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Yoga: A Simple Introduction

12 Mar

Yoga: A Simple Introduction

Today I am going to share with you some information about yoga.  The great thing about yoga?  It forces you to calm down, take a step back from the rigors of daily life, and focus on yourself.  And what is the best part of that?  I find that I can go through the rest of my day focused and with determination after taking a moment to relax and stretch out my mind and my body.

Yoga is great for everyone: young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and even the injured.  I was a student of ballet and many other types of dance for the majority of my life.  During that time. I pulled muscles, broke bones, did irreparable damage to my knee and hip joints, and have nearly constant back pain.  This makes it very hard for me to find ways to exercise.  Running hurts my hips, knees, back, and formerly broken toe.  The elliptical machine always causes me to end up with very sore knees and hips, even without the impact of running, but my back and toe are relieved.  I enjoy Zumba classes, but I am only stressing my body in the same way I did in my dance classes, only without actual training.  And I also enjoy classes that use weights and steps, but using arm weights sets off the pinched nerve in my shoulder.  After getting my YMCA membership and trying all of these things, I was exasperated.

How can I get a workout, get those endorphins flowing, feel active and fresh, without putting strain on my body?  I was afraid to try a yoga class – I had dance teachers that would use yoga in our warm ups and it was always very difficult.  What I didn’t realize is that most yoga classes are for a wide range of people with a wide skill level.  I went to my first yoga class and found an interesting mix of ages ranging from the teen age to late 70′s.  And get this – the teacher was 6 months pregnant!  The teacher first explained that it isn’t a contest, but getting to know your own body, and that some people in the class had injuries or special conditions and that they would use lighter versions of the poses, but that they still get the effects as those using the normal poses.  She went on to describe the different poses that she would use, as pregnancy obviously changes the routine.  She passed out mats, and blocks and explained how to use them, especially since NO POSE SHOULD HURT.  A stretch is one thing, but obvious pain should be avoided.  She urged us to be gentle and listen to our bodies, and explained that in time our abilities would become greater.

Obviously, there is a philosophy (or I suppose many philosophies) associated with yoga.  I would love to go into them, but I don’t want to bore everyone with a five page paper on the origins and purpose of yoga.  Today I am just going to focus on it as an exercise of body.  Below, I have posted some poses that are common in todays yoga classes in the US.

Child’s Pose

This is one of the more relaxed asanas, often used at the beginning or end of a session.  You may have your knees close together (preferably not touching) leaning your body over your knees or widen your knees to the width of the mat allowing the torso to fall between the knees and onto the mat.  You arms may lay in front of your body on the mat (this is my favorite because I can feel my arm pits and chest open while relaxed and it feels great!) or you can bring your arms around the sides, hands reaching without tension toward the feet, and touching the forehead to the mat.

This is a great example of all of the things to focus on while trying child’s pose!  I always forget to breathe so I love finding a nice chart that lets me go through all of the areas of my body and feels as though I am completely in tune with myself!

Here is an example of child’s pose with arms back.  It is still a very relaxed pose!

And if you are really just looking for the effects of relaxation from child’s pose, go ahead and do this!  There is no harm in altering your child’s pose to be as relaxing as you need it to be, especially if you have shoulder, knee, hip, or ankle problems, as well as pregnancy.  Child’s pose is simply meant to be a way you could almost fall asleep!

Mountain Pose

Keep your feet at a comfortable distance about hip width, squeeze inner thighs together, engage abs, breath!  Imagine a string running through your body, lifting from the ceiling, lifting through the spine.  You should feel weightless!

From this position, you might transition to a forward bend, pressing your stomach to your thighs and letting the head hang down OR you could reach back into a back bend, careful not to strain your spine and allow yourself to strengthen over time.

Downward-Facing Dog

This pose is a wonderful stretch.  But in order to get it you must do some work!  All at the same time, try and press your heels into the floor (great hamstring/back calf stretch),  push the hips and tailbone up toward the ceiling, keep back flat (I try and stretch my nose to the floor, pushing through my shoulders to get this effect), and keep abs engaged and ribs tucked in.  If there is any pain or too much strain, make sure to remember that a slight bend in the knee and elbows is perfectly fin.  You have to give your body time to adjust and you will probably find that your downward dog and the end of the class is vastly superior to your downward dog during the warm up :) .

As you can see, this pose is fine even in the third trimester with the right alterations.  Click on the pic for a link to a blog with a couple of tips.

This is a picture of an all out, “professional” downward dog.  If you can’t do this, then you are just like me, and billions of others.  I have had yoga teachers who haven’t reached the goal of a perfect downward dog, so don’t stress yourself!  Just know that this is the long-term goat for a perfect downward-facing dog.

Lunge : Ashva Sanchalanasana

Low Lunge

High Lunge

Cute cartoon showing the differences

In order to do a high lunge, you tuck the toes of your back foot under and lift the knee.

*Optional for both low and high lunge, you may arch back lifting arms, bend forward with shoulders square inside the front leg, or twist the abdomen from right to left.  In this way, there can be variations of poses.


Plank is a wonderful pose to try if you are trying to strengthen your abs!  Remember, there should be no strain or pain in your back, but rather use your abdominal muscles, pulling your belly button up toward the ceiling to support your suspended weight.  You can put your knees down if there is pain or if the position is uncomfortable.

Four-Limbed Staff Pose

You should definitely feel this in your arms and abdominals.  Press your heels to the back wall, lengthening your body.

If you find yourself struggling, you can always lower your knees to the floor.

Upward Facing Dog

This is one of my favorites!  It feels great to open up the shoulders and pectorals and flex the back!  If this is difficult for you, try lowering your knees to the ground.  If you need more of a challenge, try tucking your toes!

Sun Salutations

Congratulations!  You know all of the poses needed for a typical morning yoga routine called Sun Salutations.

Just take all of the poses and combine them together, transitioning from one two the next.  Here is a video of a sun salutation routine for you to follow since the pictures don’t help you with the transitions.  This video isn’t perfect, but I think that the directions of the instructor and the pace are great for getting to know a sun salutations set.  Feel free to find some more on youtube!  There are many variations for your morning routine with new poses and modifications.

In class, we have always spread out on our mats, in a comfortable positions (fetal position, spread out on back, child’s pose, etc.) in a cool down where you just lay still and pay attention to how your body feels.  This is a great ending meditation!  In the end you focus back on your breathing, your toes, your fingers, sit indian-style,  lotus position, on knees, place hands on heart center and say: “Namaste”

Namaste means “the light in me honors the light in you.”  There are, of course, alternate translations, but this one makes me feel happy :) .

Have a wonderful day and remember to make time for yourself!



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