Friday, July 21, 2017

Stretch and Tone Your Legs with Head to Knee Forward Fold (Janu Sirsasana)

Who doesn’t want strong, flexible legs? There’s a reason the yoga stretch called Janu Sirsasana is also known as “Runner’s Stretch.” It opens up your hamstrings, hips and spine as you prepare for physical activity. And it just feels nice.

To practice Head to Knee Forward Fold, begin seated on the ground with your feet stretched out in front of you. Bend one knee and place the bottom of your foot on your thigh anywhere above your knee. Breathe in and reach your hands toward the sky to make your spine long, then breathe out and fold forward over your extended leg.

It doesn’t matter where you grab your leg. It might be the thigh, the calf or your foot. Flex your extended leg, breathe in and use your arms to arch your back and puff up your chest. Then breathe out and let your spine curl forward. Use your arms to gently pull your nose closer to your knee without bouncing. Breathe deeply and enjoy the sensations of your back body relaxing into the pose. Namaste!

Coloring page from Yoga Teddy Bear’s Big Little Coloring Book of 108 Yoga Poses colored by Miss Michele Palumbo, Bay Shore, NY. Enter our coloring contest to win prizes. Picture of Yoga Teddy Bear creator K. Mae Copham by Robert Oakley in New Paltz, NY.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Graceful Curve of the Crescent Moon

 After the half moon appears on July 16, our celestial neighbor will begin to wane into a new moon. On clear nights over the next week, we will enjoy the graceful curve of the crescent moon. It reminds us that our bodies are not shaped like boxes and squares. We’re all curves and circles. In the spirit of the crescent moon, we practice Crescent Moon Stretch to stretch open our ribs, get our blood flowing and keep our spine flexible.

To practice Crescent Moon Stretch (Chandrasana), begin in a seated or standing position. Breathe in and reach your arms long overhead. Yogi’s choice: face your thumbs toward the back, clasp your hands and point toward the sky, or hook your thumbs together. Breathe out and bend to one side, curving your body like a crescent moon. Breathe deeply. Look straight ahead or up to the sky. Feel your side stretch all the way from your hip to your fingers. Stay aligned from front to back as though you are standing between two walls. Breathe in back to center. Breathe out to make your crescent moon on the other side.

Send your mind and body over the moon any time of the day, even sitting in a chair at your computer. Chandrasana is the way to do it. Thanks for the reminder, Moon! Namaste.

Coloring page from Yoga Teddy Bear’s Big Little Coloring Book of 108 Yoga Poses colored by Miss Michele Palumbo, Bay Shore, NY. Enter our coloring contest to win prizes. Picture of K. Mae Copham in Vail, CO by Robert Oakley.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Celebrate July 4 with Number 4 Legs

In the United States of America July 4 is synonymous with Independence Day and the founding of our country in 1776. The number 4 is a solid number. It conjures the image of a square or a table, the corners of a room, the 4 directions or the 4 seasons. Many East Asians think the number 4 is unlucky because the word for four is the same word as death (shi). Other people think a 4-leaf clover is a sign of good luck. The Native American Pueblo of New Mexico consider the number 4 to be sacred.

In yoga, a visual way to teach standing Half Lotus pose (Ardha Padmasana) is to call it “Number 4 Legs,” because the practitioner’s legs look like the number 4. Ardha Padmasana is an excellent pose to improve balance and stretch your hips. It’s also the set up pose for the arm balances Dragonfly and Flying Pigeon.

To practice Number 4 Legs, begin standing in Mountain Pose. Shift your weight to one leg. Focus on a point in front of you (your “Drishti”) to help you balance. Lift your other leg, bend your knee and place your ankle anywhere above your standing knee and as close to your hip as it will reach. Use your hand on your bent knee to press your hips open a little more. Like magic, your legs make the shape of a number 4. Bring your hands together in front of you count 4 long, deep breaths. Switch sides for an equal amount of time.

Happy 4th of July, America! Namaste.

Images: Coloring of “Number 4 Legs” by Harry Hayes, Age 10, Long Island, NY. Page from Yoga Teddy Bear’s Big Little Coloring Book of 108 Poses. Yoga Teddy Bear creator K. Mae Copham photo by Robert Oakley in Central Park, NYC, 2015.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Manage Pain with Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama)

“You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in a drop.” – Rumi

Two days ago I woke up with searing pain in my right arm. I had no idea what I’d done, but I couldn’t lift my arm and my shoulder was tender to the touch. This morning it became so intense I actually went to Urgent Care.

In addition to taking Ibuprofen and using the wonderful free app Insight Timer to listen to others’ recommendations and meditations for dealing with pain, I have been using Ocean Breathing (Ujjayi Pranayama) to keep calm, slow my breathing and manage the persistent throbbing pain. It really does help. Pranayama refers to our life force, and by partially blocking the glottis during Ujjayi (pronounced Ooh-Jah-Ee), the life force is harnessed and amplified.

Have you ever listened to the sound of the ocean in a shell? That’s what Ujjayi sounds like. To do it, make a whispering “ha” sound like the distant ocean. It helps to tuck your chin. After you get good at it, close your mouth but still make the sound while breathing slowly through your nose.

While practicing Ujjayi today, I contemplated Rumi’s quote. To me it speaks of how complex we each are with entire worlds existing in our minds and bodies, many of which are hidden from us like the depths of the ocean. I don’t yet know what is happening inside my arm, but I now find myself on a journey of discovery. Ujjayi Pranayama, also known as Victorious Breath, will help me get through to the other side.

Image from Yoga Teddy BearA-B-C for the letter “O.” This full color, hardcover book is a great way to introduce kids to the alphabet and yoga at the same time. Photo of K. Mae Copham meditating with “Cactus Arms” by Robert Oakley.