At the heart of smile in the sky's approach is the body-mind connection. As the founder, each week I will feature a different yoga pose and 5 physical health benefits and 5 mental health benefits related to it.
This week...tree pose [sanskrit translation: Vrksasana: Vrks (tree) asana (pose)]
Balances are a quick way to become aware of the activity of the mind. A momentary distraction can mean face planting in some cases! Bringing the attention back to the breath is the practice and with smooth slow breaths we find greater ease in the pose and steady balance.
Physical benefit: HIP OPENING. Pressing the lifted foot into the side of the ankle, leg or thigh assists in opening the hip. Pulling the outer thigh back and lengthening the inner thigh allows for more space in the hip. Ensure hips stay square to the front of the room as best you can.
Mental benefit: Increased AWARENESS OF THE PRESENT MOMENT. Challenging our balance reveals the fluctuations of the mind very quickly (stumbling and falling are a sure sign your mind is active!). Bring your focus back to long, deep breathing to stay upright.
Physical benefit: LENGTHEN SIDE RIBS. As arms reach towards the sky, space is created for our lungs and we can breathe more fully, increasing oxygen in the blood and circulation to the different parts of the body.
Mental benefit: COGNITIVE CLARITY. Single-pointed focus and improved breathing with longer exhales allows thought processes to become clearer, giving relief from our over-active 'monkey mind'.
Mental benefit: INCREASED ATTENTION SPAN. Maintaining and returning to focus, [sanskrit translation: drishti], increases sustained attention. With practice this benefit may extend to other areas of life e.g. interacting with a colleague at work, or spouse at home; completing essential tasks, or reading a book.
Physical benefit: ANKLE STRENGTHENING. Using the small muscles in the foot and ankle to balance increase stability in the ankle joint and protect the feet from injury. Pressing the big toe mound and all four corners of the feet into the earth create a strong base to balance from.
Mental benefit: VIVID IMAGINATION. Visualisation (e.g. of tree roots growing deep into the earth), activating the visual cortex may stimulate new neural pathways (more to come on this in coming weeks), and can improve ability to be visually creative (as well as assisting with balance).
Physical benefit: IMPROVED POSTURE. Drawing the shoulder blades together behind the back and allowing the tops of the shoulders to relax away from the ears will lower tension in the upper body and neck, and create a more open and relaxed posture.
Physical benefit: SPINE LENGTHENING. Breathing in: lengthen from base of tailbone to crown of the head. Breathe out: release into the space. Very gently tucking the end of the tailbone and extending it down towards the earth, while extending through the spine to the crown will create length and space for the Central Nervous System (CNS) bundle in the spinal column, supporting it to fire appropriately (more in this in the coming weeks). Breathe in to lengthen, out to release tension.
Mental benefit: MENTAL ADAPTATION/FLUID INTELLIGENCE. The practice of stillness within motion: as a tree sways with the breeze, the practice of allowing 'wobbles' without over-adjusting and throwing balance off may assist in creating greater 'mental flexibility'. Practice experiencing discomfort and maintaining poise may increase our adaptability in challenging circumstances, allowing us to respond quickly and appropriately to unexpected events.
Most important of all: don't beat yourself up on those days when your balance has simply evacuated the mat. Don't take it too seriously: always make a giggle your go-to when the inevitable occurs!
Stay tuned for next week: Camel Pose [Ustrasana].