Keeping It Real: Appreciating YOUR Body through Yoga
Each day advertisers are trying to get us to purchase a new product to either make our lives easier or enhance our appearance. How often do we hear commercials that ask us, the viewer, to assess our negative self-image and entice us to feel better by purchasing a new product? This can occur multiple times during an hour-long show. We can encounter ideas that foster a negative self-image when we open a magazine or walk through a mall.
How do we stay POSITIVE amid all of the negative advertisements? One way I found to truly appreciate my body and who I am is through the practice of yoga. Like many young women, I battled with my self-image. I was introduced to yoga as a means to recover from an injury. The yoga not only helped with the injury but it also made me appreciate my body and helped me develop the strong self-awareness. Because yoga gave me so much, I became a yoga teacher so I can pass that gift forward to others.
A good yoga teacher will guide students not only through the poses but teach students in the class to become aware of what their bodies are capable of doing AT THAT MOMENT. Through a yoga practice, students learn to understand their body and work to make it stronger and more flexible. Students are encouraged not to compare themselves to other members of the class. After all, each body is unique and should be appreciated for what it can do. Clinical research has shown that the practice of yoga has medical benefits. A few of those benefits include decreasing risk factors of cardiovascular disease, assisting with control of blood sugar, improving stamina, strengthening the bones and facilitating weight loss/maintenance.
Each of us has a busy schedule. We balance our jobs, families, our home, and try to take time to see our friends. Fitting something else into our day, or week, may seem impossible. Not everyone has time to take a yoga class on a regular basis. A co-worker once asked me what poses would I suggest one do if they did not have time to take a class. That was a challenge since there are so many that I think are beneficial. The four I chose work the body in different ways so you do get a full body workout and many of the benefits that come from a class. (You can go to Yoga Journal’s Website for pictures and videos)
Seated Twist (Marichi’s Pose Variation)
Begin with your right leg bent and your left leg straight. (Always start a twist on the right as it aids with digestion as it follows the ascending colon.) Keep the straight leg active by flexing your foot. Face forward. Inhale and lift your left arm to the sky and press your right hand into the ground behind your back as a “second spine”. Exhale and bring your left arm to the outside of your right leg and bend your elbow. As you follow your deep inhalations and exhalations wring out your belly like a washcloth. Draw the left ribs to the bent leg and the right ribs away from you. Breathe for 3 to 5 breaths. Untwist on an exhalation. Switch Sides and repeat.
Cat and Cow
Begin on your hands and knees. Proper alignment is key. Have the joints in your arms stacked. Place your knees under your hips. Keep your arms shoulder distance apart with your fingers spread out like starfish. Keep your knees hip distance apart. As you inhale begin to round your spine by tucking your tail and chin and drawing your navel to your spine to protect your back. Imagine becoming the image of a “Halloween Cat”. As you exhale lengthen your spine and gaze forward. Imagine holding a piece of paper between your shoulders. Take slow breaths and repeat 3 to 5 times. You can even reverse the breath pattern. This pose allows you to lubricate your spine.
Add balance by bringing your spine to neutral and extending opposite arms. Make sure your are looking down, lengthening from your spine and reaching your hand as if you were to shake hands with someone.
Downward Facing Dog/Dolphin
Begin on all 4’s like your were at the start of cat and cow Inhale into cat and straighten your legs. As you inhale and exhale peddle (lowering a heel and bending opposite knee) your feet to lengthen your Achilles. Do this for 3 to 5 slow breaths. Inhale high on your tip-toes, exhale lower your hells in the direction of the ground. Engage your quads and glutes to have your major muscles do the work and free your wrists. Draw your navel in toward your spine to strengthen your lower back. Draw your shoulder blades together to strengthen your upper back. Gaze at your navel.
Add balance by extending one leg to the ceiling at a time.
If your wrists are sensitive, modify to Dolphin. You place your elbows under your shoulders and clasp your hands in prayer distributing weight along your forearms rather than your wrists.
Start standing. Reach your arms out and step your feet wide so that your ankles are under your wrists. Stay there if you feel stable. Shorten your stance if you do not. Take your right foot and pivot it so your toes aim forward while keeping both heels in alignment. Turn your left foot in slightly so your ankle is at about a 45-degree angle. Stack your spine; imagine a wall is behind you. As you exhale bend your right knee into a lunge. (Make sure your knee is bent over your ankle for safety!) Breathe here for 3 to 5 long breaths. Think lengthening your spins and pressing through your back little toes and your front big toe. On en exhalation straighten the bent knee, pivot your feet in the other direction and do the pose on the second side.
Alpha Chi Omega is about REAL, STRONG WOMEN. We need to find ways to appreciate who we are and not try to make ourselves into something we aren’t. The more we can become aware of our bodies, the more we can appreciate what each of us is capable of doing. Not everyone is built to be a professional athlete or a model. If we work to our potential in all aspects of our lives, then we know we are successful.
René is an advisor at Gamma Nu, an alumnae engagement specialist and a Foundation regional volunteer. Visit her blog at http://healthybodyhealthylifestyle.blogspot.com/.