The 5 Go-To Yoga Practices That Saved My Life
I’ve been practicing yoga since I was 17; right up until my sudden diagnosis of type 1 at the age of 42, I was convinced that yoga made me invincible. After my diagnosis everything changed. Instead of thinking yoga would stave off the boogieman, I took responsibility and came to terms with the role that yoga played in my life.
I discovered that yoga is more than a good stretch. It’s a tree with many branches, each limb a path back to harmony and balance, a way to mitigate stress. Yoga is not a trend, it’s been around for over 5000 years.
The yoga practices are powerful because they are subtle. The physical aspect is just one component of a multilayered methodology that looks at the flow of energy in the body. Life force and immunity can be cultivated and built through posture, breathing, meditation, the right diet and lifestyle adjustments.
The word yoga means, “wholeness, completeness, oneness.” Yoga is not a state. Rather it is the natural state of everything in the creation including ourselves. We are naturally peaceful, happy and whole. It’s only our thoughts about something, and our identification with those thoughts that create a sense of incompletion.
Yoga practice does two things—it pulls us out of the habit of identifying with our thoughts and reminds us of our true nature. When you feel all “zen” after class … it’s not the practice that’s doing it. The practices merely remind you that the peace, stillness and harmony you feel at the end of a practice are your natural state. For me, going deeper with yoga has enabled me to better manage my relationship to diabetes and manage the stress associated with diabetes.
So what are my five go-to yoga practices that put me in the zone each and every day?
Available anywhere, anytime. Online, up the road, at the gym, on the beach. The word in Sanskrit for posture is Asana and means steady, comfortable seat. Coming home to your body and feeling happy and relaxed there. My favorite posture is “Down Dog”. A total body workout in one pose. It’s a spinal stretch which lubricates the vertebrae, an inversion which calms the mind and lowers blood pressure. A pose to strengthen the shoulders, arms and wrists. It opens the hamstrings, tones the thighs and releases the lower back. It’s also a transition posture and a resting pose. And no matter what your age or ability there is a variation that can work for you. I’ve put a little tutorial on my blog for down dog HERE.
Breathing is huge. Whether we are aware of it or not, no breath means no life. In yoga we use the breath to our advantage. Breath and the stress response are intimately connected. So if the breath is shallow and fast it’s a definite indication that something is not right in the body/mind mechanism. The best way to slow everything down is to breathe fully and deeply. You can do it right now. Stop, place your hands on your belly, take an inhalation and feel your belly rising and releasing. On your next inhalation fill up your belly and feel the breath expanding your rib cage and upper chest. On exhalation everything relaxes at the same time in no particular order. I find that breathing this way, especially when I’m freaking out about anything, helps me to stay grounded and relaxed.
Think of meditation as concentration. We are designed to concentrate and we do it well. We concentrate in a variety of ways throughout the day. In fact the only time we’re not concentrating is when we’re asleep. Meditation is a fancy form of concentration. Instead of casually focusing on a multitude of activities, you take every single bit of your energy and streamline it in on a particular object, be it your breath, an image, a sound, a movement.
The key formula is
- to perform a repetitive activity (which can be anything from knitting, to running, to watching the breath) with the intention to let go of the thoughts in the mind
Thats right… you don’t have to STOP thinking. All you need is the intention to let go of thinking.
Mudras are hand gestures that soothe the nervous system. They are the natural movements your hands make when you’re at rest, play, in conversation or performing tasks. Scientists have categorized the brains different functions into three parts.
- The lizard brain, situated close to the base of the skull, coordinates autonomic functions like, breathing, sleeping, digesting etc.
- The cerebral cortex or front brain is responsible for the higher functions of thinking, calculating, reasoning etc.
- The leopard brain, which sits between the two, coordinates physical movement and emotions.
Children naturally place their hands in Mudras when they are asleep. It’s part of early brain development. As adults, consciously placing the hands and fingers together supports us in keeping calm and staying balanced.
Try this simple Mudra
Join the left and right hands together with all the fingers touching and extended. This is called “Anjali mudra”, A universal gesture which symbolizes the union of sun and moon, masculine and feminine and the two aspects of the nervous system, Parasympathetic (relaxed) and Sympathetic (fight or flight).
The yoga of sound is represented by the Sanskrit word Mantra. Through the repetition of sound the mind relaxes and focus becomes effortless. The big Mantra that everyone knows is AUM.
Aum is the sound of the ocean, the roar of the breath in your ears. The silence in between the sounds. One of my favorite ways to work with Mantra is to practice the humming meditation.
Place your hands over your ears ( cupping your ears with your hands) and make the sound hum. As you repeat the sound over and over listen to the roar of the sound in your ears. You only need to do this for a minute or two. Then relax your hands in your lap crossing the fingers with the thumb-tips touching. Sit quietly observing sensations throughout the body. This simple practice is perfect for when you’re over thinking things and needing to push the reset button.