In all things human

As appears in YYoga’s Blog: Off the Mat

It’s that time of year again, the time that we emerge bleary eyed from a winter of gray rain and step blinking into the growing Vancouver sunlight. The warming weather reminds of last year when, was it possible? We actually went outside!

It’s time to slough off the winter funk and come out of hibernation. But before we race off to Lynn Valley or sprint up the Grouse Grind, we can take advantage of the change in seasons to do a some much-needed housecleaning. Spring is the perfect time to clean up, clear up, and streamline – both inside and out.

Getting Your Internal House Clean: Yoga Style

Shake off your hibernation body! Winter is the right time to stay inside and eat cozy foods, but sometimes we can go a little too far with our comforts. If anyone is still feeling the remnants of the holiday indulgence or general winter torpor, your yoga practice will help kick start your body into a fresh start.

Here’s a simple twisting practice to bring some movement back to your digestive system and give your internal organs some love. Moving the inner body helps to squeeze and soak our vitals, generating fresh blood and nutrient flow and getting rid of any stagnancy. Movement can help break up fascial adhesions in our body, keeping us mobile and fluid. When we move, we create synovial fluid in our joints, helping them to function well. Imagine your car with oil, then your car without oil, and you get the idea! Twisting is also great for our spine, and helps keeps our intervertebral discs happy by squeezing and soaking them.

We’ll start off with a simple breathing technique that will get your juices flowing and your abdominals fired up.

1. Easy Seat (Sukhasana) with Kapalabhati breathing
2. Easy Seat (Sukhasana) with a twist
3. Cat/ Cow
4. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
5. Chair and Twisting Chair (Parivtta Utkatasana)
6. Crescent
7. Twisting Lunge (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana)
8. Bridge
9. Savasana

For detailed instructions on doing these asana for the juiciest effects, click the above links.

Consider a Cleanse

If you’ve had a winter of wine and sugar, a simple cleanse can help you restore order and balance to your system and give your body a chance to rid itself of accumulated toxins.

There’s no need to be too dramatic; even just taking a week off of alcohol and refined sugar will help your body reset and give your liver a much-needed breather. For those interested in going a little deeper, consider abstaining from all things white: white pasta, white rice, white sugar, white bread. Replace these foods with fresh veggies and fruits for a nutritional whallop.

If you’re a caffeine-phile, consider cutting your intake or even (gasp!) taking it out altogether. While the first few days may be a little rough, your body’s energy levels will even out and become more self-sustaining. (I finally managed to cut out the coffee when my energy swings were so extreme that I needed to conk out every afternoon. Not a lot of fun in that! ) If you have radical energy peaks and valleys, caffeine could be your culprit. Giving your system a caffeine-breather will allow your batteries to recharge the old-fashioned way.

For a personalized regime that is perfect for you, consider checking in with one of YYoga’s Wellness practitioners. If you’re considering a more radical cleanse, check in with an expert before you embark to make sure it’s the best thing for you.

Clean Out the Closet

Nothing keeps us tethered to the past like a closetful of old clothes. Put your clothes into three piles: Absolutely keep, absolutely give away, and absolutely maybe. To sift through your “maybe” pile, ask yourself:

1. Have I worn this in the last year?
2. Does this make me feel fabulously me?

If the answer to both is no, then toss it! Make room for the new by clearing out the old. Give your old stuff to friends or donate it to charity to spread the love.

Clean Out the Fridge

If you’ve got some mystery food in your fridge, now is the time to clean it out! Get rid of all things expired and all things that don’t reflect how you want to nourish yourself going forward.

Clean Out Your Medicine Closet

Have duplicates of your favorite antibacterial spread or four toe clippers? Toss out your expired meds and give your duplicate tweezers to friends who are without.

Do a Deep Clean of the House

Get our your scrubbies and dive in! Now is the time to clean all those places that you’ve always said that you will “get to” eventually. Move the furniture, get out the ladder, and take a day to clean out the nooks and crannies. White or ascetic vinegar with water is a natural (and cheap!) anti-bacterial cleaning agent that can help freshen up your home without a lot of toxic cleaners.

Now Get Outside!

Once you’ve done a good ol’ clean out, get thyself outdoors! On the next glorious day, take yourself for a walk in English Bay or Stanley Park and bask in the sunshine. We deserve it! And be reminded why Vancouver is called one of the most livable cities on earth. Happy Cleaning!

9 Yoga Moves for a Great Spring Cleaning

1. Easy Seat (Sukhasana) with Kapalabhati breathing

Start off in a comfortable, cross-legged seat. Prop yourself up on a blanket or a block (a book can do!) to give your spine the maximum lift.

Take a few minutes to close your eyes and breathe. Connect to the internal space of your body. Exhale fully a few times and feel the inhalation naturally and effortlessly expand more fully through your abdominals and ribs.

Kapalabhati breathing consists of short, sharp exhales through the nose, pumped by your lower abdominals drawing in and up. The force of the exhalation will allow the inhalation to naturally drop back in of its own accord. Start off with a slower rhythm, then eventually increase your speed.

To start, sit up tall and exhale fully. Then inhale partway, and begin with short, methodical, vigorous exhales through the nose. Keep your throat, face, and tongue soft, and concentrate on keeping the body quiet as the abdominals do their work to help expel your breath. Repeat this exhale 12-15 times, then release the Kapalabhati breath and sit. Allow your breathing to return to normal, and feel the effects in your body. Not only does Kapalabhati rev up your core and give your inner organs a massage, it increases your oxygen intake and revitalizes your cardiovascular system. Repeat once more.

2. Easy Seat (Sukhasana) with a twist

Sitting in sukhasana, bring your fingertips to your shoulders. Root through both sitting bones, sit up tall and twist to the right, using the strength of your obliques to turn you rather than your arms. Keep your chin over the center of your chest and imagine a line pulling from your left shoulder to your right hip. Hold 3-5 breaths, feeling the deep internal workings of your core. Inhale to release, and do the second side. We twist to the right first to stimulate the natural action of your digestive track. By systematically twisting to the right first, we imitate the natural peristaltic movement of your large intestine.

3. Cat/ Cow

Come onto your hands and knees. Your hands are parallel and outer shoulder distance apart, your knees are under your hips. As you inhale, draw your chest forward through your arms and reach your sitting bones back. On your exhale, round your spine to the ceiling and root your sitting bones to the floor. Close your eyes enjoy the sensation of moving from the inside of your breath. This simple movement helps to open the front and the back line of your body. Repeat 5-7 times, then exhale and send your hips back and up to Downward Facing Dog. Walk your feet a couple inches back to find the correct stance.

4. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Press your fingertips and the base of your fingers forward and down as you bend your knees and STRETCH your spine longer. Then press the tops of your thighs up and back as you reach your heels back and down towards the floor. Downward Facing Dog can’t be beat as the asana to create a beautiful spinal stretch. Focus on feeling the length of both sides of your waist evenly stretching. This mild inversion will also give your brain a refreshing oxygen bath.

5. Chair and Twisting Chair (Parivtta Utkatasana)

Step forward to the front of your mat, and bring your feet and knees together so that your feet are parallel. Bend your knees, lower your hips, and reach your arms straightforward for a slightly modified chair pose. Bend deeply at your hips and send your inner thighs back and down as your sitting bones root to the floor. Enjoy the heat and intensity (tapas) that you can create simply by being here! The heat helps increase the blood flow to the periphery of your body and can even get a detoxifying sweat going.

From chair, again bring your fingertips to your shoulders. Lengthen fully through your spine, anchor your hips together, then twist strongly to the right. Look down and keep the tip of your nose in line with your knees so that your body is working evenly. Since you aren’t using your hands, your core will be doing most of the work here, which is both strengthening and a great way to massage your internal organs. Keep drawing your right shoulder back to increase the twist and get your back muscles involved. Hold 3-5 deep breaths. Inhale to release, then do the other side.

6. Crescent

Step your left leg back and parallel, then bring your hands to your hips and lift up for crescent pose with your front thigh parallel to the floor. Start by gathering your inner thighs to your midline to increase your core connection and stability. (You can also leave your back knee down if you feel shaky.) Press the tops of your inner thighs back as you root your sitting bones down to the floor in order to most efficiently stretch your hip flexors. On an inhale, lift through your back ribs, then stretch your arms up and overhead. Press down through both feet as you begin to lengthen through the sides of your waist and take your upper inner arms back in line with your ears. Breathe and stretch from your pelvis out though your fingertips. This full body expression will help open up the hip flexors that have become tight through chair sitting over the winter, as well as create the space you need for twisting. Link this pose to the next pose…

7. Twisting Lunge (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana)

Exhale and come halfway forward (like you’re on a 45 degree angle with your upper body). Bring your fingertips again to your shoulders and widen your elbows away from each other. This variation will call for core deep stability, so again, you can leave your back knee down if needed. Hug in through your inner thighs, lengthen through the sides of your waist, and twist to the right. Keep your chin in line with the center of your chest and your nose to the inside of your right knee. With each inhale, lengthen the sides of the waist, and on your exhale, twist using the deep strength of your core. Inhale to release, step back to Downward Facing Dog, then do Crescent and Twisting Lunge on the second side.

8. Bridge (Setu Bandha)

Lower to your knees and come onto your back. Bend your knees, place your feet under your knees, hip distance apart and parallel. Make robot arms by placing your elbows on the floor by your waist and pointing your fingers straight up to the ceiling. Press the tops of your arms down and feel your collarbones widen. Root through your feet (particularly the inner edges) to keep your thighs parallel, and lift your hips and chest off the floor evenly. Keep your arms here, or interlace your hands underneath you for more leverage to lift your chest. Lift your sternum to your chin, and press the back of your head down slightly to keep the natural curve in your neck. This heart-opener will open up your core after all its work, as well as provide a stretch for the muscles that are chronically tightened by the shrunken posture of wintertime. Take 3-5 breaths, then lower your chest and hips to the floor. Repeat 2-3 times. If needed, draw your knees into your chest after your final Bridge.

9. Savasana

Absorb all the work you’ve done by resting in Savasana. Extend your legs long and stretch your arms by your side. Enjoy the openness and warmth that you’ve created and savor the knowledge that you’ve just given your body a delicious internal shower!

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