Thursday, April 10, 2014

Favorite yoga pose: Half Moon.

Today, I'm copying my friend Rebecca over at An Optimistic Explorer. She has done a series of her favorite workouts and exercises on her blog that I have inspired me. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, right?

Back in March when I went to back to Bikram yoga, I was really worried about my back. I knew I would be able to do the forward bends (but they sort of freaked me out also; I dread coming out of them and feeling any twinge of pain down my leg!), but I worried about the backward ones. To my surprise, I came out of class with my back feeling stronger and more functional than it had in a long time.

Not wanting the effects to wear off, I started doing a few of the movements at home. The pose that I guessed had helped the most is Half Moon Pose. When I went back a few weeks ago, the instructor gave a very important command: always start this pose with your feet and legs together tightly, and with the weight in your heels. This will position your spine so that when you bend to either side, you are going over in a straight line, and not leaning to the front or back. I did this pose incorrectly for two weeks - it was amazing the difference I felt when I started from this position.

Don't die over how cute my outfit is...

In half moon pose, you stretch up tall with your arms over your head, your hands clasped with your index fingers pointing to the ceiling. Then, stretching up and out of your hips, slowly compress your right side while stretching your left. Try and keep your arms over your head and your face exactly between your arms. Slowly reach to the side, keeping your legs tightly together and remembering to push your hips forward to keep the front and back sides of your body upright. A good visual is to imagine that you are standing inside of your walls, with sheetrock in front of you and in back of you, so that you are only moving side to side, not forward and sideways. Hold for 10-20 seconds, allowing yourself to get used to the position.

Slowly raise yourself up to standing. Repeat on on the left side - your right side will now be stretching long and your left side is compressing. Hold 10-20 seconds and come back to standing.

Next you are going to reach behind you. I find that with the first back bend, I can stretch farther and my back is happier if I support my lower back with my hands as I bend backward. I'm not sure what a Bikram Yoga instructor would say about this, but I do it anyway. I start by allowing my head to fall back, then slowly bend backward as I look at the wall (or couch/child/window/whatever) behind me. It is very hard to breath in this position, but try and keep breathing. Hold for 10-20 seconds then slowly roll up to standing.

I support my back on the first time around.

The second time around, your arms will be above your head. Violent shaking is very common in this position!

The last position is actually a yoga pose in itself, but it is always done in the half moon sequence. It is called Hands to Feet. But first, roll down slowly until your hands touch the floor in front of you.  Do a few deep squats here to open up your back and your hamstrings. Keep your feet and knees together. I also like to hang my head down and feel the stretch down the back of my neck.

When you are ready, put your butt up in the air with your legs bent deeply. Grasp the backs of your heels with palms - your fingers should be underneath your feet. Rest your belly on your thighs and press your face to your knees. Now start to straighten your knees until you feel a stretch down the back of your legs. Bring your elbows as close together as you can and pull up on your heels - the tension in your arms will help keep you from tipping over. Keep your eyes open as you look very closely at your shaved - or, if you  are like me, unshaved - shins. Don't worry if your legs are not straight (I have yet to get mine straight) - you just want to feel the stretch down the backs of your legs and in your lower back. Remember that Bikram is typically done in a room that is 105 degrees - the heat allows your to stretch farther, so don't push yourself too much without the benefit of the heat.

Hold for 10-20 seconds. Let go of your heels, clasp your hands together with your index fingers pointed up, and slowly roll back to standing. Finish your pose by lowering your arms back to your sides. Take a few deep breaths.
My pajama pans don't allow you to see how much my legs are bending in this pose.

Repeat all four sides. I typically don't hold each pose as long the second time around. I also notice that I can usually stretch a little farther for the second set - my back has done all its popping and adjusting to the movement and so it feels really yummy to do it again.

I was reading on the Bikram website about the back bends that are used in Bikram Yoga, and something struck me as good sense. As humans, we are always bending forward - seriously, think about how many times a day you bend at the waist. Our vertebrae get more than enough work moving forward. To keep a healthy and happy spine, we need to move our backs in all four directions so that we don't only use our back to bend forward.

I can feel a difference in the month or so since I've been practicing half moon. I love to do it when I am warm and loose after a run. I feel like my core is a lot stronger, and typically, my back will feel mostly happy for a few days after I do this pose.

I hope you enjoy this! Let me know if you try it. Be patient and listen to your body to avoid injury.


Rebecca J Ferguson said...

I love it! That is wonderful you back responded so well to the exercises. Show us more of your favorite poses.
BTW- you do yoga like me in my PJ's and yes I wear my pj's to my yoga class. Your outfit is better than any dread headed hippy in their $100 yoga pants.

Amy Sorensen said...

I am totally going to try this today after I run. How long do you hold it?

Amy Sorensen said...

Never mind my dumb question. Just read it again and saw the answer! :)