Poses to Set Your Energy Free

So, you’ve heard?  Sitting is the new smoking!  And, hunching over electronic devices, desks, and everything else is the new look.

Join me in taking a break from whatever you have going on, and pick a pose or three from below.  Get the energy and circulation flowing, especially through the shoulders, hips, and back.

The affirmations, one of the unique features of Ananda Yoga, can be said loudly, with conviction (as long as no one else minds….my cats love them), or they can be done inwardly in a less “free” environment.

Repeat them outwardly or inwardly, like you really mean them!  Affirmations help inspire the mind:  they awaken energy, joy, and brilliant ideas that you have to solve the world’s challenges.

MOVE IT

These poses are especially designed to get you up out of your chair for that 8-10 minute break of standing for every 20 minutes of sitting.

Marching in Place

  • Step away from your chair, your desk, your computer, or whatever is holding you down
  • March in place, lifting those knees.  By all means, go somewhere if you need to, because that counts too.
  • Swing those arms or move that body so your personal fitness device counts your steps (very important, every step to 10,000 a day counts!)
  • Pretend that you are happy, enjoy this stepping, maybe even crack a smile!
  • Affirm:  “I am awake and ready!”  (yes, you keep saying it while you march, for at least a couple minutes, maybe more.)

Calf & Ankle Recharging

  • Feel free to hold onto the nearest chair, desk, or wall with one hand.
  • Engage that core, gently, lifting inward toward the spine and lengthening up (to give you stability and balance)
  • Balance on the right foot, and bend the knee of the left foot, tensing the calf up behind you, then tense the calf back down, repeat 3x’s.  Then do ankle rotations in both directions 3x’s.  Then repeat all that on the other side.
  • Yes, these are kinda like those airplane exercises we should all be doing when we sit a lot, so they could be done from a sitting position.

Shoulder Rotations

  • Bend your arms, elbows out, fingers on your shoulders.
  • Rotate your shoulders forward 3x’s (not just your arms) then rotate backwards 3x’s.

SITTING POSES

So, it turns out it’s not good to stand all day either!  Truly, moderation in all things.  You could even do some of these standing as well.

The “W” Pose 

  • Imagine yourself hang gliding or skydiving (because both require your arms to be in a “W” position, visualize the “Wind” in your face and hair!)
  • From sitting or standing position, put your  arms in a “W” shape, elbows bent, forearms and palms forward.  Inhale, and as you exhale, draw the shoulders down and back toward one another (elbow also are drawn down).  This engages those upper back postural muscles, and creates a stretch across the  chest or “pec” muscles.  Inhale, come back to center.
  • Do this movement a few times, then hold the shoulders/arms down and back for a count of 8-10 seconds.  Feel free to repeat at least 3x’s a day, or more.
  • Draw the navel toward the spine to prevent overarching the back, and keep the natural curves of the spine.
  • Great pose to do every time you drink some water, use the restroom, or whatever cue you’d like to use (yes, multiple times a day!)

The Lion Pose

  • This pose is will scare everyone out of your way, at the office or while driving.  Try it, it works!  Oh, and it also releases jaw tension as well.  Bonus:  kids love it, so teach them!
  • Best done sitting, hands palms down on the thighs,
  • Inhale, and as you exhale (and you exhale completely, so it goes on for a little while), hinge forward from the hips slightly, keep the length/strength through the back, open the mouth as far and wide and you can, stick out the tongue as far as you can, and open those eyes nice and wide.
  • Come back to upright, rest, notice the effect it has in releasing and recharging the throat, the jaw, the mouth.  Repeat at least 3x’s.  Take your time.
  • Affirm:  before, during, or after, “I purify my thoughts, my deeds, my every action.”

Warrior 1 — The Lunge

  • You need this pose to stretch the hip flexors on the front of the hip, those muscles that get so tight from all the sitting, driving, etc.
  • Can be done standing or sitting.  I’ll describe it sitting, preferably a padded chair.  Turn so the seat of chair supports the right thigh, you can hold onto the back of the chair with the right arm, and the left leg is bent and the thigh gently drawn behind you with the left foot on the floor.
  • Gently anchor your navel toward the spine to prevent the low back from over arching, and also gently tuck the tailbone under or forward (similar to tucking the tailbone in a cat pose), which should allow you to feel the front of the hip stretching.
  • As an option, raise that left arm upward, but keep your shoulder gently drawn downward.
  • Hold for about 5 breaths, or about 20-30 seconds.  Repeat on the other side.
  • Affirm:  “I attune my will to the source of all power.”

Pidgeon — The Figure 4 Stretch

  • Another essential, daily pose to keep the back of the hip muscles open so they don’t pull on the low back.
  • Slide forward to the edge of your chair.
  • Cross the left leg over the right bent knee, right foot stays on the floor.
  • Lengthen upward through the natural curves of the spine, which should slightly intensify the stretch in the left back of the hip. Breathe 4-5 times, or about 20-30 seconds.
  • Once that stretch subsides, you can then hinge forward from the hips, keep the back long and strong, with shoulders down and back toward each other.  Rest, and repeat on the other side.
  • Affirm:  “I rise above all thoughts of past and future, into the eternal now.”

Head to the Knee Pose — Hamstring/calf stretch

  • To start, note that if you are like most people, your head will get nowhere near your knee, and that’s okay!
  • From sitting on that edge of the chair, keep your right leg in a right angle with knee bent and right foot on the floor, then stretch out the left leg, placing the palms gently on each thigh, hinge forward at the hips, and keep the back strong and lengthened, with the shoulders down and gently drawn toward one another.
  • Point and flex the left foot a few times, then hold in flexion, toes pointing toward you, keeping that good posture of the back and the shoulders.  Breathe  4-5 times, or about 20-30 seconds.  Rest, and repeat on the other side.
  • Affirm:  “Left and right and all around me, life’s harmonies are mine.”

There are many other poses you could do, but these some of the essential poses that could be done everyday, mutiple times a day, to keep the energy flowing.

Combine these some of the pranayama/breathing techniques, perhaps especially watching the breath, with an affirmation, blending into stillness, and you would have yourself a full course of inner peace.

As it promises in the Bhagavad Gita, “Even a little practice of yoga and meditation will save you from dire fears and colossal suffering.”

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It’s all about….Breathing

It’s automatic, if you don’t think about it, it still happens.  And yet, it’s one of the very few things you can actually control in your life! It’s a critical link to our sense of inner peace. In yoga and meditation we often say our true essence is peace, we just need ways to remember this. Using the breath is and always has been the number one technique for cultivating inner peace, anytime, anywhere.

Breathing is the vehicle for our energy, our reactions, our thoughts.  In yoga, the Sankrit word for what we call breathing techniques is pranayama, prana meaning “energy,” and yama meaning “control.”  Control the breath, and it can positively influence mind, body, and emotions.

This piece will explore some of the foundations of a few breathing techniques. There is great power in simplicity. And, just because it seems simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy. However, everything gets better with practice and deepening awareness.

Belly Breathing

We are all familiar with the counsel that’s given during a stressful time,  “Take some deep breaths!”   And this deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, “three-part” breathing, or “belly breathing,” is when we expand the belly as we inhale, then the ribcage, and lastly the chest below the collarbone, without raising the shoulders.  Essentially you could imagine a large balloon from the pubic bone to the collar bone, expanding in all directions.

When you are able to, practice belly breathing lying down on your back; this position induces relaxation almost immediately because we associate lying down with sleeping. (Sometimes if I lead a yoga class with this first, students get so relaxed, they don’t want to stand up!)  Notice that even without deepening your breath, the navel rises and falls. Gently lengthen that inhalation and exhalation without straining, noticing those three parts expanding as you inhale: belly, ribcage, and the chest.  Even when you are not able to lie down, you can remember what it felt like and translate that into your upright posture.

Also try inhaling through the nostrils, allowing that natural filtration to take place through the nose, and exhaling through the mouth, gently pursing the lips together making a gentle sound.  Try a ratio of 1:2: however long your inhalation, make your exhalation twice as long.  This has been shown to induce a sense of calmness.  As many physical and occupational therapists coach, “smell the flowers” on the inhalation through the nose, and “blow out the candles” on the exhalation through the mouth.

Try practicing this technique for about 5-10 breaths, or more. Deep breathing brings so many benefits: physiologically, psychologically, spiritually, and in ways we are just discovering. Even if you are working on a computer, doing yardwork, working on a presentation, a creative project, employ belly breathing and feel the energy flowing.

Double Breathing, Tensing and Relaxing

Let’s also try a variation on belly breathing:  double-breathing.  A short, and a long “sniff!,” “sniffffff” inhalation (belly expands), followed by a short, and a long breathy “ha,” “haaaaaa” exhalation (belly draws inward).  These are kind of like expresso shots of oxygen, or otherwise known as a great replacement for caffeine!  Especially effective if you can be near a window or outside in the fresh air.

Then combine these double sniff, sniff inhalations with tensing the whole body with low, medium, and high tension, and then as you exhale with the double ha, haaaaa, relax the body from high back down to no tension. Imagine that you are wringing out the body like a sponge, completely ridding it of any lasting tension.  Repeat three times, or more.

These are great to do when you feel your energy waning. Lead meeting participants in doing them, especially if coffee has run out!  Better yet, convert the conference room meeting into a walking meeting, and do these to start out the meeting.  Kids love these exercises too. I was once in a group with 20 kids and parents when our hayride got delayed by 15 minutes, and I led the kids in breathing/energizing techniques. They loved it, and were fired up with focused energy and yet amazingly relaxed when it was our turn do the hayride!

Ribcage Breathing

There is also costal or “ribcage” breathing, a kind of hybrid of belly breathing, where the core/abdominals are held inward and upward (stabilizing the core and low back) while doing strenuous or balancing exercises such a planks, or balancing poses. So, while the pelvic floor muscles at the base of the torso/spine draw inward and upward, the abdominals draw inward toward the spine, and the small muscles of the back lengthen and strengthen upward, the inhalation focuses on expanding the ribcage (instead of the belly), and then the exhalation relaxes the ribcage (and the belly and all the core muscles around it remain engaged).

Similar to belly breathing, it can be practiced lying on your back, with that imagery of all the core muscles pulling in and up gently (think about engaging those core muscles at 80% of maximum, not going all out), with your hands on your ribcage, feeling its expansion and contraction. You can also place a hand on the belly to try to keep it quiet during ribcage breathing. If you do challenging strengthening or balance moves or poses, you may be doing this style of breathing without even realizing it, and if you don’t already do this breathing, you will notice a huge improvement in strength and balance!

Watching the Breath

In contrast to belly breathing, double breathing, and ribcage breathing, there’s the natural, relaxed type of breath. It’s the background breathing that goes on during the day and when we sleep, which isn’t lengthened or controlled.  This is the other side of the spectrum from belly breathing.  The key is to observe the breath, without controlling it. Sounds easy, but it definitely takes some practice. The more you let go and don’t control or lengthen the inhale or the exhale, the more the breath becomes shallow and relaxed.

Try watching the breath after you have done some belly breathing or double breathing.  Watch and observe the breath, without controlling it.  Try this using nostril breathing, but if necessary, make adjustments if you have allergies or a cold. You know you are doing it correctly when there is no sound to the breath.  The pauses at the top of the inhale, and the bottom of the exhale become longer; not because you are lengthening them, but because the breath is relaxing on its own, without your control.

This technique, a concentration technique on the breath, can be practiced to train and focus the mind. It’s useful to calm the mind when you are feeling fear, anxiety, or nervousness, especially because you can practice it and no one will know.  Every time the mind gets distracted, and tries to think about something else, just bring it back as soon as you notice, without judgement, to observing your breath.  Even if at first this is all you are doing:  bringing back the attention to the breath, again and again.

Affirmations With the Breath

Once you are comfortable with watching the breath, you can add another layer of an affirmation, sometimes called a mantra. This is essentially a positive, uplifting phrase to further help concentrate the mind. One classic phrase is mentally affirming “I am” with the inhalation, and affirming “Spirit” with the exhalation; in Sanskrit, Hong Sau, and one of the meditation techniques introduced to the West by Yogananda. Or, you can substitute any positive quality, for example, “I am” with the inhale and “Peace,” with the exhale, or “Calm,” “Joy,” “Love,” etc. Very simple, yet extremely powerful.

Posture and Gaze

It’s also helpful to have the body in a good posture (spine lengthening upward through the top of the head, shoulders down and gently back, chin parallel to the floor) while practicing breathing techniques, and to have the eyes closed to lessen distraction, if you can. Whether the eyes are open or not, allow the gaze of your eyeballs to be lifted just above a mental horizon in the distance. Imagine looking just above the horizon line of the ocean or a mountain, which places your gaze at the same level as the point between the eyebrows.  This is the same area of the brain that is lit up during functional MRI’s of meditators.  The point between the eyebrows corresponds with the prefrontal lobes of the brain, the area of the brain responsible for our feelings of happiness, contentment, and inner peace.

Stillness

Watching of the breath, with or without affirmation, can be done at anytime. If time allows, you can let the watching of the breath and the affirmation fade away and melt into inner stillness. In that stillness, feel the expansion of the soul, an immersion, an absorption into inner peace. Visualize and feel this peace, calm, or divine joy, filling every body cell, revitalizing the brain, the nervous system, the whole body, and the soul.

End your practice of any of these techniques, even a short one, with gratitude for the opportunity to recharge, relax, and reconnect the body and mind with our true essence.