Category Archives: Lifestyle Changes

5 simple steps to #yoga practice at home.

Yoga, Pranayama and Meditation – why is home practice so difficult? With a little more time and effort between classes you could develop your practice and begin to understand and enjoy some of the more intangible benefits that yoga has to offer. These five simple steps will help to capture the enthusiasm from class and bring it home into your private practice. It’s really very simple and the only question is what path you might take between steps four and five.

  • Place
  • Plan
  • Time
  • Sit
  • Lie

MMChairWindow1. Make space – a corner will do, somewhere you can put your mat down and shut the door. In this space, create a sense of the sacred. Use a windowsill, shelf or side table and make a shrine – a tea light, a statue, a flower in a vase – any objects which bring focus to the mind and humility to our intentions. This space reminds and encourages us to do better, to go deeper, and the people around you will appreciate and respect it too. (Saucha – Cleanliness.)

2. Have a plan. Even if your plan is to go with the flow you’ll find it helpful to have structure to act as a reminder once you’re ‘in the zone’. If you want a sequence, write it down. Preparation is an important part of the process. (Santosha – Contentment.)

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3. Use a timer.
To build up your strength and stamina by holding poses, staying in inversions, and for recuperative poses, in home practice the timer is our teacher and our best friend. For Savasana, Pranayama and meditation, a timer can help you to release more and in the end, you won’t need it. If you use a phone or tablet, use it to store your practice notes, make use of the timer, but always put it in flight mode. (Tapas – Discipline.)

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4. Always begin by sitting for a few moments. This quiet time prepares the brain and the body: it instills the essence of yoga practice from the outset and reconnects the brain with the body. (Svadhaya – Self Study.)

01 Savasana knees supported5. Always finish with Savasana. The healing benefits of your practice need to percolate through all the cells of the body and this takes time. Offer up the fruits of your labour (however bitter!) to a higher self. Lie flat, a blanket for the head and/or a chair for the legs, if necessary. Set your timer and if you fall asleep, so be it. (Isvara Pranidhana – Surrender to a higher being.)

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Iyengar Yoga Home Practice Sheets

These yoga routines are designed to be simple, effective and easy to use. You may need some equipment, but most can be substituted with things you have at home. Beginners can try any of the first seven sequences. The Level 1 and Level 2 sequences are for more experienced students.

Staying in the poses is part of the process, to observe the way the body adjusts, learn how to release pain and tension, and allow the body and mind to relax. So it’s helpful to have a timer for these sequences. If you use your phone put it in flight mode.

If you have any questions or comments, please use the box below.

With best wishes, Hannah.

 

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Filed under Beginners etc., Breathing, Iyengar, Lifestyle Changes, Pain, Relaxation, Yoga - Beginners, Yoga - Intermediate, Yoga - Therapeutic

Helpful ideas for losing #summerholiday #endofterm #stress

The past few months has been a struggle so we can be forgiven for feeling we have a very short fuse and need a very long holiday. No one should underestimate the health problems associated with stress – it’s the single biggest cause of long-term absence from work. More importantly though, it exacerbates, and is the cause of, all kinds of illnesses and if you need a list, there’s one below.

It’s easy to blame modern life and say that there’s not much we can do about it. BUT it has always been like this – the human body is no different to any other mammal with the ‘fight or flight’ response – the hormonal and physiological changes are more or less the same. I recently wrote an article on how horses respond to stress and how we can help them to relax by regulating our breathing, our heart rate and body language. What’s also interesting is that their ability to engage and learn is in inverse proportion to their stress levels. “Adrenaline up = learning down”, says Monty Roberts. Does the same hold true for humans? Probably.

More recently, think how stressed people must have felt during the Second World War. A friend told me about her grandmother in the East End whose advice to a fearful, tearful young mother was, “Roll up your sleeves, take a bucket of soapy water outside and scrub that front step.” And there you have it – recognition of her struggle, exercise, fresh air, contact with neighbours and people walking past – all the elements required to manage stress. But more than anything, sometimes I think we just need a practical way to pass the time.

Stress is nothing new, which is a thought I find (perversely) rather comforting! The success with which we cope with stress requires the ability to recognise our own stress levels as they build up. Then we need a strategy at the ready to deal with them. If you’re reading this because you already feel overwhelmed there are two things you can do immediately:

01 AMS heelsFirst: BREATHE – slowly, steadily, smoothly – regulating your exhalation so that it’s even from beginning to end. Take your tongue away from your upper palate. Sit up straight. Inhale again. As you slowly exhale, silently say the word, “ONE” as you breathe out. Inhale, slowly exhale silently saying “One”, and repeat several times. Do you feel a bit better?

Second: Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Dog – it’s the band aid of all poses. Go up from hands and knees, hold, stretch your arms and legs, come down and go up again, staying a little longer each time.

Then: we need a strategy, a basket of goodies, a toolkit of things you can choose from in all circumstances. You can write all these onto post-it notes, stick them round the mirror, incorporate them into your daily routine. Do let me know how you get on…..(see below).

1. Communicate and interact with others. It’s hugely important to communicate your feelings to someone going through similar experiences. Speak from your heart, encourage them to do the same. Whether you laugh together or cry together, there is often tremendous beneficial release. Why? Because when people are “in their hearts,” and not just their minds, the collective support helps to lift your spirits, which in turn releases the build up of stress and anxiety.

Talking2. Re-connect with your heart area. This is especially true after a shock, when it’s normal  for our heart to feel shut down. (Think of those phrases associated with this feeling – I haven’t got the heart, my heart sank, etc., etc.) When you experience a sense of loss, anger, fear or despair, it’s important to re-open your heart and connect with people, even in a very small way. If you find it hard to ‘unlock’ at first, animals can sometimes help as a bridge and open up your ability to be compassionate to another person. Practice random kindness – even small acts of kindness and compassion can make a big difference. Why? Because this is one of the quickest ways to re-establish your footing and reduce the stress that could otherwise affect your health. Research has shown that care and compassion release beneficial hormones that help balance and restore your system. Much stress can be reduced by caring for and interacting more with others.

 3. Count your blessings. At the end of a yoga class, after Savasana, I sometimes encourage students to count their blessings. Practicing appreciation and gratitude seems to be very helpful in restoring emotional balance. The appreciation needs to be heartfelt, not just from the mind. Why? Because  appreciative feelings activate the biochemical systems that help diminish stress and stabilise our psyche, and this helps us to reconnect with feelings of hope and gives us the initiative to move forward.

4. Decrease drama. We tend to spin thoughts of blame, anger, “doom and gloom” projections about the future around in our heads. This can be especially acute at night when we can’t sleep. We make things worse by being ‘in our heads’ and engaging with this Peacegloomy monologue, which adds drama to a situation that’s already less than ideal. This stunts our intuitive discernment, which is the very thing we need to find the most effective ways to navigate through challenges. (Adrenaline up = learning down.)You may not be able to stop all the internal drama, but you can try not to engage with it – instead, get up and do something practical (but not screen-based), even in the dead of night, rather than sit in that miserable puddle of worry. Why? Anger, anxiety and fear release excessive levels of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, throughout the body which cause a cascade of physical health symptoms, along with potential mental and emotional imbalances. As you practice reducing drama, the energy you save helps restore balance, clarity and positive initiative, even after a sleepless night. During the day, sharing our feelings from the heart with others reduces the tendency to keep amplifying and repeating the downside of situations.

5. Manage the amount of news you watch, and your reactions to it. This is a tricky one, but it has made a huge difference to me. Economic, political or global instability can compound our stress by projecting worst-case scenarios as we watch, read or listen to the news. Many people are afraid to watch the news because they dread what they might see and yet they’re afraid not to watch it in case they miss something important.  If you must watch/read/listen, resist the temptation to rant or obsess over the negative downsides of the news item. Manage how much negative emotional drama you attach to events or disappointing information because this is where a large portion of our stress accumulates. You can use the news as an opportunity to practice being in ’emotional neutral’. There’s a difference between evaluating an issue and emotionally obsessing over it. Practicing ’emotional neutral’ can help us manage our emotional energy expenditures and avoid stress overload. Why? When we are experiencing high anxiety and depression, cutting back on news can help lower the intensity of our fear and anxiety. Experiment to see if cutting back helps you, as it has many others who are experiencing high anxiety. (BTW – we shouldn’t judge the media. We are responsible for what we watch and how we react to it. It’s our job to balance and manage our exposure and our perceptions of how the news affects us.)

Lotus

No mud, no lotus – Thich Nat Hahn

6. Take a little quiet time for prayer or meditation. Feeling compassion for yourself, for others, and feelings of gratitude, are all forms of prayer or meditation. These practices help quiet the mind and encourage a new perspective that can restore hope and direction. Why? Research has shown that sending appreciative or compassionate feelings to other people or issues can have a beneficial effect on the hormonal and immune systems. Prayer re-connects us with ourselves and with each other. Sending appreciation, care or compassion to others also helps to balance the nervous system and create heart rhythms more beneficial to our health. This helps balance your mental and emotional system, which then reduces anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed. So prayer is good for you, and it’s good for the planet.

7. Heart-focused breathing to reduce stress and anxiety. Practicing breath control is very helpful for reducing anxiety, stress, anger and mild depression. Why? Studies have demonstrated that meditation and breathing can bring down our stress levels, release tension and so help all kinds of health problems that are caused or exacerbated by chronic stress. With conscious effort, we humans can encourage our bodies to release chemicals and brain signals that make our muscles and organs slow down, and increase blood flow to the brain, the opposite of the ‘fight or flight’ response. This gives us a chance to look more closely at the stressor and work out a better way to deal with the problem, rather than bashing it over the head or running away. (See below for a guide.)

8. Exercise. It’s chicken-and-egg: stress can make us feel lethargic and un-motivated, especially if we’re short of sleep. Remember: using energy creates more energy so take what little you have and do that dog pose, walk to the shop, go and find a view to look at. You won’t need a total workout to help clear your thinking and stabilize your emotions. Experiment and find what’s comfortable for you, but at least try to get your heart rate up every day, even for a short time. Why? Exercise won’t take away your reasons for feeling stressed, but it will help you to manage stress with less energy loss. And getting out there will do all the same things as scrubbing the front step did during the war.

A few other thoughts:
9. Comparing the present with the past – the good old days. I said that I find it comforting to know that the human race has felt stressed for millennia, so much that the philosophy, art and science of Yoga was developed centuries ago to manage it.  If you have had a crisis or a major life change, it is hard to stop comparing the way life was before with how it is now. Healing heartache doesn’t respond to schedules or agendas but we can trust that, in our own time, we will start to regain some stability and be able to move forward with life. It just might take time and so we need our tool kit to help us through.
10. Sleep. Many people don’t sleep well for all kinds of reasons, maybe directly due to stress or perhaps because of unhelpful habits – late night TV, alcohol, erratic meal times, poor diet, lack of fresh air and exercise. We’ve all been there! So get what sleep you can and try not to make that into another drama. Don’t lie in bed and engage with the drama scarlettor try to make decisions. Get up and do something helpful or useful, like the ironing, read a book, practice your breathing exercises, or do some recuperative yoga. Nothing bad will happen before morning. As Scarlett O’Hara said, “I’ll think about it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.”

11. Reducing Fear. Fear is a normal response to uncertain and challenging times and is natural for our protection. Prolonged fear, exaggerated by drama, eventually creates harmful hormonal and immune system responses that compromise our health. Ask yourself – should I be afraid, or would some healthy caution be more helpful? The difference between these two can make a big difference in what hormones are released in your system.

12. Engage with your family. Keep communicating with family and close friends about the stress that everyone is going through. (You may even help someone else to manage their stress.) If someone is snappy or irritable don’t take it personally and do explain it to children, and reassure them that you can work things out in time. Work with them on simple stress-busters – carpet yoga, play at meditating, encourage them to think of all the good people they have in their lives.

13. Don’t blame yourself. Moving forward is easier without carrying baggage and guilt about what you should have done. Substitute the words ‘should’ with ‘could’ – there’s something liberating very about it. Above all, be kind to yourself.

Resources:

Teach yourself breath control for managing stressful situations, click HERE.

Read Dr David Servan-Schreiber: Healing Without Freud Or Prosac.

For a no-nonsense guide to the wide-ranging effects of stress, click HERE.

Herbs that can help: HERE.

With grateful thanks and much respect to Doc Childre at the Heart Math Institute who has produced a De-Stress Kit for the Changing Times some of which is paraphrased here.

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Yoga Days with Lovegrove Essentials.

Lovegrove Essentials Yoga & Spa Days at Saddle Street Farm are ideal if you want to organise something special for a group of friends, or give as a gift to someone you love. If you have any special requirements please let us know – we’re very happy to work with you to provide a relaxing and nourishing experience for your group.

Your spa day can be tailored for you with combination of a yoga class, massage therapy, beauty treatments, a make-up lesson, hair styling and nails; plus a delicious, healthy lunch.

Hannah Lovegrove – Iyengar Yoga Teacher with many years’ experience offers high-quality yoga classes in a fully equipped studio. Hannah is also a qualified masseuse and beauty therapist offering tinting, waxing, pedicures etc.
Hayley de Beers – top London make-up and hair artist. http://www.hayleydebeers.com
Daniel Stevens – gifted chef and food writer, and author of the River Cottage Bread Book.

The Lovegrove Essential Day Spa packages:
£85 – Yoga Class with Hannah, lunch and a Massage Treatment.
£90 – Yoga Class with Hannah, lunch, and an hour with Hayley.
£125 – Yoga Class with Hannah, lunch, a Massage Treatment, and an hour with Hayley.

For accommodation we recommend local B&B – Mary at Chapel End, Liz at Fulwood House and Lucy at Oathill Farm – all about 10 minutes from Saddle Street Farm and very reasonably priced. Please ask for details.

 

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Iyengar Yoga home practice sheets.

These yoga routines are designed to be simple and easy to use. You may need some equipment, but most can be substituted with things you have at home. The first six sheets are suitable for all levels. The last two are suitable for more experienced students.
If you have any questions or comments, please use the box below.
With best wishes, Hannah.

DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS?

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Don’t worry – be happy!

Serotonin

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May 28, 2013 · 6:21 am

Thinking of starting or resuming yoga in middle age?

Where to begin and how to practice yoga as you get older including general points on ageing, some risk factors, osteoporosis, balance, back pain, sciatica, joint pain, metabolism and the efficacy of Pilates.

To download & print an illustrated pdf, click HERE.

ImageFrom the article by Dr Loren Fishman, New York Times – 8th May 2013. Loren Fishman, MD is Medical Director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in New York City, author of seven books, author or editor of more than 70 academic articles, and a world-recognized pioneer in the treatment of piriformis syndrome and rotator cuff tear, for which he has developed non-surgical interventions. His ability to diagnose and cure all types of back pain has earned him wide acclaim. Dr. Fishman has applied yoga to the treatment of sciatica, scoliosis, rotator cuff syndrome, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and shoulder pain. He has studied in Pune with BKS Iyengar.

To find an Iyengar Yoga teacher, see http://www.iyengaryoga.org.uk and use the search box. If you have a particular problem that requires remedial treatment, find a Senior Teacher for advice before proceeding.

Q.  What is the best way to begin or to resume yoga when you are over 50?

A. First, find out what your limitations are. This depends on the individual and might require a medical visit. The next step is to find an experienced and well-trained yoga teacher for a one-to-one class and assessment. Group classes came about through urban economics: many yoga teachers cannot afford to teach small numbers. But because chronic conditions are cumulative, when you’re older you need the individual attention that yoga has traditionally offered.

There are many other types of yoga, but the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar are the most anatomically sophisticated and therapeutically oriented. (Iyengar Yoga Teachers trained to Intermediate Junior Level 3 are insured for one-to-one classes.) You will need a resourceful and sensitive teacher to assess your capabilities and to introduce you to an appropriate yoga practice that you can do every day. After six to eight weeks you should go back to your teacher for a re-assessment and suggestions about how to progress to the next stage. Your teacher will also be able to tell you when you are ready to join group classes, if you wish to do so.

Yoga, practiced consistently, does good things to your temperament and perceptions. You will find that after a period of six weeks’ regular practice, your views as well as your body will have changed. This is a good time to have another one-to-one session.

Q. Are there any aspects to yoga practice that the over-50 practitioner should give up if she/he is healthy and otherwise feeling well? How about after 70? What poses cause the most injuries, and which might help protect or rehabilitate common yoga-associated injuries?

A. Yes, there are things you may need to give up in your yoga practice as you get older. People age differently, and yet there are characteristic aspects to aging. Chronic conditions are cumulative. With osteoporosis you can do forward bends to as far as your hips will carry you without pushing, keeping your back slightly concave if possible, and preventing it from slouching forward no matter what. (See http://sciatica.org/yoga/12poses.html)

Beware taking the avoidance of forward bends to phobic extremes, however: good posture and sensible bending and lifting is an antidote to osteoporotic fractures; flexibility, coordination, balance and strength are the best prevention of hip fractures. Standing poses like Vrksasana (the tree), Virabhadrasana I, II and III (the warrior poses), and Ardha Chandrasana (half-moon pose) promote these positive traits and are some of the last poses one should give up as one ages.

Arthritis will respond to yoga. Supta Padangusthasana is as safe and as good as a pose gets, and will help with safe forward bending, too, by lengthening the hamstrings and stretching the hips’ capsule. We will come to many more suggestions and caveats in the questions and answers that follow.

Q. Any age-related additional risk factors with respect to the vertebral artery during Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and Halasana (plough pose)?

Q. I am 55 and began yoga two months ago. I go every other day, but I still have problems with the balance poses. I did not have these issues in my youth. Is it typical to have more balance issues as you get older?

A. Most arteries become more brittle and are more easily injured, just as the skin gets more delicate with age. Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and Halasana (plough pose), and poses like Parighasana (the gate) should be trimmed back from their extremes for safety after the age of 70. Ask your teacher for guidance.

The vertebral artery actually figures in nourishing a number of neurological structures critical to good balance and coordination, so it is worth taking great care of it. The three determinants of balance are the inner ears, proprioception (lowered awareness of position and relative location of parts of the body) and vision, and our sense of balance can also be degraded with age:

  • Decreased sensitivity in the semicircular canals (in the ears) to changes in direction and momentum.
  • Decreased proprioception  in the joints and in one’s feet.
  • Less acute vision.

Do the precarious poses against or very close to a wall. The wall is a wonderful, supportive teacher and use a chair on your mat, so it won’t move away from you!

BACK PAIN AND SCIATICA

Dr Loren Fishman and his colleagues discuss back pain more fully on their excellent web site  www.Sciatica.org. See also the book he wrote with Carol Ardman, “Yoga for Back Pain”, showing many poses modified for those in pain or unable to do the full pose. There are chapters on herniated disc, spinal stenosis, and how to tell the difference between the two. Yoga with physical therapy is an excellent choice for someone with either a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. But first, get a proper diagnosis.

Q. I am 48, in good shape cardiovascular-wise (runner), and decided to try yoga recently. All went well initially but of late I have had considerable back pain both when sitting and lying flat. Could I have an injury? If it’s just sore muscles, will it eventually get better if I keep doing it?

A. First, much back pain is discovered in yoga class but really has its origins elsewhere. Second, yoga can cause back pain, and then, as always, the question is: what is the diagnosis? Pain is a symptom, not a disease. Without a diagnosis you’re left to guess about proper treatment, for the same pain can have causes so different that treatments are diametrically opposite.

One way to decide if it’s sore muscles or a neurological injury is if the pain goes down one or both legs, or radiates. Does anything tingle; is some part of your leg numb? If so, it’s nerve pain, indicating an injury that merits further inquiry. If not, it’s probably a muscle spasm or strain, and stretching should make it feel better – I say ‘probably’ because someone could also have a spinal fracture, facet arthritis, spondylolysis or other problem. The bottom line is that you need a diagnosis before yoga or anything else can be used to help treat the problem.

Q. I have sciatica and a herniated disc so bad I want to cry. I’m on prescription pain killers but I’d rather be better and not drugged up. Will yoga help sciatica?

A. Sciatica is nerve pain that goes down the leg along the course of the sciatic nerve. It can be helped with yoga, but it must be done with extreme care.

  • A herniated disc responds to extension, and may be worsened by flexion.
  • Spinal stenosis improves with flexion, and is exacerbated by extension.
  • Yet both can cause sciatica, and the same exact distribution of numbness, weakness and pain.
  • About 5 percent of the time, the treatments reverse: extension helps stenosis, flexion is good for herniated discs.
  • Start tentatively, be sensitive to the changes you feel, and progress slowly.

Q. At a healthy 61, I took up Iyengar yoga last year with an experienced teacher and felt better and limber than I had in my whole life. Six months later, I experienced low back pain and sciatica. I have a L4-5 and L5 – S1 disk bulge. I had physical therapy and two epidural steroid injections. The pain and numbness is only marginally better and has kept me from yoga, which I miss greatly. I don’t think I overdid yoga. My doctors think I will recover slowly. Is there remedial yoga for sciatica, and what is the best way to get back to yoga once I am better?

A. Back bends will very likely help in this case. Find one of the excellent Iyengar teachers in your area and you will likely benefit from Salabasana (the locust), Setubhanda (the bridge) and Ustrasana (the camel), among others. Again, progress slowly.

JOINT PAIN AND METABOLISM
Q. I am 58 and a breast cancer survivor. I have been doing vinyasa yoga for about five years. In the last two years, I have had problems with my sacroliliac joint and I understand this may be the result of too much flexibility in the hip joint. In addition, I am interested in whether yoga can slow the metabolism. I would greatly appreciate advice on protecting the sacroiliac and whether the metabolism issue is a myth.

A. People often ask about sacroiliac joint pain. For those with this problem, I describe some unusual but easy versions of difficult poses, like the two-armed support in Pinca Mayurasana (the peacock), in the new edition of “Yoga for Back Pain,” which I wrote with Carol Ardman. Also helpful is Gharudasana (the eagle), Ghomukhasana (the cow), and “leaning” as described in my earlier book, “Low Back Pain.”

Several people have asked whether yoga slows metabolism. Yes, it does. It lowers blood pressure and reduces atrial fibrillation and in general calms things down. But that does not mean yoga cannot be used to trim your weight. Yoga does it differently, by stretching the organ, the stomach, which will then send turn-off signals to the appetite centres in the brain. Poses like Virabhadrasana III (the warrior III), Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (the twisted janu sirsasana), and Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, done 10 to 20 minutes before a meal, will probably work. This requires a small amount of self-discipline, but then again, so does just about anything that succeeds.

Q. I had disk surgery in the 1990s and sciatica has returned. I have tried interventions to avoid additional surgery. I was told, however, to stop yoga and continue with Pilates on the reformer. I stretch my hamstrings and do a few poses daily after a hot shower. I walk a lot but want to maintain my upper body strength. What are your thoughts?

A. If sciatica has returned after an initial surgery, I would not confine myself to Pilates on the reformer. Pilates is good for the healthy, and there are people who describe themselves as Pilates therapists, applying and modifying Pilates practices to form a healing regimen. Still, I have not encountered the type of rigorous scientific work, nor the careful study of therapeutic benefit that you find in yoga. Instead of Pilates, I would do gentle yoga, restorative yoga, lift weights while lying down on your back (taking all weight off the discs) and continue walking a lot.

Q. Can yoga help in dealing with sciatic pain? Are there particular poses that can relieve sciatica?

A. First find the cause of your sciatica, then consider the suggestions given in the answer above.

Q. I have sciatica and also a herniated disc. I used to practice yoga years ago on a daily basis until my back started to bother me. I cannot do any forward or backward bends at all. I miss the yoga postures and how limber it made me feel. Are there any yoga postures that people with back problems can do?

In cases of sciatica with a herniated disk:

  • Avoid either forward or backward bends.
  • However, you can do sideways poses like Vasisthasana (side plank – LOY p.309-3011), which we have shown with M.R.I.s to reduce stenosis and herniated discs.
  • Also, beware of pushing too hard; consider trying the poses that used to make you feel good — but only 10 percent of the way — until you feel stronger.
  • Start back bends very slowly. Self-pacing is a critical part of any self-discipline, and applies to all parts of yoga, from beginning to end.

For Iyengar Yoga classes in Dorset and Somerset, Yoga Holidays in the UK and abroad, please contact Hannah Lovegrove.

Telephone: 07971 434336 Email: hannah@hannahlovegrove.co.uk

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