Let tension dangle

Laura dangling on a Mediterranean beachThere’s a spot in my mid-back that sometimes feels as though it holds all the tension in my body. Like every keyboard stroke, knife cut, sponge scrub, page flip, steering wheel turn, and slouch collects between my shoulder blades and knots together.

The best method I’ve found to release that tension is a long-held standing forward fold. The yin version of the pose is different than an active standing fold (called uttanasana) as the focus is on holding for a minute or more, relaxing the back body and releasing the shoulders. Bent knees, supportive arms, and resting against a wall are all welcome!

A yin standing forward fold is known as a dangle and that’s exactly the hope: that your upper body hangs and allows the muscles and fascia loosen.

Because your head is below your heart, this pose isn’t great for people with high blood pressure and anyone with low blood pressure should come out of it really slowly. Be cautious and slowly release the posture if you feel any pain.

Dangle

Why it’s good

  • Releases tension from the shoulder blades, mid-back, and neck
  • Helps decompress the lower spine and sacroiliac region
  • Stretches the backs of the legs – if you straighten them
  • Promotes good balance
  • Compresses the digestive organs, which can improve digestion and alleviate menstrual cramps
  • Encourages relaxation and can reduce anxiety and stress

How to do it

  • Start by standing tall with your feet parallel and hip width apart
    • let your spine stretch upwards and your shoulders drop away from your ears
    • feel sturdy and balanced – your hips stacked atop your feet, your shoulders square above your hips, and your head floating above your shoulders
  • With an exhale, bend your knees and allow your torso to drop towards the fronts of your thighs
    • don’t feel any pressure to have your chest rest on your legs; most people will have significant space between upper and lower body
  • Straighten your legs to intensify the stretch along the backs of your legs or keep your knees bent to encourage the stretch in your back
    • do not lock your knees
    • try leaning against a wall for additional support
  • Experiment with arm positioning to find what works best for you
    • clasping each elbow with the opposite hand draws more of a stretch into the upper back and shoulders and can make your torso feel heavier
    • resting your hands on your thighs lessens pressure through your lower back
    • allowing your hands dangle freely or rest softly on the floor helps open the mid-back
  • Let you head release and encourage the muscles in your back, shoulders, arms, and neck to be heavy
  • Soften your gaze or, it’s comfortable and doesn’t mess with your balance, close your eyes
  • Stay dangling for at least a minute and up to five minutes
    • mindfully move your arms and bend or straighten your knees to find the best version of the pose for you, but try not to fidget
    • if it helps, visualize your spine flowing out of your pelvis like water flowing out of a pitcher, allowing tension to ebb away
    • if the pose doesn’t feel right, you can get a similar stretch in a seated forward fold with a rolled blanket or bolster under your bent knees

To come out of dangle:

  • If you’ve held the pose for several minutes, be cautious! Slowly come out of it using any of the methods below, then take a few deep breaths to regain your balance before moving to your next pose
  • Option 1:
    • Engage your abdominal muscles, bend your knees, and take several breaths to roll up to standing
  • Option 2:
    • Bend your knees and lower your hips downwards to come into a squat. Rest in a squat for at least a few breaths before lowering onto your seat or slowly moving to standing
  • Option 3:
    • Rest your hands on your shins and straighten your back; strengthen your abdominal muscles and inhale to come halfway up with your back parallel to the floor; exhale and let your upper body and hands release down again. Repeat this halfway raise a couple times before inhaling up to standing with your back straight.

It’s normal to feel some dizziness after your head has been down for a while. Take a few moments to regain your composure and allow the blood to flow throughout your body before progressing with your practice or continuing with your day.

As dangling is a strong forward bend, it can be nice to follow it with a back bend. Even standing and simply drawing your shoulders back as you lift your face and chest to the sky can be enough to release any tension in your front body that may have built up as you dangled.

Repeat whenever that congested mid-back feeling arises. This is a great pose for airports and offices because it requires no mat and no props!

Wine and a wall

Legs up the wall with a glass of wineOur flat in Munich is a ways out of the city and U-Bahn construction at the closest station means that cycling is the most efficient method for getting around. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any pedalling and my leg muscles are struggling with this newfound exertion.

Thankfully, our flat has a lovely open wall that’s perfect for my favourite restorative yoga pose – legs up the wall. Pair the leg-relaxing posture with a glass of wine and the strain in my lower body disappears!

The pose itself is super-easy (see my how-to in a previous post) – the most difficult part is managing the glass! I’m careful to make sure the wine is safe coming into and out of legs up the wall and set the glass within easy reach for the 10-15 minutes I’m laying on the floor.

Sipping while supine is challenging, but the relaxation is well worth it!

Most of all, I hope

Most of all, I hope you know deep love and powerful joy
Background photo credit: Pensiero via Compfight cc

It’s been more than two weeks since I taught my last yoga class at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre. I’m already feeling the absence of teaching and I’m missing the students at my Friday evening class.

The last class I taught fell on the last Friday of October, which meant I did a lovely long relaxation. Leading students through yoga nidra (guided relaxation) and then a quiet savasana (corpse pose) is often a transcendent experience; my mind calms and time stands still.

There was such a deep stillness in my last class at Bound Lotus, it was hard for me to bring the students out of their relaxation. I wished the class would never end.

But there was a workshop immediately following the class and I knew that students probably had places to be (and meals to eat!) afterwards. Savasana ended, students woke up, class was over.

I usually close the class with an impromptu blessing of sorts and that last Friday class was no exception. These are my wishes, my hopes for my final class at Bound Lotus.

I hope you’re all able to drift home and have beautiful sleeps filled with amazing dreams.

I hope you awaken tomorrow feeling refreshed and renewed, ready to take on whatever your day, your week, your month, your year holds.

I hope you feel secure, supported, and comforted; that you are respected and prosperous. 

I hope your lives are filled with meaning, with friendship, with adventure… and that you create many amazing memories.

Most of all, I hope you know deep love and powerful joy.

I share those same hopes with everyone who reads this and everyone I’ve ever taught. May you all know deep love and powerful joy.

Got something to say?

Laura crouching to teachHave you taken a class I’ve taught and liked it? Would you recommend my classes to someone else? Have you already referred another student?

I’m hoping to continue teaching yoga throughout our travels and would love to have student testimonials to back me up! If you’ve been in a class I’ve taught and have feedback that would be useful for studio owners/managers who might want to hire me, please share it!

There are four easy ways to do so:

  1. Submit a comment on this blog post below.
  2. Post something on my Facebook page.
  3. Write a review on my YogaTrail profile. (YogaTrail is a neat new site that helps connect yoga practitioners all over the world with studios, classes, and teachers that suit them.)
  4. Email me directly and privately at laura@2ndavenue.ca (letting me know if you’re comfortable with me posting quotes from you on my website).

I may include your testimonials on my website in the future, but rest assured, I will never post your full name!

Your feedback will be fantastically useful as I woo German yogis! Help me bring some yin yoga to what seems to be a pretty yang culture! If you have the time and inclination to write me a reference as a teacher, I would really appreciate it 🙂

Unease in easy pose

Laura sitting in easy pose on a Hawaiian beachSukasana or easy pose is sometimes decidedly not easy. In fact, it’s name is often a misnomer and holding the pose can be very challenging for anyone who has troublesome ankles, knees, or hips.

Without a block or bolster under my seat, ‘easy pose’ becomes ‘incredibly-hard-and-uncomfortable pose’ for me within a couple minutes. Knee injuries, tight hips, and internal femoral rotation come together to make sitting cross-legged a hard pose to hold when I’m not propped. Which means I’m rarely in sukasana without something tucked under my butt – even if it’s only a folded mat or sweater.

Just about everyone who’s taken a yoga class has done easy pose. It’s often where a practice begins and ends and is the most common position for meditating. If you find sukasana decidedly uneasy, try adding height under your seat – props can make a huge difference!

Easy pose

Why it’s good

  • Stretches knee and ankle joints – and sometimes the hips as well
  • Help strengthen the muscles along your spine (erector spinae) and contributes to good posture
  • Helps calm your mind and manage stress when you hold the pose as part of meditation

How to do it

  • Sit on your mat or the floor, with your buttocks on the edge of a cushion, block, bolster, or folded blanket
    • Sitting on something tilts your pelvis forward and helps your knees come to the floor
    • The higher your seat, the easier it is to relax your hips and soften your knees
  • Bend your knees so they fall to the outside of your body and place one foot in front of the other
    • Avoid crossing your ankles, which puts pressure on the joints
    • Add padding under your ankles and/or feet if they are sensitive or if the floor is particularly hard
    • If your knees aren’t resting comfortably, support them with folded blankets or blocks
  • Find the centre of your seat by moving  back and forth and from side to side

    • You should feel evenly balanced – right and left, front and back
  • Straighten your spine, roll your shoulders back and down, and lift through your collar bones
  • Rest your hands on your knees or thighs or in your lap; relax your hips and legs
  • Feel the crown of your head float up towards the ceiling, connecting you with the sky; feel your sitting bones grow heavy, rooting you into the earth
  • Bring balance to the pose by alternating sides
    • If you’re holding easy pose for a few minutes, switch your front leg halfway through
    • If you’re coming into easy pose multiple times in a practice, change which leg is in front each time

To come out of easy pose:

  • Uncross your legs (using your arms and hands to help if you’d like) and slowly unbend your knees
  • Gently bring movement back into your legs
    • Straighten and bounce your legs
    • Rest the soles of your feet on the mat/floor, bend your knees,  and drop them side-to-side in windshield wipers
  • Carry on with the rest of your practice or the rest of your day

Easy pose externally rotates the hips, so you may wish to counter it with an internally rotated pose like deer (see how to do deer pose on YinYoga.com), although many people feel no need for any counter pose at all.

Breathe in beautiful yoga

Breathe in coolness, calmness, tranquility, and serenityLast night I had the pleasure of doing one of my favourite poses, savasana, under the guidance of one of my favourite teachers, Brenda at Beautiful Yoga. It was extra meaningful as our lives are heading in very different geographical directions and the class was likely our last together.

Brenda was my very first yin yoga teacher and one of my biggest supporters when I was considering yoga teacher training. She instilled in me a love of slow movement and further developed my appreciation for guided relaxation and a really good rest. She also has an amazing voice – perfect for yoga nidra and magical for singing. Brenda’s voice often resonates in my head for days after a class and I was delighted that we chanted as part of meditation last night. 

My singing voice is nowhere near as magical as Brenda’s, but my speaking voice is also pretty perfect for yoga nidra! Happily, I’m doing a lovely long yoga nidra (guided relaxation) as part of the class I’m teaching tonight at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre.

When Brenda re-awakens students from savasana (corpse pose), she often instructs us to breathe in coolness, calmness, tranquillity, and serenity. Those words frequently echo in my mind and I’ll draw on them tonight to help students leave the studio feeling blissfully relaxed.

Hope you’re able to join me at 6:30pm tonight for yin yoga with extra-long relaxation! Or at the very least, that you’re able to breathe in coolness, calmness, tranquillity, and serenity wherever you find yourself this evening.

Find rest

Laura lying on a rock in savasanaWhatever your plans are for the last long weekend of summer, I hope they involve a bit of relaxation. There’s often a lot of pressure to pack the Labour Day weekend full of summertime activities before the whirlwind of fall, but what about enjoying doing nothing?

Find rest in the forest, in a park, at a beach, on your living room floor, maybe even on a boat. Take half an hour and just lie down.

It’s not lazy or self-indulgent, it’s a recharge.

If you’re looking for an easy way to find rest this weekend, join me at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre for a delightful end-of-the-month yin yoga class tonight. Class starts at 6:30pm and we’ll slide into savasana (corpse pose) no later than 7:10pm.

During savasana, my voice leading you through relaxing every part of your body will help you find a deep, conscious state of relaxation. This ancient technique of yoga nidra (guided relaxation) encourages a sleep-like state that reduces tension, alleviates anxiety, and fosters an overall sense of well-being.

Find rest over this last long weekend of the summer. Fall tends to be active and rushed; take some replenishing downtime that allows you to start your September feeling balanced and calm.