ANYONE can do yoga — and you don’t need to go to class regularly to start seeing the benefits. Each week yoga instructor JanineThomas takes one simple pose and explains how it can help to ease common health complaints. All it takes is ten minutes of your time, in the comfort of your own home, or you can slot it into your regular exercise regime.
This week: How hero pose can stretch the legs… and open your mind.
THE POSE ALL of my dad’s trousers have holes in the knees and I recently figured out why — because he often kneels on the lounge floor when he’s reading or watching TV. And it’s a habit I would recommend, despite the fact that my mum gives out to him so much for wrecking his best jeans.
Changing one simple thing — that is, slouching on the sofa — can bring huge benefits to your health. By moving down to the floor and taking hero pose, or virasana, you stretch out the thighs, knees and ankles, which can refresh tired legs after a long day.
The upright position of the body can improve digestion and bloating as well as ease gas, while pressure on the feet strengthens the arches and can help heel spurs. This seated position is also ideal for practising meditation and breathing exercises because it provides great spinal support — many consider it better than those traditional cross-legged postures. It’s not called hero pose for nothing — just make sure you don’t do it in your favourite trousers!
HOW TO DO IT TAKE a couple of yoga blocks or a few big, fat books (roughly A4 size). Fold a blanket to sit on. Come on to all fours with your calves either side of one block and the tops of the feet on the floor. Lower your hips and sit on the block. Take hold of your calves and roll them outwards, away from the body, to relax the knees and deepen the posture.
Now, how does this feel? If you are feeling pressure on the ankles or knees, add another block; if you feel comfortable here, take away your support. Your body will let you know what’s right for you. Lengthen the spine by lifting the crown of the head towards the ceiling. Relax the shoulders and bring the hands to rest in your lap, one on top of the other, palms facing up.
Tuck the chin in slightly to lengthen the neck. Now close your eyes: it’s time to try a little meditation. Bring your attention to the breath. Simply notice the way your belly rises and falls as you breathe. Focus on this movement and feeling. When the mind starts to wander, as it inevitably will, bring it back to this soft, rhythmic rise and fall.
Build up the amount of time you spend in hero pose as you become more comfortable here, and more open to the meditation.
To release, come on to all fours. Remove the block and swing the legs out in front of you. Make circles with the feet to stretch out the ankles and release leg muscles.
CAN ANYONE HAVE A GO?
IF YOU have a knee injury, hero posture is best avoided. If, however, tightness is the issue, experiment by stacking up the books or yoga blocks under your bottom until it becomes accessible. Stiff ankles are a common problem. To ease them gently, place a rolled blanket on the floor underneath the ankle joints for support.
I’d really recommend hero pose during pregnancy too, using lots of blocks and support, as it can help improve posture, encourage the functioning of the digestive system and ease swollen ankles.
IF YOU have a yoga question, email email@example.com
First published in the Irish Daily Mail, June 2, 2015