If there is one pose that makes me feel fabulous it is Half Moon pose. I thought that everyone would feel equally expansive and joyous in this pose. After all, extending the arms to the side has been proven to evoke feelings of positivity and confidence (cf. this earlier blog). But when I asked my students which pose makes them feel “fabulous,” to my surprise the Half Moon pose was not a favourite. This blog explores how we feel in yoga poses, and we will look at a few other “fabulous” poses that my students mentioned. The poses are not necessarily difficult or acrobatic but can be simple and soothing, or strong and expansive. I would love you to try them and see how they make you feel… maybe fabulous!
Asking my students about their “most fabulous pose” made me wonder about different feelings that can arise while we practise yoga. Why would we make these shapes and go through these movements if they do not make us feel good? Does having back pain or another health issue exclude the fabulous, celebratory feeling while doing yoga? Luckily, my back pain students did come up with “fabulous” poses. It is clear that whatever your age or ability, you can find joy when you breathe and ease into a pose, when you connect with your body and listen to the breath as if it has a story to tell.
How yoga poses make us feel
Once we pay attention to the physical sensations while doing yoga, and to our breathing we may notice a range of feelings as we practise: a pose can be soothing, quietening, maddening (when it is too hard), annoying (too complicated), relaxing, energising, joyful, grand, confident. A stretch can feel good and “delicious” because it causes endorphins to be released in the body that trigger feelings of pleasure. The endorphins have a feel-good factor, but with time also the mindful breathing, the connection to the body and greater peace of mind all contribute to this elevation in mood.
Below are examples of poses that made my students feel good. To get to the fabulousness of these poses, try to let go of the effort and of any frustration that the end position is not perfect. No pose will be fabulous if it involves pushing, pulling or holding your breath. If you have severe back pain at the moment, only the arm movement and the relaxation are safe for you to try. Please get in touch with me if you would like to find other appropriate poses.
Yoga poses that make us feel fabulous:
This lovely, soothing movement releases the back muscles while allowing the whole back to rest on the floor.
-Lie on your back, bring the knees towards the chest and place one hand on each knee.
-Exhale and bring the knees closer to the chest by bending your arms. Leave the lower back on the floor.
-Inhale and straighten your arms again.
Resist pulling the knees forcefully towards you. Instead, allow the arms to “hang” from the knees.
Listen to the natural rhythm of your breath and don’t automatically go with the speed that is in your head. It helps to follow the exhalation to the very end.
It can take a while to understand that there is something else inside us that could be more important to listen to than our mind. Listening to the rhythm of your breathing can reveal a different wisdom and feeling of contentment.
Frog with hand mudra
There is something very lovely about this pose, something restful and connected.
The forehead is touching the floor, the inner thigh muscles and back are stretched. The hand position suits the position well, as there is the extra sensation of the palms touching the mat.
-Sit on the heels and place the toes together and the knees wider.
-Fold forward to rest the forehead and arms on the mat.
-Make the 2 thumbs and 2 index fingers touch so they form a diamond shape on the mat in front of you.
-Stay for a minute or two if comfortable.
Arm movement to Namaste
This is such a simple but wonderful movement: bring the arms out to the side, palms up until they touch above your head. The outward movement happens with an inhalation. Touch the palms and bring them down to the chest with the exhalation. Tight shoulders may make this pose less ‘delicious’: imagine your arms are floating up on cushions and the shoulders are staying soft. If you cannot do this because of painful shoulders then try raising the arms only halfway: you can then still touch the palms together.
The joy in this pose is feeling the stability in the feet and energy in the legs. The arms are out to the side so there may be a feeling of confidence and expansion. Breathe out and feel connected to your stable feet and strong legs. Breathe in and feel tall and wide. Stay for a few breaths and then change the legs around.
Half moon and variations
The best way to practise this pose is against a wall: you will feel more supported and less worried about the balance.
-Place the right foot alongside the wall, a “foot-width” distance away from it.
-Slowly start balancing on the right leg.
-Keep the spine long as you bring more and more weight over the right foot.
-Hold the spine, head and leg in one line: how high the leg goes matters less than the alignment.
-Focus on lengthening the spine, imagine you breathe in towards the head and out towards your balancing foot.
-Lean with the head and shoulders and the hip against the wall, feel wonderfully supported.
-Maybe the axis of head, spine and leg can be parallel to the floor, the arms perpendicular.
This pose requires strength as well as flexibility, and a lot of time and patience. Only try this pose when your muscles have warmed up. For example, you can warm up after a sun salute (see this blog for more), frog and warrior pose.
Some of my students feel fabulous at the end of it all, when the body is allowed to just rest and the mind has finally quietened down. Resting in this position, however, is an exercise in keeping the mind quiet just a little longer. It is very tempting to start thinking and lose the connection to the body and the breath. Usually, we’ve heard all the thoughts already. So, to give the mind a rest, focus on the sensations in the body and the breath instead.
I love the visualisation that the body is an empty space in which the breath can whirl around. As the breath moves around the imaginary empty space, it softens everything along its path. Imagine the breath removing blockages, like the wind that can sweep everything out of its way. How fabulous to have so much spaciousness inside!