Yoga poses for hypothyroidism

Yoga poses for hypothyroidism

In yoga several poses work directly on the thyroid gland, regulating its function and hormonal release. Careful yogic therapy can act as a perfect complement to any medical therapy for thyroid problems while the problem exists. For those without any problem, maintaining a regular yoga programme can act as a preventive. This is crucial since despite its tiny presence in the throat, the thyroid manipulates our metabolism and energy levels.

Hypothyroidism, according to medical opinion, may be associated with those with blood sugar problems, liver problems and arthritis. It also seems to be the side-effect in certain cases of treatment to hyperthyroidism. Certain medications or surgeries also seem to trigger it. Malnutrition and wrong diet (including certain food items that block iodine absorption) can also be contributors.

Symptoms are often confusing, because they can be mistaken for natural tiredness and emotional stressors, including lack of motivation. Other less visible connections include weight gain, chronic fatigue, PMS mood swings in women, overall lethargy, dryness of skin and hair (usually referred to as a vata derangement in ayurvedic parlance).

Constipation, mental lethargy and dullness, excessive hair fall, depression and carpal tunnel syndrome and inability to tolerate cold are also indicated. Since emotions and the thyroid are so delicately linked, it becomes very difficult to pinpoint the malaise.

In hypothyroidism, for instance, the sense of paranoia can be heightened. Intriguingly, often the treatment meant to contain one spectrum of the thyroid problem can trigger the opposite effect if not carefully monitored, confounding overall treatment long-term.

This is where having a well-charted yoga practice can help in acting as a perfect complement for medical treatment. Unlike with hyperthyroidism which involves a more precise yogic therapy, hypothyroidism responds well even to a general chart of yogic practices with emphasis on those which work on the throat.

Shameem Akthar, yogacharya trained with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, shows you four yoga practices to manage hypothyroidism.

Sarvangasana (Shoulder stand)

Lie on your back with your legs together, hands along the sides of your body. Inhale and hoist your legs off the ground, simultaneously lifting your hips. Prop your hips with both hands, resting your entire body weight on your hands.

Hold this pose for a few seconds initially, slowly increasing duration in the final pose with regular practice. To return to the starting position, place your hands back on the ground with your palms down. Lower your hips back gently, and then finally drop your legs gently back to ground.

Avoid: Doing on your own if you are a beginner. This instruction is directed at those already practicing yoga, to perfect the shoulderstand.

Benefits: It is a powerful pose, working on the thyroid. The blood flow to the head also work on the pituitary and hypothalamus, both glands in the brain actively involved with thyroid hormone regulation and flow. The lungs get decongested, making breathing more efficient. The entire organ and glandular systems are rejuvenated, due to the drag of gravity (as happens with all inversions). Even your face looks younger due to increased blood flow. It is a pose that works on all systems of the body, keeping you fit and young.

Kandharasana (Shoulder pose)

Lie on your back. Fold your legs at the knees, placing your feet flat on the ground beside your hips. Grasp your ankles with each hand. Inhale and hoist your hips off the ground. Exhale and gently lower them back to ground. This is one round. Do five to ten rounds initially, increasing either the duration in the final pose (in which case, you must continue normal breathing throughout) or the number of rounds.

Relax back to the corpse pose, body on the ground, feet apart, hands away from body, eyes shut, for a few minutes.

Benefits: Works on the thyroid gland powerfully, boosting metabolism. Powers the lungs. Tones your hips, thighs and legs.

Kapalabhati (Skull-cleansing breathing practice)

Sit in a meditative pose. Place your hands in a mudra or hand gesture, on your knees. Inhale and exhale gently a few times. After inhaling deeply, begin to exhale with gentle force, about 10 times initially. Rest for a few seconds, with normal breathing. This is one round. Do up to five rounds. With practice, increase the number of hyperventilations to 30 or more.

Avoid: If having heart problems or high blood pressure. All pranayama and kriya practices like this are best learnt only under expert guidance.

Benefits: Boosts metabolism and thyroid function. Removes mental and physical lethargy. Is a cleansing practice, preparing you for higher practices. Powers lungs. Eases depression.

Gyan mudra (Wisdom hand gesture)

To do this, touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. Do this for each hand. Shut your eyes while holding mudras for better impact. You may use this while meditating or while doing your breathing practices. You need to hold this for at least five minutes for impact. The ideal time is during the vata periods of the day -- early mornings or afternoons -- for more impact.

Benefits: It is said to increase the air element, according to ayurveda. It removes lethargy and works on the nervous system by energising it.


Yoga: Poses to help improve your digestion

Most people, including non-practitioners of yoga, are these days aware that yoga may not be done immediately after a meal, especially a heavy one. But very few people know that there are some practices that are allowed because these actually enhance the digestive process.

These practices work on digestion at the muscular level, as does the supta veerasana (lying warrior pose). Some, like the pitta-kaarak mudra, are based on the ayurvedic principle of doshas, that enhance the pitta (fire) element in the body.

Seated, meditative poses like the vajrasana which is recommended for all as a matter of daily habit before and after a meal are based on the principle of acupressure points or marma points (energy nodes). Vajrasana's impact is near-miraculous. So, though it is initially rather difficult to practice, it is worth cultivating. The dradhasana (firm pose) works on the esoteric principle of swar yoga which is interpreted these days in the language of the body's biological clock.

In all these practices, the basic idea is to switch on the fire element (pitta) or the pingala nadi (also called the surya nadi) which is the active principle in the body.

Shameem Akthar, yoga acharya trained with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, Kerala, shows you the four practices that will enhance your digestion if done after your meals.
  • Points to note: These practices are specially for those who may, for some reason, eat their dinner too close to bedtime, or are obese, or suffer from chronic indigestion. Those who have extremely sensitive digestive tracts such as irritable bowel syndrome or any inflammatory conditions of the digestive system must refrain from such practices.
  • It is also very important to follow the exact suggestion in practices like dradhasana (where you must lie only on your left side) to ensure the right nadi is switched on.
Dradhasana (Firm pose)

Lie on your left side, ensuring your body is straight, legs one on top of the other as shown. Your left arm must be folded to cushion your head. Shut your eyes. This is a relaxation pose, so you may continue normal breathing as you rest in this position for a few minutes. Try to remain in this position for at least five minutes for impact.

Benefits: This works by tweaking the pingala nadi or the active nadi involved with digestion and metabolism.

Vajrasana (Thunderbolt pose)

Sit back on your heels. Flare out your heels, letting your big toes lightly touch. Your right toe may be over the left one, pressing the latter firmly. Let your knees be close to each other and hips rested firmly on the back of your heels.

Place your hands on your knees. Shut your eyes, staying in the pose for as long as is comfortable. The ability to stay longer in the pose is acquired gradually, through regular practice. You may use a folded towel between your ankle and the floor/ mat or between your heels and hips, in the initial stages of practice.

Avoid: If having knee problems or weak ankles.

Benefits: This is a powerful pose, therapeutic for most ailments, particularly related to the digestive tract. It may be practiced both before and after a heavy meal, especially by those who wish to lose weight.

Pitta Kaarak mudra (Fire element enhancing hand gesture)

Sit in any meditative pose. Press down your ring and little finger of each hand with your thumb. Shut your eyes, hold for three minutes for impact.

Avoid: If having inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract or excessively sensitive digestive tract, ulcers, body heat etc.

Benefits: It spikes metabolism, boosting digestion. It removes physical and mental lethargy.

Supta Veerasana (Lying warrior pose)

This is an advanced pose and advised only for those who practice yoga regularly, can already sit in vajrasana for long and enjoy back and leg flexibility.

Sit in vajrasana (thunderbolt pose), as explained earlier. Using your elbows for support, lie back gently, so your head is rested on the floor. If new to the pose, you may attempt it by keeping a bolster under the back.

Lie back, bring your knees together, raise your arms overhead to place it on the floor behind your head. Shut your eyes and relax in the pose for as along as is comfortable. Rise from the pose, by propping yourself up at the elbow to sit back in vajrasana.

Avoid: If new to yoga, or have cardiac or blood pressure problems, knee pain or a stiff body.

Benefits: This exerts a powerful stretch along the entire digestive tract, boosting metabolism and digestion.


Yogic therapy for diabetes

Yogic therapy for diabetes

India has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world. Even Indians who have shifted abroad are susceptible to it, indicating that diabetes causes are either genetic, with behaviourally inherited triggers (dietary or lifestyle habits), a sedentary life-style and disinterest towards exercise in general.

However, regular yogic practice and lifestyle modifications that include yogic dietary habits can help control diabetes in the adult onset type of this ailment.

Where such changes complement a conventional medical treatment, the results can be dramatic. It is important to be proactive about this disease which can accompany or cause other problems like eye-sight failure, vulnerability to infections (especially of the skin and uro-genital system), circulatory problems, including heart ailments and high blood pressure.

Yogic therapy works by rejuvenating the main glands involved with diabetes, like the pancreas that is involved with insulin release. The stress glands also seem to be implicated, where a high stress level can overload the blood with high sugar as a response to stress.

By relearning the art of relaxation, by including regular meditation and calming pranayamas (breathing practices), this trigger can also be defused effectively with yoga.

Apart from the following practices for which instructions are provided, it is important to include other practices. These are pranayama (breathing practices) such as bhastrika (bellows breathing), kapalabhati (skull-cleansing practice), nadi shodhana (purification of energy channels) and bhramari (humming bee). Include surya mudra (explained in detail in our earlier special on mudras).

If there is an accompanying problem of blood pressure avoid bhastrika, kapalabhati and surya mudra since these tend to aggravate the problem. A regular practice of yoga nidra of at least ten-minute duration is a must.

Shameem Akthar, yoga acharya trained with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, Kerala, leads you through five yogic practices that help in management of diabetes.

Janu sirsasana (Head to knee pose)

Sit on the floor. Extend legs, with right leg bent at knee and right sole placed against left thigh. Inhale and raise both hands.

Exhaling, lower hands to right foot. Simultaneously lower head to place it on right thigh. It may not be possible initially, so just lower the head as much as you can.

Continue normal breathing throughout. Inhale, raising head and hands to return to starting position. Repeat thrice. Then repeat entire sequence for left leg.

Avoid: In case of lower back problems and high BP.

Benefits: The stiffness in the body, resulting from diabetes, is ironed out gently. The pressure on the abdomen helps rejuvenate the islet of Langerhans, the pancreas and adrenal glands -- all of which are overworked in a diabetic.

Viparita karani asana (Psychic inverted pose)

Lie on your back. Keep your hands along your body. Palms must be flat on the ground. Inhale.

Hoist yourself up by pressing down palms, lifting hips off the ground. Hold raised hips with palms. Now the body weight is transferred to palms, elbows and neck.

Continue normal breathing throughout. Hold for a few seconds. Release palms, pressing them back on ground, gently lower hips, so the spine folds back to the ground. Lower legs. Rest till breath returns to normal.

Points to note: Though this is a simple practice, it must be learnt under guidance of a yoga instructor.

Avoid: If having high blood pressure or heart problems, neck pain.

Benefits: It is a cure-all pose with powerful healing impact due to the anti-gravity, anti-aging effect on the body.

Navkasana (Boat pose)

This can be done both from the seated or supine position. The former is easier.

Sit up straight with your legs together. Inhale, lift legs off the ground, about a foot high. Place hands alongside knees. Continue normal breathing. Hold the pose for a short while only, initially. Exhaling, lower legs back to ground. Relax by lying back.

Avoid: If having lower back problems.

Benefits: This works out the entire body. The pressure on the abdomen has tremendous value in diabetes management.

Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)

Lie on your stomach with your chin on the floor and palms on either side of your shoulders. Inhale. Raise chin and shoulder off the floor arching back. Your eyes should look up at the ceiling, stomach should remain pressed on the floor so the arch is emphasised at the lower back. Hold for a few seconds initially. Breathe normally throughout.

To return to the starting position, exhale and lower back gently to the floor. Attempt thrice. With a few weeks or even months of practice, you can do this pose only once but extend time to half a minute or more in the final position.

Avoid: In case of abdominal inflammations and flare-ups and severe lower backache and hyper-thyroidism.

Benefits: Same as previous. It also helps with weight loss.

Ardha matysendra asana (Half spinal twist)

Sit on your heels, kneeling in the classic vajrasana or thunderbolt pose, explained in detail in our earlier special on yoga for meditation.

Lower hips to the ground on the left. Pass right foot over bent left knee. Inhale, raising left hand over head, bend it, pressing left elbow over right knee.

Simultaneously place right palm on ground behind you. Exhaling, twist as much as you can to the right. Continue breathing, holding the pose for as long as you comfortably can. Release. Repeat the sequence for the other side.

Avoid: In severe back problem, inflammatory conditions.

Benefits: The powerful twist impacts the glands associated with diabetes. It helps fight fat. Aids breathing.


Yoga: 5 poses using a gym ball

Yoga: 5 poses using a gym ball

Yoga has always innovated, using various props wherever these enhanced its challenges or initiated a beginner into its difficulties.

This explains the use of the pole and rope in mallakhambh or weapons in kalaripayyattu -- both of which are related to yoga. Today, exercise belts and gym balls have similarly invaded yoga studios. The use of the gym ball can enhance your yoga practice by boosting your ability to balance. The stabilisers or muscles that hold us upright and maintain our balance are thoroughly worked out by a gym ball.

The cerebellum, involved with proprioception or our sense of our body in space, is also worked out. This has a subtle but intense impact not just on our sense of physical balance, but also our mental harmony.

The interesting aspect about combining the gym ball with yoga is that some difficult poses like the wheel (chakrasana) and the four-limbed (chaturanga dandasana) is made negotiable due to the support the ball provides. Intriguingly, the easier shoulderstand (sarvangasana) becomes difficult and more challenging through the use of the gym ball. These differences that the ball brings to the classic practices can infuse your yoga regimen with a certain playfulness that will help sustain it long-term.

Shameem Akthar, yoga acharya trained with Sivananda Vedanta Yoga Center (Kerala), shows you five yogic tricks with the gym ball.
  • Points to note: The following practices are advisable only for those who have some existing practice of yoga or physical activity already.
  • Please remember to prop the ball firmly against a wall or support wherever mentioned, to increase stability.
  • Ensure you are not around furniture or material which you may knock against; the ball is naturally unstable.
  • Smaller balls are easier to use, but you must pick the size according to your own height.
Kandharasana (Shoulder pose)

Place the ball against a firm support, like a wall or some steady and stable furniture. Lie close to the ball. Place both feet flat on the top of ball as shown. Arms may be placed flat on the mat alongside the body, or if advanced student, arms may be interlocked, folded at elbows and placed under the head, to cushion it.

Ensure elbows are flat on the ground. Inhale. Raise hips, pressing down on the ball with your feet. Exhale, lower yourself. This is one round. Do five to ten rotations.

Benefits: It enhances all the benefits of the classic pose, by trimming hips and powering the neck. Respiratory capacity is also enhanced. The natural neck lock which occurs boosts metabolism, aiding weight loss.

Chaturanga dandasana (Four-limbed stick pose)

The classic advanced pose becomes a bit easy with the gym ball. Place the ball in front of you, kneeling before it. Lie on the ball, placing abdomen over it, hands flat on the ground in front. Roll the ball underneath, the body moving firmly forward.

The extent to which you may move -- upto the thigh, for beginners, knee for intermediate level practitioners and ankle or shin for advanced practitioners -- essentially depends on how well you can balance on the ball. Hold the pose, looking ahead and breathing normally. To release from pose, roll back on the abdomen, re-tracing the previous steps.

Benefits: The abdominal pressure is therapeutic in diabetes. The balancing challenge works out subtle muscle, toning entire body. This is a good de-stressing pose.

Chakrasasana (Wheel pose)

Sit with your back against the ball and straighten your arms. Place the back of your arms against the ball. Inhaling, slowly roll your body upwards, pushing against the floor with your feet. The back of the head should be also rested against the ball. Continue breathing normally.

Keep rolling your torso upwards till your hands are touching the ground behind. Hold the pose, breathing normally, as long as you can. To get out of the pose, exhale and slowly roll down, back to the sitting position, with your back still against the ball.

Avoid: If having vertigo and spinal problems.

Benefits: Arms and legs are toned. Metabolism is boosted, helping lose weight. The spine gets a powerful stretch. Posture and breathing are improved.

Eka hasta setu asana (One-handed plank pose)

Prop the ball against a support. Fold your right hand at the elbow, propping your head on it, and leaning against it, with your body sideways on the ball. Your body must form a straight line, feet forming a firm support.

Your left hand may either lie on your waist, or over the head (for advanced practitioners). Normal breathing to be maintained throughout. Relax back to starting position. Repeat entire sequence for the other side.

Avoid: If having weak wrists.

Benefits: Works out the waist, hips, thigh region powerfully, shaping it. Posture is also improved.

Salamba sarvangasana (Supported shoulderstand)

Lie on your back. Place your arms alongside the body. Lift legs, so they are at right angles to the body. Place the ball between your feet and hold it firmly with the insides of both feet. Inhale. Gently tilt hips upwards. Continue breathing.

As the hips lift, place your hands below the waist, using them to prop the body up. Hold the pose, with the ball between your feet. Hold for as long as is comfortable, with normal breathing. Exhale. Gently lower the legs back to the ground, with the ball still between your feet. Relax. You may try this three times.

Benefits: This prevents abdominal sagging. The back is strengthened. Thyroid imbalances are removed. It is anti-aging and a calming pose.


Beat that headache with yoga!

Beat that headache with yoga!

Headaches can prove to be chronic ailments and can sap us completely. Some victims know the triggers, especially with migraines, and learn to avoid foods, situations or stressors that set off a headache. Where the trigger is psychosomatic yoga can offer immense help in preventing or relieving a bout.

Other headache triggers involve a weak neck, bad posture, work conditions that are not ergonomic, eyestrain (especially due to bad lighting or squinting) or weak eyesight that has been neglected.

Congestion in the respiratory system is yet another common cause. Some athletes or exercise freaks also suffer from a sudden attack from over-exertion. Such physical causes are naturally offset by a regular yoga sadhana.

Sometimes the causes for a headache may be hidden. Bad eating habits, including skipping meals, can trigger headaches caused by plummeting blood sugar levels. Overeating and chronic constipation may be other causes.

Certain medications can also have an allergic reaction that sets off a pulsating pain in the head. Any unusual physical activity done suddenly may set off a headache, called exertional headache. Certain foods like cheese and MSG used in Chinese food are also known triggers in chronic cases.

In such cases being aware of the trigger may help avoid it. Involving a medical practitioner would help you locate the cause faster. Once conventional therapy has been started, you may consider complementing it with a regular yoga sadhana which powers the body against such attacks.

Shameem Akthar, yoga acharya trained with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, Kerala, leads you through five yogic practices that help relieve headaches.

Brahmari (Humming bee breath)

Sit up straight in any meditative pose. Shut your eyes and place the index finger of each hand in the respective ear to plug it.

Inhale and exhale a few times. Inhale deeply. While exhaling, hum gently, making a 'mm' sound with closed lips. Feel the sound vibrate in your face and the rest of your body, further involuting the mind. This is one round. Then inhale deeply, exhaling to repeat about five to ten rounds.

Points to note: Do not exert while humming. Beginners usually do so to increase the length of the humming. That will happen with regular practice. Also doing any pranayama, particularly Brahmari, while lying down.

Benefits: It is the most healing of all pranayamas, with least contraindications. It is extremely calming. It clears the sinus cavities in the face. It is used before meditation to induce mental calmness. Used in migraine relief and prevention.

Nadi shodhana (Energy channel cleanser)

Sit in any meditative pose. Place left hand in chin mudra, with tip of index finger touching the tip of your thumb. Place the right hand in nasagra (nosetip) mudra, using the remaining fingers to shut and open the nostrils as instructed.

This is a simple version. Shut your right nostril with right hand thumb. Inhale from the left for four counts. Exhale from left for four counts. This is one round. Do up to ten rounds.

Repeat by shutting the left nostril, and inhaling from the right nostril for four counts. Exhale from the same nostril for four counts. This is one round. Repeat up to ten rounds for the left nostril also.

Benefits: This balances both brain hemispheres, bringing inner harmony, removing inner conflicts that can set off psychosomatic disorders in the body. It belongs to the set of cleansing, healing practices with the least contraindications. Also used to relieve tension headaches.

Tadasana (Palmtree pose)

Stand up straight, feet a foot apart. Place hands at your sides. Inhale to raise yourself on your toes. Simultaneously raise hands overhead to interlock fingers, turning them outwards to face the ceiling.

Hold the pose, breathing normally, for as long as you can. Focusing your eyes on some spot in front you helps you maintain balance in this pose for longer. Exhaling, lower hands to side, while lowering heels back to floor.

Benefits: This is a therapy for most ailments and is safe. The full-stretch releases tension knots in the body. It sets the stage for repair in ailments like chronic headaches.

Mahasirs mudra (Large head mudra)

Sit in any meditative pose, with eyes shut. Touch tip of thumb to tips of index and middle finger. Press down ring finger so it touches base of thumb. Extend little finger. Do for each hand. Sit with this mudra for three minutes or more for headache relief.

Benefits: Mudras are said to work by tapping the biological map of the human in the brain (called homunculus). This particular mudra relieves congestion, removes anxiety, calms the mind by balancing both brain hemispheres.

Yoga nidra (Sleep of yoga meditation)

Lie on your back, legs slightly apart with hands away from the body, palms facing upwards. Shut your eyes and focus on your breath for a few seconds to help calm down.

Then progressively take your awareness to different parts of the body, starting with your hand, moving up the arms, down the waist, along the leg. Do this for each side. Then focus on important organs in the torso. Finally move to your face, becoming aware and relaxing each part of it.

The entire practice may take up to five to fifteen minutes, depending on how you pace your progressive body awareness/ relaxation. After practice is over, you may sit up and open your eyes.

Benefits: It is one of the most healing of practices. It calms the chaotic static of the reticulating activation system in the brain. This changes the brain wave pattern from the hyperactive beta mode into a relaxed, alert alpha mode. This in turn triggers a cascade of bio-neurological responses which are believed to be healing.


Have some fun with these yogic hand balancers

Shameem Akthar, yogacharya trained with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, shows you four playful hand balancers to enhance your yoga practice.

Yogic hand balancers are treated with a lot of trepidation by certain schools, when actually they usher in a playful element in your yoga practice.

They require skill and strength to perform, both of which are acquired as a matter of course, with a regular yoga sadhana/ practice. To evolve in practice and ensure that you stick to it, you must bring in a playful element -- which is achieved by these hand balancers. Obviously, they cannot be learnt just by looking at these images or reading the instructions here; ideally they must learnt in a class, with the expert guidance of a teacher. This column therefore may be seen as a teaser to those of you already practicing it as well as an inducement to those who wrongly think yoga is boring.

To execute such hand balancers you need more than strength: the emotional intelligence which yoga confers is a direct benefit of such poses. Your ability to not be deterred by fear, ability to stand aside of your emotions, and learn the right sort of restraint (too much eagerness in such poses can actually be counterproductive) all come from regular practice of such challenging poses. The nervous co-ordination involved in holding these poses also challenges the cerebellum, yet again providing a powerful training of our primitive and emotional selves.

The ability to infuse your sadhana with playfulness is clearly an advanced stage that comes from regular practice.

Caution: Poses are meant only for those already practicing yoga and must not be attempted by those with lower back problems, wrist or shoulder joint injury or pain.

Preparatory pose

Sit with your legs stretched out as shown, either with a window sill, a small stool or a bolster. Place the heels of both your feet on the prop. Place your palms flat on the ground beside your hips and inhale. Hoist your hips off the ground. Hold for a few seconds, breathing normally. Exhale, gently relax your hips back to ground. Do this a few times, gradually increasing the number of times you do this, as well as the duration of the final pose.

Avoid: If having wrist, back, shoulder trouble.

Benefits: Prepares hands, wrists, shoulders for the powerful lift needed in hand balancers. The back is also strengthened, as is the abdomen, since muscles in both areas support hand balancers.

Lolasana (Swing pose)

This is a simple pose. However, it may be attempted only by those who can already do the lotus or padmasana. Sit in the lotus pose, feet crossed. Place your palms on the side of your hips. Inhale and hoist your hips off the floor. Hold the pose, breathing normally.

If your balance is assured, gently swing forwards and backwards, inhaling and exhaling respectively. To end the pose, stop the swing, exhale and lower your hips back to ground.

Avoid: If having wrist, back, shoulder trouble.

Benefits: Improves mental and physical stamina. Prepares you for advanced balancers by improving nervous coordination, arm, back and stomach strength.

Bhujapidasana (Arm pressure pose)

This pose is only for advanced practitioners. Stand up straight (in tadasana / palm tree pose). Squat to the kaliasana (kali pose) with your feet shoulder-width apart, flat on ground. Pass your arms under your legs, so that your thighs are rested on the back of your upper arms.

Move your feet towards each other, interlocking them at the ankle. Slowly lift your feet off the ground once assured of your balance. Look ahead. Throughout practice breathe normally and continuously. Exhale, to lower your hips back to the ground and unlock your legs. Then switch legs (for instance, if left foot was over right foot, do it vice versa).

Avoid: If you are a beginner to yoga or if you have wrist, shoulder, back problems.

Benefits: Boosts mental and physical stamina. The other benefits are the same as the previous pose.

Bakasana (Crane pose)

Squat as in the previous pose. Place your arms between your legs, resting each inner leg (slightly above each knee) on the inner upper arm. Raise each foot, with your heel off the ground, with only your toes touching the ground. Spread out your fingers, since the weight of your entire body will rest on them. Check the body for balance and alignment, tilting forward to shift weight to the arms. Look ahead.

Next, lift your right foot a few inches off the ground. Then lift the left foot. Hold the position only for a few seconds, before lowering your feet back gently on ground behind you. Throughout the practice continue normal breathing. With practice you may increase the duration in the final pose.

Avoid: If a beginner to yoga, or have wrist, back, shoulder pain.

Benefits: This is a powerful mind-control tool, teaching restraint. It builds mental, physical stamina.


5 yoga poses to build stamina

5 yoga poses to build stamina

There is a misconception, in India specially, that yoga has only therapeutic value. Actually, yoga was designed to build stamina so that spiritual seekers did not waver from their goal. So, though the initial value of yoga in your life may be therapeutic, as you advance in your practice it will contribute immensely to your physical, mental and emotional stamina.

The ability to hold your pose without wavering and with steadiness is called asana jaya (victory over the pose). Such steadiness requires strong muscular and respiratory support. This steadiness also arises from the yogic mental ability to analyse pain and understand whether it may be borne or is dangerous. This special ability is peculiar to yoga, which is why it is regarded a perfect pain management tool.

In yogic therapy, on the other hand, the poses are gentle. Even when 'difficult' poses are learnt, they are not held for too long. But when you use yoga for toning your body, and as a more effective substitute for gym-based exercises you must gradually build up stamina in each pose. Only then will muscles become toned and taut and your respiratory capacity leap-frog. Physical stamina and vigour will be assured and emotional stability, the original intent of such exercise, is a given.

Shameem Akthar, yoga acharya trained with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, guides your through five yoga poses that guarantee all this.

Urdhvamukha svanasana (Upward-facing dog pose)

This is an advanced version of the bhujangasana (cobra pose). Lie on your stomach and place your chin on the floor. Place your feet close to each other with your palms flat on ground, on either side of your chest. Inhale and hoist yourself off the floor, with the body supported only by palms and toes. The knees and stomach should be lifted off the floor.

Continue breathing normally while making the following adjustments. Arms should be straight; this deepens the arch at the lower back. Head tilts back, further deepening the arch. Hold this pose as long as comfortably possible, breathing normally. Release and relax to the starting position with while exhaling.

Avoid: If having weak wrists or lower back pain.

Benefits: It is a powerful stamina-builder. It tones the arms, spinal nerves (elevating mood and mental control) and legs superbly. Removes wrinkles from neck and face. Improves voice and balances thyroid hormone flow. Boosts respiratory capacity and is therapeutic in digestive problems (like constipation, sluggish metabolism), diabetes and uro-genital problems.

Adhomukha svanasana (Downward-facing dog)

This pose is also referred to as the parvatasana or mountain pose. Kneel down and lean forward placing palms flat on ground in front. Exhale and hoist hips off the floor, pushing down shoulders as you continue breathing, making the following adjustments.

Push down your heels. Focus your attention on your stomach while applying pressure from your shoulder blades. Move your head as close to the ground as possible. Hold the pose as long as you can. Do several times initially. Later, build up the stamina to hold the pose for a minute or so.

Benefits: This pose is a powerful stamina-builder. It boosts calmness due to blood flow to brain. Balances blood pressure, both low and high. Alleviates all spinal problems. Tones arms and legs, giving the entire body a work-out. It also removes wrinkles

Dandasana (Stick pose)

Lie on your stomach. Inhaling, push yourself up, into the classic push-up position so body is rested on palms and toes. Exhaling, lower yourself by bending elbows, but ensure your body remains off the ground, though very close to it. This is an extreme push-up position. Hold for a few seconds. Lower yourself back to the ground and repeat thrice. Later, build up stamina to hold the pose for 15 seconds to one minute.

Avoid: If having any spinal problem, weak wrists, heart ailment or high blood pressure.

Benefits: One of the most challenging poses, it is used in military-style training to build muscle, stamina and mental focus. It strengthens the entire body superbly since it is a powerful resistance-training pose.

Ardhabaddha padmottanasana (Half lotus forward bend pose)

Stand up straight, bend the right leg at the knee. Place right foot on left thigh; resting the back of your right foot high on the left thigh. Inhaling, raise both your hands above your head. Exhale and lower your hands to floor, bringing head as close to the left thigh as possible. Hold the pose, breathing normally. Release and return to normal. Repeat for the other side.

Avoid: If having lower back problems, heart problems or high blood pressure, vertigo, or if you cannot balance on a single leg for long.

Benefits: This pose is a stamina builder. It provides super traction to the spine. Increases respiration building capacity. It tends to make the mond more extroverted due to impact on the cerebellum.

Uttitahasta merudandasana (Raised hands spinal column pose)

Sit with your legs out in front of you. Hold each big toe with either hand firmly. Bend your legs at the knees as you pull up the legs, exhaling. Continue normal breathing as you bring your legs together, still holding the toes. Hold the pose firmly, focusing on your toes.

Release to relax legs back to the original position. Initially, you may have trouble balancing. But gradually build stamina in the pose, to hold it for a minute or more.

Avoid: If having heart problems, extremely high blood pressure or lower back problems.

Benefits: It ejects worms. Firms the abdomen and builds stamina, through improved muscular strength, respiratory capacity and mental focus. Helps control diabetes and works on the entire spine powerfully, preventing problems.


5 yoga poses to strengthen your lower back

Back pain, especially lower backache, has reached epidemic proportions due to lifestyle changes. Yoga is used widely to relieve victims of this self-limiting affliction.

Though backache was earlier associated with an aging body, it has begun afflicting younger generations. There are several reasons for this: lack of exercise or even mismanaged exercise, a sedentary work-style, sedentary forms of entertainment, lack of ergonomic furniture where one is required to use them for long hours, use of household gadgets which restrict or deny the body its natural and full range of motion, high stress levels which contract key postural muscles and lack of repairing nutrients in one's diet, such as vitamins C, E or magnesium.

Though lower backache is largely due to spinal degeneration, certain yoga schools subscribe to the view that stress also contributes to its manifestation. The large muscle band at the back, called psoas, becomes contracted in reaction to extreme negativities such as fear or anger.

If physical examination, including an X-ray, establishes no known cause for chronic backache, it is safe to assume psychosomatic triggers. In such cases, resorting to yogic practices will offer immense relief. But even where the triggers are physical, yogic exercises form part of a holistic therapy. In fact, most exercises in your physio-therapy, as advised by your spinal expert, will also definitely be yoga-based.

Lower backache can be more stubborn to heal than upper or middle back pain. But it responds just as well to therapy. However, unlike with other areas, the problem must be clearly identified by a spinal expert and an individualised therapy be drawn. Self-diagnosis or joining a general yoga class when the pain is acute can be counter-productive, by acerbating the existing problem.

Shameem Akthar, yoga acharya trained with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, takes you through five yoga poses used to heal lower backache.

Uttanpadasana (Raised leg pose)

Lie on your back. Bend your knees, placing feet flat on the ground. Inhale. Raise your right leg up. Exhaling, place your hands around the shin. If that is not possible place your hands around your thighs. Hold for a few seconds.

Those who are using this practice as preventive, may exert a slight pressure, by pulling the leg towards the chest. Continue normal breathing, holding for a few seconds. Release. Repeat three to five times. Relax and repeat for left leg.

Points to remember: Those with lower backache must remember to do such leg raises with legs bent at knee. This takes the pressure off the spine. Others may do them with legs out, to get more abdominal work-out.

Benefits:This is a preventive in spinal disorders, and also helps heal them. It strengthens leg muscles, helping bear body weight better. It is a preparatory pose for most advanced asanas due to the complete body work-out it gives.

Supta hasta padangushtasana (Lying hand to toe pose)

Lie on your back. Inhale, spreading your arms, placing them on either side of your body. Exhale, then inhale. Exhaling, move right leg upwards, towards the right hand. Inhale. Hold right big toe with right hand.

Exhaling turn head to gaze at left hand. Hold this final pose for a few seconds, breathing normally. Repeat three to five times. Relax. Repeat entire sequence for the other side.

Points to note: All poses here may be done only up to capacity with those having any existing discomfort. The legs may be bent at knees (as required), to lessen the pressure on the muscles and nerves.

Benefits: This position gives the entire spine a powerful transverse twist and is used as a preventive in all spinal problems. It is teh ideal all-in-one pose for those with a sedentary job. Spinal nerves are toned, strengthening you emotionally. Legs are toned, helping in aligning posture. Metabolism is tweaked, due to the massaging pressure on abdomen, aiding weight loss. Waist and hips are trimmed.

Supta udarakarshanasana (Lying abdominal twist)

Lie on your back. Spread your arms out, placing them on the floor, palms down. Inhale. Bend the right leg at the knee. Place the right sole on the left thigh. Exhale, using your left hand press down right knee to floor on the left.

Simultaneously, twist your head to gaze at the right hand. Hold for a few seconds, without letting off the pressure on the bent knee, breathing evenly. Release. Repeat three to five times. Relax. Repeat entire sequence for the other side.

Benefits: The benefits are the same as the prevoius asana, but with greater impact on the abdomen, thus further promoting weight loss.

Kandharasana (Shoulder pose, also called pelvic tilts)

Lie on your back. Place palms flat on the ground, beside hips. Bring the feet closer to the hips. Inhale, raising hips. Exhaling, lower the hips back to ground. This is one round. Do 10 rounds.

Points to note: Those using this pose as prevention or to tone the body may hold the final pose longer, continuing to breathe normally. You may also increase the number of rounds to 30.

Benefits: It is the most powerful healing pose for those with lower backache. However, they may raise hips only slightly. It works out the entire spine, powers the neck and builds stamina. Trims hips superbly. Boosts metabolism, promotes weight loss, improves nutrient absorption. This in turn affects healing positively. Boosts immunity.

Dradhasana (Firm pose/ side-relaxation pose)

Lie on your right side. Fold the right arm, using it as a cushion. Align your body so that it is in one straight line. Shut eyes, and relax in this pose, breathing normally. Switch sides, so you are now lying on the left side for an equal duration.

Points to note: If unable to align body initially, you may fold your legs at the knees or where required. But try to attain perfection in this pose, with regular practice.

Benefits: For those with pain, this pose is an ideal one to relax or even sleep in. Relaxing on each side for equal durations harmonises both brain hemispheres, helping you attain inner balance. It is a good meditation pose, and an ideal one in which to catnap when you cannot afford to doze off for long. It is ranked as a healing pose.


Breathe easy with these yoga poses

Many of us do not breathe right and the reasons range from genetics, bad posture, diet lacking in key nutrients like vitamin C and zinc, and hypersensitivity to external triggers ranging from allergens to stressors.

In yoga, the slower you breathe, the longer you will live. The more efficient your respiratory rate, the more energy you will have.

Shameem Akthar, a certified yoga acharya with the internationally acclaimed Sivananda Yoga Centre, Kerala (headquartered in Canada) guides you through six poses designed to expand your lung capacity.

Some tips
  • These poses can be modified to suit individual capacity. For chest expanders like the fish pose, use a cushion under the back to ease difficulty in breathing. You can use props like cushions or folded mats whenever you experience difficulty doing the poses.
  • At the hint of the slightest breathlessness, stop and relax before proceeding.
  • Deeper poses like Ushtrasana (camel) must be done gradually, easing into it slowly and steadily until the body gets accustomed to it.
  • Always breathe through the nose unless indicated otherwise.
  • Those with severe breathing problems must avoid synthetic fabrics, at least while doing the poses.
  • Complement these practices with conscious breathing and a sustained pranayama practice.
Some recommended books are Yogic Management of Asthma and Diabetes by Dr Swami Shankardevananda (who himself learnt to control asthma with yoga) and Yoga therapy in Asthma, Diabetes and Heart Diseases by Sadhakas for the Yoga Institute, Santa Cruz, for those who wish to power themselves further through lifestyle changes dietary habits, relaxation techniques.

Shashankasana (Hare pose)

Sit on your knees in the namaaz position, big toes lightly touching each other, while heels are flared out. In case of difficulty, you can try this sitting cross-legged. Beginners must keep a cushion or stool where their forehead is likely to touch the floor.

Inhale. Raise hands overhead.

Exhale. Slowly lower head and torso towards floor. Rest forehead on floor. Those with breathing problems should rest forehead on a high cushion. Continue breathing normally. Maintain the pose for a few seconds. Over the next weeks increase the duration in the final pose to a minute or so.

Benefits: This strengthens the shoulder and neck muscles which in turn support muscles that power our breath. This pose is among the most powerful stress-busters in yoga. This helps remove or control the psychosomatic triggers behind our breathing woes.

Caution: Avoid if you're suffering from lower backache. Those suffering from high BP and heart ailments must learn this with guidance in a phased fashion and with props.

Pranamasana (Prayer pose)

Sit on your knees in the namaaz position. Inhale. Exhaling, lean forward placing palms on the ground and go on all fours.

Inhale. Exhaling, place head on floor and continue breathing normally. Ideally the crown should touch the floor. This may be difficult for beginners. Those with stiff bodies may use a cushion initially.

You may place your palms on either side of the head or reach back to hold your ankles. The second version is more advanced, and may be attempted after mastering the first stage. Initially hold for a few seconds. Release and raise head to return to the starting position.

Benefits: According to the Bihar School of Yoga, this pose may be practiced immediately after an asthma attack for relief. It is used in anger and stress management.

Caution: Avoid in high case of high BP and neck problems.

Ushtrasana (Camel pose)

This is an intermediate level pose, suited for those already doing some exercise. Sit on your knees as in the previous two poses, feet slightly apart.

Inhale. Exhaling, raise hips so that you are now on your knees.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhaling, reach back with your right hand to grasp right heel. Exhale. Inhaling, now reach back with left hand to grasp left heel.

Exhale. Inhaling, drop head back. Hold the pose for a few seconds. Continue breathing.

Advanced practitioners may deepen the spinal arch by pushing the chest out in front further. Release and gently return to starting position.

Benefits: Tones the spine, powers the neck and shoulder muscles that support our breathing. Expands the chest. Fights depression.

Caution: Avoid if having hyperthyroidism and lower backache.

Matsyasana (Fish pose)

Lie on your back, keeping hands at the sides or under your hips, with palms on the floor and thumbs slightly touching.

Inhale and exhale deeply a few times. Inhaling, lift your head off the floor (remember to take the entire weight of body on your elbows).

Exhale deeply. Now inhaling, slowly drop your head backwards, resting crown on the floor. Beginners may not be able to arch this far, so attempt only up to capacity. A cushion under the upper back can make it easier.

Deepen the arch by pushing up the chest, all the while breathing normally. Hold for a few seconds, with sustained breathing. Exhaling, raise the head, looking at your toes before slowly lowering your spine back to the floor.

Benefits: Expands chest, tones spine and boosts metabolism, which helps with absorption of key nutrients needed to keep us healthy.

Caution: Avoid if having neck problems, ulcers and heart ailments.

Lolasanasa (Swing pose)

Stand with feet about a metre apart (toes flaring outwards). Inhale, raise hands overhead (they must be touching lightly).

Exhaling, swing down so the head is facing the floor, the torso bends, and hands swing in between the legs. The entire movement must be slow and relaxed. Do up to five to ten rounds initially.

Benefits: It is a mood-booster. Powers breathing by decongesting the lungs.

Caution: Avoid in all forms of backache.

Dwikonasana (Double angle pose)

Stand with feet a metre apart. Inhale, reaching hands behind to interlock fingers.

Exhaling, lower head as low as possible. Hands must remain extended up. Continue breathing, holding the pose for a few seconds initially. Slowly extend duration to half a minute or more.

Benefits: Expands the chest, powers the shoulders and neck. Like most downward facing poses, it cools the mind, helping to relieve stress.



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