The physical and psychological benefits of yoga for stress management has been increasing. With regular practice of yoga it can help decrease stress and tension, increase strength, balance and flexibility, lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol levels. It also produces strong emotional benefits due to the emphasis on breathing and the interconnection of mind, body and spirit. Frequent practice of yoga for stress management encourages better sleep, helps individuals to not focus on things beyond their control and how to live in the present. It makes a stressful event a lot easier to handle, whether it's family or work. While most people have the notion that you have to be flexible in order to do yoga, the truth is, anyone will benefit from yoga regardless of age.
There are many different styles of yoga to suit your preference. It's not about doing yoga better or worse than the others, it's about how you feel in your body and how relaxed you can allow yourself to become. Yoga is considered as a deeply personal practice and no two people can or should hold a pose in exactly the same manner. A person has to work at his or her own level of flexibility, one that is challenging but not overwhelming. If you don't feel good with what the instructor is telling you to do, don't do it. Your body will warn you if you are about to get hurt. It is important that you listen to your body, push the limits gently, but don't let yourself be overcome by ego. Allow your body to guide you and be your friend.
The “goal” of yoga is to synchronize the breath and movement. It is important when to inhale and exhale as you work through poses. Breathing only through your nose keeps heat in the body and keeps the mind focused. Concentrating on your breath is the key to yoga for stress management, as it helps you let go of external thoughts and anxiety. The easiest way to bring yourself into the present moment is to focus on your breath. Feel how it goes down your nose and into your body. It helps you let go of the worrying thoughts. As you end each yoga session, simply lie on your back with both arms at your side with eyes closed and breathing deeply. This final pose (Corpse Pose or Savasana) is designed for deep relaxation.
Keep in mind that yoga is a slow process. Forget about expectations. Let go of competition and judgment. As yoga brings you into the present moment, you will experience joy not only in the physical movement and mental benefits but in spending time in the now.
Feeling stressed out? Try these yoga poses during the holiday season or anytime you need a break!
*This article was originally published by Jill Paschal at Lexiyoga.
There are as many reasons for hip pain as there are approaches to resolving it. Hip joints connect the pelvis and leg bones. No wonder hip health relates to the back, knees, ankles and feet. So, what can you do? If you have a regular yoga practice, notice if your hips feel the same, better or worse after your practice and up to 48 hours after. Move in a way that does not increase the pain. Starting a yoga practice that includes gentle hip exercises can help relieve pain in the hips safely. Relieving hip pain can also relieve pain in the lower back, as tight hip flexors can misalign the pelvis and affect the muscles of the back. You may even want to consider a yoga therapy session. Here, you can find out which muscles are supporting your hips and which are overworking that should be resting. You don't need to understand the anatomy but you will learn to listen to your body for the answers. Here are 4 yoga poses for hip pain relief:
Bound Angle Pose can relieve hip pain caused by sciatica, while also stretching the inner thighs and groin. You may wish to sit on a folded blanket before starting, as this helps your pelvis tilt forward, aiding in the stretch. Start in a sitting position with your knees bent and the soles of your feet pressed together. Hold your feet, bringing your heels as close to your pelvis as is comfortable. If you can't comfortably hold your feet, hold your ankles or shins. Sit up straight, keeping your shoulders pressed down.
Happy Baby Pose gently stretches the hip flexors. Start by lying on your back. Bend your knees and bring them towards your chest so that you can grab the outsides of your feet. If you can't reach your feet, use a yoga strap or belt. Widen your legs, gently pulling your knees towards your armpits. Keep your shoulders pressed into the floor, and press your feet into your hands. Push your tailbone down towards the floor to release pressure on your lower back.
Wide-Legged Forward Fold stretches the hip flexors, while also stretching the spine and legs. Step your feet out so that they are hip-width apart (about 2 of your fists in between your feet). Put your hands on your hips and keep your spine long as you bend forward from the hips. Release your fingers to the floor directly under your shoulders. Relax your shoulders down your back so they don't press up around your ears. Place your hands back on your hips and keep your spine straight as you bend upward out of the pose.
Fire Log Pose is a hip opener that can be as gentle or as challenging as you'd like it to be. If needed, sit on a blanket to help your pelvis tilt forward. Place your left leg on top of your right leg so that your shins are lined up straight in front of you. Your left ankle should sit just outside of your right knee. Keep your torso straight and let your fingers graze the floor for support. For many, this is enough of a stretch, though you may also fold forward if you want to increase the stretch. Switch legs.
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana is from Sanskrit; Urdhva meaning Upward, Mukha meaning Face, Svana meaning Dog and Asana meaning Posture or Pose. Upward-Facing Dog is a powerful yoga pose that will rouse the upper body, help you build strength and provide you with a gentle backbend in preparation for deeper backbends. This pose is normally part of the traditional Sun Salutation sequence in Ashtanga and other Vinyasa yoga classes and is most often practiced with Downward-Facing Dog. Like Downward Dog this pose is named after the behavior of a stretching dog after a long nap!
Although this pose may appear to be simple, it offers more than its share of proper alignment and challenges. Despite its seemingly simple nature, this posture offers many benefits and can help advance your yoga practice in a variety of ways.
Modifications & Variations
Upward-Facing Dog provides a deep stretch to the entire spine and front torso. Be careful not to force your body into the pose. Practice this pose slowly and come out of the pose if you feel any pain or pinching sensations.
It takes time to build the flexibility and strength for Upward-Facing Dog. Practice Cobra Pose as an alternative pose if Upward-Facing Dog is not yet possible for you.
If your feet and ankles are stiff, from Chaturanga into Upward-Facing Dog, let your thighs come to the floor, then turn your feet over one at a time.
If you find it difficult to keep your legs lifted off the mat, place your thighs on the floor.
Camel Pose (Ustrasana) is a backbend that stretches the whole front of the body. It’s the deepest backbend and is frequently incorporated into vinyasa practices with several different modifications. Camel Pose, and backbends like it, can be physically challenging and beneficial. Ustrasana is a great, deep backbend that is accessible for most students because it requires less strength and more spinal flexibility.
Known as a “heart opening” yoga pose, Ustrasana stimulates and balances both the fourth and fifth chakras, located at the heart and throat centers. For many yoga practitioners, the heart and throat centers are often closed off and protected; some examples of this would be slouching and poor posture. For this reason, practicing Ustrasana can sometimes stir up emotions more than other poses. It is important to keep a calm awareness of your feelings when practicing this pose; fear of your emotions can create stiffness in the body and may lead to injury.
*Caution: Do not practice this pose if you are currently experiencing high or low blood pressure, insomnia, or a migraine. Also avoid this pose if you have any neck injuries. Never to force your body into the pose. Practice a modified version until you have increased flexibility and strength you need to safely go deeper. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. Always talk with your doctor before starting any yoga regimen.
Research shows that yoga is very beneficial when it comes to alleviating stress and controlling the effects of high blood pressure (hypertension). Some doctors actually encourage patients to practice yoga as a preventative measure. Yoga provides a holistic approach to dealing with constant worry and stress, which enables you to alleviate its harmful side effects. The practice of yoga stretches, postures and poses help relieve tension and pain throughout your entire body. With focus, guided meditation practices and basic breathing exercises you can train yourself to still your mind, thus relieving stress.
The best things about the practice of yoga is that you can stretch and relax your body at anytime you our feeling overwhelmed by stress. It helps you become aware of what is going on inside your body. The more you practice the easier it becomes to achieve balance and harmony.
Another great thing about yoga is that you can practice certain breathing and relaxation techniques anytime you are feeling anxious, worried or under pressure; all you have to do is take a break, sit down, relax your shoulders, take a long steady breath in and slowly exhale. By repeating this practice three to five times, you will notice that you feel calmer, less stressed and energized.
When it comes to controlling high blood pressure, there are two effective yoga exercises that have been proven to help lower blood pressure:
Inverted yoga reverses the action of gravity on the body. The most profound changes brought about by Inverted Yoga is better circulation. In inverted poses, legs and abdomen are placed higher than the heart. Perform this pose by lengthening up through the legs and keep them very active so your spine opens and the entire body becomes involved in the pose. One of the reasons for this is the force of gravity is reversed and the rate of blood flow back to the heart (venous return) becomes significantly greater.
During inverted poses, gravity causes the blood to flow easily back through the veins and this brings the blood pressure in the feet to a minimum. This in effect gives skeletal muscles a chance to rest. This drainage of blood and waste from the lower body back towards the heart helps alleviate other symptoms, such as varicose veins and swollen ankles as well.
Did you know the simple act of breathing, inhaling and exhaling has the power to nourish the body, calm the mind and ultimately reduce stress?
However, not just any breathing will do the trick. If you're like most people, you take short, shallow breaths, pulling your stomach in as you inhale and never emptying your lungs of carbon dioxide when you exhale; but what most people don't know is that long, slow breaths are more efficient and beneficial than short, fast ones.
To take in a good breath, your lungs must first be completely empty. the key to efficient breathing lies in exhaling completely. A full exhalation begins with the upper chest, proceeds to the middle chest and finishes with tightening the abdominal muscles. Only after a good exhalation can you draw in a good lung full of the oxygen-rich air your
blood needs to nourish your cells.
The practice of rhythmic breathing can help harmonize the body, mind and emotions. This unique breathing technique eliminates stress as well as, fatigue and negative emotions such as anger, frustration and depression, leaving you calm and relaxed.
Yoga helps promote good balance by elongating, and aligning your spine as well as the muscles in your back. It also strengthens other parts of your body, including your abdominal muscles, which helps guard you back from injury. Good yoga posture teaches every part of your body to bear its own weight as an alternative of relying on other muscles to carry the load.
Yoga poses function and perform differently. Each pose is designed to develop one’s flexibility and strength. Here are some common yoga poses to practice:
Standing is one of the important yoga poses. This type of pose is helpful in aligning your body and your feet. This is also very useful in improving and maintaining a good posture. It is an advantage because if you have a bad posture, your backbones can be stretched and straightened without noticing it. Standing poses helps in giving strength to your legs and at the same time increase elasticity in your legs and hips because they are all connected to each other.
These types of yoga poses increase your lower back and hip’s flexibility. This also strengthens your back. This adds suppleness to your knees, groin, ankle and most especially your spine. Another advantage is that it helps you to breathe in deep which gives you that calm and peaceful feeling.
This type helps you in stretching the hamstrings and your lower back also strengthening it. This lessens the tension found in your neck, shoulder, back and increase flexibility in your spine. Calmness is also achieved in this type of pose.
Back bends like bridge pose are amazingly helpful in opening your chest, hips and even the rib cage. This is helpful in strengthening and making your arms shoulders stronger. At the same time, it simultaneously increases your flexibility and elasticity in your shoulders. The great thing is that it helps to relieve the tension from the front of your body up to your hips and it
increases your spinal ability. Your spinal cord is one thing that is important in your body so you need to take good care of it.
Balance poses are very challenging because they require leg strength and upper body flexibility in addition to the ability to balance on one leg. The real challenge comes as you move from pose to pose while keeping one leg lifted off the floor the entire time. Tough but worth it!
By practicing these basic poses on a regular basis, it will help you build strength, flexibility and stamina. Don't worry if you can't perform them correctly at first, just keep trying and as your strength increases you will be available to perform them more easily.
Tomorrow, I will be talking about some of the different types of yoga equipment and what it can do for you.
With so many different types of yoga to choose from it can be a little bit confusing for beginners. Before deciding on which type of yoga is best for you it's a good idea to consider the different types of yoga, your level of fitness, physical and spiritual goals, as well as, your overall health condition.
Below are the most common types of yoga to help you determine which type will work best for your lifestyle.
Iyengar yoga is considered one of the most common types of yoga focuses on alignment, breathing and performing precise poses. This type of yoga often incorporates props such as straps or blocks to help beginners. Props help new students relax and become more comfortable while holding various positions.
Ashtanga yoga is known for its powerful movements which focus on building stamina and strength, as well as, coordinating the breath with movement. This challenging form of yoga builds better balance and concentration.
Bhakti Yoga is a more spiritual form of yoga that teaches its practitioners respect for life nature and creation as well as the importance of treating others with kindness and generosity.
Hatha Yoga, another common form of yoga especially in the United States emphasizes physical postures or exercises, known as asanas, with the goal of creating balance in one's life.
Jnana Yoga, involves the practice of deep contemplation and a quest for wisdom through meditation. With the goal of being one with God.
Karma Yoga, is based on the philosophy that "yesterday's actions determine today's circumstances." Practitioners of Karma yoga make a conscious decision to perform selfless acts of kindness. By making today's actions positive, they hope they can improve tomorrow's circumstances for both themselves and others.
Raja Yoga, known in India as road to reintegration, blends the four layers of self; the body, individual consciousness, individual sub consciousness, and the universal infinite consciousness. The focus of this type of yoga is on the mind and spirit with emphasis on meditation.
Tantra Yoga, like Hatha yoga involves practitioners to seek balance in their lives and to break free from the six enemies; physical longing, anger, greed, vanity, obsession, jealousy as well as the eight fetters; hatred, apprehension, fear, shyness, hypocrisy, pride of ancestry, vanity of culture, egotism, by using discipline, training, and
Bikram yoga, often referred to as hot yoga, involves practicing yoga postures in rooms heated to over 100° Fahrenheit (37.8° Celsius). The belief behind this type of yoga is that postures are easier to attain and hold. Another benefit is that warm muscles help reduce the risk of injury. If you have a health condition, be sure to check with your health-care provider before attempting this form of yoga.
Kundalini yoga, the premise behind this type of yoga is that becoming aware of your breath is a key. Practitioners learn to use their breathing abilities in different ways, along with chants, meditation, and postures designed to awaken energy at your spine’s base and drawing it upward through the seven chakras.
Viniyoga, this is perhaps the most individualized form of yoga, and involves working closely with an instructor, who will customize your yoga practice based upon your needs.
Regardless of what type of yoga you decide to practice, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider first to see if there are any special considerations or restrictions you should follow. For example, people who suffer from hypertension may need to avoid certain poses, while women who are pregnant may have other limitations.
Tomorrow, I will be talking about the practice of good yoga posture.
Welcome to a five-part series of Why Yoga Matters. Each day you will learn about yoga, its health benefits and how the practice of yoga can enrich your life. In this part, we are going to talk briefly about the history of yoga as well as its physical and emotional benefits.
According to the World English Dictionary the definition of yoga is:
“Any method by which such awareness and tranquility are attained, esp. course of related exercises and postures designed to promote physical and spiritual wellbeing.”
Ultimately, the practice of Yoga is meant to connect body, breath, and mind to create balance and energy. It includes physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to improve overall health and well-being. While there is still some debate about the actual origins of Yoga, the majority consensus concludes that it began in India three to four thousand years ago. The word yoga originates from Sanskrit which literally means of "yoke" or to join. While yoga is often considered a spiritual practice, it has never actually been viewed as a religion.
Approximately 5 million people in the United States alone practice some type of yoga, whether it be in the form of dance, stretching exercise or even martial arts classes which usually have postures and poses that come originate from yoga.
There are many types of yoga, including; Integral, Bhakti, Ananda, Hatha and many more that we will discuss in Part 2 tomorrow.
Hatha Yoga is the one of the most practiced forms of yoga. It emphasizes physical postures known as asanas. During these exercises, flexing is followed by extension, a rounded back is followed by an arched back, and physical exercise is then followed by some form of meditation.
Benefits of Yoga
The practice of Yoga has numerous benefits including increased flexibility, strength, and balance. Combined with breathing exercises and meditation it works remarkably well to help promote overall physical and mental well-being. As well as the physical and emotional benefits of yoga it has also been proven as an excellent way to reduce stress, ease panic attacks, lower blood pressure, help alleviate back pain, arthritis pain, depression, mental fog and reduce the risk of many other common health problems.
Here is a quick list of yoga benefits:
- It is known to increase flexibility with postures that trigger the different joints of the body that are not normally affected in most regular exercises routines.
- It can improve the function and lubrication of joints, ligaments and tendons, helping to alleviate pain and increase flexibility.
- Yoga is perhaps the only exercise that can be beneficial to your internal organs which hardly ever get externally stimulated during other forms of exercise. This stimulation and massage of the organs can even help prevent disease.
- Yoga increases circulation and offers a complete detoxification of the body. As it gently stretches the muscles, joints as well as well as massaging the various organs of the body it is ensuring optimum blood supply and good health.
This helps in by flushing out of toxins from every nook and cranny of your body as well as providing proper nourishment to yourselves, which can promote optimum energy and a sense of well-being. it can also help delay the aging process.
These are just a few of the physical benefits associated with yoga. Yoga combined with meditation harmonizes the body and mind in a way that can only be fully understood by people who practice it. So, what are you waiting for? Why not start taking part in this age-old practice and enjoy the benefits for yourself. There's no better day, than today!
Tomorrow I will be talking about some of the more common types of yoga and their benefits.
With over 84,000 poses in yoga to choose from for practice, yoga enthusiasts and practitioners might be left confused on just which ones are the most important. With our daily demands and commitments, most of us might not have the time to perform so many poses, for that reason it’s a good idea to focus on the one that is considered most beneficial for daily practice and that is Savangasana (Shoulderstand). It is one of my favorite inverted poses.
Inverted yoga poses reverse the action of gravity on the body. Instead of everything being pulled towards the feet, the orientation shifts towards the head. On emotional a level Shoulderstand turns everything upside down throwing a new light on old habit patterns of behavior. Shoulderstand improves health, reduces stress and anxiety, increases mental power and also increases self-confidence. In addition, the abdominal organs; liver, spleen, stomach, kidneys and pancreas receive a powerful massage helping them work better.
In Sanskrit, Sarvanga means all parts so as the name suggests, it affects all the bodily organs. It stimulates the thyroid gland, balancing the circulatory, digestive, nervous, reproductive and endocrine systems. It is indeed a panacea, a cure all. Obesity and corpulence are alleviated by this pose as well as constipation and enlargement of the liver and the spleen.
It is best practiced with its counter poses in specific durations for maximal efficiency and when planned correctly, the whole sequence takes less than 6 minutes to practice, depending on your schedule. Personally, I practice this pose daily as part of the Ashtanga primary series placing the most emphasis on this pose for all the benefits stated above.
So next time when you are unsure of which pose you should include in your yoga practice when you are short on time, make it a point to go for the Shoulder-Stand. Your body will thank you for it.
Modifications & Variations
Shoulderstand can bring many benefits to your mind, body, and spirit when practiced regularly and with correct alignment. Be sure to make whatever changes you need to reduce discomfort when practicing it. Here are a few suggestions:
For extra shoulder support, place a folded, firm blanket beneath your shoulders before coming into the pose. Your head and neck should be off the blanket. This extra support can also help prevent neck injury.
Only lift both legs at the same time if your abdominal muscles are strong enough. Do not struggle to lift both legs together. If it is too difficult, lift one leg at a time.
Practice Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani) as a modification for those with neck injuries and for women who are menstruating. *See above picture*
As with all inversions, it’s crucial to ensure you are performing the pose with correct alignment; otherwise, it’s very easy to injure your neck. Be sure to take it slowly and make whatever adjustments you need to reduce discomfort.
Relationships can be the greatest source of happiness--and the greatest source of tension--in your life. Whenever you choose to share your mind, heart, and perhaps your body with another human being, you will encounter expectations, fears, and conflicts. Yet, in a yoga of love, each of these offers you a step towards fulfillment.
Yoga can actually help improve relationship habits and emotional patterns. Relationship concepts are implicit in the art of yoga. Enlightenment usually refers to transcending suffering and desire. In a yoga of relationships, fulfillment may be better described as tapping into the deep, multi-dimensional happiness available to you. In this case, the goal of fulfillment or shared happiness is attained through reactions, shared love, and thoughtfulness.
Are your relationships in a romantic stage, a power struggle, or a crisis? Yoga for two might just be the soul work you need to help you through your struggles, heal your wounds, and set you both on the path of expressing and receiving the love you want to share. Try some partner yoga exercises which use the buddy system to dissolve tension and establish a natural state of harmony in body, mind, emotion, and spirit.
In partner yoga, much attention is given to the importance of intimacy and touch. Touch is seen as a basic human need which, in the modern world, goes largely unsatisfied. Partner yoga offers a system that treats touch and intimacy as integral parts of our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
In poses and exercises, partners rely on each other's support to maintain proper body alignment, balance, and concentration. In a deeper sense, this physical support fosters deeper feelings of nurturing, acceptance, and trust. When you feel safe and supported you develop the courage to confront your fears and embrace your true self.
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