STUDENTS ask me if I do yoga every day. My answer is yes — but not in the way they think. I’m a working mum with three children under seven so taking an hour out each day to hit my yoga mat is not going to happen right now.
But I do practise every day. There’s the pranayama breathing I do in the car when I’m stuck in traffic. There’s my loving-kindness metta meditation I might do before going to sleep. There’s the ahimsa, or compassion, I try to show when my toddler wakes in the night instead of getting grumpy.
There is, however, one physical posture I aim to do every day: downward-facing dog. You know about superfoods? Well, this is a superpose. Down dog stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, foot arches and hands, and strengthens the arms and legs. It relieves headache, insomnia, back pain and fatigue, as well as improving digestion.
There’s more. As a mild inversion, it energises the body, calms the brain and targets mild depression. And did I mention its weight-bearing nature can ward off osteoporosis? Asthma, flat feet, sciatica… you name it, down dog might help.
For me, though, it’s all about grounding. It anchors me to the earth, and helps me work out how I’m feeling — maybe tired, perhaps stiff or even full of beans. And that glorious stretch through the shoulders that opens the heart is a truly marvellous sensation.
HOW TO DO IT
LAY out a yoga mat or find a wooden floor — you need to be able to grip with your hands and bare feet. Come on to all fours — hands under shoulders, knees under hips — and start to focus on your breath.
Spread the fingers as wide as you can, middle fingers pointing forward. Turn the toes under and start to straighten the legs, pushing your hips high into the air. Keep pressing into the fingers and thumbs to take the weight out of your wrists.
Straighten the legs as much as possible, simultaneously moving the heart towards the ground. Relax the neck and broaden the upper back by turning the armpits to face one another. Pull navel to spine — it will make you feel lighter. The aim is to elongate the spine, not to get the heels to the ground, so keep lifting the hips and pressing into the hands. Take several breaths here. Notice how your body feels. Are you tired? What feels tight? Is it hard work or energising? Rest in child’s pose by sinking the hips to heels and forehead to ground. Repeat downward-facing dog if it feels good.
Photo: Sean Dwyer
CAN ANYONE HAVE A GO?
IF YOU are new to yoga, this is challenging. Don’t hold the pose for more than a few breaths and build up slowly.
For those with weak or injured wrists or shoulders, practise on your forearms (this is called dolphin pose). As for tight hamstrings, keep a slight bend in the knees and focus on elongating the spine.
High blood pressure or headache? Practise with your head supported on a bolster or a pile of blankets. And give it a miss if you have a heavy cold or if it feels uncomfortable.
I would be cautious when pregnant, too, unless you are an experienced yogi.
IF YOU have a yoga question email firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in the Irish Daily Mail, May 5, 2015