From the menopause to digestion, there’s a yoga posture for every ailment
Yoga can offer a stream of health benefits, especially when poses are carefully chosen to suit your personal needs. Not only does it help to balance our entire system, both physically and emotionally, but it also allows us to connect with ourselves and acknowledge when we feel unwell, tired or stressed.
The key to integrating yoga into your life and being able to draw on it in times of need is developing a regular practice and really listening to your body to notice how different postures make you feel. There will be times when you want to engage in strong moves while on other occasions you’ll be in need of nurturing asanas.
There are at least 300 popular yoga techniques and postures which range from calming and restorative poses to firm, almost gymnastic-like movements and include breathing, meditation and relaxation exercises as well as asanas. While practising yoga in general will improve your wellbeing, certain moves will work better for your mind and body than others. To get you started, we’ve teamed up with yoga expert Sue Fuller to bring you a series of poses and exercises that can help to manage and ease the symptoms of certain key health issues.
Sit comfortably with your legs crossed and a straight spine. Establish a smooth and steady flow of breath through your nose, and when you exhale, feel how your body and mind relax. Then, divide your inhalation into three parts. As you begin to inhale, fill the bottom section of your lungs with air and take a small pause, then continue the inhalation and do the same with the middle and top sections of your lungs, pausing in between. Once all three are filled with air, exhale slowly and completely before repeating for ten or more breaths. When you have finished, return to a normal flow of breath and stay in this position for as long as you wish, focusing on relaxing as you exhale.
This posture is extremely soothing and allows the mind and body to rest and recover. Begin on all fours with your toes pointed backwards so that the tops of your feet are resting on the floor. Bring your bum onto your heels and relax your upper body towards the floor, resting your forehead on the ground and your arms alongside your body. Breathe slowly and hold for as long as is comfortable. Focus on deep, steady breaths and allowing your mind and body to relax and soften. If this is uncomfortable you can put a pillow or blanket under your head, or make your hands into fists and place one on top of the other under your forehead.
In a lot of yoga classes you will begin and end the session with this. Lie on your back with your legs out straight, arms on the floor at a 45 degree angle away from the body and palms facing upwards. Relax your face and release your shoulders to the floor, making sure that your torso is straight and you are not leaning to one side. Your pelvis should be balanced, lower back heavy and ankles loose. Take slow breaths through the nose, allowing the mind and body to un-tense as you exhale. When we breathe slowly and mindfully we activate our rest and digest response, and during this time of deep relaxation the body can process waste and absorb nutrients which helps us to recharge.
This posture is great for the hips, lower back and knees. Lie on your back with your legs out straight. Draw your right knee in towards the chest with both hands, keeping the left leg elongated, then allow your shoulders to relax and soften into the ground. Hold for three complete breaths then change legs and repeat until each leg has been drawn in five times.
This posture will mobilise the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle. Begin on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips, then point your toes backwards so that the tops of your feet are resting on the floor. As you inhale, lengthen your tailbone, tilt your pelvis up and allow your tummy and lower ribs to lower towards the floor as you lift your chest and head. On the exhale, reverse the movement, drawing your navel up towards the spine as you round your back up to the ceiling and drop your chin onto your chest. Continue this movement for 20 or more complete breaths.
This posture will free up tension in the hips and keep the pelvis mobile. Sit with the soles of your feet together, legs bent, knees pointing outwards and spine straight. If this is uncomfortable elevate your hips by sitting on a yoga block or a folded towel. Clasp your hands around your feet and breathe slowly through the nose. When you feel ready, allow your knees to lift up a little as you inhale, then release them to the floor on the exhale. Synchronise your breath and movement and repeat for 20 or more complete breaths.
Sit in a comfortable position ensuring that the spine remains straight. Place your right thumb beside your right nostril, your index and middle finger on your forehead and your ring finger beside your left nostril. Block your right nostril with your thumb and inhale fully through the left nostril, then remove your thumb and block the left nostril with your ring finger. Exhale and then inhale through the right nostril. Remove your ring finger from the left nostril and block your right nostril with your thumb again. Exhale and then inhale through the left nostril. Continue this exercise for five minutes, finishing with an exhalation through the left nostril. Try to regulate your breath so that it’s a steady flow. Begin by aiming for four seconds on each inhalation and exhalation and then gradually lengthen the time.
Sit on the floor with your legs out straight – put a blanket under your bum if necessary. Bend your right knee and position the sole of your foot against the inner thigh of the left leg as close to your body as you comfortably can, then relax the right knee towards the floor. Extend the left leg away, flexing your foot so that the toes are pointing upwards, and relax the back of your leg to the floor. Rotate your torso to the left a little so that your navel lines up with the middle of the left thigh. On an inhalation, lengthen your spine, and as you exhale start to walk your hands towards your foot. Take your time to lengthen and release into an enjoyable stretch. If it feels OK, reach forward and hold your foot with both hands. Stay in the pose for anywhere between one and three minutes then repeat on the other side.
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