By: Meggan Ellingboe
Happy National Yoga Month! Yoga is great in so many ways. I hope this post encourages you to give it a try.
First, a Little Pep Talk
Yoga is for everyone! Are you feeling shy about how you’d look in a class or among your friends? No sweat! Most everyone in yoga class will be too busy focusing on their own poses to even look at you or pass judgement.
Speaking of judgment, yoga is not about judging yourself or others. Your practice is a safe place to explore your body and build awareness. Sometimes the most important aspect of a fitness program is knowing your body. That’s where yoga can be a great compliment to add into your routine.
The excuses I most often hear are, “I’m not flexible,” or, “I’m not good at yoga.” I think we can humbly admit we’re not good at a lot of things when we start out. But we still try and learn new things… and have fun trying. Yoga is a practice, not a box score or something you get points for doing. So go ahead, put on comfortable clothes and let yourself go.
Many “Yoga for ——-” articles jump right into poses and miss the most important part of yoga: your breath. Sit tall, kneel tall or lie on your back. Breathe in through your nose, filling your lungs with air in all directions – rib cage, shoulders, belly, back. Exhale through your nose, letting your belly contract, and rib cage knit together. Maybe put your hands on your stomach and watch your hands move apart as you fill up with air and come together as you contract. Breath is life.
2. Child’s Pose
From a table top position (on your hands and knees), bring your big toes together, let your knees open toward the edges of your mat. Guide your hips back and down on top of your heels. Let your forehead rest on your mat with arms extended or along the side of your body. You may close your eyes. If you have lower back issues, bring your knees closer together. This is “homebase.” During any yoga class, feel free to always find child’s pose. This pose offers a gentle stretch for your low back, hips, thighs and knees.
3. Downward Facing Dog
This is the upside-down “V” position you often see. From a table top position, place hands at shoulder-width distance, and knees and feet hip-width distance apart. Tuck your toes under, lift hips high and reach heels low (heels don’t need to touch the ground). Put a slight bend in your knees. Reach your chest toward your thighs and relax your neck and head. Relax your shoulders away from your ears. Focus on your spine feeling long. Inhale hips high, exhale heels, reach low. Lift and peddle out your feet if you’d like. Breathe in and out through your nose. This stretches your calves, hamstrings, hands and arches. It even helps you relax.
4. Cobra Pose
Lay on your stomach, with your chin up. Place hands on your mat below your shoulders, with elbows pointing straight up to the sky. Zip your legs and inner thighs together. Press into the tops of your feet as you engage your abs to peel your chest and chin off your mat. You should have little or no weight in your hands. Think about reaching your chest forward to help you lift. Only lift as high as feels comfortable. This stretches and strengthens your low back as well as firms your glutes. Cobra is a great alternative to the Upward Facing Dog pose as you work to build strength. Never feel shy to take this alternative, and ask an instructor about working with it.
5. Warrior 2 Pose
Stand at the top of your mat. Step your left foot back into a lunge position, keeping right knee over right ankle. Spin your left heel down (toes go diagonally) to the mat at a 45-degree angle. Your hips will also open to the side. Your right heel is in line with your left arch. Open your arms to the side, parallel to the ground, palms face down and shoulders relaxed. Gaze over your right fingers. Hold, breathe. Step back to the top of your mat when ready. Repeat other side. This basic warrior posture is the foundation or a step to many other poses. As you can feel, this pose will stretch your groin and thigh area and open your chest and lungs.
6. Bonus: Tree Pose
Tree is a beginning balance pose that provides a nice foundation before moving on to other balance poses. Stand in the middle of your mat. Bring your palms together at your heart in a prayer position. Firmly root through your right standing leg and stand tall. Bend your left knee forward and then out to the side. Take the sole of your left foot to the inside of your calf or help lift it up (by grasping your ankle with your hand) to your inner thigh. Your foot should never press directly into your knee joint. The sole of your foot is above or below your knee. Use the force of your inner thigh and your sole pressing together to stand a little taller, rooting through your standing leg. You should feel as if someone is pulling a string through your standing foot, through your thigh, through your spine and up through the top of your head. Your hands can remain at your heart or you can extend our arms upwards (shoulders relaxed). The most important part of balancing is remembering to breathe! This posture improves balance while strengthening your legs.
We could go over dozens more poses, but these are a nice place to begin, as they are the foundation of more poses or series of poses. Sometimes it can be challenging to hold a basic pose for a long time while maintaining a steady breath. If you wobble, just try again! Let your breath guide you, and calm your mind.