Each week smile in the sky feature a different yoga pose and 5 physical health benefits and 5 mental health benefits related to it
This week…dancer’s pose. [Sanskrit translation: Natarajasana: Nata (dancer), raja (king), asana (pose)].
This pose is typically performed at the end of a series of challenging backbends. It requires stable balance, engagement of the standing quad and hamstring, open hip flexors, a strong core and a flexible back. A challenging pose with many variations. See here for a preparatory sequence.
Physical benefit: HIP FLEXOR STRETCH
Strong hip flexors are necessary to do this pose safely (see here for a series to strengthen the hip flexors), however flexibility is central to allow the back leg to float higher, creating a pleasant stretch for the stomach and front body.
Mental benefit: INCREASED CONFIDENCE
All back bends are really more accurately named ‘front openers’, and the opening of the chest and widening of the collarbones displays vulnerability and openness. As the connection between the body and mind goes both ways, improved posture can have a correlated positive effect on levels of self-confidence. See here for a report on fascinating research exploring the impact of assuming ‘superhero pose’ and the positive effects on self-esteem via lowering of cortisol levels.
Physical benefit: HAMSTRING STRETCH
Stability is found in the pose through distributing the weight evenly across all four corners of the foot of the standing leg while keeping the kneecap engaged, rising from this solid base. There is dual and opposing action: of activation in the front of the leg, allowing for increased stretch in the back side of the leg. This can be likened to Newton’s Law of physics: ‘for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’.
Mental benefit: IMPROVED FOCUS AND CONCENTRATION
Keeping attention focused on a drishti: either the breath, or on one point above the eyeline will help to keep you steady in the pose. A good rule: if you look down, you’ll go down!
Physical benefit: SHOULDER OPENING
As you kick back with the back leg, elbow straight, the inner shoulder receives a lengthening stretch, helping to serve as an antidote to the hunched shoulders we often adopt while at computers, driving etc.
Mental benefit: IMPROVED NERVOUS SYSTEM FUNCTION
A central highway for communication between the brain and body, and the body back to the brain: the spinal cord gets a stretch in this pose. The vagus nerve, central to the Parasympathetic Nervous System, also finds stimulation in this pose. This can be maximized through the use of full deep breathing using the diaphragm.
Physical benefit: BALANCE
Simply standing on one foot can be very challenging for beginners to yoga. Happily, as the body and brain learn which muscles to engage to maintain balance, more advanced variations are available.
Mental benefit: CALMER MIND
This elegant pose may be a rare opportunity to explore the softer, more feminine side of your practice. Smooth transitions maintain the mind’s focus and allow for a smooth flow of movement and focused consciousness, allowing the mind to quiet. See here for a short article on meditation.
Physical benefit: CORE STRENGTHENING
Engage the deep abdominal muscles to maintain stability in the pose and help create balance in the hips.
Mental benefit: EMOTIONAL RELEASE
The opening of the hips created through kicking back into the hand with the back leg while tilting forward can be a powerful release for tension held in the hips. In yoga the hip area is commonly referred to as storing emotional memories and release can often have people pouring with tears (this is a great way to rid the body of excess cortisol: the stress hormone, which is toxic in high levels). See here for an article on the science of tears.
Next week there will be no blog release due to the Easter long weekend. Have a great break everyone! We’ll be back the week after with a new blog series…watch this space!
To learn more about the mind-body connection and ways to improve your mental health see www.smileinthesky.com for workshops for mental health, yoga, and research consultancy.