Breath to Support Stillness in Your Yoga Practice: Back Bends and Forward Folds

We’ve been looking at how your breath supports your movement in your workouts—see “The Right Breath for Now,” “Breath to Support Movement,” “Breath to Support Movement in Your Yoga Practice,” and “Breath to Support Stillness in Your Yoga Practice: Balance and Twists.” Let’s look at how the breath relates to the movement of your spine forward and back.

Breath and Backbends

Use inhalations to extend your spine even longer.
Use inhalations to extend your spine even longer.

In general, we use inhalations to support lifting actions. This holds true in backbends, as well. A full inhalation will decrease the curve of your thoracic spine, extending your back. As you hold a backbend like the chest lift depicted here, notice the sensation of length that rides on every breath in, and try to maintain it as you breathe out.

Breath and Forward Folds

Use exhalations to help you settle in forward folds.
Use exhalations to help you settle in forward folds.

As the spine moves forward, exhalations become your friend. As you hold a forward fold, you’ll notice that every breath in floats you slightly up, then every breath out will settle you deeper. Notice that exhalations can encourage you to round your upper and mid-back. Be careful with this movement, as too much forward flexion can be rough on the spine and disks. Keeping a longer spine is generally a good idea—even if that means you don’t fold very far forward.

—Sage

Yoga for Your Feet, Part 3

In my last posts, I wrote about how important it is for your feet to stay strong and flexible, and I discussed the ways your yoga practice already helps your feet. This week, I’ve included a short video that gives you a few movements to include in your yoga practice to strengthen your feet and create greater flexibility. These simple additions require no special props, and they’re easy to do.

Problem

As we age, we rely on our feet to keep us stable and secure. Our feet get stiffer and weaker over time, and although our yoga practice helps, there are additional ways we can build strength and keep our feet healthy.

Solution

Strengthen your feet with quick and easy movements you can add to your yoga practice or do every morning.

—Alexandra

Behind the Scenes: Lifelong Yoga Photo Shoot

We interrupt my regularly scheduled posts on breath to bring you behind the scenes at the photo shoot for our forthcoming book, Lifelong Yoga, to be published by North American Books in summer 2017.

Since the book targets people who are either new to yoga or figuring out how to make yoga a lifelong practice through their forties, fifties, sixties, and beyond, we wanted real-people models representing each of those decades, demonstrating real-world expressions of doable poses. Two of our models, Patricia and Victor, had previous commercial and runway modeling experience. The other, my husband, Wes, has been behind the camera many times snapping pictures to illustrate my writing, but never in front of it. Tammy Lamoureaux from L’Amour Foto and her able assistant, Brett, did a beautiful job keeping everyone natural and at ease, and Alexandra and I ran them through the poses. There were also snacks. Take a peek behind the scenes:

This is Patricia, a student at Carrboro Yoga. Unfortunately, our curls are obscuring most of her glorious cheekbones!
This is Patricia, a student at Carrboro Yoga. Unfortunately, our curls are obscuring most of her glorious cheekbones!
We shot in the Gold Circle Room at Carrboro Yoga, though you won't see it when you read the book, as we used a white background.
We shot in the Gold Circle Room at Carrboro Yoga, though you won’t see it when you read the book, as we used a white background.
Wes was a little sore after his modeling session! Modeling is very different from practicing—you hold poses longer and don't breathe naturally.
Wes was a little sore after his modeling session! Modeling is very different from practicing—you hold poses longer and don’t breathe naturally.
This is my standing view of one of the cover options.
This is my standing view of one of the cover options, shot with my iPhone.
And here's all the work happening behind the scenes to get the cover image!
And here’s all the work happening behind the scenes to get the cover image! Next book: yoga for photographers. Tammy spent hours on her knees on the floor with nary a complaint.

We can’t wait to put the finished product in your hands. We’re hard at work finishing the draft!

—Sage

Yoga for Your Feet, Part 2

img_2119

Having strong and flexible feet is important for healthy aging. If your feet are pain-free, you’re more likely to continue hiking, walking, or jogging. Feeling steady on your feet can help you avoid falling, too. Genetics play a role in the sort of feet you have, as I talked about in Part 1. But even if your feet feel strong, age takes a toll. As we age, our feet get wider and flatter, stiffer and weaker. The good news is that your yoga practice is already helping fight back against these age-related foot changes.

This week, let’s look at the best yoga poses for your feet. You’re probably already regularly doing many of these! In my next post, I’ll show you a few things you can add to your yoga practice to get your feet in even better shape.

Foot-Stretching Poses

Downward-facing dog offers a fantastic bottom-of-the-foot stretch, especially if your heels don’t touch the ground. (For most of us, they don’t.) If they do, you can find this  same stretch in a high lunge pose with your back heel lifted. Stretching the bottoms of your feet will feel pretty good, and it can also help relieve the tension that causes plantar fasciitis. The seated pose hero pose gives you the same benefit but without standing up on your feet.

Arch-Strengthening Poses

Standing poses like Warrior I, Warrior II, triangle pose, and extended side angle pose require you to lift your back-foot arch while shifting weight into the pinky-toe side of that foot. This can feel especially challenging if your arches are weak or flat. If you’re newer to yoga, it can be easy to overlook this small nuance, so listen for that cue in your yoga class and lift your arches.

Balance Poses

Any time you practice a balance pose, you’re building foot strength. That gentle burning sensation on the bottom of your foot is a good thing! Tree pose and Warrior III are especially good balance poses, as they are simple (but not easy) which allows you to stay longer.

If you’re great at balance, try making it more challenging by practicing your balance poses on a doubled-up mat. An unstable and soft floor makes your foot work harder; the harder your foot works, the more you’re increasing its ability to hold you up safely over time.

Glutes-Building Poses

There are several poses in yoga that help you build glutes strength, like chair pose and bridge pose. Strong glutes allow you to move with ease and grace and help you feel lighter on your feet. You can also practice donkey kicks and outer-hip leg swings to build strength in your seat.

In my next post, we’ll look at small additions you can make to your yoga and movement practice to keep your feet strong and flexible at any age.

—Alexandra