Simple moves for life – a yoga pose in 7 steps
At 19, I started yoga tough. I couldn’t touch my toes. My hips were tight and my upper back and chest were so muscle bound I could hardly breathe. To top it off I was highly competitive. When I looked around me and saw people doing arm balances, or sitting in wide open splits I was jealous. My need to be the best drove me hard and I pushed myself to the edge. I treated my yoga class like boot camp. But doing it tough isn’t all good. I overstretched, injured myself and stressed my nervous system. I had yogi burnout and I was only 25.
Not long after I fell pregnant, and with the changes in my body came a new perspective. I realized that slow and gentle isn’t a cop out. Instead it’s nurturing and it heals. I began to explore postures that opened me without effort. I rested in between sets. I allowed my body to guide me through the practice.
30 years later I have refined my approach and put together sequences that are easy to implement. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have or how open or tight you are. If you keep it simple and build in stages eventually the body will be open and strong.
One of the central poses of a yoga practice is mastering the down dog position. It’s quite a challenging posture because it requires that you have strong wrists, open shoulders and hamstrings. and a natural arch in your lower back. When most people first attempt this pose they’re arms start to ache, their hamstrings scream and they think what’s the point! Working into down dog in 7 steps is the key. Each step along the way is a pose in its own right. You can perform the sequence in one fluid flow or just do one a day, one day at a time. Eventually over time you’ll feel light and open in the final posture and be able to easily hold it for 10 breaths or more.
Start in Child pose take your seat to your heels and have your belly against your thighs. Reach your arms out in front and lift your elbows, Breath deeply so you can feel the back of your body breathing.
Come into cat pose on all fours. Have your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Breathe and relax here. This is a really simple way to strengthen your wrists and open your chest. When you have held the pose for 5-10 breaths return to child pose.
Come into half dog. This is a perfect variation to down dog. Make sure your hips and knees are in line as you stretch you arms out in front. Place a blanket under your knees if they are sensitive. Rest your forehead on the floor. Breathe deeply into your chest. Hold for 5-10 breaths and then come back into the cat position, send the seat back to the heels and rest in child pose.
If down dog is too challenging and you can’t do half dog because you have knee pain or it’s hard to get down to the floor, place your hands on blocks underneath your shoulders. Extend your spine and breathe. This is also a great variation if you have high blood pressure because the head stays level with the heart. If you don’t have blocks you can also do this with your hands at the wall with the arms extended. If the hamstrings are tight bend the knees.
Come into dolphin pose. This pose is great variation to down dog if you have any kind of carpal tunnel problems or weak wrists. It also works strongly to open the chest. Start the posture on your hands and knees in the cat position, then place your forearms on the floor directly underneath where your hands were. Make sure your elbows are shoulder width apart. Clasp your hands together inhale and lift your sitting bones to the ceiling. make sure you draw your chest towards your thighs. Bend your knees in the posture if your hamstrings are tight. Stay here for a few breaths and come down to child pose.
Start in child pose. Inhale and lift your sitting bones high to the ceiling. Keep your knees bent which helps to lengthen the spine especially if you are tight in the hamstrings. Make sure your feet are no wider than your inner hips. Bring your weight towards your hips away from your hands. Feel your spine long and extended. Take a few breaths here and come back and rest again in child pose.
To come into the full down dog position straighten your legs, make sure there is no pressure in your lower back or pain in the hamstrings. If there is, bend the knees again. Push the floor away from your hands sending the weight towards your hips. Engage your thigh muscles and breathe deeply into your chest. If you feel tightness behind the shoulders round your upper spine a little to relieve the pressure. Hold for 10 breaths unless you feel fatigued. Come down and rest in child pose.