Finding balance in yoga can be challenging. Even though you’ve created a space on your mat to be present, there can still be a lot of distractions that make balancing on one foot with the opposite leg extended pretty difficult! If Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose) has you feeling a bit un-balanced (pun intended),then these five tips will help you find your balance.
Find Your Drishti
If you've taken a yoga class or practiced with yoga videos at home then I’m sure you’ve heard the yoga teacher say to find your drishti, or focus, in practice. When you concentrate on an object or a gazing point in front of you, you minimize distractions or negative thoughts that might come up in a balancing posture.
Clear your mind and shift your focus on the breath. With so many other things to concentrate on in a balancing pose, it’s easy to lose your breath. This only makes it harder! Use your breath as a way to focus, and a way to find your fullest expression.
Focus on Alignment
Maintaining proper alignment is integral in balancing postures. Stacking your joints, relaxing your shoulders down your back and keeping your core engaged will not only ensure you keep a solid foundation and focus, but it will also help you strengthen your muscle memory.
Have a Solid Foundation
Establishing a solid foundation is one of the most important steps in finding balance. When you stand on one foot, the standing leg is basically doing the work of two feet. Keeping this is mind, set up for balancing poses by rooting down your energy first. Make sure your “roots” (your footing) is on solid and stable ground. You can’t grow your tree without roots!
It’s Okay to Fall
Even those who have been practicing yoga for many years fall. Falling is a sign of exploration! Accepting that you might fall will automatically relax your mind, the most powerful element in balancing postures. When you inevitably wobble, get back up and try again. Acceptance and perseverance are both part of a growing yoga practice.
Yoga can sometimes be challenging. We all face challenges in our yoga practice. Challenges on the yoga mat aren’t usually as hard as the everyday challenges we face in life. What do you do when you tell yourself you can’t do something? How does it make you feel and what do you do about it?
So, what if you can’t touch your toes, stand on your head or bind your hands together in an asana? Or perhaps the challenge is getting on your mat consistently?
It doesn’t matter if you can do fancy yoga poses. What matters is how you learn to embrace what seems impossible. Can you work at something again and again that you tell yourself you can’t do? If you can manifest this attitude on your yoga mat, you can bring this new skill into your life. Imagine how much more you can achieve! You will find that the willingness to step into the space of what you thought was impossible, gradually, yet consistently, gives life more meaning and possibilities. Yoga has taught me patience and perseverance and sometimes I feel unstoppable.
How can you meet the difficulties on your yoga mat? Here are some tips:
As challenging as some yoga postures may seem, the key is perseverance. Listen to your body and safely explore your limitations, don't get overwhelmed, figure out where the challenges lie, don't take yourself too seriously and don't let resistance overpower you. Accept yoga as a lifestyle that needs to be learned and practiced with gratitude and patience.
I live in a small apartment, so I sleep, work, live, and practice yoga in the same room. I don’t have the luxury of separate rooms/spaces to practice; there’s just enough space for my yoga mat on the floor. However, the act of moving a chair out of the way, lighting a candle, and rolling out my mat has become a little ritual that creates the mental space for me to practice yoga. Creating a proper yoga space in your home is essential for practicing yoga. Having the space will also encourage you to practice yoga more often, which can help reduce your stress and improve your health.
When Stuck with Small Spaces, Make the Space Multi-Functional
Designing a yoga space with 6 feet in all directions may seem impossible to the apartment dweller stuck with small rooms, but you can design the area by making the space multi-functional. The best way to do this is to fill the area you set aside with easy-to-move furniture and storage items, like a storage unit on wheels or easy-to-lift chairs and a coffee table. When you want to practice yoga, wheel or carry the furnishings into the hallway or wherever else you have space (like the kitchen or a closet). Comfortable apartment living means making the most of all of your space and you can set aside adequate clear space for yoga by making sure the area has other functions when you’re not using it for yoga.
Make Sure the Area is Quiet
When choosing your yoga space, you should try to pick the quietest area in your home where you can make the room. Because yoga so heavily relies on your ability to relax and free your mind of distractions, you don’t want to be inundated with traffic noises, noisy neighbors and barking dogs. You can also play relaxing music to drown out the other noises and help you set the mood.
Set the Mood with Lighting
Although not always avoidable, practicing yoga under the harsh glare of the light-bulb can make your practice less relaxing. Practicing yoga with natural sunlight can lift your spirits, if natural sunlight is not available to you, using dimmed light bulbs or battery-operated candles can give you enough light to see what you’re doing but also help relax you by keeping the room slightly darker with less glare. Remember that a proper yoga space allows for adequate movement, is quiet and relaxing and, as an apartment dweller, is easy to use for another function when you’re not practicing. Even in the smallest of spaces, you can make a space for yoga when you use these principles to create the space.
Having a home practice means that I can practice yoga regularly, and tailor it to the amount of time I have and what I need that day. I try to go to my Mysore-style yoga at least twice a week to make sure I’m maintaining good form and have a sense of yoga community.
Yoga can be a spiritual as well as a physical practice and therefore is beneficial at any time of the day. However, there times that are better for our own practice depending upon schedule, body and personality type. A morning person may need the stimulating effects of certain asanas to start the day, while someone who is slow to wake may be warmed up and ready to practice by sunset.
Early morning before sunrise is considered a spiritually charged time of the day in the Vedic tradition and is therefore ideal for yoga. Morning yoga will ease you into gentle movements shortly after you awaken in the morning. Sun Salutations are great for waking up the body, and after lots of movement and balancing, you can ease into some gentle inversions and heart openers. If your hips and spine are feeling open at this point – dive into the heart openers, like camel, bridge and wheel. These postures will leave you feeling awake and rejuvenated – maybe even more than your morning cup of coffee! Also, indulge in an extra-long headstand or shoulder stand to send fresh oxygen into your head. This will also allow you to feel ready to face your day.
Yoga before bed can be relaxing and contribute to a restful sleep. The perfect evening yoga practice should soothe and relax you after a long day. If you’re practicing later in the evening however (within a few hours of going to bed), you’ll want to resist moving into big heart openers and energizing inversions. You may want to practice soothing surrender postures like half pigeon and seated forward fold. Twists are also incredibly relaxing in the evening as well. Focus on breathing in positions such as Child’s pose, which stretches the back muscles and aids digestion. Just be aware how you feel and what you need.
There is no time of day that is “perfect” for everyone when it comes to yoga practice. The best rule to follow is the one of no distraction. Choose to practice at a time when you are least likely to be interrupted, whether it be early morning or late at night. The most benefits are yielded when fully conscious of each movement.
Consistency is also key in yoga practice perhaps even more than when you choose to practice. The more you do the same poses regularly, the more you will notice how your practice is producing change within your body and your life. The time of day we practice yoga should determine what postures we practice, and being aware of which postures are energizing and which ones are soothing.
Pay attention to which postures affect your energy levels at which time of day, and this will empower you to practice exactly when your body needs it. Remember – you are your best teacher!
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.
One good thing about yoga is that it can be practiced almost anywhere, at any time of day by all people of all ages. Most people prior to beginning any sort of yoga practice often wonder what type of yoga equipment they need. You don’t need anything hi-tech or fancy to start practicing yoga. All you need is the desire and a good attitude to get started. But this doesn't eliminate the need for some yoga equipment, especially if it helps you do your postures properly.
Most yoga equipment is built to help you achieve proper alignment and balance as well as make the pose a bit easier to do, especially for beginners. Here are a few ways yoga equipment can help those who are beginners or those who have prior injuries or mobility issues:
- It lessens the stress and strain on your body from doing
certain yoga positions.
- It helps support your muscles and protects you from injury.
- It helps save energy by exerting less effort on a pose.
Here are some of the more basic types of yoga equipment:
While opinions vary when it comes to the proper yoga attire ultimately the choice is up to you, however it's a good idea not to wear tight fitting clothes. Loose-fitting, comfortable and easy to move in clothing will make your practice much more enjoyable.
A good yoga mat provides cushioning on a hard floor, this is especially needed if your yoga studio floor is made of cement or hard wood, it can also provide traction for your hands and feet thus preventing you from slipping or sliding when you’re doing your postures.
There are special towels that are made for yoga. You may find super- absorbent towels that will be quite helpful if you sweat. You can also buy a skid-less towel that you can use on your mat to help absorb sweat.
If you buy a lot of yoga accessories or want to carry with you your cell phone, a water bottle, or a yoga towel, you may want to buy a special bag to carry them. They look like duffel bags, and are often made of nylon. They can range in size and price, so make sure to find one that fits your specific needs.
They provide support for your spine, abdomen and legs in several different poses. Yoga bolsters can help you achieve better results overall.
Like blankets, yoga blocks are props that help you make yourself more comfortable and improve your alignment. Blocks are great for standing poses in which your hands don't reach the floor. Blocks can be made of foam bricks, bamboo, cork or wood. These also vary in price.
Yoga wedges can be used in many ways to add support and length for many different postures, especially under your heels, tail bone, or knees when practicing downward-facing dog to make it easier to place your hands flat on the floor without compromising correct form and posture.
They can help you feel relaxed and comfortable which is essential in the practice of yoga. Not only do they help keep the chill off, the folded blankets can be used as props or to sit and lie on during class, especially at the end of class for Savasana.
These are most commonly made from cotton or nylon and allow you to grasp body part which you cannot reach effectively. Yoga straps also give you added flexibility and help you hold your poses a little bit longer. They are particularly useful for bound poses if your hands do not reach each other, and for poses where you need to hold onto your feet but cannot reach them.
For beginning yoga students, a yoga kit may be the solution to all their problems. A basic yoga kit contains everything you need to get started practicing the art of yoga right away. A good kit can help you avoid confusion and the extra expense often spent on individual and unnecessary items.
For the most part yoga equipment is made to provide support to help you feel relaxed and move deeper into the poses. Tomorrow, I will be talking about how yoga can be used to help control your blood pressure and relieve stress.
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.
Hand balances are a common part of yoga practice. We move from chaturanga, to downward facing dog, to upward facing dog several times during practice. Thus causing the joints of the hand, elbow and shoulder to be at risk of injury. Injuries from yoga are common. The causes of joint injury may include: stiffness, hyper-mobility, muscle weakness, or performing hand balances improperly. We should not underestimate the importance the elbow joint has in the safety of practice. The elbows are situated between two mobile joints and are prone to strain.
Like the knee, the elbow is also a complex hinge joint. Like a hinge to a door, this type of joint allows primarily one plane of motion. In the elbow, there are 4 joints (3 bones) that enable not only bending and straightening (flexion and extension), but also rotating the hand up and down. The elbow joint is designed to be stable. In addition to ligaments, there are 16 muscles that control movement in the elbow, wrist and hand. Seven muscles that cross the elbow control the elbow specifically, and the other nine control the wrist and hand. When we lack stability in the elbow joint itself through injury, we rely more heavily on muscle groups to provide the stability we lack.
If we maintain proper alignment during hand balances, it will give the muscles the advantage they need to function most effectively. As we move from plank pose to chaturanga to upward facing dog, a tremendous amount of strain is placed on the joints if they are not aligned properly. With the hands placed firmly on the ground, you are immobilizing your wrists. The pressure of your hands against the ground provides the joints stability as the muscles attempt to flex against a solid surface. However, this action may be more difficult if our wrists our wrists are stiff and tight. Not being able to achieve a solid grip or hand placement on the floor,leaves one feeling unstable through the wrists and elbows, creating strain on the joints. In chaturanga for example, we need adequate flexibility to get the hands back far enough by the rib-cage so that the elbows are at an optimal 90 degrees. This position also requires shoulder flexibility to keep the elbows close to the body and scapula firm on the rib cage so the shoulders don’t come forward. Therefore, it may be necessary to modify this pose to avoid unnecessary strain to the joints. Building strength to support our weight takes work and practice. Modifying poses like plank and chaturanga by putting the knees on the mat is a great way to build strength over time.
Following these safety tips will prevent unnecessary injuries during yoga, creating a more enjoyable practice.
Inversion poses involve any asanas that lift the feet above the head. Other inversion poses that are well known include shoulderstand (salamba sarvangasana) and half shoulderstand (viparita karani); but even lying on the floor with your legs up the wall is an inversion pose. The concept behind inversion poses is expressed in yoga texts as viparita karani. Viparita karani is translated as meaning ‘opposite processes. This means facilitating a different perspective. From the purely physical point of view, this different perspective in inversion poses is literal – in terms of looking at the world from a different physical viewpoint – as well as involving the body being supported in a different way.
Yoga is more than simply physical exercises, there are other processes that are assisted. Yoga is designed to help us change mental habits as well as physical habits. Through increasing our ability to adapt to change, instead of being stuck in old habitual responses, we increase our capacity for growth and transformation. This applies in all areas of our lives.
There is a theoretical concept in yoga about why inversion postures help. Ayurveda considers that many of the body’s impurities are in the lower abdomen. When we raise our feet above the head, gravity is assisting us to move these impurities towards what the Ayurvedic system calls agni, or ‘fire’. Agni particularly relates to our ‘digestive fire’, and is thus located above our lower abdomen. So, by being upside down, and by using the deep and slow breathing typical of yoga, we help ‘burn off’ the impurities that were previously stuck. Improved circulation is a more readily apparent and less ‘esoteric’ benefit of inversion yoga poses.
Although inversion postures have many health benefits, the ability to receive those benefits depends as much on one’s capacity to comfortably hold these sometimes difficult postures. For example, headstand and shoulder stand should not be done by women who are pregnant, those who have neck pain, high or low blood pressure, neck injuries, or are menstruating. Neither of these postures should be attempted without the appropriate preparatory postures. Otherwise the risk of injury, or stiffness, particularly to the neck area, will result. Likewise, if doing these postures is uncomfortable or difficult, one should practice the modified versions, or simply work on other yoga poses that strengthen these areas.
Tips for Doing Inverted Postures
For Half Shoulder stand:
* Lengthen the exhale
* don’t lock the chin
* Keep your weight not on the head but on the wrists and elbows
* Don’t try to pull your torso (and legs) vertical like in full shoulder stand if you have difficulties with your neck. By doing so, you’re placing more pressure on your neck.
* Make sure you do the appropriate balancing postures afterwards. These include shalabhasana and bhujangasana
* Don’t worry so much about keeping your elbows and arms parallel. This will create more tension in your neck if you’re not proficient in this posture.
* Do the appropriate balancing postures. These are the same as for half shoulder stand.
* Don’t ever make adjustments whilst in headstand. If you feel your alignment is not quite right, come down and do it again.
* Never do this posture first up, or without the prerequisite postures. It will lead to stiffness in the neck at best, and injury at worst.
This posture is never done traditionally without preparation.
* Use a wall for support as a learning stage
* Support your head with all of your fingers, including the little fingers and thumbs
* Finding the right position for your head will make sure weight is distributed evenly, and ensure you don’t have to overly press down with your elbows to compensate
* Don’t hold your weight too much on the back of your body. It will place too much pressure on your neck.
* Rest your neck before doing the balancing postures, however. Lie down with your legs bent.
* Other balancing postures include chakravakasana, dvipada pitham with the arms, and shalabhasana
There may be fears or a sense of limitation about doing inversion poses that will be confronted. Sometimes, it’s best to start an asana gradually. Most inversion poses offer variations that one can use to build up strength and flexibility, as well as overcome any fear based feelings about the posture and the ability to do it.
*Caution: Do NOT attempt any of these poses if you suffer from neck or shoulder pain/injury. Always seek the advice of your physician prior to beginning any yoga regimen. Remember to practice within your own comfort level as well as, only attempt these poses once you have warmed up.
Practicing yoga is not always about getting a workout. People practice different types of yoga to benefit in various ways. For example, restorative yoga can help your body relax and open up; and there are yoga breathing techniques you can practice which can help to clear your mind and focus the brain. If you set aside a small amount of time during each day to practice yoga, you can benefit from it even more in your everyday life. But how can one fit a yoga practice into a busy life?
When you think of a yoga practice, what comes to your mind? Yoga mats, yoga pants, yoga blocks, or perhaps a yoga studio? You don’t necessarily need all of these things for your personal yoga practice. It depends on what kind of yoga you want to practice and if you have the space. need yoga props, or want to practice in a yoga studio.
The first thing to think about is where in your day can you set aside 10 to 20 minutes for practice? Is it at home before you leave for work or after the kids have left for school? Is it on a tea or lunch break? Is it at the end of your work day on your way home? Try to figure out when the most suitable time for your yoga is, and how much time you can dedicate to your practice, even if it is only 10 minutes.
Preparing for your daily yoga practice
Once you have decided when your yoga practice will be, you then need to make some preparations so that when it comes to doing your yoga practice there will be nothing to distract you. The time of the day you find most convenient will tell you where you are likely to set aside the time for your practice. Here are some ideas:
If you have chosen to practice in the morning you may want to do a short Sun Salutation Sequence before your morning shower. You can prepare by keeping your mat near the bathroom. You may even want to light a candle to create a relaxing environment and sense of meditation. It may be a good idea to have a clock or use a timer on your smartphone to track the time.
If you decide to take a few moments before going inside to work, why not sit in your car for 5 minutes and take some time to go through a few yoga breathing exercises? There is no need for any movement. Just sit up straight in your car seat and do some deep yoga breathing. It will help you prepare for the day, and calm down any adrenaline or stress so that you are ready to enter your workplace feeling clear-headed and ready for anything!
If you have a gym membership, maybe you could stop on your way home from work every day even if it’s just a short practice. Take half an hour to an hour, change your clothes and unwind with a sequence that helps you after a hard day at work.
Create a dedicated spot in your home to practice your yoga
It might be a good idea to create an area in your home that is like a retreat; a place you can go to whenever you want to practice your yoga, rest or meditate. Here are some things to consider in designing your very own yoga retreat in your home:
Light some scented candles or incense to help you to create a meditative state of mind
Perhaps you have a window with an inspiring view
Create your own collection of music to suit the different types of yoga you like to practice at different times of the day
What about lighting? Do you prefer bright lights or dim lights?
Do you live in a small space? If so, can you store your mat flat under your bed so that you don’t have to have it laid out in the way, and you don’t have to unroll it every time you want to use it
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