Spring is a time of renewal, when the chill of winter yields to warmth and the slumbering beings begin to stir. We feel the urge to emerge, spend time in sunlight with the sprouting greenery, and perhaps even desire more freshness in our food choices.
Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves under Shelter in Place orders due to the novel Coronavirus, which forces us to remain sequestered against our instincts. But, as compassionate people, we know that in order to keep the vulnerable safer, we need to stay inside more than we wish.
Let’s learn some powerful spring Yoga practices we can do inside our homes to help us face the stresses of remaining inwardly focused while preparing to return to the outside world.
Invigorate with Sun Salutations
If you are younger or fitter with no injuries or issues with your wrists or shoulders, you may wish to begin your day with Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar); this is a vigorous practice designed to wake you up, get the blood moving, and invigorate your entire body.
- Moving through the postures more slowly builds self awareness and physical strength and can feel more like a weight training routine.
- Moving more quickly can increase the cardiorespiratory challenge and feel more “aerobic”.
- If you have experience with commercial styles of Vinyasa or Flow yoga, you can further occupy your mind by adding variations to the basic Salutation. A sense of play can be not only entertaining but your explorations will keep your practice feeling fresh. When increased, the Kapha Dosha can create feelings of sluggishness or stuckness which increased movement can help alleviate.
Some may not feel able to begin with Sun Salutations, needing a gentler warmup. The Shadow Yoga School teaches a warmup routine similar to many Qigong warmups and the first half is very gentle rotations of the joints. The joint rotations can be learned easily, but the second half does require instruction by a teacher as there are breath practices associated with the activities. The joint rotations help to lubricate and balance the joints without strain and can be used to warm up for other activities. Some can be done seated if balancing is an issue.
Learning to balance is an important skill to emphasize in the spring season. Just as emerging plants are sending down strong roots to support the rising up of the stalks, we must learn to root our feet downward to support the rising up of our posture and become sensitive to the subtle movements in our deep core musculature in our trunks. Better balance helps us to also balance our emotions and remain more stable in the strong winds of change.
Simple balancing postures can be two legged standing postures which are held for a period of time, where we can become attentive to how well we can equalize the pressure between our feet: we may notice a tendency to shift our weight more to one foot, stand more in the heels or in the toes, roll more to the inside or the outside of the feet. These subtle differences affect activation of other muscles in the legs and truck, and misalignments in the feet can eventually result in structural and functional changes elsewhere in the body that can predispose us to injury.
A simple standing posture called Horse Stance, from the martial arts, in which the feet are apart with knees bent and which is held for a number of steady smooth breaths is a good way to strengthen the legs and manage Vata Dosha which is “seated” in the lower body. Avoid bending the knees too much at the beginning, start with a slight bend so that this is easy to hold and pay attention to maintaining a breath rhythm that is slow (between 4 – 6 seconds inhale), smooth and regular, with a longer exhalation up to double the length of the inhalation. In martial arts, it is part of traditional training for the practitioner to learn to stand this way for up to one hour before learning the forms.
Yoga Asanas that can be added to the Horse Stance include:
Side Angle Poses
Wide Legged Forward Bends
Remember to pay attention to the breath and the sensations in the feet, don’t worry about getting “deep” into the asana; instead focus on the quality of your stance and how well you manage your breath and any emotions that may arise as the asana becomes more challenging. Stronger people can work on deepening the Horse Stance into a squat; as long as the breath is controlled and there is no strain or pain in the joints (especially the knees). It may be possible to squat to your heels (just don’t collapse and rest, keep some pressure in the feet as if to rise back up) – a lower position will help you train your “deep core” abdominal and spinal muscles (good for posture and balance) while keeping your digestive fire (agni) strong.
Once you understand how well you can balance between your feet, try simple one legged balances like:
Practice the same awareness that you did with the two legged balance but allow your standing ankle to wobble if necessary so that the trunk can remain stable. The lifted foot can remain close to the floor until you feel more confident in maintaining balance. The higher you lift the foot, the harder it is to balance until your core is balanced. Variations of the Tree like Figure Four are combined with a one legged squat and even a forward fold for a great stretch to the hips. Experienced practitioners who can place one foot in half lotus and slowly fold forward may be able to “bind” the lotus big toe before folding (Ashtanga method), or even balance on the standing ball of the foot and slowly squat down and rise back up (Bikram method).
If you don’t have access online to a yoga teacher or therapist who will work with you directly you can still look for appropriate videos on YouTube or Vimeo (or other platforms) to work with until you feel confident enough in your ability to create and practice a routine on your own. The biggest obstacle to practicing yoga is getting on your mat in the first place.
Spring is the perfect time to begin anew, do a spring yoga practice and see what sprouts!
Sandra Nicht, M.S., AYT-NAMA, C-IAYT