Last time we began to lay the foundation for a strong yoga practice with meditation. How did it go? If you are like most of people, and if you are new to meditation, you may have found your mind jumping, and wandering all over the place. Maybe you felt frustrated and said, “Meditation isn’t for me! I can’t sit in silence, doing nothing, I can’t even focus for a minute on my breath.”
And that is a typical reaction… It takes time to get used to the fact that your mind will wander, and that with your awareness, you will guide it back to the breath. Meditation requires consistent practice, precision, (placing the mind), and gentleness (guiding your wandering, turbulent mind back to the breath, back to the present, and back to the now), to see the positive outcomes.
Other than the most obvious effect, that of calming the mind, meditation has a host of benefits! I, personally, can speak to one of those benefits. I have been practicing meditation for 3 years now and my mind still wanders (#%*__#!). I haven’t reached the point of sitting for more than 15 minutes at one time. When I go on vacation, I can’t always keep up my practice, but when I started meditation and yoga, I had high blood pressure. Not dangerously high, but 138/90 or so, as opposed to the normal blood pressure rate of 120/80.
I have lowered my blood pressure. And while I still take a low dose medication, my blood pressure, in the morning is now below normal, whereas before, it was high. The article , Current Perspectives on the use of Meditation to Reduce Blood Pressure (1), in the International Journal of Hypertension, further discusses meditation as a mind-body intervention for high blood pressure.
We start our yoga practice with a meditation to focus the mind. As I mentioned in my first blog, yoga is about connecting our mind, body and spirit and the way we do that is through the breath. In yoga each movement connects to an inhale, or an exhale. In most cases, as you open or expand your body, and/or extend your spine, you inhale, which of course, expands and opens the lungs, and the diaphragm, fueling the muscles, joints, fascia, and brain with oxygen. As you contract your muscles, or fold your joints and therefore deepen the pose, you exhale, releasing spent oxygen in the form of carbon dioxide and toxins.
Remembering the inhale and the exhale and using that deep breath to sustain your transition from one pose to the next, and the holding of a pose for any length of time, fuels your body and mind and helps you to get the most out of your practice.
Before engaging in any physical activity to is important to warm up the muscles, joints and ligaments so that injury doesn’t occur. Today I’ll introduce you to three yoga asanas or poses that you can use to begin warming up your body.
A wonderful pose to start in. Child’s Pose replicates the primary curve (Thoracic curve) of our spine, which the fetus maintains through out it’s nine months in utero. On your yoga mat, come down to your hands and knees. Separate your knees mat distance apart and bring your big toes to touch. Reach your arms out long in front of you. Begin to sit your hips back towards your heels with your arms outstretched in front of you. As your hips move back, bring your chest toward your mat and bring your forehead down to touch the mat. Continue to press your hips back and tailbone down towards your heels as you reach your finger tips over head, on your mat. Hold here for 3 to 4 long, deep breaths.
To find a side stretch you can keep everything below the waist in the same position, but walk the fingers, arms, and hands over to the right. Your torso, from the waist up, neck and head will follow. Hold for 3 to 4 breaths, and then come back to centre. Repeat on the left side.
Remaining in Child’s Pose, but to find a stretch in your triceps, first place 2 yoga blocks (or books), one on either side of you, by your elbows, bend your arms at the elbows and bring your hands together in an Anjali Prayer Mudra , over your head. Bring your elbows up on the books or yoga blocks. Hold for 3 to 4 breaths.
Cat/ Cow Pose
A pose to warm up the spine. Cat encourages our spine to expand and extend that primary Thoracic curve. From your Child’s Pose come back to all fours in your Table Pose. In Table, as in other poses, be sure to stack all your joints: so your shoulders are over elbows, elbows over hands, and hips over knees. In this manner joints are not stressed or pushed out of alignment. You keep your body safe. To come to Cat Pose begin to round the spine, pulling the tailbone down and bring your gaze toward your thighs – as you move into Cat, exhale!
Then, transition to Cow Pose, which encourages the two secondary curves of your spin: Cervical and Lumbar. Begin to press the tailbone up at the same time as you hollow your spine and lower your belly towards the floor. If your neck is up for it, bring your gaze, or your ‘drishti’, up. If not, it is fine to gaze down towards the earth. Transition from Cat to Cow, as you exhale and inhale, four to five times.
You can find a stretch for each side of your body by returning to a neutral Table position and then ‘look’ over your right shoulder as you exhale, return to centre on an inhale, and repeat to your left.
Downward Dog Pose
Downward Dog is one of the most ‘famous’ and well known yoga poses. Downward Dog extends and opens the spine, brings blood to the brain, strengths the biceps and triceps, the hands, legs, and the feet.
From your Table pose begin to slowly lift the tail bone, pressing it up and back. As you do so, the legs begin to lengthen. Press your palms into the floor, getting rid of any pockets of air between your palms and your mat. Often the direction in a yoga class is to ‘walk your dog’. This simply means to press one heel toward the floor, as you raise the other heel. Your heels may or may not touch the floor: wherever you are is where you are supposed to be. As you continue to walk your dog, your heels may come closer and closer to the floor. You may also come right up on your ‘tipey’ toes, bringing your heels up over your toes and then pressing your tailbone up and back, encouraging your spine to lengthen even more!
To finish this warm-up comeback to your Child’s Pose and breathe! Continue to focus on that beautiful breath has fueled and sustained you. Take a moment to thank yourself for taking this time just for you!
This has been a very simple warm up, but if your are new to yoga, it is a great place to start, and a way to become familiar with synchronizing your breath to your movement and aligning your joints.
Next time we will look at a way of starting your day that can bring positive energy to your mind and body, that will get you started on a great day!
Until then, Namaste!
(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3303565/ , published online 2012 Mar 5. doi: 10.1155/2012/578397