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YogaPaws Blog for Beginner Poses and Postures

Let it Go: Yoga Poses for Emotional Release

Posted on Fri, Jan 03, 2014

wild thing, yoga for emotionals

Do you remember the first time you ever felt sad? Scared? Anxious? Maybe you don’t, but your body might. In yogic thinking, your body is not only enmeshed with your mind and spirit; it’s a journal of your journey through life. Your tight hips may not just be a matter of genetics. Tightening down through you hip cradle may be a lifelong response to a negative situation. You close down as you try to protect yourself, to literally brace your body against the anticipated blow. Or, perhaps, your dentist just recommended a mouth guard to stop you from grinding your teeth as the stressors build up in you days. If it’s hard to open your shoulders, think about how much tension you’ve held in your upper body whenever you’re uncertain or unhappy.

firefly, yoga pose, yoga pawsMemories from your earliest years can be shaping and defining the body you’re living in today. Even when you’re not consciously aware that you’re holding back emotions, your body is spelling it out for you. If you, like so many people, have intense, unresolved emotion experiences, the muscles, bones, organs and fascia in your body can become out of balance—tight, weak, stiff or under- or over-stimulated—in an attempt to deal with them. 

Your yoga practice is one place where you can see that in action. For example, if you tend be shy in speaking or have traumatic associations with public speaking, it might be hard for you to keep your throat long and relaxed in backbends like Ustrasana (Camel Pose). If you are insecure, core strength can be a challenge. Working on strengthening and loosening spots that are tight or weak can also help to bring those thoughts into balance.

When it comes to deeply ingrained or buried issues, your yoga practice takes on a different, powerful role. As Yoga Journal points it, yoga’s message of understanding and acceptance can sometimes trigger an unexpected flood of emotions. Maybe you head into a heart-opening pose only to find yourself in tears, or maybe a challenging Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose) sequence warrior one, warrior 1, yoga pawsleaves you irritable. While those emotions aren’t always a pleasant catharsis, they are often your body’s way of telling you that you can—and are able to—address the root causes. They break down the barriers between the stiff-upper-lip denial of how your really feel and put you face-to-face with emotions that are real, relevant and necessary to acknowledge.

Most yoga teachers agree, according to Yoga Journal, that you shouldn’t try to stir up emotions on the mat, but that doing so can be a natural part of your yoga experience. What is important is that if they occur, you don’t try to hold them back or over-analyze them. In the moment, register the sensation for what it is. Ask yourself what you feel. Accept the validity of that feeling. Later, in or out of class, you can try to find the deepest causes. Maybe opening your physical heart reminded you of someone you miss, or maybe you feel edgy because you feel like your strength isn’t being fully utilized. Whatever truths you uncover, let them come to you.  Don’t judge your feelings, or yourself.

Here are some poses to make it easier to let your body speak to you.

 

Bakasana(Crow Pose)Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)

Benefits:  This heart-opening pose helps you access your creative and emotional sides. How to do it:  Start lying face down on your mat. Place your hands on the floor close to your body and about even with your shoulders. Focus on allowing the fronts of your thighs and the tops of your feet to sink into the mat. On an inhale, press into your hands to lift your torso off the floor. Straighten your arms as far as you can without straining your lower back. Think about elongating your front page and not “hinging” in your low spine to contract it. Keep your neck long and your breath even. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then release.

 

Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)

Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)

Benefits:  This gentle hip opener is a great way to help release emotional tension about long-ago or deep issues. How to do it:  Lie on your back on the mat.  Exhale and pull your knees in toward your chest.  On an inhale, clasp your hands around the outside of each foot.  Make sure your legs form a right angle, with your ankles perpendicular to your knees. Pull your feet toward your torso. As you push your hands down, gently resist by press your feet toward the ceiling. When you reach the deepest stretch that’s comfortable for you, stay there for 30 seconds to  one minute and release. For added fun, gently rock from side to side on your back or bend and stretch your legs lightly.


High Lunge, VariationHigh Lunge—Variation 

Benefits: This pose can help remind you of your physical and mental strength, making you feel empowered to open up to your emotions. How to do it: Start in Adho Mukha Svansana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Bring your right foot between your hands. On an inhale, bring your body up. Brush your arms out to the sides and then up toward the ceiling, arms along your ears and palms facing each other. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, being careful not to let your back arch.  Then, release from the pose by placing your torso back on your leg and returning to Adho Mukha Svanasana before repeating on the left side.

Customize.  As Yoga Journal recommends, what helps you release is unique to your needs. It can be as simple as finding a practice that feels opening to you. Or, you can use the chakra system or another metaphysical concept to help you target specific areas in your life you want to open up.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes, introspection is the best way to get to the root of a problem. But, if you’re drowning in the flood of emotions that your yoga practice releases, asking for outside help in sorting through it is a good idea. Whether it’s your family, a best friend, your yoga teacher or a therapist (holistic or allopathic), the sounding board and support another person can offer is a powerful tool to help you cut through self-imposed limitations and see a bigger picture. If you don’t do well with “advice,” look for an alternative like the Spiritual Companioning program offered by Cincinnati Yoga School (your mentor doesn’t tell you what to do, but keeps asking questions until you find the answer), Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy and similar approaches.

Yoga is a wonderful way to open yourself up to not only difficult emotions, but joyous ones. If you have had some cathartic sessions on the mat lately, dedicate your next practice to one happy thing—a person, place or activity you enjoy—and make the practice about deepening the joy that brings you. Then, in the moment, remember that feeling as a magnifying glass for your happiness.

 

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Tags: Yoga tips, yoga for stress

Square Your Shoulders: Yoga Tips for Pain-Free Upper Body

Posted on Mon, Oct 01, 2012

rabbitYour lower body is used to getting a lot of attention. It’s hard not to be aware of your hips and legs as you go through the day. Whether you’re walking, running, driving or just standing, everything below your waist is engaged and working. Even in yoga, poses like Virabhadrasana (Warrior I Pose) sometimes feel as if the focus is primarily on your lower half. It’s time to give your upper half some time in the spotlight.

Your upper body does far more than help you into arm balances. Bad posture or a tight upper body can cause pain and stiffness or lead to injuries. Consider that your shoulders are among  yoga shoulderthe most vulnerable joints in your body. Like your hips, your shoulders are composed of a ball-and-socket joint. Instead of involving only two bones, each shoulder joint is the intersection of your collarbone, shoulder blade and upper arm bone. You ask more of your shoulders than you realize. What other body part has to be strong enough to pick up heavy objects and also flexible enough to stretch well over your head to grab something out of a cupboard?

To begin to open and strengthen your shoulders, check the alignment across the entire shoulder girdle.  Do you round your shoulders as you type on your computer or when drive? Do you tend to slouch when you walk? When you lie down on your back, are your shoulders on the floor or curving toward each other? When you sit, are your shoulders touching the back of the chair or rounding in? Stand at the wall. Can you keep both shoulders in contact with the wall?

Yoga offers a great opportunity to concentrate on keeping your shoulders from “caving in” as you move. If you are suffering from a shoulder injury like a torn rotator cuff or “frozen shoulder,” talk to your doctor before you come back to class and make sure your teacher knows about your injury so he or she can help you rebuild strength and range of motion safely. In class, think of lengthening your collarbones and pulling your shoulder blades together as you inhale. As you exhale, try to maintain that same amount of space. Focus on not allowing the fronts of the shoulders to move toward each other in forward bending positions or poses such as Bhujanasana (Cobra Pose) or Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose).

Here are some poses to work your shoulders on the mat or in your office:

 

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Benefits: This pose strengthens your arms and back, and it’s a great place to learn to feel your alignment. How to do it: Begin on your hands and knees. On an inhale, straighten your arms and your legs, pushing your heels toward or onto the floor. Focus on keeping your head between your arms and engaging your outer arms. Pull your shoulder blades together and toward your pelvis. Stay in this pose for one to three minutes, then release.

 

 

 

 

 

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)  Benefits: This stretch releases tension in your shoulders and helps you create space across your collarbones. How to do it: Begin sitting in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bring your left foot to the outside of your right knee and bend it into your right hip. Cross your left knee on top of your right. Reach your right arm up and bend it back behind your head. Then, bend your left arm toward the ground and reach for your right hand (you can use a strap if your hands don’t meet). Remain in the pose for one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.

 

 

Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose)Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose)—Variation

Benefits: This variation from yoga teacher Sadie Nardini lets you work through the full range of motion in your shoulders without strain. How to do it: Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Step or jump your feet three to four feet apart. Turn your right foot out and your left foot in. Square your hips as much as possible with the short edge of your mat. Bring your arms out to the sides and lift them to the ceiling, slightly behind your ears if possible. Bend forward over your leg, wrapping your arms around your thigh and feeling the stretch across your back. Come back up the same way. Repeat two to three times, then switch sides.

 

 

 

Shoulder RollShoulder Roll

Benefits: This is a great stretch to do at your desk and remind yourself not to slump. How to do it: Bring your shoulders forward, up, back and down eight times, then reverse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal)Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal)

Benefits: This do-anywhere pose helps you feel your shoulders and back engaging. How to do it: Press your palms and fingers together at your heart center. Pull your shoulder blades together as you push your palms evenly into each other. Hold for up to five minutes.

 

Even when you aren’t practicing, try to keep the same feeling of space in your upper body. It will be tempting to let your shoulders collapse when you are tired or stressed, so it’s especially important to be aware of keeping your shoulders aligned at those times. A stronger core helps too—so think of engaging your center and your shoulder blades at the same time.

 

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Tags: Yoga tips, yoga for shoulder injuries, yoga for upper body, office yoga, yoga to open shoulders

Om: Yoga to a Whole New Beat

Posted on Wed, Sep 05, 2012

yoga musicSound pervades your life. It’s a big part of the human experience. It’s one of the first senses you experience and one of the last to leave. So, it’s not hard to understand why you want music in your life – in your car, in your earbuds as you work out and in your yoga practice. As you know from your yoga classes, the pacing and intensity of the music becomes part of the practice. Drumming makes Sun Salutations go so much faster, so much easier as you match your breath to the beat. Bells and chant provide a stream that helps you flow through vinyasa sequences. But, just as each chakra has its own sound, each person is moved by different types of music. An hour of “Om” might deepen one student’s practice. But, that’s not the only option. For Jivamukti founder David Life, using modern music is his way of fusing a 5000-year-yoga playlistold discipline and the priorities of today’s world. “Hip hop musicians are today’s poets,” he said during a class at the World Peace & Yoga Jubliee, Loveland, Ohio. For Life, the choice of music is also about drawing students’ attention to the voices he sees as making a statement on society—just like ancient poets and sages.

Regardless of whether you enjoy hitting the mat to hip hop in class, when it comes to your home practice, the options are wide open. What you choose to practice to is a matter of preference. Before you hit iTunes or Pandora, think about how you want your practice to make you feel.  If you want a relaxing practice, obviously, you’re going to be seeking out softer sounds with a slower beat. For some energizing Ashtanga or Vinyasa flows, however, you may want to look more up tempo. Or you may want to link the rhythm of your breathing to the beat, so music with a regular pulse can actually help keep your breath calm and steady during more challenging poses.

yoga playlistOnce you know the pace of your practice, you can think about choosing songs that manifest your intention for that day. Are you looking for music that helps you imagine yourself in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) on top of an actual mountain? Are you looking for ambient sounds that subtly support your yoga without requiring your concentration? Are you looking for devotional chants that help you relate to the divine? Or would you rather crank up your favorite hits and start a yoga party of one? Whatever you decide, here are some picks to get you started:

Peaceful Yogi

If you want tracks that don’t put themselves center stage in your mind as you practice, these ethereal pieces add depth to your practice and help you slow down from the mental rush of every day. The exotic flavors of many of these songs also give your ears a vacation.

Songs to try:

Inner Journey—Karunesh

Shima Shima—Deva Premal

Waheguru Wahe Jio--Snatam Kaur

 

World Citizen

If you’re looking for a more dynamic approach to music with yogic roots, you might want to look at artists whose work marries myth and ancient concepts with more varied kinds of sonic storytelling. Melding influences from Madonna to Indian chant, these pieces take a global view of both sound and issues (Emmanuel Jal wants his music and activism to help bring peace back to his home country of South Sudan). Stylistically, these songs range from hip hop to pop.

Songs to try:

Ganesh is Fresh—MC Yogi

Sanctuary—Donna De Lory

Warchild—Emmanuel Jal

 

Rock Out

If you’re feeling like turning your practice up to an 11 today, thinking outside the box of traditional yoga music can be fun. You might find that it’s easier to approach challenging poses or keep your energy level up through a practice when you are accompanied by your favorite iTunes playlist.

Songs to try:

Michael Franti and Spearhead - "Say Hey (I Love You)"

M83 - We Own the Sky

Goldfrapp - Fly Me Away [Ladytron Remix]

 

Whatever you choose to practice to today, play with letting the music direct your intention for the practice and see how you feel. As you move through the poses, focus on how you feel with a variety of different sounds. You might be surprised at how much what you hear affects your body’s capacity to stretch, strengthen or balance.

 

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Tags: Yoga tips, music for yoga

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