Sunday, December 4, 2011

Energize & Relax with Yoga

Yoga practices the art of bringing the body, mind and emotions back to balance. There is a time for energizing as well as a time for relaxing, and we require both. Holiday time makes it  easy to look around and become distracted by the outside world. Finding what feels right is deeply personal and internal, so developing a routine to keep you stabilized during this time is essential. Some ways that we may energize: going to parties, shopping for friends, eating and drinking taboo foods. Some ways that we may relax: reading a book inside by the fire, taking a walk, reviewing and taking an inventory of your year, focusing on your internal rhythm through breath.

Here are several ways to tune up or tone down your 
yoga for the season.

The following yoga routine begins with a standard yoga posture and a tune up or turn down version. Depending on your mood, you can opt for the energizing version, or you can mellow the effect with the relaxing version. Generally, poses where we open the heart and expand the chest and 
lungs will energize, while the forward bends, have a way of relaxing the nervous system and calming us down.

Bridge Pose: 
Come to your back, legs bent and feet 
hip-width apart. Start with your arms by your sides. Bring your heels up to your tush. Make sure your feet are straight and parallel. Take a deep inhale. On the exhale, pull the belly in and rotate your pelvis under, keep peeling your spine off of the floor, one vertebrae at a time. Push the feet down in order to lift the hips up. Keep your chin tucked (see image below, top).

Energize: Extending each leg, one leg at a time (see below, center).
Relax: Place a block underneath your sacrum (see below, bottom).

Bridge Pose
Bridge Pose - ENERGIZE
Bridge Pose - RELAX

Forward Bend:
Separate your feet about hip-width apart and hang your upper body down, folding over the legs. Allow the crown of the head to dangle down towards the floor. Feel the spine release and elongate. Press the thigh bones backwards. Lift the kneecaps up. Dangle and breathe.

Energize: Place finger tips on floor, on the inhale extend and flatten out or back, on the exhale fold. Repeat 8 times (Images below, top and center).
Relax: Try bending your knees slightly, and "rag doll" the upper body (Image below, bottom).

Forward Bend
Forward Bend - ENERGIZE
Forward Bend - RELAX

Step your feet about four feet apart. Turn the right foot out, and slightly angle the left foot in. Arms are extended out to the side. Breath in. On the exhale, extend and reach outward through the right arm, as you press the hips to the left. Keep opening the chest as you elongate here. Try to create a straight line from the hips to the fingertips. Keep the length after hinging from the hips. Now keep the chest open, and drop the hand down to the shin, the ankle, or maybe even the floor. Keep opening the chest. 10 breaths. Try to extend and reach through the top of the head. Try to keep the crown of the head and the tailbone in alignment (see image below, top).
Energize: As you open your heart and extend both arms out to the side. Allow your core strength and trunk to support you (see image below, center).
Relax: Try it with a block or even a chair, if you want to ease up a little (see last two images below).

Triangle Pose
Triangle Pose - ENERGIZE
Triangle Pose - RELAX
Triangle Pose - RELAX

One Arm Balance:
Begin in Plank. Bring the feet together. Move the right hand directly below the face. Rock your body to the side, so that you are balancing on the right hand and the outside edge of the right foot. Feet are flexed and the underside of the waist is lifting up so that your top hip is lifting up towards the ceiling. Press the bottom hand into the floor, so that you are not dumping into that right 
shoulder. Keep the right arm straight (but not locked). If you are super flexible to the point of hyper-extension, stay aware of not locking the elbow (see image below, top).
Energize: Lift the top leg (see image below, center).
Relax: Rest the lower knee on the floor (see image below, bottom).

One Arm Balance
One Arm Balance - ENERGIZE
One Arm Balance - RELAX

Breathing is all about expansion and contraction. The art of breathing in yoga is called Pranayama. There are two basic breathing exercises I will share with you here. The first is the energizer called breath of fire, or skull shining technique. The second is called alternate nostril breathing and is designed to bring the energy down and calm the nervous system.

Breath of Fire:
Try this for about a minute, sitting Japanese-style, with your spine straight.
1. Relax your abdomen. You can place your hands gently on your belly, as you start to get a feel for the breathing.
2. With your mouth closed, exhale strongly and quickly through your nose, contracting your abdominal muscles to push the air out in short bursts.
3. The inhale should happen relatively automatically, as the focus is on the exhale breath.

Avoid this type of breathing if your nasal passages are blocked.
Also avoid this breathing if you are pregnant, or have any heart problems.
Detoxifies the lungs
Energizes the body

Alternate Nostril Breathing: 
Start by doing this for three rounds, from a seated position.
1. Use your right hand and close right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril for a four-second count.
2. Immediately close the left nostril with the right ring finger and pinky finger, as you remove your right thumb from the right nostril. Exhale thru this nostril for an eight-count.
3. Then, switch. Inhale thru right nostril for a four-count. Close the right nostril with the right thumb and exhale through the left nostril for an eight-count.

Avoid this type of breathing if you have a cold. Do not force the breathing if the nasal passages are blocked.
Increases brain functioning, creativity and reasoning ability
Calms the mind
Calms the nervous system

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