Hey there Yogis and Yoginas, Snow Shoveler's and Hybernatees,
Today's focus is a deep release for the back and hamstrings with a just a few basic stretches that you can incorporate into your day in only 15 minutes. This was inspired by an acquaintance of mine who suffers from sciatica and lower back flare ups. It happens to be great for all of us who spent the past few days digging out of our houses and driveways. Yes, here you are presented with "Yoga for a Healthy Back: Mini Series". There are definitely many more asanas (steady comfortable poses) that could supplement this mini series, but lets cover the basics!
Let's get started...
The Cat/Cow Warmup: Warms up the entire spine, increasing flexibility, and stimulates nerves along the spine. Start in that neutral table top position, wrists stacked under elbows, stacked under shoulders, knees under hips. Inhale drop belly to floor, exaggerating the natural curve in the spine, look up with the head, neck and chest (Cow). Exhale, Round the spine, tuck the pelvis under the body, tuck the chin. (Cat) Let your breathing carry back and forth between the two postures, close the eyes and feel this movement along each vertebrae, in each muscle being engaged. Variations. Look over right shoulder, and left. Hip Circles. Anything else that feels right.
Hamstring Stretch: Relieves tension built up in the backs of the legs (hamstrings), increases flexibility, and helps to prevent back injuries. From a kneeling position, step the right leg out in front, (low lunge with right leg out in front, keep the leg at a 90 degree angle/ keep the ankle in front of the knee). Inhale deeply, Now Exhale, lower the hands or fingertips to the floor or blocks and sink the weight back in the hips, hinging at the hips as you straighten the front leg, toes can be pointed or pulled back. Let your breath carry you back and forth, inhaling rising up halfway with a "flat back", exhaling folding forward. After several rounds, exhale, fold and hold the hamstring stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Cobra Pose: Strengthens the muscles of the upper back, increases flexibility of spine, good for posture, the gentle pressure of the abdomen into the floor massages the intestines and stomach, good for digestion. Backbends are fiery in nature, stimulating the adrenals (located above the kidneys) in a healthy way, and providing us with extra energy. Rest lying face down, with your forehead on the floor. Bring the palms underneath the shoulders, (fingertips may inch forward or back slightly depending on preference) with the elbows close to the body. Inhale and roll the shoulders up, back, and down, keep the integrity of the shoulder at all times. We want to concentrate on that area in between the shoulder blades. Lengthening through the crown of the head, begin to raise the head, neck and chest, with little to no weight in the palms. Keep the lower back relaxed and the buttocks “unclenched”. Continue to lift the hands off the floor using only the strength of the upper back to raise the upper body.
Variation, Keeping the integrity of the shoulders, begin to use the arms this time to help press your self up a bit higher, this one works more with flexibility while the former works to build strength. Both are important.
Forward Fold: Great for digestion when the abdomen is resting against the thighs. Increases flexibility along the entire spine and hamstrings. Great release for the lower back. Forward Folds are introspective, calming and cooling in nature, increasing compassion, awareness and the engagement of the parasympathetic nervous system. This pose is also great for women on their moon cycle. Seated comfortably with the legs outstretched, be sure that you have a natural curve in the lower back, and are sitting on the “sit” bones (two bony knobs underneath the buttocks). Use a folded blanket to prop yourself up if needed, try it to see how it feels. Inhale raise the arms overhead, and exhale fold forward, hinging at the hips, until you feel the lower back begin to round. It feels really nice to relax the back of the neck, tucking the chin into the chest, bringing softness into the shoulders, elbows and arms, you can even bring a pillow or blanket underneath the knees to bring yourself into a more restorative forward fold. Bring your awareness within and focus on the breath.
Restorative Corpse Pose: Stress Relieving, Great for Structural Alignment, Restful and Restorative for the lower back. Set up a blanket roll for the neck, another blanket to pad the back and a bolster or couch cushion/pillow to place underneath the knees (as shown above). Lie down on your back with the arms a comfortable distance away from the body, palms facing up in a gesture of receiving, receiving Peace, receiving Love, feet can be a little wider than hips distance apart and gently roll open, to the sides. Make any physical adjustments so the body can remain completely still. Relax and focus on your breathing, feeling the floor/ground support you completely.
This pose deeply relaxes tension in the lower back, and can be used as a constructive resting pose used in place of a nap at any point in the day.
May you be happy, healthy and full of Peace and Love,
Bryan J. Nupp, RYT 200