Ok, so the holidays have passed us by once again and I'm betting many of us have overindulged in some way or another … (C’mon, admit it!)
It's no problem...sometimes it happens, but overdoing it (whether it be on food, drink or stress … family, holiday, anyone feeling it?!) can lead to digestive sluggishness and a general feeling of tiredness or lowered mood.
After the festive period is over and things have quietened down is a great time to start focusing more on our bodies and minds. We are naturally more receptive to holistic practices in the New Year and this could be a wonderful opportunity to start or restart your yoga practice, if (like me, not gonna lie) you have neglected it of late.
Here are three yoga poses that can be done independently or as part of your routine that aid the digestive process, bring energy to a tired body and build flexibility.
Tree Pose (Vrksanasa)
As with all balancing poses, tree pose helps to move past fear, improves focus, strengthens the legs and hips and restores energy… what better way to move into 2017! Use a wall for balance if you struggle in the beginning.
How to do it:
Stand up straight with both feet grounding down into the floor. Gently shift your weight into your left leg and turn your right foot out to the side, placing the heel of your right foot at 45 degrees against the arch of the left foot, at this stage both feet are still on the floor. Focus on a spot about 4 or 5 feet in front of you (find one that doesn't move … it's no good focusing on your child or dog because as soon as they move you're gonna fall on your butt!) and imagine sending your breath into that spot. It sounds weird but it's a fantastic focus building exercise.
Slowly and with control, bring your right foot off the ground, turning the right knee out to the side and placing the sole against the inner calf or thigh of the left leg, keeping your hips level as you do this. Try not to allow your hips to jut out to one side … keep them as level as you can. You can reach down and help to position the foot comfortably with your hands. Avoid placing the foot against the knee … either go above or below, as pressure on your knee joint is no good at all. Gently tuck your tailbone and firm your standing leg, grounding into the earth.
If you want to challenge yourself a little, bring your arms up over your head with the palms facing each other. If you want more, close your eyes!
Breathe slowly and deeply 5 times and then lower the foot back down to the ground with control. Do the other side in the same way.
Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrāsana)
Any kind of twisting of the spine is a great aid for digestion and helps to keep your back flexible, massages your internal organs as well as giving a boost to your poor old liver! Don't go too far though, if you notice any pinching sensation in your lower back, come out a bit … you may have gone too deep.
How to do it:
Sit on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you. If you can't sit up straight like this then take a block or blanket and elevate your hips a little. You can bend your knees slightly if the stretch in your hamstring is too intense. Bending your right leg, bring the foot to the outside of the left shin, knee or thigh and place it down on the ground, keeping the foot of the left leg flexed and the left leg strong.
Press your bum bones down into the floor, lengthen the spine and wrap your left arm around your bent right knee, slowly turning your torso around to the right.
Place your right hand down behind you, directly at the base of the spine with the fingers facing away from your bum. (If you have elevated your hips, you may need to tent your finger tips or even place your hand on a block or a small pile of books … however, make sure that your right arm stays straight). Try not to lean your weight into your right hand, it is only there to ensure that you keep a straight spine and relax your shoulders … they shouldn't be trying to have a party with your ears … break that up if you notice these guys fraternizing!
With every inhale, lengthen the spine a little more (I like to imagine that someone is pulling on an invisible thread that runs out from the crown of my head) and with every exhale try to imagine that you are twisting a little deeper … eventually turn your face and look over your right shoulder.
Hold for 5 (deep, long) breaths and then slowly come out, turning your head to face the front first. Do the other side in the same way!
Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karani)
Avoid this pose if you have serious eye issues such as glaucoma. There is also some debate about whether to practice this pose if you are menstruating. I invite you to do what feels right for your body and if this doesn’t feel good, simply lie on your back with a bolster or rolled blanket under your knees.
Generally considered in yoga as a miracle pose, legs up the wall comes with a plethora of health benefits … aiding in the management of arthritis, digestion and anxiety are just a few.
How to do it:
Find a wall where you can comfortably stretch your legs out. Lie on your back and squiggle and wiggle your bum nearer to the wall, bringing your legs vertically up the wall. Try to get your bum bones to touch the wall but don't worry at all if they don't, simply feel a nice (challenging but NOT painful) stretch in your hamstrings. If you've stopped breathing (or died holding your breath ;-)), you're gonna need to come out a bit because you are over stressing yourself! You can place a blanket under your hips if that is more comfortable and bring your hands down by the sides of your body with the palms facing up.
Use the muscles of your legs only enough to keep your legs straight and try to relax as deeply as you can here. I love to imagine that my muscles are made of melting candle wax and with every exhalation, they are simply melting down into the floor.
Stay here between 5 and 15 minutes (if you can find the time, otherwise just breathe deeply 5 times) and then gently roll onto your side, coming out SLOWLY and taking time to get used to being up the right way again!
Many yoga poses bring tremendous benefits when practiced mindfully. It doesn't matter what the pose looks like as long as you can breathe … let go of any control about it and simply be aware of how amazing your unique body is. If you are feeling your body and breathing mindfully, you are practicing advanced yoga ... so don't worry if your pose doesn't look like the ‘perfect’ picture (who's to say what that is anyway!), you are one of a kind, no one has your body and no one knows your body quite like you do!
In the wise words of the great Yin yoga teacher, Bernie Clarke ‘if you're feeling it, you're doing it!’
Much love, luck and happiness for 2017!