Tension release and flexibility: The path to a healthier, lighter you
Allow yourself a moment of freedom from the daily grind with these spring spine stretches.
Figure 1: Cow posture
It is so easy to let negativity just sit on one’s shoulders. We let it weigh us down until we feel crushed and defeated, unable to shake it off. I know I am guilty of this. Can you relate?
For me, this was a long winter, full of trials - emotional and physical - and even though winter is behind me, I still allow it to affect me. So the time has come people to let go and embrace life anew, and what better time to start but spring?
Everywhere you look, life is bubbling over with flowers blooming, birds singing, trees spreading their branches and drinking in the sun.
So lets shake off winter, shake off the negativity, and start today fresh, looking at life with new eyes.
Yeah, yeah - easier said then done, right? Our minds are hard to control. We are more than our thoughts, however, and if we start small and begin by improving our psychical bodies, our mental and emotional states just seem to fall into step.
Right now, all of my classes are focusing on letting go of the “winter blues” by opening our hearts and limbering our bodies.
I have a simple, easy exercise flow to help you begin on the path to a healthier, lighter you and it only takes a few minutes from your day.
You can do this inside or outside and on or off a mat (I used a little rug). I suggest those with sensitive knees place some sort of padding underneath oneself, such as a folded blanket or even one of those cute foam gardening pads. Also, I highly recommended individuals consult a doctor before beginning any new exercises to prevent injury.
This exercise is called Cat Cow and it is wonderful for increasing spinal flexibility and releasing tension. Please follow along with the figures above:
• Figure 1: First, start in Table Pose (hands and knees) with the hands stacked directly beneath the shoulders, middle finger pointing straight forward and all the other fingers spread open away. Knees are directly beneath the hips, and the belly is gently lifted up towards the spine to protect the lower back. Back is flat and this is what is called a neutral spine. Crown of the head and hips lengthen away from each other.
• Figure 2: Take a deep breath, inhale through the nose, and as you being to exhale through the nose in a slow, steady stream, drop your tail bone and curl the hips under. Squeeze the abdominal muscles up toward the spine, arch the spine toward the sky and round the shoulders toward the ears, letting the head drop heavy. Allow your breath to exhale completely. This is the Cat postion.
• Figure 3: As you begin to inhale, we are going to reverse this posture. So always starting at the base and working your way up, curl the hips toward the sky and let the belly drop toward the Earth. The shoulders slide onto the back and the chin lifts toward the sky. This is the Cow posture.
Repeat these postures 4-6 times, allowing the breath to lead the movement. Close your eyes and feel the rippling sensation up and down your spine as you flow.
• Figure 4: The next mini-flow doesn’t have a name that I know of, but again it is wonderful as it works the spine in a twisting motion. We begin still in Table Pose with neutral spine. Take the left hand and place it directly underneath the center of the chest and on an inhale, reach the right arm up toward the sky. Lengthen through the fingers as if you were trying to reach up and touch a cloud. It should feel as if the right shoulder was stacked almost directly over the left shoulder. The right rib cage is opening toward the sky and the left rib cage is pulling toward the right.
As you exhale, float the right hand down toward the Earth and thread it underneath the left armpit. Continue reaching the arm to the left bringing the right shoulder down to the mat
• Figure 5: Repeat this movement 4-6 times and then start again on the opposite side.
Our last little spinal stretching flow is called Serpent Flow. Not only is this a wonderful stretch for the spine, it’s also great for the shoulders, arms, back, hips, knees and wrists! Yup, this little flow packs quite a wallop of benefits.
We just ended in Table Pose from the last exercise, and from here we are going to sink our hips back toward our heels, bringing the forehead down to the earth and extending the arms straight out in front.
• Figure 6: Begin to lift your head, and turn your fingers in toward each other slightly so that the elbows have room to bend. Take a deep inhale, bend elbows out to the sides and begin to slide forward keeping your chest as low to the ground as you can comfortable while the hips are still raised (crawling is acceptable).
• Figure 7: Still on the inhale, as your chest comes in next to the hands, drop the hips and press them down into the Earth, while also pressing the tops of the feet down. Press into the hands, lifting and reaching the center of the chest forward. Elbows should remain slightly bent and if any achy-ness is felt in the lower back, bend further into the elbows and press the hips into the Earth a bit more.
• Figure 8: As you begin to exhale, lower your chest and pull back through the hips, moving back the way you came in. Engage your abdomen here to support the lower back as you find your way back to Devotional Pose.
Repeat this movement 4-6 times and then rest for as long as you like in Devotional.
As you work through these flows, allow the breath to have your main focus. Let all other thoughts be pushed away as you tune your focus inward. Invision warmth and let go of your to-do list, set it aside and actually allow yourself a moment of freedom from the daily grind. I hope this flows opens your heart to the beauty of springtime and you rejoice in your new, supple spine!
Much love and peace,
Bethany Traynor is a yoga instructor, longtime dancer and resident of Chartiers Township. She teaches Hatha yoga at Sri Yantra Yoga Studio in Houston.