As Seattleites, we are in a constant tizzy. We hustle and bustle through the daily routines of life without being aware of their effects on our body and energy levels. The majority of us work at a desk in front of a computer all day long, only to drive home, crunch our necks to talk on the phone, and slouch in front of the computer or couch to watch television or play video games. Although the progression of technology makes life a little easier, it continuously limits our mobility, strength and flexibility. We are constantly sitting, weakening and shortening our muscles. The most concerning part is that the majority of us are not even aware of the every day stresses put on our bodies and minds. This awareness is key to preventing and lessening physical and mental pains. Practicing yoga is an excellent first step to finding this awareness. It is a perfect tool for pain management that integrates body, breath and mind to bring awareness and clarity in all areas of your life.
When it comes to the body, breath, and mind there is not a single entity more important than the other. They all affect each other, and when practiced correctly have amazing effects on the body and mind. There are three stages of yoga correlated to the stages of life. Those are the sunrise (vrddi), noon (stithi) and sunset (laya) stages. This means when first learning yoga, we practice asana to assimilate and develop our bodies in space. We then progress to pranayama, integrating our breath and bodies to attain stability and find the energy flow within ourselves. Finally, to prepare for what may come after this life, meditation is practiced to gain clarity and peace.
Developing an asana practice is a great starting point if you are just beginning yoga.
You will become increasingly aware of your body at all times as you continue to do movement practices. It is important to realize what you are stretching or strengthening. Rather than trying to twist your body to fit the form of a posture, look first at what the function of the posture is. Ask yourself what you are trying to achieve through this posture. If it is to release tension in the shoulders, make sure you are not wearing those shoulders as earrings! Remember; function over form is key to a successful asana practice. If you begin to get bored with the same poses, remind yourself that repetition is good (when done correctly/safely). Repetition helps to reprogram the body’s muscle memory. Never forget, you must stretch and strengthen. Strengthening is especially important to do before stretching with our culture of weak backs, necks, and shoulders. When on the computer, driving or slouching our shoulders are rolled forward and internally rotated. This pulls on the muscles in our upper back and overstretches them making them weaker. This is why the majority of Americans have weak upper backs. Sitting also weakens our lower back and sacral area due to inactivity. If possible, you should try to integrate all five movements of the spine in each practice. These five movements are as follows:
- Forward bends
- Back bends
For the safety of your body and to achieve the effects you would like, your asana practice should be done mindfully, not mindlessly. Instead of turning on the television, focusing on those around you in a class, or listening to music, listen to and feel the movement of the energy in and around you.
Pranayama will help recognize and feel this energy. It is the breath of life or the energy moving throughout your body. Inhales extend the spine, creating intervertebral space. While, exhales compress the spine. Learning to control the breath will make you more aware of the energy moving in your body. When practiced with awareness inhalations and exhalations can give your spine a lovely massage like feeling. When doing a breath practice, you can imagine breathing into your tight areas. This brings attention and energy to those ignored spaces. The breath even protects the body during asana. Anatomical breathing will fill the empty cavities in your body to help protect and provide stability. Here is an anatomical breath practice to protect the body during asana practice.
- Begin by choosing a comfortable position where your spine is neutral. This can be done lying on your back, sitting or standing.
- Next, start to become aware of your body. Are there any sore or tight areas? If so, do not dwell on whether or not they are good or bad sensations. Just notice them and move on.
- Start to notice your breath and where it is moving in your body. Does it reside in your belly, your chest?
- On your next inhale, start by breathing into your chest. Feel your head and neck float up to the sky as you fill your chest and ribs with the first half of your inhale. Then let the belly relax as your diaphragm lifts up with the expanding chest and ribs to create more space for the breath below.
- As you exhale, pull the belly in from the pubic bone all the way up to the chest, as if you were zipping up an invisible zipper.
- Feel the breath moving in and out of your body in a wave like motion as you continue to lengthen your breath a second longer with each inhale and exhale.
- If you are lying down, you should feel your spine moving away from the floor with each inhale and your lower back pressing back into the ground with each exhale. If standing, put one hand on your stomach and the other on your back. Feel your spine move away and your belly press into your hands as you inhale and the spine fall back against the hand as you exhale.
- Keep your breaths long and smooth, but you should never feel constricted or gulping for breath like a fish out of water. This can be dangerous and if you are feeling this, you should shorten your breaths or stop the breathing exercise.
- After about twelve full breaths, you should find a comfortable length of breath to carry throughout your asana practice.
To find clarity and serenity, meditation is practiced in order to control the random fluctuations of the mind and create awareness of yourself and body in space. Meditation helps to empty your mind. It is like a detoxification for your brain and will help you to see things as they are. A consistent meditation practice will help you reach a sense of peace and clarity and has amazing effects on individuals with chronic pain. Many yogis use mantras or phrases during meditations. If you choose to use a mantra, make sure it is a positive one! Positive thoughts will translate to positive actions and energy.
Create an abundance of joy in your life by taking time for yourself! Life happens quickly. The days go by, and sometimes we hardly notice them. Try to make an effort to notice not just each day, but where you are at in every second of the day. Awareness is quintessential to begin your journey towards a healthy life filled with peace and clarity.
* Look for upcoming yoga practices to relieve stress/tension from your daily routines!