Stretch through the ages with Yoga
Fitness is a no-go area for many - nasty squat-thrusts, push ups and stomach crunches accompanied by a military-style rollicking from a fitness instructor.
But fear not, there’s a calmer and much more relaxing way - full of exercises with wonderful names such as the ‘downward dog’, the ‘sun salutation’ and the ‘simple twist’.
We’re talking yoga, and 30 million people can’t be wrong - that’s the estimated number who practice the 5,000-year-old system of postures, breathing and meditation worldwide. It’s a great stress-buster. A new book ‘Yoga For Life’ aims to show the benefits of the system to a range of age groups.
Author Jo Fairley, says the discipline can be the “fountain of youth”. She’s been on the mat since she was 12 ,and says: “It can improve strength, flexibility and balance, help bone density and may boost the uptake of nutrients. It may also help lower ‘bad’ and raise ‘good’ cholesterol, and bring down high blood pressure.”
There’s something for all ages:
In your twenties:
The Mountain pose or ‘Tadasana’ is the perfect antidote to a fast-paced life as it centres and grounds, and can help posture.
How: Stand on your mat with your feet parallel, slightly apart. Spread your toes as much as you comfortably can. Distribute weight evenly between the front of your feet and heels. Place your hands by your side, fingers pointing towards the floor (one variation is to place your hands together in the prayer pose - right). Extend downwards so you feel a slight stretch. Engage your feet by lifting the arches. Gently tighten your knees by pulling up your front thigh muscles. Let the back of your body relax, and open your chest by lifting your breastbone, moving shoulder blades back and down. Make sure your head is level, and gaze is steady. Feel that perfect posture and hold for four to 10 breaths.
Experts agree that if you only do one pose a day, you should make it the Downward Dog or ‘Adho Mukha Svanasana’. It helps strengthen hands and wrists while also helping back pain, anxiety and headaches.
How: Start by going into the ‘Table’ position, placing your knees, the top of your feet and the palms of your hands on the mat, your legs aligned, with hands shoulder-width apart.Feel as if the base of your fingers are evenly and firmly ‘rooted’ into the mat. Exhale, and tuck your toes under; pull your lower abdominals in as you pull your bottom back and straighten your legs. You will now be in an upside-down ‘V’ shape. Lengthen your spine upwards and backwards.
Exhale and lower your heels. Don’t overstretch, but the ideal is to get the heels on the ground eventually. Press firmly into your feet and hands and feel the spine lengthening. To come down, slowly bend knees and place on the floor.
Forty and over:
The Simple Twist (Bharadvajasana) aids digestion, strengthens the back and releases tension.
How: Sit on floor with legs straight out in front of you. Shift over on to your right buttock and bend knees to the opposite side. Rest your feet on the floor, keeping heels as close to your buttocks as possible; the left ankle should rest in the arch of the right foot. Breathe in and lift through the front of the body. Breathe out and twist torso to the right. You want to keep your left buttock rooted to the ground, so when you feel this lifting off, that’s as far as you should go. Keep your tummy soft.
Place the back of your left hand on top of your right knee, using it like a lever to get more twist. Place your right hand on floor beside your right buttock - you may stretch fingertips to do this. Pull shoulder blades together to open your chest. There are two possible positions for the head. Try looking over your right shoulder, as long as it is comfortable for your neck. Or use a ‘counter’ movement, turning your head to look over your left shoulder at your feet. Exit by moving your legs back to the start position.
The legs-up-the-wall pose (Viparita karani), is good for tired legs and also promotes sleep.
How: Fold a blanket and place it around eight to 12 inches away from a bare wall. Sit alongside the wall with legs parallel to it, and bend knees. Shift position so you bring your lower back on to the floor while swinging your legs up the wall. Use your elbows to support you as you lower your back on to the ground. When you’re in position, your back is now at a 90-degree angle to the wall. Roll your shoulders backwards to open your chest, and keep arms alongside the body.
Feel your spine sink into the ground. Breathe deeply and slowly, and with each breath, feel tension melting away and your heart opening. If you’re comfortable, you can stay there for several minutes. To come out, bring your knees into your chest and roll on to your side. Stay there for a breath or two before pushing yourself into an upright position.