Gentle Restorative Inversions

It’s Summer Solstice! As I reflect on the first half of the year these are my go to restorative poses. You can use these beneficial poses any time of the year but I have been enjoying them this last week. Both poses are comfortable enough to stay in for long periods of time. Whether you hold them for 5 or 20 minutes they are deeply restful and rejuvenating.  They have helped to recharge my batteries, balance my system, and harness the extra energy the summer sun has brought to support me through the second half of the year. Give them a try!

Straight Leg Bridge Pose:
 This pose is enough of a backbend in the upper back to open your chest and lungs. But because the legs are straight it should not pinching your lower back. And it’s an inversion because your head is lower than your heart so you get the benefits of that. 

Set up at the wall with bolsters or blocks. Let your shoulders, chest, and head waterfall off the edge of your support. Elevate your legs and feet so the rest of your torso and legs are all at the same height parallel to the floor. For maximum support and comfort strap your legs together so they don’t have to work. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Inversion: This is an easy pose that is comfortable and extremely quieting to your system. 

Place a bolster or a few folded blankets under your pelvis so your hips are fully supported. This allows your heart to drop slightly lower than your hips making it a gentle inversion. Support your lower legs on the seat of a chair. Place your hips slightly forward from your knees so your thighs are at an angle. In other words, make sure your hips are not directly below your knees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case you missed it, check out my article last week on the benefits of inversions and learn why they are so darn good for you!

Fall Equinox Sequence for Balance

Happy Equinox. The transition between summer and autumn can be the most challenging time to maintain balance. As we head in to the final quarter of the year, it’s a great time to slow down, check in with your goals and intentions for the year, and nurture your well-being.

This week I have put together a little practice for you to stay healthy and grounded. I know you can’t always make it to class, but you if can find 10-30 minutes in your day to come to your yoga mat I am confident you will be able to maintain vibrant health as we transition to the darker half of the year.

 

Use this as a springboard for practice by either practicing the whole sequence or portions of it as time allows.


childspose Balasana / Child’s Pose

Come to your mat and take 5-10 breaths in child’s pose to prepare for your practice.

dog Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Dog

Ground your hands and stretch long through all the limbs of your body, including your spine. Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths.

uttanasana Uttanasana / Standing Forward Bend

Step forward into standing forward bend. Engage the muscles of your legs and lift your belly.  Let gravity release your spine, neck, and head toward the floor. Take 5-10 long deep breaths.

crescent Indudalasana / Standing Crescent

Stand up with an inhalation and stretch your arms overhead. Catch hold of your right wrist and exhale side bend to your left. Take a few breaths here then inhale to center and repeat on the second side.

utkatasana Utkatasana /  Chair Pose

Sit back into Utkatasana/Chair pose. Widen your sitting bones, ground your heels, and lift your lower belly while lengthening up through your spine. Breath evenly.

plank Phalankasana / Plank Pose

Step back to plank pose and hold for a few breaths toning all the muscles in your body. Resist lowering down as you bend your elbows and lower to the earth.

cobra

 

Bhujangasana / Cobra Pose

Lift your spine into a little backbend. Move each part of your spine from the lowest part up. Don’t let your head move faster than everything else.

Stretch back to downward dog for a few breaths then step forward into Uttanasana.

CRW_0277 Vrksasana / Tree Pose

Stand balancing on one leg with the other foot pressing against the inner standing leg. Stretch your arms up or keep them in prayer.

Challenge your balance by looking to the right and back to center. Then to the left and back to center.

Can you hold this pose for 60 seconds?

v2 Virabhadrasana Two / Warrior Two

Step back into warrior two for 5 breaths. Straighten the front leg to move into the next pose, Trikonasana.

trikonasana Trikonasana / Triangle Pose

From warrior two straighten the front leg and take your hand to a block or the floor.

Repeat the two standing poses on the second side.

 v3prep Warrior Three Preparation

 From Uttanasana stretch your right leg behind you. Square your hips and stretch your legs straight and strong. Use blocks to touch the floor if you can’t reach.

Move directly into the next pose, half moon.

ardhachandrasana Ardha Chandrasana / Half Moon Pose

From warrior 3 prep open your top hip and your top arm for half moon pose. Make sure to keep your standing foot steady and the hip wrapping underneath you. Lengthen in all directions.

dolphin Dolphin Pose

Put your elbows on the floor and clasp your hands. Reach the outer edges of your lower arms and hands into the floor. Press your chest toward your thighs. Keep your knees bent if you need to.

This pose is a great way to open your chest and upper back.

malasanaforward Malasana / Squat

If your heels come up place a rolled up mat or blanket underneath them. Keep your arches lifted and your knees and your toes pointing in the same direction.

navasana Navasana / Boat Pose

Find the support of all of your muscles while balancing in this pose. You can use your fingertips on the floor or work with bent knees while you are learning.

supinechilds Ananda Balasana / Supine Child’s Pose

Lay on your back and hug your knees in as wide as your torso. Keep a curve in your lumbar spine.

apana Apanasana / Wind Relieving Pose

Draw one leg in deeper and straighten the opposite leg. Hold up to 60 seconds. Repeat on both sides.

suptap Supta Padangusthasana A / Leg Stretch

You can practice this one either directly from the above pose or after. Simply straighten the leg and hold the back of your thigh. It is extra grounding to have your bottom foot pushing against the wall.

Hold 60-90 seconds.

bridge Setu Bandhasana / Bridge Pose

Lift your hips up to stretch the front of your pelvis and thighs. Ground your heels, engage your hamstrings, and gently tone your glutes. Breath into your open chest.

viparitakarani Viparita Karani / Legs Up Posture

Let your legs rest against the wall. You can place a block, bolster, or blanket under your sacrum at any height or don’t use a height at all.

Stay here for 8-10 minutes.

savasana Savasana / Corpse Pose

Lay back and give yourself permission to relax
completely. Stay 5-10 minutes.

DSCN1626.JPG Pranayama / Breathwork

Sit comfortably and practice with Sama Vritti or equal breath.

Inhale for 4 counts.
Hold at the top for 4 counts.
Exhale for 4 counts.
Hold empty for 4 counts.

Like a square repeat for several rounds.

Pajamasana – Yoga In Bed

As a yoga practitioner and teacher I have learned to incorporate yoga stretches in all aspects of my life. I even do yoga in bed! The people at Casper, a new sleep start up specializing in latex memory foam mattresses asked me to share my in bed yoga secrets with you. So come on in to my bedroom…

A little bedtime yoga is great before falling asleep or first thing in the morning, especially when you wake up and don’t quite want to get out of bed yet. In fact, a supported child’s pose with pillows is the best way to spend the minutes when you have hit the snooze button. Reclined hip and leg stretches such as Supta Baddhakonasana, Supta Padangusthasana, and others are great to do on the mattress. (See photos below.)

When you first wake up, I suggest pressing your hands into the wall or headboard above you to get a nice overall stretch. Draw your shoulder blades down your back, engage your serratus anterior, and your latissimus dorsi. Gently release your ribs toward the bed and extend up into your hands pressing into the wall. Stretch your legs straight extending them away from your head.

In the morning I often swing my legs out of bed and lay my torso over some pillows. It’s almost like a half child’s pose with straight legs. This gives me an opportunity to stretch my calves and hamstrings before rising all the way up. Bend your knees into the bed as you reach your hips back and tip your pelvis to widen your sit bones and open your lower back. Then work your legs toward straight by lifting your belly and pressing your feet down. Enjoy the stretch in the backs of your legs while resting your torso on a cloud of support. I have even dosed back off in this one!

Finally, if you are run down and in need of a little boost of energy, flip around and put your legs up the wall. (Pictured below.)

Of course, bed yoga does not replace precious time on the mat and is not as beneficial as being on a hard surface, but it sure does feel good to get a little self-care in to begin and end each day. This is also great to do if you are traveling and in a hotel room.

What yoga postures do you like to do on your mattress – either at bedtime or in the morning before getting out of bed? Let me know with a comment below.

Child's Pose

Child’s Pose

Supta Baddhakonasana

Supta Baddhakonasana

Legs Up The Wall

Legs Up The Wall

Supta Padangustasana A

Supta Padangustasana A

Half Happy Baby

Half Happy Baby

Supta Padangustasana B

Supta Padangustasana B

Reclining Pigeon

Reclining Pigeon

Reclining Twist

Reclining Twist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outer Hip Relief

Have you been doing your “Kitchen Sink Yoga” or “6-Minutes of Yoga For Stiff Bodies“? Well here is another pose to add to your repertoire.

The big muscles on your outer hip called the external rotators can tend to get tight. Use this stretch to target them at work, home, or virtually anywhere to help relieve the tension that comes from a sedentary life.

standing-pigeon1

Holding on to a table, counter, or the sink bend your knees and cross your shin over your opposite thigh. Flex your foot to protect your knee.

Press down into the table with your hands to keep your deep core engaged. Lean forward until you feel sensation that you can sustain and breathe into. Create the action of pulling your knees away from each other to target stretch. Hold for 30-45 seconds and repeat on the second side.

standing-pigeon2As you open you will be able to walk further from the table and increase the forward bend as I show in the second photo.

If you need to modify, you can do this seated in a chair, or rest  your shin on a low table or bed.

Be mindful that you keep your ankle joint square by keeping your foot flexed, pressing out through the ball of the big toe, and down on the little toe side of the foot.

In my experience, versions like this of “standing pigeon” can be more effective than the traditional pose on the floor. Happy Hip Stretching!

P.S. If you would like a whole class of hip openers like this that leads to the arm balance, flying pigeon, check out my class on YogaVibes.

6 Minutes of Yoga For Stiff Bodies

People with stiff bodies face a special challenge in yoga classes where everyone seems pretzel-like in their flexibility. But don’t despair!

Everybody has six-minutes a day to spare, right? These four exercises done daily will change your life! Ok, that might be a bit dramatic but it will change your body which will make you feel better in it. Do them religiously, and within a couple of weeks, you’ll notice the difference.

Even if your body is more open use them as daily maintenance to stretch out when you wake up or after sitting for a long time.

standing-lunge

1. Stand with one foot on a table or counter top. Push the heel of the foot on the table down firmly and use that power to stand fully in your leg that is on the floor. Tone your belly and lengthen up through your spine. The more open you are the higher the surface you should use, and the closer you can come toward the table.  I like to do this at my bathroom counter while I am brushing my teeth! Do this daily and feel you hips and hamstrings open quickly! Hold each side for 45 seconds breathing evenly.

 

standing-quad-stretch

2. Standing Quad Stretch. Bend your knee and hold your foot behind you. Kick your foot into your hand as you pull your heel toward your hip. Stretch your knee straight down toward the floor. Use a table, chair back, or wall for balance if you need. Hold each side for 45 seconds breathing evenly.

 

 

 

3. Box Pose at a table or wall. Place your hands on the
tabletop and walk back until your torso is parallel box-posewith the floor and your hips are over your heels. Press your hands into the table and reach your hips away from your hands to stretch your spine. If you hamstrings and low back are tight, bend your knees and tip your pelvis so your sitting bones move back and apart and you put a curve in your lower back. Engage your legs and your low belly muscles to support your spine and stretch long. Hold for 60-90 seconds breathing evenly.

 

shoulder-stretch4. Shoulder Stretch at the wall. Face the wall and stretch one arm placing the little finger side of one hand on the wall. Press your outer hand into the wall to engage your muscles and turn your feet, hips, and chest away from the wall. Make sure to keep your head stacked over your pelvis. Breathe into your front chest, shoulder, and upper arm. Play with targeting different spots by placing your hand even with your shoulder, 45° higher, and 45° lower. Hold 30-45 seconds per side.
Please ask for questions or clarifications below and comment to let me know how it’s going for you.

Take Five and Stretch: Standing Crescent

Standing Crescent
Stand with your feet hips width apart. Inhale, stretch your arms up and hold your right wrist with your left hand. Exhale lean to your left. Stand strong through your right leg and give a gentle tug on your arm. Breathe. Inhale stand up and repeat on the second side.
Leg Variation: Cross the right leg behind the left past the midline.
Arm Variation: Cross wrists and press palms together.
Benefits: Stretches the legs and hip flexors, opens the side body, the back, the ribs, and makes space for  the breath.

 

Standing-crescent

Healthful Advice

Years ago I received some really good advice from one of my first yoga teachers and would like to pass it along to you.

It was 1995 and I had a stressful corporate job.  Some days there was so much pressure I began to experience a bit of anxiety.

My wise yoga teacher suggested that when I felt stressed or simply experienced a drop in energy during my day to go into the restroom and get my head below my heart.  Believe it or not I started to do this.  I found myself going to the restroom and taking Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) breaks a few times a day.

This helpful advice worked wonders!

Next time you feel stressed or catch yourself looking for a sugar or caffeine boost during the day try inverting instead!

For more on the benefits of inversions see my recent blog post. To learn how to cultivate a healthy practice of the more powerful inverted postures please join me for my upcoming mini-series Turn It Upside Down.

photo 2

 

Kitchen Sink Yoga

Here’s a great stretch to start out your day.  Most of us wake up a bit stiff from sleep.  My yoga starts as soon as I get out of bed, I have found creative ways to stretch as I go about my morning routine . Tomorrow while you are making your coffee or tea, use the kitchen sink for a juicy stretch and traction of your spine!

1.  Hold on to  your kitchen sink, lean your hips back, and straighten your legs.

  • Squeeze your shins (lower legs) toward one another to stabilize
  • Lift your arms, rib cage, and belly
  • Breathe as you lengthen your spine

2. Walk your feet toward the sink and bend your knees. Sit back as if you were sitting into a chair.

  • Lean back and traction your spine

3. Walk your feet in even closer and drop your pelvis down to a squat. 

  • Hang your hips down to stretch the muscles along your spine and your lower back.

P1080790 - Version 2     P1080792 - Version 2     P1080800 - Version 2

Please post a comment below and let me know how it goes!

Three Tips to Open Your Shoulders

Poor posture while sitting at a desk or driving can create tightness in the front chest, back pain, and other physical side effects. Here are three stretches to open your upper arms and front chest, engaging and strengthening your back, and improve your breathing.  Try them out and start improving your posture and your health today!

 

1.  Shoulder Stretch at a Wall:P1070605
Stand with one side facing the wall. Take your arm behind you palm up, little finger side of the hand on the wall. Make sure your arm is as high as your shoulder.  Press your hand into the wall and pull as if you were to drag your hand forward to engage the muscles.  Then lean forward and slightly turn away from the wall until you feel a stretch.
Variations and Modifications:
a.) Step the foot closest to the wall forward and lunge.
b.) Work with your elbow bent at a corner or door jam. Make sure your elbow is the height of your shoulder.
c.) Put your palm flat on the wall.

 

 

2. Lay Over Two Blocks:P1070160
Sit with your knees bent, feet on the floor, and two blocks behind you.  Lift your chest and ease yourself back until one block is under the bottom tips of your shoulder blades and place the other block under your head.  Start with the blocks on the lowest height first.  You can turn them as you open.  Please note that if your upper back is very tight you may need more support under your head. Either turn the block higher or use a blanket for more support. Stretch your legs straight, engage them from time to time rooting the thighs toward the floor and extend out through your feet. Lay there and breathe.
Variations and Modifications:
a.) Put weight on the thighs.
b.) As your upper back opens, lower the block under your head.
c.) Do the same pose with the legs in Virasana.

 

3. Purvottanasana:P1070181
Sit with your legs in front of you.  Reach your arms behind you, palms down, fingers toward your feet.  Press down through your arms, lift your chest.  Then lift your hips.  Breathe into your chest and let it open.
Variations and Modifications:
a.) If your shoulders are  tighter, turn your fingers to face away from you.
b.) Do the pose with bent knees like an upward facing table.

I’d love to hear from you, please share your questions and your results in the comment section below.

 

Feeling Tired? Try This Supine Yoga Sequence

Supine poses or yoga postures done lying on your back are a great way to release stress and increase flexibility in your hips and hamstrings.  Opening the pelvic region of the body promotes the release of the downward flowing energy.  When this energy is stuck it can contribute to anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues, and even fertility challenges for women. Use this short sequence to restore and ground yourself anytime of the day.

Supta Padangustasana – (Reclining Big Toe Pose)  photo –  3 variations
1. leg up, 2.leg to the side, 3. leg across the body as a twist. The main action is to press your thigh bone toward the back of your leg and maintain the natural curve in your lower back. It does not matter how close your leg is to your chest!  Use your hands on the back of your thigh or use a belt around your foot. Hold from 10 breaths or up to 1-2 minutes per variation.

Suchirandrasana – (Eye of the Needle) – see photo below – Flex the feet and spread the 4th and 5th toes to engage the muscles on the outer shins and protect the knees.  As in the pose above, the main action is to press the thigh bone toward the back of your leg and maintain the natural curve of your lower back.

Ananda Balasana – (Blissful Child) – photo – start with one leg at a time.  You can straighten the bottom leg or  bend the knee with the foot on the floor.  Engage the muscles of the legs and pull down on your foot like you are trying to bring your knee to the floor.  Keeping that, from the core of your pelvis push back up though your foot.  Once you do each side on it’s own then try both legs at the same time as pictured.

Supta Baddhakonasana – (Reclining Bound Angle Pose) – photo – There are many different ways to prop yourself in this pose.  Be sure to put a prop your under your shins to support your knees and hips.  For more open hips you can lay without support.  You may also want to support your spine with a bolster or a blanket. Stay 5-20 minutes.

BASICS_211_MOD1

Suchirandrasana - Courtesy of Yoga Journal