Many of us walk through life – whether knowingly or not – with some form of chronic stress. We have become masters at coping with it. We are overstimulated by coffee and sugar to stay awake, we feel restless late at night, we over-consume, over-analyse, over-commit and ultimately over-stress the fine hormonal balance of our endocrine system.
When our hormones are out of balance, we start to notice a wide variety of symptoms including headaches, skin problems, insomnia, fatigue, weight gain, sluggish metabolism, poor libido, night sweats, hot flashes and mood swings, just to name a few. By stimulating the kidneys, liver and heart meridian lines and the parasympathetic nervous system through yin yoga, we start to create an environment where balance can be restored throughout the body and mind.
This sequence was used over the weekend for a Hormone Balancing workshop at The Yoga Shed, Hitchin. Each pose was held between 3-5 minutes, starting with a 10 minute meditation and finishing with a deeply relaxing 10 minute savasana.
Parsvakonasana comes from the Sanskrit, parsva, meaning “side” or “flank,” kona, meaning “angle,” and asana, meaning “posture”.
Shown here in the basic version, I often ask students to rest the elbow on the thigh and play with lifting or dropping the drishti (gaze) downwards to relieve the neck. Keeping the front knee over the ankle, extend from the fingertips of the top hand all the way to the outside edge of the back foot. Then, start roll the chest open towards the sky. For a deeper version, drop the bottom hand down to a brick or to the mat and open the top arm straight up towards the sky, finding space across the chest from fingertip to fingertip. Keep anchoring the back foot into the floor by pressing into the outside edge of the foot, lifting the inner arch.
This pose is great for:
Strengthening and stretching the legs, knees, and ankles
Stretching the groins, spine, waist, chest and lungs, and shoulders
Paschimottanasana comes from the Sanskrit words paschima meaning “west” or “back” or “back of body”, uttana meaning “intense stretch” or “straight” or “extended”, and asana meaning “posture” or “sea”.
Forward bends stretch the muscles of the lower spine, pelvis, and legs, whilst stretching and stimulating the upper back, kidneys, and adrenal glands and massaging the abdominal organs which can lead to profound calming effects. Similar to the standing forward fold, when coming into the seated version of this pose, aim for a long back rather than rounding the spine. To do so, draw in your lower belly and draw your chest towards your knees, your forehead towards your shins or even your ankles. They don’t have to touch, rather intention is key. There are lots of modifications for this pose – you can bend your knees, bring hands to your shins, hold your big toes, the sides of your feet, or clasp your hands over the ends of your feet. Keep your neck long and allow your body time to soften into the pose.
Chakrasana comes from the Sanskrit “chakra”, which means “wheel”, and “asana”, which means “posture” or “seat.” Chakrasana may also be referred to simply as wheel pose or wheel. Chakrasana is also sometimes known by an alternative Sanskrit name, urdhva dhanurasana, which means upward-facing bow pose. The name of this pose comes from “urdhva” meaning “upward”, “dhanu” meaning “bow” and “asana” meaning “posture” or “seat”.
To come into full wheel, begin lying on the floor with your knees bent. Place your feet flat on the floor, near enough that your fingertips can graze your heels, and set them hip width apart. Bring your palms to the floor beside your ears, fingers pointing back towards your feet. Draw your elbows towards each other to form a box with your shoulders, press down through both hands and feet as you lift your body up into your wheel. Once up, start to gently press away with the feet, almost as though you want to straighten your legs, gently rocking your chest back and trying to get your armpits over your wrists. Come down slowly, either tucking your chin in and curling the spine, or else resting momentarily on the crown of your head before tucking in the chin and curling down. I often lift my heels off the ground to lengthen and create space in the lower back before my descent.
Parivrtta Parsvakonasana is translated as Revolved Side Angle Pose from Sanskrit. The name of this pose comes from “parivrtta” meaning”revolved”, “parsva” meaning “side”, “kona” meaning “angle” , and “asana”meaning “posture” or “seat”.
Revolved Side Angle or Crescent Lunge Twist: whatever you choose to call it, there’s lots of variations in this one. You may choose to keep the back knee on the mat, play with open arms, a prayer or a fist, gaze towards shoulder or the sky…it all depends on how your body feels on any given day.
To come into this pose start in a crescent lunge, maybe with the back knee down, with hands in prayer. Lean slightly forward as you inhale, lifting the chest, twist and hook the opposite elbow over your knee on the exhale. Focus on extending through the spine sending the crown of your head forward with every inhale, and twisting the torso a bit more with every exhale.
If you choose to straighten the back leg, squeeze the inner thighs towards each other to keep the hips square, then lift the heel up and forwards. Keep the front knee over the ankle, and draw the belly in for stability. From here, take your gaze toward the top shoulder soften through the shoulders. Choose to either stay here or take your arm variation. I like to keep my hands in prayer when my shoulders are tense, but opening the arms gives me more of a twist which can feel pretty amazing too. Keeping the chin tucked and neck long is a nourishing, soothing relief for the neck and shoulders. You may also place a block under the lower hand, and if you have any shoulder issues bring the top hand to your sacrum or onto the top hip. If you feel nice and open in your shoulders, you could wrap the bottom arm under the leg, and take the top arm back to take a bind.
Ustrasana is a backbend that boosts shoulder flexibility, increases core strength and stretches the entire front of the body. The name is derived from the Sanskrit ustra, meaning “camel,” and asana, meaning “pose” or “posture.”
Camel pose can feel like a vulnerable place to be, opening the heart and throat, but with a little support and a few deep breaths comes amazing shifts in the body and mind.
Start with knees slightly apart, toes pointed or tucked under if you’re starting out. Bring your hands to the small of your back, and lift the rib cage up away from the hips. Lift your drishti and start to draw a line across the ceiling with your eyes. If it’s comfortable for your neck, look back to open the throat. From here, either tuck the toes or bring your hands to blocks on either side of your feet if the heels seem miles away. Whether you choose to keep your hands supporting your lower back, bring your hands to your thighs, to blocks or reach back for your heels, once you are in the pose start to press your hips forwards so that they are over your knees.
Featuring the high lunge version of Crescent Lunge Pose but you may choose to lower the back knee to the floor for a more supported version. Step your foot forward until the knee is over the ankle, keeping both hips square towards the top of the mat. Drop the tailbone and lengthen through the spine. If you’re staying in the high lunge variation, keep the heel of the back foot raised and move forward onto the ball of that foot, keeping the back leg super strong. You can choose to link your thumbs or open your arms for even more of a chest opener but for those of us who hold tension in the shoulders, lowering the elbows into cactus arms allows for a nice relief. Alternatively, lift up through the rib cage and fingertips and come into a gentle back bend. I tend to keep my gaze (drishti) forward, lifting through the crown of the head so as not to arch (read: crunch!) into the neck. This allows the spine to nice and long, but you may also want to lift your drishti towards the sky.
Adho mukha svanasana comes from the Sanskrit adhas, meaning “down,” mukha, meaning “face,” svana, meaning “dog,” and asana, meaning “pose.” The common English name for adho mukha svanasana is downward-facing dog pose, or simply downward dog or down dog.
Spread the fingers wide apart, press through each finger joint. Rotate the arm bones so that your inner elbows and arm pits face towards each other, broadening out through your shoulders. Draw your shoulders down away from your ears and find length in the spine by sending the sitting bones up with each inhale, and sinking down in the heels with each exhale. Maybe your heels touch the ground, maybe they don’t, it doesn’t really matter. I’m a heels-off-the-mat kind of yogi and I’m ok with that. A little bend in the knees is nice on those days when everything feels a little tighter. Focus on rotating the thighs inwards and slightly pigeon toe the feet hip width apart. Draw in the lower belly with every exhale. I like to rise up on the balls of my feet on the inhale, and sink down on the exhale. If your heels hit the mat, perhaps try lifting your toes to get that extra pull through the hamstrings and see how it feels. Play with it, pedal your knees, arrive in stillness.
Chaturanga Dandasana is a major component of Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga. Rarely referred to by its English name, Four-Limbed Staff Pose, this pose is most commonly called “Chaturanga.” The full name comes from four Sanskrit words: “Chatur” — meaning“four”.
Warming up through Sun Salutation A with knees down is a nice way to begin a practice before moving into lifting knees off. I often teach with knees down to alleviate pressure on the wrists and elbows, particularly for new yogis or those building up strength in the upper body. Lots of yogis like to skip this pose and can feel particularly strong. However, take a controlled descent from high plank, squeezing elbows into the rib cage and keeping hips and shoulders aligned, coming down in one long straight line. Heels remain over toes, and elbows above the wrists to create a right angle. Take the gaze just slightly ahead.
Padangusthasana is a standing forward fold in yoga. The name is derived from the Sanskrit pada, meaning “foot,” angustha, meaning “big toe,” and asana, meaning “pose.” … Padangusthasana is also known in English as big toe pose.
This is a lush forward fold. Feel free to bend your knees as much as needed. To get into the pose, draw in your lower belly, thereby activating uddiana bhanda, and hinge from the waist. As with most forward folds in yoga you want to go for length in the spine rather than curling over. Take hold of your big toes, wrapping your middle finger and index finger around the inside of the toe, and joining the thumb to your fingers as it wraps around the outside. Bend your knees if you need it. I often encourage students to bend their knees until they feel a connection of belly to thighs, and then slowly straighten the knees from here. Looking at the rounding in my back here, I could do with taking my own advice! Send your elbows out to the side, and remember to keep drawing in the lower belly, let your head hang heavy so your neck is long, gaze between the legs and keep shoulders moving away from the ears.