Lengthen up through the side body


One of the ways yoga benefits us in our everyday lives is how it trains the mind to be in the present moment. Through movement, and body awareness in each asana, the body is in the present moment – it’s not in the past or planning the future, it’s in the here and now. By concentrating on the physical body as we move we still the mind, give it a single focal point, and help to bring it to the present moment too. Surya Namaskara/Sun Salutations are very good for settling your attention into your practice at the start of your practice. You quickly find yourself in a meditative flow, as you move through one pose to the next, when your mind is focused on the movement and the breath. The brain works like a muscle, when you train it to settle and become still it finds it easier to reach this serene space off the mat too when needed.

Yoga is all about the spine. It is the midline that splits left and right body and is involved in all poses. The spine is the gateway to the nervous system which quietens the mind, reduces stress, anxiety and tension – leading to a stronger immune system and bringing with it better health. Recently in my home practice I’ve been working with lengthening up the spine through side bends and lifting the upper body up out of the deep pelvic bowl. This helps to open up the space between the vertebrae, which can get quite compressed with extended periods of sitting. We have a lateral side bend of 20o in the lumbar spine (lower), 20o in the thoracic (upper) and 35o in the cervical (neck) – giving a total potential bend for 75o. Throughout this sequence focus your attention on lengthening the spine and concentrate your bends in the lower and upper spine – letting your neck follow the curve of the upper spine without much flexion. In poses where you are reaching your arm overheads along your ear, reach your arm up high rather than up and over your head. This will isolate the action in the side bend and minimise the shoulder stretch.

Winter time can be hard on the spine. We are less active and spend a lot more time indoors in the evenings. Print out the above sequence and as you flow through the practice be present with the body as it moves and hold poses. Follow the journey of the stretch. Say to yourself in your mind ‘I am reaching from my toes all the way to my fingertips, I am breathing in, I am breathing out’.

Before each pose take an inhale and lengthen through the spine. Notice how this helps give you space to move a little more freely into the pose. Press into your foundation to find your reach of the spine. When you have a good contact with the ground it is easier to grow and lengthen from.

The peak pose for the sequence is Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana/revolved Head to Knee. Read through these alignment cues to find you version of the pose.

  • From Dandasana, open your legs out wide, bend your right knee and place your foot on the inner thigh of your left leg, press out through your left heel, right knee grounded.

  • Place your right hand on your right hip. Hinge to your left from the left waist. Place your left forearm on the ground inside your left leg, palm facing up, or hold onto the inside of you left foot.

  • Inhale, lift your right arm up high, palm facing left, exhale, reach your right arm up and over your right ear. Reach towards your left foot or hold onto the outside edge of your left foot. Bottom waist rolls forwards, top waist rolls back, gaze up.

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Ruth Delahunty Yogaru