Reclining (Hamstring) Leg Stretch (Supta Padangushtasana)

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Reclining Leg Stretch is a tremendous way to stretch, strengthen and tone all the muscles of your legs including the calves, hamstrings, quads and glute muscles.  It is an appropriate pose for all levels of yoga practitioners even those who are brand new to yoga.   This pose is especially beneficial to anyone who tends to suffer from hamstring injuries.  The hamstrings are a group of muscles that run from the sitting bone of the pelvis to the back of the knee.  Their function is extension and flexion in the knee and the hip. When your hamstrings are tight, your hip and leg movements are more limited and this can make you more prone to strain or injury. The practice of yoga can lengthen and strengthen the hamstrings, preventing injury and creating more space and length in your body which is particularly beneficial to those in sports. 

It is especially important to stretch the hamstrings before and after a workout, but a basic hamstring stretch such as this one, practiced every day can also be helpful in relieving tension in the lower back, calf muscles and ankles. 

In this particular pose, I personally love to close my eyes and really allow myself to bring a deep awareness into all the muscles of my legs.  Placing your focus and awareness into your own leg in this manner will deepen and develop your own personal practice with spectacular results.  It is important to move slowly in and out of this pose and to keep your focus with your breath.   If you practice in this manner, it is possible to find a place in this pose where you can actually feel your muscles lengthening in your legs without actually creating tension anywhere else in your body particularly in the shoulder area.

BENEFITS OF RECLINING LEG POSE:

  • It is a supported posture therefore, suitable for all levels of yoga practitioners
  • Brilliant leg stretch and brilliant for building strength in the leg muscles
  • Opens hips and adductor muscles
  • Strengthens the abdomen
  • Relieves tension in the lower back
  • Warm up’s leading up to this pose reduce fluid retention
  • Warm up’s also stretches and strengthens the instep and ankles helping to reduce the risk of injury
  • Tones all your legs and buttocks

HOW TO GET INTO THE POSE:

Lie down on your mat, face upwards.  If you suffer from any type of lower back injury or if you have particularly tight hamstrings, I would suggest you bend your left knee and place the sole of the left foot firmly on the floor.  (Illustration 1)

  • Lift and straighten into your right leg keeping your foot a couple of inches off the floor.  Then breathing comfortably flex your toes towards your head and then gently away.  Repeat five times.
  • Then imaging you have a paint brush between your toes and only moving your ankle make circles with your big toe, move slowly and with awareness.  Repeat five times and then repeat in an anticlockwise motion.
  • Keeping your leg elevated gently make large circular motions to the right side of your body using your entire leg from the hip down. You will begin to feel the quads working at this stage.  Repeat five times before then going in an anticlockwise direction.
  • Then gently on an “out”  breath bring your knee close to your chest, interlocking your fingers and placing them on the back of your right thigh as support.
  • Breathe “in” and gently straighten your leg towards the ceiling, extend into your ankle as you do so.  What are you experiencing in your leg?  Be aware of what is happening in your body and how you are feeling right now.  Breathe “out”, bend your knee back down over your chest.  Repeat five more times.
  • Using a yoga strap (a belt, a man’s tie, or your dressing gown rope will also suffice) place the loop of the strap around the ball of your right foot.
  • Walk your right hand up the strap until your arm is straight and your shoulder blades can comfortably rest on the floor.  Breathe “in” and extend into your heel sending your foot towards the ceiling. (Illustrated in picture 2) Fill into the back of your knee as much as possible straightening your leg.  As you exhale release your right hip down to the floor.  Stay here for up to one minute working with the breath all the while. 

NOTE:  How high you take your leg at this stage will depend on your flexibility.  It is more important that your leg is straight and lower towards the floor rather than higher up with your knee bent.  You will lose some of the benefit of the stretch if you bend your knee, so try and keep your leg as straight as comfortably possible.

Your breath will also play a key part in this stretch so work with your breath.  When you breathe” in” remember you are lengthening, so extend through your ankle.  As you breathe “out”, remember you are letting go of tension, so RELAX, RELEASE AND LET GO! 

Depending on your flexibility this maybe as far as you wish to go, but if you would like to challenge yourself a little further you can then:

  • Take a breath in, as you exhale out release your right leg to the right side of your body creating an opening in the right hip.  (Illustrated in picture 3)  Ensure that your pelvis remains on the floor and that your left hip is still in contact with the floor.   If you left hip is lifting at this stage you may be over extending, so gently draw your right leg back towards center until you feel your left hip come back into contact with the floor.  Breathe “in” extend your heel away from your body and as you breathe out relax, release and let go of the muscle tension.  Hold the posture for a minute or two but do NOT hold your breath, work with your breath.  Breathe in and gently draw your leg back up to center as you breathe out.  Straighten your leg once more towards the ceiling, extending into your heel as you do so.
  • For the next part, I recommend you move extremely slowly and with huge awareness being placed into your leg.  Move centimeter by centimeter to really get the effect and benefit of this amazing pose.  Breathe “in” and as you slowly breathe “out” gently take your leg to the left crossing over your bodies center line.  (Can you feel what is happening in the muscles of your legs, what sensations are you experiencing?)  Keep extending through your heel as you breathe in and as you exhale continue to release any tension.  Hold for a minute of two working with your breath.
  • Breathe “in” and draw your leg back up to center on an exhalation.  Extend your leg once more towards the ceiling and then leading once more with your ankle gently release your leg back to the floor and relax on an out breath. 

Take a couple of relaxing breaths and notice the considerable difference between your two legs.  To bring balance to your body repeat all of the above with your left leg.  Om shanti.

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

yoga pose - female in sport clothes performing exercise

Bridge pose is a rejuvenating back bend which is very gentle.  It opens up the chest and shoulder area.   If you find it difficult to hold the lift, slide a block or bolster beneath your sacrum and rest your pelvis on it for support.

BENEFITS OF BRIDGE POSE:

  • Stretches and opens the whole chest and shoulder area
  • Strengthens any weakness in the lower back, hips and legs
  • Tones the glutes giving more definition to the buttocks
  • Tones the neck, throat and chin helping to alleviate a double chin
  • Anti-aging benefits of a mild inversion
  • Reduces anxiety, fatigue, backache, headache, and insomnia
  • Stimulates abdominal organs, lungs, and thyroid
  • Improves digestion
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Relieves menstrual discomfort
  • Helps to relieve the sympthoms of menopause
  • Therapeutic for asthma, high blood pressure, osteopenia and osteoporosis
  • Passively lengthens the psoas major and iliacus muscles in the hips

WHO SHOULDN’T DO BRIDGE POSE:

  • If you suffer from a neck injury avoid this pose unless you are being supervised by a Yoga Tutor.

HOW TO GET INTO THE POSTURE:

Lie down on your mat, face upwards with your hands placed at the side of your body with your fingers pointing in the direction of your toes.  Bend your knees, placing the soles of your feet firmly on the mat, hip distance apart, parallel and as close as you can too your buttocks.  Relax your shoulders and lower back into the floor and take a couple of deep relaxing breaths. If you are new to yoga I would suggest you do a gentle warm up first so you can get a feel for the posture.

On an “In” breath gently press your feet into the floor and lift your tail bone, pelvis and lower back just a couple of inches off the ground, pause, and then on “out” breath gently release back down to the floor.  Repeat a couple of times moving slowly and engaging your breath,  gently warming up the vertebrae of your spine as you do so.

When you feel ready to move into the full posture take a long, slow, deep breath in and then as you gently exhale press your lower back into the floor lengthening into your spine.  This tilts your pelvis towards your navel.  Keeping this tilt in your pelvis breathe in and pressing into your feet send your knees forward,  gently lifting your tail bone, pelvis and lower back off the floor coming up onto your shoulders.  Keep your hips elevated.  Balance your body weight equally between your feet and shoulders.  Release any major clenching of the buttocks.  Keeping your hands on the floor gently bring them in under your buttocks and interlock your fingers, palms of your hands facing each other with the knuckles gently extending towards your ankles.  This allows you to lift and open your chest more, drawing your shoulders blades towards each other and allowing them to release down your spine.  Your chest will be pressing towards your chin and the chin will likewise be pressing towards your chest.  Do NOT move your head whilst in this position as it may cause a neck injury.  Ensure that all parts of your feet remain in contact with the floor as you gently press into the big toe and inner edges of your feet engaging the quadriceps.  Knees are hip with apart and parallel.

Hold the pose but NOT your breath.  On each “in” breath lift your hips a ¼ of an inch closer to the ceiling, drawing your tail bone towards your pubis and also extend your knuckles towards your ankles.  Travel inwards and release any tension you maybe experiencing in your body on an out breath.

To come out of the pose, take a breath “In” and on an “out” breath very slowly uncurl from your neck releasing your upper back, mid back and lower back gently back down onto the floor and RELAX.  You can release your legs back onto the mat and rest for a couple of releasing breaths in Savasana.

Adaptions:

I like to use this pose as a form of moving meditation as follows:

Lie on your back with your knees bent in the correct position.

  • Breathe in:         Raise your arms up and out over your head relaxing onto the floor behind
  • Breathe out:      Lift into bridge pose
  • Breathe in:         Draw your arms back down by your side
  • Breathe out:      Gently release your spine and buttocks back down onto the mat

Repeat a number of times, closing your eyes and feeling the movement deep within your body. Om Shanti

Shoulder stand (Sarvangasana)

 

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Shoulder stand is one of my favorite poses in yoga.  It is regarded as the Queen of Asana’s with the Headstand being the King.  Shoulder stand is an inverted posture which benefits the physical body as well as the emotional.  Physically in this posture the body is turned upside down reversing the effects of gravity, it also helps to dispel excess aggression.  On an emotional level when you turn upside down you allow for a new perspective on your thoughts and behavior.

Benefits of shoulder stand:

  • Deeply calming pose, especially beneficial if you are feeling tense, anxious, nervous or irritated.
  • Stimulates and balances hormonal functions in the body.
  • Nourishes the thyroid gland.
  • Reverses sagging skin and brings a luminous quality to the skin and eyes.
  • Removes dark shadows and hollows under the eyes.
  • Re-energizes  the heart, lungs, face and brain.
  • Stimulates the circulatory system.
  • Aids digestion.
  • Helps relieve varicose veins.
  • Soothes and neutralizes the nervous system.
  • Helps relieve fatigue & insomnia.
  • Increases stamina, strength and induces a sense of well-being.
  • Relieves breathlessness, asthma, bronchitis, throat ailments and migraine.
  • Reduces fluid retention.
  • Tones all the internal organs.

 Who shouldn’t do shoulder stand:

  • Those who suffer with high blood pressure.
  • If you have a neck / shoulder injury as being in this posture may aggravate it.
  • If you have a detached retina or glaucoma.
  • If you have weak blood vessels in your eye.
  • If you are menstruating.
  • If you have Cervical Spondylitis.
  • If you suffer from hiatal hernia.

If you are pregnant, care should be taken with this pose.  Unless you are adept at yoga, I would suggest you modify the posture and use the wall as a support, great awareness should be placed on the sensations you feel whilst in the pose and as with all yoga postures listen to your inner guidance, if it doesn’t feel right, stop!

GETTING INTO THE POSE:

If you are a beginner the safest way to enter into this posture is with the use of a wall.  Begin by placing your yoga mat at the wall.  Fold a number of towels and place them on the mat.  The towels are being used to reduce the level of flexion in your neck once you are in the posture.  It is important that the towels come only as far as your shoulders and are not under your neck, head or hair.

Recline onto the blankets, placing your shoulders at the edge of the blanket.  Your buttocks should be almost touching the wall this may take a little correcting on your behalf.  Place the soles of your feet on the wall.  When you feel ready slowly lift your buttocks, pelvis and spine off the floor until your weight is over your shoulders.  Tuck your elbows in at the side of your body and gently place your hands on your back.  Fingers will be pointing towards your buttocks.   Raise one leg at a time off the wall to get a feel for the posture, please be aware of the sensations in your neck at this stage, as you may not wish to proceed any further into the pose.  Note:  do not move your neck whilst in the pose.  If there is any discomfort in your neck area you should come down out of the posture.  If you do however, feel comfortable you are now ready to take both legs away from the wall.  Once your legs are extended into the air draw your sit bones towards each other (clench your buttocks slightly) also draw your tailbone towards your public bone to engage the core muscles.  Send your heels towards the ceiling actively working the legs.  Breathe comfortably in this position and hold for a couple of breaths.  Gradually extend the length of time you stay in this posture aiming to be able to hold the position for a couple of minutes over a period of months.

To come back down, gently bend one knee at a time and place the foot back onto the wall.  Once both feet are on the wall you can then begin to gently lower your back towards the floor, supporting yourself with your hands as you do so.  Once the spine is firmly back on the blanket gently turn to one side, take a couple of breaths here to allow your blood pressure to return to normal, then gently using your hands push yourself back up into a seated position.

Because this is such a deep stretch into the back of the neck I would recommend that you stretch the front of the neck.  From a seated position gently raise your chin towards the ceiling, feeling the gentle stretch into the front of your neck.  Hold this position for as long as you held the shoulder stand.

Advanced Students:

There are many ways of entering shoulder stand once you are familiar with yoga.  I personally move from Savasana into half shoulder stand and then re-position myself into full shoulder stand.  Another option is to move from Knee-to Ear Pose.  Whichever option you chose holding the position will be as above.

For those who are adept at yoga my own personal sequence is Savasana, into Shoulder Stand, then move into Plow Pose (taking one leg back at a time), followed by Knee-to-Ear Pose, Pose of Tranquility, Candle and then finally back to Shoulder Stand again drawing one leg back at a time.

To come out of this posture bring an knee on either side of your head.  Hands are extended and placed onto your mat, push into your arms.  Engage your core and keeping your head on the floor slowly un-curl your spine until it is placed back on the mat.

I personally like to stretch the front of my neck as a contra pose to the shoulder stand with fish pose.