As we move from day to day it's important to take note of how we are physically feeling, have you an area of the body where you just can't seem to shift the aches and pains? It's very normal for us all to feel discomfort from day to day and thankfully with a mindful yoga practice we can help to ease our aches and pains. With a little time and understanding we can learn about our individual alignment and even begin to understand how our emotions play a big role in our bodies physical state.
Tightness across the chest can often be from shallow breathing, when was the last time you took 5 minutes to sit and breathe deep? Encouraging deeper breaths can help to release tension in the chest and trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. (Read more here about breathing!)
What also creates tightness in the chest over time can be rounding of the shoulders, another question, have you caught yourself at the desk hunched over? Noticed your reflection and you're rounded over or your always looking down instead of forwards?! Modern day life we have become used to being indoors (even before lockdown), working at a desk, we are less motivated to get outdoors, we don't want to push ourselves and now more than ever we are in an instant satisfaction mentality. Worldly problems can get to us emotionally, we can become overwhelmed, we protect ourselves from all sorts of threats which is only natural and your body adapts to every single thing we put it through.
By taking time to notice how you feel physically and emotionally the easier we can work with the body and mind, in time we can create a balance, honouring and respecting the contrasts of life rather than being ready to run away from challenge or an uncomfortable situation.
The heart centre or Anahata Chakra is ALL about ACCEPTANCE. If we open up our mind to life with acceptance our bodies and hearts soften into a sense of trust, all is well with the world, and even if it isn't you are in control of how you're moving through it. With acceptance we can slowly break down the barriers often caused by fear, by opening the body physically we can find freedom and space.
So if you're feeling down a little overwhelmed, fearful, anxious, fatigued or generally just feel as though you need a little time to be within yourself, know that it's okay to feel these things. We can take steps each day to find a practice that will allow you to heal, become stronger, more confident, braver and face your fears. Accept where you are now and give yourself the chance to try.
The following postures will help to release tension within the neck, shoulders and upper back. The areas of the body that often feel 'they are carrying the weight of the world'.
Take your time to explore these postures at your own pace, as they are not advanced or to demanding you can explore them for 10 breaths, or even 2-3 minutes. As always, allow the body to create the shape, allow your breath to create the space.
EAGLE ARMS - GARUDASANA
Eagle pose is a combination of intertwining the arms and legs and balancing all in one posture, but here we take a layer away and focus on just the arms. This is a fantastic stretch for releasing the upper back and mobilising the shoulder joint.
Find a comfortable seated position you can even do this posture in a chair!
Inhale and stretch the arms out wide, palms facing down.
Exhale to cross the right arm over the left, as if you were reaching the hands to the opposite walls.
Take your time to guide the fingertips towards the ceiling and backs of the hands towards each other.
Gently squeeze the elbows together. You may be able to wrap the left fingers around the right wrist (don't force it, this will come with time as the shoulders and upper back release)
Inhale, breathing into the back ribs, exhale lift the elbows while guiding the shoulders down.
5-10 long breaths, don't forget to repeat the other side!
SEATED NECK STRETCH
Creating space within the neck is a delicate matter, the slower that we can be the more we can release. By using gentle movement every day we can reduce the chance of injury or 'stickiness' within the joints. Mobility for the neck and shoulders is one of the most valuable and should be taken great care of, with this posture really move with a heaviness in the head, there is no force in this posture whatsoever. I adore this posture, as simple as it looks you really can take your time to feel the intricacy of the neck muscles, working into them be softening and being heavy and relaxed.
Find a comfortable seat, another pose perfect for in a chair, on the sofa or even in the car.
Inhale and sit up tall, extending through the sides of the neck and relaxing the shoulders.
With the next breath out relax the right ear towards the right shoulder, allow the head to be as heavy as it can. The slower you move the more you will become in touch with deeper layers of tension.
Allow yourself to stay here for 10 breaths to 1 minute.
*We have 2 minute variations that are optional to explore*.
As the weight of the head relaxes slowly walk the opposite hand away from the body lightly pressing the fingertips down.
Final variation, as the head relaxes towards the right shoulder rest the right hand around the left ear, cradling the head, there should be no force just relax the hand to the head, the head to the shoulder.
Repeat the other side and enjoy the simplicity of this incredibly beneficial posture!
Table top is a wonderful posture at creating strength within the shoulder and pelvic girdle, moving through a cat and cow movement works wonders on the spine (more on that soon!).
A table top twist allows us to get the benefit of a spinal twist but also compresses the outer upper arms, collarbones and is also an inversion which aids in relaxation. Any posture with the hips higher than the heart is a boost for the brain and can also bring a healthy glow to the face!
Finding a table top position, wrists align underneath the shoulders and knees underneath the hips.
Inhale and reach the right arm out to the right hand side and up towards the ceiling.
As you exhale thread the right arms through and underneath the left, bending the left elbow to sink the right shoulder and right ear to the floor.
If the ear and shoulder don't meet the mat today DON'T force them there, grab a block or a few pillows so you can ease the upper body down.
Relax the weight of the head and the chest towards the floor.
Encourage the breath to fill the back ribs.
5-10 deep breaths both sides.
This posture allows us to create space through the shoulders, triceps and across the chest. While we open the front of the body is can also encourage engagement through the muscles of the upper back, something we are also going need if we are going to improve our posture. We open the front, we strengthen the back and vice versa. A strap can be really useful to use in the pose, even if you can grab your hands. The strap gives you more room for maneuver, much like any props we are using!
Find a seated position where you can relax the pelvis and lower back, this pose has a tendency to pull the lower ribs forward and we need to be mindful of hugging them in to isolate the shoulders instead.
Using a strap or belt place it over the right shoulder, inhale reach up the right arm, palm faces back, exhale bend the elbow and reach for the strap resting on the shoulder.
Inhale reach the left arm out to the left hand side, palm faces back, exhale bend the elbow and rest the left hand in the lower back, once again grabbing the strap.
Take a few moments letting the arms become familiar with this alignment it's not a normal range of movement and may take some getting used to!
With the next breath in gently creep the hands towards each other, pressing the head back so the face looks forwards. Breathe and take your time.
This may be enough, you can also play with gently pulling up with the right hand... and down with the left.
5-10 deep breaths both sides.
If you experience and pinching in the shoulder or the mid upper arm take layers away, never force yourself to stay in the posture when pain is triggered.
Sometimes simplicity is best, in our yoga practice we can overcomplicate things and our mind can really start working hard! With questions like 'how do I do this?','I can't balance', 'my body cant do that!' 'I can't breathe!' 'This hurts!' Within a few short moments of a yoga practice we are almost ready to give up! So learning the basics really helps, a foundation in which we can all start from that feels spacious and we can breathe, we are in control and can relax. This seated twist is wonderful for releasing the shoulders and chest but also aids in increasing the flexibility of the spine and stimulates digestion.. and it stretches the hips! This is a posture that not only helps to open the upper body but is one that could/should be in your practice everytime you show up on the mat.
Find a seated posture and lengthen out both legs in front of you.
Bend the right knee up and bring the right foot over the left leg, the foot can be inline with the left knee or higher up the thigh.
You can stay in the first variation (which is the first 2 steps) or you bend the left knee guiding the left heel towards the right outer hip.
Place the left hand or arm around the right knee, bring the right hand behind you on the floor.
Take an inhale and open the chest, as you exhale hug the right knee across towards the left armpit.
Draw the belly in with an exhalation.
Stay here for 5-10 long deep breaths.
Repeat the other side.
I hope these 5 postures give you a little help and inspiration for practicing at home, they can be a part of an hours practice, or even just a 10 minute one. They can also all be adapted to do at the desk if you're working from home. Table top twist you would simply guide the upper arm across the body (Tricep cross body stretch). Have a wonderful time exploring these at your own time and pace, take notice of if you feel different after each practice and over time you will feel more and more open...Physically & emotionally.
All my love,