Recently I asked one of my students how he finds the motivation and discipline to come to yoga regularly. His answer? “I don’t have a choice! If you don’t move it, you’ll lose it!” This gentleman comes to yoga class regularly to manage pain and maintain mobility. I often hear my students express their areas of aches and pains, due to stiffness and/or muscle tension. This can be caused by a variety of reasons including regular daily activities, carrying groceries, walking, exercise, sleeping position, poor hydration, and the list goes on. There may also be additional issues such as illness, injury, chronic conditions (such as arthritis), or “dis”-ease.
As we age, the connective tissues in our bodies – particularly bothersome in our joints – become less elastic which can impede mobility and become a nuisance in our everyday lives, resulting in pain and other imbalances in the body. For example, if our knee hurts, we may start favouring the other leg, which may lead to issues in the hip, and so on. As children we were able to move our bodies easily with our fresh young connective tissues full of collagen and experience a full range of motion in our joints. With the passage of time, we may have noticed changes in our bodies, sometimes subtle, sometimes sudden, for example after a fall or injury. Although we cannot regain our youth, we can increase our mobility to an appropriate level, dispelling the myth of suffering from “old age”.
We can begin a yoga asana practice with a doctor’s consent. In the beginning, we may notice that we are increasing our mobility and eventually, we plateau and come to a state of maintenance. At this point we can feel comfortable in our bodies, knowing our abilities and limitations, allowing us to enjoy the rest of our daily activities with relative ease. The following are a few poses that can be done while sitting in a comfortable position on the floor or on a chair, with the arms resting comfortably.
Pranayama: Begin by lengthening the breath, inhale counting to 4 (1,2,3,4) and lengthening the exhale, counting 1,2,3,4. Repeat 7 times and then go back to regular deep breathing…
Neck Stretch: Inhale the chin up to the sky, feeling the stretch in the front of the throat for a few breaths. Exhale the chin down towards the chest for a few breaths, feeling the weight of the head and the stretch in the back of the neck. Continuing to inhale and exhale deeply, slowly start rolling the head around in circles, opening up the muscles in the neck. Repeat in the opposite direction. Bring the head back to neutral.
Shoulder Opening: Bring the hands in front of the face, palms facing towards you. Inhale and lift the hands up to the sky intending the elbows together creating space along the spine (protracting shoulders). Exhale and open the arms out to the sides and down, with the elbows behind the line of the shoulders, and squeeze the shoulder blades together (retracting shoulders). Repeat 5 times, linking each movement with the breath.
Spine Warm-Up: Place the hands on the shoulders. Inhale twist the upper body to the right. Exhale back to centre. Inhale twist to the left, exhale back to centre. Repeat 10 times.
Notice and enjoy the increased mobility in the neck and shoulders and the added bonus of a calm mind!