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Weekender Recommendations: Yoga

by James Sklar

With our current situation, I can safely say that we are stressed and weary. However, there are ways to bring relief, such as yoga. Most newcomers think that yoga is simply stretching and a work out, which it is, but it’s also much more. For example, we have pranayama, “prana” meaning “life force” or “energy” and “yama” meaning “control,” so there are many different breathing techniques in yoga. The breath brings one back to the present, and away from the mind chatter, or “vriti” in Sanskrit. The final pose in yoga, shavasana , actually meaning “corpse pose,” is a way for the body and mind to reawaken after practice.

Benefits of Relaxing Yoga Poses

Challenging activities stimulate the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which provokes what’s known as the “fight-or-flight” response. This puts your normal body functions on hold (such as digestion), while your body prepares for survival. Yoga creates the opposite reaction. Relaxing your body and mind stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest-and-digest” response. Your internal organs return to their normal functions and your body can once again perform at its peak. Regularly practicing relaxing yoga poses can keep your body and mind in tip-top shape!

Relaxing Yoga Poses for Beginners

Caution: Those with chronic back pain, back injuries, or degenerative disk disease should approach these poses with caution. They should only attempt to practice them under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable instructor.

Practice the following sequence 2 to 3 times a week. It should take about 20 minutes to complete all of the poses. Take it slowly. Never force your body into any position. If you feel any sharp, pinching, or jarring pain, come out of the pose immediately and rest. Always keep in mind these general guidelines when practicing yoga:

  • Move slowly in and out of the poses.
  • Keep your breath smooth and even throughout the practice.
  • Practice with an empty stomach.
  • Never strain or force yourself beyond your current abilities.
  • Keep the exact order of this sequence, as it has been organized to bring you the most benefits. Do not change the arrangement of the poses.

The Sequence

  1. Three-Part Breath – Dirga Pranayama (DEER-gah prah-nah-YAH-mah)

Benefits: A simple breathing exercise, this brings your awareness to the present moment and calms your mind. This technique requires no special sound or position to achieve a relaxed and focused state of awareness. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position on the floor, in a chair, or on a bed.

Instructions: Place a hand on your belly and your other hand on your rib cage. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, but naturally. Begin to focus your awareness on the breath as it moves in and out of your body. Feel the lift of your belly and the expansion of your ribs on your inhalations. Notice the slight compression of your ribs and the drop of your belly as you exhale. Next, bring your bottom hand to your chest, just below your collarbone. Breathe all the way into this area and allow your chest to rise slightly; then exhale and let it go. As you inhale, feel your belly lift, ribs expand, and chest lift. On your exhalations, notice how your chest drops, ribs contract, and belly lowers. Release your arms and focus your mind on your breath for 5-10 minutes, inhaling and exhaling fully.

  1. Knees-to-Chest Pose – Apanasana (ah-pahn-AHS-uh-nuh)

Benefits: Stretches your back and releases spinal tension. Because your body is compact in the pose, your thoughts are more easily drawn inward, which calms the mind.

Instructions: Lie on your back with your legs and arms extended. Exhale as you draw both knees to your chest. Clasp your hands around them. If possible, wrap your forearms over your shins and clasp each elbow with the opposite hand. Keep your back flat on the mat. Release your shoulder blades down toward your waist. Broaden across your collarbones. Draw your tailbone and sacrum down toward the mat, lengthening your spine even more. If it is comfortable for you to do so, softly rock backward and forward or side-to-side for a gentle spinal massage. Tuck your chin slightly and gaze down the center line of your body. Hold for up to 1 minute. Keep your breath smooth and even. Exhaling, release and extend both legs along the floor and rest. Repeat up to 6 times.

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  1. Reclined Bound Angle/Cobbler’s Pose – Supta Baddha Konasana (SOOP-tah BAH-duh cone-AHS-uh-nuh)

Benefits: Stretches the hips, groins, and inner thigh muscles. It also opens the chest and improves oxygen flow while deeply relaxing the whole body.

Instructions: Lie on your back with your legs and arms extended. Bend your knees and draw your heels in toward your pelvis. Press the soles of your feet together and let your knees drop open to both sides. Allow your arms to drop open at your sides, palms up. Adjust your position so your spine lengthens along the floor while maintaining the natural curve of the lower back. Relax your buttocks and lengthen your tailbone toward your heels. Close your eyes. Let your awareness turn completely inward. Let your breath occur naturally. Allow your body to feel heavy. Stay here for 1-10 minutes. To come out of the pose, draw your knees together. Then roll to your right side and use your hands to press yourself up to a comfortable seated position.

  1. Legs Up the Wall – Viparita Karani (VIP-uh-REE-tuh kah-RAH-nee)

Benefits: Stretches the back of the legs and calms the mind. Ancient yoga texts claim that this pose will destroy old age. Modern teachers agree to its many benefits, including relief from anxiety, headaches, insomnia, mild depression, and much more.

Instructions: Set a bolster or pillow on the floor against a wall. Sit sideways against the wall with your lower back against the bolster. Gently bring your legs up onto the wall. Use your hands for balance as you shift your weight as you lie down. Rest your shoulders and head on the floor. Your lower back should now be fully supported by the bolster . Hold for 5-10 minutes, breathing with awareness. To release, slowly push yourself away from the wall and slide your legs to the side.

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  1. Reclined Spinal Twist – Supta Matsyendrasana (SOOP-tah MAHT-see-ehn-DRAHS-uh-nuh)

Benefits: Releases spinal tension, calms the mind, and soothes the nervous system. It is a great pose to wind down a yoga practice.

Instructions: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat. You can rest your head on a pillow or blanket if your neck hurts. Extend your arms to the side, keeping your shoulder blades on the floor. As you exhale, drop your knees to the left as you gently turn your head to the right. Soften your gaze as you keep your shoulder blades pressing towards the floor and away from your ears. Allow the force of gravity to drop your knees even closer to the floor. Hold the pose for several breaths. Then on an inhalation, slowly bring your knees to your chest. Exhale and release your legs to the right, turning your head to the left. When you’re finished with the pose, hug your knees to your chest for a few breaths, and then slowly exhale as you extend your legs along the floor.

  1. Supported Corpse Pose – Savasana (shah-VAHS-uh-nuh)

Benefits: Aligns your body and helps you deeply relax. Placing a bolster underneath your knees will take weight off of your pelvis, which can allow the spine to release and relax.

Instructions: Lie on your back. Place a yoga bolster or a stack of folded blankets under your knees. Let your feet rest on the floor and allow your legs to drop open. Close your eyes. You may want to cover your body with a blanket. Allow your body to feel heavy on the ground. Release each body part from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head. Turn your awareness inward and relax completely. Stay in Savasana for 5-15 minutes, relax deeply.

About James

Teaching yoga for me is such a joy. I was introduced to yoga after opening an organic restaurant and the stress of its success took a toll. I instantly loved yoga and became certified through YogaWorks in NYC (2008). I was lucky to have studied with Jodie Rufty, an advanced yogi and senior teacher trainer. Bringing a mindful approach, my style is built on form and foundation helping students understand proper alignment in poses by applying assists during asana practice. My focus is always on the basics and I enjoy incorporating breath. I teach private or group classes, but given our current situation I recently started a YouTube channel and at this time I have 7 videos posted. All my classes posted are free and without ads. I am also available to teach private or group Zoom classes and currently my fee is donation based due to these uncertain times. James is also a licensed real estate  salesperson at Weld Realty in Nyack. He may be reached at jamessklar@yahoo.com or at (845) 570-1604.

The regular Nyack Weekender is on hiatus during the pandemic. In its place we are inviting community members for their recommendations of books, movies, TV shows, comfort foods, etc for each weekend. You can get each week’s update delivered to your mailbox auto-magically every Friday morning, by adding your name to our mail list. Visit our online sign-up sheet to subscribe.

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