Self-care: uplifting yoga

I once asked a friend how she managed to get through a particularly difficult time in her life. She said she focused on looking after herself and eating healthily. It is an important start when life for some reason has ground to a halt and you don’t know immediately which way to turn. As in the cliché, you then have to “put your own safety mask on first”. I am always reminded of her in times I have to be brave, for example when I lose someone dear and I have to think of a strategy to go forward with strength.  Apart from nourishing my body and walking or exercising in nature, I also use my yoga practice to make me feel better. Practising yoga can stimulate the endorphins, our “feel-good hormones”, and promote an inner sense of contentment. When we need a mood shift, uplifting yoga poses can help. Yoga also offers the space to centre oneself, to feel quiet and “re-group”. This blog will take you through poses and breathing exercises that have an uplifting effect. Use the sequence whenever you need some extra support.

Grounding

“Grounding” is probably a strange word if you are unfamiliar with the yoga jargon. It means being energetically connected to the earth, to gravity and a sense of stability. It is useful to focus on grounding when you want to feel supported. Connect to it by simply feeling the soles of your feet on the ground. We so often live in our thoughts, anxieties, future plans, … connecting to our feet takes us out of this head space and into our body. One of my teachers, Sandra Sabatini, always says that the earth and gravity are our biggest friends, together with the breath.

So, one grounding practice is to stand with bare feet on a surface (try different ones) and notice the sensations. Observe and maybe shift the weight distribution over the feet. Connect with the way your feet, and the heels in particular, touch the ground. Allow them to be heavy and trust the ground to support your weight.

I also like connecting to my feet when I walk, just feeling how the heel touches the ground first and how the foot then rolls and lifts.

Lifting arms forward and up, breathing deeply

Whenever I teach and demonstrate this movement, I feel a surge of happiness. It is such a simple movement, but it encourages deeper breathing and as explained in this blog about confidence https://beneyoga.co.uk/yoga-for-confidence/ the arm movement stimulates hormones that can make us feel more confident and upbeat.

-So: breathe in and raise your arms with the palms pointing forward, as far up as comfortable. Sometimes the arms will reach behind the ears, but some shoulders will restrict the movement. Don’t force it.

-Breathe out, turn the palms forward and lower the arms, as far as they will go (perhaps slightly behind the legs).

-Repeat several times, coordinating the breath with the movement.

Floppy arms

Stand with the feet hip-width or shoulder-width apart and twist the upper body from side to side, allowing the arms to “flop” around. If your sacrum hurts (the very lowest part of your back) you may want to keep the hips forward and still, and only twist from the waist up.

This movement is a favourite of many of my students. There is something playful and fun in twisting and just allowing the arms to flop. The tighter your shoulders, the harder is will be to relax the arms.

Warrior 2 pose

This pose encourages stability, confidence and strength. It is strange that just a position could do this to your mind, but try this pose and see if you also feel the effect.

Practise near a wall if you want to hold on to something.

-Start with two feet hip-width apart.

-Place the right leg behind you, with the toes slightly out to the side and the instep of the right foot in line with the left (front) heel.

-Allow the hips to be wherever comfortable and make sure the lower back is relaxed and long, instead of arched forward.

-Bring both arms up parallel to the floor and in the same direction as the legs. Relax the shoulder blades down the back.

-Stay in this position for about 4-9 breaths and then try the other side, with the other leg forward.

Dog pose

It is the hanging down of the head that makes this pose uplifting, and calming at the same time. Leave it out if  you have back pain with nerve pain shooting down the leg, severe arthritis or an injury that would make this pose painful.

-Start in child’s pose.

-Tuck the toes, stretch the hands forward and place them mat-width apart. Spread the fingers.

-Unfold the legs partly to come in the dog position, sending the tailbone up and back to feel the length of the spine. You may want to keep the legs bent, stretch one at a time or straighten them. Straightening the legs is sometimes at the expense of the spine, because short hamstrings pull on the pelvis and may cause the back to round. If your hamstrings are tight, it may be more useful to keep the legs bent in this position.

-Finish by going back to the child’s position.

Breath awareness

At the end of this or any yoga session, always take time to lie at least 5 minutes on your back, with your legs bent. Once you are comfortable, simply pay attention to your breathing: the way your abdomen moves while you breathe, the length of each breath, the sensation of air entering and leaving the nostrils. This does not only allow the diaphragm to move freely but also the whole body and the mind to rest. 

Namaste

This blog is dedicated to my daughter who is leaving the nest. I will miss her good company terribly, but wish her strength, confidence and joy as she goes forward into the world. May her and all our futures be bright.

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