“I can’t do yoga, my balance has gone…”
“I’m not bendy enough to do yoga…”
These are some of the things people often say when they are less mobile, getting older and losing confidence in their physical ability. For those who can’t get down on the floor to do a traditional mat yoga class, chair yoga offers a great, accessible alternative. The good news is that modified yoga, done with a chair for support is gaining in popularity and yoga for seniors is a fast-growing category for yoga classes. It helps create more flexibility, better strength, improved balance and is also a surprisingly effective ‘workout’!
Other less recognised benefits are that practicing yoga can help you with concentration as it focuses your mind and improves mental clarity. My chair yoga students, who range from 75 to 94 years of age, (I know, isn’t that amazing!) often comment on how they look forward to class, and how it makes them feel after just an hour of practicing each week. They also practice in between classes, doing little stretches while they wait for the kettle to boil is a popular one!
Another benefit is to experience relaxation. Few people stop to think about the fact that relaxation is a skill, something we need to practice to become good at, to be able to calm ourselves with our breath.
Some of the students have physical challenges with balance, standing or mobility of their joints, and one student has found that their regular practice has enabled them to not use a walker or even a stick any more!
Onwards and upwards as they say!
Chair yoga classes are taught by Linda Sykes on a Thursday 1600 – 1700 in Basingstoke, and by Ann Pyne on a Thursday afternoon term time in Finchampstead: 14.20 – 15.20 – please contact Linda on 07974 155814 or Ann on 07547 501007 for more information.
Summer is approaching fast and festival season is upon us and there are plenty such events for you to choose from BUT is it worth it ? If you are still not sure about whether a day-long yoga celebration is for you, here are 5 reasons to at least give it a try. Scroll to the end for details of a local new festival coming to Basingstoke on 30th June, Yoga South will be there !
1) Relax and Re-new: A yoga festival is an active mini-retreat.
If a yoga class can be your mini-break from everyday routines of moving (or mostly not moving) and thinking (or mostly worrying), a yoga festival can be a mini-retreat and your go-to when you need quality-time for and with yourself.
Whether the event is happening in a far away place or right in your neighborhood, as soon as your feet touch the festival grounds, you are entering a completely different world. Everything here is set up to make you feel awesome! Far away from your daily routines and to-do-list(s), all you need is to exhale stress and enjoy the offerings of the program to relax and energize.
2) Practice with dedicated teachers
Large Yoga festivals usually invite renowned teachers from all over the world that have dedicated their lives to yoga. Some of them teach traditional yoga styles others have their own style and school of yoga and you may get to experience several of them in one day for the price of one class in some cases. Some of the sessions may include things you may not experience during your standard weekly session like chanting and philosophy discourse.
Smaller events are a great opportunity to get to know local teachers who may be just as passionate and knowledgable as the latest Insta sensation. So no need to travel far or spend a lot you will have the opportunity to meet and practice with many different and expert yogis. It is extremely inspiring and motivating to listen to, and learn from, passionate teachers who live what they teach and teach what they live.
3) Be Inspired, Stay Inspired: Time to explore and discover new sides of YOU.
Most of us in everyday life stick to our one or two favourite teachers and beloved routines without hardly ever trying something new. Yoga festivals are a great opportunity to explore new territory.
Most yoga festivals offer a wide range of yoga styles and related topics. The die-hard Power Vinyasa Yogi might discover the bliss of Yin Yoga. The serious Ashtangi may fall in love with the playful AcroYoga. One might explore mindful and fun “sister” disciplines like aerial yoga, crystal healing, essential oils , complementary therapies. The others might find the time and peace to dig into meditation and breathing techniques.
As much as we need certain routines to save energy, the constant drive on auto-pilot, that many of us so easily get trapped into, can eventually make us feel chronically tired or even depressed. A day or a weekend in the vast and colourful yoga world is opening the door to step out of our comfort zone. Meeting new people and absorbing new ideas can inspire us to a new perspective on our practice and on our life.
4) Unity in Diversity: Meet your tribe and celebrate togetherness.
Yoga attracts people of diverse cultural and social backgrounds. While the diversity of the community makes part of its beauty, separating concepts of our mind like age, nationality, gender, religious beliefs, or political backgrounds dissolve into a sphere of acknowledgment, yet insignificance, when you meet in yoga pants.
Breathing and moving together creates a sense of belonging with others around you and really brings the uniting practice of yoga to the forefront. Being present at a yoga festival allows us to celebrate that fact with other like-minded people, from all over the country or even the world, while celebrating the wonderfulness of the practice itself.
5) Wild and Free: Wholehearted living outside the comfort zone.
It is this open and safe space of acceptance that can open doors you might not have known even existed. Suddenly you catch yourself climbing on a stranger’s body in acroyoga as if you were born to do so. You take the courage to try that handstand off the wall and fail in laughter.
You gaze into a fellow student’s eyes in a partner meditation and don’t feel shame for tears running down your cheeks. You sing and dance your heart out at the Kirtan concert and forget that, just a minute ago, “chanting” didn’t seem to be your thing at all.
If all this seems a little overwhelming why not trying a local smaller festival , one of our teachers has organised a Yoga Gathering in Basingstoke in aid of a local cancer charity , it seems like the perfect opportunity and whilst most festivals charge rather a lot , this one is just 5£. Basingstoke Yoga Gathering takes place on Sunday 30th June from 10.30 till about 3.30.
NAMASTE YOGIS !
CREDITS : inspired by this blog https://www.doyouyoga.com/5-reasons-to-go-to-a-yoga-festival-this-summer-17074/
How I Came To Yoga….and Stayed …
By Jacquie Perryman
I was recently unpacking boxes that had been in storage for years, when I found several issues of YOGA & HEALTH magazine from 1972, with an 18 year old me on the cover, or inside demonstrating poses!
I had forgotten that I had my very first yoga experience so long ago, back when it wasn’t so popular. There have been gaps of many years, yet the basic premise of exercising mind and body together has always appealed to me, and I kept coming back to yoga, despite brief diversions into aerobics (thanks Jane Fonda!) and jazz dance.
I have been practicing a mix of Hatha, Iyengar and Ashtanga yoga postures regularly for 15 years and teaching for 6.
I never enjoyed the gym: repetitive motions on machines never appealed to me, or just bored me.
I also had to be careful of a weakness in my lower back, from a school diving injury when I was 13, and I always preferred to take time to do exercises, place myself correctly, breathe into the poses, and feel the benefit. Otherwise it was just sweating!
I studied ballet as a child, but my dreams of pursuing it were dashed when I broke my ankle aged 11. However, I believe the idea of proper placement and good posture were instilled in me at that young age.
I always saw that bad posture is aging. My grandparents were quite hunched over, and I vowed to try and keep upright, if I was able to. One evening, in Paris, when I was about 22, I met a chic young French dancer who had the most amazing posture. I have always remembered her and tried to keep my back straight and long (which of course helps strengthen the stomach muscles, which in turn protect the lower back).
My first yoga class was in London when I was around 18 (where I was spotted for the Yoga & Health photos by then-editor Richard Henderson). I have no idea how I came to be doing a class in a posh London health club…
Many years later, I turned back to yoga, in LA, where I now lived, and became really hooked. I achieved a fairly advanced level, and, during classes which were very large and, this being L.A, somewhat competitive (!), I injured my right knee from over-extending (and not being corrected; the teacher too busy looking at himself in the mirror up on the stage).
Cut to 5 years on, and with an infant son, full-time work and little childcare, I had no time for yoga (or anything else much). It was only when our local L.A. tennis club offered yoga lessons, which made it easy for me to get to, that I was able to attend a regular class. It was my good fortune that the teacher was a wonderful woman, then in her 60’s, with a radiant face and smile, an enthusiasm, attention to placement, and the body and posture of a 30 year old. Garimo (Nadine McMains) had studied with John Friend, Ana Forest and Shiva Rea, and with yogis in India. She taught an inspiring mixture of Hatha, Iyengar and Ashtanga, in a small and very focused class of different abilities. She was my first completely inspirational teacher, and I realised this was what you need to become completely connected to yoga and to be able to make progress.
She persuaded me that the way to get real and lasting benefit from yoga was to practice at home. Despite my many excuses, she stood firm and said that even 10 minutes a day would make a difference. I could not deny that even I could find 10 minutes! That was the turning-point for me.
I have since then practiced for 10 – 30 minutes almost every day.
Yoga makes me feel energised, stretched, strong, and ready for the day ahead, both mentally and physically. I feel in touch with my body; yoga has taught me how to listen to it, and to take care of it.
When I moved back to the UK in 2009 I found another inspirational teacher – Sam Rao!
www.samraoyoga.com who persuaded me to be one of the first trainees through his yoga teacher training school. I have been teaching (part-time, as I still work) since 2012 and absolutely love it. I have regular weekly classes and really enjoy teaching regular workshops with my good friend Linda Sykes who is also a Yoga South teacher.
Truly, yoga is for life.
“I really want to learn how to do a headstand”, we have all been there , fascinated by advanced poses and the ease in which some people can perform them . We often think that the quality and depth of our practice depended on our ability to go upside-down and we loose touch with why we practice in the first place.
There is undoubtedly a certain buzz associated with going upside-down. Nailing your first shoulderstand or a headstand can give you a great confidence boost, BUT are the king and queen of asanas (headstand and shoulderstand respectively) really a measure of yogic progression and should we indeed practice them regularly?
In short No and …Maybe.
Some studios have gone as far as banning specific inversions because of concerns associated with the strain applied to the cervical spine and the possible injuries that can follow. I have heard stories of yogis who injured themselves for life after having been asked to hold a headstand for several minutes whilst on an intensive course in India, and others reporting chronic neck and shoulder pain after years of regular practice. So what path should we choose when considering inversions? The best way is to make an informed decision and here are some ideas on how to go about it
Step 1: what is an inversion anyway?
When the word inversion is mentioned we immediately think of handstand, headstand, shoulderstand, crow and crane, all poses that are not immediately accessible to beginners. These poses take regular practice to master
The truth is that any pose that brings the head closer to the ground than the heart is considered an inversion. So this means that poses like downward facing dog, prasarita paddotanasana ( pictured below) dolphin and even puppy pose and child’s pose are already inversions and much more accessible to beginners and experienced practitioners alike.
Step 2: consider the benefits
There are many benefits to inversions and these benefits can be accessed with any inversion, not necessarily by standing on your own.
Strenght : in order to perform the more advanced inversions you will need strenght, upper body strenght, core strenght and back body strenght. Many of the ordinary poses can help you build this strenght : down dog, plank pose, standing poses, boat pose, standing big toe hold pose are all good examples of asanas that you can work on whilst prepping to invert
Circulation: inversions invert the flow of blood assisting the normal circulation flow and giving the heart a good workout in the process, they do not make you look younger or make your grey hair disappear however.
Lymph flush: this is definitely one of the most important benefits of inversions , the lymphatic system is in charge of cleansing the body from toxins however it does not have a pump like the blood system does and so it relies very much on the movements of the body to keep things moving. This system is often glogged up and slow, going upside down flushes the lymph system and helps with swollen legs and ankles.
Nervous system : Inversions also have an effect on the nervous system. Headstand and Handstand are energizing: stimulating the nervous system and creating heat in the body.
For this reason they are often followed by Shoulderstand or Legs up the wall pose which are more cooling and relaxing for the nervous system. These last two poses are great if you are suffering from too much stress or have insomnia.
Psychology : going upside down reminds us that there is always another way to look at things, a fresher uncoventional way. Learning to headstand or shoulderstand takes perseverance, patience and humility. You learn a lot about your ego and how you react to challenges and failures.
Step 3: consider the risks
Anatomically speaking the neck is very different from the ankles and the feet which are the structures designated to hold the full weight of our body. One studio in the US has banned Headstand and Shoulderstand from their studio and here you can read their full reasoning. It is a brave move as so many people today approach Yoga with the ideal of a #yogaselfie as the ultimate goal but in the context of a large studio it may be the right choice. The risks of full inversions are so serious that they are simply not worth the benefits that you can easily get from less risky poses.
Step 4: so shall I or shan’t I?
The answer is you can certainly work your way up to these more advanced poses but do that without rushing and under the regular guidance of a trained teacher.
DO NOT practice these inversions if you have neck or head injuries, high blood pressure or eye problems like glaucoma. Listen to your body, sometimes it might be ok to do another kind of inversion, consider Child’s Pose, Reclined Butterfly pose (Supta Baddha Konasana) or Savasana as your go-to inversions when you are feeling tired or managing injuries or blood pressure issues.
Step 5: Be mindful of different schools’ approaches
Different schools approach advanced inversions differently. In Iyengar Yoga and Anusara Yoga headstand and shoulderstand are typically taught only to intermediate and advanced students (students with at least 3 to 5 years of practice). In these two styles, the full inversions are taught gradually with extensive use of props to make the poses more accessible and safer. In other schools like Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Sivananda Yoga traditions, full inversions are more commonly taught to newer, less experienced students and props are not typically used. In Moksha Yoga no full inversions are taught.
Consider this when joining a new class and don’t feel pressurized into keeping up with the rest of the class if you are not ready for it. Good teachers will offer alternatives based on your ability, your current physical fitness and state of mind.
Step 6: it’s a journey
So , you have decided that you really want to learn how to headstand or shoulderstand, now what ?
Commit to the journey, to the longterm dedication that these poses may require, consider a workshop with an experienced teacher dedicated to these poses and finally never be afraid to say: ” I prefer to just watch “.
If you are not ready for the pose you may hurt more than just your ego !
Yoga South teachers offer regular workshops, the next Headstand workshop is coming up in March for details click this link
Take care and enjoy your practice .
This can be a tough month for many of us, after the Christmas madness we are left with a long month where the days are still short and temperatures often around freezing and so we asked Ellie Greensmith, our newest and youngest teacher, to take us back to Bali and bring you some sunshine.
With this blog we hope to transport you to sunnier climates, provide some holiday inspiration and perhaps inspire you to consider becoming a Yoga teacher yourselves!
After practicing yoga for over 5 years Ellie decided to train to be a yoga teacher so she could share her love of yoga with more people.
The first step was to decide where to train, there’s plenty of courses out there to choose from. After much research she eventually settled on a course in Bali, recommended to her by a friend. The course gave a 200hr qualification recognized by the Yoga Alliance (YAP) as well as a chance to spend a month in beautiful Bali, how could she resist?
Fast forward a few months and she arrived in Ubud, Bali very jet lagged. Ubud is a yoga hub and there are plenty of yoga studios to explore. As you can imagine the training programme was intense and daunting with the average day plan shown below:
- 06:00 Meditation and yoga practice
- 07:30 Practice teach
- 08:30 Breakfast
- 09:30 Theory of yoga session
- 14:00 Lunch and free time – rest and play
- 16:30 Training session
- 19:30 Dinner
- 20:30 History of yoga
As expected the training programme was tough from the beginning but totally worth it. Ellie was accompanied on her teacher training journey by 20 other wonderful individuals from 12 different countries. It was amazing to hear everyone else’s backgrounds and how they found yoga. In particular how yoga can be used as a tool to heal physical and mental pain.
The course gave a chance to study a variety of yoga styles and also try arial and acro yoga. It was really fun to try out all the different styles and play around with these in a class plan.
Being in beautiful surroundings with such amazing people made it a once in a lifetime opportunity to immerse fully in yoga and forget the world at home. Ellie was lucky enough to spend a few days after the programme exploring Bali, including the rice fields surrounding where she was staying in Ubud.
Here are some of Ellie’s thoughts on her journey: Yoga teacher training helped to deepen my practice, gain a better understanding of yoga’s history and was something totally for myself. I’m now a fully qualified yoga teacher and can not wait to continue to develop my practice and learn more! I hope this short blog will inspire you to look forward to the warmer seasons, to travel to other lands, to continue or resume your yoga practice and perhaps deepen it through self or guided courses.
We are so proud of Ellie and lucky to have her as one of Yoga South teachers, she currently teaches around Berkshire and Hampshire mainly covering other teachers classes to continue honing her teaching skills. You can contact her via our Facebook page or our email address : firstname.lastname@example.org
Namaste Yogis !
Love Ellie and the Yoga South team
With the clocks having gone back, and the colder weather drawing near do you feel that your energy levels are slumping and hibernating indoors is becoming more appealing?
Does the duvet pin you back down in the morning at every attempt of your body to get up and move?
Does the sofa, TV and a mug of something warm or alcoholic call to you in the evenings?
Is the mind willing but the body is playing a different game? Or are they actually reading the same story?
Do the words from that familiar song “Baby it’s cold outside” give us an excuse to not do our yoga practice?
All of the above sound like very good reasons to behave like hibernating hedgehogs, snuggle down under a big pile of warm damp leaves and stay there until we can feel that early warmth of spring sunshine on the tip of our noses.
I could be tempted by that ?
But even though it is tempting to not move and just snuggle on the sofa the darker colder weather is even more of a reason to keep up your yoga practice. To help develop an internal heat to not only keep the chills away but to maintain a healthy immune system and a balanced and settled mind.
When we are cold, our circulation decreases, which doesn’t just slow the effectiveness of our organs, it also further lowers our body temperature. Which in turn can lead to a constriction in our muscles, joints and even our perspective.
So just as we my change our diet in line with the different seasons but we continue to eat, we can learn to adjust our yoga practice and approach to it so we can continue to benefit all year round from the ‘nutrients’ that yoga feeds us with:
Improved immune system
Rest and relaxation
…..and many more yogic vitamins and minerals ?
Why not visit the Yoga South list of teachers/classes and workshops and make a regular yogic nutritional date in your diary.
And if for some reason you can’t make it to class then have a go at the following short asana and pranayama sequence to enable you to warm up the body, focus the mind but also allow you some nurturing (or hibernating ?) time .
Click HERE for the video version
Downward Facing Dog
Uttanasana – standing forward fold
Half Sun Salutation (Ardha Surya Namaskara)
Paschimottanasana (Seated forward fold)
Parivrtta Sukhasana (Seated Twist)
Nadi Shodhana, or “alternate nostril breathing,” is a simple yet powerful technique that settles the mind, body, and emotions. You can use it to quiet your mind before beginning a meditation practice, and it is particularly helpful to ease racing thoughts if you are experiencing anxiety, stress, or having trouble falling asleep.
Improves our ability to focus the mind
Supports our lungs and respiratory functions
Restores balance in the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and clears the energetic channels
Rejuvenates the nervous system
Take a comfortable and tall seat, making sure your spine is straight and your heart is open.
Relax your left palm comfortably into your lap and bring your right hand just in front of your face.
With your right hand, bring your pointer finger and middle finger to rest between your eyebrows, lightly using them as an anchor. The fingers we’ll be actively using are the thumb and ring finger.
Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose.
Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily.
Close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are held closed; retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a brief pause.
Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side; pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
Inhale through the right side slowly.
Hold both nostrils closed (with ring finger and thumb).
Open your left nostril and release breath slowly through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.
Repeat 5-10 cycles, allowing your mind to follow your inhales and exhales.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Lie down on your back.
Allow your legs to separate with your feet about hip-distance apart or to the outer edges of your mat. Toes relax outward.
Allow your arms to relax on either side of you, palms facing up in a gesture of receptivity. Take a few big inhales through your nose and exhales out of your mouth to let go of every last bit of effort left in your body of in your mind. Breathe here for at least 20 deep breaths, or longer as you like.
Keep moving , keep breathing .
Welcome to this month’s Blog , if you have not received last month’s blog have a look at it HERE it’s all about that pesky pain in the neck.
This month’s post is the first of a series of blogs exploring the use of props in yoga practice.
Many consider props as a necessary aid for beginners or people with injuries but at Yoga South we like to think that yoga props are an essential part of our practice. The Iyengar school of yoga is famous for its extensive use of props that vary from simple blocks to ropes and chairs. The concept is that props not only support us when we are not flexible enough or strong enough to hold a certain pose yet but also allow us to awaken our muscle awareness and builds the muscle memory necessary to progress in our practice.
This month we are looking at the humble yoga block ( or brick) and specifically on how we can use it to support, aid stretch and align, better engage muscles and challenge our balance.
Use a brick to support you as you practice more challenging poses , try the following poses :
Chaturanga Dandasana – four-limbed staff :
so much easier to hold this with a block supporting the heaviest bone of the body.
Position the block lengthways across your lower abdomen so that both hip tips are supported by the block and press the earth away with your hands , hug your elbows in and make sure your wrists are positioned directly under your shoulders. Try and hover
Malasana – Garland :
A great pose for the inside of the hips , not so great for your knees.
Prop yourself up using a block , it will help you relax into the pose allowing for a greater stretch on the inside of the legs and the groin area.You may find that it’s also easier to keep your heels on the ground in this supported version of the pose.
Eka Raja Kapotanasana – Pigeon Pose :
A very well known modification used to ensure that your pelvis remains level when you take this lovely restorative pose. The support given by the prop prevents any excessive pressure on the knee joint and allows you to relax and with time go deeper into the pose.
Janu Sirsasana – Head to knee pose :
this forward bend is often performed at the end of a sequence as part of the cooling down sequence.
Using a block to support the bent knee creates less stress on the bent knee side hence making the forward bend more accessible and the hip stretch more effective.
a lovely restorative version of this very common inversion, you have three settings to choose from so start from the lowest setting and then gradually move to the longest side of the block. This gives you a really effective back bend with low impact. Great as a preparation pose for a shoulderstand. Make sure the block is positioned on the sacrum.
Supported Viparita Karani – Legs up the wall
A great variation after a dynamic practice when you do not want to shift to the wall but you still want to hold the pose for longer than a couple of breaths. The block is positioned right under the sacrum for optimum support… and now just breathe !
Stretch and align
Trust your block to take you deeper into your stretches , the use of a block can help you see where you want to go
Anjaneyasana – low lunge
We often struggle to find the right alignment in this powerful stretch , using one or two blocks can help you find a deeper stretch and preventing the crunching of the lumbar area
Anahatasana – Puppy pose
prop this strong heart opener by positioning your block under your forehead and focus on melting your heart into the earth. Such a great shoulder stretch.
Matsyasana – Supported fish pose another heart opener , position the block sideways just under your shoulder blades , choose an appropriate height(2 to choose from) and relax , the legs can be bent or stretched out, yogi’s choice.
Carry the heart opening into your downdog by positioning a block to aim for with your forehead , focus on the sliding of the shoulderblades as you sink your heart towards the floor as the head lowers onto the block.
This is how I teach warrior 1 to absolute beginners as it teaches you to twist your torso to the front using your belly muscles and leaving the lower back and pelvis alone. From Mountain pose step your left foot back holding the block between your hands in front of you, lower your left heel to 45 degrees and allow your pelvis to turn left (do not square your hips!). Now lift your arms up so that the block is parallel to the floor and twist from the belly button up so that the long edge of the block is parallel with the front of the mat, relax your shoulders and lift your arms up.
One of the best poses to stretch hamstrings and outer hip and so much better aligned with the help of a block. A lot of us want to reach down to the floor with the bottom hand however this often compromises the form of the pose adding a forward bend and the wrong kind of twist to the pose, a block positioned in the correct place makes for a very nicely aligned triangle.
Prasarita Paddotanasana A – Wide legged forward fold
Add a block to this symmetrical stretch, positioning it where you aim to have your head touch down onto the earth to bring the ground closer to you. Engage the abdominal muscles and fold over your legs hinging from the hips as you bring the top of the head onto your block.
Ardha Chandrasana – Half Moon
This modification allows you to accommodate tight hamstrings, if you feel the block is too wobbly try a different block orientation or stack a couple of them so that the wider side becomes the base for your hand.
You can practice any balancing pose on a block for an added challenge , here are some examples :
One foot on the block, the other one floats next to it. Strengthen your glutes and your adductors (inside thigh muscles) by lowering the floating foot to the floor and lifting it a little higher than the block.
The final use of a block is to me the most interesting one as it requires you to be present and feel which muscles are engaging, with time this awareness transforms your practice and allows you to go deeper into the poses and hold them for longer so that you can truly focus on your breath.
This is a fun and challenging variation, take bound angle (or butterfly pose) and put your block between your feet on the shortest setting first. Squeeze the block between the feet and at the same time try to lower the outer edge of your knees to the floor. You may feel a lift and you will definitely feel your rotators deep in your our hip joint working and strengthening. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths and then move to the 2nd block setting then the third ( the longest side). Enjoy !
Dandasana – Staff pose
Often in this pose we feel a pinching on the upper legs as we press the heels into the earth. Try putting a block between your ankles and squeeze to engage your adductors (you will feel them on the inside of your legs) and take some of the effort and don’t forget of course to engage your core. If you have two blocks squeeze one between your hands and lift your arms up. Breath deeply and draw your navel in as you exhale. Keep the shoulders relaxed as you repeat for 3 to 5 breaths.
The same principle can also be applied to Uttkatasana – Chair pose and to Viparita Karani – Legs up the wall , experiment by moving the block from the thighs to the shins and notice any change in the way your leg muscles engage.
Challenge your muscle control , position the block on the palm of your hand , start with the arm alongside the body with the palm of the hand facing up , don’t grip the block , just leave your fingers stretched out and draw a wide circle out to the side and all the way to over your head without the block falling off. Switch hand at the bottom and top of the circle and repeat a few times.
There are many many more uses for a block in your yoga practice so the next time your teacher offers you to use a block grab one and experiment!
Neck and shoulder pain is epidemic in our ‘web-surfing’ society, and the typical yoga practice may not cure it. Here are three easy hatha yoga poses to keep you pain-free.
One of the most common problems yoga students complain about is chronic pain around the shoulder blades and in the upper back and neck. This kind of pain plagues those of us who work with our arms extended in front of us, whether we’re typing on the computer, cooking, carrying children, lifting heavy objects, or washing dishes. Let’s face it: that includes just about all of us. Because these activities are especially demanding on the arms, shoulders, and upper back, it’s not surprising that back pain is so widespread, even among the most dedicated yoga students.
Shoulder work is a foundation for nearly all hatha yoga poses.
Upper back pain commonly stems from the tendency to slump in the spine and round the shoulders. Slumping causes the shoulder blades to slide away from the spine, chronically overstretching and weakening the muscles around them. Eventually these muscles harden into tough bands to protect themselves from this constant strain. As they tire, these weakened fibrous muscles go into spasm, creating hot, persistent pains along the edges of the shoulder blades and the sides of the neck.
Common shoulder stretches reduce the upper back pain only marginally, and some can even make the problem worse. That’s because stretching often focuses on the pain without addressing its deeper causes. The cause of the slumping, paradoxically, lies in the front of the body, deep within the shoulder area of the upper chest. Tightness in the upper chest muscles pulls the shoulders forward and down, while rotating the upper arms inward. By releasing the tension in these muscles, we can undo the most persistent cause of chronic upper back pain.
Challenges in Your Yoga Practice:
Tightness in the upper chest makes it difficult—and sometimes even harmful—to perform basic asanas. Tense muscles draw the shoulders forward and rotate the upper arm bones inward, straining the shoulder joints in a number of common poses. For example, if you tend to hunch your shoulders while extending your arms to the sides in poses such as Virabhadrasana II (warrior II), the deepest part of the shoulder joint can be harmed where the misaligned bones pinch the rotator cuff muscles. Moreover, hunched shoulders cause the upper back to round and the shoulder blades to “wing out” to the sides, weakening the muscles of the upper back.
The tightness also shows up in poses in which the arms are extended overhead, such as virabhadrasana I (warrior I) and adho mukha shvanasana (downward-facing dog). The same tightness that causes shoulder problems in Warrior II will make it difficult for you to fully extend your arms overhead or open your chest in these poses. In Warrior I, your elbows may bend out to the sides as the upper arm bones rotate inward, again causing the bones of the shoulder joints to pinch the rotator cuff muscles deep in the shoulder sockets.
Tenderness in the muscles of your chest indicates that problems will persist until the muscles are relieved of their chronic tension through focused stretching.
The same is true in Downward-facing dog. Though it is generally easier to straighten the arms in this pose, the upper arm bones still tend to rotate inward toward the ears. The weight-bearing nature of the pose makes this inward rotation all the more dangerous if you (like many students) push your chest toward the floor, straining your shoulders at their weakest point.
Finally, when you extend your upper arms behind your body in poses such as Sarvangasana (shoulderstand), the same tightness in the fronts of the shoulder joints turns the shoulders strongly inward and causes the elbows to slide out laterally. This misalignment severely compromises the shoulders and causes the chest to collapse, putting harmful weight on the bones of the neck.
The Root of the Problem
What’s the common denominator in these poses? In each case, the upper arms rotate inward as the shoulders roll forward and down, bringing the shoulder blades with them. The cause of these problems is tightness in a trio of muscles that run from the inner arm through the armpit to the chest.
Two of these muscles run along the inner edge of the upper arm: the brachialis, which (along with the biceps) bends the elbow, and the corachobrachialis, which adducts the upper arm, bringing it closer to the body. A third muscle, the pectoralis minor, attaches at one end to the coracoid process, a thumb-like forward extension of the shoulder blade, and at the other end to the ribs of the upper chest. The role of this muscle is to draw the shoulder forward and down. When we reach forward to move or manipulate objects—an action we perform frequently—the pectoralis minor, corachobrachialis, and brachialis muscles all contract.
Among the three, the pectoralis minor is most responsible for postural problems. Although it is a relatively small muscle, its attachment to the coracoid process allows it to exert a good deal of leverage on the shoulder. As we reach for something, contractions of the pectoralis minor draw the shoulder forward, in turn pulling the shoulder blade away from the spine and rounding the upper back. Chronic tightness in the pectoralis minor, then, promotes forward-slumping shoulders, while tightness in the muscles along the inner arms further aggravates problems by causing the arms to rotate inwardly.
Although the muscles responsible for causing our discomfort are in the front of the body, the pain we feel is in the upper back. It is caused by a misalignment of the shoulder blade that has been persistently pulled away from the spine by the slumping in our shoulders. This pull causes painful muscle spasms along the edges of the shoulder blades. The muscles that are most affected are:
The rhomboids, muscles that connect the shoulder blades to the spine. The upper rhomboids are particularly strained by their effort to pull the shoulder blades back into place, countering the pull of the pectoralis minor.
The levator scapulae, which extends from the top edges of the shoulder blades to the upper vertebrae of the neck – these muscles elevate the shoulder blades and are strained by the pull of the shoulders as they slump forward and down.
Tension in the rhomboids causes chronic pain along the edges of the shoulder blades nearest the spine, while tension in the levator scapulae creates pain in the sides of the neck, which can make it difficult to turn the head. If, for instance, your right shoulder is hunched forward, tension in the levator scapula on the right side of your neck will make it more difficult to turn your head to the right. This pain may also shoot down through the inner edge of your shoulder blade.
Skilful body work concentrating on these upper back muscles will help ease your pain, but it will not eliminate the cause, which is tension in the front of the chest, in the pectoralis minor. If you suffer from upper back pain, try massaging just beneath your collarbones, especially between the third and fifth ribs, which will likely be quite tender. (You may be surprised to feel a corresponding twinge under your shoulder blade, a hint of the neurological link between these areas.) It is just as important for you to massage the muscles in the front of your upper chest as it is to have your upper back massaged. Tenderness in the muscles of your chest indicates that problems will persist until the muscles are relieved of their chronic tension through focused stretching.
How to Stretch and Open the Chest (Correctly)
Hatha yoga poses are powerful tools to stretch and open the chest. However, we must be attentive to some simple details to ensure that these hatha yoga poses properly target the problem. One of the most common stretches for the upper chest, for example, is often performed incorrectly. In this stretch the hands are clasped behind the body, and the arms are drawn away from the back to stretch the fronts of the shoulders. But if you are not careful, the very muscles you are trying to stretch can cause the arms to become misaligned, further straining the shoulders.
To perform the stretch correctly, bend your elbows and interlace your fingers behind you, separating the palms of your hands. Keeping the elbows bent, lift and square your shoulders; then draw your shoulders back, moving your elbows toward each other so that your upper arms are parallel. Flexible people will be tempted to straighten the arms and hyperextend the elbows, but this is a temptation to resist, since it reduces the effectiveness of the stretch. The proper action of squaring the shoulders, bending the elbows, and bringing the upper arms parallel will rotate the upper arms outward, opening the space between your upper chest and the fronts of your shoulder joints. Moreover, the arm bones will “hug” the shoulder joints, protecting your rotator cuff muscles.
To increase the stretch, keep your chest elevated as you draw your hands away from your back. Ultimately, you can straighten the arms, but only if this does not make the shoulders rotate in and downward. Since many of us are too quick to straighten the arms, it’s better to keep the elbows slightly bent.
Purvottanasana (upward-facing plank) is a posture that stretches the brachialis (inner arm muscles) as well as the chest. To begin, sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet a comfortable distance in front of you. Place your hands on the floor 12 to 16 inches behind you, wider than your hips and (ideally) with your fingers pointing forward. (If you feel wrist pain in this position, place a support such as a folded towel under the heels of your hands or turn your hands outward.) Bend your elbows slightly, and, as you exhale, soften your chest downward, bowing your head. As you inhale, draw your shoulders back, keeping your elbows bent and your upper arms parallel. Lift and open your upper chest, feeling the stretch just below the lines of your collarbones. Keep your hips on the floor.
Next, with each inhalation, lift your chest and straighten your arms, maintaining the open space between your chest and the fronts of your shoulder joints. The more you straighten the arms while pressing downward through the mounds of your index fingers, the more you feel the stretch along the inner edges of your biceps and forearms.
Progress in the pose by raising your hips. Don’t take your head back at first—keep it lifted, looking toward your knees. Continue to lift your chest. Ultimately you can take your head back by lengthening through the crown of your head.
Avoid throwing your head back in a way that collapses your chest and hyperextends your neck. Do not lift your hips if your arms turn in, if you feel a sharp pulling deep inside your shoulder, or again, if your chest collapses.
In the full pose, the legs are extended straight out in front of you. Isometrically draw your heels toward your hands to activate your hamstrings. Extend through your toes, lift your hips, and open your chest.
This stretch addresses some of the deepest levels of tightness in the arm, shoulder, and chest. Stand next to a wall with your feet parallel and comfortably separated. Place the fingertips of one hand on the wall at shoulder height with your arm fully extended. Place your other hand on your hip. Cup your fingers so that only the fingertips touch the wall, and rotate your arm outward slightly so that your thumb (rather than your index finger) points upward. Keep your shoulder aligned with your hand and begin to lift and open your chest with your breath, rolling your collarbones back.
Now, twisting from the waist, turn just your upper body, extending through your arm to the fingertips, as if the wall were moving away from you. This stretch extends from the chest and the armpit down through the entire length of the inner arm to the thumb. You may feel the stretch at any point along this line. It is a deep fascial stretch that feels unlike most muscle stretches—it may tingle, which indicates a lengthening of the tougher fascial tissue. Breathe. The tingling is normal and fine, as long as it does not become a sharp localized pain. This stretch reaches some of the deepest levels of tension in the arm and shoulder, and opens the flow of circulation to the entire area.
How to Get the Best Results
Shoulder work is a foundation for nearly all hatha yoga poses. Lengthening the chronically short muscles in the inner arm and chest establishes better alignment in the shoulders and frees you of fatigue and painful spasms in your upper back. When your shoulder joints are aligned, they enjoy their fullest range of motion. Your chest feels broad and open, and the lower tips of your shoulder blades stay firmly and comfortably in place on your back.
If you take a quick inventory of your body as you progress with these three easy stretches—the chest opener with the arms clasped behind the back, the upward-facing plank, and the standing stretch near a wall—you’ll notice that the muscles between the shoulder blades and the spine feel broad and lightly toned. Your arms hang easily at your sides with a slight outward rotation, maintaining the feeling of breadth across your upper chest. Your head turns from side to side without difficulty, and you experience greater freedom when you extend your arms to the side and overhead. When your arms are stretched overhead in warrior I, for example, you will feel the inner edges of your shoulder blades release downward as your chest opens. There will be no bunching up of the muscles at the base of your neck. These are all signs of progress, signs that you are dissolving the chronic pain in your upper back and creating space for a more fruitful asana practice.
– adapted from an article by Doug Keller.