14/100 – Shoulder Stretch – Oh those tight shoulders! This is where I tend to hold tension in my body, so whenever a yoga student asks for help with tight shoulders this is a go-to stretch for us. I’m showing two versions of this stretch in my video today. Practice the one that feels best for your body, taking good care to not allow the ego to push you into going deeper than is warranted.
Benefits: Stretches the shoulders, underarms and upper back. Opens the chest and heart center. Relieves tension in the upper body and helps soothe headaches.
How to: This pose can be practiced from a seated position or standing – take your pick. Inhale and sit (or stand) tall. Reach the right arm up, and then bend at the elbow allowing the right hand to rest between the shoulder blades on the back. Bring your left hand up and take hold of the right elbow. Deepen the stretch by gently tugging the right elbow with the left hand, pressing the back of the head into the right arm. Hold this pose for 3-6 breath cycles then change sides.
Option #2: If there’s room in the upper body, you may try swinging the left hand down and behind the back, reaching the left fingers to meet the right fingers and clasping there. Press the back of the head into the arm, and breathe…
Wherever you land, see if you can relax the tops of the shoulders away from the ears and keep the breath deep and steady.
13/100 ~ Heart opener restorative pose – Also known as “Yes, please!” We spend so much time with our shoulders rounded forward. Working on a computer, playing with our phones, driving… Today’s practice helps counter poor posture habits and relieves tension in the upper body. Take the time to set yourself up, and then allow yourself to rest in this restorative pose for at least 5 minutes. You’re going to love today’s practice!
Benefits: Relieves headaches, neck and upper back pain. Stretches the front of the body, opens the chest and fronts of shoulders. Calms the mind, resets the nervous system, lowers the heart rate and stabilizes blood pressure.
How to: (1) Create a bolster for yourself using a couple of yoga blankets or some thick towels. You want the structure to be about 4” high, and long enough to support your body from the mid-back to the top of your head.
(2) Sit at one end of the stack with the ends of the blankets a few inches away from your tailbone.
(3) Recline back over the blankets, allowing the end of the blanket stack to be at your waistline. Your low back and tailbone should drape off of the stack and down toward the floor. You can keep your knees bent with feet on the floor, or extend the legs flat. Tuck the shoulders down and under to lift the heart, draw the chin toward the chest to create length in the back of the neck. Rest your hands on the ribs, or away from the body with palms rolled up to the ceiling. Close your eyes and follow your breath. Notice the rise and expansion of your torso on the inhale, release and relaxation on the exhale.
12/100 ~ Table Pose and Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana) –We’ll be using table pose as a starting point in poses later in the series, so take some time to feel the alignment of the pose before you begin moving into cat-cow. Use a blanket under your knees for added comfort and move slowly.
Benefits: Relieves back pain and increases flexibility in the spine. Slows down breathing and calms the mind. Lengthens and realigns the spine. Stretches the wrists and strengthens the arms
How to: Table Pose (not pictured) – Come to your hands and knees and take a moment to set up great alignment for yourself. Aligned the wrists straight down from the shoulders, fingers spread wide with index fingers pointing to the top of the mat. Place the knees straight down from each hip, and look between your knees to make sure that your feet/toes are aligned directly behind your knees. Point your nose down toward your mat to create a neutral neck position. Feel yourself balanced here as you take a couple of slow, deep breaths.
Cow Pose – Allow your tailbone to arch up as your belly droops toward the floor. Press into your hands and draw the tops of the shoulders away from the ears, look forward. Have a sensation of the heart being drawn forward as you inhale. On your exhale, move into cat pose.
Cat Pose – Allow your tailbone to tuck and roll your entire spine to press upward. Press into your hands and lift the space between your shoulder blades up toward the ceiling. Squeeze your chin to chest and exhale completely. On your inhale, move back to cow pose.
Repeat cat-cow poses 5-10 times, inhaling as the belly drops/face looks forward, exhaling as the tailbone tucks/back rounds/chin tucks.
The Wrists: Ease wrist pain by pressing into the knuckles where the fingers meet the palms, rather than bearing weight on the heal of the palms.
11/100 ~ Jaw Release – It’s true what your mama told you – your face just might get stuck like that! During times of stress we hold so much tension in our jaws. We might even develop the unconscious habit of clinching or grinding our teeth. Maybe our default expression is temporarily stuck on…well…the downside of resting face.
Benefits: Changing our expression actually boosts our mood. It’s true, and there have been scientific studies to prove it. These simple movements stretch the jaw and face, and help to relieve headaches, tightness in the neck, shoulders and upper back. They can even elevate the mood a little closer to happy.
How to: First, sit up tall and relax your shoulders down and away from your ears. Allow your breathing to be slow and deep. Stretch your jaw by slowly opening the mouth as wide as you can, then gently closing it. You can even work the tongue by sticking it out as far as possible as the mouth opens. Repeat this several times, focusing on the stretch you feel. Next, move the jaw side-to-side several times, pausing at left and right to feel the stretch. And finally, stretch the corners of your mouth upward in a big cheeky smile – like a toddler saying “cheeeeeeeese” for a photo. Relax the face and repeat the cheeky smile a few times.
Mantra (for night time teeth grinders): “I relax my jaw when I sleep at night.”
Your turn: Did you know that when you smile the muscles in your jaw release? Try it! I mean, really. Notice your jaw right now and then allow the corners of your mouth to turn upward. Did you feel the muscles in your jaw let go? Divine design right there, my friends. Divine design.
10/100 ~ Chair yoga hip opener – Stop, drop and yoga on this one, my friends. If you are sitting in a chair as you read this, cross your right ankle over your left knee and sit up tall. Feel that nice stretch in your right hip? Bam. You’re practicing yoga!
Benefits: This pose is great for relieving sciatica, hip and low back pain. All you need is a chair. J
How to: Cross the right ankle on top of the left knee, keeping the right foot flexed to protect the knee. Sit nice and tall and take a deep breath. As you exhale, gently press the knee downward with your right hand. Relax your shoulders and breathe deeply while enjoying the nice opening in your right hip. To deepen this pose, lean the body forward, drawing your belly toward the stacked right shin. And be sure to even yourself out by stretching on the left side!