Now that spring and summer are (almost) finally coming to Wales, more of us will be out in the garden, sowing, pruning and ‘weeding’ (that is, removing plants that are unfortunately in the wrong place, they’re not weeds!). All of this can mean a lot of forward bending, and after a sunny 3 days in the garden last weekend, I was in need of some restorative yoga to ease the aching back. Here’s a nice routine of the 5 things I did. It’s useful not just for gardeners but anyone who gets home from work and feels stiff, or who has been sat at a computer all day and needs to stretch the other way.
1. ‘Flapping fish’ (matsya kridasana)
Lie down flat on the floor, then roll slightly to one side (I’ve rolled onto my left). Slide the knee on the ‘free’ side up to about hip height, and have the arm bent at right angles so the elbow is pointing to the knee, and your palm is down, roughly at head height. Rest here, breathing steadily for anything from 30 seconds to several minutes. Then straighten your arm and legs out so you’re lying flat again, and repeat to the other side. You can also have your head resting on your spare arm rather that with it down by your side. For other pictures and descriptions see the Healing Ways website or a nice video by Divine Wellness. You’ll see that some have the knee and elbow touching – if that’s not possible for you, don’t worry.
This can feel more comfortable than cobra so we’ll do this first. Lie flat on the floor, and then come up onto your elbows, with your shoulders directly above the elbows. To ensure you’re lengthening the spine and front of the chest, I like to do a ‘bad’ sphinx first. Sink your head and neck into your shoulders and feel your neck is compressed. Then, imagine pushing down through the elbows, lengthening your upper arms, and move the head and neck upwards towards the ceiling and away from your shoulders. You should have a feeling of lifting the front of the chest forwards. If being in sphinx pinches the lower back, slide your elbows forwards, away from the body, to decrease the curve in the lower back. Stay in the pose for 2 to 10 breaths. You can repeat it if you like. See also Yoga Journal website for more detailed descriptions.
3. Cobra (bhujangasana)
This is a stronger backbend than cobra. Again, start by lying flat and have your hands either side of your head at roughly eye level. Then lift the head, chest and rib cage up, trying not to use your arm strength at first, then when you’ve lifted up a bit, push down into the hands and arms to lift your upper body off the floor. Depending on your body proportions and the flexibility in your back you may not come up very high – that’s fine. You don’t have to straighten your arms. (See the ‘low’ version.)
If you have more flexibility in your back you can start with your arms further down your body, under the shoulders or by the side of the ribs. Again, if you have long arms they may not straighten as you lift up. Hold the pose for a few breaths, then come down and relax. Repeat if you like. For other images and descriptions of the pose see the Yoga Journal website or Yogasite.
4. Supported bridge (Dwi pada pitham)
Using blocks for a supported bridge can take some of the strain out of the pose, and means you can lie there for longer! Begin by lying on the floor on your back. Bring your feet in towards your bottom, knees bent and pointing to the ceiling, feet about hip width apart. Have your arms down by your sides. If you don’t have any blocks just do a ‘normal’ bridge, by peeling the spine up off the floor, one vertebra at a time, coming up onto your shoulders. Stay here for a few breaths then come down, and repeat if you want. If you are using blocks have them by one side and lift your back up and slide one in at a time. Depending on your flexibility you may fit one, two or more in. Ensure the whole of your bottom is on the blocks. Breath here, feeling the chest opening and lifting. To come down, lift your upper body up off the blocks first, remove them, then slowly lower your back onto the floor one vertebra at a time. Rest here. For pictures showing other ways of being in this pose see the Restorative Yoga Poses website, or for normal bridge see the Yoga Journal website. For a video of coming up into normal bridge see the Embodied Being blog post. Do not do this posture if you have neck problems.
5. Supine (lying) twist (jathara parivartanasana)
Twists are nice to do as counter poses to backbends. Lie on the floor with the feet up near the bottom, about hip width apart. Arms out at shoulder height. For a more gentle twist keep the feet on the floor and just lower the legs over to one side, fully relaxing them so you’re not holding tension in them. Turn your head to look in the opposite direction and keep both shoulder blades on the floor. Breath here for a few breaths. Then bring your head up to centre, knees and legs back up to centre. Repeat to the other side. For a stronger version start off with the knees over the chest and feet off the floor and again lower the legs to one side and then the other. For a gentler version, if your legs don’t reach the floor without the opposite shoulder coming up, rest your legs on a cushion as you go over to the side. This spine website has a simple video demonstrating the pose, or read a detailed description on the Anahata Project website or the Sudokasana website.
As ever, please take care doing yoga poses, especially if you are not used to doing them. If anything hurts or feels wrong, stop doing it and gently come out of the pose. Let me know if you try this sequence and enjoy it.