The benefits of yoga reach beyond the time on the mat. Stretching in general promotes wellness because when we move we breathe more deeply, become more aware of oneself and movement also reduces pain. Yoga is not just fancy stretching with rules about how to meditate or how to inhale appropriately. It is a deep wisdom of creating right living.
Through the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, accredited as being a sage that fostered the foundation of classical yoga, we are given the principles at the core of yogic philosophy. There are other texts ripe with historic narrative that contribute to this body of wisdom; one being the Bhagavad Gita. I recommend reading the modern translations of these valuable texts as they offer insight useful for anyone seeking personal growth.
The Sutras discuss the art and science of yoga practice and are far more complex in scope than this article can provide. The main idea to take from this series is that yoga is more than asanas. For example, the eight components of yoga are yama/moral imperatives, niyama/virtuous habits, asana/posture, pranayama/breath, pratyahara/internal awareness, dharana/focus, and samadi/oneness. These guidelines offer a tapestry of perspective and a lifetime of self-study.
Plank Pose / Kumbhakasana
From a grounded standing position begin with a deep breath. Let your upper body fold over slowly until your arms hang loosely. Place your palms on the floor in front of you and step both feet back, one at a time, until your body is making a triangle with the floor. You will feel the stretch in the back of your legs.
With an exhale bring your body parallel to the floor engaging your core and stacking your joints so that your wrists, elbows and shoulders line up. Keep elbows slightly bent and try to relax into the sensations you experience.
*Modification: You may hold this pose with knees bent to provide more support for your low back. If at any time something causes you discomfort please listen to your body and back off slowly from a pose.
Baby Cobra Pose / Bhujangasana
From your previous pose you may drop your knees and take a breath. On another exhale lift your knees so you are in plank once again. Now you can slowly lower yourself to your belly using your arms and abs to maintain integrity of the pose. When your body is flat on the mat relax the lower half and raise your shoulders with your hands on either side of your chest.
These poses strengthen the core and engage the muscles of the low back, arms, shoulders, buttocks and abdominals. The slower you move with these poses the more benefit. Plank assists the body in building bone density while cobra prepares the body for deeper backbends keeping the spine flexible and healthy.
Remember to breathe moving with a flow of inhaling and exhaling. A good tip to follow is to exhale as you move into a pose that engages muscles, take three breaths while in the pose and let yourself relax between challenging movements.
Until next time,