Thursday, March 29, 2012

"spring cleaning" yoga

So it's that time of year... in which everyone talks about "renewal" and all things fresh and new. I've been thinking about my own process of renewal and how I've been spring cleaning my life lately.

A dear friend says I "spring cleaned" in cyberspace when I moved by blog to this new URL and did a lot of blog reorganizing. True enough :)

Twisting poses in yoga are said to be cleansing. When we twist in a yoga asana, it's almost like massaging our internal organs especially in the abdominal area, stimulating them to do their thing. Here are a few twisted poses I've been practicing. I start with 3-5 sun salutation A and 2 sun salutation B on each side to warm up, then sequence the rest from standing to seated to supine poses then a final relaxation.

Twisted Chair/Revolved Chair Pose

Start in chair pose:
chair pose (source)

Then, keeping the weight on your heels (so you don't feel like you're going to fall forward!), inhale, then exhale and initiate the twist from your spine into revolved chair/twisted chair:

revolved chair/twisted chair (source)
 In revolved chair, you'll want both hips to be level or parallel to the floor, if that makes sense (meaning one side isn't jutting upwards, as is the tendency in this twist). In this pose, you can keep your drishti (gazing point or point of focus) on a spot on the floor (as pictured on left). Or if you're comfortable, look toward the side wall or past the top shoulder. As in any pose, if you're breathing in a relaxed way, then that's a good indication that you can stay in the pose or even deepen the stretch. But if you're feeling short of breath, ease out of it. To come out of the pose, inhale, then exhale to engage the abdominals (thus protecting the spine) and then return to a neutral spine. Then relax in a forward bend - you can keep the knees bent a little -- or a lot --which is nice too if you just want to relax your torso over your thighs. Do a neutral forward forward bend also in between sides.
revolved chair, variation (source)

Here's another fun variation, which is great for tight shoulders (which I almost always have from working at the computer all day): -->

 And yeah, the beach would be great too...

 Revolved Triangle

revolved triangle (source)

I have to admit that revolved triangle is not one of my favorite poses. Especially on the left side, because of my tight left hamstring and overall weakness on my left side. But I know this pose is good for me to work on stability along with the twisting and the hamstring stretch.

Remember also to keep a tiny bend in the front knee by moving the front shin bone forward eeeeever so slightly. 

When I do this pose, I ALWAYS use a block as a prop. When I'm on my right side, I position the block on the outside of my front foot. When I'm on my left (always the more challenging side), I position it on the inside of my front foot (which is another modification). Depending on how I feel and my range of motion that day, I position the block either on the tall side or the short side as necessary. A stack of books will suffice too if you don't have a block.

block on the inside of the front foot (less range of motion)
block on the outside of the front foot (more range of motion)

(Those aren't my veiny hands and feet, are you kidding me?!? *wink*)

I also keep my gaze on the floor for revolved triangle, since this pose is challenging enough for me. Also, most of the time I start with my top arm on my hip instead of extended upward as in the picture - keeping my hand on my hip encourages me to think about the position of my torso and to really initiate the twist from the core rather than forcefully trying to stick my arm up in the air (which will probably make me huff and puff or feel a side cramp or get lightheaded, or all of the above).

Oh, and I don't think I ever get to that extension as pictured above with his chest nice and open, the bottom hand flat on the floor, and both arms almost in a straight line. But I'm ok with that, as long as I feel a sense of opening or expansion in my torso as I twist according to my own range of motion.

One of the most important things I learned when we studied anatomy by Paul Grilley is "don't let the tail wag the dog" - which, he explains in other words, don't compromise the extremities for what the axis (center) of the body can't do. With these twisting poses especially, we initiate the movement from the spine and the abdominal area, keeping our abdominals engaged to protect the spine. Sometimes we may have a tendency to try to force our bodies to achieve the external form or look of the pose (which is not really a safe thing to do), but it's usually safer to just modify so we can achieve the function of the pose in a way that is best for our bodies. Don't get me wrong, form is important too in terms of safe alignment - but the form of one person's fullest expression of the pose is different from another person's.

Seated Twist
gentle seated twist (source)
seated twist (source)

In either of these seated twists, you'll want to keep both shoulders relaxed and down, away from the ears.

And here is my favorite twist, below. It's such a relaxing pose.

Reclined Twist/Supine Twist

reclined twist (source)

Other variations are having both legs together and bent, or both legs straight and out to the side (although that is not always the most relaxing variation for me). If your knees don't get all the way to the ground (which happens to me when I'm reeeeaaaally stiff and my lower back is troubling me), prop up your knees with a yoga block, a pillow, or even a stack of books - at enough height off the ground that you can keep both shoulders relaxed on the floor. Once again - don't let the tail wag the dog!

Hold for several deep breaths, then slowly come out of it (supporting your knees if necessary) and hug your knees to your chest by holding the back of the thighs close to the knee joint. Being prone to knee issues, I always do it this way rather than holding the front of my knees or kneecaps and pulling them in. 

Twisting is like wringing out your body of toxins. So as I twist, sometimes I also visualize wringing my self of mental or emotional toxins as well - it's like mental spring cleaning.

What thoughts am I holding on to that don't serve me or others?
What habits am I holding on to that don't serve me or others?
What emotions am I holding on to that don't serve me or others?
How can I let go of these thoughts, habits, or emotions?
Of course, after all that yoga detox I tend to re-evaluate my food choices as well, along with lightening up my favorite recipes in time for the warmer weather. I am excited to put together my favorite refreshing salads, cook some lighter spring soups and lighter bean-based dishes this weekend - hope to post some new recipes soon! (This will keep me from giving in to Cape Cod salt & vinegar chips, my big weakness. Reminder to self: internal spring cleaning!!!)

OK now I need to spring clean my home this weekend too... I must manage my work clutter and repurpose some old things for a more functional and aesthetically pleasing space.

What kind of spring cleaning do you do? Any favorite spring rituals? Do you make any changes in your life along with the change in seasons?

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cyberlaundry said...

I love the "mental twisting" questions! I hope I can do these poses din, parang ang sarap!

Would you consider uploading videos of yourself doing these things? Parang instructional yoga bites! :) To savor din :)

Love you! - Kamelle

Mia said...

Video??? Yikes, I can't stand to watch myself!

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