When I first started to teach back around 1996, I didn’t use the word “yoga” to describe a class that was unquestionably, well, yogic. The reason was concern that it would scare folks off. It wasn’t all that long ago that the prevailing perception of this ancient discipline was that it was exclusively for contortionists (or aspiring ones). Yoga was for young, limber people; it was strongly associated with brown rice, vegetarianism and health-maintenance practices such as high colonics.
That perception has modified considerably over the last 15 years, and yoga has enormously grown in popularity. The latest big study (“Yoga in America,” conducted by Harris Interactive Service Bureau on behalf of Yoga Journal and released in 2008) indicated that 6.9% of U.S. adults, or nearly 16 million people, were practicing, with another 4.1% or 9.4 million people, saying they would definitely try it within the next year.
This column is for the other 89% who are not enjoying the physical and mental-health benefits of yoga. It was inspired by an article by Rick Devereux that appeared several years ago in the IDEA Fitness Journal. IDEA is an association for fitness professionals; Devereux’s concept was that trainers could build their business by teaching clients accessible, short yoga routines. My idea is different. I think that a lot of people, who wouldn’t dream of committing an hour to a public yoga class or even a private session with a yogi, just might be persuaded to try a little taste on their own, at home. Here are some options for doing just that.
Stand up and stretch
This short, 5-to-15 minute, yoga-stretching routine enlivens the body with minimal stress by awakening the spine and oxygenating the muscles. It doesn’t require any equipment. You need a quiet place to concentrate, a hard floor to stand on and enough space to extend your arms. Do this barefoot in your pajamas or other loose-fitting clothing.
• Mountain pose and variations. Begin by standing up straight. To align the spine, feet should be straightforward and back, slightly inside of hip-distance apart. Inhaling, contract the muscles of your upper legs and lift your kneecaps. Exhaling, let your tailbone drop toward the floor and feel your core begin to come to life. Inhaling, lift the breastbone; exhaling, slide the shoulder blades back and down into their sockets. Inhaling, pull your chin straight back like a West Point cadet and let the crown of your head float up to the sky. Exhale completely and compress your diaphragm to expel all the air.
Now close your eyes, focus your attention on your breathing and repeat eight to 10 times, inhaling and exhaling evenly through your nose to a count of three.
Keeping your eyes closed, if possible, try these variations.
• Rotation. Inhaling, shift your weight forward toward your toes; exhaling, rotate slowly around to 6 o’clock. Complete the circle with your next breath. Repeat three or four times, alternating the direction in which you turn.
• Side stretch. Inhaling, stretch both arms overhead, palms to the sky. Exhaling, stretch to the right, separating the ribs and lengthening the left side of the body. Inhaling, return to upright, and exhaling, stretch to the other side.
• Shoulder opening. Inhaling, interlock your fingers and lift both arms overhead, pushing your palms toward the sky. Exhaling, bring arms forward, pushing palms out so that the shoulders separate in back. Inhaling, lift arms overhead again. Exhaling, separate hands, lower to behind your buttocks and interlock your fingers again, rotating your wrists and pushing palms toward the floor to open the front of the shoulders and chest. Inhaling, release hands back to overhead and repeat.
• Balance variations/tree pose. Try these first with one hand on the back of a chair or touching a wall. As you become more confident of your balance, do this move with your arms spread wide at shoulder height and, finally, with arms overhead. Ground your right foot strongly into the floor. Rotate your left hip outward and lift your left foot so the arch is at the right ankle. Stay on one foot for three breaths, then return it to the floor and repeat on the other side. Progress by moving the elevated foot up the leg, first to the calf, then the thigh just above the knee and finally right up into the groin.
This routine isn’t going to change your life, but it will get your day off to a good start, strengthen your supporting muscles, improve your balance and help you maintain better, younger-looking posture throughout the day. Try it. Watch for an end-of-day routine in a subsequent column.
Molly Schechter is an ACE-certified personal trainer, with a specialty in older adult fitness plus YogaFit Instructor Training and a Power Pilates(tm) Mat Certification. She teaches classes at the Bayfront Park Recreation Center. E-mail her at [email protected].