Yoga and Arthritis

Understanding joints

The adult human body contains 206 bones and approximately 300 joints, where two bones meet. Joints provide structural and mechanical support. Most joints are synovial joints, including knees and knuckles. Synovial joints allow for movement and are susceptible to arthritis.

Examples of synovial joints

  • Gliding joints, including those between the eight wrist carpals. They are found where bones meet as flat surfaces and allow bones to glide past one another in any direction.
  • Hinge joints, including the elbow and knee. They limit movement in one direction so the angle between bones can increase or decrease at the joint. This limited motion at hinge joints provides strength and reinforcement from the bones, muscles, and ligaments that make up the joint.
  • Ball and socket joints have the fullest range of motion and allow the joints to move in a full circle and rotate around their axis. They are found only in the hip and shoulder. This free range of motion make them more susceptible to dislocation.
  • Saddle joints, such as the one found in the thumb. Saddle joints allow a more limited circular movement than ball and socket joints.
Morning desert stretch

Soft and connective tissues

  • Cartilage covers the surface of a bone at a joint. Cartilage reduces friction and serves as a shock absorber.
  • Synovial membrane creates a capsule at the joint and secretes a lubricant – synovial fluid. A healthy knee has less than one teaspoon!
  • Ligaments connect bones; they are tough, elastic bands surrounding the joint to give support and limit the joint’s movement.
  • Tendons connect muscles to bones and control movement.
  • Bursas are fluid-filled sacs between bones, ligaments, or other nearby structures and help cushion friction in a joint.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a chronic condition causing joint pain or joint disease, often leading to stiffness, numbness, tingling, inflammation, and motor loss in the affected joints. Causes may include loss of cartilage, lack of fluid, autoimmunity, inflammation, infection or a combination of issues. Arthritis is one of the most common joint disorders affecting more than 54 million U.S. adults, including 50% of adults over 65.

There are many types of arthritis. Common types include:

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease, most often associated with aging. Excess weight can result in OA in knees, ankles and feet. An injury to a joint is another risk factor. Knees are the most affected joints. OA is also common in hands, feet, spine and hips.

Arthritis “hot spots”
Illustration by Laura Kraft

Cartilage relies upon synovial fluid to transport nutrients and waste in and out of the area. The more joints bend and move, the more fluid circulates through them, increasing the ability for even greater movement. As people move less with age and/or injury, joints lose synovial fluid circulation. This has a “snowball effect” in deterioration at the joint. As cartilage loses its elasticity and becomes stiff, it is easier to damage. Damaged cartilage leads to damaged tendons and ligaments. As a result, bones rub together and cause inflammation resulting in pain, swelling and stiffness.

Common symptoms

•Joint Pain
• Stiffness
• Restricted movements in the joints
• Swelling or inflammation
• Warmth or redness of the skin over the joint

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. It is a disorder in which the immune system attacks the joints. It is considered chronic and inflammatory. This can lead to substantial loss of mobility due to pain and joint destruction. The body starts attacking its own parts unknowingly.

Gout Arthritis

Gout Arthritis (GA) is caused suddenly as a severe attack, usually either in the big toe or any joint. This is a metabolic disorder that results from crystals of uric acid depositing in joint tissues, causing attacks of inflammation.

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic Arthritis (PA) affects some people who have psoriasis — a condition that features red patches of skin topped with silvery scales. Most people develop psoriasis first and are later diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, but the joint problems can sometimes begin before skin patches appear.

Learn more about arthritis on the Arthritis Association web site.

Benefits of Practicing Yoga

Many people suffering from arthritis begin to limit movement, yet most arthritic joints benefit from regular, low-impact exercise. Yoga practiced with pranayama and meditation is an excellent option. Yoga is gentle and enjoyable enough to practice regularly, even for those with chronic pain. Yoga builds muscle strength, joint flexibility and balance. Range of motion improves. Yoga also helps manage pain, balance energy and improve physical, mental and emotional well-being. Recent studies have supported the benefits of a regular Yoga practice to ease the pain of arthritis and increase movement. Arthritis restricts movement; Yoga increases range of motion.

Yoga for Arthritis

  • Focus on your breath.
  • Warm up joints at the beginning and end of each practice (dasha chalana or ten churnings). These can be practiced seated or standing:
    • Neck
    • Shoulders
    • Wrists and fingers
    • Hips
    • Ankles and toes
  • Stay longer in poses, giving yourself ample time to fully experience the pose without going too far – never to the point of pain.
  • Find what works for you. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center suggested poses include:
    • Mountain
    • Cobra
    • Side Angle Pose
    • Stork
    • Gentle Seated Twist
  • Viniyoga is an excellent option for practioners with arthritis. This style of Yoga allows students to practice at their own rate, moving with their breath. Adaptations are offered by the teacher to ensure a safe practice for each student.
  • Include a period of rest. Savasana not only supports joints but calms the mind and deepens the breath at the close of practice.
Side Angle Pose

Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way. With yoga, we become aware of how and where we are restricted — in body, mind, and heart — and how gradually to open and release these blockages. As these blockages are cleared, our energy is freed. We start to feel more harmonious, more at one with ourselves. Our lives begin to flow — or we begin to flow more in our lives.

~ Cybele Tomlinson

Relax and Restore

A bed of lotus

Yoga – a holistic wellness practice

Many people are drawn to Yoga to gain strength and flexibility, or simply to get a “good stretch”. The subtler gifts of Yoga reveal themselves with persistent practice; yogis/yoginis feel energized yet relaxed, calm yet focused, strong yet flexible. What differentiates Yoga from other forms of exercise? Yoga is a holistic wellness practice. A well-balanced Yoga practice includes proper sequencing (vinyasa), poses (asanas), breath control (pranayama), meditation and relaxation. Ideally, Yoga classes are designed according to the time of day, season of the year, age and physical condition of the practitioners. A morning practice in the winter is more energizing than a practice designed for a summer evening. Classes designed to build strength and stamina differ from gentle, restorative classes intended to rejuvenate stressed out practitioners at the end of a demanding work week.

Yoga sequences follow a pattern, choreographed from beginning to end, known as sequencing (vinyasa).  Most classes begin in seated meditation. Attention gradually shifts from the external world inward and onto the mat, known as withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara).  As a teacher, I que my students to observe body, mind, energy and breath, feel gratitude for the present moment, then set an intention for practice. The active phase of practice is what most people associate with Yoga – seated, kneeling, standing, prone and supine postures.

Learning to be still is as important as learning to move.

Classes wind down with a set of supine restorative poses, culminating in five to ten minutes in Corpse Pose (Savasana). Poses become progressively slower with longer pauses. Exhales lengthen, releasing tension with each successive round of breath. Coming full circle, class ends where it began – in seated mediation. Before parting, students pause to feel the full effects of their Yoga practice and leave feeling rejuvenated. From an Ayurvedic perspective, restorative poses balance Vata (air and ether) energy in the body.

Reclined Butterfly in a field of dreams with Mandy

Supine restorative poses include:

  • Gentle hamstring stretch (Suptapadaangusta)
    • Extend legs up towards the ceiling with torso rests on the mat; support legs with hands behind legs or with a strap.
  • Outer hip stretch or eye of the needle (Sucirandhrasana)
    • Releases tension in outer hip.
  • Reclined Butterfly (Supta Baddha Konasana)
    • Relaxes and stretches thigh and groin.
  • Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)
    • Stretches the inner thighs, groin and hamstring.
    • Releases the spine and sacrum and SI (sacroiliac) joint.
Happy Baby Courtesy of CM-G
  • Knees to chest (Apanasana)
    • Brings body back into symmetry.
    • Gently massages abdomen and organs of digestion.
    • Releases tension in lower back.
  • Legs up the wall (Vipariti karani)
    • Releases tension in the legs, pelvic floor and lower back & aids in circulation.
    • Aids in a peaceful night’s sleep.
  • Corpse pose (Savasana)
    • Pose of repose; Savasana is a state of rest without sleeping at the end of practice.

Savasana – More than a Nap

Savasana provides an opportunity to synthesize and absorb Yoga practice, mentally, emotionally and physically. Focus returns inward. The rhythm of the heartbeat and breath slow to an almost imperceptible resting rhythm. Muscles relax and soften, bones feel heavy and the entire body yields to gravity and the healing, grounding energy of relaxation. Savasana stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms the sympathetic nervous system. Practioners enter a transitional, liminal space, betwixt and between the conscious and unconscious realms – a place where healing, self-awareness and change can occur.

Coming into Savasana

  • Extend your legs with arms by your side and palms facing up
    • Alternative – bend your knees with feet on the floor (for back issues).
  • Dress to stay warm but not overheated.
    • Add cushions for the most comfortable pose.
  • Observe, then relax each part of your body.
    • Envision softness and openness in previously tight mental, emotional, and physical places.
    • Allow your body to “sink” into the mat.
  • Notice your emotional and mental state.
  • Count slower and slower rounds of breath to aid in relaxation.
  • Close your eyes; use an eye pillow.

According to Lilias Folan in Yoga Gets Better with Age, there are four aspects of relaxation:

  1. Focus your attention on each part of our body.
  2. Suggest – use your inner voice rather than letting it use you with mental chatter.
  3. Pause – wait and allow the experience to unfold. This is a moment to sharpen your inner awareness.
  4. Feel – the sensations within your body. Do not think or judge.

Relaxation thrives with repetition. The components – focus, suggest, pause and feel remain consistent but the results change with each practice.

Benefits of Savasana

  • Calms the mind & improves focus and concentration
  • Reduces stress, anxiety and tension
  • Balances energy & improves sleep
  • Relaxes muscles
  • Aids in digestion

Just for Now

Just for now, without asking how, let yourself sink into stillness. Just for now, lay down the weight you so patiently bear upon your shoulders. Feel the earth receive you, and the infinite expanse of the sky grow even wider as your awareness reaches up to meet it. Just for now, allow a wave of breath to enliven your experience. Breathe out whatever blocks you from the truth. Just for now, be boundless, free, with awakened energy tingling in your hands and feet. Drink in the possibility of being who and what you really are – so fully alive that the world looks different, newly born and vibrant, just for now.

~ Danna Faulds

Want to read more about the energetics of Yoga? Read my article in Seattle Yoga News.

Celebrate Aging

Our Aging Population

Around the globe, fertility and infant mortality rates have decreased; meanwhile people are living longer, healthier lives. These changes have resulted in an unprecedented demographic shift towards an aging global population. Changes in demography are transforming societies, including medical research, public health, migration patterns, business, governmental policies and perhaps most importantly, our perceptions towards aging and elderhood.

From Ageism to Positive Aging

Most of us desire a long and healthy life, just not the experience of growing old so quickly. Modern society continues to idolize youth and marginalize elderhood. How many times have you heard, “you don’t look your age” or “you look great for 55”? Another favorite, “60 is the new 40 and 70 is the new 50”. Elderhood is associated with loss, loneliness, low energy, forgetfulness and so on. These are examples of ageism. As with all “ism’s”, ageism marginalizes elders – financially, socially and emotionally. And ageism affects our health! People with a positive attitude towards their own aging tend to live longer.

According to gerontologist, Louise Aronson, elderhood is a highly varied phase lasting 20 – 40 years. Why lump people in their 60’s with those in their 80’s?! We would never generalize about people in their 20’s and 40’s. People learn, grow and develop throughout life, well beyond childhood. And each phase of life is full of joys and sorrows, strengths and weaknesses.

Ideas about aging are changing as evidenced by the following trends:

Happiness and Aging

In the spring of 2017, I attended the ChangingAging Tour, a “nonfiction theater performance” presented by Dr. Bill Thomas and his traveling troupe. The performance included music, skits, art, storytelling, biography, and neuroscience. A large portion of the day was devoted to dementia. Several take-aways for me: I stopped using the expression, “senior moment” when I misplace something. We have forgetful moments throughout our lives, without blaming age. I enjoyed learning that young minds are better at memorization, while older minds excel at integration. And I loved the storytelling. Elders have many stories to tell and wisdom to share.

Embracing my 60’s

Who knew? Adulthood (the prime of life) is associated with the greatest anxiety levels and lowest happiness levels. Obligations are high and time is limited – many adults care for children and/or parents, while working a demanding job. Adults have more worries and stressors: from financial constraints to moves for career growth to divorce.   The grind of daily life might not match hopes and aspirations. Believe me, I have been there!

As people enter their early sixties, life satisfaction and happiness increase and remain high well into the nineties. Elders have a clearer sense of self-identity and worry less about what others think. Retired people have time to pursue old passions or explore new hobbies. I quit my full-time job after a 25-year career in student services to teach Yoga and volunteer. I now control my time. It took a while to slow down and savor extra “me” time each day. At first, I felt like I was playing hooky from work! I ask many people if they enjoy retirement and hear a resounding yes. It is exciting to witness the myriad of options played out during the Third Act.

From Anti-Aging to Healthy Aging

In hopes of reversing the aging process, many people experiment with a plethora of diet and fitness fads; consume numerous supplements; and regularly visit spas and wellness clinics. Massages, acupuncture, reflexology, facials, waxing and other treatments continue to rise in popularity. In 2018, more than $50 billion was spent on anti-aging worldwide – all to look and feel younger. Remedies may improve health or appearance in the short term. However, Ayurveda and Yoga practiced together, provide an integrated approach to wellness and contribute to healthy aging.

Ayurveda and Aging

Ayurveda and Yoga connect mind, body and energy while maintaining balance and wellness. Each person has a primary constitution (prakruti) which can change over time and manifest as our current state (vikruti). The branch of Ayurveda focused on longevity is known as rejuvenation (rasayana). There are three life stages: youth (Kapha), adulthood (Pitta), and elderhood (Vata). As Vata energy rises, skin and hair become dry, joints feel stiff and achy, digestion is erratic, and thoughts may become scattered.

Following an Ayurvedic lifestyle includes daily routines (dinacharya), with adjustments as we age. And as we attain elderhood, we should choose a gentler Yoga practice with more focus on pranayama and meditation. Learn more about the benefits of Yoga for practioners over 50 here.   

Serenity at the labyrinth, Victor Montana, 2019

Find Wellness in Elderhood with Ayurveda and Yoga

  • Each morning focus on the gift of life with each breath.
    • Notice how your body feels from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes.
    • With gratitude, notice where you feel softness and ease.
    • Without judgement, notice where you feel stiff, achy or fatigued.
    • Notice the natural rhythm of your breath.
  • Follow your heart – reach out to a loved one.
  • Pay attention to the present moment.
    • Experience each of your five senses.
    • Embrace the wise elder, rich with experiences.
    • Pause for inner reflection, meditation, mindfulness or prayer.
  • Practice self-care.
    • Massage with an oil or balm each morning.
    • Indulge in a hot oil hair and scalp treatment.
    • Soak in a warm tub, drink your favorite herbal tea or try golden milk.
    • Take a walk in a nearby park or forest and breathe in the aromas. If your access is limited, open a door or window, feel the fresh air, stretch and take a few breaths.
  • Eat soothing, warm foods including soups, stews, steamed vegetables.
    • Eat smaller meals more often.
    • Eat your main meal at midday when your digestive fire (Agni) is at its peak.
  • Drink plenty of water without ice.  
  • Movement is medicine!
    • Find an exercise you enjoy and practice several times a week… or more! Break it up into doable chunks of 5 – 15 minutes.
    • Find the best time for you – if you enjoy mornings, take a walk and/or stretch before you engage in other activities.
    • Spend 5 – 10 minutes to warm up joints and muscles, even longer in the cold, damp winter weather.
    • Take time for a full body stretch several times throughout the day.
  • Rest and rejuvenate! Get plenty of sleep.
    • Don’t be afraid to nap – rest in the early afternoon or pause for afternoon tea and conversation.
  • Stay engaged!
    • Choose one of your passions and find a volunteer opportunity.
    • Find others who share your hobby and join or start a group.
    • Check out the awesome classes and programs at your local Senior and Community Centers.
Hells Canyon, 2019

Here life goes on, even and monotonous on the surface, full of lightning, of summits and of despair, in its depths. We have now arrived at a stage in life so rich in new perceptions that cannot be transmitted to those at another stage – one feels at the same time full of so much gentleness and so much despair – the enigma of this life grows, grows, drowns one and crushes one, then all of a sudden in a supreme moment of light one becomes aware of the sacred.

~ May Sarton

Yoga for Healthy Bones

Bone basics

Bones are a living tissue, composed of 10 – 20% water and 60 – 70% hydroxyapatite (HA), a naturally occurring form of calcium interspersed in a collagen matrix. Bones also contain trace amounts of proteins and inorganic salts. They are naturally soft, pliable and strong enough to withstand pressure. Collagen allows the bone to expand, contract, and mend without breaking. Bone density is the amount of bone mineral in bone tissue.

There are two types of bone in the human body: cortical and cancellous bone. The cortical bone (outer layer) forms a cylindrical shaft around the marrow in the central part of the bone and accounts for 80% of the body’s bone mass. Cancellous bone (internal bone tissue) is very porous with a honeycomb structure with less mass but more surface area.

Bones contain three types of specialized cells: osteoblasts, osteocytes and osteoclasts. Osteoblasts produce the collagen-rich substance osteoid, which is key in building bone. Osteoblasts transform into osteocytes and migrate below the surface of the bone and maintain its structure. Osteoclasts cells migrate to areas in need of resorption.

Osteoporosis

Bone loss occurs slowly over years – often without any obvious symptoms. As a result, many people do not discover they have osteoporosis until they break a bone. Signs of osteoporosis include forward curvature of the spine (kyphosis) and loss of height. The loss in height is often due to the bones in the spine slowly crushed by gravity. Someone with low bone density in the spine may unknowingly break a bone by performing a routine task, like bending over in the garden, or picking up something that falls on the floor. A simple fall often results in a hip fracture. As we age, it is vital to maintain strength, stability and balance.

Osteoporosis (porous bones) is defined as a bone density of 2.5 standard deviation below that of the average young adult. Osteopenia is midpoint between healthy bones and osteoporosis. Bone density is tested using a DXA machine (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry). Drugs given to patients with osteoporosis suppress the natural process of osteoblast production and inhibit the dissolution of old, diseased bone.

Facts and Figures

  • Approximately 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and 80% are women.
  • Approximately half of women over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
  • A woman’s risk of breaking her hip is equal to her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
  • The reasons why women get osteoporosis at a higher rate than men, particularly in the years following menopause include:
    • Women tend to have smaller, thinner bones than men.
    • Estrogen, the hormone that protects women’s bones decreases after menopause, potentially leading to bone loss.
    • Women tend to live longer.

How Yoga can help

You can take care of your bones, no matter your age! Protect your bones with a well-balanced diet, including calcium and vitamin D; get regular exercise; avoid smoking and limit alcohol. Weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises build and maintain bone density. Recent studies show that Yoga can strengthen bones and improve bone density.

  • Yoga is low impact, putting less stress on the bones than many other forms of exercise.
  • Longer holds in standing postures are “weight-bearing”.
  • Yoga improves balance and prevent falls. Less falls, means less potential for broken bones.
  • Yoga stretches all muscles, including those that support the joints.
  • The action of working and stretching muscles against the bone helps promote bone growth. And stronger muscles puts less strain on joints.
  • Yoga increases range of motion and brings synovial fluid to the moveable joints.
  • Ease of movement with strength and balance reduces the chance of falling.

Do’s and Don’ts

Practice at a slower pace and hold each pose for at least 3 – 5 breaths.

Avoid putting pressure on the spine with strong core poses (yoga crunches, plank, boat pose).

Avoid forward folding poses with a rounded spine. Keep your spine long and flex at the hip joint to a partial or half-forward bend. Practice child’s pose with a bolster; down dog at the wall or with a chair.

Put one hand on a chair or wall for one-legged balance postures to avoid putting too much pressure on your joints.

Balanced and strong

Strengthen your legs with standing poses, including:

  • Warrior 1
  • Gentle backbends like Star Gazing Pose
  • Crescent Moon
  • Triangle Pose
  • Half Moon
  • Extended Side Angle
  • Mountain Pose – a pose of strength, stability and balance.

Firmly plant your feet into the ground to establish stability.

Extend your arms to add more strength to the pose and length along your spine.

Keep your muscles engaged (flexed) to increase the isometric effect of the posture.

Side bends are great!  A note of caution – do your best to avoid collapsing the lower side of your spine. Both sides of the spine need to stay long.

Seated twist by the labyrinth

Include gentle twisting poses that allow you to keep the length in your spine. Gentle twists apply mild pressure to the bones without harming the vertebrae.

Cultivate the length and suppleness of the spine before extending. Attempting to extend the spine without lengthening creates compression in the facet joints and discs along the spine and could result in back pain.


“Mountain pose teaches us, literally, how to stand on our own two feet…. teaching us to root ourselves into the earth…. Our bodies become a connection between heaven and earth.”

~ Carol Krucoff

 For my sister, Susan on her birthday.

Tai Chi by the Sea

 

 

Moon Salutations

Spring Equinox

As we transition from Winter into Spring, the earth warms, flowers blossom, birds sing, and our energy shifts. We shed a few layers of clothing, feel lighter and move about more freely. We begin spending more time in outdoor activities – walking, hiking, boating, gardening – just to name a few. Ayurveda and Yoga offer ways to make simple changes to stay healthy and vital with each season. To learn tips for staying healthy this Spring, read, Living with the Seasons: Spring.

Lunar Phases

The moon reflects the light of the sun. When we linger in the moonlight, we absorb a softer, subtler energy than we experience in daylight. Last night I awoke to find my dog, Samantha basking in the moonlight. She chose the exact spot on the floor where the moonlight streamed down from our skylight. And she nearly glowed! Much has been written about the moon’s effect upon energy, moods, hormones and our reproductive cycles. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the moon will be full on the first day of Spring on March 20, 2019. And it is the third and final super moon this year. Not only will we experience a nearly equal amount of daylight hours and night time, but the added potency of a supermoon.

Celebrate the Full Moon and Equinox with Moon Salutations

As the days lengthen and our energy rises, now is great time to bring more energy and flow into our Yoga practice. Some traditions practice Yoga Mala (108 Sun Salutations) at each solstice and equinox. If you are seeking a gentler, calmer sequence to celebrate the Spring Equinox and Full Moon, try Moon Salutations.

Moon Salutation (Chandra Namaskar) is a series of poses performed in a sequence to create a cooling flow of movement. There are numerous variations to the sequence. This version is gentle and does not include getting up and down from the mat. Practice one or more rounds of Moon Salutations with your regular routine or alone.

Chandra Namaskara can be practiced any time of day. Try an evening practice with soft lighting – or even better – by moonlight. Embrace this quiet practice and draw your awareness inward. Move between poses slowly and rhythmically and allow your body to settle into each pose. Move calmly with your breath: inhale to extend, and exhale to bend. Imagine each Phase of the Moon as you move from pose to pose. Allow yourself the time to linger in a pose that beckons you.

The Moon Salutation sequence calms the mind and restores vital energy, while stretching, softening and balancing the entire body. The primary focus is on the lower body, particularly the thigh muscles, calves, pelvis, and ankles.

1. Mountain Pose – Tadasana

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bring your palms together at your heart center. With your feet firmly planted into the mat, feel the strength of your legs and lower body. Feel your breath deepen and your focus turn inward.

2. Wide Legged Full Moon Forward Bend – Prasarita Padottanasana

Widen your legs wide and keep your feet parallel. Create the shape of a Full Moon with your arms and reach up on the inhale and exhale down. Repeat 3 – 4 times then stay at least 5 – 7 breaths. Relax your shoulders, cradling your elbows in your hands. Alow your torso to relax towards the earth, while your legs remain strong and stable.

3. Upward Salute to Crescent Moon Side Stretch (side to side beginning on left side) – Urhva Hastasana

Return to Mountain Pose with your feet a bit wider than hip distance. Inhale and you sweep your arms overhead as if you are cradling the Crescent Moon. Exhale and bend your upper torso to the left. Keep your feet grounded and your legs strong. Inhale and come back to center. Exhale and bend to the right, and then inhale to come back to center. Repeat about 3 – 4 more times each side. Return to Mountain – feel your body side to side and from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet.

4. Goddess Squat – Utkata Konasana

Inhale and step your feet wide apart and turn your toes out slightly with hands to heart center. Exhale as you bend your knees directly over your toes and lower your hips into a squat. Extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder-height with your palms facing forward (goal post). Move in and out of Goddess Pose 4 – 5 times, then stay 5 – 6 breaths.

5. Star Pose

Inhale and straighten both legs, keeping your feet wide apart. Extend your arms at shoulder-height, facing your palms forward. Spread your fingers and reach out through your fingertips. Feel the energy increase with the spaciousness created in your upper body and chest. Stay in Star Pose 5 – 7 breaths.

6. Triangle Pose (left side) – Utthita Trikonasana

Align your front (left) foot so that it points towards the top of the mat and turn your back (right) foot so it is parallel with the back of the mat. Inhale as you reach your left hand towards the front of the mat. Exhale and bend sideways at the hip, lowering your left hand to your leg, a block or the mat and extend your right hand up towards the ceiling. Remain for 5 – 6 breaths.

7. Pyramid Pose – Parsvottanasana (left side)

Turn your upper torso to the left until it aligned with your left leg. Pivot your right leg slightly. Exhale as you fold your torso over your left leg. Rest both hands on your leg, a block or the mat. Ground down through the heel of your back foot. Inhale back up and return to Mountain. Take another moment to feel your body and breath before repeating the sequence on the right side.

8. Wide Legged Full Moon Forward Bend – Prasarita Padottanasana (repeat)

9. Upward Salute to Crescent Moon Side Stretch (repeat)

10. Goddess Squat – Utkata Konasana (repeat)

11. Star pose (repeat)

12. Triangle Pose (right side) – Utthita Trikonasana

13. Pyramid Pose – Parsvottanasana (right side)

14. Return to Mountain Pose – close your eyes and reconnect with your body and your breath.

15. Complete your practice with a long relaxation in Savasana. Allow every part of your body to relax into the mat.

Learn more about the phases of the moon: https://www.farmersalmanac.com/understanding-phases-moon-20606

HATHA

sun moon
rising setting
eclipsing
melding one into the other
perfect union.

I stand between the two
and try to feel
the essence
of perfect symmetry
right between the eyes:
heart of fire
quiet mind
one body
one soul
setting
rising
now
and
only
now.

~ Pilar Kimbrell

Thank you, Laura Kraft for the illustrations.

Side Stretches

Do you feel stiff, achy and fatigued in the morning or after sitting for a long period? You are not alone. Stiff muscles, joints and bones are common as we age. Although stiffness can localize in nearly any part of the body, common areas are the lower back, shoulders, neck and hips.  Long periods of inactivity reduce fluid levels and leads to stiffness.  Stiffness may also be caused by illnesses (flu), insufficient sleep, nutritional deficiencies, rheumatic conditions or osteoarthritis. There are numerous ways to relieve stiffness. More and more people turn to Yoga to relieve stiffness and increase flexibility and for good reason! Stretching increases blood circulation while reducing stiffness and achiness in muscles and joints.(Please note: If you have chronic stiffness and pain, consult your medical practioner.)

Open up to a new day with a side stretch or two.

Few people think about flexibility in the side body and the connection to stiffness in other parts of the body. The human spine’s natural range of motion is limited, and side bending is rare. Most activities are forward-focused – think about how you move while walking, running, cooking, reading, driving or cycling. Activities that require bending sideways include cleaning, gardening, tennis, and golf. Few exercise regimes include a balanced and targeted approach to side (lateral) bends. But Yoga does.

Triangle pose on the Arabian Sea.

Lateral bends can be done seated, standing, kneeling or laying on the back or side. Certain poses are designed to stretch the torso, while other poses stretch the pelvis, groin, hip joints. Yoga poses often have a primary intention and a secondary intention. One example is tree pose. Tree is primarily a balance pose, but also stretches the inner thigh, outer hip and groin.

Common lateral bend poses:

  • Crescent Moon or Upward Salute
  • Half Moon
  • Extended Side Angle
  • Gate Pose
  • Triangle Pose
  • Leg lift (on side
Gate Pose on the Columbia River.

Tips for successful lateral bends:

  • Move with your breath before staying. Inhale to lift and lengthen your spine and exhale into the side bend. As you move, you are stretching one side of the body and contracting the muscles along the opposite side.
  • Limit the range of motion. Avoid leaning forward or rotating the body. Keep the body in one plane to control the position of the pelvis and shoulders.
  • Avoid going too “deep” into a pose. A common example is reaching for the floor or a block in triangle pose. Practioners often lean forward to accomplish this goal and lose the benefits of the lateral stretch.
  • Include one or more lateral stretches in every practice and you will notice improvement over time with persistent practice.
  • Bring your body back into alignment through a gentle forward bend before proceeding in your sequence to a twist or backbend.
  • Take time to feel the effects of the pose in your body.
  • Do not focus on perfecting a pose, but in feeling the effects of the pose.

The benefits of lateral flexion poses may include:

  • Boosts energy throughout the body.
  • Improves posture, reduces neck and shoulder tension.
  • Improved range of motion in shoulders and hips.
  • Helps compensate for long hours of sitting.
  • Leads to greater ease and contentment throughout the entire body.
  • Improves mobility in spine and shoulders.
  • Brings left and right sides of body into balance and alignment.
  • Helps organize muscles to hold the pose.
  • Improves mind/body awareness.
  • Lengthens abdominal, hip and thigh muscles.
  • Increases flexibility.
  • Stretches the oblique muscles (connecting outer ribs to outer hips) that run along the sides of the waist.
  • Stretches the muscles that run along the armpit and sides of the neck
  • Stretches the latissimus dorsi (broad back muscles known as lats), and the quadratus lumborum (muscles that attach the pelvis to the rib cage along the back of the waist).
  • Improves breathing
    • Lengthens the intercostal muscles between the ribs – opens ribcage and allows lungs to expand. Creates a feeling of expansion.
  • Improves digestion, assimilation and elimination
    • Creating space between the lower ribs and iliac crest on one side (stretching) while simultaneously reducing space on the other (contracting). This action “massages” the organs of the digestive system: stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder and large intestine.
  • Boost immunities and detoxes
    • Stretching the side body while raising arms overhead moves lymphatic fluid throughout the body. Two areas of focus: the armpits (auxiliary region of lymph nodes) and the spleen (lymphatic organ).
Half Moon with Sammie

Lateral bends and your dosha

  • Vata is the energetic force responsible for movement. People with a vata dosha may tend to move in and out of lateral bends without staying long enough to reap the benefits of the pose.
  • Pitta is the transformative force responsible for digestion. People with a pitta dosha may tend to overdo a pose by going too deeply without feeling the stretch.
  • Kapha dosha is the energy of substance, cohesiveness and tissue formation. People with a kapha dosha may avoid the deep experience of a full lateral stretch.

body bends
and opens.
soft flow of ocean
floods
my heart.
once rigid
boundaries
becoming permeable.
mind witness
to the
transformation
on the mat.
 
~ Mary Ivancic from The Poetry of Yoga
 

Set your Intention

Along Boulder Creek – photo by Heidi Mair

A New Beginning

The New Year is a great time to reevaluate habits and lifestyle choices, seek renewal and make positive changes for the future. Many people hope to improve their health and well-being by making resolutions and setting goals. Some examples include: I plan to practice Yoga at least 3 times a week. I plan to hike every weekend. I will try that new diet that worked for my friends. Goals and resolutions are fine but may quickly fall by the wayside due to a lack of motivation. This may derive from the fact that New Year’s resolutions are directly related to the ego and will. They rarely arise from one’s true, authentic heart-centered self.

At the beginning of Yoga class, teachers often guide students to set an intention (sankalpa) or dedicate their practice to someone or something. What does it mean to set an intention? And what is the difference between a resolution, an intention and a dedication?

Dedication

Dedication is a conscious decision to send positive thoughts and energy to someone or something. A good place to begin is with someone that you are grateful to know. If your mind wanders, return your thoughts to the object of your dedication. This simple shift takes the attention away from one’s self (worrying about perfect poses) and into a place of compassion. If you are experiencing challenges, illness or loss, dedicate your practice to your own well-being and self-care. Sometimes, I tell a loved one that I have dedicated my practice to them. They do not always understand on an intellectual level, but are touched, nevertheless.

Sankalpa

According to Yogapedia, Sankalpa is a Sanskrit term that refers to a heartfelt desire, a solemn vow, an intention, or a resolve to do something. It is similar to a resolution, except that it comes from a deeper place within and tends to be an affirmation. Sankalpa can be articulated as one word, a quotation, poem, prayer or simply a feeling.

Photo by Heidi Mair.

Yoga cultivates sankalpa for self-realization, while Ayurveda cultivates sankalpa for healing. Self-realization and healing are intertwined like the roots of a grand tree – as we gain self-awareness, we open ourselves to the process of healing.

And as we heal, we become more self-aware. Be kind to yourself. If your mind draws a blank one day, do not worry. The more you practice intention, the easier it will become… just as the Yoga asanas become more familiar with each class. The process of setting an intention increases body, mind and breath awareness and helps the Yoga practioner be fully present in each moment. Ask yourself – Why are you practicing Yoga? Why did you choose to come to class today? As you practice Yoga with intention, think of the poses and their effect. Do you want to move in a slower, more mindful manner or choose to build energy?

Sankalpa also cultivates gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, calmness, openness, strength and peacefulness. Ideally, our Yoga practice connects individual consciousness to the larger world. Setting an intention helps guide us along the journey of self-discovery, live our lives with authenticity and share our true nature with both family and the wider community.

To help my students (and me) feel the relationship between intention and affirmation, I recently shared Louise Hay’s Heart Thought Affirmation cards in several classes. I found this fostered a more powerful experience than simply describing and defining sankalpa. Each student randomly chose a card, then read it aloud to the rest of the class (or chose their own positive word, thought or affirmation to share). Several students came to me after class to share their experience. One student told me it described exactly what she is experiencing in her life. Reading the words and articulating them, helped her see the situation with a fresh perspective.

I selected a card that read, “When I change my consciousness and forgive those I need to forgive, healing miracles occur.” The other side of the card read, “I am a magnet for miracles.” The words resonated within my mind and my heart…. especially cultivating forgiveness. This led to my intention for 2019 – find healing through forgiveness.

In Walla Walla, Washington. Photo by Thomas Mair.

May you live with intention and celebrate the uniqueness of your true, authentic self.


“Live with intention.
Walk to the edge.
Listen Hard.
Practice wellness.
Play with abandon.
Laugh.
Choose with no regret.
Appreciate your friends.
Continue to learn.
Do what you love.
Live as if this is all there is.”

Mary Anne Radmacher