How Yoga Can Help Alleviate Pain
I began practicing yoga four years ago when I started a 90 day workout program called P90X. This program required 5 days a week of intense training with one day off and one day for yoga. For the first few weeks, I didn’t really care for the yoga because I was unable to do the Asanas. After three weeks of following the program, I took the time to really try to perform the Asanas correctly and later I felt a difference in my muscles and flexibility. I began to look forward to the workout and especially the yoga as it helped to alleviate the muscle aches and fatigue I experienced after working out.
The intense workout program lasted three months and when it was over I looked for other ways that I could continue my practicing yoga. When I did some research, I found that yoga is recommended for athletes to help increase their strength, flexibility and mental endurance; but really it’s for everyone. Performing a regular yoga practice helped to increase my flexibility and, at the same time, it strengthened my back and whole body. I have had lower back issues for many years but when I work out regularly and stretch properly with yoga I barely notice any pain.
Honestly, when I first began practicing yoga I wasn’t very good and I did it to stretch. As I attended more classes, I learned that it was more than just stretching. I discovered that yoga had many benefits that I quickly started to rely on. I now know many Asanas but I get the most benefit out of the following:
Parvatasana or Mountain Pose. This pose looks like it would be easy but it takes quite a bit of practice to perform it correctly. To perform this asana correctly both hands should have palms flat on the ground, shoulder width apart, fingers spread wide. In the final position if you can, both feet should also be flat on the ground, toes touching, centered between your hips. If you are not comfortable or flexible enough to have both heels on the ground, you may bend your knees and have only your toes on the ground. Your buttock should be raised up with your head low and centered between your arms (earlobes should be parallel to your arms with your head lifted and eyes facing your naval) and your back straight. Your back and legs will form 2 sides of a triangle. When you have the flexibility to stretch yourself fully your heels will be flat on the ground and you may be able to lower your shoulders & forehead on your knees. Then hold the pose for a five count.
Benefits of Parvatasana are many and provide a stretch through the Achilles tendons, the back of the legs, shoulders and throat region. It will also stretch the hips. This pose is also one that provides strength to the nerves and muscles in the limbs and back. This is an asana that will increase your height by stretching your muscles and ligaments. Parvatasana aids in stimulating circulation especially in the upper spine and between the shoulder blades.
You come into this pose on an exhale and while holding this pose it is best to use the Ujjayi Pranayama. This breath calms and stabilizes the whole body. Ujjayi stands for psychic breath and can be used in a few asanas as well as in any comfortable position when you practice meditation.
Ujjayi breathing is when you take the awareness to the breath in the nostrils and allow the breathing to become calm and rhythmic. When you are a able and aware, transfer your awareness to the throat. Feel or imagine the breath is being drawn in and out through the throat and not through the nostrils as if it is taking place through a small hole in your throat. As the breathing becomes slower and deeper, you will create a whispering sound at the back of your throat. Inhale making the same sound, as if you’re trying to fog up glass. Some refer to the noise made in the back of your throat as the soft snoring sound of a sleeping baby. If practiced correctly there will be a spontaneous contraction of the abdomen without any effort being made. Both inhalation and exhalation should be long, deep and controlled. The sound of the breath should be audile to the practitioner alone.
Ujjayi Breathing is classified as a tranquilizing pranayama and it also has a heating effect on the body. This practice soothes the nervous system and calms the mind. It has a profoundly relaxing effect at a psychic level. It is also said to help relieve insomnia and may be practiced in Shavasana just before sleep.
The second pose that I found beneficial in helping me perform my P90X workout were the Warrior Poses. Even now after having surgery these poses provide a strong stretch in my lower calf which is exactly what I need.
Warrior I or Virabhadrasana strengthens your shoulders, arms, legs, ankles and back. It also helps to open your hips, chest and lungs while improving your focus, balance and stability. It does all this by stretching your arms, shoulders, legs, ankles and back. The Virbhadrasana Poses stretch your arms, legs, shoulders, neck, belly, groins and ankles while encouraging good circulation and respiration. Therefore energizing the entire body.
The way you enter Warrior I is to begin in high lunge with your right leg forward. You will know your stance is correct if your right knee is directly over your right left toes pint 45-60 degrees away from your body. Your right heel should be in line with your left heel and then engage your legs by pressing through your feet. Square your hips and shoulders straight with your hands on your hips. Relax your shoulders and gently draw them together. Inhale and lift your arms straight up over your head, palms facing each other and together if you can. Reach up with your arms, avoid puffing out your sides, but try to lift through your sternum so you feel a stretch in your entire torso and spine. Also continue to keep your shoulders relaxed and chest lifted. Breath deep and steady for 5 breaths.
To release, come back to high lunge, straighten the right leg, pivot your body 90 degrees to the left and point your toes in the same direction. Extend your arms out to your sides, this is Utthita Hasta Padasana (extended hands and feet pose) take a few breaths and repeat the exercise with your left foot forward.
The third pose that you can practice to straighten the supporting muscles of the major joints such as shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, quads, gluteals, calves and your back is the Utkatasana or Chair Pose. This pose is said to reduce the symptoms of flat feet while stimulating the heart, diaphragm and abdominal organs by improving breathing. It also helps develop a strong core and when done properly it protects the knee joints by building stability.
To begin Utkatasana you stand in Tadasana, inhale and raise your arms perpendicular to the floor. Either keep the arms parallel palms facing inward, or join the palms. Next exhale and bend your knees, trying to take the thighs as nearly parallel to the floor as possible. The knees will project out over the feet and the torso will lean slightly forward over the thighs until the front torso forms approximately a right angle with the tops of the thighs. Keep your inner thighs parallel to each other and press your thigh bones down toward your heels. Then make sure your shoulder blades are firmly against your back. Take your tailbone down toward the floor and in toward your pubis to keep the lower back long. Once you’re in position stay for 30-60 seconds. To Come out of the pose straighten your knees with a inhalation, lifting strongly through the arms. Exhale and release your arms to your sides into Tadasana. As a beginner you can practice this pose near a wall so the when you bend into the position, your tailbone just touches and is supported by the wall. This is how I learned this pose.
I continue to practice my yoga weekly and recently I was provided with the opportunity to attend this teaching course. In the past, I was reliant on others to be the Yogi’s for our company; now I will be able to fill this position as needed. In addition, I volunteer with two different children's groups and I am now looking forward to sharing the practice of yoga with them. In this day and age of digital technology, I feel our youth has lost the “desire” or “knowledge” to do anything other than sit in front of TV or a video game and their bodies are suffering for lack of proper conditioning. I feel this is an opportunity to do more for our young people by sharing my knowledge and love of yoga with children and others.
Thank you for this opportunity and all of your knowledge that you share. You have a great group of teachers and I have greatly appreciated my time here during my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training in India.
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