Archives for category: Relaxation

If you ever find yourself stranded at night on a mountainside, this is the pose to adopt as it can reduce heat loss from the body by 50%. This position is also known as Wind-Relieving Pose  as the pressure of the thighs against the intestines helps the body release gas. Apana literally means “air that moves away”. It is excellent for babies and children when they are suffering from ‘colicky pains’. I use it as in-between pose to massage out the lower back and recuperate from more strenuous positions.

  • Lie on your back. Bring both knees in towards the chest. Clasp the hands below the knees.
  • Breathing regularly, make little circles with the knees going in one direction and then go back in the other direction.
  • Continue until you feel you have ironed out all the little niggles of tension in the lower back.
STOP! The knees need to be taken further apart in the later stages of pregnancy.
Variation:
  • Cross your right ankle over the left ankle and bring the soles of your feet in towards the backs of the thighs.
  • Rock from side to side very gently.
  • Change the crossing of the feet and repeat.

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This is the one pose that I teach to students and non-students alike. Whether people complain to me of aches and pains, fatigue or just a general feeling of yeuchness, I say, “just pop your legs up the wall, and you’ll be grand!” Legs up the wall pose is a wonderful resting position and the only inverted position that can be safely taught to beginners. It is usually practiced at the end of a yoga class to allow the body to cool down and recuperate. Because the legs are redundant, the heart does not have to pump blood to the lower body, thus giving this hard-working organ a well-deserved rest which revitalizes the whole system.

I also call this pose ‘rescue remedy for the legs’ as the upright position of the legs allows lactic acid to drain out of them – very useful if you have been on your feet all day. For the same reason, it is also helpful for fluid retention in the legs and varicose veins.

However, the main reason I love this pose is because it is the one posture you can practice when you are too whacked to do any other yoga. If, for example, you’ve been up all night with a sick child or if you’re recovering from the flu’ and your body is yelling, “please, no yoga today!” – you can always put your legs up the wall for 10 minutes and you will feel grounded, rested and revitalized within moments. And you don’t even need a prescription for it!

To practice Legs up the wall pose:

  • Sit on your mat beside a wall with one hip in contact with the wall.
  • Bend your knees and swivel around on your buttocks until you can place your legs up the wall, perpendicular to your trunk. (If you find it too difficult to put your legs up the wall, you could place them on the seat of a chair instead.)
  • The legs should be straight, but relaxed. Relax your arms on the floor beside you.
  • Stay for as long as you like. However, come out of the pose, immediately, if you start to see signs of gangrene. (Only joking!)

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If you find it difficult to get your legs up the wall, lie down in front of a chair and place your feet on that instead.

I remember reading once about a guy who had traveled the whole world. He said “after India, everywhere else is plain vanilla.” Savasana or Relaxation Pose is like that. After practicing it, every other pose is plain vanilla. That’s not to say that the other poses aren’t wonderful. But Savasana is tops, the one everyone looks forward to at the end of the class. Sava means ‘corpse’ in Sanskrit and the idea is that you lie completely motionless on the floor like a corpse. Inside, in the person, however, enormous changes are taking place. When the body is stilled, the breath can be controlled. When the breath is under our control, we can calm the mind. When the mind is calmed, it can then be turned inwards. Thus, begins the journey to the Self. It is what Yoga is all about. The more often you take this journey, the more you will be transformed.

How does Savasana work?

On a physical level, Savasana allows the body to replenish itself after doing other Yoga positions. It is the best pose for the release of physical tension. It also gives the body a chance to stabilize the pulse rate, blood pressure and chemical balance.

On a mental level, Relaxation Pose allows the sensory mind to switch off and take a break from our endless thoughts and emotions. The mind can then return to its natural state of clarity and stillness.

On an intellectual level, the intellect also known as buddhi, is brought to a state of heightened awareness. This occurs when the body and sensory mind are calm.

On a spiritual level, the inner Self or consciousness can emerge. This can only happen when the body, breath and mind are calm and the intellect is alert. This is why Savasana is such a difficult position, because a lot of discipline is needed to bring these changes about. However, when you are there, that experience of your inner Self cannot be put into words. Afterwards, people just glow.

How to practice Savasana:

  • Practice the pose at the end of your yoga session. Dim the lights in the room if possible.
  • Lie down on your mat with your arms down by your sides and with the knees bent. Cover yourself with a blanket.
  • Clasp your hands around the back of the head and lift it off the floor. Begin to lengthen your neck by slowly sliding the hands over the back of the head towards the crown. When you feel you have released the neck to its maximum, replace your head carefully on the floor.
  • Lift your hips off the floor, and press down into the soles of the feet to lengthen the lower back. Replace the hips back down on the floor again. (If you can easily slide your hand into the small of your back, there is too much of a curve. Place a rolled up blanket under your knees.)
  • Stretch out your legs one at a time. Inhale, exhale and let both feet fall out to the sides.
  • Lift your right shoulder off the floor. Inhale, broaden it out to the side as much as possible. Exhale, and replace it on the floor. Repeat on the left shoulder.
  • Focus now on the points where your body makes contact with the floor: the heels, the backs of the legs, the back of the pelvis, the shoulder blades, the backs of the arms and the back of the head. Inhale deeply, and as you exhale, settle those points of contact into the floor.
  • Begin now to focus on your breath…. Soften the inner ears and listen to the sound of your breath….Don’t interfere with it in anyway….Just be content to observe and listen….Start now to be very interested in the out-breath….Every time you exhale, allow it to be a little longer, a little slower….Encourage the back to soften and to settle into the floor….As you inhale, think of breathing in light, energy….As you exhale, release any tiredness or aches and pains into the floor beneath you….Focus now on your right hand….Place your thumb in the centre of the palm and close the fingers around it….Inhaling, tense up your hand….Exhale and release the tension….Inhale and tense up the hand again, this time letting the tension travel up the entire length of the arm right into the shoulder….Exhale, and release….Repeat on the left arm….Focus next on your right foot….Inhaling, turn the toes in towards the sole of the foot….Exhaling, release the foot completely….Tense up the foot again as you inhale, letting the tension move up the length of the leg right into the hip….Exhale, and release the tension….Repeat on the left leg….Focus on the abdomen….Imagine inhaling into this area, breathing in light and energy….Exhale, and allow the abdomen to sink back towards the lower back….Inhale, now into the chest area, filling it with light and energy….Exhale, and allow the lungs to rest back towards the upper back….Inhaling, raise your shoulders as high as possible….Exhaling, drop them again….Inhale, and scrunch up your entire face….Exhale, and release it again….Now, in your mind’s eye, see yourself lying on the floor still, calm, relaxed…..Bask in this feeling for a few moments……
  • Imagine now, a pool of golden light below your feet….Draw this light towards you and wrap yourself up all over in the light….When you get to the top of your head, fasten the light securely with a bow and visualize placing yourself in a lead box….Place a dome on the top of the box….See yourself surrounded by light feeling very safe and protected….
  • Start now to become very interested in your in-breath….Make each new inhalation a little stronger than the previous one….Start to wriggle your fingers and toes….Think of becoming more alert with each new breath….The next time you inhale, take the arms behind you and rest them on the floor….Then clasp the hands together and inhale, stretching the arms behind you….Think of drawing all your energy back into the centre of the body and exhale very firmly, pushing the energy down behind the navel area….Repeat twice more. (Check that you feel thoroughly grounded after doing this exercise. REPEAT until you do.)
  • Roll over onto your side for a few moments….Then keeping the neck relaxed, use your hands and your chest and shoulder muscles to bring you back up to sitting. Keep the head bent slightly forwards and the eyes closed.
  • Rub the palms of the hands briskly for a few moments…Place them over your eyes….Open the eyes and look into soothing darkness….Repeat twice more….
  • Gradually, taking the hands away from the eyes, open them and brush off the back of your neck, and then the rest of the body.

CAUTION: If you suffer from epilepsy, practice the position SITTING UP against a wall. If you are pregnant, you can lie on your side with a cushion between your knees to give you more comfort.

This position imitates the way the child in the womb often sleeps and in fact many small children will often instinctively sleep or relax in this pose. It is used for resting in between more vigorous yoga positions and can also be used for cooling down the body and mind at the end of a class. It is one of those yogic wonders, a pose that relaxes and stretches the body at the same time. It encourages the spine to gently stretch itself while allowing tense back muscles to unwind. One of the beautifying poses, it brings blood to the face and head, thereby restoring energy to the person.

To practice Child Pose:

  • Kneel on your mat so that the backs of your thighs are in contact with the backs of your calves. (If you can’t manage this, place a cushion or folded blanket in between the thighs and calves.)
  • Inhale, exhale, and bend forwards from the hips until you can rest your forehead on the floor. (If you can’t bring your forehead to the floor, rest it on a folded blanket, OR, prop up your elbows on the floor and rest your chin in your hands.)
  • Rest your arms either down by your sides or stretched out on the mat in front of you.
  • Stay in the position for 6 breaths or for as long as you like! As you exhale, allow your chest to descend towards the floor. Always make sure that your tailbone and sitting bones keep moving downwards so that you maintain that contact between the backs of the thighs and the backs of your calves. This allows your hips to open and the spine to extend itself.

Variation: Child Pose moving forwards

This is a more active form of the pose where the arms are extended forwards and the hands hold the legs of a chair. (You could also hold human legs if you can find a willing participant!) The spine gets more of a stretch and the hips open more fully.

Place a chair in front of your mat giving yourself enough room to extend your arms fully. Perform child pose as above but as you exhale, stretch your arms forwards in the direction of the legs of the chair. Also release the chest towards the floor. Hold the legs of the chair. As the sides of the body and the armpits release, you can nudge the chair slightly backwards and extend the arms further. But keep the backs of the thighs in contact with the backs of the calves at all times. If the hips keep lifting, place a cushion or folded blanket under the backs of the thighs.  Continue for 6 breaths.

STOP! Do not take your forehead to the floor if you suffer from high blood pressure or have heart problems. Prop up your elbows on the floor and rest your chin in your hands instead. If you are pregnant, you can take the knees apart to make it easier for you to bend forwards.

P.S. In last week’s post I said the oldest yoga teacher in the world had died last year aged 90. Since then, one of my students sent me an email telling me about another yoga teacher, Bernice Bates, who is still teaching yoga in the U.S. at the tender age of 91. She is quoted in the article as saying, “Why should I quit? As long as I can do it and be a help to someone else. I’ll just stay as long as I can.” My own yoga teacher once said that if you do yoga regularly, you will be young until you are 70, middle-aged between 70 and 90, and only when you are 90 odd should you consider yourself to be getting old. It seems in Ms.Bates case, she has no intention of getting old, just yet!