For several months I’ve volunteered at the Center on Halsted to teach Gentle Yoga to older adults. This has been a great experience for dozens of reasons, but one benefit surprised me. I walk out of that class feeling PHYSICALLY awesome every week. Honestly, teaching a more vigorous class is sometimes a little hard on the body. I may demonstrate a backbend without being totally warmed up, or do a long lunging series . . . only on one side. Whoops. We all have aches and pains occasionally, and, whether you’re a seasoned yogi or new to the practice (like maybe you just heard about yoga and typed in “gentle yoga” and you found me – in which case I owe Google a fruit basket or something), I have two tips for you to feel awesome that I learned teaching gentle yoga.
TIP NUMBER ONE FOR FEELING SUPER AWESOME LIKE I DO AFTER I TEACH GENTLE YOGA:
Move your spine in all six directions.
Our spines are beautifully designed to move in six directions.
So let’s do it, shall we? Sit in a chair and scoot to the edge. Shift side to side to feel the flesh move out of the way and your sits bones ground into the chair. Your knees and feet are hips width distance apart. Your feet are parallel to one another. Bring your hands to your thighs and, on on inhale, lengthen your spine (like someone is pulling your hair on top of your head. Chin stays parallel to the ground).
Side to side: Inhale your arms up over your head, keeping your shoulder down away from your ears. On an exhale bring your right hand down to the chair outside your right thigh. Left arm reaches toward the right wall. Take 3-5 deep breaths and switch sides. Sustain on the other side for the same amount of time and come back to center.
Twist: Inhale arms up, exhale your left hand to your right knee. Your right hand comes right behind your body toward the center of the back on the chair seat. Stay right here and inhale as you lengthen through your spine. Exhale draw your right shoulder back (towards the wall to your left) to deepened the twist. Take 3-5 breaths in this twist. Inhale back to center. Exhale to switch sides and sustain on the other side for the same amount of time. Come back to center.
Forward and backward: On the inhale draw your shoulder blades together and down your back, life your chin and chest up towards the ceiling. Hold for 3-5 breaths. On an exhale draw navel to spine, curve your back toward the back wall, tuck chin to chest. Feel your shoulder blade drift away from each other. Sustain this position for 3-5 deep breaths. On the inhale, come back to a neutral spine.
Ok, for real. I just did this in between typing and I already feel about 10 times better than when I started. And I’m only half done!
TIP NUMBER TWO FOR FEELING SUPER AWESOME LIKE I DO AFTER I TEACH GENTLE YOGA:
Rotate every joint seven times.
They say (THEY DO!) that it takes seven rotations of a joint to replenish the synovial fluid that keeps your joints moving easily and pain-free. Take a moment to systemically go through every joint and move it.
Still sitting in your chair, turn your head to look the the right wall on an exhale. Inhale center, exhale turn to the other side. Do this 3-5 times. Bring your head to the center and begin to rotate your wrists a few times in both directions (extra credit if you wiggle your fingers too). Move up to your elbows and roll out your elbows.
For the advanced variation of these movements. Try the pageant wave.
And maybe try to ignore Kristin Chenoweth’s comments on body size/shape and gender performance … the wave is stellar!
To open up your shoulders, practice your backstroke. And your front stroke. Next, rotate your ankles. You might enjoy using the floor to press against to add a stretch to your rotation. When both ankles are opened up, bring your hands to your knees and stand up.
Your feet are a little more than hips-width distance apart. Stand strong. Bring your hands to your hips and rotate your hips like you are hula-hooping. Don’t forget to rotate in both directions.
Bend your knees, brings your hands to your thighs and rotate your knees. Both directions.
Come to standing and notice how you feel.
I said two tips, but if you have another 30 seconds, here is my EXTRA CREDIT TIP FOR FEELING SUPER AWESOME LIKE I DO AFTER I TEACH GENTLE YOGA:
One of my teachers, Devarshi, describes this pratapana in an article about “warming up”:
“One of my all-time favorite pratapana practices is a movement I call ’empty coat sleeves.’ Stand with your feet a little wider apart than hip width, and begin to twist from side to side, allowing the arms to swing in half-circles, hands slapping the opposite shoulders. I tell my students to think of this movement as a “psychic washing machine”—and they’re on spin cycle. This twisting movement loosens up the spine and shoulders, oxygenates the cells, clears the mind, gives a “squish” to the internal organs, and helps you become more present in the moment. To up the intensity, practice hara breath—in through the nose, out through the mouth—as you twist.”
Slow down. Bring your feet to hips width distance apart and close your eyes. Notice how you feel. You didn’t go to the studio. You didn’t head towards deep backbends like urdhva dhanurasana, or inversions like sirsasana. It only took 5-10 minutes all said and done. But, be honest. You feel good, don’t you?
I hope so!