By Claire Chatterton
How did we practice yoga in 2020?
Many of us settled into life at home, living rooms were quickly converted into your own personal yoga studio as there were no live classes offered. And perhaps we learned to expect the doorbell 30 seconds into breath work or savasna or a little somebody needed a juice box while you were perfecting the ultimate downward facing dog pose. Yoga trends changed fast.
After the year we just had – who knows! But one thing is for certain: mental and physical health and wellness is a top priority.
Focus on mental health
The global pandemic has certainly catalyzed a surge in anxiety and stress-related disorders strongly associated with increased financial hardships, bereavements, and social isolation. If mental health was not a priority for yoga instructors before, it certainly is now. While yoga is not a cure for mental health problems, the mindful approach and stillness cultivated by a regular practice can help alleviate stress and anxiety.
Breathing exercises and restorative movements to balance the nervous system and help manage those more difficult emotions are key to any fruitful practice. Yoga plays an important role in reducing stress, reducing sympathetic activity increasing parasympathetic activity, decreasing blood pressure, improving sense of well-being and decreasing anxiety levels. Let’s dive into a pranayama (controlled breathing) exercise and two asanas (poses) that’ll perhaps bring new energy into your time on the mat.
Sitali breath: Fold your tongue like a taco and inhale deeply through the ‘straw’ or take air in through your teeth if your tongue cannot fold. Close your mouth, hold the breath on a count of eight and then exhale through the nose. Continue for a eight breaths, sustain for a maximum of eight minutes. When you end the practice of Sitali, finish with several minutes of silent meditation to feel the sensations in your body and notice if your system feels refreshed, cooled, or renewed. Counter all that internal heat and bring your body back into balance.
Triangle pose strengthens the legs and stretches the groin, hamstrings, and hips, and opens the chest and shoulders. It also challenges and improves balance and stability.
- Engage your right thigh muscles and draw your right femur into its socket. Extend your right hand toward the front of the room, keeping your right hip tucked.
- Lower your right hand down onto your shin or ankle. If you are more open, bring your right hand to the floor on the inside or on the right foot. Do whichever one feels most comfortable.
- The left shoulder stacks on top of the right one as you open your chest, reaching your left fingertips toward the ceiling while keeping your left shoulder rooted in its socket.
- Turn your head to take your gaze up toward your left fingertips. If this is uncomfortable for your neck, it’s also fine to keep the head in a more neutral position.
- Continue to draw your right thigh muscles upward, deepening the crease in your right hip.
- Soften your right knee slightly to prevent hyperextension (this is called a micro bend).
- Stay for at least five breaths.
- Repeat the pose with your left leg forward.
Wild Thing knee to floor pose stretches different parts of your body such as neck, chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, upper back, hamstrings and psoas. It enables you to build strength in your shoulders and upper arms. It opens up your hips and hip flexors. Additionally, it also strengthens the back muscles and improves spinal mobility.
- Start in downward-facing Dog
- Bring your weight into your right hand and roll onto the outer edge of your right foot like Side Plank Pose. Float right knee to the mat and bend right knee.
- Curl back through your upper back to create a sweeping action of the shoulder blades into the back of the rib cage.
Keep breathing and curl your head back, extending your left arm from your heart and expressing your power and freedom
Hold for 5-10 breaths breaths, return to Down Dog and repeat on the other side.
“Yoga is a dance between control and surrender – between pushing and letting go – and when to push and when to let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your being.” – Joel Kramer
Claire Chatterton, Certified Yoga instructor at Vidant Wellness Center-Washington. Join her Mondays and Wednesdays at 9am for Yoga.