I saw this sign at a local church which read
When you give, never remember. When you receive, never forget.
Welcome to our new students coming into the series and Welcome Back to those returning for more bliss. Besides, the breath and poses from our class, I am including my short take on Restorative Yoga in a Nutshell and a little piece on Gratitude. Enjoy, stay awhile, return and peruse some more. I encourage you to try some of these poses at home using cushions, pillows and blankets. The firmer the cushion or pillow, the better.
Three Part Breath or Dirga Pranayama
This is one of my favorite breaths because I can actually feel the movement of the breath through my body, like a “hands on”. This brings greater breath awareness and it is considered a “complete” breath where the entire lungs are filled up. I use it to calm me down, center, become more in tune with my physical body.
Can be done either laying down, seated or standing. Try all three positions.
Begin the first part of the breath by placing hands on your belly, inhaling long and deep to that area. Feel the abdomen press against your palm and fingers with inhale and belly deflate with the exhale. Stay for about 5 breaths before moving onto the second part. Now move right hand to left side of rib cage and left hand to right side of rib cage, crossing arms in front of you. Breathe deeply into belly, then into mid-section rib cage area. Feel the ribs slightly separate from each other with the inhale. Exhale from mid-section and then belly. Feel ribs move back in place with the exhale. Stay for about 5 breaths. Slide hands to under the armpits (like you are hiking up your overalls). Breathe in deep to first part, second part and finally to upper chest. Feel chest expand outward and a slight lift. Exhaling from top to bottom. Stay for about 5 breaths. The breath may be so deep and full that the complete breath may even be felt to the bast of the skull.
Supported Childs Pose
Props: bolster, two blocks, 2-3 blankets
Benefits: Gently stretches the lower back, relieves shoulder tension and quiets the mind. Give a sense of security. Feeling support and release.
Extras:sandbag for sacrum
Place the two blocks at either the lowest or medium height, equidistant from each other bolster lengthwise on top of blocks. A s-fold or triple fold blanket on top of bolster. It may be more comfortable without blocks. Legs straddle the props at one end, and lengthen body over them. Head will rest on props. Additional blanket(s) may be used behind knees. Ideally props should extend all the way to the pelvis area but this may not be the case with your body structure. Stay here for 10 minutes to begin with, rotating head side to side.
Forward Fold with Chair (variation to use if too much pressure on the knees in Childs Pose)
Benefits: calming, gently stretches lower back, nice transition from the days activities. A good pose to do if you need a few minutes break from your daily work, easy to do and easily accessible. Good for headaches. Breathing is easier since muscles of the respiratory system are relaxed.
Props: chair, 2-4 blankets
Place blanket single-fold on chair draping down. Legs can stretch through chair or straddle or cross-legged. Arms placed folded on chair in front of you. Rest forehead on arms. Tilt chin slightly toward your chest. Close eyes. For comfort or lower back issues, sit on blanket, add rolled up blankets under knees if legs in straddle, or blocks/blankets under knees if cross legged. May add a blanket at sacrum for grounding.
Reclined Supta Baddhakonasana
Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Opens the chest and abdomen benefiting breathing problems. Props: bolster, 4 blocks (or firm cushions, pillows or rolled-up blankets), 4 blankets and one extra blanket for warmth, strap and eye pillow
Place a block lengthwise under one end of a bolster to prop it up on an incline, add another block under bolster for stability. Place a double-fold blanket on floor next to low end of bolster and a long rolled blanket on top next to bolster (for sacral support). Sit with your back to the short, low end of the bolster. Place two blocks where your knees will rest (can top with a soft blanket or use other props as necessary for propping knees) Bring your legs into Bound Angle Pose with the soles of your feet together. Wrap a blanket around your feet to create a feeling of containment. Lie back on the bolster. Place supports under your arms so that they are not dangling and there is no feeling of stretch in the chest. Stay in the pose for 10 to 15 minutes.
Mountain Brook Pose for Savasana
Props: bolster, 2-3 blankets, block, neck roll, eye pillow
Benefits: counteracts the slumped position of our posture from sitting, computer use, driving, everyday activities. Opens the chest to help breathe easier. Improves digestion, reduces fatigue and can lift your mood.
Just like a babbling brook with boulders (soft one!), imagine your body like the soft rushing waters laying over those boulders, smooth, flowing. It will allow the natural curves of the body to be held up gently and the breath to flow.
On your mat, place the bolster will your knees will be, one blanket rolled up where the bra line is (base of scapula), a block for the feet or the heels can come to the floor and a neck roll for the cervical spine. Shoulders rest on the floor, arms to side with palms facing up. If ankles need support, use rolled-up blanket or dish towel. Eye pillows can lightly rest on eyes or even be used on forehead (useful for headaches) or even on shoulders (wherever you need to release tension). To begin with stay in pose for 10 minutes working up to 20 minutes. Great to use in savasana. Feel the heart open, the strain from holding yourself up all day evaporate.
Variations: Feeling cranky in the lumbar spine? Place blanket to fill the curves. Want to feel more grounded while still opening the heart? Place rolled up blanket against wall and soles of feet touching blanket. Need to feel cuddled? Swaddle your head in a blanket cradle.
Restorative Yoga in a Nutshell
Cultivating Relaxation and Healing
Restorative yoga poses are passive, supported yoga poses held from anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, using no muscular effort to hold the body up. It is this letting go of holding the body up that allows the Relaxation Response to kick in. Thus bringing in the energy to the organs, bringing greater blood flow and finally healing.
It is also an easier way to bring a meditation practice into your life because the practice bridges a more Hatha yoga practice and meditation as you stay present with the breath and the sensations through the body.
Restorative Yoga focuses on relaxing the body in restful postures. Note that ‘rest’ is different than sleep. Rest provides the body an oppotunity to renew and heal. Countless studies have proven the physical and emotional benefits of this.
Restorative yoga, as well as other forms of yoga, help to trigger the Parasympathetic nervous system also known as the PNS. The PNS is responsible for balancing the body and bringing its response system back into equalibrium. Stimulating the PNS helps to lower heart rate, blood pressure; it helps to healthily stimulate the immune system and keep the endocrine system operating healthily. When this system gets out of whack, or when the Sympathetic nervous system, SNS gets over-stimulated, the PNS helps to bring all back in balance. It is believed that if the PNS is tapped out or under-active, illness pervades. Thus, forms of relaxation, such as yoga and meditation, that help to stimulate the PNS are generally beneficial for overall body health.
Restorative yoga postures can be practiced at any time of the day. Ideally, one would start their day with longer held poses and breath work. It is a great way to wake up the body and clear the mind before launching into the day. It is also beneficial to practice restorative postures at the end of the day, before bed. This can slow the body and mind down, and prepare the body for sleep. Many who practice restorative postures (at any time of the day), find that they sleep better and their energy levels are higher.
A full restorative class may only offer 2-4 poses including a warm-up and transitional movements between poses. Many times the class may be structured to move the spine in all six directions or to create conditions for therapeutic healing.
Gratitude and Contentment – What Do They Have in Common?
I’ll begin this little dissertation with a poem that I read in class.
When you don’t know what you want,
it’s probably time to begin enjoying what you have.
Voila! Being grateful for what you have is one path towards contentment. Gratitude is an offering that when practiced regularly with breath, postures, meditation, mindfulness can pave the way to contentment. Contentment is not about complacency, disregard for others, not being in touch with reality. Swami Shraddhananda put it so eloquently on his essay on Santosha, the sanksrit word for contentment,
Contentment is a mental decision, a moral choice, a practiced observance, a step into the reality of the cosmos. Contentment/santosha is the natural state of our humanness and our divinity and allows for our creativity and love to emerge. It is knowing our place in the universe at every moment. It is unity with the largest, most abiding, reality.
The practices listed above are not mutually exclusive either. While in a Warrior Two, breath deep and send some thanks to your strong legs as the hold you up. Meditation combined with a deep diaphragmatic breath and a mantra of thanks can also be an effective way to cultivate contentment. Try a 40 Day Gratitude Journal listing the major things in your life that you are grateful for. As you proceed with the journal entries, you may start to notice and be thankful for the little things as well. Your heart may begin to open up more and let ease, peace and santosha in. Recently, I’ve changed the image on the blog to my cat, Maxine, for the month of November as a reminder to all of us that contentment is for everyone. I see and feel that she is content. Granted her daily responsibilities are not the same as mine but she is a cat with her own cat survival responsibilities. She stretches, she breathes, she is completely in the moment as she hears the birds, chases the butterflies and flees from me catching her. But her heart is open. She has this uncanny sense to come to me when I am upset. She greets each of us by the window when we come home. She is my daily reminder.