A Fusion Pose For Posture And Calm

A restorative pose combining supported bridge and legs up the wall pose.

Those of you coming to my classes know I love blending and fusing movements and postures to create a desired effect. I’m not much of a traditionalist when it comes to yoga. My quest is to make yoga more accessible, relatable, and effective for all, and if that mean tweaking an old posture for something safer or just approaching something different for new outcome, I will.

Sometimes when I get experimenting I come across fun fusions. Here’s one of my latest favourites blending supported bridge pose (the restorative version) with legs ups the wall pose. It combines the benefit of improved upper back posture that you get from supported bridge pose with the relaxation/calming effects of legs up the wall pose.

The restorative version of supported bridge pose uses the bolster to help extend the mid/upper back, which helps combat the “hunching” posture in the upper back and shoulders, and opens the chest to aid in more expansive breathing. It is also an inversion, with the upper body resting lower than the legs and hips. Inversions are known to help regulate blood pressure and heart rate, and they active the “rest and digest” branch of the nervous system bringing about a relaxation/calming effect on the mind and body.

Legs up the wall pose is also a very relaxing and effective inversion pose, so combining the two poses deepens the inversion, and potentially the benefits (boosting immune functioning, reduction of stress chemicals in blood, calming of stress & anxiety symptoms, improved sleep, etc.). In addition, legs up the wall is known for reducing edema in the lower legs/feet and can relieve lower back tension.

To give this fusion pose a try, you will need a bolster (rectangular or round works), a folded blanket, and a chip foam yoga block. You could use a second blanket if you don’t have the foam block.

The next image shows the set up. The bolster is approximately a foot away from the wall, the chip foam block is laid length-wise at the head end of the block, and then you place a folded blanket over the block. The idea is to create a step off effect from the edge of the bolster that is going to create the extension into the upper/middle back.


To get into the pose sit at the end of your bolster closest to the wall and lie back with the aim to have the top of your shoulders cascading off the edge of the bolster so that the back of the shoulders rest on the blanket and your head is supported. When you lay back you should feel the edge of the bolster landing at the bottom of the shoulder blades, and you should feel a comfortable extension of the middle/upper back.

You can definitely increase or decrease the step off height at the edge of the bolster by adjusting the height of the block/blanket set up (you can remove the block underneath for a greater arch of the back, or add more blanket height for less of and arch). Remember that you should feel something interesting happening in the upper back that feels like a stretch and pressure from the bolster, but not painful. You should be able to breathe, relax and stay awhile.

Also, I am demonstrating bent legs and feet on the wall to make it more gentle, but you could go more traditional and do straight legs up the wall (in this case, you may wish to position the bolter closer to the wall). Feel free to test both and see which feels better for you.

We usually stay for 5 minutes in class, but this could be shorter or longer depending on preference and comfort. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

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Finding Ease in Child’s Pose

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161017-010Child’s Pose (Balasana) – defined as a resting pose which helps to quiet the mind, stretch the back and hips, and promote inward reflection and caring for oneself. This description may ring true if you are one of those individuals who is blessed with ease in this posture. However, for so many individuals child’s pose is anything but comforting and restful, and instead, it can be a challenge to configure the body into that tight little package.

So in today’s blog I have collected images demonstrating the many variations of child’s pose you can try for more comfort in this frequently used posture. If you are attending a yoga studio, you’ll be able to find most of the props I am demonstrating with, and if not, folded blankets go a long way.

First of all, child’s pose is not to be confused with extended puppy pose, sometimes known as half downward dog (below). The main differences being that your hips remain above the knees and your arms extend keeping the elbows lifted off the floor. In extended puppy pose there is a more active feel and it focusses on stretching the spine, chest and shoulders.
161017-012xIn Child’s pose our hips get lowered back, bringing our bottoms towards the heels. Below I am demonstrating that the knees do not need to stay together in child’s pose. Taking the knees wide (big toes together) allows for space of the chest and tummy, and can minimize compression in the hips. This is a very valid option. Here I am also demonstrating elbows and forehead relaxed down on the ground.
161017-017For some individuals, the ability to lower the upper body to the point where the forehead reaches the ground can be limited by hip, back, or knee tightness, and other factors. In this case, it is good to note that it’s okay to have your head elevated above the ground, but for a more restful experience, or when to intention is to stay a while in the pose, grounding can be achieved with a prop under the forehead. I’m using a foam block here, but a rolled blanket works well too.
161017-026If you have tight knees and tight ankles (where the tops of the feet don’t want to lie flat on the ground) there are ways to use props to accommodate these areas. In the first image below I have a rolled towel under my ankles and a small cushion behind my knees. I also have a block supporting my forehead. In the second image, I demonstrate having a full bolster behind my knees as a way to prop my hips higher, creating even less knee flexion.
161017-018x161017-023And lastly, for a completely restorative experience, child’s pose can be done lying over a bolster. You can prop the bolster with foam blocks underneath each end and lay blankets on top to make it higher. Then with wide knees you lie your belly and chest down on the bolster, turning your head one way. This is a nice way to support the pose for extended lengths.
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I hope this post has been helpful. Please don’t hesitate to share or comment.

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When Insomnia Strikes – Unwind and Drift

sleepThere is nothing more important than sleep until you are faced with not getting it. For various reasons, I’ve struggled with bouts of insomnia my whole life, and I’ve felt first hand the effects these sleepless nights can have on health and functioning. It’s important to have a few techniques to break the cycle – below are 3 things I do to promote a better night’s sleep.

[I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge the difficulty some of you face when closing your eyes. There are many who are dealing with larger than life stressors and horrific memories that can really take over your thoughts. This is not a blog to minimize your troubles, it is more to acknowledge the struggle of stress and sleeplessness, and with the combination of the right care, the tips here can be tools in your tool kit to unwind and promote sleep.]

Part 1 – The Prep

Be mindful of things that negatively impact your sleep, e.g. caffeine intake too late in the day, taking a nap, an irregular bedtime (to name a few that affect me). Plan your day and get all your necessary stuff done as much as you can to clear your mind of added debris from the day. Consider writing down those things that you are recycling through your mind; a process I like to call, “name it and put it on the shelf”.

It is best to choose only relaxing, unwinding activities, such as a warm bath, before bed. Resist the urge to do a full yoga routine right before bed. Even a slow moving routine can release hormones affecting your wakefulness. It is best to do your exercises and stretching earlier in the day, at the latest 2 hours before bed (with the exception of a couple restorative yoga poses).

Part 2 – The Position

Make this the last thing you do before bed: the “revised” legs up the wall pose (see picture below). I find it particularly good for those times when my body is jittery with the leftover adrenaline of busy days combined with sleepless nights.

  • Legs elevated higher than your chest and head

  • A blanket for warmth

  • Optional, but recommended: a heavy pillow or folded blanket over your chest and an eye pillow to block the light and gently stimulate pressure over the eyes.

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Part 3 – The Guided Relaxation

Not everyone will find this helpful, but for some a guided relaxation or meditation recording will assist you in further unwinding before bed. It works great in conjunction with the position above. There are countless of free recordings you can find out there. Here is a ten minute one I recorded called, “Unwind and Drift”.

 

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Yoga Therapy

I just finished the first couple levels of my technical training for Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy.  Wow, what an experience.  I really had no idea what a beautiful and in-depth practice and training I was stepping into.  I have a long road ahead of me to become certified, but it is really exciting.  I plan on blogging about my journey as I move through the course work and practicum.  To begin with, I thought it would be a good exercise to describe what yoga therapy is, as taught by Phoenix Rising

It’s body work, like receiving a massage, but instead of massaging, I am Continue reading “Yoga Therapy”

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Reset the Body

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For those of you who regularly practice yoga, especially restorative based classes, you’ll be familiar with the calming and grounding feelings you can experience after class. I remember the first time I felt this relaxed, yet focussed, state many years ago from a candle light yoga class (an instant love affair for me as my natural disposition tends to be one of a anxious Chihuahua wound up on caffeine).  It wasn’t until years later in my yoga training that I learned some of the physiology behind this process; a kind of east meets west moment.

I had been practicing a posture in my training called Viparita Karani (legs up the wall), which is known for its ability to ease anxiety and stress, and I began to wonder, what is going on in this posture that leaves me feeling so relaxed? My research led me to an article on treating adrenal exhaustion, which explained how inverted poses, done in a restorative way, can stimulate baroreceptors in the neck and upper chest which ultimately calms the nervous system. The what receptors? How come I had never heard of this in my Kinesiology training?  Well this needed some investigation… here’s what I learned:

The sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the fight or flight system, is responsible for releasing adrenaline in our bodies.  It winds us up by elevating the heart rate, increasing blood pressure, tensing the muscles, and increasing blood flow to the brain for increased alertness.  This system is good for emergencies, but when activated chronically such as in times of high stress and chronic pain the hormones released by the adrenal glands will slowly break down our bodies and immune system and leave us feeling wound up and unable to sleep, which ultimately leads to a whole host of other problems (see “When the Body Says No” by Gabor Mate for an excellent read on the effects of stress on the body).

When we invert our bodies there is an increase of blood flow from the lower half of our bodies to the upper half of the body and specifically to the baroreceptors (blood pressure sensors) in the neck and chest. When the baroreceptors are activated by an increase in blood pressure they trigger a reflex called the baroreflex which reduces nerve input into the adrenal glands, slows the heart rate, slows brain waves, relaxes blood vessels, and reduces the amount of stress hormones circulating in the bloodstream.  All of which shifts the body towards a calm and relaxed state, facilitating sleep and regeneration of the body (key ingredients when dealing with injuries, pain, and insomnia).

This process of unwinding the sympathetic nervous system takes time, so for therapeutic purposes, find an inverted position that is restful, such as a modified Viparita Karani where the legs are elevated over a surface such as a bolster or stool, or even over the end of a couch as shown in the image above. Aim for 15 minutes or longer and try elevating the pelvis slightly higher by placing a folded blanket or bolster underneath the hips for a more effective inversion. For further relaxation benefit, try lying a heavy folded blanket placed over you abdomen/chest (also shown above). Give this posture a try and notice how it leaves you feeling calm, relaxed, and ready for rest.

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