Friday, July 22, 2016

Improving Balance as we Age: Working from the Ground, Up

By Janine L. Agoglia

As we age, balance becomes a bigger issue. Many falls occur because people lose their balance. In an aging body, a fall can lead to broken bones which are often slow to heal. To avoid this, it is really important to work on your balance preventatively. This will strengthen your legs and ankles giving you a more solid, steady gait. If you can stand on one foot, standing on two feet becomes that much easier!

The key to balance of any kind (whether upside down or right side up) is adaptability. The more you can adapt to subtle shifts in your weight and breath, the easier it is to hold and maintain your balance. When you are rigid, and trying to "hold on for dear life," you are much more likely to fall over. Yoga Sutra 2.46, written by the ancient yogi Patanjali, is "Sthira Sukham Asanam" which translates to Steady, Comfortable Seat. Every yoga pose should feel strong and steady, while simultaneously feeling comfortable and relaxed. It is finding that equilibrium between stability and ease that creates balance.


Mountain Pose
Start with your foundation by finding stability on two feet. For more information about that, read about Mountain Pose (Tadasana) in Reducing Anxiety by Becoming a Mountain. Just practicing Tadasana/Mountain Pose daily can help you to develop your awareness of where you hold your weight on your feet. It builds your strength and stability from the ground, up. Start by holding the pose for 5-10 breaths, working your way up to 20 breaths. The goal is to be fully present on your feet, engaging the muscles to hold you up while also feeling a sense of relaxation and ease through the entire 5-20 breaths.

Once that is comfortable, you can begin practicing one-legged balance poses, such as Tree Pose (Vrksasana).

Variation #1
Variation #2
Start by standing in Mountain Pose and shift most of your weight onto your right foot so that you can raise your left heel off the floor (ball of the foot is still on the ground). Keep the basic alignment of Mountain (stacking the hip over the knee over the ankle), pressing the right foot strongly into the floor while engaging your right thigh and buttock and your lower abdominal muscles. Once that feels stable, try floating your left foot off the floor, raising your left knee toward your chest. Once that feels stable, place your left foot somewhere on the inner right leg (above or below the knee) and move your left knee as far to the left as you can while keeping the pelvis aiming forward. Your knee will end up on a diagonal, it will
Variation #3
never be flat to the side; if it is flat to the side that means you have shifted your pelvis which will throw off the alignment of your standing
leg. You can place your hands on your hips (Variation #1), you can bring your palms together in front of your heart (Variation #2, Anjali Mudra) or for more of a challenge you can raise your arms above your head, providing that you keep your
shoulders down (Variation #3). Hold Tree Pose as long as you can, remembering to stay relaxed, both in body and mind. Keep breathing in and out evenly through your nose. When one side is tired, try it on the other leg. You may notice that balance is much easier on one side that it is on the other; this is completely normal. We don't lead symmetrical lives so it is common for one side to be stronger than the other. Over time, with practice, this should even out.

Falling over is also normal. Balance is found by falling over a lot first. What is most important is how you relate to the falling over. If you are harsh or critical with yourself, you will create more tension in your body and make it that much harder to find your balance. If instead you say only kind and supportive things to yourself, it is much easier to maintain that sense of ease.

Try making balance part of your daily life, any time you find yourself standing. Try washing the dishes, talking on the phone or brushing your teeth while standing on one leg (it doesn't need to be Tree Pose, but it can be). The more you practice, the easier it gets and more quickly you will see improvement.

Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life, on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios, Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Office Yoga: 5 Yoga Stretches that Help You Feel Better at Your Desk

Technology. It is great for the mind, but horrible for the body. When you spend 8 hours (or more) at a desk, staring at and typing on a computer, your body starts to fall apart: Neck pain, back pain, jaw pain, wrist pain, they are all par for the course when you have a desk job.

Many people claim that they don't have time for yoga, even though they know that it will help their body and mind feel better. Luckily, yoga is very adaptable. There are many poses that can be done while sitting to stretch out the neck, shoulders and back so that your computer doesn't have to be your body's enemy.

As the saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Proper posture is essential to minimizing the effects of desk work on your body. Ideally your computer station should be set up with your screen at eye level and your keyboard at or slightly below elbow level. Your chair should encourage you to sit vertically, on your sit bones, with your feet comfortably on the floor, placing your knees slightly lower than your hips. Taking short breaks every hour can help you reconnect with your vertical posture while still allowing you to get work done. Those little breaks are a great time for some Office Yoga!

1. Half neck rolls: These are great for relieving neck and upper back tension that is common with
computer work. Simple neck rolls can be done in your chair with your feet on the floor. Sit up straight. Inhale, and while you exhale drop your chin toward your chest. Take 3-5 breaths letting your head and neck relax. Next, roll your head to the right until your right ear is aiming toward your right shoulder and your left ear is aiming toward the ceiling. Take 3-5 breaths here then roll back through center and repeat to the left. Once you've stayed on the left for 3-5 breaths, roll back and forth from side to side, letting your head swing like a pendulum. Never drop your head straight back which can cause compression in your cervical vertebrae.

 







 
  • Variation #1: While your head is to the right side, on an exhale, rotate your chin toward your right collar bone and then on your next exhale, up toward the ceiling. You can hold each position for about 3 breaths as well. Repeat to the left.
  • Variation #2: Before starting the half neck rolls, cross your right arm over your left arm as close to the elbows as you can get. Try to reach each hand to the opposite shoulder (right hand to left shoulder, left hand to right shoulder). Make sure to press your shoulders downward. Then do the half neck rolls as described above. Then cross your left arm over your right arm as close to the elbows as possible, grabbing your opposite shoulders and repeat the half neck rolls.

General Guidelines: Choose a different variation each time you stretch to change up the movements you offer your body. Be gentle with yourself. This should feel good, not strained. If your neck muscles start to feel strained, stop and do less the next time. Listen to your body, it will tell you when you've had enough.

2. Seated Twist: This pose can relieve your lower back tension. Sit toward the front of your chair so that your feet can be comfortably on the floor. Keeping your spine straight and vertical, turn your rib cage to the right so that your left ribs are moving forward and your right ribs are moving backward; your pelvis should stay facing forward. Gently turn your face and gaze to the right, keeping your head vertical as well. Feel free to rest your left arm on your right side arm-rest, if your chair has one. If not, you can rest your left hand on your right knee. Hold for 3-5 breaths, then repeat to the left.

General Guidelines: Make sure you are not pushing or forcing yourself into the twist using your arms, the movement comes from the core of your body (obliques, quadratus lumborum). This ensures safe twisting. If you have moderate to severe scoliosis or any disc problems, consult your doctor before twisting.

3. Hamstring Stretch: One problem with sitting for long periods is that your hamstrings (muscles behind your thighs) are in a constant state of contraction. Tight hamstrings can lead to lower back problems (read Common Causes of Lower Back Pain and their Yoga Solutions). By working to release the hamstrings it can relieve the tension in your lower back. Sit toward the front of your chair with your left foot flat on the floor. Extend your right leg forward with the heel resting on the floor (feel free to take your shoes off for this one if you like). Sitting vertically might already create a stretch in your right leg. If so, just stay and breathe, 3-5 breaths. If you don't yet feel a stretch, keeping your spine straight, tip your pelvis forward so that your navel is moving closer to your lap. Move until you feel a stretch then stay 3-5 breaths and repeat on the other side.

General Guidelines: Make sure you are not rounding your spine, the stretch comes from the movement of the pelvis, not from your head dropping forward. When you round your spine, you lose the connection to your hamstrings and you are only stretching your lower back.

4. Seated Pigeon pose: Sit with your left foot flat on the floor and cross your right ankle over your left knee. If you can't get the ankle on the knee, straighten your left leg until you can, then work toward bringing the left foot closer to you until the foot is under the knee (it may not get there right away). Sit up as straight as possible while letting your right knee drop toward the floor. If you are already feeling a stretch in the right hip/glutes, stay just as you are and take 3-5 slow breaths. If you are not yet feeling a stretch, keeping your spine straight, tip your pelvis forward, reaching your navel toward your right shin. Stop when if feels like a significant enough stretch. Hold 3-5 slow breaths then repeat to the other side.

General Guidelines: Make sure to keep the top ankle flexed (rather than relaxing the foot) so as to stabilize the ankle, thus putting all of the stretch into your hip where you need it. If you have had a hip replacement, keep the bottom leg a little straighter so there is less hip flexion; you may also need to keep your top knee slightly elevated by supporting it with your hands. Try not to force the stretch, move into it slowly and comfortably.

5. Upper back bend/chest opener: Make sure you are sitting in a
lower-backed chair. If you don't have one, go to Variation #1. Sit all the way back on your chair so that your back is pressed against the back of your chair. As you inhale, sit up even taller. As you exhale, lean back over the top of your chair back creating a small back bend over the back of your chair. The base of your skull should rest on the back of your chair. Reach your arms out to the sides with the palms facing the ceiling. Take 3-5 breaths, trying to expand your rib cage and chest with air, increasing your lung capacity with every inhale and emptying completely with every exhale.

  • Variation #1: Sit toward the front of your chair and interlace your fingers behind your lower back. Try to bring your palms together so they touch (you might need to bend your elbows). As you inhale, squeeze your shoulder blades together and imagine that your collar bones are spreading apart. As you exhale reach your knuckles away from your hips. Stay 3-5 breaths, then repeat with the other set of fingers on top (if your left thumb is on top, shift all of your fingers over by one until your right thumb is on top). Variation #1a: If you can't bring your hands together, grab either side of your chair back and press your chest forward while squeezing your shoulder blades together. 


       

  • Variation #2: Start with Variation # 1. Inhale, then as you exhale, fold forward over your lap, reaching your knuckles toward the ceiling. This will stretch the chest, shoulders and lower back. Hold 3-5 breaths, then repeat with the other fingers on top. Variation #2a: If you were grabbing the back of your chair, slide your hands down to the arms as you fold forward, still moving your shoulder blades toward each other. 
General Guidelines: Make sure not to let your wrists pop outward. Try to make a combined fist with your two hands. Squeeze from your Rhomboids (muscles between your shoulder blades) to get the most stretch and opening in your chest and shoulders.


Once you've finished your Office yoga practice, end with sitting upright in your chair, feet planted on the floor and close your eyes. Place your hands on your lower abdomen and take 5 slow belly breaths, expanding the belly as you inhale and letting it gently contract as you exhale. Breathe slowly and evenly, in and out. Open your eyes and go back to work feeling more energized and relaxed.


Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life, on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios, Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.