I always tell my students that you will have a love/hate relationship with Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana ‘AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna’). As a beginner, you will hate it. It is considered a resting pose, but won’t feel like one until you build up strength in your shoulders and core. The love relationship will come when you realize how it lengthens, strengthens and stretches the whole body, especially the back part of the body: ankles, calves, hamstrings, upper back and shoulders.
When experiencing moments of stress, taking a few deep breath’s in a forward fold (Uttanasana ‘OOT-tan-AHS-anna’) will help calm the mind and body. Forward folds give the hamstrings and lumbar spine a deep stretch. By hanging upside down, fresh blood is brought to the brain and gives a refresh sense of well-being.
Meditation is important to me.
For a beginner, it can be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be. It can be frustrating too because there’s a misconception that you won’t have any thoughts, at all. Just so you know, this is what usually happens for most of us, especially at the beginning.
Here’s the easiest way to start and how I begin every yoga class I teach.
Find a way to sit comfortable, on a chair, sitting up in bed, sitting cross-legged. We aren’t going to be concerned about form right now.
Set a timer for 5 minutes and turn the volume down to a softer level. (Or use a meditation timer app.)
Read through the following and then do at least once a day.
Take a deep inhale through your nose, exhale through the mouth.
Close your eyes.
Breath in through your nose and out through your nose.
Mantra: “As you breathe in, notice you are breathing in. As you breathe out, notice you are breathing out.”
Continue until you hear your timer.
Stop repeating the mantra.
Notice any sensations in your body.
Let your eyelids flutter open.
You are done. Easy right? YES!!
In a previous post, I talked about Lengthening your spine, and we will expand on that practice here in a standing posture called Mountain Pose (Tadasana ‘tah-DAHS-anna). I consider this pose the base standing poses. Tadasana is where you stand strong and grounded through the legs while lifting and expanding upward with the chest and head. It is the simplest example of “root down, rise up,” completing the cycle of complementary forces.
Whether I’m teaching beginners or practicing on my own, I take the time to guide the class or myself through Tadasana. It’s important to get grounded right at the beginning of a flow class. When the feet and legs are awakened and connected to the mat, there is more stability, awareness and balance as the body flows through the rest of the practice. As the legs are engaged and drawing up energy from the earth, the upper body has the lightness and energy it needs to expand and open.
Here are some basic instructions for Tadasana:
- Standing with feet hip distance apart, toes pointing forward, lift and spread the toes, then press them back down.
- With a soft bend in the knees, rock back and forth on the feet until you feel balanced.
- Engage the muscles of the legs, as if they were hugging the bones, lifting the kneecaps up.
- Draw your low belly in and lengthen the tailbone down, lengthening the low back, without strain.
- Imagine a ribbon tying the low ribs together, so that the chest doesn’t puff out.
- Draw the shoulder blades together, and shoulders melt away from ears.
- Arms are extended and soft, and palms are facing forward as you gently reach up through the crown of the head, keeping the chin parallel with the floor.
If you would prefer an audio version, click here.
The lift in the chest you want to feel is not like your trying to puff it out (or stick out the breasts), it’s the feeling when you practiced lengthening your spine from seated. Take a moment and revisit the seated version, and then practice it standing. Variations are: palms together at heart, arms relaxed by sides palms forward or facing thighs, or part of a sun salutations with arms extended overhead with shoulders relaxed.
A few of the physical benefits are: strengthening the muscles of the feet, ankles, quadriceps, and abdominals; allowing the ankle, hip, shoulder and wrist joints to be in neutral positions, creating space for the lungs to fully expand with air.
You can practice Tadasana any time, any place, any amount of time: while doing the dishes, standing in the check-out line at the store, or taking a standing break while at work. It may seem too simple, and it is, but the benefits of standing taller and aware, breathing in a sense of calm and contentment, give a sense of confidence that comes as we connect the physical body with the spirit body.
The mountain is a symbol of integration of life: fully grounded, yet rising beyond.