By Katie Hoener
Dear Katie —
I sit at a desk all day and have found that my shoulders are starting to swoop forward slightly. I’m having a harder time maintaining good posture and want to prevent it from getting worse. Is there a yoga pose or two that could help with this? Maybe something that I could do at my desk as well as something for at home?
Nate R., Ypsilanti
For starters, congratulations on having the awareness that this is happening! First, you’re going to want to start by finding a good position where you can sit up straight and start activating your back/core muscles — whether that’s on a chair or on the floor sitting on a pillow. One thing to realize is that when sitting in most standard desk chairs, they align us so that the knees are positioned higher than the hips. This alignment automatically throws the back into a position of struggle, and can add to the feeling that rounding the shoulders and relaxing the abdomen feels easier, so we often slip into that posture without realizing it. While we are taking the time to work through a few asanas (postures), let’s see if we can find the space where the knees can be moving away from the hips. In a desk chair, this may mean allowing the knees to drift open, scooting to the edge of the chair, or propping yourself up on a blanket or a jacket/sweater.
First, bring awareness to your shoulders — perhaps rolling them. Inhale the shoulders toward the ears (while keeping the vertebrae of the neck long, crown of the head floating toward the sky) and exhale, allowing the shoulder blades to sink down the back. If you are able to time these actions with the breath, you will have an even better experience (more benefits of the breath are discussed in a later question). An addition here is, on the exhale, draw the shoulder blades toward one another; this allows the pectoralis muscles (pecs) on the front of the shoulders to open, reducing that tightness.
At home, a supported bridge, Setubandhasana (pictured), is a beautiful way to allow those pectoralis muscles, both major and minor, to open with the breath. In the image provided, we have used a bolster — at home, you can use a folded blanket or pillows to create the amount of height that feels right for your body. This time of gentle backbend has many healing properties, and allowing that opening of the shoulders is one!
Dear Katie —
It seems that cold and flu season has arrived earlier this year, and having young children and a health condition myself, I am concerned about alternative ways to keep myself and my family safe from illness. Can yoga help us out?
Ashley S., Dexter
Though, as we know, there is no cure for the common cold or the flu, yoga postures can have excellent immune boosting properties. Our lymph system, responsible for identifying areas of need in the body and sending white blood cells and other healing agents to work throughout the body, has no system of pumping (like the circulatory system has the heart to pump). The lymph fluid in the body is only activated and circulated through the body through movement.
Lymph glands are located throughout the body, though large pockets of them are located under the arms and in the gut, between the stomach and the small intestines. One set of asanas that both release and circulate lymph fluid through the body, enhancing immune function, are twists. Pictured below is Ardha Matsyendrasana, a seated twist. One thing to be mindful of, in any twist, is being careful not to use the arms to pull the spine around — rather we want to inhale length in the spine, and exhale, using the muscles of the backbody to rotate around through the twist, asking the arms to act as placeholders. Keeping the breath deep assists in releasing and moving lymph fluid through the body, as well as in eliminating toxins.
Discussed in Ayurvedic teachings are methods to keep the sinus passages clean through nasal rinses, Neti pots, or simple saline rinses, as the sinus passages help us to filter so many impurities from the air around us.
Dear Katie —
I always tell my friends how serene I feel after practicing yoga — it’s much different than going to the gym or doing any other form of exercise. I can’t even truly put my finger on why I feel like this, although I enjoy it thoroughly. Can you please explain why I feel so peaceful after I practice yoga?
Lisa Z., Ann Arbor
Lisa — it sounds like you have discovered the foundational elements of yoga! As our essential text The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali discusses in Sutra 1.2, yoga is the quieting of the fluctuations of the mind.
So often in the haste and pace at which we live our lives, finding a space where we can experience that place of peace and quiet is rare, and this is the foundation of the practice of yoga. One of the ways that so many of us are able to come to that quieting of the mind, even for a moment, is through a connection with the breath, and through this connection with the breath we are able to find that sensation of peace you seem to be describing.
In yoga the breath is said to be composed of five Vayus, which translates to the five winds of the breath. The Prana Vayu connects to the “in” breath. This part of the breath draws in new life force and energy. Prana creates both length and space in the body. Vyana Vayu relates to the space between the inhale and the exhale. Here, the breath moves through the body, trailing out to the edges of the body and beyond. The Apana Vayus connect to the “out” breath. This part of the breath releases all that we do not need. Apana surrenders and softens the body as it releases and cleanses. Samana Vayu is the space between the exhale and inhale. This portion of the breath allows energy and heat to consolidate in the core of our being. This space is quite powerful. Finally, there is the Udana Vayu, where, once energy has been cleansed and cleared, it begins to circulate through the higher chakras. This space is often accessed in meditation and/or Savasana (the final relaxation part of a yoga practice).
This connection with the breath and the clearing of the mind can lead to a very heavy (in a comfortable way) sense of peace and calm. Hopefully this will help you encourage your friends to share a practice with you!
Katie Hoener is an RYT 500, receiving her 200 and 500 hour trainings at Sun Moon Yoga in Ann Arbor. She is also a Licensed Master’s Social Worker. She is a partner at Verapose Yoga in Dexter, whose schedule can be found at www.veraposeyoga.com. Katie can be contacted at Katie@veraposeyoga.comwith questions or correspondence.