After class tonight I was thinking about all of the benefits that come from stretching the side body. From standing side bending – Bikram style -to Tadaasana, it just feels so good to reach the torso out of the hips and stand tall.
About 3 weeks ago now I started a new job, one where I spend hour after hour seated with my fingers splayed across a keyboard and my eyes glued to a screen. I would be lying if I said I have not been enjoy my first weeks of work. However, as the weeks winding down, I begin to feel my body sinking into itself. This feeling is a reminder of how important my personal practice is. I am experiencing how distracting it can be to your productivity when there is an ache in your low back or a tightness in your neck. Perhaps a desk job requires two short practices a day, one before you sit down to work and one after! These are counter poses to 8 hours of sitting.
That being said, I am very happy to have a handful of poses to share that are keeping my side body open and my mind from being distracted by minor aches and pains due to inactivity. This small group of postures you can work into your practice, or do whenever you find a minute:
1. Child’s pose: not only is child’s pose a great passive stretch for your low back, it is also a wonderful moment to focus on your breath and clear your head. As you relax the front body over your legs breath into the low back. Allow the breath to open up the back of the ribcage and reach with the fingertips to feel length across and along the axis of the body. Child’s pose is one kind of cure-all, just try it next time you feel out of sorts.
2. Cat/cow: yes please! Letting the breath guide you, move into table-top and then fluidly arch and round the spine. Lead with your low back as you augment the curvature of your spine from convex to concave. For extra opening target the side body directly by send the ribcage from side to side. Breath into this opening.
3. Adho mukha savaasana: better known as down dog, this lovely yoga staple stretches the side body from your fingertips, along the armbones all the way to you hips. Remember to use the exhale, emptying out, to draw the navel up and back. Keep sending the hip points to the sky to feel more side body stretch.
4. Standing side bending: I discovered the magic of this side opener early on in my yoga life, when I was taking hot yoga (or Bikram) classes twice a day in sunny Florida! That was the life. Standing side bending is exactly what it sounds like, but a few things to remember:
a. Keep your feet firmly and evenly grounded by rooting through the bottoms of your feet.
b. Feel the quadriceps engage and lift up away from the knee caps.
c. Maintain a level pelvis while engaging the low abdominal muscles. This is very important for sustaining the integrity of your low back. In side stretches you want to be bending above the sacrum, by keeping the pelvis level and engaging the low belly you can keep weight and stress out of those vunerable low back muscles.
d. Squeeze the biceps against either side of the head, before you begin to bend to the side think about engaging every muscle from your ankles to your finger tips. That way, as you begin to bend toward one side or the other you avoid collapsing into the hip crease.
e. Grow the spine out of the hips and stretch out the side body. Breath into the spaces between the ribs, find more areas along the side body to open and send your breath there. Feel the heat rising as you hold your side bend, and enjoy!
5. Extended side angle: Another wonderful side body opener is extended side angle, or parsvakonaasana because it not only brings length along the body’s edge but it also invites heart opening. It is probably a good idea to trace through a few Sun Salutations, both A and B, just to get the shoulders and hips greased up. Recently I took a yoga class where the instructor had us moving between reverse warrior and parsvakonaasana with every breath. We did about 5 pulses, which brought up the heart rate as well as creating a sense of fluidity and rhythm, like a dance. And to get a bit of that heart opening I mentioned earlier, work into variations, for example releasing your hand to the inside of your front foot or go for the bind. Make sure if that you have are warm and balanced as you work towards the bind, you may get some sparkling sensations in the shoulders, or maybe even a sweet release as your heart opens to look towards the heavens. It is truely delicious!
That is all for today’s installment. Forgive me for the delay between posts, it is my goal to begin to write more regularly and share my personal practice, as well as the discoveries I encounter as a teacher. Please feel free to comment with any questions or suggestions for this yoga blog space, I’d love to hear from you!