Yoga has been around for thousands of years and has become a very popular form of exercise throughout the world. And beyond the physical side, it’s been shown to have mental, emotional and spiritual benefits.
I’ve always been interested in the concept of yoga, but the thought of twisting my body into a pretzel seems both difficult and not quite as relaxing as it’s made out to be. But I sat down recently with Josephine Russell of Surry, who’s been teaching yoga for more than 25 years, and she cleared the air and let me know that yoga isn’t always about bending your body into extremes.
She likes to keep things simple and natural, and she feels that yoga is a useful tool to help stretch our bodies out and give us a better range of motion. She stresses that with so much time spent sitting at work or in cars, our hips and hamstrings are tight enough to limit our everyday movements.
She recommends taking around a half hour out of your day and practicing a few of these easy exercises that are perfect for beginners and target those specific areas:
For the hamstrings
The Sanskrit name for this exercise is Supta Padangusthasana.
This stretch will loosen up your hamstrings and help you bend over more easily.
You should perform this stretch lying on your back because that eliminates any rounding or stretching of your back and specifically targets the hamstrings. It’s performed with a yoga strap, but Russell said that a bathrobe tie or a belt works just as well.
Holding one end of the strap in each hand, put the middle around the ball of your left foot and lift your leg off the ground, keeping it straight at the knee. The aim is the lift it until your leg is perpendicular with your body, but lower is fine. Hold that pose, and then switch to the other leg.
For the hips
Known as a pigeon pose, or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana in Sanskrit.
This stretch is good at getting all the tightness out of the hips, and it helps increase flexibility and range of motion.
Sit on the floor with your left leg in front of you and your right leg as far behind you as it can go. Bring your left knee forward, so the lower part of your leg is parallel to the front edge of your mat. But Russell says to listen to your knee. If that position is causing any discomfort or pain, bring your foot and knee closer to your body. If your butt is raised off the ground in this position, you can place a pillow under it for comfort. Put your head down to the floor and your arms out in front of you. Breathe into your hip and relax for five minutes before you switch to your right leg.
It sounds so simple, but it’s so very important.
You can do this anywhere and in any position. Russell suggests setting a timer for five minutes — so you’re not stuck staring at a clock — and then taking your time, breathing deeply and comfortably through your nose. Don’t force your breath, and make sure you sit up with a straight spine so you really open your chest. The more you practice this breathing, the deeper and fuller your breaths will become.
Josephine Russell teaches classes at the United Church of Christ in Keene Tuesdays at 5 p.m. and Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. and in Walpole at the Hastings House on Thursdays at 5 p.m. She also occasionally does workshops in the area. She can be reached at 352-1684 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Avery Reekstin is The Sentinel’s features editor. She shares her fitness tips and those of others in this space on an occasional basis.