Tread Softly: Gentle Yoga

Elizabeth Rowa

“Whether you’ve long been a practitioner of yoga or are considering it for the first time, recovering from an injury or looking to counter aging, illness or stress, a gentle yoga practice can be of great benefit to mind, body and soul. While we often see images of yogis in complicated postures or turned upside down and backwards, yoga’s wide-ranging benefits are available without twisting ourselves into a proverbial pretzel. Offering enhanced strength and flexibility and relieving anxiety and stress, gentle yoga is a slower-paced practice with modifications intended to support varying degrees of health, skill, age and fitness. Consider gentle yoga among the more democratic types of yoga: you’ll find something for virtually everyone.”

The below sequence emphasizes stretching and strengthening the core, back and lower body. if you are just starting a yoga practice or experiencing it anew, take time to explore each posture, ensuring you feel comfortable even when challenged. Yoga should never cause pain; rather a sense of wellness, relaxation, strength and invigoration. Side effects may also include a softer, more gentle approach to your life overall. Tread softly.

Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)

Benefits: Increases flexibility in the hips and groin; stimulates abdominal, digestive and reproductive organs.

Cat Pose Crunches Benefits: Strengthens glutes, back and abdomen; provides spinal flexibility.

Come to hands and knees and place wrists aligned under shoulders and knees aligned at hip width. Keeping your gaze on the mat between your hands and a lengthened neck, extend the right leg straight behind you at hip level. Extend the left arm forward, palm facing toward center. inhale, reach through both right heel and left hand. Exhale, round the back and draw the elbow of the extended arm and knee of the opposite extended leg towards each other. Repeat five times on the same side before changing sides.

Begin seated, optionally on a yoga block or the folded edge of a blanket if your hips are tight. Extend both legs straight out in front of you. bend both legs, walking the feet in toward you. allow both knees to fall away from each other such that the soles of your feet come together, making a butterfly shape with the legs. Draw your heels in toward your pelvis as much as you comfortably can. if you want to deepen the stretch, grasp your feet, ankles or shins and inhale to sit tall. as you exhale, gently fold forward towards the feet, maintaining shoulders down the back and away from the ears. Soften into the posture and remain here for ten breaths to several minutes. To release, look forward as you inhale and sit up as you exhale.

Cat Pose Crunches

Benefits: Strengthens glutes, back and abdomen; provides spinal flexibility.
Come to hands and knees and place wrists aligned under shoulders and knees aligned at hip width. Keeping your gaze on the mat between your hands and a lengthened neck, extend the right leg straight behind you at hip level. Extend the left arm forward, palm facing toward center. inhale, reach through both right heel and left hand. Exhale, round the back and draw the elbow of the extended arm and knee of the opposite extended leg towards each other. Repeat five times on the same side before changing sides.

Thread the Needle (Sucirandhrasana)

Benefits: Enhances spinal flexibility, range of motion and mobility; detoxifies and supports healthy digestion; engages core muscles.
Begin in a kneeling position with hands at shoulder width and feet at hip width. Inhale and sweep the left arm out to the side and up toward the sky, palm facing outward. On the exhale, sweep the lifted arm down and slide the back of that hand underneath the right arm, twisting to the right until you come to rest on the back of your left arm, shoulder or upper back. Relax your head toward the mat, turning the gaze upward if comfortable for the neck. Hold the pose for five breaths. To release the pose, inhale and sweep the left arm out to the side and up again, releasing the hand to the mat on exhalation. Repeat on the opposite side.

Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana)

Benefits: Provides stretch to the psoas, thighs, back and hips; encourages a healthy posture; works core muscles; enhances balance.
From a kneeling position, step the left foot forward in between the hands. You may need to pick up the foot to place it there. Align the left knee above the left ankle. You may stay in this position with hands framing the front foot if it feels comfortable. To deepen the posture, slowly lift the torso and place both hands on top of the left thigh, allowing the right knee to continue to rest on the mat with toes extended behind you. Hold the posture for ten breaths. To exit the pose, return both hands to frame the front foot, and step or pick up the left foot to return to hands and knees. Repeat on the opposite side.

Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

Benefits: Enhances hip flexibility; stretches thighs, groin and back; can relieve low back tension and stiffness.

From hands and knees, draw the left knee forward to rest behind the left wrist. Slide your left foot toward your right wrist.

Supporting yourself with your hands, slowly extend the right leg straight behind you. if there is significant space between your left hip and the mat, use a folded blanket between them for additional support. inhale, press into your hands to arch the back and lift the chest. Exhale, walking the hands forward and rest on your hands, forearms or forehead. You may rest your head on a block, blanket or pillow for further comfort. Rest in the posture for ten breaths to several minutes. Come out of the posture by lifting your head and torso, returning weight to your hands as you walk them in line with shoulders. Press into hands, lift the left leg and draw it back in line with the left hip as you tuck the right toes and slide the right knee forward. Returning to hands and knees, repeat on the opposite side.

Corpse Pose (Shavasana)

Benefits: Deeply relaxes the body and mind; deepens and evens breathing; reduces stress and anxiety; calms nervous system.

lie on the back. Extend the legs straight, place them at least hip distance apart, and allow feet and knees to softly fall open toward the edges of your mat. Rest arms straight and slightly away from your sides, palms facing up. Close the eyes as you relax the body from head to toe. Rest here for ten minutes to conclude your yoga practice.

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