In this month’s magazine you can find the ultimate guide to yoga, telling you exactly which style is right for you, whether you’re looking to relax, improve your body or uncover your spiritual side. To accompany this yoga special, each week in August we’re bringing you exercises from some of our favourite experts. This week, it’s yoga to help you de-stress by Mollie McClelland.
Yoga to calm and sooth the mind
Originally, yoga postures were designed to be active preparation for meditation. In modern life, these qualities help relieve the pressures of modern life. Many of us relax better when we start with movement and then move into deep stretches, and then into relaxation. A good yoga practice will leave you ready to focus better, whether it’s on meditation, work or parenting.? ?One of the common features of stress is muscle tightness, often in the neck and shoulders: a yoga practice to release stress will use movement and activation to relieve those symptoms. Another feature of stress is shortened breath. Deep breathing, as we all know instinctively, is calming. Following dynamic work, physical challenge and deepened breath, the body can relax and release its stress.? ?Relaxation is something many of us have to learn again. It takes practice. So when you start a yoga practice, stick to it. It gets better and better.
1. Cat/Cow Cat and Cow are two poses that work together. They instantly connect and deepen movement and breath, in a dynamic way
- Come on to your hands and knees.
- Inhale and look up towards the ceiling, letting your belly stretch towards the floor.
- Exhale, curve the spine like someone is poking you in the tummy and you are trying to look into your navel. Repeat for two or three minutes at a comfortable pace. Play with pace and intensity. Start slow and as you feel comfortable, develop speed and rhythm. Or, when you feel a really tight place, stay still for a few breaths to release deeper.
2. Puppy stretch This is a favourite for opening your chest, shoulders and sides of the ribs.
- Get down on to your hands and knees. From there, walk your hands further in front of you. Your hips stay in the same place, up in the air, so your back arches and your spine, neck and arms make a ski jump shape.
- Lower your forehead or chin to the floor. Press your hands (especially thumbs and index fingers) into the floor, and feel your hips pulling away. Slide the shoulder blades away from the ears.
- Stay in this position for five to 10 deep breaths, sinking into the stretch in the arms, shoulders and chest with each exhale.
3. Neck rolls I almost exclusively work with a ‘U’ shape neck roll because full neck circles always feel as if they are crunching the back of my neck. The U shape can be deeply healing and hypnotic, and I like to do the practice with soft but engaging music.
- Sit comfortably. Take your ear towards your right shoulder. To increase the stretch, you can reach the left fingertips towards the floor to the side. Stay here for a few deep, slow breaths.
- Turn your head so your nose or chin points towards the shoulder. Stay a few breaths.
- Lower your chin halfway, so your chin is mid-collar bone. Stay a few breaths.
- Lower your chin to the centre of your chest. Stay and breathe. Repeat to other side.
- After doing the slow series once or twice each side, start to move more smoothly through the different neck positions. As you inhale, your head rolls up to the side, on your exhale, roll it down to the centre. Continue making the U shape for one to three minutes.
- When you finish lift the head up carefully. You can even use one hand on the forehead to help stay relaxed as the head lifts.
4. Supported inversion Viparita Karani is a supported variation of shoulder stand that is deeply healing, relaxing and mood-elevating. It is helpful to have some props, such as folded towels, cotton blankets or a yoga bolster. This pose is best done against a wall.
- Make a stack of towels or blankets the shape of a skateboard. It can be 10-15cm tall.
- Go to a wall, and lay down, swinging your legs up the wall.
- Put your feet flat against the wall, so you have something to push into, and lift your hips up. Bring your blankets underneath.
- With your pelvis resting on the blankets, let your legs rest straight up the wall. Stay as long as you like, for at least two minutes. Five minutes is good, ten minutes is great.