I love to make Christmas cookies, the more intricate the better.
This means long periods of standing on a tile floor, leaning forward to perform the delicate, focused work of creating mushrooms out of meringue, painting chocolate eyes on sugar-cookie mice and shaping dough into “coffee beans” for Cappuccino Shortbreads. (Scroll down on that page for the recipe.)
But by the time I’ve measured, shaped and cut a shallow groove into 66 shortbreads, I can feel a burning pain between my shoulder blades, a pain so strong that I have to stop what I’m doing and take care of it.
It would be lovely if yoga could prevent the pain. It doesn’t.
But it has taught me what to do about it.
To make it work, you have to sit down and truly immerse yourself in your body. Slow down, stop thinking about anything else, and walk yourself into the twist, step by step.
Set a timer for two minutes on each side – you’ll be surprised how long that can be.
Then follow the basic rules of the twist: first elongate your spine, then twist. And keep your chin in line with the centre of your sternum.
If you have 15 minutes, try this:
1. Lie down on the floor with your legs up the wall. Make sure your whole back is settled on the floor. Then with every exhalation, breath out through your back into the floor. Stay for two to three minutes.
2. With your knees together, slide your feet down the wall. Gently draw your knees toward your chest. You’ll feel your lower back soften and stretch even more.
3. Come away from the wall and do a soft supine bent-knee twist (Jathara Parivartanasana).
Lie down on your back with your arms at shoulder height. Bring your knees to your chest. Keep the inner knees touching. If they don’t touch, put a chip foam block between your knees.
Now exhale and aim your knees at your right shoulder. Keep your left shoulder on the floor, and the left side of your ribcage resisting away from your knees.
Have a bolster or blocks nearby to put under your thighs as you turn. When you come to the first limit of your twist, rest your thighs on the support, and stretch away through the left rib cage and arm. Stay and breathe until you feel some release. Change sides.
4. Stretch backwards over a rolled up blanket, a bolster or bricks. Whatever chest opening you choose, make sure it’s comfortable from the beginning, but gives you room to go deeper when your upper back releases.
One way to do that: place a chip foam block or blocks under your head when you first come into the chest opening. Then, as your spine stretches, take some or all of the height away.
Make sure you feel the stretch in your upper back, and that your lower back stays long. Extend your buttocks towards your heels.
5. Repeat the supine bent-knee twist (3). Keep it soft.
6. Child’s pose. Sit on your mat, big toes together, knees apart, buttocks resting on your heels. Keeping your buttocks as close to your heels as possible, walk your arms forward. As your buttocks and thighs continue to move back, elongate the sides of your chest forward.
For added chest opening put yoga bricks under your hands. Press down into the bricks, pull your upper arm bones back toward your shoulders, and stretch your spine forward.
7. From child’s pose, come to kneeling and press up into downward facing dog pose. In the pose, lift your forearms away from the floor, and press your back ribs deeper into your chest to increase the opening of your upper back.
8. Walk your feet forward and your hands back into standing forward bend (Uttanasana). Have your feet as wide as the mat, heels separated so no mat color shows along the outer edge of your foot.
Use bricks – or whatever else you might need – under your hands so your legs can be straight.
Press down through your outer arches and your inner heels. Lift your inner ankles and your kneecaps. Roll your front thighs toward the centre, your back thighs toward your outer legs.
Let your upper body elongate toward the floor.
Stay for a minute or two, then bring your hands to your thighs, press in and swing up.
Then it’s back to the baking, or wherever else your holidaymaking takes you.
I plan to take a Christmas break.
Next week, I’ll be too absorbed by the project of making a Christmas bombe with my nephews to write anything coherent about yoga.
And the week after, if memory serves, I’ll be in the beached whale days, digesting, reflecting, and wanting only to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea.
In the meantime, I’ll be announcing winners of the Priority Matrix apps on Facebook, and musing about plans for the new year, including a collection of all of the Five-Minute Yoga Challenges in one handy ebook.
I wish you all a happy holiday, and a new year filled with the light of yoga.
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