Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Little Morning Yoga Practice

Yoga in the morning is the most glorious thing to me. My morning sadhana (practice) is usually about an hour and a half and consists of pranayama (breathing exercises to increase prana, energy), asana (postures) and meditation. I try to practice outside so that I can benefit from the fresh air and the energy from natural light. Every once in a while I get to practice somewhere really spectacular, like this...

But you don't need a lot of space, or a spectacular vista for a morning practice; and you don't need an hour and a half. All you need is a yoga mat or a towel, a quiet spot, and 10 or 15 minutes. The key is consistency; commit to doing a short sadhana every morning for 40 days and you will be amazed at the changes that occur in all areas of your life.

Here is a short sequence for you to try:

Sukhasana (easy pose): Sit with your legs crossed (you do not need to bring one leg up into half-lotus as in the picture, you can just cross the shins) and follow your breath for a few minutes. As you inhale say, "I am breathing in," as you exhale say, "I am breathing out." This will help you to stay focused on the breath. Make your inhales slow and deep, letting your belly swell like a balloon; pay special attention to the exhale, making it longer and slower with each breath. The longer the exhale, the more relaxed your body will become. This sort of breathing awakes and freshens the body, but it also quiets the nervous system and helps to lower stress hormone levels, like adrenaline and cortisol.

Table-top pose: Come onto your hands and knees. Press your palms into the floor, and gently do the same with your knees and lower leg. As you inhale, look up and arch the back so that the tail bone reaches toward the sky (dog stretch); on the exhale, look down at your knees and tuck your tail bone under so that your back arches up in the other direction (cat pose). Repeat this linking of movement with breath ten times. This will gently wake up your spine.

Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog): From table-top pose, turn your toes under, press through your palms as you begin to straighten your arms and legs. Keep a little bend in the legs a first, and you can keep it the whole time if straightening the legs bothers your hamstrings or knees. Never lock the knees back. Remember that as you are pressing down, the energy is also rising back up into you from the ground; do not sink into your joints. Completely release and surrender the head between the arms so it moves towards the floor. The arm pits hollow, and the inner heals move toward the floor. You are now in Downward Dog, and should look something like an upside down 'V'. Remember everyones posture will be different. Stay here for three deep breaths. If the posture is too difficult, bend your knees more, and shorten the number of breaths. This posture is an inversion and nourishes the brain with fresh blood and oxygen. It also helps to relieve depression and balance hormones.

Ustrasana (camel pose): Come down to sitting on the heels and take a few breaths. Then come up to standing on the knees for Ustrasana. Inhale and place the hands on the lower back as you lift the heart to the sky. Really, lift the heart strongly, and lift out of the lower back and you will not feel compression or strain in your lower back. Arch back slowly as if you are going up and over a ball, and only as far as you can without feeling strain in the back. You can keep the hands on the lower back, or bring them down to the heels if you are very strong and flexible. DO NOT push yourself. Be kind to your body and let the pose unfold bit, by bit. You can drop the head back for more extension; if that hurts your neck, bring the chin downwards the chest a little. This pose increases flexibility and strength of the neck and spine, and aids with digestion.

Ardha Matsyendrasana (half spinal twist): Carefully come back to sitting on the heels. Lean your left hip to the ground, bend your left knee and bring your left heel toward your right buttock. Adjust yourself so that both sit bones are on the floor (the right one is going to lift slightly, but try to keep the energy moving it downward). Cross the right foot over your left bent knee and place it down on the outside of your thigh. Place your left finger tips behind you on the ground. Inhale your right arm up and lengthen through your torso as you keep the hips moving down. Twist to the left and bring the right arm to the outside of the left knee (this will give you a little leverage.) On you next inhale move a little further into the twist, and deepen even more on the exhale. Stay here for 3 breaths and repeat on the other side. Twist are extremely detoxifying. The ring out the major organs of the body, and assist in digestion and elimination.

Sivasana (corpse pose): (NOTE: You may want a blanket if you are going to lie in sivasana pose for a while as you make get a little chilly.) Slowly come out of the twist and gently move down to the ground so that your are lieing comfortably on your back. Your feet should be about 6 inches apart with toes flopped out to the side, and the arms should be about 4 inches away from the body. Make yourself as comfortable as possible. Lie here for at least 3 minutes (10-15 is better) and do nothing but breathe. Sivasana is a critical posture in yoga. It gives the body, mind and spirit time to integrate, relax and restore.

I hope that you will give yoga a try, even beginning with 5 minutes of breathing a day.The benefits will amaze you. You can learn more about the important components of a yoga class, here.

May you be full of peace. May your body be healthy and strong.


Teal Marie

The illustrations used above are © and licensed from the Iyengar Institute of San Francsico.

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