Yoga poses that clients can practice daily, wherever they are.
Last month, this column focused on why it makes perfect sense to market private or small-group yoga tutorials to the affluent generation of Baby Boomers as they progress into their 50s and 60s. Yoga can help Boomers manage stress, avoid overuse injuries and maintain their quality of life. Tutorials, unlike typical yoga classes, are designed to teach Boomers easy, 5- to 15-minute routines that clients can then practice on their own, wherever they are.
The short routines described below are excellent for early morning, mid or late afternoon and before bed. You should instruct clients to perform the poses in the order they’re described. Depending on prior experience and learning style, some clients will learn the routines quickly, whereas others may need multiple sessions to practice the postures and memorize the sequences.
When a daily jog before breakfast has become too much pounding for aging joints and starting the day with a strenuous yoga class is no longer the best idea, there is still an appropriate way to wake up the body with exercise (rather than caffeine): A short yoga stretching routine enlivens the body with minimal stress by lengthening the spine and oxygenating the muscles. No equipment is needed. The only requirements are enough quiet to concentrate for a few minutes away from others; preferably a hard floor surface to stand on; and enough space to stretch out both arms. Loose-fitting clothing is best, and practicing barefoot is preferred.
Early morning is a good time to start out on your feet and go through a series of poses that enhance valuable balancing skills, strengthen supporting muscles and help maintain better posture throughout the day:
1. Mountain Pose Variations With Ujjayi Breathing
- Stand in mountain pose with “strong” legs: With feet hip width apart (a variation on the more traditional pose with toes touching), press front of feet down and pull legs away from each other to engage outside of calf muscles; then tighten hip flexors down toward knees. Focus on deep, even inhalations and exhalations through the nose to a count of three, feeling the air lift your collarbones.
- With eyes closed, shift weight forward to toes on inhalation; on exhalation, rotate slowly around to 6 o’clock, and on inhalation, keep rotating to 12 o’clock, feeling the different leg muscles engage. Repeat in opposite direction.
- In mountain pose with arms overhead, stretch to one side on exhalation, separating ribs from each other and from hip. Repeat, stretching to opposite side.
- Interlock fingers with arms overhead and push palms up to sky on inhalation. Exhaling, bring arms out in front, pushing out with palms to round shoulder blades and upper back. Inhaling, bring arms back up, separate hands, and lower arms around behind sacrum, interlocking fingers again and pushing palms toward floor.
- tree pose variations (bent leg higher or lower; arms overhead or out to side for balance, holding onto nearby chair for balance or safety, if necessary)
- dancer variations (advanced: hold one foot up behind back while leaning forward and reaching in front with other arm)
- eagle pose variations (on one leg with bent knee)
The various stresses of the day—all the sitting, moving and hurrying that people habitually do—tend to compress the vertebrae and load tension into stress-retaining muscle areas like the upper back, neck and lower back. Many of your clients frequently have evening activities scheduled after work. What these clients need first is a refresher, a stress break that allows the body’s most tense areas to recover before the next phase of the day.
Again, all that is required for the following routine is a quiet spot or a place a little away from the distractions of work or home. Variations of these poses can be preformed in an office chair pushed away from the desk, or even on an airplane (near the lavatories).
1. Flat-Back Pose, With Variation—Hamstring Stretch Routine
In flat-back pose, the arms and torso do not bend all the way down to the floor as they would in forward bend (which is hard for those who are stiff or wearing work clothes). Instead, a stable surface like a desk or counter is used to stop the outstretched arms half way down (so upper body is at right angle to legs, which should be straight upright).
- Press heels of hands into desk or counter and walk legs back until torso can be elongated from hips. Relax the back downward with the breath until line from hips to hands is straight; legs should be vertical, with weight pushing down from hips to heels at same time as heels of hands are pushing into supporting surface. Continue breathing in this relaxing, supported stretch, allowing torso to sink further between arms on exhalations and lengthening torso on inhalations.
- From flat-back pose, push torso up to diagonal position with arms coming up to 45 degrees; step one leg forward to desk surface; step other leg back to widen stance, and again lower torso toward desk (relaxing arms), so that back-leg hamstring is stretched at same time as front-leg calf. (Both heels push down into ground while torso is raised and elongated over desk on inhalations and lowered on exhalations to increase stretch.) Repeat flat-back pose, and then do this variation with legs reversed.
- After coming upright from the exercise just described, place hands on kidney area during inhalation while looking up, and on exhalation use hands to support lower back in backbend.
The end of a long day may not be the time for Boomers to work on increasing flexibility or strength, but it is the best time to destress muscles. Going to bed tight is more apt to result in waking up unrested and achy. Sleep comes more easily after 10–15 minutes of relaxing stretches and breathing while sitting and lying on the floor, and the chances of feeling rested in the morning are increased.
The following represent just a few of the many poses and variations that are suitable for the evening. Some of the morning and afternoon poses (mountain pose and flat-back variations) can also be good before bed.
1. Cat and Cow Poses (on Hands and Knees), With Variations
Alternate cat pose (back lifted up, head relaxed down) and cow pose (looking up, with belly pushing down) to encourage deep, slow rhythmic breathing and help release tension in the spine, while relaxing the shoulders, neck and lower back; the shoulder sockets get some movement as well. The following variations, which require some energy but little strength, also loosen the hip and groin areas:
- Lift one leg behind you until it is parallel to ground, and inhaling, move that leg and foot as far to opposite side as you can, looking over shoulder to see foot. On exhalation, move that leg gradually as far as possible in other direction; on inhalation, move leg back to middle and hold steady while exhaling. On next inhalation, bend knee and raise foot behind you as high as possible while looking up; then exhale and lift knee so hip is now opened up (I call this the “fire hydrant” pose, as this may make you feel like a male dog near a hydrant—and like smiling, which is good fun). This will stretch the inner groin muscles. Repeat sequence with other leg.
- After fire hydrant stretch, bring one knee down between arms toward chin as far as possible (underneath your body), looking down toward that knee and relaxing upper body as you lower it and rest weight on bent arms and bent leg as much as possible. Back leg should be stretched as far behind you as possible. To intensify stretch to outer hip muscles, pull foot of bent leg diagonally forward toward opposite shoulder, and lower upper body on top of leg. Breathe deeply and evenly to endure the stretch’s intensity for several breaths, if possible. For a counterstretch, lift torso up with arms until elbows are locked, look up as you inhale, and feel lower back stretch a little. Repeat sequence with other leg.
Going from cat and cow into child’s pose will relax the back and arms; this is a good resting pose after the intensity of half pigeon pose:
- Stretch arms out in front or place them by legs. If arms are in front, either use them as cushion for head, or stretch shoulders and bring forehead to mat. To support back and reduce pressure on knees, place pillow under chest and over thighs.
This is a good pose for releasing the hamstrings and can be done with gentle, relaxed breathing. It is possible to read or watch television while in this pose, if you can sustain it for long.
- For maximum benefit, get buttocks right up against wall by wiggling as close to it as possible. Comfortably support the back.
These poses are very relaxing and encourage slow, deep breathing.
- If twists are too intense, provide support under or between knees.
Seated twists involve the upper body more than reclining twists.
6. Forward Bends
- In seated position, lengthen torso up on inhalation. On exhalation lean forward, relaxing and stretching lower-back muscles; for support, rest forehead on cushioned desk or dining chair.
- Finish routine in corpse pose or supported corpse (pillow under back).