At the end of my first yoga session, I believe I said something like:
“If everyone in the world did yoga a few days a week, there would be no more war.”
Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. Still, I’m continually amazed at the calming and relaxing effects of the ancient eastern practice. No matter what type of day I’m having, a half-hour of yoga leaves me, quite simply, serene.
Yoga focuses on a balance of movement and stillness, accompanied by deep breathing and targeted stretching. While the poses increase balance, flexibility and strength and release muscle tension, it’s the breathing and concentration that promote mental and emotional calm. Experiences such as moving under water, getting a massage and even light napping are often evoked.
The idea of napping, even if simulated, ought to be enough to entice most moms to give yoga a try. The following basic poses will stretch your neck, shoulders and back, and provide an oasis of peace at any point of your day.
Wondering when to sneak yoga in, especially if you have a child or three competing for your attention? It’s easier than you might think. Rather than trying to do a half-hour at once, try two or three ten minute sessions before the kids wake up and after they’re in bed. Nap time or reading time, depending on the kids’ ages, are also great. If you can’t seem to catch a few minutes without them, just have the little ones do yoga with you!
Note: As with any physical activity, it is possible to injure yourself doing yoga. It’s best to consult a health care professional before starting a serious yoga practice, and to work under the supervision of a certified yoga teacher who can confirm that you’re doing the poses safely and correctly. Wear comfortable clothing, have bare feet and use a yoga sticky mat. Be sure not to eat or drink much in the hour before exercising.
A great way to begin your routine, Easy Pose is basically sitting cross-legged on the floor (often called “Indian style”) with really good posture.
- Sit down with your legs bent at the knees and your feet pulled in toward your buttocks.
- Straighten your entire spine and hold your head upright.
- Rest the heels of your hands on your knees.
- Concentrate on relaxing your legs, arms and neck while holding your spine straight and breathing deeply into your abdomen, which expands with the inhale and draws in with the exhale.
Mimicking an angry cat and heavy cow are apparently fabulous for stretching and strengthening your back muscles.
- Come on to all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- On an inhale, tilt your hips toward the ceiling and turn your gaze upward, letting your spine fall into a gentle arch.
- On the exhale, bring your spine up to reverse the arch. Turn your hips down and let your head hang. Push with your arms to get a good shoulder stretch.
A nice Low Lunge stretches and strengthens your thighs and helps relax hips that are tight from sleeping between kids and pushing strollers.
- From all fours, bring your right leg forward to place your feet between your hands, keeping your knee right above your heel.
- Inch you left leg back, with toes curled under, so that the knee comes off the ground and your leg is as straight as you can make it.
- Concentrate on keeping your feet hip-width apart (not in line like you’re on a tightrope), pushing the left leg straight and keeping the right knee over the right heel.
- Come back gently to all fours, take a breath, and repeat with the left leg bent in front and the right leg stretched back.
Downward Facing Dog
This inverted pose stretches the back and elongates the spine. The more you can straighten your legs in the pose, the more it stretches them as well.
- From all fours, curl your toes under and push on them to bring up your knees and hips.
- Approach an upside-down V shape with straight arms and legs and feet flat on the floor (if you can’t get your legs straight that’s fine. Be gentle with yourself).
- Push with your arms to have a long, straight spine. Imagine trying to bring your shoulder blades together and tipping your hips to the ceiling.
- Adjust the placement of your hands and feet on the mat to achieve the greatest comfort while holding the pose.
Tree Pose works on your balance and focus, and gives a nice stretch to the entire length of your body. Don’t be afraid of falling – it’s easy to bring your foot back to the ground if you feel wobbly.
- From Downward Facing Dog, walk your hands back toward your feet, and slowly roll up like a rag doll, beginning at the base of your spine and bringing your head up last.
- Center yourself, then shift your weight to your left foot and straighten the left leg.
- Bring up your right foot to grab your ankle.
- Place your right foot against the side of the left knee or at the top of the inner left thigh.
- Push your right foot against your left leg while pushing your palms together in front of your chest.
- With your back straight, bring your arms up to point the pals to the ceiling.
- Focus on stretching in two directions at once, getting straighter, taller and increasing balance.
- Gently bring your arms down and return your right foot to the floor. Repeat with the left foot up.
When you need to rest after some of the more demanding poses, Child’s Pose is good for taking a few breaths and relaxing your neck and back.
- Gently lower yourself from standing, bring your knees to the floor and sit on your heels.
- Leave your arms stretched forward, and push them out along the floor as you bend at the waist.
- Bring your forehead to the floor and relax completely.
Fully relaxing your body is a wonderful way to end a workout, and helps to clear your mind before returning to your day.
- Lay flat on your back, palms facing upward and feet relaxed outward.
- Concentrate on relaxing every part of your body, beginning with your toes, feet, lower legs, knees, thighs, hips, etc…
- When you relax your head, be sure to loosen your jaw, lips and eyes.
- Once you’re fully relaxed, stay motionless and clear your mind, simply being still for several minutes.
- After a while, begin to move slowly, working up to sitting and finally standing.
Making these slow, purposeful movements and holding the strong poses will leave you with a sense of accomplishment and clarity. Try doing them once or twice a week, and eventually, you may find yourself making time for yoga every day.
This guest post is written by Katherine E. Reilly Mitchell, who is a freelance writer for http://assistanceforsinglemothers.com, a site that provides help for single moms who are struggling financially. She also maintains a personal blog at humantextuality.com.