Yoga is my preferred mode of exercise. Since having children I find it difficult to fit in the daily walks I used to enjoy, most of my exercise is now ´incidental´ exercise i.e. lifting and carrying children (weights), biking the children in the trailer to kindergarten (cardio). However, one thing I always make time for is a yoga class (or two on a good week). I have practiced yoga for over 10 years and found it invaluable in later pregnancy with painful sacro-iliac and hips.
While we are traveling it is difficult to find a yoga class, so I asked my yoga teacher Rochelle to put together a simple sequence I can do every few days to keep my spine mobile and release the tension of traveling. Rochelle has very kindly allowed me to photograph and share the sequence here. It is a nice gentle flow to warm up the spine. Plus she has thrown in some core-strengthening as anyone who has had a baby will know this becomes an area of weakness. So today I leave you with Rochelle… (Next week I will be back some photos and recipes from Colombia.)
When I teach yoga, early in the class I like to gently move the spine six ways:
There are many ways to achieve this, standing, sitting or lying down … this post provides a taste through a yummy yoga sequence that you can easily do at home.
Just like dentists want us to brush our teeth every day, a daily habit of spinal hygiene will help keep your spine and core healthy so you can move with greater ease. Moving the spine six ways can improve posture, make your back feel more comfortable and increase core stability. Try it as a daily practise for three weeks and check out if you experience any difference.
I highly recommend constructive rest as a daily practise for 10 minutes if you can.
From an anatomy perspective this position relaxes the deep core iliopsoas muscle group. This helps the pelvis and spine come into a balanced alignment.
Lying on your back with knees bent, feet on the floor. Hips, knees and feet in line at hip width, feet parallel to each other. Position the feet at a distance from the buttocks that allows the upper and lower legs to support each other (if your feet are too close to your bottom your thigh muscles will engage, too far from your bottom then your core muscles will engage and we want these to relax).
*If you do this pose with an impatience and desire to get on with the next thing you will not get the deep benefits of the pose. So use this position as relaxation time and mindfulness practise, staying tuned into body and breath. When you notice thoughts arise then you can just let them go and return to your breath. Focus on taking some deep long exhales and inhales that feel easeful– i.e. don’t force your breath. If you’ve had a stressful or busy day this will help your body relax and come back to a place of equilibrium where breathing, digestion and biochemistry function as a balanced unstressed system.
I use this sequence regularly as a warm up in my yoga classes and students often say how much they love it. The inspiration for this sequence comes from watching my girls’ movements in their first year of life. The sequence connects us back into instinctive and innate movement patterns that are at the core of who we are.
This sequence flexes and extends the spine, links movement with breath and deepens and extends the length of inhale and exhale. The movements help keep the spine supple and the core balanced and strong. Keep the breath flowing continuously in and out through your nostrils.
This sequence is also calming to the nervous system whilst helping restore a feeling of vitality – it moves energy (prana) both down into the core of the body and up into the chest area. It’s a great sequence to do if you have fatigue and lack the energy for any strenuous physical activity.
Plus it massages the internal organs assisting digestion and elimination – great if you’re a foodie like me. Need I say more – enjoy!
Note: If you have high blood pressure you can keep your arms by your sides rather than taking them overhead.
Step one :
Start in constructive rest (see above). From here, as you exhale, curl into a ball bringing knees toward chest. You can take the curl a little deeper by bringing forehead toward knees if you want to.
As you inhale, uncurl coming back to the constructive rest position as you take your arms over head.
*Repeat this cycle three to six times, curling up on the exhale, expanding out on the inhale.
Then curl up on the exhale.
And as you inhale coming into constructive rest, with feet closer to your buttocks, press through your heels to bring your hips up as you take your arms overhead. Coming into bridge posture.
*Repeat 3-6 times, flowing with your breath.
Curl up, exhale.
Then on the inhale extend the legs straight at 45° angle to the floor, arms straight overhead in line with ears, keeping chin toward chest.
Exhale, curl up. And inhale into bridge. Repeat 3-6 times.
We continue from here to take movements that safely rotate (twist) and side bend the spine.
Revolved belly posture
From constructive rest, take your arms out at shoulder height. Lift your knees in toward your chest and let your knees come over to the right and down toward the floor, look to left hand. Take a few breaths here then change knees to left side and look to right hand. Try to keep both shoulders on the ground, which may mean that your knees don’t touch the floor.
Forward virasana – forward hero.
Roll over to your hands and knees. With knees out wide, big toes coming toward each other. Hands shoulder width or wider, fingers spread, arms long and energised, shoulder blades moving down your back. Sit buttocks back toward heels – extend long through spine to bring forehead to the floor.
Note: If you have knee injury you may not be able to do this posture – try supporting your head on a blanket and/or placing a folded blanket/block under your buttocks. You can also try a folded blanket tucked in behind your knees. Also if your body shape or flexibility restricts you in this posture, take height under your head or buttocks.
*If you have sciatica or sacro-illiac pain or instability I would leave out the twist and side bend unless you’re confident you can keep you sacrum stable and only bring the movement from your mid back.
Forward hero with lateral stretch
From forward hero, keep the pelvis where it is as you walk your arms around to the right, keeping your head centred between your shoulders. Stay a few breaths feeling a stretch along your left side. Then walk your hands back through the centre to repeat on the left side.
Core strength – Superman (or wonder woman!)
There are many ways to work our core strength – here’s one that babies naturally do to provide strength for crawling, then standing and walking.
On all fours: knees under hips, wrists under shoulders. Lift belly up toward spine. Keeping hips and shoulders as they are raise right leg and left arm. Reach long.
Hold for three breaths. Release and change sides. Repeat three times.
*To check that you are not twisting through your hips lay a broom handle along your head and spine. Aim to keep the broom handle there – if it rolls off when you raise your arm and leg, then you are twisting.
Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward facing dog
I find this posture to be a great balancer – increasing my energy whilst calming my mind. Plus the hands, feet and whole back of the body gets a great stretch while the front of the body is toned.
Place hands shoulder width apart. Fingers spread. Give weight through your hands and get energy back up your arms – triceps lift up. Keep your shoulders broad. Shoulder blades move down your back. Hug your belly in toward your spine. Extend you sit bones up and back.
Strong legs – extend along the back of your legs, yield to the earth through your feet and feel the energy come back up the front of your legs (thigh muscles engaged). Head relaxed or gaze toward navel –breathing.
- If you have high blood pressure or migraine, support your head on a bolster or block (you can stack up some books) so your head is supported ears in line with your arms.
- If you have carpel tunnel syndrome or severe wrist pain this posture may not be possible – you can try making a triangular shaped wedge to rest you palms on, putting height under your wrists so your wrist is higher than your fingers, increasing the angle between the back of your hand and forearm.
- If your shoulders feel really tight try practising with your hands on the edge of a coffee table or seat of a chair.
- If your hamstrings are tight bend your knees.
Balasana – Child’s Pose
Ahh – a restorative restful posture that’s great for moving breath into the back of the body.
Kneel with feet together and knees together or in-line with hip bones. Sit your buttocks back to your heels and curl your torso forward, bringing forehead to the floor. Arms back by your sides palms up. Feel the breath expanding into your back.
- If you have back or neck pain, this may be helped by supporting the head on a folded blanket.
- Can’t get your bodacious butt to your heels? – try folding a blanket and placing it between your thighs and calves.
- Personally I wouldn’t do this pose if you’re feeling depressed – this pose turns you inward and is dark – great for a reprieve from hectic daily life and bringing about a sense of peace and calm, but not so good if you’re already in a ruminating or inwardly dark feeling place. A better approach would be to get out in the fresh air and daylight and just start putting one foot after the other.
Rochelle teaches regular yoga classes in Nelson, check out her class schedule HERE.
Any physical exercise needs to undertaken at your own risk and entered into freely of your own decision. Before following any advice or practice suggested in this blog post, it is recommended that you consult a doctor to ensure the practice is suitable for you.
By practising the yoga postures in this blog post you hereby accept any associated risks and hold no-one to blame (including the author, photographer and publisher) for any injury whatsoever incurred from your practise.
Recipe by Rochelle Selby-Neal
Shakti is symbolic of creative feminine power – and the creamy vanilla element in this shake has a real feminine essence; add a touch of chocolate for decadence, and frozen banana for a thick shake texture. All together delicious.
But the star of this smoothie is the pumpkin seeds (pepitas).
Pumpkin seeds are a source of good quality protein and healthy fats. They contain amino acids tryptophan and glutamate. Both are beneficial in keeping us feeling calm and happy: tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, and glutamate is a key player in the creation of GABA, which assists in reducing anxiety. GABA activity in the brain is also enhanced by B complex vitamins – guess what – pumpkin seeds are also a great source of B vitamins. Plus pumpkin seeds contain Vitamin E a powerful antioxidant along with zinc and many other essential minerals that help keep our skin healthy and happy. So pile in the pumpkin seeds and shake your shakti.
*I also love this smoothie with the cacao omitted – then it has a lighter sweeter vanilla flavour.
Ingredients (makes one large thick shake or 2 smaller glasses)
8 pitted baking dates (chop roughly and cover with boiling water to soak for 15 minutes then drain)
½ cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or other unsweetened milk)
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp raw cacao (or cocoa)
1 banana (I slice and freeze bananas for use in smoothies)
In a blender, pulse pumpkin seeds to partially grind them. Then add all other ingredients and pulse to combine. Blend until smooth. Serve (we used a tall glass with a sprinkle of cocoa nibs and pumpkin seeds).
Enjoy! You may find a few chewy date pieces along the way – Nicola said that’s OK because chewing is great for waking up our digestive enzymes.