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YOGA FOR REAL PEOPLE
A YEAR OF CLASSES
By Jan Baker
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2002 Jan Baker
All rights reserved.
BEGINNER LEVEL LESSON 1
Proper breathing, perhaps the most important part of yoga, results in better health, sounder sleep, less disease, a clearer mind, and more cheerfulness. It slows the aging process and helps us feel light and supple. With yoga, we achieve perfect circulation. We relieve backaches, arthritis, bursitis, and headaches. We no longer feel tired, overweight, or underweight. With proper breathing, we can learn how to cool ourselves, how to warm ourselves, how to energize ourselves, and how to calm ourselves.
The Importance of Breathing
Our body removes 3 percent of its waste through the bowel, 7 percent through urine, 20 percent through our skin, and 70 percent by breathing. In yoga, relaxation is the "art," beathing is the "science." Here are some of the most important reasons why we need to maximize our breathing capacity:
1. The tempo of our respiration determines all our body/mind activities. Although we breathe approximately 23,000 times a day, we do so on automatic pilot and don't think about breathing properly. Yoga brings our attention to breathing properly.
2. Most of us use only one-sixth of our lung capacity, which causes us to become tired. Oxygen is fuel for our body. Our body renews itself twelve times a year, chiefly through oxygen, or what yoga calls prana energy, not through food.
3. Our brain needs three times more oxygen than the rest of our body. We can't digest our food without oxygen. We also need oxygen to break down food molecules and convert them into energy.
4. Inadequate oxygen speeds aging.
5. All organs suffer without proper oxygen.
6. People who suffer from cancer have an oxygen deficiency.
7. A lack of oxygen can cause tension, sleeplessness, constipation, nervous headaches, heart conditions, and mental disabilities.
8. We can literally, literally, breathe away ills, tension, and fatigue if we breathe properly.
9. Yoga postures are much easier to perform with proper breathing. We inhale to lift our body, and we exhale to bring our body back together.
10. Proper breathing is the doorway to meditation.
How to Approach Your Yoga Practice
When you begin to practice your postures, simply sit for a moment. Breathe deeply, make sure your body is totally relaxed and free of stress. This will allow you to perform the postures more easily and without hurting yourself. Make sure to wear loose clothing so that your body is free to move. You should wait three to four hours after having a large meal, one to two hours if you have had a light snack, such as a sandwich, and at least one half hour if you have had liquids.
The best time to practice is early in the morning. Why? It keeps us from putting it off until the afternoon or the evening, when something is likely to come up, or we might feel like watching television instead. In the morning, our stomach is already empty, so we don't have to worry about waiting for any food to digest. We are also less likely to be interrupted. It's best not to start if you are going to be interrupted, if you have to worry about children or the phone ringing. Besides, practicing yoga first thing in the morning truly sets the pace for our entire day. We have stretched our body into aliveness; it feels good and is ready to move. We sit for a moment and breathe deeply. Our mind is at peace, and we can go out and take on whatever the day throws at us.
Let me give you one last thought before you begin your postures. Yoga has been delicately, deliberately, and decisively formulated to allow us to become masters of our own senses, rather than being slaves to them. It allows us to enjoy a healthier physical life and a more peaceful mental life. It even allows us to become acquainted with our spiritual side. Yoga brings all these aspects into balance and harmony in a most gentle way. And, perhaps best of all, we get to meet a very special person—our real self.
Remember, the rule in yoga is this: you are not in a competition. Each body is different. Perform each posture only to the extent that your body will allow, not what someone else can do. Listen to your body. Our body whispers to us all the time, but we don't listen. We wait for it to scream and, then, it's generally too late.
Now, let's get healthy together.
1. Dreaming Dog.
Lie on the floor on your back with your arms by your sides, and very gently bounce your arms and legs up and down, like a dog having a dream and "running" while asleep. This will get your circulation flowing very gently through your body.
2. Lie and Stretch.
Lie on the floor just as in Dreaming Dog. Inhale and lift your arms over your head. Stretch your legs forward, as if you were just waking up. Really stretch your body. You want to get your circulation to go up and down your spine, moving within the negative and the positive, the yin and the yang. Rotate your wrists and ankles as you stretch. Really stretch, then exhale and relax.
3. Leg Raise I and II.
Lie on the floor with your arms at your sides. Inhale and lift one leg straight up. Exhale slowly and lower your leg to the floor. Repeat this movement with your other leg, inhaling to lift and exhaling to lower. Then, inhale and lift both legs up. Exhale very slowly and lower your legs to the floor. This posture is very good for your stomach muscles.
4. Reverse Bow I and II.
Lie on the floor, inhale, and lift one leg. Bend it at the knee and clasp it with your arms. Exhale and bring it toward your chest, while keeping your other leg flat on the floor. Inhale, release your leg and return it to the straight up position. Exhale and lower it to the floor. Repeat this movement with your other leg. Inhale to lift it, and clasp it with your arms. Exhale to bring it to your chest. Inhale to lift it straight up, and exhale to lower it to the floor. Repeat this movement with both legs at once. Inhale to lift them, and wrap your arms around them. Exhale to bring your legs to your chest. Inhale to lift them straight up, and exhale to lower your legs very slowly to the floor. This posture is excellent for your stomach muscles and for relieving your lower back area.
Lie on the floor and raise your upper body with your elbows. Lean your head back so that the top of it is on the floor. Release your elbows and stretch your arms out, along your thighs. Breathe normally. To release the posture, return your elbows to the bent position at your sides, gently lift your head out of the position, and slowly lower your upper body back to the floor. When your head is tipped back on the floor, you should feel a tightness in the neck area; then, you know it's working.
This movement allows you to open up your chest cavity and is good for bronchial and lung ailments. The Fish pose also helps stimulate the thyroid, parathyroid, and pituitary glands. It corrects posture problems, alleviates stiffness in the spine, and relaxes and beautifies the neck. The Fish is also effective for regulating the bowels, menstruation, and relieving hemorrhoids. Further along in your practice, you should use it to open your chest back up after compressing it with the Shoulder Stand.
6. Head to Knee and Pull.
Lying on the floor with your legs straight, inhale and raise your arms over your head. As you begin to sit up, hold your breath. Exhale as you bend forward and bring your body together, resting your head on your knees. Grab your toes, hold on to them, and try to look up at the ceiling. This posture nicely stretches your back area.
7. Neck Roll.
Sit in a cross-legged position on the floor. Relax your neck, pointing your chin to your chest. Inhale, roll your head to your right shoulder; then, roll it toward your back. Exhale to roll it to your left shoulder. Relax your chin down to your chest again. Repeat this roll three times for each side. If you feel dizzy after each rotation, simply turn a half circle in the opposite direction, and the dizziness will disappear. As you roll your neck, you will probably hear sounds like grains of sand. The louder the noise, the more stress and tension are in your body. This posture is excellent for relaxing your neck area and for relieving headaches. If you have, or have had, neck injuries or discomfort, you may wish to return your neck to a center position between each movement.
8. Shoulder Lift and Roll.
Sit in a cross-legged position on the floor. Inhale and lift your shoulders up toward your ears. Exhale and let them drop down. As you practice this posture, sigh on the exhalation. Your body enjoys the "sigh," which tells it to relax. Repeat the pose three or four times, inhaling up and exhaling down. Then, roll your shoulders in a backward motion three or four times and forward three or four times. This posture releases the tension in your body, and relieves you of stress, fatigue, neck ache, and headaches.
This posture's name indicates its purpose. From a kneeling position, sit back on your heels. As you inhale, lift your arms and cross them in front of your body in the area between your lower rib cage and slightly above your hip bone. Exhale, bend forward, and rest the top of your head on the floor, while keeping your buttocks on your heels. Rest in this position for three to four minutes. You should feel a lot of movement in your stomach area. If you don't feel a change taking place, inhale, gently rise out of the position, and drink a glass of warm water. When you return to the position, you should feel movement in your stomach. It's preferable to perform this posture first thing in the morning when your body is empty. Do not practice this pose on a full stomach; it would be very uncomfortable.
10. Kneeling Reverse Arm Raise.
Sit with your buttocks resting on your heels. Inhale, bring your arms behind you, and clasp your hands together. Exhale and lower your body forward, with your face to the floor. On the exhalation, raise your arms behind you as high as you can, leaving your buttocks on your heels. You'll want to feel the pull in your shoulders. Release your hands and, as you inhale and lift your body, let your arms fall to your sides. This posture releases stress in your shoulder area.
Kneel as in the previous pose. Rest your hands on your knees, close your eyes, and inhale deeply. As you exhale, push your tongue out forcefully and try to reach down to the bottom of your chin. Open your eyes wide, extend your fingers, and push your palms into your knees. You may feel a little odd practicing this posture for the first time. However, when you realize that simply pushing your tongue out will prevent or relieve a sore throat, then you won't feel so silly. The Lion pose does this by stimulating circulation to your throat and tongue. This posture is also very good for your facial muscles.
12. Sitting Spinal Twist.
If you have had back surgery, you should refrain from performing this posture. Start by kneeling and resting your buttocks on your feet. Then, let your buttocks slide to the right side and down to the floor. Bring your left leg up, bending it at the knee. Place your left foot on the outside of your right knee. Hold your left foot with your right hand. Inhale and twist to the left, while placing your left arm behind you with your palm on the floor as close to your buttocks as possible. Try to see the wall behind you. Exhale and relax to the original forward position. Repeat this movement for the opposite of your body, trying to keep your buttocks on the floor and twisting only at the waist. This posture is excellent for keeping your spine in a supple condition. It massages your stomach, kidneys, liver, and pancreas. This twist alleviates constipation, indigestion, rheumatism, and sciatica. It has also been said to help emphysema patients.
13. Standing Head to Knee.
Stand with your feet comfortably apart. Inhale and place your hands behind your back. Exhale and bend forward between your legs, with your arms raised upward behind you. Do not bend your knees. Inhale and twist to the right. Place your head to your right knee, and keep your arms raised behind you. Exhale. Inhale to lift your body, and lower your arms. Exhale and relax. Repeat this movement for the right side of your body; then, repeat down to the middle. This posture is good for your legs, and you'll feel the pull in the back of them. It also helps get circulation to your head, which is vitally important and should be practiced each day. Poor circulation to the head results in decreased blood and oxygen to the brain, which may cause senility. This posture also keeps your pituitary gland supplied with plenty of oxygen.
14. Wood Chop.
Stand with your legs apart, and imagine that there is a log about knee-high in front of you. Inhale and raise your head and arms as though you were clasping a heavy axe. Exhale as you vigorously try to bring your imaginary axe down and chop the piece of wood in half. As soon as you "strike the log," let your arms hang loosely, and release forceful outward breaths. This action cleanses your lungs. Let your torso swing naturally, three to four times, and let it stop naturally. Pause and relax. Inhale and raise your torso again.
Relaxation/Meditation: Complete Relaxation 1
Just as there is a right way and a wrong way of doing our postures, there is a right and wrong way of relaxing. We often think that to relax, all we need to do is to lie down, but we don't think about how we lie down. Most of the time, we are far from having placed our body in a properly relaxed state. Unconsciously, we still hold back by being uptight and tense. Had we the consciousness of an animal—a dog for example—then, indeed, we could just lie down. If you witness a dog's entrance into relaxation, you'll notice how, after having played or exercised its body, it simply flops to the floor, completely uninhibited, loose, limp, released, and relaxed. The dog is truly in the moment, in the act, naturally and unthinkingly complete. Not so for us. We truly don't know how to "let go." We carry the tightness and tension of the day with us, even when we lie down to the very relaxation we crave. We certainly knew how to relax when we were babies. Feel how a baby's body rests in your arms, totally relaxed. Unfortunately, we lose that trust in relaxation, that "letting go," as we grow older and "uptight." We must re-learn or, in truth, un-learn. We must go back and recapture what we have lost, but desperately need.
How Are You Breathing?
One reason for our being unable to relax properly and thoroughly is our inadequate breathing. Our breath is so shallow, so limited, so incomplete that it is a wonder we stay alive and make it through the day. We think of our lungs as "them." "As long as I get a little air in them, I'll be O.K." Of course you will, for a while. So will your car if you just run it on one cylinder, but, be assured, a breakdown is on the way. We think that if we lift our shoulders and suck in our stomachs, we have inhaled deeply. This is equally wrong. We have done nothing. Think of that dog I mentioned. It inhales by expanding its stomach and exhales by letting it fall. That, too, should be our way of proper breathing. Picture your abdomen as a balloon. As it fills up, it expands, and it empties as it collapses. The intake of oxygen, or what yoga calls prana energy, should not be limited to just the nostrils. The energy should continue to the larynx and to the windpipe, subdivide at the bronchial tubes, and subdivide again at the air sacs. When your breath is released, you should feel your abdomen deflate, the air pass upward through your body and out of your nostrils. Try this now.
Lie down, and without thinking about it, simply become aware of your breath by placing your hand on your abdomen. Inhale and feel it fill up. As you exhale, your abdomen will naturally lower itself again. It is all very natural, regardless of whether you are sitting, standing, or doing something else.
Excerpted from YOGA FOR REAL PEOPLE by Jan Baker. Copyright © 2002 Jan Baker. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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