For the final part of my series on holistic wellness, I wanted to share about my passion: Using Yoga for therapeutic purposes. I have taught over 2,500 hours of various styles of yoga, and about 12-15 minutes before the end of all of those classes/workshops, I instruct my students to get set up for Savasana. No matter how many times I repeat the necessity of Savasana, I have had a student or two sneak out of class quietly from time to time. Perhaps they had an emergency that they needed to tend to; but usually, people skip Savasana because they think it’s an optional 7-10 minute pose that they could be doing “something else that’s more productive.” I confess, I used to be that student when I first started going to yoga classes over 20 years ago.
Savasana is also known as the “Corpse Pose” which is generally the final pose in a yoga class. Savasana is considered the ultimate (and the most challenging) pose in yoga because it is a discipline of stillness and relaxation physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Many people believe that in order to be considered an “advanced yogi,” you must be able to do arm-balancing poses such as Parivrtta Bakasana (“Revolved/Twisted Crane”) or Salamba Shirshasana (“Headstand”). What’s interesting about this is that I did more of these poses in my earlier days of practicing yoga than my days as a yoga and meditation teacher. Not that these are easy poses to practice, but
since the main goal of Yoga is to meet your authentic self by using poses (along with ethical living, self-discipline, breath control, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation, and enlightenment), each asanas (“physical yoga postures”) become a tool for a greater purpose and not the goal itself.
With that said, the five following asanas are poses that are accessible to most people, no matter what their physical fitness levels are. (Disclaimer: If you have an injury or a pre-existing condition, please do not perform these poses without the approval of your healthcare provider):
Inhale at Table Pose (right photo), and Exhale into Child’s Pose (left photo). Repeat 5-10 times. To experience a great (but subtle) low back stretch, stay in Child’s Pose with knees out wide with big toes together. This allows gravity to gently bring the hips lower to the ground, resulting in a nice low back stretch.
Modifications: If you have wrist pain, come down to your elbows and forearms as you practice this pose. If you experience knee pain, place a folded towel, blanket or mat under your knees.
Benefits: Warms up the wrists, shoulders, hips and knees. Also known to relieve low back pain, fatigue and stress.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)
Sitting tall with knees bent, cross the right leg over the left, placing your right foot on the floor by your left thigh. Place your left hand or fingers on the floor while keeping the arm straight (almost like a kickstand). Inhale as you lengthen the spine upward and place your right elbow on the outside of your left thigh (spread the fingers wide to keep the hand active). As you exhale, twist to the right. Stay for 5-10 breaths and repeat on the other side.
Modifications: If you have tight hips, sit cross-legged and twist to the right, placing your right fingertips in the front and left fingertips in the back with both arms straight. Repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Stretches the neck, shoulders and the hips. Promotes healthy digestion and reduces fatigue. It is also known to relieve menstrual cramps.
Ardha Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog Pose )
Starting from Table Pose, inhale and exhale as you lift the knees off the floor, pushing your hips up and back. Push your shoulders back into the shoulder socket as you draw your shoulder blades in toward each other. Keep your fingers spread out and weight distributed evenly in your palms. Continue to bring the heels down toward the floor with each breath. Stay for 5-10 breaths.
Modifications: If you have wrist pain, come down to your elbows, forearms and hands on the floor. If your hamstrings/calves are tight, keep a bend in the knees and heels slightly lifted as you slowly work on straightening the legs.
Benefits: Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, and the arches of the feet. Energizes the body while calming the brain. Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain, mild depression, fatigue, and symptoms of menstrual and menopausal discomfort.
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
Sit with the bottom of the feet touching and knees out wide. Hold your ankles (not the toes, as we have a tendency to pull up when holding the toes which can result in overstretching the ankle ligaments). Lengthen the spine upward while releasing the shoulders down the back. Flex the feet, peeling the right toes away from the left toes (flexing the feet prevents the knee caps from moving/shifting) Stay in this pose for 5-10 breaths.
Modifications: If you have tight hips, move your feet away from the body, making the legs more into a loose diamond shape. If the knees are high off the ground, place yoga blocks or folded blankets underneath the knees to create more comfort.
Benefits: Stretches the inner thighs and groin. Improves mobility in the knees. Stimulates the reproductive organs and blood circulation in the body. Helps relieve mild depression, anxiety and menopausal symptoms.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Lie down with your palms facing up and allow the feet to flop out. Inhaling and Exhaling through the nose effortlessly, close your eyes and allow the belly to rise and fall with each breath. Count from 10 to 0, counting one down at each exhale (Inhale, exhale 10; Inhale, exhale 9; etc.). With each exhale, notice that your body feels heavier and more relaxed. Stay in this pose for 7-12 minutes.
Modifications: Use blankets, bolsters, blocks and even a pillow to get comfortable… but don’t get yourself so comfortable that you fall asleep. 😊
Benefits: Reduces headaches, fatigue and insomnia. Relaxes the body, calms the brain, lowers blood pressure, and relieves mild depression.
I hope these poses help you as you continue to relax and reset for the rest of 2020!