Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

15-Minute Sequences: Gentle Wake Up August 12, 2013

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 10:00 am
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My current project is to write ten brief yoga sequences. Each sequence can be done in 15-20 minutes, and each sequence follows a different theme. Today’s sequence, Gentle Wake Up, warms up the body gently on those days when you just don’t feel like crawling out of bed.

My playlist: Krishna Das, “Mountain Chalisa” and “Nina Chalisa” from Flow of Grace; or “Govinda” by Ben Leinbach and Jai Uttal, Music for Yoga and Other Joys

To see other posts in this series of short yoga routines, click here.

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Yoga for Cyclists July 30, 2013

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 12:37 pm
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In honor of Bike to Work Day a few weeks ago (on which day I actually rode my bike to the train station* without even realizing that I ought to!), and in honor of Stacey, who requested info on this subject probably six months ago at this point, I’m pleased to present you with a post on yoga for cyclists!

Much like runners, cyclists are typically very fit, but because of the repetitive motions of pedaling a bike and the need to maintain a certain body position while riding, they can develop problems in specific body areas. These problems can include:

  • Hamstrings and hips: These areas can become overly tight, and the resulting reduced range of motion can lead to injury.
  • Overdeveloped quads: All that uphill pedaling can build great strength, but unless the hips are kept flexible, those strong muscles can pull hips out of alignment!
  • Low back pain: Unless proper form is rigorously maintained, the hours spent flexed forward while cycling can result in muscle pain, or strain in the back and shoulders.
  • Feet: The ankles, toes, and feet can become stiff when they’re held in position on the pedals, so cyclists, like all athletes, would do well to stretch the foot to avoid injury.

Luckily, a yoga practice can provide solutions to these problems! For cyclists, yoga can be beneficial in the following ways:

  • Flexibility: Yogis are obviously known for being flexible. For cyclists, yoga can promote flexibility in the key problem areas of the hips and hamstrings, the legs overall, and the feet, which will help to avert injury.
  • Spine alignment: With a regular yoga practice, you become more aware of your posture and the alignment of the spine. For cyclists, this heightened awareness can improve your form, relieving pain.
  • Core strength: Key to having a healthy spine is the core strength to support it. Many yoga postures emphasize the core,  strengthening the muscles to give you the support you need.
  • Balance: Practicing yoga improves your sense of balance, which is key when riding on rough terrain.
  • Mental clarity: Practicing yoga regularly often leads to feeling calm, alert, and clear-minded, which can help a cyclist power through a tough ride or stay focused during a race.
  • Mind-body connection: As noted above, yogis become more aware of their posture and movements as a result of their yoga practice. With this level of awareness, you’ll be better able to recognize when any part of your body is out of alignment and can take steps to fix it before an injury.

With these points in mind, here’s a sample asana sequence designed for cyclists.

  • begin lying flat on the belly
  • locust pose (opens heart and shoulders, strengthens low back)
  • child’s pose
  • rabbit pose (I’m including the link for the visual only – for this sequence, you get into rabbit from child’s pose by clasping the hands behind the back and then lifting the arms)
  • dolphin pose (mirrors the upper body alignment needed on the bike)
  • cat/cow (healthy spine warmup!)
  • downward dog (bicycle the legs here to stretch out the calves)
  • standing forward bend
  • mountain pose
  • 5 half sun salutes
  • one full sun salutation with low lunges
  • one full sun salutation with high lunges
  • one full sun salutation with heart-opening high lunges (clasping hands behind the back to open the chest)
  • one full sun salutation with twisting high lunges (opening the chest and shoulders)
  • standing sequence:
  • balance pose: dancer (works balance, lengthens quadriceps)
  • toe balance squat (a variation on malasana, stretching toe and foot while working balance)
  • kneeling with toes curled under (gentle stretch for the foot)
  • hero pose
  • cobbler pose
  • seated forward fold
  • reclining pigeon (hip stretch)
  • bridge pose (strengthens the spine – a good counterpose for on-bike positioning)
  • reclining twist
  • legs up the wall (great restorative pose, allowing fluid to drain from the hardworking legs, preventing varicose veins)
  • savasana

For me, this full sequence would probably take about an hour and a half. If you flowed more quickly through the postures, you might be able to do it in an hour, but I recommend moving more slowly and spending time in each pose to really enjoy the stretch. If you have time constraints and can’t do the full routine, you can eliminate a couple of poses from the warmup (locust, child’s, rabbit, dolphin) or the cooldown (do cobbler or seated forward fold, reclining pigeon or reclining twist), or you can cut down to two or three half salutes, or only two sun salutes with lunges instead of four. I wanted to give you a full sequence so you’d have plenty of options and an order for the poses, but this is just a framework that you can modify to meet your needs. Enjoy!

*Note: While I love to ride my bike, I am definitively not a cyclist. I am a bike rider, in the same way that a 12-year-old girl is a bike rider. My bike is shiny and red, with classic-looking fenders, a really big basket, and a bell. However, while I might not experience all the trials and tribulations that actual cyclists experience, I can still offer yoga to help them!
References:
Drop, Tuck, and Hammer
Yoga for Cyclists: Pre-Ride Warm Up
Yoga for Cyclists: Post-Ride Cool Down
Yoga for Cyclists: 3 Poses You Should Practice

 

Prenatal class and prenatal yoga sequence #2 April 11, 2013

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:02 pm
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On Monday night I taught the prenatal yoga class, and I have to say, it felt great. I was a little nervous but slipped right back into my “yoga teacher voice” without a problem. I remembered all the things I wanted to say, and I worked them in naturally – for example, talking about the need for both strength and flexibility in the pelvic floor while we practiced a wall-assisted squat. I was able to work the wall-assisted squat into the sequence in a natural way by moving us over closer to the wall for a balance pose (with only two students, I felt like I had a bit more freedom to work with the space). I’m grateful that Sarah set a precedent for using blankets and blocks in this class, because I think props can be enormously helpful for prenatal yoga (and props aren’t typically used at all at EEY). At the end of class, I tried a new guided meditation, and it flowed nicely. I felt awesome after class, and more importantly, my two students seemed to enjoy the practice. I hadn’t taught yoga in ten months, but it felt like I’d never left.

Here’s the sequence I taught:

  • Begin seated, with a centering moment
    • neck rolls
    • shoulder circles
    • arm stretches
  • Move to all fours
    • cat/cow (actually, cat/neutral, since cow is contraindicated for pregnancy)
    • hip circles
    • calf stretches
    • child’s pose
    • downward dog
  • Step up to forward fold
  • mountain pose
  • Warrior sequence
    • warrior 1
    • warrior 2
    • radiant warrior
    • triangle pose
    • goddess
    • wide-legged standing forward fold
  • Repeat standing sequence on the other side
  • balance pose at the wall: tree pose
  • wall-assisted squat
  • floor poses
    • cobbler pose
    • happy baby pose
    • pelvic tilts
  • inversion: legs up the wall
  • savasana with guided meditation
 

Quick Asana Sequence for the Hugely Pregnant June 4, 2012

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:52 pm
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Here’s a simple yoga routine that incorporates the most helpful postures for pregnant women to do. This routine will take about 15-20 minutes if you give yourself time to linger in the poses that feel good. After losing my yoga mojo for a while, I did variations on this sequence three days in a row last week, and my body is feeling more like MY body than it has in a while. I also found this routine to be short enough and gentle enough to be invigorating rather than draining (which is how my former yoga practices all feel lately).

  • Child’s Pose (Balasana): Take the pose with legs as wide as you need. Personally I can’t get my head all the way to the floor anymore so I rest on my elbows. A good hip opener and calming/centering pose.
  • Cat/Cow Pose (Marjaryasana/Bitilasana): Again, it’s fine to have knees a little extra wide here if necessary. If you’re as hugely pregnant as I am, you should still be okay to arch your back like normal in cat pose, but for cow, just come back to neutral instead of curving the spine. Doing a full cow can be uncomfortable at this stage, and you want to be able to take full advantage of this pose’s benefits in relieving back pain. Also, feel free to add some movement and circle your hips around if that would feel good.
  • Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): Be gentle with yourself here, but don’t slack off. Down dog and plank are a lot harder these days with carrying all this extra weight, but you don’t want that to be an excuse for losing all your upper body strength while you’re pregnant. See if you can hold the pose for five breaths. It might help to bicycle out the feet here, dropping first one heel, then the other, towards the floor. This stretches out the calves, which is great if you get leg cramps in the night like I do.
  • Standing Forward Fold: Take your feet wider than normal and don’t even try to touch the floor. Let your upper body hang, and then slowly and gently roll up to standing. This should feel really nice to your lower back.
  • Mountain Pose (Tadasana): Pay attention to your posture and spine here. Close your eyes and allow your mind to rest.
  • Half Sun Salutes: Move through these at your own pace, and bending only as far as you comfortably can. I found that reaching up felt really good. I’ve been doing two half salutes, but you could do four or more if you wanted to.
  • Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana): A great thigh strengthener and hip opener! If you’re not familiar with Goddess, see my previous post for more details on how to do it and why it’s good for preggos.
  • Supported Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana): Another great hip opener! Bend forward over a couch, chair, or table for some extra support. Practicing this posture can help with many basic tasks, like shaving your legs or buckling your shoes. (I thank yoga for my ongoing ability to do these mostly unassisted!)
  • Warriors: Feel free to add some warrior poses here if you feel up to it (I personally have not felt up to it lately, so no shame). Warriors (and other standing postures like triangle and side angle) build strength and stamina in the entire body. However, avoid doing twisting postures like revolved triangle while pregnant. (If you are as hugely pregnant as I am, I should not have to tell you this, because you know already that twisting your midsection just ain’t happening, but, you know, I’m looking out.) Also, with warrior poses (particularly Warrior 2), take this opportunity to check in with your posture – keep your spine straight and don’t let your belly pull you forward.
  • Supported Squat (Malasana): Come down into a deep squat, using a wall or sturdy couch at your back for support. If squatting bothers your calves or ankles, try placing a rolled blanket under your heels to elevate them. In my squats these days, I take my feet wider than usual and my tush touches the floor, which is okay. Find a way into the pose that will allow you to rest here comfortably. Squatting opens and stretches the pelvic floor, opens the hips, and builds strength and flexibility in the legs. It may also be the best and most natural position for childbirth – so practice it!!
  • Cobbler/Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana): A nice hip opener. Feel free to just sit up tall here if bending forward doesn’t work for you anymore. You can also try extending your legs out into a diamond shape rather than pulling the heels close to your body. If you experience tailbone pressure in this pose (like I do!) be really gentle with how you sit and don’t push yourself too far – it’ll make your tailbone feel worse, and you can still get the hip opening benefits just from sitting up tall. While you’re here, try some neck rolls or arm stretches – for example, some Eagle arms can open the shoulders and back. Might as well work out a few things at once!
  • Wide-Legged Seated Forward Fold (Upavistha Konasana): I like doing this pose because, again, it stretches my calves, which are really tight, so stretching them helps to avoid leg cramps. This pose is also one of the few seated forward bends I can still manage to do, so it makes me feel good to do it.
  • Inversions: If you already have an inversion practice, you can go ahead and do one here, but if you’re not in the habit of doing inversions, skip it. For example, as of two weeks ago I could still get up into a shoulder stand, which is cool because I’ve been practicing shoulder stand for at least eight years, my body knows how to do it. I haven’t done headstand since last summer, so I would totally not try that at this point. If you’re going to do a Bridge pose, be really gentle with that – focus more on the leg strength than on the backbending.
  • End your practice with another child’s pose, or with a side-lying savasana. Or possibly a nap. We pregnant ladies need naps.
 

Prenatal Yoga Sequence #1 March 8, 2012

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:15 pm
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Here’s the sequence I came up with for my first prenatal yoga class a week and a half ago. It’s a perfectly fine series for anyone to practice – it’s an active sequence with some good emphasis on thighs, hips, and pelvic floor. It just doesn’t involve any deep forward folds, twists, or poses lying on the belly.

  • child’s pose
  • cat/cow
  • leg and arm extensions from neutral all-fours
  • downward dog
  • step up to gentle forward fold
  • 4 half sun salutes
  • 2 (or 4) modified full sun salutes (modified to omit chaturanga and up dog: fold, high or low lunge, step back to down dog, lunge on the other side, up to fold)
  • mountain pose
  • standing sequence:
    • warrior 1
    • warrior 2
    • triangle
    • pyramid
    • wide-legged forward fold
    • goddess pose
  • crane/squat dynamic balance pose (this is great but a little hard to describe, I need to shoot a video or something)
  • repeat standing sequence other side
  • if time permits, tree pose
  • squat/malasana at the wall
  • modified cobbler pose (instead of bringing feet tight toward the body, extending legs a bit into a diamond shape, leaving more room for the belly)
  • happy baby (mostly because I can’t hug my knees in to my chest anymore)
  • legs up the wall or other inversion depending on student’s ability
  • savasana (for students later in pregnancy, savasana should be taken while lying on one side, instead of lying flat on the back)

After practicing this sequence, the only thing I felt was missing was some sort of neck stretch. In the future I’d work that in either while standing in mountain pose or while seated, after cobbler pose. Just some gentle neck circles would fit nicely into this routine.

 

Gentle/Prenatal Yoga Sequence January 23, 2012

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:02 pm
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A pregnant friend asked me what stretches she could do to help her lower back. I consulted the “Workout for Healthy Moms” handout* my midwife gave me and found that the exercises listed only needed a little organizing and fleshing out to constitute a full yoga sequence. This routine should be appropriate for most expectant moms, and it also makes a good gentle routine for non-preggos.

Standing

  • Begin standing with feet hip-width apart.
    • Breathing in, stretch the arms up overhead; exhaling, bend forward, allowing your hands to come down toward the floor.
    • Be gentle with this forward fold – allow your knees to bend just a little (instead of locking them), and let your upper body hang. Don’t force yourself to try to touch your toes or bend farther; the bending isn’t the point. We just want to release any tension in the lower back.  You can let your arms dangle or bring your hands to the opposite elbows.
    • Shake your head yes or no, and if it feels good, let your upper half wiggle around, releasing tension in your lower back.
    • When you’re ready, come up slowly: roll the spine one vertebrae at a time, and let your head roll up last. Stand up nice and tall.
  • Next we’ll come down to the floor. Step your feet more widely apart and come down in a squat.
    • Squats work the hips and thighs as well as the pelvic floor muscles.
    • Work on balancing here; try to fold your hands in prayer while using your elbows to press back your knees.
    • If you need a little extra support, it’s okay to put your palms on the floor.
    • When you’re ready to be done, just sit your tush down.
  • Alternate options for standing:
    • For a more vigorous practice, complete four half sun-salutes after the initial forward fold before coming to the floor.
    • For a gentler practice, or if standing forward bends are uncomfortable for you, just skip the standing and start out on the floor.

Sitting

  • Come into a comfortable seated position. If you can, cross your legs, but if that’s awkward, just get as comfy as you can. Try elevating your tush with a cushion or folded blanket.
  • Neck rolls
    • Begin by gently dropping your chin down toward your chest and then rolling your head around in a circle. Pretend that you’re drawing a big circle in the air with the tip of your nose. Go nice and slowly; after a few circles, roll your head the other way.
    • Neck rolls can help relieve stress and tension in the neck.
  • Shoulder circles
    • Lift your shoulders up toward your ears. Rotate them backwards and let them drop down low, then bring them forward and back up. After a few backward circles, change direction and rotate them forward.
    • Shoulder circles can help to relieve stress and tension. They also improve posture and expand the muscles of the chest, both of which are helpful when you’re pregnant.
  • Arm stretches
    • Inhaling, lift your left arm up by your ear, and exhaling, lean over to the right. This will stretch out the whole left side of your body. If your right hand touches the floor, you can press the fingertips or palm down for support. Repeat on the other side.
    • You can also do the “stopping traffic”/”talk to the hand” move here: lift your right arm to shoulder height out to the side, and flex your wrist so that your whole arm is engaged and your right palm is facing away from you like you’re stopping traffic. Turn your head and look to the left, away from the outstretched arm. Then do the other side. This is great for your wrists if you work in an office.
    • Arm stretches help to open the chest. They can also reduce swelling in the hands.
  • Next, open your legs out wide. Let your legs be active, with toes pointing up.
    • Reach your left arm up by your ear. Let your right hand rest on your right thigh, and, exhaling, lean over the right leg. You should feel a stretch all down the back of your leg as well as down your left side. Come up gently and repeat on the other side.
    • Stretch your arms forward and reach straight out, hold for three breaths, and release.
    • If it’s comfortable for you, you can rest your hands on the floor and bend gently forward. As with the standing forward fold, don’t push yourself to bend any more than what’s comfortable for you – we’re just looking for some release and stretch in the back. When you’re finished, rise slowly back up, letting your head roll up last.
  • Lift each leg and bring it back to center. 

Reclining

  • Leg lifts
    • First, come down to lie on your side. The lower leg should be bent, and the lower arm can support your head.
    • Extend your top leg. Lift it up, hold a breath, and release. Do a few repetitions, then repeat the stretch on the other side.
    • This is a great exercise for stretching out the hips – very important during pregnancy!
  • Next, come to lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
    • Depending on where you are in your pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider about whether lying on your back is appropriate for you: if you feel uncomfortable or dizzy, don’t do it. In later stages of pregnancy, lying flat on your back can restrict the flow of oxygen to your baby, so be careful with this. In general, don’t lie on your back for more than five minutes or so.
  • Pelvic tilts
    • Rest your hands on the floor or on your belly. Notice how, as you lie on your back, your lower back naturally curves up and doesn’t touch the floor. Now tilt your pelvis and tighten your abdominal muscles to press your low back against the floor. Release, and repeat a few times. This simple little exercise can do a lot to relieve your lower back discomfort. (If you’re avoiding lying on your back, try this exercise with your back against the wall while sitting, standing, or lying on your side.)
    • Return to a neutral position. Press into your feet, and lift your pelvis a few inches off the floor. Hold for a breath, then release, and repeat a few times. This move helps to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
  • Head lifts
    • From the same reclining position with knees bent, brace your arms across your abdomen as if you’re hugging yourself. Then gently lift just your head off the floor, then relax. Repeat. This exercise can relieve backache and strengthen abdominal muscles, helping to support the baby.
  • Lift your feet and curl your knees in to your chest (as much as you comfortably can). Roll around a little on your lower back – this can nicely relieve some tension. Do some “happy baby” pose by grabbing your feet, letting your legs fall open, and rocking around. You can also widen your legs to get some nice hip stretch in. Just do what’s comfortable for you.
  • Finish up with a gentle inversion, like legs-up-the-wall.

* Some exercises taken from “A Workout for Fit Moms”, by Cheryl Appel, in 1992 Lamaze Parents’ Magazine, page 36. Sequence of exercises is my own.

 

Yoga for Better Sex Sequence November 2, 2011

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:41 pm
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This sequence of poses will get you moving and warm up all the necessary places for a great time in the bedroom! For each pose, I’ve included a brief explanation of what it does and how it can improve your sex life.

child’s pose relaxing, centering
cat/cow tilt

This pose wakes up the spine, stimulating the natural flow of energy through the chakras and strengthening the pelvic floor muscles. Also, being familiar with the subtle movements of the pelvis will help in the bedroom.
downward dog Downward dog stretches and strengthens the entire body!
forward fold Forward folds open up the back and massage the internal organs.
5 half-salutes Half-salutes are meditative, promoting focus and awareness of the present moment.
2 full salutations The sun salutation is a series of poses linked together gracefully. Sun salutations serve to limber up the body for yoga practice. The poses in the sun salutation alternately stretch, expand, and contract the entire body, making it great for overall health, fitness, and stamina.
goddess pose Standing poses are good for overall fitness, strengthening the entire body, especially the legs, and building heat in the body. These poses really stretch and work the thighs and hips, as well as toning the extended arms, and standing poses help to improve stamina too.
warrior 1
warrior 2
triangle
side angle
half moon Half moon pose opens the hips and includes a balancing element.
Repeat standing sequence, other side
crane pose Balancing poses encourage a calm, focused mind, improve concentration, and remind us to stay in the present moment.
tree pose
squat (transition to seated) Squatting is excellent work for the pelvic floor muscles and also opens the hips.
cobbler pose This pose increases blood flow to the pelvis and opens the root chakra, which helps to cleanse and energize the sexual organs. The pose opens up and promotes greater flexibility in the hips.
boat pose This pose warms up the core and gets blood flowing in the pelvic region.
wide-legged forward fold This pose works and stretches the hips, thighs, and groin and opens the root and sacral chakras, and it increases blood flow to these regions.
locust pose This pose opens the chest and heart center, and the act of lifting and squeezing the legs stimulates the sexual core.
bridge pose This pose stretches and elevates the pelvis, hips, and thighs. It’s also a chest and heart opener.
reclining spinal twist Twisting wrings out the toxins from our internal organs, promoting good health.
savasana Savasana is the most important yoga pose for healthy sex. In savasana we learn how to relax, how to be in the present moment, and how to be comfortable with the stillness within yourself, which is what will allow you to connect deeply with another person.