How to relax before your yoga practice
There are a few quick ways that you can target the relaxation response in your body so that your poses emerge from a place of deep calm rather than a frenzied effort. Choose one or several of the un-actvities listed below, then proceed into the rest of your yoga practice sedated, yet alert.
1. Extend your exhales. A breathing technique or Pranayama that focuses on lengthening the duration of the exhale so that it is longer than the inhale is a way to sedate and soothe the whole nervous system. This can be done either in a reclined position or as a seated meditation.
a) Place gentle pressure on a pulse point anywhere on your body. This can be as simple as pressing the index finger and thumb together, touching the inside of one wrist, or placing a finger alongside the neck.
b) Observe the throb of the heart at this pulse point.
c) Using your heartbeat as a metronome, inhale for four heartbeats and then exhale for eight.
d) Remain for 3-5 minutes.
2. Veeparita Korani Mudra. Place your heart above your head — a gentle inversion like Veeparita will provide just enough of an inverted slope to alter the brain’s signals from arousal to “drousal.” If this is too much for your legs or back, try the simpler Legs Up the Wall Pose.
a) Lay on your back and place a yoga block at any height that feels stable and comfortable underneath your pelvis.
b) Raise your knees towards the sky, keeping them bent. If this feels like too much effort, keep the feet rooted on the floor.
c) Slowly inhale to swell the belly, then allow it to passively deflate. When your body feels ready for the next inhale, slowly inhale, then passively allow the exhale to exit.
d) Remain for 3-5 minutes.
3) Roll out the restrictions. Self-massage before activity will help to eradicate the tension in hypertonic muscles that are unconsciously contracting and potentially creating pain. Using a self-massage implement like Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls or Gaiam’s Massage balls or a foam roller can help to turn OFF muscles that think they need to be ON. This ushers in global relaxation for the whole body, and it also helps all the layers of your tissues to warm-up and be more efficient for practicing poses.
a) Choose a tight area of your body, such as the upper back, low back or buttocks, and place the balls or roller into positions where you can tolerate the pressure and still breathe deeply. Create small slow gentle movements that help the massage tool roll into, along and around the area of tension. If you cannot breathe, or if you experience deep discomfort, move the tool slightly higher, lower or to the right or left so that you can return to tolerance and relaxation.
These un-activities are effective in as little as three minutes, or can be implemented for up to 10 minutes prior to your yoga practice. If you do them longer, you may become too relaxed, and have a hard time during your more active practice. Any of these sedating techniques can tune down your stress and will deeply enrich your presence during your practice.
Let me know how the rest of your practice goes. And remember to always make relaxation the most important part of your practice. Namaste!
Learn about Yoga Tune Up at home.
[Reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life.]