Monday, March 28, 2011

Basic Yoga Practice with Heart Opening Poses

On the weekend of March 12th, I led two Yoga sessions as part of a Wellspring Network Chiropractic "Clear Day". (Learn more about the Clear Day and Wellspring below.) For optimal benefit, in the least amount of time, we stretched our spine in five different directions: up (to lengthen), forward, backward, side-to-side, and twist. In addition, we practiced poses, which facilitate an open heart.  It was a wonderful practice, which left us relaxed, open, and feeling connected as a community.  Several people asked me to send them the series of poses we practiced. So, here it is.

You can complete these spine stretches in as little as 5 minutes.  (Try it for a week and see how your feel!)

Mountain Pose – rooting all parts of your feet into the floor, tucking your tail bone slightly, lengthening your spine, lifting your chest and tucking your chin down and back so that the base of your skull is in line with the rest of your spine and finally lift up through the crown of your head. Lengthening as you inhale and deepening, rooting into the posture as you exhale. (Up)

Side Stretch - Arms over head and lean to the left and lean to the right stretching through one side from the foot (firmly rooted into the earth) up to the fingertips and contracting on the opposite side. (Side stretch)

Wheel Pose – Sweep your arms up overhead, extend up through your chest, chin and forehead, gently gaze up toward the ceiling and bend backwards arching your lower back. (Back bend and Forward bend)

Standing Twist  - Swing your arms from side to side behind your back, allowing them to be heavy and flop against your body.  We used to call this the washing machine when we were kids. (Twist)

Here are poses to facilitate an open heart. Some poses stretch the muscular areas of our thoracic spine and chest. Some poses strengthen our arms and hands. Our arms and hands support us, are an extension of our hearts and are often how we reach out to others. Some poses stimulate the heart chakra (the energetic center in our body located in center of our chest parallel with our heart).

Arm Sweep - Sweep arms up over head, hands in prayer pose, then draw your hands down to heart. Or  
Wide Arm Circles – Cross your arms low in front of your navel and draw them up over head, open them wide and draw them down and back along your side.  Then, continue, cross your arms low in front, bend your knees slightly and sweep up, again. 

Opening the Hand Chakras (as suggested by Wheels of Life – A User’s guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, PH.D.) “Extend both arms out in front of you, parallel to the floor with elbows straight. Turn one hand up and one hand down. Now quickly open and close your hands a dozen times or so. Reverse your palms and repeat. This opens the hand chakras. To feel their energy, open your hands and slowly bring your palms together, starting about two feet apart. When your hands are about four inches apart you should be able to feel a subtle ball of energy, like a magnetic field, floating between your palms. If you tune in closely, you may even be able to feel it spinning.” Once you are complete with this experience, draw the energy in, with both hands, towards your heart, one over the other and receive.

Sun Salutation – There are many variations of the Sun salutation. Described below, is the one we practiced.  Begin in Mountain pose, swan dive to a Forward Bend, step back into Plank, lower down from plank to the floor. Move into Cobra (detailed below) then push up into Upward Facing Dog and the Downward Facing Dog. Step forward into Lunge with the left leg and step forward into Forward Bend with the right leg. Finally, bend your knees and draw your arms up over your head, bring them together in prayer position and draw them down in front of your heart.

Cobra – Lie flat on your stomach with your stomach with arms bent and palms placed face down by your shoulders. Inhale, and slowly lift your head, brush your nose and chin along the floor and extend up from your forehead, lengthening along the back of your neck. As you inhale, use your breath as well as your core muscles to continue to lift your shoulders, and back as far as you can go comfortably. Then as you exhale completely, relax down on to the floor and repeat, leading with the inhale.

Squat - with feet a little further than hip distance apart, hold and take a few breaths, then move to a seated position, bend your knees and place the soles of your feet on the floor. Then, slowly roll down onto your back.

Inversion - Draw your feet up in the air so that the soles of your feet are reaching towards the sky. Press up through the soles of your feet alternating one leg at a time pressing up through the hip. To finish, draw your feet down, so that your knees are bent, feet are flat on the floor, and your heals are as close to your buttocks as is comfortable.

Bridge – Begin with you knees bent, feet on the floor and heals drawn in to your buttocks. Then, lengthen you spin by elongating your cervical spin and flattening the base of onto the floor so that more of the base of your skull is touching the floor. Then, lengthen your lumbar spin and past it onto the floor so that there is no longer an arch or space between the floor and your lower back. Then, lengthen your spine as you inhale from your lower diaphragm, filling up your belly, diaphragm and upper chest.  At the top of the inhale, begin to exhale and peel your back off the floor, from the base of your spine, one vertebra at a time, lifting up through your hips rib cage and chest. Draw your shoulder blades together, tuck your arms down along the floor behind you and clasp your fingers together at the base of your spine.  When you have exhaled completely, inhale and fill your lungs and expand your chest a little further, then exhale and roll back down onto your back and begin again for 3 rounds.

Savasana - (Relaxation) – Lay on your back, knees bent and the soles of your feet together, and knees fall out to either side. You may use blankets or bolsters to support your hips and make this position comfortable.  Then, prepare to receive the experience of your physical practice, allowing the breath to flow in and out comfortably.

Pranayama (Breath exercise) – Is an essential element, especially for a heart opening practice.  We did not use our time in this session to focus on the breath as there was another session dedicated to breath work.  A future post will be dedicated to this topic.

Meditation – Traditionally the physical asana practice of yoga is to prepare our mind and bodies for meditation.  We did a brief re-centering practice to re-align with the initial intention of our practice but did not allow time for a formal meditation period. A future post will be dedicated to this topic.
The Clear Day is a daylong healing retreat.  The day includes 3 Network Entrainments (Chiropractic adjustments) as well as workshops on Yoga, Expressive Dance, and Breath work (SRI). They also had nutritious vegan food offered in a lovely setting, The Aryaloka Buddhist retreat center.  You can learn more about this mode of healing (Network Chiropractic) and the Aryaloka retreat center by clicking on the aforementioned topics in the section of my blog titled "Links that I like..."

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