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Building a foundation in yoga

A strong yoga practice takes time to build. You must start from the ground up, pose by pose. Before you can jump into the wild handstands (like the ones people post on Instagram) you must have a deep understanding of your own body. The truth is, many students impatiently blow past foundational poses. These are the same students who get so frustrated that they start to think of yoga as the enemy, or worse, they get injured before coming close to reaching their goals. Not only have I taught these students, but once upon a time I was this student.
No matter which school or classes I attended, I’d become overzealous and toss away the gifts of foundational poses in favor of something harder, like a sexy arm balance. It was not until I learned the basics that I was finally able to do my dream poses. So with that in mind, take a breath and let’s build your foundation.
Asana (physical posture):
Practicing these three yoga poses can help reduce stress and calm the nervous system. (Dani Toriumi)
Practicing these three yoga poses can help reduce stress and calm the nervous system. (Dani Toriumi)

Wrist Stretches Stage 1: Wrist stretches allow the body to sink into feeling mode. For those of us who spend time typing and texting, this stretch gives a much-needed release into the hand muscles. As a yogi, wrist stretches prepare the carpel bones for weight bearing asana. For grounding, focus on doing this with an Ujjayi breath and feel the parts of your body that touch the ground.

To do this stretch, start by bringing your left hand in front of your body with the palm facing towards the ground. Then inhale while hugging the fingers of your right hand around your left pinky finger. As you exhale, draw your pinky finger towards the ground and relax your shoulders back. Inhale and wrap your fingers around your left ring finger. Exhale and then draw your finger towards the ground while keeping a bend in the elbow. Continue with one breath per finger. For your thumb, first bring the backs of your hands together and give a gentle squeeze before coming forward.

catdownCat Stretches: This classic pose is great for lubricating the spine, and is often suggested by chiropractors, physical therapists and doctors. When doing this pose, focus carefully on your alignment and protect your knees with padding (a towel or blanket will do just fine). Allow yourself to notice the juxtaposition of the ground’s unwavering support and the fluid ease in your spinal movement.

Get on all fours: knees under hips and hands under shoulders. Inhale and flair your lower pelvis and arch your chest forward. Exhale and round your upper back as you press your shins into the ground. Repeat for six breaths.

Modification: This move can be done with your hands in fists to reduce wrist and shoulder impact.

legsupwallSavasana Legs up wall variation: We all love a good yogi nap. Savasana allows the body to integrate any new knowledge and muscle memories. It also calms the nervous system by assisting in emotional well-being. Putting your legs up against a wall calms the nervous system by giving the body a new direction of blood flow while providing unconventional support. This pose is also known to calm the mind before bed.

Before doing this position, find a little piece of wall. Position yourself on your side, so that your booty is against the wall. Gently float up one leg at a time and allow yourself to sink into the support of the wall. Close your eyes and just breathe.