A simple mindfulness practice can help us physiologically, energetically and emotionally.
By noticing what is happening right now and tuning into our moment by moment experience, we help to turn on our parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system) and switch off the sympathetic nervous system (fight /flight response).
Our stress levels go down, blood pressure drops, the heart rate slows, our immune system reactivates, digestion improves and inflammation decreases. We feel more grounded and less wired for danger.
Practicing a slower type of Yoga such as Yin Yoga can really help us to cultivate a mindfulness practice, noticing what we feel moment by moment.
I have devised a very simple sequence here that you can do at home. You can use whatever you have to hand as props such as pillows and folded up (Bunnies and Zen 🐰) towels if you don't have bolsters and blocks.
I hope you will enjoy this sequence.
I start my practice with a very simple meditation. Five minutes of seated meditation helps to set the tone for your practice.
Sitting cross-legged or sitting between the feet (seiza style) you can sit on a cushion or a block. Make sure that you are comfortable - if the knees complain you can pad them with cushions or folded up towels or place blocks under the thighs to support the knees. You can rest your hands in your lap or on your knees.
Shoulders relaxed and down, chin tucked in slightly to keep the neck long. Hips rooted down into the earth but head reaching towards the sky. You may wish to close your eyes so that you can really tune in.
Start by noticing your breath. You don't have to do anything in particular with your breath, just notice it, allow it to flow.
Notice how when you inhale your muscles contract, and when you exhale, these muscles relax and let go. I like to use this mantra from my teacher Bernie Clark:
'Inhale I am aware of my body, exhale I relax my body'.
Notice whatever comes up, the mind will wander but keep bringing it back to this moment, this breath.
Forward bends have a very calming effect on our central nervous system, so I have chosen one to begin our practice, Butterfly Pose.
This is a lovely way to work the spine without requiring too much of the hamstrings.
However, if you have herniated or bulging discs, you may have been told not to forward bend at all. In this case, you can do a reclined version of this pose (lie on your back or on a bolster).
Come to an appropriate edge in the pose. Come to where your body naturally stops, without forcing or pulling. Over time this edge might change, and you might be invited to go deeper. Use props to help support you; you can rest your head on a block or a bolster. If you feel sharp, electric or burning sensations, you have gone too deep.
We continue our mindfulness practice while in the pose, noticing anything that comes up for us, both physically and emotionally.
This pose can be held for 3 to 5 minutes or perhaps even longer.
Another calming forward fold, in the Yin Yoga style of practice we aim to relax the muscles so that we can get into the deeper tissues of the body. The use of props can help you relax even more. See here three variations.
Relaxing the body also can be very calming and affirming for the mind. There is no need to strive to get somewhere in the pose, we accept where we are, and surrender to it.
'I am enough' 'I am where I am supposed to be.'
Now I bring my attention to the backbends.
Yoga master BKS Iyengar recommended backbends as a cure for depression. They are stimulating and uplifting but can be scary for those who aren't used to them.
So let's start gently.
The Sphinx Pose is a great starting point and a way to prepare for deeper backbends.
For a more relaxing version of Sphinx pose you can put a bolster underneath your armpits.
There is a very gentle curve in the spine here, a natural curve that sometimes gets lost as we age and we can lose the ability to bend backwards or even straighten up.
Here is a deeper version, you can allow the head to drop down which will give a nice stretch to the back of the neck or lift the head up to stretch the throat.
Deeper still bend the knees or place something underneath the elbows.
In traditional Chinese medicine, it's believed that fear is stored in the kidneys. In this pose we stimulate the kidneys, releasing fear and cultivating wisdom.
This second backbend opens the heart and chest.
Using a prop like a bolster or a block to support the upper body will help you to relax.
This feels really delicious for me, but opening your chest in this way can make you feel vulnerable, so go slowly and carefully and maintain calm breathing throughout.
In Chinese medicine grief and sadness is stored in the lungs. In this pose, especially with the arms overhead, we stimulate the heart and lung meridians. If some emotions arise, don't be afraid.
Just like our physical body has an edge our emotions have an edge too. We don't need to push when they are ready to come out, they will.
We end our practice with a twist.
This is a great way to rebalance the nervous system and to release tension from the spine.
You can use props to support a knee that is floating or to support a shoulder. When the bones are supported, the muscles can relax.
Let gravity do the work here.
Make sure you do both sides and hold for 3-5 mins each side.
Finish in Savasana 🙏🏻
Laura is an experienced and skilled Bikram and Yin Yoga Teacher with wealth of knowledge and all round lovely person. ❤️
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