As I’m sure everyone already knows, mid-November is hitting like a sack of wet cement. (That is to say, not only are you now severely injured but also exceedingly confused.) My sweet and gentle eAmbassador teammates are all coping in their own ways and offering their own suggestions. Last week I wrote about using meditation to help find your centre; this week I’m going to show you some physical yoga postures you can use when you’re on hour five of your study session and you’re ready to toss the book out the window. Allez-y!
Cat – Cow Flow (Marjaryasana & Bitilasana)
How to: Begin in tabletop position, on your hands and knees, with a flat back. Check to make sure your knees are directly under your hips and your hands are directly under your shoulders.Spread your fingers out nice and wide and press in with all parts of the hand. When you exhale, round your spine as much as it’ll go (like a cat!) and let your head drop so your gaze is somewhere around your navel; when you inhale, curve the other way and let your belly lower and your gaze come up to face front. Repeat as many times as you like.
Beneficial for: The whole spine. Cat/Cow is an example of a very simple yoga flow/vinyasa, where the movement coordinates with the rhythm of your breathing. It’s a great exercise to loosen up the cranky vertebrae in your spine, good for the tense spot between the shoulder blades, and especially good for neck tension.
Seated Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
How to: Sit flat on the floor with your left leg extended (remember to flex your toes!) and cross your right leg over so the foot is planted flat on the outside of the left leg. Turn towards the side of the crossed leg (in this case, turning right) and either a) bring your elbow to the outside of your knee in a sort of stop-sign gesture, or b) simply hold onto your knee (as pictured). Twist the spine and slowly turn your head to look over your right shoulder. Protip: Use that arm-against-leg as leverage to help twist your spine, but don’t rely on it entirely–this is meant to be a stretch that comes from the core!
Beneficial for: The spine, again, but also all of the lateral muscles in the torso, and all of your internal organs. Twists are noted for the good they do for your digestive system in particular–the gentle compression of the organs as you a) twist and b) breathe in and out serves as a light massage. (One of my yoga teachers once said that twists are the energy balancers of yoga: if you’re feeling lethargic they’ll boost your energy, but if you’re feeling too wired they’ll reground you. Win-win!)
Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
How to: Sit flat on the ground with both legs extended fully (again, keep the toes flexed!) Inhale and lift both arms up over your head; exhale and bend forward over your extended legs, reaching forward with your hands. If you can reach your feet as something to hold onto, great; if not, you can hold onto your ankles or calves or just place your hands down on the ground. Make sure the forward fold comes from your hips (imagine they’re a hinge!) and that you’re leading with your heart instead of your head.
Beneficial for: The backs of the legs and the spine. If you want to make this stretch more about the legs, then it is important to keep the spine flat as you lean forward; if you want the stretch to be more about the back muscles and the spine, then you can allow your spine to round. This one is especially good if you’ve been sitting all day. Paschimottanasana is also great if you’re having a bout of nerves; forward folds in general tend to alleviate anxiety and calm the brain.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
How to: Begin sitting on your heels (have your toes touching!). Bring your knees wide enough apart to be able to lean your body forward between them. Inhale and lift your arms up overhead; exhale and fold forward until your belly is on/between your thighs. Allow the arms to stretch out ahead of you, with your palms flat on the floor. Allow your forehead to rest down. Close your eyes, let your heart sink towards the ground a little more on every exhale, and relax.
Beneficial for: Everything. Seriously. Balasana is a pose that should never be overlooked. It stretches the hips, lengthens the spine, relaxes the shoulder joints, massages the internal organs in your torso, and has the added bonus of being one of the most calming poses to adopt ever. If you’re feeling a little headachey or tense around the eyes from all that reading you’re doing, you can gently turn your head one way and then the other so your forehead is massaged against the ground.
Try holding each of these postures for 10 breaths each, focusing on finding a long/straight spine on the inhale and deepening the stretch on the exhale. Then, with a little luck and a nutritious snack, you’ll be ready for the next leg of your study adventure. (And a last piece of friendly exam-time advice: studying is an adventure, if you allow it to be.)
Feel free to share your own stress-relief tips, whether they be favourite yoga poses or something completely different! Take good care of yourselves and each other, and may providence be with you this exam season!