Everyday urban living comes with its daily stress. Sedentary jobs, being slumped over computers all day, driving in stressful traffic conditions, meeting deadlines —every one of these things builds up much more tension in our mind and body than we realize. Through yoga we can create the opportunity to disconnect ourselves from these external stress factors and find an oasis of calm that nourishes us mentally and physically. This sense of relaxation and well-being is brought about by a combination of factors. Long deep breathing (yogic breathing) while performing asanas releases endorphins, or “feel-good” hormones (this also happens with other forms of exercise). Deep yogic breathing utilizes the full breathing capacity and improves the diaphragm muscle by expanding it. This brings a sense of relaxation. Endorphins which are released from the brain are natural painkillers and mood-lifters that bring about a sense of well-being by helping to de-stress and release tension in your body. Staying in a pose with the correct breathing allows you to fully absorb all the benefits the asana has to offer.
Padahastasana and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana are two asanas that can help you to relax as they target the most common areas that are affected by a sedentary lifestyle—the back, the neck, the shoulders, and the hamstrings. These asanas are also believed to help reduce mild depression.
After sequentially performing these two asanas (see below for instructions), lie down on your back in Shavasana (corpse pose) with your feet and arms apart. Your palms should be facing up. Allow each part of your body to relax, and stay in this relaxed state for 5-10 minutes. When you come out of the pose, you will feel relaxed and energized at the same time.
‘Pada’ means feet and ‘hasta’ means hands, so this is the “hands to feet” pose or standing forward bend. This looks simple and ubiquitious, but the truth is that too many people do it wrong, rounding their backs to reach down and thus negating the benefits of the pose.
Begin by standing with your feet together, arms by your side in Tadasana. Inhale, raise both your arms up and lengthen your spine. As you exhale, stretch your arms forward as if to reach to the wall opposite you without raising your heel, bend forward and down from your hips. The focus should be on creating length in your spine and flattening your back so that your belly and chest can press as close to your legs as possible. Allow your sitting bones to go up towards the ceiling and shift your bodyweight to the balls of your feet. Reach wherever you can, bend your knees if you need to, and hold on to your heels, ankles or calf muscles, whichever is comfortable. Inhale, and look up with a flat back and as you exhale, pull your belly in and go down. Stay in the pose for about 30 seconds and gradually move up to 1 minute. To come out of the pose, release your arms and allow them to hang freely, allowing gravity to pull you down. Gently sway your upper body from side to side and take your time to uncurl your spine, one vertebra at a time. Your neck and head should come up last.
Padahastasana benefits your entire digestive system through the massage your inner organs receive in the pose, it stretches your back and hamstrings, invigorates the nervous system and strengthens the spine. The pose also relieves mental and physical exhaustion.
SETU BANDHA SARVANGASANA
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, as the name suggests, is the bridge pose. This rejuvenating back bend opens the chest and can be seen as a great counterpose to sitting for long hours. It is simple and safe.
To get into the pose, lie down flat on your back with your arms by your side. Bend both knees and bring your feet close to your hips, keeping them parallel to each other. As you inhale, keep the head on the floor and slowly start to lift the upper body off the floor starting with your chest and lifting your entire spine and buttocks up until your knees are parallel to the floor. Keep your thighs and knees in a straight line, parallel to your feet, without allowing them to open out to the sides. Your ankle and knee should be in a straight line, perpendicular to the floor. Clasp both your hands under you and interlock your fingers. Hold the pose for 30 seconds, gradually moving the duration of your stay up to a minute. To come out of the pose, exhale and lower your spine gradually, your hips should come down last.
In this asana, the muscles of the back are stretched and totally relaxed and the front body opens up. It calms the brain and helps alleviate stress and reduce fatigue, anxiety and insomnia. The rib cage opens up and respiration improves, which makes it therapeutic for asthma, sinusitis and high blood pressure.
Tara Goswami is a Delhi-based author, artist and yoga teacher, trained in the Sivananda form of yoga at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Kerala.
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