I recently taught a workshop on ways to focus a Yoga practice so that it benefits the two things that age the quickest, our joints and our brains. It was enlightening, though not surprising, to find through much research that every Yoga practice does just that, whether specifically designed to or not. But there are some specific points to keep in mind if you are particularly interested in those two areas. While the workshop gives an experiential touch to the information, I thought it would be helpful to highlight the main points.
1) SLOW AND REPETITIVE: For arthritic or sore joints, remember to warm them up with slow repetitive motions. Circular motions in both directions are especially helpful as they cover the full range of motion. Holding poses helps to stretch or strengthen the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, fascia etc.), but sore joints will respond better to slow, consistent movement. Example: If your hips are sore, move slowly in and out of triangle pose instead of holding it.
2) WEIGHT BEARING WITHOUT PAIN: Joints need weight bearing, but if sore or arthritic, it’s important to not overload. Do the most weight bearing you can without pain. Example: try plank pose with knees on floor if wrists or shoulders are sore, or try plank pose against the wall walking feet as far back as possible keeping hips down. You should feel the work in the muscles, not the joints.
3) JOINT STABILIZATION: Joints benefit from stabilization. Stabilization comes from strengthening the muscles around the joints. One of the best ways is balance poses. Try standing on one foot, it doesn’t have to be a specific pose. If pain is involved, support some of your weight by holding on to a chair with one hand. Build up to more challenging poses as the joint becomes more stable.
4) INVERSIONS ROCK! : Both the joints and the brain benefit from inversions, i.e. the head lower than the heart. Legs up the wall, (as in picture above) releases excess fluid caught in the legs, relieving knee, ankle, and even hip pain. Downward Dog brings a fresh supply of healing blood cells to the brain, as well as alleviates joint pressure on the spine and pelvis. Even just folding forward in the chair to bring the head lower than the knees can refresh you.
5) CRISS CROSS STIMULATION: Working across the body, or with opposite sides of the body stimulates the brain to create new thinking pathways. Any revolved position will do this, such as revolved triangle. For a simpler version just reach your right hand down to your left foot, other arm to the sky, come back to center and then do the other side. This too can be done in a chair. Any time you reach across the body and/or move with opposite sides of the body at the same time (right arm/ left leg) you are stimulating and challenging the brain.
5) JUST BREATHE!: Several breathing techniques help to stimulate the Nadis (small energy centers near the brain). Alternate nostril breathing, (Nadi Shodhana) being one of the easiest and best. Not only does it stimulate and clear the Nadis, thus the brain, but it leaves you feeling calm and relaxed. It’s a wonderful way to start a meditation or Yoga practice…..or even just to start your day. Here’s more about it:
nadi = channel shodhana = cleaning, purifying
- Calms and centers the mind
- Brings the mind to the present moment and out of the past (releases fears, regret, and worry)
- Therapeutic for the circulatory and respiratory systems
- Helps harmonize the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which correlate to the logical and emotional sides of our personality.
Gently close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril, and then close it with your ring-little fingers. Open and exhale slowly through the right nostril.
Keep the right nostril open, inhale, then close it, and open and exhale slowly through the left. This is one cycle. Repeat 3 to 5 times, then release.
Ok, so now you have some great tools to keep your joints and your brain healthy and happy. Keep up your Yoga classes and watch the future roll out with sukha…joy, ease and pleasure!