take off of the mat and into your everyday life.

BREATHING EXERCISES

Below are a few breathing practices that you can do anywhere, anytime, to get back in touch with your breath. Consider these exercises a stress-relieving pause whenever you need it.

BELLY BREATHING

  • Sit comfortably with your legs in a comfortable cross-legged position and close your eyes.
  • Inhale from the bottom of your belly, then into your chest and imagine filling up your body with breath all the way up to your throat.
  • Exhale from your throat, chest and belly.
  • Repeat five times.

A HEART-CALMING BREATH

  • As long as you don’t have any knee problems, sit in kneeling position with your heels underneath your hips. If you have any knee problems, sit comfortably with your legs crossed.
  • Place one hand above your heart and another on your belly (it doesn’t matter which; choose whatever comes naturally).
  • Close your eyes and inhale and exhale to the mantra, or repeated saying, of “let” on the inhale and “go” on the exhale.
  • Repeat at least five times before placing your hands on your thighs and opening your eyes.

COMBINING BREATH WITH FULL-BODY MOVEMENT

  • Begin in a child’s pose with your knees on the ground and your hips on your heels resting on the backs of your feet and your hands outstretched in front of you.
  • Tuck your toes and lift your hips up and back into downward facing dog
  • Inhale into a plank pose (kumbhakasana), or the top of a push-up, with your shoulders over your wrists and a straight line between your shoulders and your heels.
  • Exhale as you lift up and back into downward dog.
  • Repeat five to 10 times inhaling into plank and exhaling into downward facing dog.
  • Rest in child’s pose.

 

By Ari Isaacman Bevacqua, LaShone Wilson and Lara Atella

Originally posted here 

 

Advertisements

“Props are for Wimps!” and Other Sage Advice

About 15 years ago, a student I’ll call George showed up for my class one day. He was in his early 60s and had been a runner. But he’d chewed up his knees from years on the pavement, so he started working out at the gym where I was teaching instead. His chiropractor told him he really needed yoga and recommended my classes. George embarked on his yoga journey intent on doing the hardest poses in the most strenuous fashion, all while gritting his teeth or, alternatively, wincing.

When he first starting coming to my classes, I would directly request that he use a prop. But he ignored me. My next strategy was to discretely sneak a block next to his mat. But it would just sit there, lonely and untouched.

“Come on George,” I’d quietly urge, “It will feel a lot better.” “Props are for wimps!” he retorted with a good-natured chuckle. “I’ll loosen up eventually.”

If I knew then what I know now, I would have said, “It’s nice to be optimistic, but flexibility is not just a matter of will, it’s dependent on how you’ve used your body throughout your life, as well as your age, sex, and genetics. If you don’t use props for some of these poses, you might hurt yourself.”

George might sound like someone who doesn’t really understand yoga – self-compassion, nurturing, non-competitiveness, and self-acceptance were not on his radar.But it’s not an isolated perspective.

I once taught a workshop in a studio that had no props, well they had mats. . .but that was it. Super bare bones. I asked the studio owner about it and she said, “Well, I just don’t want my students to become dependent on them.

”Yeesh. Another studio owner once told me that if I just pushed myself harder, I would look like her in a few months. Gasp. . .Choke. . .Breathe. . .Namaste.

Even though I didn’t understand much about the science of flexibility at that time, I knew that I could hurt myself if I overdid it and I wasn’t interested in that.

I’d rather be a little tight but still able to walk in 10 years, thanks.If you have a short torso, long arms and legs, hypermobile joints, and a cheerleading history, you might make it to the cover of Yoga Journal performing any number of gravity-defying, Instagram-ready positions.

For the rest of us, there are props.

Eventually, I figured out how to help George. I started making the whole class get a block, bolster or blankets depending on what we were doing.

Everyone, myself included, would do the same pose with the prop and then I’d say things like, “You may choose to do this without the prop if you like, but I’m going to show it and teach it this way.” Somehow this shift in my teaching gave George the permission he needed to accept props.

I noticed that he began to struggle less and enjoy class more. He stopped gritting his teeth and wincing, he even began staying for Śavasana instead of hustling out with an excuse that he was late for something.

George got a little more flexible, but mostly, he started to find a little more quiet within himself, and a weekly opportunity to take a mini vacation from his strive-drive.

I believe that if yoga teachers can help people feel a bit more comfortable in their own skin, a little less stressed, and give them a chance to take a small reprieve from their self-punishing tendencies, then we’ve done something positive, we’ve given students the space to explore a way of being they may not have access to anywhere else in their lives.

Kristine Kaoverii Weber, MA, C-IAYT, ERYT500, YACEP
Director, Subtle® Health, LLC and Subtle® Yoga Professional Trainings

Yoga and Widening the Nervous System Windows

For the past 10 years, I’ve been training Mental Health professionals to use yoga to help their clients learn how to regulate their nervous systems and build greater resilience. For me, this is one of the most profound and culture-shifting potentials of yoga – we can use these practices to learn how to increase our capacity to get balanced. And we all know that in today’s world, well…just about everyone can use a little help with that.

Yoga techniques can work in the short term as soon as you learn and use them and, research suggests that with regular practice, they begin to create long-term changes in the brain and nervous system, and bias the brain toward a more positive outlook, better mind-body awareness, and a greater capacity to play nicely with others.

One of the models I use to explain how yoga helps (which comes from neuroscientist Dan Siegel’s work) is called the “Window of Tolerance”.

The window explains that the nervous system vacillates between “hyper” and “hypo” arousal. When we can find middle ground or “Optimal Arousal” we think clearly, make good decisions, and basically feel balanced. When we are in a hypo arousal state we become rigid, depressed, cutoff, and/or avoidant. And when we are in a hyper arousal state we feel a sense of chaos – agitation, anxiety and/or anger and rage.

Oh, and BTW, there are many windows in our lives. For some folks a screaming TV or child and getting cut off in traffic poses no distress, but a disorganized flatware drawer might set them off. Clearly, everyone has different levels of tolerance about different things in their lives.

For some people, some of these windows are barely cracked open. The process of widening these windows is the process of developing greater resilience.

How does yoga help?

Well yoga, through its four main “process tools” (ethical engagement, breathing practices, mindful movement, and meditation) offers a comprehensive system to widen those windows of tolerance both cognitively, and via the body/nervous system – or what the neuroscientists call both “Top down” and “Bottom up” self-regulation.

Don’t worry if you miss it, the replay will stay up on my Subtle Yoga with Kristine Weber page. And if you want to really get down into the nuts and bolts of it all, check out my courses: The Science of Slow and The Yoga and Neuroscience Connection.