Thursday, June 11, 2015

Let's Play!

One of the things I love about yoga – and why I was inspired to share it with the world in the form of a cartoon character – is the element of play it naturally inspires.   Many yoga asanas are named after animals and objects, reflecting the very human tendency to observe the natural world in order to learn, grow and create.   I can imagine an early yogi looking at a turtle and deciding to make his body into that shape.  Some of the pose names stretch the imagination, like the intertwined arms and legs of Eagle pose – while you don’t look like an actual eagle in the pose, the energy in your limbs is bound like a spring.  That state of balance/imbalance brings to mind a powerful eagle ready leap off a cliff and take flight.

Here are four playful yoga moves I like to practice that will tickle your imagination and bring a smile to your lips – and your body.

1.  Boat to Plow… and back! 

This sequence is not only fun, it will give your spine a gentle massage while it tones your abs.  Begin on your back on a soft surface like carpet or a yoga mat.  Flex the muscles in your tummy to lift your body and legs off the floor.  Your knees can be bent to make your body into a “V” shape.  Try to balance on your tail like a boat on the water.  Breathe deeply, then inhale and roll back gently to lift your feet toward the sky and then right over your head into plow pose.  See if your toes touch the ground above your head.  Bend your knees if it feels nice.  Breathe deeply and relax.  Roll back down keeping momentum enough to get back onto your tail in boat pose.  Roll back and forth between plow pose and boat pose to the beat of your breath. 

(Speaking of play, will you color this blog picture?)

2.  Cow Face legs turnaround.* (Gomukasana)

Sit on the floor and stack your knees.  Use your hands behind you to push yourself up tall and get centered on the floor with your hips.  Grasp your hands behind your back and/or fold forward if it feels nice.  Inhale and lengthen, exhale and deepen.  To switch legs, keep your feet in place while you lean forward onto your hands and stand up slightly.   Without moving your feet from their spot, walk your hands around behind you in a circle pivoting on your feet until you are facing forward again.  You’ll find that your other leg is now stacked on top!  Try to spend the same amount of time on this side.  Grasp your hands behind your back and/or fold forward like you did on the first side.  Inhale and lengthen, exhale and deepen. 

*Thanks to Nevine Michaan at Katonah Yoga in New York City for teaching me this cool and super fun move.  

(And this one, from the forthcoming 6th coloring book, "Balance & Bend")

3.  Downward Facing Tree / Downward Facing Stick Pose.

Handstands can be a challenge, but it’s always fun to get yourself upside down – or at least try.  A handstand is a great way to open your shoulders, tone your arms and maintain your wrist strength.  Try the way the monkey is doing a handstand in my drawing.  Warm up your shoulders with Downward Dog.  Then measure: sit on the floor in stick pose (like a capital “L”) with your back against the wall and your feet out in front of you.  Mark where your heels meet the floor, then turn around with your back facing the wall and place the palms of your hands just beyond that mark.  Walk your feet up the wall until you are in a handstand.  Look between your hands or if you’re really balanced, let your head hang.  Keep on breathing!  Flex your arms, tummy and legs and engage your energy locks to maximize the benefits.

4.  Happy Baby.

This is just about everyone’s favorite pose, although Savasana may trump it in a pose-to-pose showdown.  Lay on your back.  Hold the outsides of your feet, or grab your big toe with two fingers in a Yogi Toe Lock.  Smile, wiggle, giggle, roll around and give yourself a little back massage.  Breathe deeply… and feel good!

Any time you practice yoga, you can make it your intention to enjoy your body and have fun.  It is an amazing blessing to live in a human body.  Not only do we have the ability to manipulate our environments with opposable thumbs and big brains, we enjoy long life spans, the ability to walk upright, and extremely versatile bodies.  It’s a miracle when you really think about it.

In today’s modern world having an outlet for playful physical release is a helpful tool for reducing stress and maintaining sanity.   Any yoga pose can be fun when you use your creativity, imagination and breath.  Start with the most basic yoga pose of all - the Yoga Teddy Bear Smile!  I’ve had a blast creating my coloring books through exploring all the fun ways to use my body and play with the names of yoga poses.  I hope you have fun too!