This image from rosstraining.com reminded me of the children’s Feel Box/Bucket game sometimes played at Halloween parties. Passing by shelf loads of Halloween products I note how vast the range now is and how hard it must be for children (and parents) to agree upon one choice. I suspect that making that choice is sometimes a fraught affair.
I do “go on” a bit about making choices in our approach to yoga practice – largely because I find myself tempted to “go for the pose” despite the fact that I know (now) that this affects my breathing and allows all the old habits to resurface – at times. I also know that once my breathing is strained that my mind cannot relax: consquently, my body begins to store tension. Problems arise when the body cannot release that tension if the next pose is goal-orientated. Going back to basics is hard for all of us whch is why it helps to focus on our breathing first and the pose second.
How do we best breathe in down dog, for example? Is it by Is it by pushing up through the arms and shoulders to get into a shape in which we then breathe? This is one way, of course and suits many people. In this way, the movement is often one of going forward and up – namely over the wrists and hands then moving the body back to lengthen the spine. The pose is oft stated to target the upper body and to stretch the hamstrings but the most common contraindication is carpel tunnel – so how do we become more mindful of pressure on the wrists?
By drawing focus to the movement of the feet and legs as they have adapted to move over the millenia, we train movement not muscles. We also take the effort away from the wrists:
- From all fours with toes under, bring the pelvis back towards the heels and use the feet and legs to lift the pelvis. Lower the pelvis in the same way. Legs do not have to be straight – the movement is the interesting part. How far can you go into the movement keeping the upper body quiet – so that you can breathe.
- Squat down and if you find it helpful to place a block under the heels, then do that or not. Place your hand 6 inches infront of the feet, then undo the legs so they lengthen. Legs do not have to be straight. The arms and shoulders should feel soft and relaxed. Come down into squat again. Move the hands further forward. Keep repeating the opening and closing of the legs using supportive, grounded feet. Each time move the hands further forward until you feel open enough to breathe and comfortable enough to minimize tension. Place a block for your hands if that helps.
When the feet and legs work to lift the spine, the back does not have to work. If the feet and legs are functioning well and you move into a supported place, then strain on the wrists will be reduced. If it isn’t then try something different to help the legs and feet – semi supine lifting of the spine without the use of unecessary abdominal and back musles; crouching on haunches and rocking the knees; sprinters. Class regulars know these.
We do focus our attention on hands and wrists when on all fours. Movements of the hands until the shoulders feel ok, helps the mind to strengthen connections between the integrated movements of shoulder blades, shoulders, armbones, wrists and hands. Allowing weight to drop down the armbones allows muscles to balance and wrists can be supportive rather than strained. The focus here may differ from that in downward dog but in both poses a mindful approach is the key – noticing when we start to push with the hands rather than lean through the bones of the arm. Noticing that bracing is counter-productive to a mindful practice.
Jon Kabat-Zinn words underline the choice we make between discomfort and comfort in our yoga practice. We do not always have this luxury in everday life, especially when things are tough. That is why mindfulness can be such a difficult practice, such a rigorous discilpline. Kabat-Zinn says that mindfulness is not just a good idea, it is essential to restore balance to our lives. Our yoga practice should be a treat for the body. Exercise is a good idea, movement is essential. The body becomes better at what we do and what we don’t do. We sit a lot and the front of the body gets better at shortening, we pull the body into a yoga shape and the body gets better at bracing through the difficult parts of the movement. we practice mindfully a lot and we become better at that.
Choices? Trick or treat? A somewhat tenuous link but one sometimes has to please the punters…if anyone has made it this far.
What I noticed about the Halloween fare was that the treat buckets seem to have retained the traditional Jack o’ Lantern decoration as opposed to many of the official merchandise products. The tradition of carving pumpkins, turnip or other root vegetables at Halloween was popular in Ireland and some parts of Scotland, marking the Gaelic festival of Samhain- the end of harvest and the beginning of winter; the darker part of the year. it seems that Irish immigrants took the tradition to the United States.
This fact took me on a meandering journey from one threshold to another of many websites and I landed at Rice Bucket Therapy. I had no idea.
Rice Bucket Therapy has been in use for a long time and is used regularly by American footballers and baseball players, apparently. I notice that it is now advocated by climbers also. Some promote its use to strengthen the forearms, wrists and hands whilst others say that it is best for rehab rather than for strengthening. Have a look at these videos and you can decide.
Seems that sand will also suffice. An earlier post on this blog may also interest:
If you choose to try any of the above out, let me know how you get on. Meanwhile, Happy Yoga Practice. Happy Halloween. Happy Samhain.
Next post is on Posturology – I had no idea.