Women’s Health (Part II)
In this issue, I am following up with other yoga postures and their benefits to the mind and body.
Backbends warm the system, increase energy and invigorate us. They bring flexibility to our central axis of support and strengthen weak back muscles. Backbends counter pose the forward bending that dominates the day for many of us: sitting, driving, housework and working at a desk. They increase determination and willpower. Extending backward into the unknown helps you to confront your fears when life presents you with an unknown quantity. Backbends open the chest and are therefore uplifting and promote better breathing. They make the heart centre expand to bring a joyful vitality into our lives.
This is an important posture as it prepares the body and the mind for more difficult back bending postures. It limbers the shoulders, opens the chest and makes the lower back flexible.
Beginners: Tuck your toes under. Have the knees and feet hip-width apart. Take one hand back at the time; keep your head up, looking forward.
This posture stretches the muscles at the front of the thighs, including the deep iliopsoas muscle, which is tight for most people. This backbend tones kidney and liver.
Beginners: Lunge less deeply into the front knee. Keep the front knee directly above the ankle.
Effect: Energizing, strengthening
This backbend demands arm strength. It opens the chest, stimulates the digestive organs and increases mobility in the vertebral column.
Beginners: Practise moving smoothly in and out of the pose before holding it for longer periods.
Upward facing dog
Effect: Opening, rejuvenating
This posture strengthens the wrist and shoulders, opens the chest and works the whole spine.
Beginners: Bend the knees slightly and rest them on the floor. Lift the hips higher if you have lower back pain.
East stretch posture
This posture strongly stretches the front of the body. The name comes from the fact that in India yoga is traditionally practised facing east, so the front of the body faces the east. It strengthens the wrists and arms and strengthens the shoulders.
Beginners: Keep the knees bent.
Inverted postures improve lymph and venous circulation. They work the heart and boost the immune system. Increased blood supply to the endocrine glands at the throat is the reason why inversions are considered to be hormonal balancers. As holding a position with a whole new relationship to gravity demands a certain steadiness of body and mind, inversions are calming poses. Inversions let us see things from a different angle. They lessen tiredness and develop concentration. As inversions quiet the mind and settle the system down, they are generally practised toward the end of a session after our body has been well warmed up.
Raised leg downward-facing dog pose
Effect: Restorative, calming
This pose requires stretch in the shoulders and wrists and increases flexibility in the hamstrings. It is more of an inversion than the classic pose and increases the cardiac response.
Beginners: Don’t lift the leg as high or keep the raised knee bent.
Effect: Restorative, calming
This folded-over inversion is rejuvenating to the entire nervous system. The abdominal organs are contracted and toned. The neck and shoulders are released from any habitual tension and the spine is stretched to its maximum.
Beginners: Rest the legs on the seat of a chair. Bend the knees.
Take a moment to stretch and relax at the end of your weight training or cardio vascular activity.