It is that time of the year in London, when the calendar is filled with seasonal parties from every group, club, school and music class you and your family belong to. The first gatherings are usually fun and fill you with the excitement of the holiday season, the unfortunate last ones (with yet again mince pies and mulled wine) become slightly more of a chore.
On top of that, there may be deadlines at work and the streets seem more filled with cars than at any other time of the year. Your calendar is filled to the brim and you may feel exhausted even before thinking about organizing your own celebrations…
So in today I have some “emergency yoga” poses that can help with general exhaustion. Perhaps you would rather pass out on the sofa, but do try these poses first. They stimulate the blood circulation, encourage deeper breathing and are generally quite uplifting. And of course there is a rest position at the end, all better for your back than the “slouching pose” on the sofa. These movements may benefit a tired and tight back, but avoid them if you have had acute back problems in the past 6 months. And as always, come out of the position if it hurts: a stretch is good but pain is not.
1. Side stretch
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Inhale and bring the left arm up next to your ear and stretch the upper body up and to the side. Don’t bend over as far as you can, but think of keeping both sides long. Relax the right shoulder down. Stay for a few breaths and then lower your arm with an exhalation. Repeat on the other side.
2. Cow and child
Sit on the heels and relax the body forward, with the forehead on the mat and the arms extended in front of you. Inhale and come up on all fours, encouraging the shoulders to move away from the ears and the shoulder blades to move towards the waist. Your back will arch down slightly. Resist the urge to look up too much but allow the neck to be in the same gentle curve as the back. Exhale and go back to the child. Repeat 6 to 10 times with the breath.
Variation: supported child
If the back and legs feel too tight to be in child’s pose, then choose the variation with the upper body supported on a raise. A sofa or a big firm cushion can be the right height. For tight ankles and feet use a rolled towel or a narrow cushion underneath the ankles.
Child’s pose is a beautiful position to feel the breath along your back: as you breathe in, feel the back expand and widen to the side. As you breathe out, notice how the body relaxes downward. Stay in this position if it is comfortable, for a minute or two, always keeping the attention on the breath.
3. Dog pose
From child’s pose, stretch the arms forward, spread the fingers, tuck the toes under and straighten the legs as you exhale, bringing the tailbone up to the ceiling. Stay and breathe in this pose, bending the legs sometimes to release the spine further. The spine should feel like it is hanging down, the hips as if a string pulls them up. Keep the shoulders broad. Whether the heels are on the floor does not matter so much; the Achilles tendon and calf muscles often resist this. More important is the release and lengthening of the spine. If the hamstrings protest too much, bend the legs.
The dog pose is very challenging for beginners, mainly due to tight hamstrings, back and shoulders. If you find it too difficult, bend forward 90 degrees on a raise like a kitchen cupboard or a bookshelf. Imagine the pull on the spine from 2 directions: your head is being pulled forward while the tailbone is lengthening in the opposite direction. If the hamstrings don’t allow a comfortable 90-degrees bend then place your hands higher up the wall. As you do this pose more often, the hamstrings release and you may find that the dog pose becomes easier.
Stay for a few breaths or a bit longer if comfortable in either of the variations and then rest in child or supported child for a minute.
4. Shoulder clock
Lie on one side with the legs bent up quite close to the body. Straighten the arms in front of you with the palms on top of each other. With an inhalation slide the top hand along the floor to the other side, making a half circle. If the arm moves off the floor allow that to happen. Ideally the knees and hips stay stacked on top of each other. Exhale to slide the hand back along the floor to the starting position. Allow the head to follow the movement of the arm. Repeat 4 times and then stay a few breaths in the position with arms wide. Repeat on the other side.
5. Rest position
Rest on your back with the knees bent and feet on the floor, use a blanket to keep warm and maybe a cushion under your head if the neck is tight (i.e. chin sticking up to the ceiling).