Yoga for a good digestion

Yoga for digestion jpg

We can do yoga for many different reasons. Every sequence I post, you can do just because you want to do a good work-out, you want to calm your mind or because you need inspiration for your practice. However, I do like to focus on certain goals people want to reach. Therefore I always pick a theme for the sequence. This week: yoga for a better digestion.

To improve your digestion via yoga it is important to move the part where your food is being digested: the area of the abdomen. In general twists are good to detox your body and to help your intestines to squeeze, move and therefore digest your food. However, if you really have problems with digestion, only twists can also irritate this area and have a negative effect. So you need to balance your practice, as always, but stay focused on the movement you make and the pressure you put on the abdominal area.

This sequence can vary from 15 minutes up to 30 minutes, it depends on how long you hold the poses and how many repetitions you do. It is advisable to start the practice with 5 minutes of meditation, to calm the mind and be focused during the practice. End the practice with a Savasana pose (corpse pose) for a minimum of 10 breaths. Some basis rules when you perform the poses:

  • Make long, deep and controlled breathes through your nose. Focus on your breath going in and out while being in a posture. Try to make your exhale slightly longer then your inhale.
  • Let your breath initiate a movement. Inhale is a movement upwards, exhale is a movement downwards or a twist.
  • Work both sides of your body. Do every posture on the right side and then switch to the left.
  • While you’re in a standing pose always check your front knee. When it is bent, it makes a 90-degree angle with your ankle; however, it should never go over your ankle.
  • There is NO pose in yoga where we have our shoulders close to our ears. So when you are settled in a pose, always pay attention to your shoulders. Roll them backwards and down.

If you have doubts about the poses, below you can find the basic ideas and adjustments per picture:

  • Photo 1: Padmasana Twist
    Lotus pose twist. Remain seated in lotus pose (or just corssed legged). Inhale take both your arms up. Twist from your belly button towards the right. Left hand goes on your right knee, bring your right hand behind your back. Twist your head as last, to look over your shoulders. Stay for a minimum of three cycles of breath. Change side.
  • Photo 2: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
    Bridge pose. Lay down on your back, knees are up, feet are hip distance apart. Have your arms by your side, palms are facing down. On an inhale push your hips up as far as you can, on an exhale bring your hips down again. Repeat for at least 3 cycles of breath.
  • Photo 3: Release pose.
    Release pose. Lay down on your back. Bring your knees into your chest. Place your hands over your knees. Make small clockwise circles. Make them bigger as you go. Come back to the middle and change direction. This pose helps you to release tension from your lower back, by massaging it.
  • Photo 4: Reclining twist
    Reclining twist pose. Lay on your back. Arms are out in a cross. Bring your knees towards your chest. Make a 90-degree angle with your hips and your knees and knees and ankle. Move your legs to the right, look to the left; keep both shoulders on the mat. If you want you can place your right hand on your knees, to add extra pressure.
  • Photo 5: Marjaryasana
    Catpose. Come to your hands and knees. Knees in a 90 degrees angle with your hips, shoulders with the wrists. Inhale, look up and arch your spine. Exhale, look down and round your spine. Do this with a minimum of 5 times.
  • Photo 6: Plank pose
    Plank pose with one knee forward. Make it look like you are a straight plank. Have your hips aligned with your body, so not high in the air or close to the ground. Shoulders are 90 degrees over your wrists. Contract your abdominal muscles. Bring your right knee to your right elbow. Try to stay here for 5 cycles of breath.
  • Photo 7: Salabhasana
    Locust pose. Start by having your whole body on the mat. Bring your arms back. On the inhale take both your arms and legs up. If this is too much to begin with, then start with only taking your chest off the mat. Second time only the legs. And third time both the chest (arms) and the legs.
  • Photo 8: Adho Mukha Svanasana
    Downward facing dog: Come onto the mat on your hands and knees. Knees are 90 degrees with your hips, hands straight under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and on an exhale lift your knees away from the floor. Keep them slightly bent. Stretch one knee, bend the other. Switch several times. Bend both needs slightly and push your sitbones up in the air, while you push yourself away from your hands. On an exhale push your heels towards the mat. Stay for a minimum of three breaths.
  • Photo 9: Virabhadrasana II
    Warrior 2 pose. Turn your back foot to a 45-degree angle. Open your hips towards the side. Roll your shoulders down and back. Look over your front hand. Stay for at least 3 cycles of breath.
  • Photo 10: Utthita Trikonasana
    Extended triangle pose. Straighten your front leg. Have your torso similar to the Warrior 2 pose. Bring your body weight forward. Bring your arm down towards your leg. Either grab your thigh, lower part of the leg or ankle. Make sure your torso is parallel with your front leg. Stay for at least 3 cycles of breath.
  • Photo 11: Parivrtta Trikonasana
    Revolved triangle pose. Straighten your front leg, have your legs similar to the extended triangle pose. Have your arms out wide, bring the back arm forward and place it on the outside of your front foot. Look up to your hand. If necessary use a block to stabilize. Stay for at least 3 cycles of breath.
  • Photo 12: Utthita Parsvakonasana
    Side angle pose. Your front foot is pointing straight forward and your back foot is at a 45 degree angle (pointing slightly inwards). So your legs are as in the warrior 2 pose. On an exhale place your hand on the outside of your front foot and the other arm goes straight up or overhead. Open your hips to the side. If it is possible bind the pose: bring your lower arm, via the inside, underneath your front leg. Your upper arm goes backwards and embraces your back. Grab with the lower hand the hand that wraps around the back. Stay for a minimum of 3 cycles of breath.
  • Photo 13: Parsva Balasana
    Thread and needle pose. With an inhale take one arm up, look towards it and then bring it through the hole of your knee and hand. Shoulder and ear to the ground. Try to keep your hips aligned.
  • Photo 14: Marichyasana 3
    Sage Pose. Sit on the mat, both legs forward and back straight. Bend your right knee and place your heel close to your hips. Have a fist distance between your leg and your heel. Inhale, take both your arms up. Twist from your belly button towards the right. Left hand goes on your right knee, bring your right hand behind your back. Twist your head last, to look over your shoulders. Stay for a minimum of three cycles of breath. Change side.
  • Photo 15: Halasana
    Plow pose. From the previous pose, shoulderstand, bring your feet down over your head. Make sure it is a controlled movement. Keep your arms in your back. Or if you want, interlace your fingers and stretch your arms out on the mat. If your toes can’t touch the mat, you keep your hands in your back – or you place blocks under your feet. Stay here for a minimum of 5 cycles of breath.
  • Photo 16: Salamba Sarvangasana
    Shoulder stand. Lay down on your back. Palms are facing down on the mat. Bring your knees into your chest. With the force of your hands push your hips off the floor. Place your hands in your back. Straighten your legs upright. Walk your hands closer to your shoulders blades. Stay here; wait until you can breath properly. If gravity is pulling you down, walk your hands closer to your shoulder blades and give yourself a lift. Stay for a minimum of 10 cycles of breath.
  • Photo 17: Matsyasana
    Fish pose. Lay down on your back. Place your hands under your hips, palms facing down. Breathe into your chest and bring it up. Place the top of your head on the mat. Make sure the weight is on your hips and not on your head. Stay for a minimum of 5 breath cycles.
  • Photo 18: Reclining twist
    Reclining twist pose. Lay on your back. Arms are out in a cross. Bring your knees towards your chest. Make a 90-degree angle with your hips and your knees and knees and ankle. Move your legs to the right, look to the left; keep both shoulders on the mat. If you want you can place your right hand on your knees, to add extra pressure.
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How to look at your own body?

Different bodies

Just as in most sports, in yoga our body is the instrument we use to practice. Using it as an instrument helps us to become aware of our body and its boundaries. In some other sports the breath is also used as an instrument to practice. In yoga the breath is just as key as the body itself.

In fact, if you start investigating the meaning behind yoga you come down to the following: yoga means to unite, to connect. It means the union between mind, body & spirit. And to reach this we perform postures (asanas) with our bodies and we make an attempt to control our inner patterns of breath. In other words, we connect our movement with the breath. This is particularly true for Vinyasa yoga, the type of yoga I teach and practice.

So why is this important to know when I am writing about ‘how to look at your own body’? There are many ways to discover your own body. The most obvious one is something we do on a daily basis: looking at ourselves in the mirror. We get to see a reflection of our external self, we get a chance to see our body from an outsider perspective. When using a mirror, we usually only see the front of our body and we choose the angle by which we see ourselves, pretty or unflattering. However, the back remains un-known, or we don’t like the sight of what we are seeing, so we prefer not too look at it at all.

Another way to get to know our body is letting another explore it. This could be a doctor, investigating your body to find what is wrong. But it can also be your partner discovering every part in a more intimate way. This way you can discover your body through the eyes of another person. What is good, what is beautiful, where you are healthy & where you are sick. An interesting catch about this way of discovering your body, is that you are the only one also feeling what they do. You add an extra dimension that no one else can have while exploring your body. If you close your eyes, you can feel their touch and so you discover your body from the inside too.

Discovering your body from the inside is a very powerful tool to really understand what is going on with you, to really understand who you are. A simple technique to do this is used in Vipassana meditation and various therapies:

  • Close your eyes, lay down or sit still
  • Take a few deep breaths into your belly. Follow your breath in and out through your nose (as if you are meditating)
  • Start scanning your body: bring your awareness to your toes and feel them from the inside.
  • Slowly make your way up, from your toes, through your ankles, calf muscles, knees, thighs, hips, etc., all the way to the top of your head.
  • Scan your body up and down, down and up.

When you take a few minutes in your bed, or behind your desk, to scan your body with your eyes closed, you will notice that you can control your energy and your thoughts.

Leslie Kaminoff, the breathing guru of this moment, explains this action as follows: You are now piercing your body with a sharp instrument from the inside, your awareness. Instead of cutting it with a sharp instrument from the outside, a knife, we use our own sharpest instrument, our awareness. This instrument is really connected to you, and will therefore be able to make you really look at you own body and see it in a complete context.

In yoga we use the breath to deepen this piercing of your body. We can use the breath to discover the boundaries of our body, to calm our mind and gain self-knowledge. When you synchronize the yoga movements (called asanas) with the breath, you will notice how you can create space in your body with an inhale, and you will learn to let go on an exhale. Your breath can go to every part of your body, as long as you use your attention and awareness to the area that needs the breath.

If we learn to look at our body from the inside, with our awareness and with the breath, we get a completely different understanding about what are bodies need, what they look like and how we have to take care of them. Instead of having the outside view about how tight your clothes are, you can go inside and discover if we are healthy or not. You learn to feel how to feed your body: what are your cravings and what is a necessity to remain healthy and happy. You will also learn how your mind tricks you into being lazy before exercising, how it tricks you into eating fatty and sugary foods and how it changes your self-perspective. When you know your own tricks and when you really know your body, then you will learn to love it, with all its uniqueness, perfections and imperfections.

How to meditate?

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Meditation has become a buzzword in the past few years. Nowadays you come across more and more people telling you ‘they are meditating’, which to me is great! The more, the better. However, also often people tell me: “I think meditation is good for me, but I don’t really know how to do it”.  And because of this unknown, or the fear to go to a course where explained, people hesitate to get into it.

In meditation there are several schools of thought on what is supposed to be the best way: labeling thoughts, imagining rivers, singing a mantra, clearing your mind completely, etcetera. Whatever label, technique or form you choose, they all have a few basic rules. And these rules are all you need to do it on your own.

Before I start explaining what you could do, I first want to take away a few misconceptions:

  1. I need to sit cross-legged

Many people are uncomfortable sitting cross-legged and this keeps them from meditating. Meditating cross-legged is the most common form, but most definitely not the only one. As a basic rule: you have to sit in a way that you can be comfortable while keeping your spine straight. If this means sitting on a chair or putting your legs in a different position, then this is absolutely fine. However, sitting on a chair means (trying) not to use the back of the chair, because you need to keep your spine up straight by yourself.

  1. I need to do it for a least 30 minutes (or any other length you might have in mind)

I also sometimes let myself trick into this one. Meditating for a few minutes per day is always better than nothing at all.  So whenever you have a few spare minutes, use them wisely: meditate.

  1. I can only meditate in a quiet, closed off room

This situation is preferable, since it will make it a whole lot easier to focus on your breath and calming your mind. The less the distractions, the easier it can be. But not having a space like this is no excuse to not meditate. When I was commuting in a train for work, I used to take my train ride time to sit calmly, close my eyes and meditate, also I used the toilet in the office, the taxi ride or a more quiet corner in a bar, bookstore or office.

SO HOW DOES IT WORK?

It is simple and at the same time not simple at all. Here a few basic things to know and do.

Basic things to know:

1. Endless stream of thoughts

As soon as you sit down and close your eyes an endless stream of thoughts will start. Meditation is to stop this stream of thoughts, something that sounds easy, but is not. You need patience, determination and compassion to make it work.

2. Nature of your thoughts

Maybe you know, maybe you never realised, but every thought is connected to either the past or future. You either have a memory of something that happened, a minute ago, an hour, a day, a week, month and so on. Or your mind wonders to what happens in the future, an hour from now, day, week or many years. The goal of meditation is to experience the present, to be in the now.

3. The mind wants to control you

Your mind wants to keep you busy, that way it controls you. So it will do everything to take you away from being in the now, in this very moment, because it has no control over the now. So it brings up memories, future thoughts, it makes you tired, angry, emotional, frustrated, anything that keeps you from actually living the moment. We all have had an experience (beautiful place, a sky-dive, birth of a child, amazing peace of art, an evening with friends) that was so mind blowing that, for maybe only a second, our mind stopped and got silenced with what you witnessed.  That moment is when YOU control the mind.

The basic things to do

  1. Sit comfortably (in any position that feels good for you, and in any location you feel ok meditating)
  2. Close your eyes (close them softly, don’t press them together)
  3. Start breathing in and out through your nose
  4. Breath in deeply and deliberately into your belly
  5. Breath out slowly feel how the belly, ribcage and chest deflate
  6. Keep on following your breath coming in and out
  7. Pay attention to the moment where the breath pauses before you breath in and before you breath out
  8. Stop breathing deliberately and come to breathing without any effort
  9. Face whatever comes into your mind. Try to not pay attention to it.
  10. When you have started wandering away with your thoughts, come back to following your breath coming in and going out
  11.  Start again having a few breaths more deliberately.
  12.  Come to a breath without any effort
  13.  Try to ignore what comes to your mind.
  14. When you wander away, come back to following your breath
  15.  Keep on repeating this however many times is necessary
  16.  When you get frustrated because this happens every second, acknowledge you are frustrated and accept it, be compassionate to yourself
  17. Continue this process

You can start doing it for 5 minutes, or 10 minutes. Over time you can make it longer, but only if that feels necessary for you. If you do it on a daily basis you will notice that the mind starts wandering less and less. Every second, becomes every 5 seconds, becomes every 10 seconds, becomes every 20 seconds, 40 seconds, 1 minute and so on.

My experience is that it really helps you to face challenges in a more calm and stable way. You do not freak out, can keep a clear mind and are able to make better decisions. Your creativity increases, because these moments of silence, no thoughts, create space for new ideas and insights.

I hope this explanation helps to take the hurdle and create a moment for you during the day to practice meditation. Remember, it is better to meditate for only a few minutes, than not at all. Enjoy, may peace and calm come to you!