When attending a yoga class, I like to surrender and enjoy the experience - I appreciate the ways fellow yoga instructors lead their classes, and I often learn new ways to cue a pose or sequence a segment of a class. I believe the best teachers, are the best students. Unfortunately, my practice takes an immediate downward turn when I am witness to phrases like "rolling up to standing" or "as we slowly rise, stacking the vertebrae one by one". Excuse me while I cringe. Perhaps having suffered chronic back pain since my teen years and knowing the extent of the deterioration of my own disks and vertebraehas made me super aware of the movements we take for granted and practice daily. I have rolled to standing in the past. I have also tried the reverse swan dive without being mindful of my breath, and I probably locked my knees! Both have their place in other forms of movement, for example: dance or weight lifting. Anyone who has attended one of my classes will agree that I incorporate the breath into each movement. Breath is so important! Lets explore a safe and effective way to rise from forward fold... You may like to practice this a number of times, slowly and mindfully, noticing the sensations in your spine, lower back and front body. Let's begin in Mountain pose, move into forward fold, half lift, then rise to standing. 1. Standing in Mountain, inhale as we reach our hands overhead (or as high as is comfortable) to extended mountain, stretching up through the fingertips and crown of the head. Abdominals are firm to support the spine. 2. As we exhale, swan dive - bringing the hands out to the side just below shoulder height, hinging at the hips and slightly bending our knees as we lower our hearts down toward the mat. When we have hinged as far as we are able with a neutral spine, we then relax our shoulders, head and arms down towards the mat and bend our knees even more, if our hamstrings are tight. 3. Inhale to half lift (which is the beginning of the movement we will use to rise). Lengthen through the spine, reaching out through our crown and tailbone. 4. Exhale softening and relaxing the head, shoulders and arms down towards the mat. 5. As we prepare to rise on our inhale, we bend the knees a bit more, inhale bringing the air in towards our hip bones. As the diaphragm expands and our belly begins to fill up, we raise our upper back - this will bring our hips, heart and head to become parallel to the mat = our half lift position with a neutral spine (#3). 6. Pulling our navel towards our spine and extending out through our crown, we reach our hands out to the side (or bring hands to heart centre) and continue to fill up our belly and then lungs with air - to support our spine and organs - as we reverse swan dive up to extended mountain, we press our feet into the ground, use the muscles in our upper legs, our gluteals and lower back to support our rise to extended mountain. 7. Bring hands to heart centre and remain here for a breath. #4 Forward Fold #5 Begin to rise #6 Extending long through the crown with a neutral spine #6 Pressing our feet into the mat and using the leg muscles to rise #6 Extended Mountain A lot of words to take in! How did this feel? Please try this as many times as it takes to become a fluid movement where you are able to feel the inhaled air expand and support the spine. Our torso is a tube, that fills with air pressure as we inhale, and then releases the pressure as the air is exhaled. Filling up with air, from our belly upwards to the chest, massages the vagus nerve (which moderates the sympathetic and parasympathetic responses of the nervous system) and our organs, as well as supporting the spine and rib cage. If you have a healthy spine and no issues, you may like to try rising this way without inhaling, and then trying the same movement taking as much air in as you are able to. What did you feel is different when rising with no air in the diaphragm? What exactly do you feel as you inhale and rise up slowly?
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