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December 23, 2014:

Viparita Karani to the Rescue!

Viparita Karani, or “legs up the wall pose” is a great way to alleviate anxiety, soothe tired muscles, increase circulation and provide an overall reset for the nervous system.  And I believe that we could all use a little stress-relief during this time of year!  The process is simple and takes just a few minutes, but you’ll want to make sure you have a few items on hand before you begin.

Essential:
wall 
mat or cushion or carpeted floor
timer
 
Optional:
yoga block or thick book  
small blanket or towel
strap

First, find a wall where you won’t be disturbed and where you have room to elevate your legs.  Gather your supplies and props to have nearby.

Sit on the floor with your left shoulder close to the wall.  Lay down on your right side with hips close to the floorboard.  Roll to your left and on to your back to elevate your legs up the wall. If your hamstrings allow for it, keep your buttocks close to or touching the wall. If your hamstrings and low back do not allow for you to comfortably rest there, inch your way away from the wall until you can prop your legs up without excessive pull on the back of the legs or the front of the thighs gripping to hold the legs up.  If needed, you could tie a strap around the thighs to help hold them in place.  The intent here is to create an effortless elevation of the legs.

If you desire a slight inversion, bend the knees to place the feet on the wall. Press into the wall to elevate the hips enough to place the block or book under the sacrum and pelvic bones (NOT the lumbar spine or low back).  If the block or book is uncomfortable, cover the prop with a small blanket or towel for extra cushion.  This mild elevation of the hips above the heart will facilitate a deeper state of relaxation and down-regulation of the nervous system.

Once you have yourself set up and comfortable, set a timer for 5-10 minutes.  Focus on your breath, taking 8-10 slow abdomino-thoracic breaths (belly rises at the beginning of the inhale, followed by an expansion of the ribcage).  The exhales are passive and effortless.  For the remainder of the time, allow for relaxed abdominal breathing (the movement of the breath is primarily felt in the abdomen region. Belly rises and falls). If you begin to feel tingly sensations in your feet, bend your knees and bring the soles of the feet together with the heels close to your hips.  

To exit the pose, wiggle the fingers and toes, bend your knees and hug knees to chest.  If you are using a block or prop under the pelvis, plant the feet on the wall to elevate the hips to remove it before hugging the knees to chest.  Roll over to your right side, pausing long enough to take a deep breath or two before sitting up.

Allow yourself to relax into the process.  Like anything else, it gets better with time and practice.  If you are uncomfortable in the posture, arrange yourself so that you are! If the wall just doesn’t work for you, try elevating your legs with knees bent and resting on a couch or chair.  Experiment to find out what works!

Let me know if you have any questions or comments about your experience. Enjoy!  

A few benefits of Viparita Karani or “Legs Up the Wall” Pose:

  • Calms the nervous system
  • Relieves swollen ankles
  • Improves digestion
  • Restores tired feet and legs
  • Soothes mild backache
  • Regulates blood flow
  • Can provide migraine and headache relief, especially when done with a bandage wrapped around the forehead and back of the skull. Also try wrapping the material over the eyes to eliminate light.
  • Helps relieve insomnia and anxiety

A word of caution:

As with any inversion, Viparita Karani should be approached with caution.  This pose may not be appropriate for all practitioners.  Those with serious eye problems such as glaucoma or detached retina or serious back or neck injuries, please consult with your doctor before attempting this pose. If given clearance to practice Viparita Karani, please perform this pose only with the supervision and assistance of an experienced teacher. 

 

 

October 16, 2014:  

What’s Breath Got To Do With It?

Everything!  From the moment of birth, the breath enlivens the body.  In fact, our very existence depends upon our ability to breathe.  It’s also interesting to note that breath function is unique from other visceral bodily systems as it is both automatic and also within the realm of our conscious control.  

Our capacity to modulate the breath allows us to influence the nervous system and have an impact upon our emotional state.  With stress levels on the rise, there is an increasing need for effective tools to neutralize anxiety. Though there are various abodes of breath that serve different purposes, diaphragmatic breathing (also called abdominal breathing) produces the most sedating effect on the nervous system – and breathing is free!  While it is not the complete solution to stress management, conscious breathing can help us develop a calm, focused approach to the challenges we face.

On that note, let’s check in. Place one hand on your belly and the other on the chest. Take in a full deep breath.  Exhale all the air out using the musculature of your torso to help empty the lungs. With your awareness on the movement of the body beneath the hands, draw in another full breath and notice which hand moved first. Was it the hand on the abdomen or the chest?

If the goal is to soothe the nervous system, practice breathing in such a way that the abdomen expands at the beginning of the inhale. This swelling of the belly is caused by the diaphragm’s downward movement as it contracts to facilitate the filling of the lungs.  While certainly there are times when the body’s needs require bracing and contraction of the abdominals and limiting the breath movement to the ribcage area, habitual breathing initiated at or confined within the chest and collarbone region can heighten anxiety and perpetuate the fight/flight response. It’s not enough to simply take in a full breath to produce a calming effect; we also need to be aware of the movement that’s created with the process of breathing. 

With consistent use of the diaphragmatic breath, we can strengthen our capacity to effectively manage stress and navigate life with more presence and awareness.  Make an effort to give yourself five conscious abdominal breaths at least five times a day.  Then notice any changes that come about with this simple yet powerful practice.

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