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Yoga Positions

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This sequence is the first part of the Sun Salutations which begin most yoga routines. The fourth frame is the downward-facing-dog, probably the most widely known and recognisable of all the thousands of yoga asanas that have been described.

Sun Salutations continued. Hold each position for about 4 seconds, placing as much stress as possible on all the joints involved. In the downward-facing-dog try to make a straight line down the length of the spine and keep the legs absolutely straight.

Sun Salutations continued. Repeated on the opposite side to the previous sequence.

Sun Salutations continued. Good shoulder strength is needed for this sequence. Do it once to begin with and increase to three times as the muscles get stronger.

Sun Salutations continued. These sideways leg lifts are very challenging because they need balance as well as strength. It took me several years to be able to hold this pose for about 4 seconds.

If this looks easy just try it.

This is the final asana in the Sun Salutation series. The actual content of the moon and sun salutations can vary greatly from one yoga teacher to another. In this forward bend try to get the head as close to the knees as possible.

Moon Salutations. During the sideways stretches keep the hips square to the front. Hold each position for about 4 seconds, keeping both feet pressed evenly to the floor.

To get from the third to the last position took several years. My teacher encouraged my perseverance with the useful suggestion to make deep slow exhalations whilst muttering under the breath, “I am letting go. I am letting go”. It works!

Moon Salutations continued. In the left two frames press back on the knee with the straight arm to maximise abduction of the hips. In the right two frames seek maximum torsion of the spine by bringing the upper arm as far as possible beyond the perpendicular.

Moon Salutations Continued. Each time you do these asanas try to place that extra bit of stress on every joint, the ankles, hips, pelvic joints and the spine, knowing that you are getting just a little bit further than you did the last time. Hold each pose for 5 seconds.

Moon Salutations continued. Holding balance on only toes and heel as shown in the first frame is not easy. It took me several years to achieve it. The two right frames show the considerable stretching of pelvic and vertebral joints in striving to keep the pelvis as low as possible to the ground.

Balancing like this took me several years to accomplish. It helps to put most of the weight on the heel, thus allowing the front of the foot and the toes to control the balance.

When you can hold each of these poses for 5 seconds, give yourself a clap!

This is a very strenuous one. It is only in the last two years that I’ve been able to lift my head off the ground. At first for only about two seconds but now I hold the pose for 15 seconds.

The first time you try this you will know it calls on muscle movements you have never had to make before. When you can repeat the movement three times with each leg you will have earned a sense of achievement.

Hold this asana for ten seconds on each side.

In the third frame I am doing the freestyle paddle-kick. It took some years and many painful cramps in the calf muscles before I could comfortably do my regular one hundred kicks each day.

I found this one in a yoga book about 3 years ago and gradually got the balance right. I can now hold the position for 30 seconds.

Getting both the knees and head on the floor is not easy at first. Try to get the shoulders as close to the mat as possible.

This asana begins with maximum flexion of the spine and hips, opening slowly to achieve maximum extension. In the fourth position make sure the little fingers are touching on the mat behind you, then arch the back forward as far as possible and hold the pose for 5 seconds.

Keeping the back as straight as possible raise each leg in turn and hold the pose for 5 seconds.

Aim to get the pelvis as close to the mat as possible. Keeping your balance, especially with just a foot and a heel is not easy. Try to hold each position for five slow breaths.

Although most of the body weight is taken by the arms and shoulders anyone with known osteoporosis should avoid the headstand to avert the danger of compression injury to neck vertebrae. Retinal problems in the eye are also a possible danger in older people.

Virtually every muscle in the body is involved in maintaining this balance. Practise with a wall behind you when you begin but it won’t be long before you can go it alone.

Try to make the demount slow and controlled. I once made the calculation that by standing on my head each day for about one minute, that makes a total of 365 minutes each year. And that means between one Xmas and the next I’ve been standing on my head for a total of about six hours!

I wasn’t able to touch head to knee in any of these poses for the first few years.

The third frame is where I’d got to after about 3 or 4 years and the final frame is where I am now. I have been amazed that the hip and sacro-iliac joints of an elderly body can undergo such stretching.

It was a slow process getting my head to touch the knees but there is a great sense of satisfaction when it finally happens.

It was about three years ago when my teacher suggested I should attempt the splits asana. I laughed at the absurdity of expecting to be able to do such a thing. The first frame is where I had got to about six months later and the remaining frames show where I am now. Having always assumed that the ligaments of an elderly person would be rigid and unyielding I was pleasantly surprised to find that it just isn’t so.

Having achieved the splits with the left leg forward I found it more difficult with the right. I haven’t yet been able to get the pelvis all the way to the floor but I’m confident I will get there before I turn eighty three in January 2012.

Keeping balance while doing this sequence is not easy. I had to endure countless tumbles before finally getting it right.

The left photo shows the hands gripping the ankles rather than the toes. The next one is meant to show the head touching the knees but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that. Keeping balance in that pose is very difficult.

The left photo is the half-lotus position and that was as far as I could go for the first year or so. Then over the space of another few years I was able to coax the left foot over the right calf and now I can maintain the full-lotus for as long as I wish. Lifting the body off the mat as in the right photo is very strenuous.

Like so many asanas that I can now do with ease, when my teacher first showed me this one I thought it would only be a waste of time to even attempt it.

Every part of this sequence is quite a challenge, especially the right one, which is one of the most strenuous lifts in my yoga routine. I can only hold this for about 5 seconds.

This asana is called the Tree. I had to persevere for several years before getting the balance right but it now gives me a great sense of achievement.

As with all of the balancing asanas it helps to keep the weight on the heel so that the front of the foot can control the balance.

Yoga routines seek to place a maximum challenge on every muscle, joint and ligament in the body and it is important to follow any asana performed on one side of the body with an identical movement on the opposite side.

This may look easy but keeping balance throughout the sequence is a great test of fitness.

Nearly every muscle in the body is involved with these asanas. They are a good test of strength, balance and perseverance.

When I first commenced yoga I wasn’t able to reach the left position for a year or so because my fat belly got in the way. It led me to an important truth: dieting is made easy when the desire to lose weight is stronger than the desire to eat. I decided I wanted a flat belly more than I wanted that big bowl of ice cream that I used to enjoy in the evenings. In about six months I’d lost three kilograms, had a flat belly and could now touch my feet to the ground over my head.

The two right asanas are harder than they look. The body weight is taken by only the elbows, the head and the toes of one foot.

Try to make three leg-raises with arms to the side and then three with the arms above the head. Allow the legs to be lowered slowly to get maximum strengthening of the abdominal muscles. This is an important exercise because the stability and strength of the spine is as much due to the abdominals as it is to the vertebral muscles.

It took me year or so to be able to get the bent knees right up to the shoulders. The straight-leg raising took much longer. When I started yoga ten years ago I couldn’t get the straight legs much beyond the vertical but very gradually the hamstring muscles and ligaments allowed themselves to stretch to where they are now, in the two right pictures.

These asanas are good for building strength in wrists and shoulders and I attribute my improved golfing ability largely to these arm-balancing poses.

Try to do this leg-lift and hold it whilst clapping the feet together twelve times. Undoubtedly the most strenuous lift of all.

I always conclude my yoga session with thirty push ups. This is probably the best possible exercise for strengthening the arms and shoulders. When done regularly it is also of great benefit to the heart and lungs.

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