Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yoga for Pain Relief

The following article by guest blogger, Kelly McGonigal talks about how chronic pain can affect mental health and she details the Breath of Joy to help combat the feelings of depression or hopelessness that can often accompany chronic pain. Kelly McGonigal is a yoga teacher and health psychologist at Stanford University and the editor in chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. The following is an adaptation and excerpt from Kelly McGonigal’s new book, Yoga for Pain Relief.

The Effects of Chronic Pain
One of the most profound but least appreciated effects of chronic pain is the toll it takes on mental well-being. People with chronic pain have high rates of anxiety, depression, anger, and even grief. Not because the pain is “in their heads,” but because pain has a way of making you question who you are and what is possible for your life.

If you don’t have chronic pain, try to imagine what it would be like to experience persistent and often unexplainable pain. To wake up in a body that doesn’t function like it used to, and to find every part of your life disrupted. To not know if you will feel better tomorrow, next week, next month, or ever. To find that your friends, family, and coworkers don’t understand what you are going through. Who wouldn’t feel betrayed by their body, anxious about the future, and sadness about what might be lost?

Many people with pain find some relief and hope from psychological therapy, support groups, and medications like antidepressants. All of these can be important resources for dealing with the psychological consequences of chronic pain.

Mind-body practices like yoga and meditation are another powerful resource for reconnecting to the part of you that is glad to be alive, and can find meaning in each moment (even the hard days). One reason is that yoga philosophy places deep, unshakable joy—a natural sense of well-being, gratitude, and peace—as the deepest aspect of what it means to be human. You might have felt this kind of joy at special moments in your life—the birth of a child, the view of a sunset, or while immersed in hands-on or creative work. These glimpses are not dependent on external events. It is simply easier to be in touch with your natural state of well-being in these special moments.

In the yogic view, joy is the closest to what you might call your true nature. It is not a fast-changing, fast-disappearing happiness that fluctuates according to your thoughts, mood, and present circumstances. Yoga teaches us that the ability to feel at peace in this moment is central to who you are. This inner joy is less vulnerable to the changes in your life, and it is not dependent on fixing what is wrong or getting what you want. Even chronic pain cannot take away your ability to feel this part of yourself.

Yoga practice helps you reconnect to this inner joy. Whether it’s a meditation on gratitude, a relaxation pose that puts the body and mind at ease, or a breathing exercise that strengthens the flow of energy in your body—they all share the benefit of bringing you back home to your natural sense of well-being.

The Breath of Joy
(Excerpted from Breathing Practices for Pain and Stress Relief)

The Breath of Joy is a simple practice that can change your state of mind by changing the quality of your breath.

Come into a comfortable upright position, seated or standing. Place your hands over your heart, and notice the natural movement of breath under your hands. Relax your face, neck, and shoulders.

As you inhale, feel the breath expand the lower belly, upper belly, rib cage, and chest. Feel each area expand gently, like a wave that starts in the lower belly and crests at your heart. Be patient with each inhalation and keep inviting the breath in (without strain) until you feel comfortably full and radiant with breath. As you exhale, let the breath go without effort. You might even open your mouth and let the exhalation be an easy, soft sigh. Both the inhalation and exhalation should be free of tension. Have the feeling that you are
receiving each breath and welcoming it with an open heart. Keep a soft smile on your face.

Once you connect to the feeling of the breath, close your eyes. Feel your heart center, right underneath your hands. Visualize one of the following in your heart center: your physical heart, resting between your lungs; a sun, glowing brightly; or a sphere of light in your favorite color. Imagine it expanding as you inhale and contracting as you exhale. Connect to the visual image of it expanding and contracting, as well as to the feeling of it expanding and contracting. Another visualization that can help is to imagine breathing directly into and out of the center of your chest, into and out of both the heart and lungs.

Summary: Breathe into the belly, rib cage, and chest with a soft smile on your face and the image of your heart expanding.

Practice: For ten breaths, or as long as is needed and helpful, anytime to reconnect to the inner joy that is your true nature.

Kelly McGonigal, PhD ~  www.kellymcgonigal.com
Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind
and Heal Your Chronic Pain

is now available at Amazon.com.

Sara's note: Thank you Kelly for this insightful look into the psychology of chronic pain and for including a helpful and soothing breath practice. Namaste.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Winter Reflection Retreat

I'm so excited! Molly and I will be heading up Yoga North's Winter Reflection Retreat at Camp Amnicon this year. We will feature Restorative Yoga, Therapeutic Yoga, Yin Yoga and Meditation. This 24-hour retreat (Fri Jan 22 - Sat Jan 23 6pm-6pm) will also include 2 meals on Saturday, Lecture and Reflection time, and use of the facility's resources such as the sauna, hiking trails, and community space.

Here's the details:


Restorative Yoga, Lecture & Reflection, Meditation, Hiking, Sauna, Rest, Good Food, Community

24-hour January Reflection Retreat 2010 
at beautiful Camp Amnicon,
just 30 minutes away from Duluth.
Pause on Purpose as the New Year begins. 
Take this opportunity to reflect on your life,
settle into your body,
quiet your mind
and cultivate contentment.

Led by Molly McManus and Sara Duke

Arrival: 6 pm  Fri, Jan 22nd
Departure: 6 pm  Sat, Jan 23rd

$108 Before Jan 4th,
 $138 after Jan 4th

Early registration discount price of $108 has been extended! 
Call Yoga North at 722-9642 to register.

*Price includes Saturday meals,
yoga classes in postures and philosophy
and the use of Camp Amnicon facilities.

Makes an excellent holiday treat for 
yourself or a loved one.

Camp Amnicon: Located on 700 acres of the south shore of Lake Superior, along the Amnicon River. Enjoy the community space with a large fireplace, windows overlooking the river and forest, nature trails, and sauna. There will be opportunities for both community and solitude.

Sign up online or, for more details visit Yoga North, or call the office at 218-722-9642. Looking forward to seeing you there. Namaste. ~ Sara & Molly

Friday, December 4, 2009

Susi's Newsletter

I just received Susi Hately Aldous' newsletter. She was talking about doing less, instead of more; of relaxing into a pose instead of pushing into a pose; of letting go of the "no pain, no gain" attitude. I can't agree more. When it comes to Restorative and Yin you cannot push yourself to relax more. There is no competition to see who can be the most relaxed. There is just you, your breath, and your body, settling in and softening.

Here's Susi's rules:
1. Relax into your movement. If you think about relaxing as a segue to movement, you will automatically "let go." As you continue to move with relaxation, your strength will improve. Remember, tight muscles are weak muscles, so as tight muscles relax, they will become stronger.

2. Breathe easily. Notice if there is any tension when you use breathing techniques like Ujjayi. If there is tension, back off in order to find the ease. Remember, you want to use your breath to breathe, not to stabilize.

3. If you feel strain or ache, ease out to a position of strain-free or ache-free. Feel for the emerging non-pain sensations.  (If you have pain or strain constantly through your day, then be sure that your pain symptoms don't increase with your practice).

4. Don't believe that your "bad back" or "bad knee" will be "bad" forever. I have seen so many people increase their range of motion, strength, and stability while at the same time reduce or eliminate their aches, strains, or pain.

5. Remember, relaxing is not doing nothing.  As Indira Gandhi said, "You must learn to be still in the midst of activity and to be vibrantly alive in repose". It may be helpful to consider relaxation in movement as relaxed resilience. This will help you cultivate greater strength.

6. Instead of saying to yourself, "Ooooh, a little further," say, "Relax just a little more."

Thanks for the great tips Susi. Aren't these lovely rules to live by? Relax and settle in.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Supported Reclining Twist

Enjoy Supported Reclining Twist

Coming into the pose:
Lay on your back with your knees bent. Have a support ready on each side of your body. Shift your hips to one side and let your knees fall to the other side. Snuggle a bolster under your back hip and bum to support staying in the twist and let the stacked knees rest on a second bolster as they fall towards the floor. Try to keep the shoulders on the floor, keep the heart center open by extending the arms away from the body, palms facing up, and let the head turn away from the knees. Stay as long as you are comfortable.

Changing sides:
Let the head come back to center. Remove the support from under the back hip. Engage the core slightly to support the spine and then bring the legs back to upright, helping the legs with the hands if needed. Settle into the second side the same way as the first and try to stay here an equal amount of time.

Exiting the pose:
Let the head come back to center and then keep turning towards the knees. Remove the props from under the knees, lay on your side for a few breaths, and then gently push yourself back to an easy seated position.

If this twist is not to your liking try Supported Side Reclining Twist ~ Salamba Bharadvajasana.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Supported Corpse Pose ~ Salamba Savasana

Enjoy Supported Savasana Pose

I always conclude my Restorative class with Supported Savasana. I encourage my students to go nuts and prop themselves in all the ways that would support their body's comfort. This picture only shows a bolster under the legs and an eye pillow but you can get really creative with supporting yourself.

Here's some ideas for increasing comfort and adding support (you don't have to do them all - but you could try for fun):
  • A small roll under the low back for lumbar support
  • A small roll under each wrist
  • A small roll under the neck and/or a pillow under the head
  • A small roll under the ankles
  • Add a sandbag over the pelvis to encourage the hip flexors to let go
  • Add a sandbag on each shoulder to encourage releasing tension
  • Add a sandbag over the diaphragm to increase breath awareness 
  • A blanket over the whole body to keep warm

I'm sure there are more tips and techniques out there but this is a great place to start. Stay in Supported Savasana for as long as you like, encourage the mind to focus on the breath: the feeling of the breath in the body, where the breath is in the body, where can't the breath get to in the body, the feeling of the breath entering and leaving the nostrils or the feeling of the breath bellowing the belly and the belly falling back into the body on each inhale and exhale. Let the mind settle into breath awareness as the body settles into stillness.


Read more about Savasana here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Supported Wide-Angle Fold ~ Upavistha Konasana

Enjoy Supported Wide-Angle Forward Fold

Wide leg forward fold can be done from a standing position or seated. Generally for my Restorative class we are seated and have multiple props to support this sometimes difficult opening.

Setting up for the pose:
Gather a number of different props: a chair, or a couple of blocks, or a few pillows/bolster, also, either a blanket for sitting on or else a wedge.

Coming into the pose:
Sit in front of a chair, block or bolsters with your legs open wide (about 90 degrees). Support your low back by sitting on a wedge or a folded blanket. Toes draw back toward the body and knee caps point toward the ceiling. Reach out through your heels. Hinge forward at the hip crease, walking your hands out and resting your forehead on the block, bolster or chair. If you are using a chair or bolster pile you can place your arms on the chair’s seat, hinge forward at the hip crease and rest your head on your forearms, keeping length in your spine.

While in the pose:
Keep breathing, keep observing the pose in your body, allow the body to open at its own rate. Commit to the stillness but do allow yourself to adjust your props and your body as you settle deeper in.

Coming out of the pose:
To come up, bring the hand to the floor to support the torso, inhale and hinge or roll back up from the hips, protecting the spine.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Legs on a Chair

Enjoy Diaphragmatic Breathing with Legs on a Chair Pose

OK - Legs on a Chair sounds silly, I know. But it is actually quite delicious and easy to do. Plus you can do it at work, home, or on the road. All you need is yourself, the floor and a chair, couch, or some other raised surface.

Setting up without additional props:
Sit down in front of a chair or couch with the seat of the chair/couch towards you. Sit with one hip facing your prop. As you start to lay back, you must also swing your legs up and your body around so your bottom is towards the chair. When you are turned tail to the chair, settle your legs onto the chair's seat, making sure they are completely supported from the backs of the knees down to the feet.

Setting up with additional props:
Start the same as above but add a small lumbar support, an eye pillow and sandbag (or big bag of rice) to lay over your stomach and lower ribs.

Settling in:
Lay here as long as you are comfortable. Close your eyes, give your mind the job of watching your breath, and commit to the stillness.

Coming out of the pose:
Bring awareness back to the body, remove the eye pillow, remove the sandbag, draw the legs into the body and roll to one side. Linger here for a few breaths then slowly push up on your side.

This is a great short break at the office, you can practice it in a hotel room if you are travelling, or any other time you want.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Restorative Sequence

At class or at home, this sequence will relax you.

Begin by sitting next to a wall, roll onto your back and swing your legs up the wall. Really let yourself settle in here. Become aware of your breath, let your mind settle down, let all tension melt away.

Legs up the Wall ~ Viparita Karani

If you would like to add a little more movement to Legs up the Wall you can add the #4 Hip Stretch. Make sure to stretch both hips.

Legs up the Wall w/ #4 Hip Stretch

Stay here about 5-10 minutes. For more information about Legs up the Wall Pose click here.

From Legs up the Wall pose, hug your knees in to your chest, roll over and transition to Supported Child's Pose. Get a bolster, pile of pillows or stack of blankets and lay down in Child's Pose, supporting your torso with the props.

Supported Child's Pose ~ Salamba Balasana

Stay here about 5-10 minutes making sure to take equal time turning your head in each direction. For more information about Supported Child's Pose click here.

After Child's Pose, move into a Supported Side Reclining Twist. For full support make sure that the bolster / blankets are right up against your thigh before you lay down. Height of your bolster is determined by length of torso. For example, a more petite person may only need 2 folded blankets, whereas a longer waisted person might need 3-4 folded blankets and possibly an extra one to raise their head.

Supported Side Reclining Twist ~ Salamba Bharadvajasana

Stay here about 5-10 minutes per side or for as long as it is comfortable for you. For more information about Supported Side Reclining Twist click here.

After Supported Side Reclining Twist, roll on to your back, lift your hips, slide a block under your sacrum and settle in to Supported Bridge Pose. If you want to use the belt to support your legs, put it on before putting the block under your sacrum.

Supported Bridge Pose ~ Salamba Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Stay here about 5-10 minutes. To come out, lift the hips, slide the block out, roll down and hug the legs into the chest. For more information about Supported Bridge Pose click here.

From Supported Bridge, roll to one side and ease your way back to seated to prepare for Supported Bound Angle Pose. Sit on a wedge or folded blanket to lift the hips, extend the legs in front of you then bring the soles together, draw them in to the body and let the knees fall apart. Use your prop pile, a block, or a chair to rest your forehead on.

Supported Bound Angle Pose ~ Salamba Baddha Konasana
Stay here about 5-10 minutes, allowing the body to move deeper into the pose slowly. Move your props as your body opens. For more information about Supported Bound Angle Pose click here.

After Supported Forward Folding Bound Angle set your prop pile up behind you to take Reclining Bound Angle. You can use a belt to hold your legs into your body and it is also nice to have a pillow or block under each knee. Rest back on your prop pile, draw your feet in towards your body, let your knees fall open and settle in.

Reclining Bound Angle ~ Supta Baddha Konasana
 Supported Reclining Bound Angle
Stay here 10 minutes or more, allowing the body to move deeper into the pose slowly. Move your props as your body opens. For more information about Supported Reclining Bound Angle Pose click here.

You can finish up your sequence with Supported Savasana. Lay on your back and use any props you need to be as comfortable as possible. Perhaps a pillow under the knees or under the head, maybe a blanket over your body, an eye pillow or a sandbag on the belly - anything that brings you into greater comfort. Rest here, keeping your mind focused on the breath. Stay as long as you want.

For more information on Restorative Yoga visit Do Restorative Yoga's website or blog. Namaste.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reclining Twist with a Bolster ~ Salamba Bharadvajasana

Enjoy Supported Reclining Side Twist

Generally Bharadvajasana is done from a seated position, sometimes with a blanket supporting one hip as shown in this Yoga Journal image:

But for my Restorative Class I like to bring it down to the floor with even more support than a blanket under one hip.

Setting up:
If you are setting up in a classroom and have traditional props, you can fold 3 firm blankets into quarters and then into thirds and stack them on top of each other. On top of that, I like to lay a soft blanket down for more comfort on the face.

If you are at home, you can do the same set up or you can use any number of couch pillows, blankets, or even bed pillows. As long as your props are of a length equal to or greater than your torso, you are set.

Coming into the pose:
Sit on your shins on the floor with a bolster at your side (next to one thigh). The bolster should extend long-ways away from the body. Let your seat slide off of your legs towards your bolster / blankets so that you are seated with your knees bent and your feet are slightly away from your body, off to one side. Turn the torso so the belly is facing the bolster, place one hand on either side of the bolster, lengthen the spine, then start to lay the body down on the bolster for a side-reclining, supported twist. Head can rest facing either side. Arms can rest in a comfortable position.
For full support make sure that the bolster / blankets are right up against your thigh before you lay down. Height of your bolster is determined by length of torso. For example, a more petite person may only need 2 folded blankets, whereas a longer waisted person might need 3-4 folded blankets and possibly an extra one to raise their head.

Stay in this pose as long as it is comfortable for you. Try to take this pose on each side for about the same length of time.

Switching sides and/ or exiting the pose:
To come out or change sides, push the palms against the floor to gently raise the torso up off of the bolster, unwind slowly, and take a few breaths before switching sides or moving to a new pose. I like to swing my knees in front of me to come to the other side, but some of my students sit on their butt and swing their legs all the way around instead. Either way is fine.

To read one student's reaction to this pose click here.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Yin / Restorative class

Regarding class on 10-9-09

I've really been enjoying teaching "Restorative Flow" at Yoga North on Fridays. The class is sort of a melting pot of Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga. We are practicing a number of Yin postures - which are very similar to Hatha postures except they are held much longer to allow a stretch of the connective tissue. But I am also combining Restorative's practice of using props to offer more support and gentler postures to those who need it.

The students who attend the class are diverse in their range of mobility. Some postures work for everyone and some don't. When a pose doesn't work for someone we figure out another pose with a similar stretch and similar benefits. For example, Plow/ Snail Pose is not accessible to everyone but most folks can sit in Seated Staff Pose, tuck their chin and roll down slightly. The stretch is similar - it's just that one is upside down and the other is right side up.

I had a few comments along the line of, "I can't believe how fast this class goes." I think most yoga classes go pretty quickly - after all, we are treating ourselves. But there is something about the deep relaxation that comes with Yin and Restorative that makes us feel like time doesn't exist. We go in, we stretch, release, relax and center ourselves, and time disappears.

It's lovely. Thank you all for attending. I'll look forward to our continued classes. Namaste.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yin Yoga Infant Series Video

BeYou.TV says:

Join Paul Grilley, Yin Yoga's foremost proponent, for a comprehensive introduction to this quiet yet profound practice. Yin Yoga is not just another brand name of yoga postures, but the expression of theories derived from Chinese Medicine and Taoism. The fundamental tenet of Taoism is that all things can be describe by their mutually complementary Yin and Yang aspects, and that by balancing these aspects we bring more harmony into the world around and inside us.

If this video link doesn't work for you, view it on YouTube by clicking here. Or, if you would like to watch the entire video (1 hour 10 minutes) you can download it at BeYou.TV.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

4 Tenets of Yin Yoga

What is Yin Yoga?

Yin Yoga is a calm, meditative practice which employs long held, seated postures which focus on stretching the connective tissues of the body such as the fascia, ligaments, tendons and joints. It is a balancing practice to "Yang" styles of yoga such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, or Hatha. (Yang practices focus more on muscles vs. connective tissue.) Although Yin is a slow practice it can be just as challenging as a faster paced posture practice. Stretches are deep and we are playing our edge all the time. It is important while doing Yin Yoga to really focus on what your body is telling you and never go past your edge into pain.

I found a great article from Yoga Journal on the safest way to practice Yin Yoga:

The 4 tenets of Yin Yoga
1. Find an Appropriate Edge

As you enter a pose, move slowly and gently into the suggested shape—without a picture of how far you should go. As Sarah Powers says, "There's no aesthetic ideal; there's no end result we're looking for." Pause and listen to the body. Wait for feedback before moving deeper into the posture. Many people, especially dancers and athletes, have lost much of their sensitivity to the signals of the body and are used to overriding those messages. Look for an appropriate amount of intensity, a balance between sensation and space. "It's a good opportunity to create a renewed kind of innocence, a listening to the intelligence of the body that gives you feedback about when it's been triggered to feel outside its comfort zone," Powers says. Relax into the body; discover and explore each subtle layer along the way to your deep resting place.

2. Be Still

Resolve not to fidget. Don't try to fix or change the pose, to intensify it, or to escape the sensations. Consciously try to release (or even just imagine releasing) into the shape. Doing that helps you relax the muscles around the connective tissues you are most attempting to influence. In addition, moving can cause unsafe stress on the connective tissue, causing injury: To be safe, hold statically at the edge of your range of motion and engage muscles around sensitive areas or use props when needed.

3. Hold for a While

[Sarah] Powers recommends hold times anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes for beginners and up to 5 minutes or more for advanced practitioners. Use a timer so you can relax without watching the clock. Substantial holds train the mind to respond skillfully to difficult circumstances. They teach you that you don't need comfort to feel at ease. Instead of contracting around feelings and sensations, invite space and breathe steadily.

4. Release with Care

In Yin practice you put your body into long holds with joints in vulnerable positions—positions that might be dangerous if you move into or out of them quickly or aggressively. As you come out of the poses (for example, Dragonfly), use your hands to support your legs and to lightly contract the muscles that oppose the openings you've been working. It can help to do a very brief, actively practiced counterpose: After doing Saddle (the Yin version of Supta Virasana), for example, sit with your legs out straight and engage your quads.

You are challenging very deep tissues that the body usually protects from lengthening—because if they're stretched suddenly, they're easily damaged. You may experience discomfort, shakiness, and instability when you come out. Don't worry; these sensations will change.

Sara's note: I am really excited to be teaching "Restorative Flow" at Yoga North this fall. It will be a combination of long held seated Yin style postures and Restorative postures where we use props to support us. Visit Yoga North's blog for schedule information.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Yin Yoga Hip Series Video

Paul Gilley's Yin Yoga Hip Series video:

Join Paul Grilley, Yin Yoga's foremost proponent, for a comprehensive introduction to this quiet yet profound practice. Yin Yoga is not just another brand name of yoga postures, but the expression of theories derived from Chinese Medicine and Taoism. The fundamental tenet of Taoism is that all things can be describe by their mutually complementary Yin and Yang aspects, and that by balancing these aspects we bring more harmony into the world around and inside us.

If this video link doesn't work for you, view it on YouTube by clicking here. Or, if you would like to watch the entire video (1 hour 48 minutes) you can download it at BeYou.TV.

Paul Grilley has been teaching Yoga since 1980 and his special interest is the teaching of Anatomy. He practices Yoga postures in the style of Paulie Zink and patterns his philosophy on the writings and researches of Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama —a Yogi and scientist from Tokyo, Japan. This philosophy integrates the Taoist Meridian and Acupuncture theories of China with the Yogic and Tantric theories of India. Paul lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife Suzee. For more info visit his website.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Yamas and Niyamas: Conclusion

Here is my teacher, Deborah Adele, talking about the Yamas and Niyamas. For more information visit www.theYamasandNiyamas.com.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Yamas and Niyamas: Ishvara Pranidhana

Here is my teacher, Deborah Adele, talking about the 5th Niyama, Ishvara Pranidhana or Surrender. For more information visit www.theYamasandNiyamas.com.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Paul Grilley's Yin Yoga: Theory of Yin Yoga Video

BeYou.TV says:

Join Paul Grilley, Yin Yoga's foremost proponent, for a comprehensive introduction to this quiet yet profound practice. Yin Yoga is not just another brand name of yoga postures, but the expression of theories derived from Chinese Medicine and Taoism.

If this video link doesn't work for you, view it on YouTube by clicking here. Or, if you would like to watch the entire video (1 hour 48 minutes) you can download it at BeYou.TV.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Yin Yoga

Another Form of Restorative Yoga

I've been studying Yin Yoga recently. I have always been drawn to this practice. Before I ever took a formal yoga class I had my own personal stretching routine I would do in the evenings before bed. I didn't know I was doing yoga, I was just doing what my body asked me to do.

I loved sitting in an easy cross-legged seated pose and laying my body down over my legs to get a good hip stretch. Then I would move on to a wide leg fold, and legs together fold. Then I would roll down to the floor and lift my feet over my head into what I now know as Plow pose (in Yin it is called Snail). I'd stay there for quite a while, relishing the stretch in my spine. After this I would take a few reclining twists, sacrum circles and then I would just lay on the floor.

Who knew I was practicing yoga? Well, turns out I had a Yin Yoga practice before I even knew what that meant. This is what I love about Yin - it is so intuitive. It's just listening to your body and taking the stretches that you need to take. The poses are generally seated postures which use long held, gentle stretches to find ease in the body and add mobility to your connective tissue. Most poses are held for up to 5 minutes.

I'm really excited to be teaching this style of Yoga weekly this fall at Yoga North. We are calling it Restorative Flow. It will be held on Fridays from 5:15-6:30 PM. Once per month, my traditional Restorative Stations class will be offered at this time slot instead of the Yin based Restorative Flow.

For more information on Yin Yoga visit Bernie Clark's website, Paul Grilley's website, or Sarah Power's website.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Yamas and Niyamas: Svadhyaya

Here is my teacher, Deborah Adele, talking about the 4th Niyama, Svadhyaya or Self-Study. For more information visit www.theYamasandNiyamas.com.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Yamas and Niyamas: Tapas

Here is my teacher, Deborah Adele, talking about the 3rd Niyama, Tapas or Self-Discipline. For more information visit www.theYamasandNiyamas.com.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Restorative Music

I often have folks ask me what music I play for Restorative class. My favorite albums include (click on the image to visit the website):

In Om Sanctuary the most sacred of universal tones is chanted, accompanied by harp and synthesizer. The sounds generate an atmosphere of peaceful renewal. Ideal for yoga, meditation, massage, etc.

Miracles & Healing is a compilation of meditations, prayers & blessings by Hari Bhajan Kaur and Livtar Singh. It includes Ra Ma Da Sa, the original meditation taught by Yogi Bhajan for healing, a sweet 'Guru Ram Das, for miracles & healing, an angelic 'Ardas Bhaee', a prayer which answers all prayers and a beautiful closing of Long Time Sun, to bless you and others.

These mantras and prayers are a part of the 3HO(Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) lifestyle and practices. Meditate with & listen to these special chants each day for self healing, to bless those you love, to accompany your prayer & spiritual practices, and to merge with the Infinite.

Shamanic Dream: A relaxed heartbeat drum rhythm accompanied by the sacred mantra "So be it" draws the listener deep into the healing power of mother earth. Ethereal and mystical sounds on the second track Chakra Journey vitalize and harmonize the subtle energy centers of the body.

Om Namaha Shivaya contains an extended chant of the ancient Sanskrit seed syllable Om, with powerful Tibetan and Mongolian overtone chanting.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Yamas and Niyamas: Santosha

Here is my teacher, Deborah Adele, talking about the 2nd Niyama, Santosha or Contentment. For more information visit www.theYamasandNiyamas.com.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yamas and Niyamas: Saucha

Here is my teacher, Deborah Adele, talking about the 1st Niyama, Saucha or Purity. For more information visit www.theYamasandNiyamas.com.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Clothing Exchange

Is this Yoga?

Last week I got together with a few girlfriends for our annual clothing exchange. We had the whole evening planned. 6PM at my house for the clothing exchange followed by Full Moon Yoga at 8PM at Spiritual Deli. Well, the clothing exchange took a lot longer than we thought and we were all having so much fun we didn't mind letting go of our original plans (after all the full moon will happen again next month and we can go to the yoga event then).

Here's what we do for the clothing exchange: Each summer we all clean out our closets, bring the bags of things to the host's house, and try to "sell" the discard items to someone else. (We don't actually sell, we give, but I mean we try to get someone else to like what we are getting rid of - talking up its virtues and such.) We've been doing this for about 4 or 5 years now. Some folks come every year, some are new, some miss a year or two.

There's a lot of modeling, giggling and catching up that happens. And we all feel good that we are getting new clothes without buying more new things, and we are clearing out our space of things we don't wear, want or need (or don't fit). Actually the whole experience is a great exercise in practicing the Yamas and Niyamas: nonexcess, nonpossessiveness, self-discipline.

And it's super fun!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Yamas and Niyamas: Aparigraha

Here is my teacher, Deborah Adele, talking about the 5th Yama, Aparigraha or Nonpossessiveness. For more information visit www.theYamasandNiyamas.com.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Inner Awareness

Moving into Awareness of the Formless

I am reading Eckhart Tolle's book, A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. I came across a passage in the second chapter (Ego: The Current State of Humanity) under the subheading, Feeling the Inner Body which I want to share.

Tolle talks about developing awareness of the inner body by doing the following exercise: Close your eyes for a minute and find out if there is life inside your hands. Don't let your mind answer, bring your awareness directly to your hands and see if you can feel anything such as a slight tingling or an indefinable presence. Once you can feel this presence move on to feeling it in your feet, and then on to other body parts until you can feel this "being-ness" in your whole body.

Tolle says,
What I call the "inner body" isn't really the body any more but life energy, the bridge between form and formless. Make it a habit to feel the inner body as often as you can. It almost seems like a paradox: when you are in touch with the inner body, you are not identified with your mind. You are no longer identified with form but moving away from form-identification towards formlessness, which we may also call Being. It is your essence identity. Body awareness not only anchors you in the present moment it is a doorway out of the prison that is the ego. It also strengthens the immune system and the body's ability to heal itself."

This is exactly like Restorative Yoga. In Restorative Yoga we practice being one-pointed, focusing our mind/attention on our breath and the sensations inside our bodies to bring peace and quiet to our minds and our bodies. This "inner body" awareness exercise of Tolle's is a great way to focus the mind while doing your Restorative Yoga practice.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Yamas and Niyamas: Brahmacharya

Here is my teacher, Deborah Adele, talking about the 4th Yama, Brahmacharya, or Nonexcess. For more information visit www.theYamasandNiyamas.com

Monday, July 27, 2009

Supported Hand to Big Toe Pose ~ Salamba Supta Padangusthasana

Enjoy Supported Reclining Hand to Big Toe Pose at the Wall

Usually we practice this pose at our mats using a belt or if we are especially flexible, our first 2 fingers wrapped around the big toe. This Yoga Journal image shows the standard pose using a belt:

For my Restorative class I like to include this pose but I like to offer it at the wall, using the wall for support instead of the belt.

Setting up for the pose:
Lay down on the floor at about a 45 degree angle from the wall (as seen here):

The leg closest to the wall is bent at the knee and the leg farther from the wall is extended with the foot resting on the wall. Check your alignment here. Your extended leg should be in the same line as your body, it should not be at any sort of angle. Get comfortable here: perhaps a lumbar support or a small pillow under the neck or head.

Coming into the pose:
Raise the bent leg and extend it up the wall. Then let it fall open towards the floor until you are getting a good stretch in the inner thigh and maybe a little bit in the hamstrings (as seen here).

You may have to adjust your distance and angle from the wall to get the optimal stretch for your body. Try making your angle to the wall smaller (move your body closer to the wall) if you are more flexible or make the angle greater if you are less flexible. Keep your legs active but not rigid. Try to keep your pelvis from shifting or rocking to accommodate the stretch. Only go as far as you can go in your true range of motion (no compensation). Stay here as long as you are comfortable.

Switching sides:
Bring your leg which is up the wall back in towards the body, bend the leg which is on the floor and put both feet on the wall. From here you can walk your feet along the wall, turning your body around to the other side. Set yourself up here being mindful of support and alignment. Stay on this side for an equal amount of time as you spent on the other side.

Getting out of the pose:
Bring both legs in towards the body, bending the knees and hugging the legs into the chest. Roll to one side, rest for a few breaths, then gently push yourself back up to an easy seated position.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yamas and Niyamas: Asteya

Here is my teacher, Deborah Adele, talking about the 3rd Yama, Asteya or Nonstealing. For more information visit the Yamas & Niyamas website.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Supported Bridge ~ Salamba Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Enjoy Supported Bridge Pose

Getting into the pose:
Sit on the floor with knees bent. If you have a belt put it on around your upper thighs. Tighten it to where your legs can still open to hip width apart. Lower yourself down to the floor and lay on your back with your knees bent. Lift your hips in the air and place a block under your sacrum. For Restorative I like to have the block on the lowest side but if you want to try it on the medium height or on the highest height that's ok too. Just make sure you comfortable and nothing is feeling pinched in your low back or neck. Rest your hands by your side.

Settling into the pose:
First, make sure that the block is under the sacrum (the big triangle shaped bone at the base of the spine), not the low back (lumbar spine). If you have a pinched feeling in the SI joints (low back or sacrum area) try lengthening your tailbone towards your knees so your body is in one long line from shoulders (on the ground) to knees (in the air). You also might need to lower your block height. Let the hands rest by your side, close the eyes, and give your mind the job of watching the breath. Stay for a few minutes or as long as you are comfortable.

For a more dynamic pose:
If you want to add some movement to this posture there are a couple of options:
1. You can walk your shoulders under you and clasp your hands together behind your back to open the chest. Stay for a few breaths and then slowly release.
2. You can add a quad stretch by clasping the top of one foot in the same hand and drawing that leg back towards your mid-line. Rest the top of the foot on the floor by the outside edge of the block, or if you get foot cramps keep the toes flexed and rest the sole of the toes on the floor instead of the top of the foot. To see a video explaining this option in more detail click here.

Getting out of the pose:
To come out, lift the hips up, slide the block out from underneath you, drop the hips back down to the floor, rest here for a few breaths then take what ever movement would serve your body: hug the knees to the chest, take a twist, full-body stretch, etc. When you feel ready, roll to one side then gently push yourself up on one side back to an easy seated pose.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Open Class

Comments on July 15th, 2009 Open Restorative Class

Restorative class last night was well attended: 16 peeps. The poses included: Reclining Bound Angle, Hand to Big Toe at the Wall, Supported Down Dog, Supported Child's Pose, Supported Bridge with quad stretch option (see video), and Side Reclining Twist.

(Supported Down Dog photo from www.eldr.com)
Supported Down Dog was a new one for everyone and it was a little tricky. I had to use the radiators to hook the belts on since we do not have actual hooks in the walls. While everyone was game to try, it wasn't as restful as I would've liked. The belts kept slipping down the radiators (not so good for holding someone up) and since no one had ever tried this pose before there was a lot of confusion and fumbling around trying to get the props right. We had fun though. I offered Supported Child's as an alternate to Supported Down Dog and most folks took Child's after a few minutes in Dog.

Everyone's favorite posture continues to be Supported Reclining Bound Angle. It is considered the most relaxing, most restorative and I've noticed, the most coveted ending posture.

One more Wednesday night Restorative class is scheduled for the summer: August 19th, 2009 from 5:15-6:30 PM. After that we will go back to our winter schedule of Friday night Restorative. Thanks for coming to class everyone. Stay tuned for schedule updates.

Yamas and Niyamas: Satya

Here's my teacher, Deborah Adele, talking about Truthfulness:

For more information visit the Yamas & Niyamas website.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Finding Contentment

Restore Your Attitude

When I first started studying the Yamas and Niyamas I was really struck by the concept of Santosha, or Contentment. I always thought I would be content when things in my life were just the way I wanted them: good job, enough money, enough free time, etc. But this idea of "when things are good I will be content" never comes to pass. Instead, you have to cultivate gratitude in your heart in order for contentment to settle in. The more you practice gratitude, the more contentment slips in.

I remember reading in Yoga of the Heart by Alice Christensen that Contentment is elusive because we are always thinking about the past or the future instead of resting in the present moment. That simple statement made a huge difference to me. I had heard before to rest in the present moment but without knowing what I was doing if I wasn't resting in the present moment, I couldn't figure out how to do this. Her labelling my thoughts as lolling about in memory (past events, should have, would have, what if) or fantasizing about the future (what if, when, I need to, as soon as) showed me that I was doing everything but sitting in the present moment.

For my practice I sit comfortably, close my eyes, calm my breath and start to name the things I am thankful for. I usually start off small and build up to more important things: Thank you for the green grass, thank you for the lilac blooms, thank you for my yoga practice, thank you for my partner, my dog, my mom, my dad, my sisters, brother, etc. Then I start labeling thankfulness for many things in my life that I wouldn't normally feel thankful for: Thank you for the learning experience of having a student with questions I don't know the answer to, thank you for the challenge of living in a fixer-upper house, thank you for the conflict in my life so I can look deeper inside myself, and so on.

When I have named all these things I am thankful for I realize how lucky I am and I realize how contentment has slipped into my life and filled me up.

Happy Exploring. Namaste.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Yamas and Niyamas: Ahimisa

Here is a video showing Deborah Adele, author of The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice, giving an overview of Ahimsa, or Nonviolence, the first Yama.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Corpse Pose ~ Savasana

What is Savasana?

This article is excerpted from Iyengar Yoga Resources. See below for link. The image is from Kona Yoga. Click on image to see their site.

At the end of our asana practice we lie down, feet fallen outward, breath long, hands facing the sky, for savasana, corpse pose. By all accounts, corpse pose is considered the most difficult posture, as we posture the mind and body to imitate a corpse. “Most difficult for students,” says Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, “not waking, not sleeping.”

While a busy mind is a consequence of overpushing in yoga postures, then it’s opposite is deep sleep during corpse pose. However, corpse pose exists in the middle space between sleep and effort.

When we are new to practice, the experience of savasana is simply a rest after the arduous practice of bending, stretching, and twisting the body into various shapes. At first, savasana becomes just another form, but a form seemingly void of technique, concept and application.

In savasana, we let go of any particular breathing technique and simply allow the breath to move through its inherent inhaling and exhaling pattern. As the breath finds its way through the open channels of the body, the mind does so as well, by weaving itself into the strands of thought and sensation that flow through the body. When the breath is free, the mind is free. When the breath is allowed to move naturally, the mind settles into itself. When the mind relaxes, the tongue and palette become spacious, the roof of the mouth lifts and hollows and the central core of the body opens.

To read the whole article click here.

Sara's note: I think this is so interesting. While some folks leave class before Savasana, I know most folks like the relaxation at the end of class. But to delve deeply into the pose isn’t something we practice much. I only have a few students who fall asleep in Savasana but who knows how many have whirling minds?

Interestingly, at the end of Restorative class I don’t think I have ever had anyone fall asleep in Savasana. Maybe it is because the entire practice is so introspective that their minds are already in Savasana mode vs. a regular class where Savasana is just rest at the end.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Yamas and Niyamas Overview Video

Here is a video showing Deborah Adele, author of The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice, giving an overview of what the Yamas and Niyamas are and how they apply to your life.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Yoga for Cancer Treatment

Donna Karan's Urban Zen Offers Integrative Therapy To Cancer Patients And Their Families Article found at: www.huffingtonpost.com. Written by Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald.

When one thinks of the medical oncology unit at a major hospital, the inhalation of uplifting aromas, a feeling of sanctuary, opportunities for centering and relaxation, and guidance through restorative yoga poses are usually not what first comes to mind.

It could be a reality if you were at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, where integrative therapists are assisting doctors and nurses in providing comfort and care to cancer patients.

World-famous fashion designer Donna Karan, in conjunction with her Urban Zen Foundation, is developing this unique program which provides support to cancer patients and their families, as well as the hospital staff itself. Urban Zen trains the "integrative therapists," who facilitate the support in the form of yoga, meditation, and aromatherapy to comfort those in the inpatient oncology unit at Beth Israel. The integrative therapists also act as patient navigators, hand holding the patients and their families throughout the often rocky and scary road from diagnosis through treatment.

The program is the result of inspiration from Donna Karan, who lost her beloved husband Stephan Weiss, an artist and her business partner, to lung cancer in June 2001. Karan shares that while she is grateful for the wonderful doctors who treated her husband, something she noticed was a need to provide care and comfort for patients as well as treating the disease. This new program grew from the complementary modalities she added to Weiss's care from her knowledge of Eastern approaches.

To read the whole article click here.

Sara's note: This sounds like a great program. The idea that Eastern and Western therapy should be independent of eachother feels antiquated to me. Integrating therapies is holistic and sensible.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Yoga for Pregnancy

Restorative Yoga can Help you get Pregnant

I came across a blog post by Beth Kruger stating that Restorative Yoga can improve your chances of getting pregnant. It makes sense since doing Restorative Yoga reduces your stress levels, cortisol levels, and tension in the body. Here's what she says:

Recently, a yoga teacher friend of mine wanted some poses to help her student get pregnant. I instantly thought of Restorative Yoga. I am teaching a Restorative yoga workshop for already pregnant students in two weeks, but it is also great for those trying to get pregnant.

Most of us are too stressed. Stress causes the body to produce too much adrenaline which can shut off the body’s natural hormone balance. We know that stress can cause disease and discomfort in the body, but what if it is keeping us from reproducing?

Restorative Yoga, which involves lots of lying around propped up on pillows and bolsters, can reduce these stress levels in the body. The passive opening, and stretching of these poses can release deeply held tension, and lead to profound relaxation. This type of relaxation can be helpful when trying to lower the body’s levels of stress hormone, and raise the hormones that lead to better fertility, and regular cycles.

To see the full article click here.

Sara's note: I have not researched this in-depth but it does make sense to me. Restorative Yoga can help with any number of things: weight loss, stress reduction, improving immune function, finding ease in the body, releasing emotional tension, encouraging right brain function, etc. If you get a chance to try a class, you should treat yourself right and do it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Restorative Class with Limited Props

How can I teach a Restorative Class if I don't have many props?

Sara's Note: I received this question on the Yoga Journal blog and thought I'd re-post my answer here.
I have done a Restorative class with almost no props. In addition to Yoga North, I teach at the YMCA and we only have mats, blocks and belts. The room is carpeted and I do have access to chairs which is very helpful.
To run the class I set up 2 rows of 5 mats (= 5 stations to accommodate 10 people) but you could easily do more rows.
1st station was Legs up the Wall pose (don't need props there).
For the 2nd station I used a rolled up mat for a heart center opener (in lieu of a foam strip).
3rd station was something forward like wide angle or bound angle or child's pose - I can't remember but for the 1st two choices if you have a chair for folks to rest their arms or foreheads on it can be restorative (see link here). If you don't have a chair you can use a block or a couple of blocks. In one teacher training I was doing, a student came up with the idea to use 2 blocks end to end to support her forehead in seated Wide Angle Fold. Child's with a block under the forehead can be nice - just can't stay as long as if you had all the pillows to support the body's weight.
4th station was reclining bound angle. I had my students lay all the way to the floor since we didn't have any bolsters or pillows, but offered them 2 blocks - one for under each bent leg - and a belt to keep the legs snug to the body.
5th station - I think I did supported little bridge (to see the picture, scroll down to the bottom of the page if you follow this link). All you need is a block - a belt is nice but optional. Or maybe I did a twist like the one I described in Sequencing a Restorative Class. That would have been a better choice since I like to include a twist in the class plan.
After everyone has done all the station I have everybody come into Savasana.
Question Part 2:
While they are in poses, do you just play music, or do you also verbally guide them through a relaxation? Just curious how that would go.
As far as music - yes I play music and I talk a little bit. I do not do any of the poses - except at the beginning when I demonstrate how to get into and out of the poses and what to do with the props.
Each time we enter into a pose I remind folks to reconnect with their breath, settle into their body, release tension, soften their brow, and give their mind the job of watching the breath.
When it is time to come out of the pose I say, "On the next inhale bring awareness back to the body, allow gentle movement in the fingers and toes, and start to think about how to gently exit the pose." or something like that. Once everyone is back to seated I direct them on to the next station.
I'm so glad you are interested in Restorative. I have found that most people totally love it once they have done a class. It is such a treat and also necessary for us all to reduce stress.
If you don't feel like you can do a whole class of Restorative you can always incorporate a couple of these postures at the end of class.
Hope this helps. Namaste ~ Sara

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sequencing Restorative Yoga Class

How should I sequence my Restorative Yoga class?

To create a balanced Restorative class I include a variety of postures: forward folds, twists, heart center openers, elevated legs, back body stretches, etc. One pose I include every time is Supported Reclining Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana) because it is everyone's favorite, but I mix up the other poses depending on what I offered in past classes.

Once you get your class flow plan figured out you can decide what poses to string together. For example, you wouldn't want to have 3 poses in a row where you do a heart center opener or back bend sequence. Since your students will be laying for an extended time in one posture it is better for the next posture to focus on a different opener.

I offer 5 stations which I set up before class starts. Each person picks a place to start, I time the postures and after 8 minutes or so, I invite the students to come out of the pose and crawl on to the next station. Here's the pose sequence I offered yesterday:
  • Wide Angle Forward Fold (legs are spread wide and then the torso is angled forward over the legs): students could choose to do this from seated or standing and could use a chair for support or zafu's, blankets and a wedge.
  • Zed Fold Heart Center Opener (fold up a firm blanket into an accordion fold, making sure that it is long enough to support the torso from seat to head, sit on one end of the folded blanket and then lay down) : students can keep knees bent using a bolster if needed, a pillow might be needed for the head.
  • Reclining Twist (one leg bent and one leg straight): lay on your back and draw one knee up to the torso, let the bent leg fold over the body so the legs and pelvis twist to one side, tuck a support pillow against your back and another one under your bent knee if it doesn't reach the ground in the twist (most folks need this knee support pillow).
  • Reclining Bound Angle (create a supportive pillow pile / bolster behind you and something to support the legs (I usually have a block on either side) when the knees open): sit with your sacrum up against the bolster and then lay back on it, soles of the feet touch each other and knees fall open to the side, use a belt wrapped around the waist and the feet to keep the feet from sliding away from the body.
  • Legs on a Chair (make sure the chair you have is not too high or too low to support your legs - the chair should support the whole lower leg - from backs of knees to feet): include a small lumbar support, sandbag to lay over the diaphragm and maybe a pillow for the head.
  • Savasana (this pose is not in the 5 station rotation - everyone gets to do this pose at the same time at the end of class): after the first 5 poses are done let folks use any and all props available to make this final resting position as comfortable and as supported as possible. Stay as long as you want.

So you can see that although I did have a number of poses which required laying on the back, they all focused on a different part of the body and did not keep pressure on one particular area for too long. If you are not sure what poses to sequence just try them out in your own body and see what feels good. If you are doing this practice at home try to have lots of different props close by so each pose can be supported as much as possible for maximum comfort.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Legs up the Wall ~ Option 3

Enjoy a Dynamic Legs up the Wall Pose

If you would like to add a little more movement to Legs up the Wall pose you can practice the #4 Hip Stretch.

Coming into the pose:
We start off the same as Legs up the Wall. Sit down on the floor with one hip pressed right up against the wall. As you start to lay back, you must also swing your body around so your bottom is towards the wall. When you are turned tail to the wall, start to extend your legs up the wall.

Settling into the pose:
Once you are in Legs up the Wall pose you can add a dynamic stretch by crossing one ankle over the other knee and then drawing the legs down the wall towards the body.

Step by step it looks like this:
Keeping the pelvis steady (no rocking or shifting), cross the right ankle over the the left knee. Keep the right toes flexed (drawing back towards the R knee) to protect the right knee. If your tail is curling up or you can't cross your R ankle over your L knee without shifting or rocking, you are too close to the wall. Uncross your legs and push yourself back from the wall a little. Cross your ankle again and check your alignment. If you are already getting a hip stretch in the right hip stay here and breathe. If you would like to deepen the pose start to draw the left leg down the wall (keeping the R toes flexed). This will bring both legs closer to the torso and increase the hip stretch on the R side.

Let yourself soften here. Watch your breath. Let the belly rise and fall naturally with the breath. Try to maintain a neutral spine. I like to think about sending the tailbone towards the wall and the crown of the head away from the wall. If your low back is pressing firmly against the floor you may need to back off the the wall a little bit more or use a small bolster to keep the natural curve of the spine. Let the arms rest out to the sides, palms up. Stay here for as long as you are comfortable.

Switching sides:
Let the left leg slide back up the wall, uncross the right ankle (no rocking in the pelvis), extend both legs up the wall, then repeat on the 2nd side.

Getting out of the pose:
Take both legs back to Legs up the Wall pose. When you are ready to come out, bend your knees, roll to one side, take a few breaths, then gently push yourself back up to a seated position.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Legs up the Wall ~ Option 2

Enjoy Legs up the Wall with a small supported back bend / lumbar spine opener.

Legs up the wall pose with a bolster under the low back is a great pose to do if you want to stretch your hamstrings and get a supported back bend. You still don't need much in the way of props. All you need is a wall and a towel, blanket, or a rolled up mat to put under you (prepare your bolster before you lay down).

Getting into the pose:
We start off the same as Legs up the Wall. Sit down on the floor with one hip pressed right up against the wall. As you start to lay back, you must also swing your body around so your bottom is towards the wall. When you are turned tail to the wall, start to extend your legs up the wall.

Adding the back bend / lumbar support:
Bend your knees and put the soles of your feet on the wall. Push into the wall to lift your hips up off the floor. Slide your bolster (towel, mat, blanket, whatever) underneath you, placing it just above the sacrum. Let your weight settle back down so your low back is resting on the bolster and your hips and tailbone are settling into the space between the bolster and the wall.

Settling into the pose:
If you cannot straighten your legs or if your tail is still curling up, you are either too close to the wall or your bolster is too close to the wall. Try adjusting your bolster by bringing it closer to your bottom ribs. Re-settle your hips and see if you can straighten your legs.

If you still can't straighten your legs it's time to push yourself back from the wall a little. Bend your knees and put the soles of your feet on the wall. Push your body away from the wall. Lift your hips and re-adjust your bolster so your lumbar spine can settle around it. Now your legs won't be straight up, they will be at an angle to the wall, but that's ok. Let yourself soften here. Watch your breath. Let the belly rise and fall naturally with the breath. Try to let your leg bones settle down into the hip sockets. Allow an opening in the lumbar spine.

If you have any discomfort in the low back, hips, or pelvis you may need to use a smaller bolster, adjust your distance to the wall, or come off the bolster entirely. Listen to your body and experiement. When you are comfortable, let the arms rest out to the sides, palms up and stay here for as long as you are enjoying the pose.

Getting out of the pose:
Bend your knees, press your soles into the wall to lift your hips up, slide the bolster out from under you, then settle yourself back down to the floor. When you are ready, brings the knees towards the body, roll to one side, take a few breaths, then gently push yourself back up to a seated position.