If pyramid pose is not a part of your normal yoga practice, it can be a potent addition if you are seeking a pose that simultaneously opens the backs of the legs, the side body, and the hips, all while improving balance. In Sanskrit, pyramid pose is called “parsvottanasana,” which translates literally as “intense side stretch pose.” This asana is relatively simple to get into: begin by placing the feet three to four feet apart with the front toes facing forward and the back left toes pointing at a 45-degree angle. Next, place the hands on the hips, pulling the front hip back and squaring the hips toward the front of your mat. Keeping the hips square, release the hands and begin to melt forward, leading with the heart, toward the front foot.
Remember to breathe in this pose, as the gentle pulse of the breath can help guide you deeper into the forward bend. In addition to a stretch along the side body and the backs of the legs, some practitioners may feel release in the muscles along the outside of the shin. Runners often experience tightness in these muscles, and few asanas stretch them as effectively as pyramid pose. If you don’t feel the stretch along the shin, try pulling the front hip back an extra inch, or consider backtracking and spending some more time opening the backs of the legs before returning to pyramid pose.
The nonprofit group Yoga Across America, in order to spread awareness of the physical and non-physical benefits of the discipline, sponsors yoga classes specifically directed to soldiers and military veterans, at-risk students, people in community centers and homeless shelters, and other distinct populations. Yoga instructors who have worked with prison inmates, victims of trauma and domestic abuse, and other members of underserved groups say that such outreach can be extremely rewarding.
People who have felt powerless in the past can become disconnected from others and even from their own bodies. They may only have the ability to focus on a few basic postures and relaxation practices at first, and may display extremes of hypervigilance or detachment. Instructors must demonstrate patience and foster a supportive, nonthreatening atmosphere, incorporating simple means, such as rolling back and forth on a mat, of helping individuals coping with trauma recover their body awareness.
The Omega Institute and the Yoga Service Council represent other organizations that focus on expanding the potential of underserved men, women, teens, and children through the teaching and practice of yoga. These groups have held workshops that bring together yoga instructors, social workers, and other professionals to share information and best practices for promoting the well-being of vulnerable people through yoga. Teachers who have literally taken their yoga mats to the streets have reflected on yoga’s ability to heal not only individuals but also neighborhoods facing crime, violence, and the multiple stressors inherent in today’s society. Through a focus on serving those most in need, these instructors have become a force for positive change in their communities.
Yoga, like walking, presents an easy-to-do, gentle, yet highly effective exercise regimen for people at all levels of physical fitness, including pregnant women. Learning to regulate breathing patterns, and to find optimum ways to achieve relaxation and manage stress, will have great benefits for a woman preparing to go into labor. And the sense of community that comes with joining a prenatal yoga class and meeting a group of other women going through the same life-changing experiences can provide much-needed emotional support.
Most physicians consider yoga in general to be safe during a typical pregnancy, given sensible precautions. Research suggests that yoga can promote healthy sleep, lessen pain in the lower back, alleviate some of the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, and decrease nausea. Some researchers note that the chances of going into premature labor may be diminished through yoga, and that it may also inhibit development of high blood pressure.
Pregnant women should consult their medical professionals before undertaking or modifying an exercise routine. And there are a few specifics to avoid. For example, if you are unused to doing inverted postures such as headstands and shoulderstands, pregnancy at any stage is not the time to incorporate them into your yoga practice, and even experienced practitioners should avoid them later in pregnancy, or on the advice of their doctor or yoga instructor.
Refrain from performing any postures that require you to lie on your back, since this position can impede blood flow to the uterus. Avoid the hot rooms of Bikram yoga, because overheating can be dangerous to your developing baby. And remember that, because your body is now filled with the pregnancy-associated hormone relaxin, whose role is to stretch the uterus in preparation for giving birth, your other muscles are also much more at risk for injury from over-stretching and straining.
While health care professionals have long accepted the health benefits of yoga, researchers continue to explore its precise effects on both the mind and body. In a recent issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the authors looked closely at an Eastern Virginia Medical School study that examined Tibetan yogis engaged in Tumo, an extreme form of yogic practice. Through the practice, yogis maintain a normal body temperature in extraordinarily cold conditions without any resultant physical harm.
A film created by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson shows yogis wearing only loincloths while sitting on the freezing ground. Iced sheets wrapped around their bodies melted. Meanwhile, the film crew wore mountaineering gear to bear the cold.
The new study focused on various cardiovascular factors among yogis and non-yogis in subzero temperatures. The non-yogis required warming to maintain a healthy body temperature, whereas Tumo practitioners did not even shiver without the benefit of such warming. By monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, and other factors, researchers concluded that the yogis activated brown fat and generated heat to increase blood flow significantly and decrease peripheral vascular resistance. In these individuals, yoga practice has effected substantial physiological changes.
In fulfillment of its goal of bringing awareness of the benefits of yoga to men, women, and children of all ages and backgrounds, the nonprofit group Yoga Across America regularly conducts sessions in public parks around the country. People from New York to Alaska are discovering the ways in which the ancient practice can enhance their mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual lives.
Picture a group of individuals gathered on a bright, clear day to enjoy the cool breezes and fresh greenery of a beautifully landscaped park as they flow through a series of focused movements designed to celebrate the flexibility and resiliency of the human body and mind. This has become an increasingly common sight in places such as McKinley Park in Sacramento, California, where each week the largest public yoga class in the city’s history convenes.
Since 2009, when Yoga Across America launched the class, thousands of people have come together to create an energized yet relaxed atmosphere that one participant compared to heaven on earth. Proponents praise the sense of community that such regular gatherings help create, as well as the welcoming spirit exhibited by participants.
Some park-based yoga classes, such as one held in Phipps Park in West Palm Beach, Florida, donate associated fees to local charitable organizations. For example, the Florida group has aided the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County and other youth-focused nonprofits. Yoga, with its natural focus on community building, offers numerous possibilities for doing good while building physical and mental agility.
Some of the best chest openers are shoulder openers or backbends. Take just a second right now to consciously pull your shoulders back and down while puffing out your chest, and you will feel the connection between these three types of poses. Chest openers are important not only because they offer a great physical stretch, but also because they promote emotional opening. If you want to gain these benefits, try building up to these two poses as part of your next practice:
Bow Pose: Begin by lying on your stomach, then bend your knees and reach back to grasp your feet with your hands. Once you have a solid grip, make sure that your thighs are parallel to the sides of your mat, rather than splayed outwards. Inhale and raise your chest, pulling back through the arms to form a bow with your body. As you breathe in and out, you may rock back and forth, enjoying this massage to your internal organs before slowly releasing back down to your belly.
Fish Pose: Enter this pose by lying flat on your back. Leaving your legs straight, bring your hands (palms down) beside your hips. Keeping your forearms on the ground, slowly begin to raise your chest toward the sky and tilt your head upwards so that you are resting on the crown of your head. This pose opens your heart without the somewhat strenuous movements required by bow pose.