Continuing from last week’s post, I’m going to give you some ideas and instructions for starting a yoga practice. Based on some conversations with older friends and some of the comments I received about my Sway with Me post, I am orienting this toward people who have not exercised in a long time and who may have difficulties getting up and down from the floor but these have benefits even if you already have a practice .
My first recommendation is a DVD by Ravi Singh and Ana Brett called Kundalini Yoga for Beginners and Beyond (be careful because there is another one with a similar title; this one has a set called Rise and Spine and a set with the Five Tibetan Rites). I have caveats and instructions to add however as I don’t feel the DVD is good for beginners as far as instructions. For a beginner, stick with the Rise and Spine. The Tibetan Rites are much tougher so get into better shape first.
I recommend these because they are done in a seated position and their main function is to give you flexibility of the spine. In order to have good balance a flexible spine is key so I think this is a good place to start. The movements isolate different sections of the spine quite nicely so as you practice you really are learning to move all the parts of your spine and gaining flexibility. I’ve also found they help a lot of problems with tight muscles in the back and shoulders and, to a lesser extent, in the hips.
All of these movements are accompanied by a slow breath of fire on the DVD but I actually recommend you start off just learning the movements. Breath of fire as I learned it (instructions for this and these movements are at the bottom of this post) works the abdominal muscles a bit more than their version but either way it’s hard to coordinate both the breath and the movements until you’ve learned both really well. With my students I work on the breath and the movements separately; how long varies with the students. Generally I don’t have them add the breath until I feel they are able to separate each area of the spine successfully. The added bonus of these movements when you add the breath is that you get quite a workout sitting in the chair.
Ana demonstrates the Rise and Spine segment seated on the floor. Somewhere along the way they toss off a suggestion that you could do it sitting on a couch. I find for both myself and even more for my students that most people are not flexible enough to sit cross-legged on the floor and do these successfully. Because of the discomfort of the position or the discomfort when you start moving in the position most of us reduce the actual movements to a much smaller range which means not getting the full benefit of the movement. I do these as the opening to all my classes and we are always seated on folding chairs. A sturdier dining room chair without arms if you’re doing it at home is better.
At the bottom of the post I am pasting in some quite specific instructions to go with these movements as there’s not a lot of instruction on the DVD.
My second recommendations are made with some reservations. I like Lilias Folan‘s tapes for beginners but mine are old and the specific ones I know haven’t been updated (by her) to DVD so I haven’t seen her current work for beginners. However, generally she gives simple postures with good instructions–but she does a lot of work on the floor so if you have trouble getting up and down these may not be for you. Susan Winter Ward has one called Yoga for the Young at Heart that has pretty easy postures and a lot done in chairs but it’s quite long if you haven’t exercised so I’d recommend taking it in sections. She also has one I haven’t seen that is all seated (chair) yoga called Sitting Fit Anytime. Personally I would start with the Rise and Spine work and when you feel you’ve gained some flexibility and stamina move on to one or all of these.
The instructions to go with the Ravi Singh DVD:
The Grind: circular movement is from hips. Imagine that you are making a circle with your navel; inhale as you push lower abdomen forward, point navel toward one knee, do half circle to front until navel points at other knee (if you can’t make that big a circle aim for some place inside your knees), exhale as you continue in half circle to the back. Make sure you’re NOT circling your waist or ribs instead of hips. Start with 10 circles in one direction and then 10 in the other. Work up to 30 or 40 circles in each direction.
Low spine: sit forward on chair with legs wide apart, feet flat. Place hands on thighs, near knees. Begin forward and back motion with pelvis; feel that you’re pushing your pelvis forward and then folding back. Movement is from waist down to hips and motion is wavelike, tilting pelvis forward and back. Inhale as you push stomach forward, exhale as you move back. Begin with 20, moving slowly. Work up to 70. When you’re comfortable with the movement speed up to do it with slow breath of fire (instructions below).
Mid-spine: On floor, sit in hero’s pose (legs bent, butt on heels, knees together) hands on thighs; in chair place legs together, feet flat, hands on thighs. Push diaphragm/solar plexus forward on inhale so you bend backward, then bend middle of back forward on exhale; feel ribs expand to maximum in front and back as you move. Begin with 20, moving slowly. Work up to 70. When you’re comfortable with the movement, speed up to do it with slow breath of fire. This is the only one where the floor movement, IF you can do it, gets you a bit more movement than the chair version.
Washing machine: Sit on front of chair, with legs wide and feet flat. Place hands on shoulders, fingers in front, thumbs in back. On inhale, turn shoulders to left, turning head left at same time; on exhale, turn shoulder and head to right. The turn is at the level of the sternum; cervical spine also turns with head. Hips and waist are held straight—movement is at sternum and in the neck; try not to rotate rib cage or waist. Since it’s all connected there will be some movement but if you allow too much rotation of the rib cage, the movement at sternum will become smaller. Begin with 20, moving slowly. Work up to 70. When you’re comfortable with the movement, speed up to do it with slow breath of fire.
Upper back: Sit on edge of chair, legs apart, hands on knees, elbows straight. Tighten the quads and gluts slightly to protect low back. Lean back from hips, keeping back straight, without touching back of chair. On inhale, push chest out. On exhale, bend upper back forward with slight shoulder hunch. Elbows stay straight throughout and make sure you keep the lean. Begin with 20, moving slowly. Work up to 70. When you’re comfortable with the movement, speed up to do it with slow breath of fire.
Propeller: raise arms and bend so hands are in front of sternum, left palm faces out, away from sternum, right palm faces left palm. Curl fingers and interlock, pulling arms taut. On inhale bring left elbow up, right elbow down. On exhale raise right elbow and lower left elbow. Make sure you keep your hands at sternum level and watch that you don’t twist or turn your wrists; twisting your wrists is a protection that keeps you from making the full movement where you’re supposed to. Begin with 20, moving slowly. Work up to 70. When you’re comfortable with the movement, speed up to do it with slow breath of fire.
Breath of fire: breath is through the nose, using abdomen muscles to push stomach out forcefully with inhale and forcefully push in with exhale. Usually it’s done very quickly, but for these exercises it needs to be a slow breath of fire. Trick on the movements where you fold backwards and forwards is to remember to also push the abs in and out at the same time.