5 Fundamental Yoga Stretches and Why We Do Them
“Yoga is like a love letter of apology to your body.”
A yoga teacher in Vancouver said that once, years ago, during class and I’ve never forgotten it. In itself, it’s one of the best reasons I know to do yoga.
This week I’d like to offer a little more detail on that theme, and talk about five fundamental yoga stretches and why to do them.
That – the why we do them – is the clincher for me.
Sure, plenty of days I’m doing yoga simply and only because it feels good, and my body is moving the way I want it to move. But I’m also a fan of knowing why the different poses are so effective, and such an important part of my every day.
I’ve chosen five poses, which I describe below, and their whys, which are:
1. It’s grounding
2. It checks in with every muscle of my body
3. It’s a position of courage, and being fierce
4. It practices balance
5. My heart is over my head
Now the details.
WHAT: Easy Pose
HOW: It’s just as it sounds. Sit in a position that’s easy and comfortable for you. Normally during a yoga class this means on the ground, sometimes on a block, cross-legged with your heel near your opposite knee. But it can just as easily be in a chair or upright on your bed. Rest your hands on your thighs or your knees. Once you’re comfortable, close your eyes. Pay attention to how you’re breathing. Stay here for as long as you like, but try for at least a minute or two.
WHY: This pose is very grounding. When you sit still and close your eyes, you’re excusing yourself from external stimulation. You’re signaling to your body that it’s time to be quiet, to turn inward, and to listen. My teacher says to see if you can hear the beat of your own heart.
WHAT: Sun Salutation
HOW: There are plenty of useful videos and descriptions available if you aren’t already familiar with the sequence. (This infographic by Gaiam is fun.) My personal favorite part is the “swan dive up,” step two in the infographic, because it feels like I’m gathering up all the energy around me and offering it up, and looking up, when my hands meet above my head. I love doing this “swan dive up” as many times as it takes, even though it’s out of the sequence of the salutation, until I find myself smiling as I’m looking up, and remembering to be grateful for all that I have.
WHY: Somewhere along the way I learned that sun salutations “touch” every muscle group in your entire body. Which means it’s a perfect check-in to see how things are going for you today. Which means that you get to make friends again with the psoas muscle you tweaked when your heel caught the wrong edge of a sidewalk, and with the shoulder muscle you’ve been overstraining, and with the tiny muscles in your feet and toes that are unused to new shoes, and and and.
WHAT: Warrior Two
HOW: Take a very wide stance and rotate one foot so it’s perpendicular to the other. Bend that knee to 90 degrees. Raise your arms so they’re parallel to the ground, with your fingers together like a sword. Focus your gaze over your middle finger. After a while, reverse the position of your feet, bend the other knee and settle into the opposite side.
WHY: There’s a reason why this is called a Warrior pose. My teacher says that this is the position warriors take right before they slice someone’s head off. (And you thought yoga was all nicey-nice!) This pose, as I learned it, is just as much about courage and being fierce as it is about being open-hearted. It’s a chest opener, and a reminder of all the tools (including the swords) at our disposal.
WHAT: Tree Pose
HOW: Shift your focus and your weight to one foot, and place the other foot against your ankle, your shin, or your upper thigh. Begin with your hands in prayer at your chest then, if you’re balanced, “grow your branches” by raising your hands and spreading your arms wide.
WHY: To practice balance. What helps is a focused gaze (which the yogis call drishti) on a single point. Feel free to embrace the metaphor of that for your working life too.
WHAT: Legs Up the Wall
HOW: This inevitably involves some scooting of your hips flush against the wall, but you get the hang of it after a few tries. What you’re after is an L-shape with your torso and your legs that’s slightly modified by a cushion or pillow under your hips.
WHY: A long time ago a teacher in Las Vegas told me that if I had only five minutes a day, then this is the pose to do. I believe her. Why? It gets your heart above your head. Which gives your blood flow a break from working so hard in the other direction. It slows down your breathing. When you do it right before bed, you almost invariably sleep better. And did I mention that it gets your heart above your head, for a change?
I hope these help, especially as we’re now well into the busiest three months of the year for our industry. Please take care of yourselves.
Meet the Tribe:
Our community is only as strong as the company we keep, and here we meet some of the folks who make our profession so dynamic.
Morgan Perry, Founder, Yoga Unwined
Years In Industry:
12 - I started my career working with wine and spirits PR and events for ten years at a NYC agency, and still consult in that field. I started Yoga Unwined about a year and a half ago.
My Biggest Challenge To Wellness:
Balancing running my two businesses, seeing friends, enjoying wine and working out! As someone who is self-employed, I don't get a lunch break or have to be in or out of the office at a certain time, which I love. But in busy times this means I tend to over-work and sacrifice movement.
How I Keep It Together To Stay Well:
I try not to drink wine every night. As a wine student & teacher, this can be hard, but when at home alone or with my boyfriend, I try to abstain. I also eat lots of fresh, organic foods, minimal meat, and drink mostly water, sparkling water, tea (and yes, some coffee) which keeps my body feeling good.
I try to schedule some kind of daily physical activity where I am held accountable. This could mean a yoga class (even though I am a teacher, I need to sign up for a class to make sure I do it!), meeting up with a friend to work out, or inviting friends to the Yoga Unwined classes I teach.
Finally, my boyfriend is a holistic health coach and Acro yogi teacher, so we end up spending a lot of time together moving in some way - I feel incredibly lucky to be dating someone who is also focused on wellness.
You can connect with Morgan on her personal Instagram, and website, or at YogaUnwined on Instagram and online.
What We’re Reading:
There's no shortage of wine stories and media inundating our IN Boxes. Here's what has piqued our interest this week.
Somm Scandal: Revelations of cheating at master sommelier examination lead to the invalidation of 23 new certifications – Esther Mobley, San Francisco Chronicle
“The news is sending shock waves throughout the sommelier community, which tends to regards its myriad examinations with an air of religiosity.”
Abstinence in UK becoming the “mainstream” – The Drinks Business.com
“That the increase in non-drinking was found across many different groups suggests that non-drinking may becoming more mainstream among young people which could be caused by cultural factors.”
Let’s Meet Up!
As work life has it, we are traveling over the next few months and would love to see you. Check out details on the Let's Meet Up! page over at A Balanced Glass.
Wine Communicator of the Year Awards in Sydney, Nov. 6 (Rebecca)
Australian Women in Wine Symposium in Sydney, Nov. 16 (Rebecca)
Wine2Wine in Verona, Italy, Nov 26 to 27 (Rebecca)
Guest Lecturer at INSEEC in Bordeaux, Jan. 21 – 26 (Cathy)