Balance Challenge #1: The Basics of Yoga

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I’m amazed at how yoga has helped my balance, flexibility and mobility. Of course, it’s not perfect. I still have a long way to go. I’ve only been doing it once a week for about a month, but I feel my movement is a little smoother and controlled. My goal is to be doing it at least 3 times a week.

A neurological disease is a difficult problem to tackle and there are many things I’m doing, so it’s hard to identify one thing as being of more benefit than another. It’s more like yoga is a powerful tool in my toolbox. I highly recommend you give it a go.

I describe some basic exercises which can get you started. These are good places to start for everyone, but particularly for those who have some mobility, but are using a walker, stroller, etc. as these are all done on the floor.

These are beginner poses that will help build a good foundation. If you’re trying something more advanced and need to rest, these are your go-to moves!

Note: I have graded these poses based on the perceived difficulty for the average person like myself with a movement disorder. In this and upcoming posts, I will go through basic, medium, advanced, more advanced and intermediate skill levels. These are slight modifications from their actual skill levels, but I felt it necessary as we have balance challenges not experienced by most.

Warning: It’s important to relax and let go. Let your body naturally find the position it wants to be in. Don’t push yourself with the goal of moving onto more advanced poses. If you feel any pain, please stop and seek medical attention if it persists.

Before You Start

There are a few things you should set up before you get started. Although not absolutely necessary, they would help to keep you more focused.

  • Get a proper yoga mat. It will grip the floor and protect your knees. You can pick one up anywhere. Try Walmart or Costco. I recommend a Gaiam one. Your basic Mat will be $10-$15.

  • Place your mat on a hard floor. The squishiness of the mat on a carpet will make balancing even more challenging.

  • De-clutter your space. This will do two things: 1) A clear space will create a sense of peace by helping you not to be distracted 2) having a dedicated practice space will help serve as a reminder that you’ve got to practice.

  • Fix your lighting. Natural lighting is preferred if you can do it. If you have the option, go for a space that has soft fluorescent lighting as opposed to halogens.

  • Choose the right tunes. Something soothing like the sounds of nature, Western classical, or Eastern-influence music are good choices. Some people prefer silence. That’s perfectly fine too.

  • Set the temperature. It should be warm enough for you to practice in a t-shirt and yoga pants.

Supported Relaxation Pose

This is a really simple pose aimed at total relaxation. If you have issues with fatigue, this is a good pose to try.

  • Lie back with your knees bent at 90-degrees with your calves and heels resting on your support.

  • Check that your lower back is in full-contact with the mat and not tilted.

  • Support your head with a cushion, folded towel or pillow. Set an alarm for 15-30 minutes.

  • Relax. Breath slowly through your nose.

  • When time is up, bend your knees to your chest and roll onto your right side. From here, use your arms to push yourself up into a sitting position.

Child Pose

This is a good pose to help you relax and stretch a little. It’s great to go to child pose if you’re in the middle of a yoga routine and need a bit of a breather. It’s great for stretching the ankles, thighs, and hips.

  • Make sure your toes are touching. Lean back until you’re sitting on your heels.

  • Keep your knees hip-width apart.

  • Breath out, then lay your upper body down over your thighs. Gently let your neck stretch out as you lower yourself to the floor.

  • To stretch your shoulders and mid-back, do this: move your hands back alongside your body, palms up.

  • Breathe deeply. Start with 30s and build up to a few minutes.

Easy Pose

Meant for calming your mind, this pose is also good for learning how to sit comfortably as well as strengthening the back.

  • Sit on the edge of a folded blanket.

  • Fold your legs, cross your knees, slip each foot beneath the opposite knee.

  • Make sure your feet are relaxed. Mind the gap between your pelvis and feet.

  • Breathe easily. Relax your mind. Start with holding the position for a minute. Try switching which leg is on top to feel physically balanced.

  • To get out of this pose, straighten your legs and go into Staff Pose.

Staff Pose

Staff pose is good for strengthening the back and helping to achieve better posture.

  • Firm your thighs. Feel them press down into the mat. Rotate them inwards slightly.

  • Flex your foot. Press out through your heels and the balls of your feet.

  • Feel your spine strengthen as you imagine energy streaming up through your torso, over your head, and back down your spine.

  • Think of your body as a staff holding you upright. Maintain the position for around a minute.

Cat Pose

Good for learning to coordinate movement and breath; loosening the spine; stress management.

  • Start from a tabletop position with your knees under your hips, your hands under your shoulders, neutral pelvis and a flat back. Your toes should be pointed to the back of the mat.

  • Breathe deeply. Press through your palms, so that you feel a line of energy formed between your hands and shoulders.

  • As you inhale, keep your pelvis in the same spot. Round your back upwards. Your eyes should be pointed at the floor between your knees.

  • Exhale and gently pull your abdominal muscles, tucking your tailbone down and under, gently contracting your buttocks.  Lift your shoulders. You should be looking straight ahead – just a few feet in front of you.

  • Return to tabletop position and repeat the process as required.

Happy Baby Pose

This pose is good for opening the hips, releasing the lower back, calming the brain, easing fatigue/stress.

  • While you exhale, bend your knees into your chest.

  • Inhale and lift your legs, bringing your knees to your armpits.

  • Keep your ankles above your knees. The soles of your feet should be parallel with the ceiling.

  • Grab the outer edges of your feet. Rest your head and upper back on the mat. Apply pressure on your feet, drawing your knees toward the floor.

  • Hold for 30 seconds. Try to progress to 1 minute.

Sphinx Pose (sometimes called Baby Cobra)

This pose is aimed at relieving stress, strengthening the spine and stimulating internal organs. It is also good to prepare for the Cobra Pose.

  • Reach your toes back, keep your buttocks firm (but don’t squeeze too tightly). Relax your eyes, tongue, and mind.

  • Slide your hands and forearms forward – so your hands are roughly in line with your ears. Press down through your elbows, gently lift your torso and head up using your abdominal muscles.

  • Look straight ahead at the wall. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged.

  • Stay in the pose for 3-4 breaths, building up to 10 breaths as you get more experienced.

  • Exhale, lowering your head and torso to the mat in one smooth movement. Turn your head to one side and rest.

  • Repeat the above steps and turn your head to the opposite direction to rest. Repeat the whole process a few times to build up strength.

Conclusion

Remember, this is not as much about doing some poses and moving on to the next one. It’s about being fully present and aware of the way your body is moving. Are your legs, arms, feet, toes, hands, fingers, head in the right positions? It’s about being relaxed and centered. Are you in pain trying to get into a pose? Are you comfortable staying there? Are you straining or breathing heavily? All these considerations will help you perfect your technique.

Yoga is as much about meditation and awareness as it is about physicality and movement.

A great resource I used when writing this post is Yoga For Life by Josephine Fairley. She goes into much more detail that would help if you’re interested in improving your yoga practice. If you have the money, it’s well worth it. Click here to order it!

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By |2018-11-21T09:18:43+00:00November 21st, 2018|Fitness|

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