Friday, February 19, 2010

A Quiet Yoga Practice

We've been doing quieter work this past week, with most classes ending in a long supta baddha konasana (as in the picture), and some simple pranayama (breath work), before savasana.   Many of the other poses we did were done with support -- not every class did all of the following poses, but most classes did some: backbending work over a chair or bolster;  chair shoulder stand or a wall-supported shoulderstand, or plow pose with feet on a chair; legs up the wall pose; forward bends with the head resting on a chair or a bolster.   All classes started with supine leg and abdominal work -- not necessarily easy poses, but quieter because the back and head are resting on the floor.

Why do we do quieter poses?    You've felt how the more active poses invigorate us while we work to stretch and strengthen our bodies.   This active work "wakes us up".   But sometimes we need to slow down in our yoga practice, just as sometimes we need to slow down in our busy lives, to maintain our health.    Most, if not all, of us experience frazzled, jangled nerves from time to time.   We may feel stressed from too much busy-ness and from too many obligations, and then we may get agitated or angry or depressed from this. Our physical health can then start to suffer: we may get sick more readily, we may have more headaches, more digestive problems, higher blood pressure, more heart problems.

The quieter asana and pranayama work in yoga helps us to calm our minds and soothe the nervous system, and it "recharges our batteries".  It can bring the immune system back into better working order.    Many of you commented after class how calm and relaxed you felt, especially after doing supta baddha konasana along with the simple breathing exercises.  We all need this calmness from time to time.

You might be interested in reading this article:
Restorative Yoga For Body and Mind

It includes photos of a few restorative poses, and lists the benefits of these poses.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day 30 of 30 Day Yoga Challenge!

We're done with the "Challenge"!   How did it go for you?   I know it went well for many of you during the first couple weeks, but I get the feeling that people slowed down these last couple weeks.

How can I make it a more effective program the next time we do this?   Would you do it another time?

Would it help to have a "log" at the studio for you to post your practice/class hours?
Would it help to have a couple of workshop classes designed to help you develop your own home practice?
Would it help to have open practice hours at the studio?
Would it help to have a "competition" -- those who completed the "Challenge" would get some sort of "prize"?

I'm hoping that the program at least gave you all some confidence that you can do your own practice at home, and that it doesn't have to be something "difficult" to schedule for yourselves.   Doing a few minutes each day is more effective than for an hour once every couple weeks.

In a couple classes this past week I mentioned that Geeta Iyengar (daughter of B.K.S. Iyengar) was asked what pose she would practice if she could only do one on any given day.   She answered that she'd do an inversion (headstand, shoulder stand).   Keep this in mind for your own practice.   Geeta says that poses that bring the head below the heart and/or the feet above the heart bring harmony to the body and mind.

If you're not practicing shoulderstand and headstand regularly, consider adding them to your practice, especially shoulderstand.  If you can't do either, do downward facing dog pose and then lie with legs up the wall to get the inversion benefits.Healthcare Yoga Lift Relaxation Station

(This image is of a devise that makes "headstands" possible for people with neck problems)

Friday, February 5, 2010

My own practice for the day

I had a good, long, varied practice for today focusing on seated forward bends and twists -- many poses, not held particularly long except for 5 minute sirsasana (head stand) and 5 minute sarvangasana (shoulder stand).

Gomukhasana arms -- a couple repetitions
Sun salutations -- 4 or 5
   Eka pada sirsasana
   Parsvaikapada s.
   Parsva sirs.
   Parivrttaikapada sirs.
Virasana -- on heels and in between heels
Long Supta virasana
Brief Paryankasana
Upavistha konasana
Baddha konasana
Triangmukaikapada paschimottanasana
Janu sirsasana
Ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana
Bharadvajasana II
Marichyasana III -- a few repetitions, working toward clasping
Ardha matsyendrasana -- a couple repetitions, working toward clasping
  Ekapada sarv.
  Parsvaikapada sarv.
  Sarvang. II
  Drop back to setu bandha -- a couple times
Urdhva prasarita padasana -- a couple repetitions
Jathara parivartanasana -- a couple repetitions
A short Savasana

As an exercise to you Harmony Yoga students (and any others who are interested)  -- can you figure out what these poses are?   Use books such as "Light on Yoga", "Yoga, the Iyengar Way", or search the web.
Light on Yoga: The Bible of Modern Yoga...Yoga: The Iyengar Way

Yoga reduces inflammation, improves heart health -- two more reasons for a regular practice!

Today (Friday, February 5) is the 22nd day of the 30 Day Yoga Challenge.  You're almost there!   Read below for more reasons to practice yoga regularly.

Thanks to L.A. for forwarding this article to me!

An article in, Yoga Reduces Inflammation and Improves Heart Health cites evidence of more reasons to practice yoga on a regular basis.

Besides the usual reasons people have for practicing yoga -- to develop greater flexibility, strength, balance,  and to reduce stress -- there are also physiological benefits to the regular practice of yoga.

From the article, "People who regularly practice yoga reduce compounds in the blood that contribute to inflammation. Yoga has also been shown to increase heart rate variability (HRV) which is a sign of good heart health."

Two studies were cited:
In the first study, blood samples were drawn from woman who were either "yoga novices" (less than 12 classes), or "yoga experts" (those who had practiced twice a week for 2 years).   The "yoga novices" had higher levels of cytokine IL-6 in their blood than the "yoga experts".   Cytokine IL-6 increases inflammation in the body, which contributes to heart disease and diabetes, as well as other age-related diseases.   Lower levels of this substance help to keep us healthier as we age, and the practice of yoga is one method of lowering these levels.  For more info read Yoga Reduces Cytokine Levels

The next study measured the heart rate variability (HRV) in men who were either "yoga novices" or "yoga experts".   The "yoga experts" had a higher HRV, which indicates greater heart health.   The heart rate of a healthy person is steady, but ready to respond to other stimuli that require a higher heart rate.   For more info on this study, read Yoga Boosts Heart Health

The author of this article concludes that practicing yoga just twice a week gives us many physical benefits.   NOTE that this is a regular yoga practice, not just the occasional class.  The benefits come from steady, sustained practice.