By Saraswathi Vasudevan
A good yoga practice must work out every part of your being, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, says Saraswathi Vasudevan
Yoga is called a Sarvaangasadhana – a practice that impacts every part of the individual. Therefore, a sound asana practice should essentially address all the needs of the body: move all joints, progressively improve flexibility and strength in different parts of the body, improve breath and state of mind, and calm the mind of its distractive tendencies.
If you are a regular yogasana practitioner, it will be good to have a checklist of indications to see if you are moving in the right direction:
Flexibility: neck, shoulder, upper back, lower back, hips, legs, knees, ankles.
Strength: lower back, abdomen, upper back, shoulders, neck, legs, knees.
Is my sleep getting better?
Is my energy level at an optimal level?
Is my mind less distracted after an asana practice?
Is my breath flowing comfortably?
Am I getting less reactive in general?
Has my tolerance improved?
Am I more conscious of choosing what food to eat, when and how much?
Is my biological rhythm – sleep-wake cycle, clearing bowels, hunger, thirst, menstrual cycle – improving?
Make sure your practice has movements to address all joints and parts of the body. Have a healthy balance of forward bending postures, back arches, twists and lateral stretches. Ensure a good combination of standing, seated and lying positions. Inversions, done with good preparation, are highly beneficial to counter the negative effects of gravity on the body, and improve the circulation and health of all the organs in the body.
When we take to yoga later in life, we come with a body that is already stiff, with its unique disposition and physical patterns (stooping back, twisted spine, stiff legs and limited flexibility in most joints) not to mention the breathing and mental/emotional patterns. It is, therefore, not possible for us to do many postures the classical way. Adapt instead!
Let us take Uttanasana (standing forward bend), for example. If you can do this posture perfectly, it means your spine is flexible, especially the lower back; your hips and legs are flexible and you are not carrying extra weight around the mid-section! If you have a sedentary lifestyle, your back and legs are bound to be stiff. Follow this modification of Uttanasana:
Stand with feet slightly apart in front of a stool/chair about 2 feet high. If your back is too stiff and you are tall, use a table instead. Take 4-5 seconds to slowly inhale, raise both your arms from the sides expanding your chest and extending your whole spine upward all the way from your waist. Pause for 2 seconds in this position. As you exhale (take 6-8 seconds to slowly exhale by drawing lower abdomen in and up, relaxing chest) bend forward from the hip (not stooping your shoulders), keeping the legs and body straight until you reach half-way down. Beyond this point you can bend your knees to the extent required and extend your arms on the stool/chair seat. Stay for a breath and ease into this position with a long exhalation which relaxes your neck, back and legs. As you inhale, raise your arms to ear level, arch your back and come up, arms extended up, shoulders relaxed, body extended all the way from the waist. As you exhale, lower your arms from the front/sides. Repeat a few times and stay for longer in the posture. Gradually, reduce the height of the support and bend your legs less.
About the author : Saraswathi Vasudevan is a yoga therapist trainer in the tradition of Sri T Krishnamacharya. She specialises in adapting yoga to the individual. (www.yogavahini.com).
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