Yoga

Restorative yoga

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THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
Restorative yoga is referred to as ‘the art of accomplishing absolutely nothing but relaxation’. We are so consumed by the idea of constant busyness that doing nothing has become alien to us. Sometimes allowing ourselves to do nothing, and scheduling this ‘nothing’ into our day, is absolutely essential for finding life balance. Another lovely way to think of restorative yoga is ‘our body sleeps and our mind watches’. Although you might find you occasionally drift off to sleep, to get the best out of your practice the aim is to stay awake by observing the resting body. It is an accumulative practice – over the course of your time on the mat you very gradually start to notice spaces between the chatter of the mind, and glimpses of stillness and peace.

Restorative yoga is beneficial for everybody, particularly if that body has been through recent challenges, physical and mental. One of the main benefits of yoga, restorative yoga in particular, is that through the nervous system it strengthens the immune system. It does this with the breath, which stimulates the vagus nerve, bringing the body into the rest, digest and restore response, or the parasympathetic nervous system. This creates optimal conditions for the functionality of the organs of the body and strengthens the immune system and relieves symptoms of chronic stress, fatigue and tension.

Have you ever wondered why you sometimes sigh when faced with an ominous task. The body is a problem solver, it does its best to help us process internal and external stimuli. Essentially a sigh is a long and audible exhale – the exhale is a powerful antidote to life’s obstacles. Consciously slowing the breath and lengthening the exhale in restorative yoga slows the heart rate and stimulates the all important vagus nerve.

EXPLORING THE SEQUENCE
Set yourself up with all you will need, and more, before you get started (see the list of props below). The body will cool down quickly so layer up and stay warm. Unlike regular yoga this is a socks on, stay cosy, practice! The poses are created to give you complete support but we are all very different. Adjust to find complete comfort in each pose using extra blankets and cushions as required. You will be holding the poses for between 5 to 10 minutes so scan down from head to toe and ensure every part of your body is happy. If after a few minutes you start to feel discomfort move to find comfort again. You are the boss of your practice!

Before you move out of a pose think about the idea of moving first, maybe even work out what would be the kindest and gentlest way to move to the next pose. Thread the poses together with gentle awareness to maximise the benefits of your time on your mat. You can use your phone to time when you need to move to the next pose, or you can use your instinct if you don’t like the idea of being disturbed with a sound. If you choose to use your phone set the alert to a soothing sound like ‘chime’ or ‘pulse’.

PROPS ARE KING
Props are king in restorative yoga, the more the merrier! You don’t need to have an array of official yoga props. You can improvise with household items that can do just as good a job. The props you’ll need for these restorative poses are – a bolster, or use two stacked cushions; two yoga bricks, or two thick dictionaries; two to four yoga blankets, or regular blankets.

START WITH THE BREATH
Start your practice in Resting Savasana with your knees resting on a bolster and a blankets over you. Place your hands on your belly and feel the breath move through you. Take four to five rounds of Viloma breath – inhale for a long breath, and then exhale pause, exhale pause, exhale pause – dividing your exhale into three sections. Keep the breath as gentle as possible, notice if you are holding any tension in your shoulders and upper chest when you concentrate on the breath. Pause after your rounds and observe any change to your body and mind. As gravity and the weight of your body draws you down to the ground feel the ground come up to support you as you melt into your practice.

Below are six Restorative Yoga poses for you to choose from. Pick as many or as few as you’d like to practice. You will feel the profound benefits of any amount of restorative yoga added to your day. If you have time for a longer practice consider moving the spine in all directions - forward, back & twist for a well rounded practice.

No.1 - RESTING SAVASANA
Start lying on your back with a folded blanket under your head, a bolster under the creases of your knees and a blanket over you. Legs and arms extended, palms facing up, lift your buttocks and slide the flesh of the buttocks downwards. Feet gently flop out to the sides. Shoulders melt to the floor. Eyeballs become heavy in their sockets, skin on the forehead smooth as silk. Soften the temples and find ease in the tiny lines around the eyes.

No.2 - BOLSTER TWIST
Place your bolster vertically along the left side of the middle of your mat. From lying, with a blanket under your head, extended both legs out along the mat and roll your hips to your left, bend your right knee and place it on the support of the bolster, left leg remains extended. To feel this twist let your upper body and right shoulders settle down onto the mat. Bring your arms to cactus position, with arms lifted and elbows bent either side of the body, gaze over your right shoulder. If the twist is too intense add a folder blanket under your knee on the bolster. If the raised arms doesn’t suit you bring your arms either side of the body palms facing up. Repeat of the left side.

No.3 - HIP OPENER
From lying, with a blanket under your head, lift your hips up and place the bolster horizontally under the creases of your hips. Lengthen your legs out straight and bring your arms to cactus position, with arms lifted and elbows bent either side of the body. If this is too intense on the lower back, use a rolled up blanket instead of the bolster. If the raised arms doesn’t suit you, bring your arms either side of the body palms facing up.

No.4 - BLISSFUL BANANA
Make a pillow with a brick and a blanket on top of it at the top of the mat, place an additional brick above this at arms reach. Place your bolster horizontally on your mat with a space between your bolster and pillow. Sit with your right hip next to the long edge of the bolster, knees bent. Lengthen the spine along the mat and nestle the bolster into the curve of your waist. Place your head on your pillow, your shoulder in the space between your props and extend your right arm forward. Extend your left arm overhead and place it on the brick. If the raised arms doesn’t suit you bring your arm down and place it on your right arm. Repeat on the left side.

No.5 - SUPPORTED BRIDGE
From lying, lift your hips up and place the bolster horizontally under your hips. Settle your hips down onto the support of the bolster. Knees bent, feet hip distance apart or feet mat distance and knees together. Arms extended either side of your body, palms facing up.

No.6 - SUPINE TWIST
From lying on your back bend your knees and place your feet hip distance apart. Gently let your knees drop to the left side of your mat. Extend your right knee away from your. Bring your arms to cactus position, with arms lifted and elbows bent either side of the body, gaze over your right shoulder. Stay here for 5 deep breaths and swap to the other side. If the raised arms doesn’t suit you bring your arms either side of the body, palms facing up.

End your practice with at least 10 minutes of Resting Savasana. Bring your attention to the breath again, as you inhale think ‘this is me now’, and on your exhale tell yourself ‘this is the same me in the outside world’.

To save the images on your phone click and hold down image until the ‘save image’ option appears; on Mac hold down ‘control’ and click the image to get the option box; on PC right click on the image to get the option box. Scroll down in the ‘option box’ and click ‘save image’.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

A stretch too far

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STRETCHY V’S PINCHY
Yoga is a physical activity and with all physical activities care needs to be taken not to push beyond your limits. But sometimes our limits can be very hard to gauge with yoga. If you have been practicing yoga for a while you’ll probably at some stage have encountered an overstretch injury. The difference between a stretching and an overstretching muscle can happen within millimeters of movement. The best way to describe the sensation between the two is that a stretching muscle feels like a maintainable amount of sensation while an overstretching muscle feels more intense and has an element of a pinchy sensation to it. Playing with the edge of your full range of motion can often lead to overstretching injuries. You are in danger of going just that tiny bit too far, or repeating the movement to your end range of motion too often, and end up with an injury that can take months to settle. If you are used to finding your edge and looking over the cliff it can feel a bit uncomfortable to consciously pull your practice back to 90%. But it will serve you in the long term and make your practice grow with you rather than be a short term physical activity that causes you repeated injuries.

REEVALUATE YOUR PRACTICE
So how do you find your perfect end point? Ask yourself can you feel it in your body? This is your benchmark and not beyond it. Are you breathing? Are you holding tension in parts of the body not being stretched or strengthened like your face or shoulders? When you feel sensations you have arrived at your version of the pose. To quote Jason Crandell ‘engaging in the process of the pose is doing the pose, any amount of the pose is the pose, there is no end point in the process’.

Next ask yourself does this serve me? What is necessary? Realistically do you need to be taking handstands and impressive feats of nature poses to feel the benefits of yoga off the mat? At the end of the day, mental and spiritual benefits aside, if you can move freely in your everyday life - and that might be facilitating peak performance in another sport or as simple as tying your shoelaces or getting up from a chair without sound effects - then your practice is working for you.

If you want to read more about ways to find your version of the pose have a read of Contain the Stretch, The Ultimate Runner Flow, Anatomy 101 - Hypermobile Joints or Staying Present.

EXPLORING A STRETCH TOO FAR IN YOUR PRACTICE
This sequence is created as a very simple flow so you can go into the basic poses of the practice and reevaluate how far you need to go into the pose to feel the appropriate amount of sensation for your unique body. You can consider each pose as a peak poses and spend a bit of extra time refinding poses that may have become second nature to you. Use bricks as much as possible to support you and give you a surface to press against in poses like Trikonasana/Triangle, Parsvakonasana/Side Angle and Parsvottanasana/Intense Side Stretch. It’s important to remember the 108 Asana poses are illustrated as the full expression of the pose so you can identify the pose you are working towards not to mirror the figure to perfection. Listen to your bodies innate wisdom and be led by what you need rather than what you perceive to be required of you.

ALIGNMENT CUES
The official peak pose of the sequence is Paschimottanasana/Seated Forward Fold. This forward fold is a pose that challenges me both physically and mentally. As someone who has tight, weak hamstrings it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I need to stay very upright and concentrate on the tilt of the pelvis rather than how far forward my neighbour was folded in a class setting. If you find your shoulders and upper back are rounding it is most likely that your pelvis is actually tilting back rather than forward and you are leading with your ego rather than your heart centre! Try to work with your muscles rather than against them and bring yourself back to the principle of 90% of your full range of motion for the longevity of your practice.

  • From Dandasana, inhale, lengthen up through your spine – sides of the body, front and back body.

  • Exhale, fold forward from the hip joint, lead with your sternum, broaden through the collarbones. Soften your shoulders and stay connected to the hips tilting rather than the upper body rounding forward.

  • Feet flexed and heels reaching forward, sit bones reaching back. Place your hands either side of your legs, inhale lengthen the spine, exhale release further forward.

  • Keep your hands either side of your legs or hold onto the sides of your feet, elbows bend out to the sides, gaze down to your legs.

To save the images on your phone click and hold down image until the ‘save image’ option appears; on Mac hold down ‘control’ and click the image to get the option box; on PC right click on the image to get the option box. Scroll down in the ‘option box’ and click ‘save image’.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

Hit pause & reverse

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SAVOUR THE PRESENT MOMENT
At this time of year I find myself hurtling into planning mode and not taking time to pause and savour the last few weeks of Summer. September looms on the horizon and with it back to school mayhem and everyone settling into post holiday routines. My mind is racing and the ‘to do’ lists has gone into hyperdrive. The thing to remember is September is in the future and thinking and worrying about it isn’t going to change anything. Pausing and breathing will!

COME BACK TO NOW
In our practice we can take this emotion, translate it into the physical, and reverse it. Sounds complicated but stay with me. A busy mind manifests into a busy body. Think of how we walk when we are busy – shoulders hunched, head tilted and the whole upper body driving forward. We can sometimes see this in Virabhadrasana II/Warrior II when the body follows the gaze and leans forward towards the front hand – reaching for the future and striving for the perfect pose. Viparita Virabhadrasana/Reverse Warrior can help correct this and bring us back to the central column in Virabhadrasana II/Warrior II. It also opens the tissues of the lungs to help us take a deep, present moment breath. Hit pause, rewind to the present moment and enjoy where you are now.

EXPLORING PAUSING & REVERSING IN YOUR PRACTICE
Viparita Virabhadrasana/Reverse Warrior gives the hip opening of Virabhadrasana II/Warrior II with the addition of a shoulder and spine stretch. This sequence breaks down the main components of Viparita Virabhadrasana/Reverse Warrior and prepares you by strengthening your core and legs, opening your inner groin and hips, and warming up the shoulder joint. The core is an important element and needs to be switched on to support the spine as it works to counteract the weight of the lifted the arm. As you move through the sequence see can you break down the poses and notice which ones have similar properties to the peak pose.

ALIGNMENT CUES
When you take Viparita Virabhadrasana/Reverse Warrior try to keep your hips as low as they were in Virabhadrasana II/Warrior II. When we reach the arm overhead the hips often lift and follow the arm. Work on keeping the front leg deeply bent. Lift and lengthen through the spine and concentrate on reaching the arm up before you reach overhead. If you experience any pinching or discomfort in the shoulder joint or neck come back to Virabhadrasana II/Warrior II and work lengthening through the spine to the tip of the crown.

  • From Virabhadrasana II, inhale, turn your right palm to face up.

  • Hinge to your left from your waist, reach your right palm up and over your ear.

  • Rest your left hand on your left thigh or your lower calf, draw your navel towards your spine.

  • Let your hips settle down low as you reach overhead.

  • Lengthen through your right side body all the way to your fingertips, keep your right leg deeply bent, gaze up to your right fingertips.

To save the images on your phone click and hold down image until the ‘save image’ option appears; on Mac hold down ‘control’ and click the image to get the option box; on PC right click on the image to get the option box. Scroll down in the ‘option box’ and click ‘save image’.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru


Happy hams

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YOGA BUTT
My practice is going on a journey of exploring the concept of sustainability and longevity. I recently wrote about it in my article on Strong glutes where I discussed the phenomenon called ‘yoga butt’ – where from many years of stretching the glutes and hamstring muscles and tendons can become inflamed and develop tendinopathy. We presume tight muscles need stretching but it is much more complicated than that. If you are an athlete in a specific discipline which continuously fires the hamstrings you may indeed have strong tight hamstrings, but for the majority of us they are tight and weak from prolonged periods of sitting and a general sedentary life. We get lulled into a false sense of security by convincing ourselves we are very active because we exercise everyday. But what are you doing for the other 23 hours of the day! Although we might feel a nice stretch will be the answer, stretching into a tight weak muscles is more likely to cause injury, because the connective tissue is not strong enough to withstand the load we are bringing to the muscles. We must tackle the weakness and strengthen the muscle up first.

YOUR INNATE WISDOM
In my experience injuries often come from failing to listen to the internal messages of the body and going into the mind frame of ‘I should’. In yoga philosophy there is a principle called ‘ahimsa’ or non harming. This non harming applies to ourselves as well as others. Practising with ahimsa means listening to your innate wisdom and acting appropriately. If your neighbour has managed to fold in two in a seated forward fold ask yourself first does this suit your body to follow suit and try to stay more present on your mat and your practice. We need to start considering our practice through the lens of a long term practice not something that is Instagram worthy.

EXPLORING YOUR STRONG HAMSTRINGS IN YOUR PRACTICE
The hamstrings are a group of muscles that run down the back of the leg starting at the back of the pelvis and the top of the femur and attach to the top of the tibia and fibula bones of the lower leg. They are responsible for walking running, jumping and any movement where the knee bends. In this sequence you are going to concentrate your effort on the eccentric movement which is the straightening of the leg and the hamstring fires to control this movement. Extend your exhale with the hamstring mini flows in the sequence and see how slow you can straighten the leg out, bringing your whole attention to what’s happening at the back of the upper leg.

ALIGNMENT CUES
This sequence is perfect if you have any instability going on in your hamstring. It gives lots of opportunity to find the strength in the hamstrings with minimal forward bends. If you use Downward Dog as a transition pose I suggest you don’t hang around in it for too long as essentially it is a forward fold and with further irritate tight hamstrings if they are feeling tender. The peak pose is one of my favourite poses for finding strength in the back chain of the body Salabhasana/Locust Pose. Take time in the pose, pause for three long breathes and repeat it at least three times.

  • Lie on your front, arms by your sides, palms facing your body, forehead resting on the ground.

  • Inhale, press into your pubic bone, lift your head, upper torso, arms and legs, lift with the whole back.

  • Reach your chest forward and up, extend your arms towards your feet, lift your legs up and press through the balls of your feet, roll your inner thighs up.

  • Broaden through the collarbones, firm your shoulder blades onto your back, back of the neck long, gaze slightly forward.

To save the images on your phone click and hold down image until the ‘save image’ option appears; on Mac hold down ‘control’ and click the image to get the option box; on PC right click on the image to get the option box. Scroll down in the ‘option box’ and click ‘save image’.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

Ardha Chandrasana - Half Moon

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GROUND & CENTRE
Ardha Chandrasana/Half Moon is quite the balancing act and requires strong glutes to lift the top leg and plenty of core strength to catch your balance. The trick to finding your balance is to start with a deeply bent front knee to bring your centre of gravity down while your body works out how to accommodate this seesaw arrangement you have put it in. Once your core kick in you can start to very slowly straighten out the standing leg and reach in all directions.

THE BENEFITS OF ARDHA CHANDRASANA/MOON POSE
There is nowhere to hide with this challenging pose. It builds focus and concentration and is very grounding and centering. It strengthens the core, ankles, glutes, spine and quads; and stretches the groin, hamstrings, calves and chest. It requires a lot of balancing skills and improves coordination and balance in our everyday movement. It also eases headaches, lowers blood pressure, eases back pain, relieves indigestion, constipation and menstrual cramps, and eases anxiety. Quite the selection of benefits for this simple yet strong balancing pose!

EXPLORING THE ARDHA CHANDRASANA/MOON POSE IN YOUR PRACTICE
In your full expression of your version of the pose connect with your belly button and radiate out through the standing leg into the support of the ground; through the lift leg reaching through the heel of the flexed foot; through the bottom arm, heart centre and the finger of the extended arm; and finally through your tailbone to the tip of your crown. Think of yourself as a jellyfish reaching in all directions originating from your strong core.

ALIGNMENT CUES
This sequence deeply works the muscles of the glutes at the back of the hips to help you connect to these important muscles that will help you left the top leg in Ardha Chandrasana/Half Moon.

Print out the tips below, along with the sequence, and build you best version of Ardha Chandrasana/Half Moon:

  • From Utthita Trikonasana/Triangle with your right leg forward. Place your left hand on your hip and step your left foot forward a little.

  • Bend your front knee and place your right hand on a brick a foot forward to the little toe side of your right foot. Press down through the three points of your right foot and lift the inner ankle.

  • Keeping your right knee bent, Inhale, float your left leg up to hip height or slightly above, toes facing forward. When you have your balance gradually straighten your right leg.

  • Flex your left foot parallel to the ground and press out through the heel.

  • Hips and shoulders stacked, reach your left arm up high, palm facing left, gaze down or to your left fingertips.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru