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AN INTRODUCTION TO OUR SEVEN ENERGY CENTERS ~ THE CHAKRAS
 
 
By Nikki Estes
 
 
In Eastern religion, Western Indian medicine and spiritual science the chakras are known as the “wheels of life”.  They are spinning vortexes of electro-magnetic energy that connect us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  In the body we have thousands of pathways of energy called nadis that correspond to meridians of traditional Chinese medicine.  These energetic pathways cross like freeway interchanges at seven main areas running though the spine.  The seven energy centers are known as the chakras.
 
 
The charkas are levels of consciousness that influence our perceptions of reality.  They are not physical but they connect the physical with the non-physical and in this way influence the health of the whole body.  Chakras are like energy gateways within your being that process information and through which you can gain access to greater states of perception and consciousness.
 
 
Eastern philosophy believes that each of these energy centers contain a universal spiritual  life-lesson that we must learn to evolve into a higher consciousness. In yoga, the lotus flower represents this.  A lotus flower arises from the muddy water to emerge pristine in the light.  It symbolizes one’s growth from the realms of darkness and ignorance into the awakened state of enlightenment or “Samadhi”.  Charkas are energy gateways within your being that process information and through which you can gain access to a greater perception or consciousness.
 
 
The following information briefly illustrates the spiritual life lessons represented by the seven chakras:
 
 
FIRST chakra- lessons related to the material world
SECOND chakra-lessons related to sexuality work and physical desire
THIRD chakra-lessons related to ego, personality and self-esteem
FOURTH chakra- lessons related to love, compassion and forgiveness
FIFTH chakra- lessons relates to will and self-expression
SIXTH chakra- relates to mind, intuition, insight and wisdom
SEVENTH chakra- lessons related to spirituality
 
 
Many Eastern spiritual traditions understand illness to be a depletion of one’s internal power or spirit. A greater understanding of the chakras and what they represent can help us decode the emotional, spiritual, psychological message that underlie physical illness.  Our mind and bodies are completely connected.  When are centers are blocked, we can have problems in all these areas, when the energy flows freely, we can achieve a holistic sense of healing and wellness.
 
 
Here’s an overview of each chakra and what they represent:  The first four are more literal, practical, logical and based on the five senses.  The last three are more abstract, symbolic and esoteric.
 
 
 
 
 
 
ROOT CHAKRA-
 
 
The first chakra located at the base of the spine.  It deals with survival, trust, security and self-protection.  Issues with your tribe or immediate family and the inability to stand up for yourself are dealt with here.  The legs, base of spine, bones, feet and rectum and immune system are a part of the root chakra. Chronic low back pain, sciatica, depression, and immune relates disorders and arise from blocked energy here.
 
 
SACRAL CHAKRA-
 
 
The second chakra is located below the navel and above the pubic bone.  Passion, creativity, sex, money, ethics and honor in one on one personal relationships manifest here.  The sexual organs, large intestine, bladder and pelvis area are apart of this energy center. Physical problems here can be low back pain, sciatica, ob/gyn problems, reproductive issues and urinary problems.
 
 
SOLAR PLEXUS CHAKRA-
 
 
The third chakra is located above the navel .  This is the center of personal will, honor and power.  This center deals with your individually and your relationship to the world around you.  This chakra connects to your self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect and trust. The digestive organs and adrenal glands are affected here.  Digestive issues, diabetes, ulcers and anorexia can happen from this center being blocked.
 
 
HEART CHAKRA-
 
 
The fourth chakra is located in the center of the chest and is the bridge between the lower and upper chakras.  Love, compassion, joy and self-healing arise when this center is flowing freely.  Issues like bitterness, resentment, and self-centeredness can arise here when the energy is not flowing.  This chakra connects to the heart, lungs, circulatory system, shoulders and arms, diaphragm, breasts and thymus gland.  Physical issues include heart and lung problems and upper back and shoulder issues problems.
 
 
THROAT CHAKRA-
 
 
The fifth energy center is located in the throat.  This is the center of truth, self-expression, artistry, addiction, judgment and criticism.  The throat chakra relates to the throat, thyroid, trachea, neck, mouth, teeth and gums, parathyroid and hypothalamus gland.  Physical issues here that can develop are problems in the mouth, neck, throat and thyroid gland.
 
 
THIRD EYE CHAKRA-
 
 
The sixth chakra is located in the brow center.  This is the place of intuition, insight, emotional intelligence, imagination, lack of self-awareness and prejudice.   This center relates to the brain, nervous system, ears, eyes, nose, pineal and pituitary gland.  Physical issues that arise here are brain problems, neurological disorders, learning disabilities, eye and ear problems, and full spinal difficulties.
 
 
CROWN CENTER-
 
 
The seventh and last energy center is located at the crown of the head.  This is the connection to spirituality and devotion.  Faith, inspiration, selflessness, and values reside here.  This center connects to the muscular system, skeletal system and skin.  Physical issues that can occur here are chronic exhaustion, extreme sensitivity to light and sound and energetic disorders.
 
 
The chakras also relate to specific colors, the colors of the rainbow and to the elements.
 
 
ROOT - red,  Earth
 
 
SACRAL- orange, water
 
 
SOLAR PLEXUS- yellow, fire
 
 
HEART- green, air
 
 
THROAT - blue, sound
 
 
THIRD EYE- indigo, light
 
 
CROWN- purple, thought
 
 
In moving through the chakras we can use this journey  as stepping stones to our liberation, each step granting us more freedom from limited forms, repetitive habits and worldly attachments.  Each step expands our horizons and consciousness.  Meditation, self-inquiry, yoga and awareness of where and when you gain and lose energy help to unblock our energy centers and keep the energy flowing freely for overall health and wellness for mind, body and spirit.
 
 
Remember that all physical and emotional obstacles are illusion.  Always seek the energy meaning of a situation and follow it and keep in mind the seven sacred truths of the body and spirit.
 
 
1. All is one
2. Honor one another
3. Honor oneself
4. Love is divine power
5. Surrender personal will to divine will
6. Seek only truth
7. Live in the present moment
 
 
By beginning to see your body and spirit in a new way, you can begin to heal yourself.
 
 
For more information on this subject, check out these great books:
 
 
Anatomy Of The Spirit, Caroline Myss, PH.D.
Wheels Of Life, Anodea Judith, PH.D
Your Body Speaks Your Mind, Deb Shapiro
 
 
 
 
 
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SEATED SPINAL TWIST - MARICHYASANA III
 
By Nikki Estes 
 
 
 
It is often said that spinal twists are the squeeze and soak asanas.  When we practice these poses we are wringing out all the physical toxins in the body by squeezing out the stale blood from the digestive organs and then soaking them with fresh revitalizing blood.  This helps to detoxify the body by stimulating the elimination system.  Physically this helps us to become less lethargic and more energized.  We are also able to bring more energy into the upper back which can be a “dead area” for many people.
 
 
On a mental, emotional and energetic level, we wring out toxins as well.  Spinal twists associate with the third energy center, the Solar Plexus Chakra.  We can carry negative feelings such as anger and resentment in this area which can lead to physical issues such as ulcers or irritable bowel syndrome.  When our energy center is flowing freely, we can connect to our personal power and will.  We relate better to the world around us.
 
 
Marichyasana III has many other benefits including stretching the shoulders, stimulating the brain, relieving mild back and hip pain, and strengthening and stretching the spine.  Therapeutically, along with aiding the digestive system, this asana helps with constipation, asthma, fatigue, sciatica and menstrual discomfort.  Use caution when performing this pose or omit if you have serious back or spinal injury, insomnia, headache or pregnancy.
 
 
Getting started:
 
 
Start this pose by sitting on your mat and removing the flesh away from the sits bones.  Find yourself becoming firmly rooted into the earth to draw strength from the Earth’s energy.  If you find sitting up straight to be difficult, prop yourself up on a blanket to release the hamstrings and to prevent the pelvis from tipping back.  It is important to have a straight, lengthened spine when performing spinal twists.  Start by bending the right knee and drawing your foot in towards the sits bone.  If you have enough hip flexibility, you can cross the foot over the left leg and pull it in tightly.  Your extended leg (the left one)  should be firmly rooted into the Earth with the foot flexed and leg active.  Hug your right leg with the left arm and bring your right hand around and place it close to your tail bone.  Depending on your own body, you may need to be on finger tips or a block to prevent from leaning back to keep the spine perpendicular to the Earth.   Keep your shoulders released away from your ears.
 
 
Inhale and begin to lengthen the spine further.  As you start to rotate, think of your spine as a spiral staircase, rotating slowly from the bottom to the top.  Begin to rotate from your belly, then your ribs, chest, shoulder and finally your neck and head.  With each inhale, continue to elongate the spine and with each exhale, rotating deeper into the pose.  Allow your breath to expand into the  right side of your body as you feel the energy move all the way up your spine.
 
 
Deepening the pose:
 
 
If you’d like to make the rotation even deeper, take the arm that’s hugging the leg and bring the elbow to the outside of the knee.  Gently pressing into the knee to rotate further will allow for more leverage to deepen the pose.
 
 
When you have taken 5 to 10 breaths, return to hugging the leg and take one last inhale.  On the exhale, return to the starting position and switch sides to balance out the body.
 
 
When you have completed this asana you’ll enjoy the benefits of feeling the space and energy running through the spine.  Your back will benefit  this pose along with your digestive organs and your emotional disposition.  Practicing spinal twists daily can greatly improve your digestive and elimination system.
 
 
  
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VASISTHASANA - SIDE PLANK
 
 
By Nikki Estes
 
 
A challenging pose that creates stamina strength in the core and upper body is side plank.  Vasisthasana is a challenge for the arms, the core, the legs and the wrists as well as helping to improve one’s balance.  Frequently the novice yogi can struggle with the full pose but modifications and small progressions makes this pose accessible for most.  Be careful if you have a wrist or shoulder injury and proceed with caution.  The full pose may be too much until the body is healed and strengthened.  This is a great way to create core strength particularly in the obliques without doing traditional crunches that can exacerbate a disk issue.  The muscles stay lengthened while strengthening them.
 
 
Getting started:
Start by pacing your right hand firmly on the mat  and find even weight through out the palm and fingers.  Make sure the fingers are spread wide.  Align the shoulder directly over the wrist and keep a slight micro-bend in the elbow to prevent hyperextension.  This way the muscles are doing the work and not the joint.  Reach your top hand towards the sky.  Stack your shoulders and hips and extend out the left leg allowing the side of the foot to connect to the earth while keeping the right knee on the mat under the hip or slightly more towards the left foot.  This will allow more weight bearing in the upper body to help create strength.  Feel yourself lift from the obliques like there is a rope tied around your waist with someone lifting you upward towards the sky.  Feel the dynamic sense of tension by pressing into the ground with your hand but again, but lifting upwards.  This is a good modification with a wrist or shoulder injury  and also if your lacking in core and upper body strength.  The lift from the waist will take pressure out of the wrist.
 
 
As you progress, you can take your left foot off the ground and extend it straight out from the hip still keeping your right knee on the ground.  Feel yourself reaching away with your heel keeping your foot flexed.  This will add strength to your hip and gluteal muscles.
 
 
When you feel confident to come into the full pose, lift your right knee off the mat and extend it out stacking the side of the left foot over the right.  Make sure you are still creating dynamic tension by connecting to the earth and lifting away to keep the energy flow of the pose.  Take deep expansive breaths through the chest and maintain focus to keep your balance.  To add a final challenge, the advanced version requires you to lift the top leg in the air.  This takes even more strength and balance.  Work up to 10 breaths or more in any variation that works for you.  Make sure you can maintain your breath and alignment in which ever variation you choose.
 
 
 
 
When you are ready to come out of the pose, slowly lower down to your hip or come right into plank and then switch sides for a challenging core series.  Side plank pose is a great way to create stamina strength and mental focus.  This pose is completely weight bearing and like other asanas- no equipment is required so you can do it almost anywhere anytime! 
 
 
 
 
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 HIGH LUNGE
 
 
                                         
                                                                                                   By Nikki Estes
 
 
A common pose in yoga is high lunge.  There is no Sanskrit name for this asana.  You will find that this is a pose that is regularly used in Sun Salutations. Lunges are used in traditional exercise for strength in the lower body.  In yoga it is no exception.  The pose also helps with flexibility and balance as well.
 
 
Benefits to this pose include strengthening the legs, gluts and arms while stretching the groins, hip flexors and spine.  The pose can be therapeutic for indigestion, sciatica and constipation.  Use caution in this pose if you have any serious knee injuries.
 
 
Getting started:
 
If you are coming into this pose in an sun salutation you will most likely be starting from a standing forward fold.  Step your right foot back and find a wide stance that will allow you to sink deep with out compromising your knee alignment.  Press firmly into the ball of the left foot and start with a modification by dropping your right knee to the floor.  The top of your right foot will be on the mat.  Start to draw your arms up off the floor and reach towards the sky.  It is necessary to engage the core by drawing your tailbone down away from the low back and left the belly up and in for a few reason.  First, this stabilizes the pelvis and draws length into the low back.  The core is the center of your power and strength. Bringing awareness to this area not only will give you power in the pose but more stability as well. Lastly core engagement prevents you from dumping into your left hip.  This allows for greater energy flow.
 
 
Begin to sink your hips to the earth but lift away through the arms and reach all the way through the fingertips.  Be sure to release your shoulders away from the ears to once again create space, release tension and allow for greater energy flow.  If you struggle with shoulder issues it is perfectly fine to keep your hands in a prayer position (namaste’) at the heart center.  Watch that when you sink into the pose that you keep the integrity of the left knee joint by making sure it aligns over the ankle and doesn’t go beyond to avoid hyperextension.  A common mistake is to allow the knee your placing weight on (in this instance the right knee) to be right underneath the hip.  You want to allow the right hip to move forward beyond the knee so you truly get the benefit of opening the hip flexor.
 
 
Deepening the pose:
 
When you feel stability and alignment in the modification, begin to draw your right knee off the floor and come to the toes.  This will present a greater balance challenge and will increase the strength of the pose. Press back through the right heel to increase space in the hip flexor and lift the right thigh to add strength in the leg, still maintaining the knee alignment by keeping the left knee over the ankle.  In a sun salutation you would only be here for one breath.  By itself, you can hold for several breaths.  Focus on sinking to the earth and reaching up through the fingertips to create dynamic tension and energy flow.
Once you’re ready to move on, bring your hands down to either side of the front foot and step back to plank or child’s pose.
 
 
High lunge is a great way to open the hip flexor and to work on balance. 
 
 
 
 
 
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   EXTENDED SIDE ANGLE POSE - UTTHITA PARSVAKONASANA
 
  by Nikki Estes
 
 
 
A standing pose that has strengthening as well as flexibility benefits is side angle pose.  This asana strengthens and stretches the legs, knees and ankles. This pose also stretches the groin, spine, waist, chest, lungs and shoulders.  Another added benefit is the stimulation of the abdominal organs and an increase in stamina.  The therapeutic applications that side angle offers are relief of: constipation, infertility, low back ache, osteoporosis, sciatica and menstrual discomfort.  Side angle pose can be modified to fit your strength and flexibility level so it is a pose that is accessible for most everyone.
 
 
Getting started:
 
 
Begin by standing on your mat with feet wing span apart (the distance between your wrists with arms extended shoulder height). Start with your right foot towards the front of the mat  aligning the heel with the arch of the left (back) foot.  Your left toes should be pointing towards the side of the mat to open the hip.
 
 
Start to bend the right knee and work towards bringing it directly over the ankle.  Keep the knee pointing toward the second or middle toe.  Make sure the knee doesn’t go beyond the ankle.    Ideally the goal is to get the thigh parallel to the floor.  If the leg is not strong enough, lessen the bend in the knee.  Sink the hip towards the earth and place the right forearm on the thigh. Be mindful of lifting the back inside ankle joint and pressing weight to the outside edge of the foot.  Avoid leaning into the thigh and sinking in the shoulder.  The waist should be active and lifting away from the floor.  Lift the left arm towards the sky.  If you have limited mobility in the shoulder, keep the arm  raised at 12:00.  If the shoulder permits, take the arm towards the right ear and stretch from the hip all the way to the fingers; stretching the whole side of the waist.  Roll the shoulder back and roll the left side of the rib cage and hip towards the sky. Have the feeling of sinking towards the earth but lifting towards the sky at the same time to create dynamic tension. Take deep expansive breaths through the chest.
 
 
To deepen the pose:
 
Once you can keep your thigh parallel to the floor and keep the alignment and breath flowing as well as feeling a sense of ease in the pose, it’s time to move deeper.  Beginning students tend to want to move deeper before they have the strength and flexibility to do so.  Make sure you can already sink the leg and hip deep in the pose before progressing further.  You can place a block to the inside of the front foot to whatever height is appropriate and bring the hand closer to the ground.  Use your arm to gently press the knee open.  The deepest position is when your palm is flat to the floor with out lifting the hip out of the pose.  Feel the alignment of a straight line from your foot to your fingertips.  The left side of your body is stretching while the right side of your body is strengthening.  Hold this pose up to 10 breaths and then return to standing.
 
 
Side angle can bring a sense of balance to the body by taping into your inner strength while creating space at the same time.  Make sure to do the pose on both sides to insure that balance.  I
 
 
 
 
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FISH POSE (MATYASANA)      by Nikki Estes
 
 
 
 
This asana (pose) is a back bend and strongly opens the chest and throat.  It is said to be “the destroyer of all disease” and is a perfect pose for the cold and flu season. Fish helps to open the lungs for better breathing, improving symptoms of asthma and bronchial problems.  The pose helps to improve posture by strengthening the muscles of the upper back and neck while stretching the hip flexors, intercostals (between the ribs), abdominal muscles and neck.  It helps to stimulate the digestive organs in the belly and the parathyroid gland (located in the throat) for greater absorption of calcium in the body.
 
 
Energetically Fish unblocks the throat chakra (one of our energy centers) in the body for greater expression and communication.  A great pose if you’re a singer or have to give an important speech.
 
 
Getting started:
 
 
Lie on the floor with your legs together and your toes pointed.  Roll your arms inward underneath your torso with the arms straight and the palms facing down. Begin to squeeze your shoulder blades together to start creating a lift in your chest. Place weight in the forearms and bend the elbows lifting the torso. Start to arch the spine lifting the chest to the sky and gently bringing the crown of the head to the floor.  If you have neck issues, use caution and bring the back of the head to the floor lessening the arch in the neck.  There will be weight in the head but primarily you are weight bearing in the forearms.  The legs should firmly press together as you lift out of the lower back and continue to lift the breast bone upward.
 
 
The goal is to create a deep back bend that has a lot of space between the back of the ribcage and the floor.  If you have trouble initially creating this arch, place a rolled up blanket under the torso for support.  Breathe expansively though the chest and stay here for 10 breaths or however long is comfortable for you.
 
 
To deepen the pose:
 
 
If you do not have back or neck issues, begin to lift the legs off the ground keeping them straight, lifting to a 45 degree angle.  Stay here for 5 to 10 breaths if possible.  Another option is to also lift the arms to this position.
 
 
To come out of the pose, with the legs and arms on the ground, bend the forearms and lift the chest.  Elongate the spine and lower to the earth pulling the knees into the chest.  Allow this invigorating energy settle into the body as you notice how deep your breath becomes.
 
 
Practice this pose anytime you want to open the chest and the throat to create more expansive breathing as well as greater verbal expression. As you gain more extension in your spine, you will feel more open in the pose. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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PIGEON POSE - EKA PADA RAJA KAPOTASANA
 
by Nikki Estes
 
 
One of my favorite hip openers is pigeon pose (Sanskrit/ Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana). This pose increases the external or outward rotation of the femur bone in the hip socket, stretching the hip abductor (the outside of the hip); and lengthening the psoas muscle, a hip flexor that connects the torso and the legs.  As well, this pose stretches the gluteal muscles (buttocks).  All these muscles connect directly into the pelvis which allows for better hip mobility and can alleviate back pain, sacral pain, and sciatica. This pose is especially effective for runners, cyclists, or anyone that does activities that chronically tighten muscles in the hips, gluteal muscles, and quadriceps (thighs). We are a country where many people sit all day which contributes to these imbalances.  Pigeon pose can improve your posture and prepare you for back bends (moving the body into extension). Cautions in this pose are most certainly the knees.  The pose is weight bearing and can cause pain in this joint.  Use caution and tune in to the sensations in your body when performing pigeon.  Any knee pain warrants the modification, “reclined pigeon” (see video) or use this pose as a warm up.
 
Getting Started:
Begin by coming on to all fours on your mat.  Start by bringing your left knee towards your hand at the left edge of the mat. Move your left foot towards parallel of the knee while sliding back your right knee to open the right hip flexor. Stay on your hands until you are sure your hips are level to the floor along with your right thigh. The right hip, knee, and ankle should be in alignment also.  If your knee is in pain remember to come out of the pose and use the alternative reclined pigeon on your back. Props can be used to make this pose safer and more effective.  Place a blanket or block under the left hip if it is elevated off the floor to ensure proper alignment and steadiness in the pose.  Begin to relax as you breathe into the hips and notice the sensation happening as you surrender further.
 
 
 Deepening the Pose:
Begin to lower to your forearms or chest. Make sure your hips aren’t tilting, putting undue pressure on the sacrum and back.  Stay here for 10 breaths.  Find stillness in the body and mind as you open and expand. Bonus pose:As you come back up to your hands you can add a deep quadricep (thigh) stretch to increase space in the lower body. Begin by taking your right foot with your right hand and bringing it towards the buttock. You can use a strap if you cannot reach the foot or again a blanket to increase steadiness and ease. Pressure should not be in the patella (knee cap) but rather just in front at the base of the thigh muscle.  Breathe into the quadricep as you feel it releasing. Repeat this pose on the right side to achieve balance.  Over time, the knee and the ankle will become more aligned as you increase the space in your hips.  
 
 
 
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CAMEL POSE/ USTRASANA ~ OPENING YOUR HEART TO GRACE
 
by Nikki Estes
 
Ustrasana is a deep back bend that takes patience and awareness.  If done correctly, this pose will bring space to the entire front side of the body while strengthening the back and creating vitality and self-expression from with in.  In all back bends one must be mindful not to feel all the sensation in the low back which often times can create compression in the lumbar spine.  When one is able to find length and extension through the spine, the spine should feel like a wheel, an equal sensation and flow of energy throughout. Energetically this pose focuses on the heart center- a place of love, self-healing and compassion.  The throat center will also be energized.  This area ignites one’s self-expression and communication.
 
 
The benefits of Ustrasana include stretching the ankles, thighs, groins, hip flexors, abdomen, chest and throat.  The back muscles are strengthened in this asana while improving the posture, bringing it into balance. The organs of the abdomen and the neck are stimulated as well.  Therapeutically this pose helps with respitory problems, mild back aches, fatigue, anxiety and menstrual issues. People with serious back and/or neck injury or high or low blood pressure should refrain or use caution when performing this pose.
 
 
Getting Started:
 
 
Start by coming on to the knees taking them hip width apart.  Firmly press the shins and the tops of the feet or toes into the earth. Bring the fists just beneath the low back at the top of the sacrum.  Use your fists to gently draw the tailbone down and away from the low back lengthening the base of the spine.  At the same time, draw the belly up and in towards the spine engaging the core and bringing the spine into a neutral position.  Feel your thighs spiral inward to create more space at the sacrum.
 
 
Inhale and begin to lengthen out of the low back.  Pressing the shoulder blades in to the back ribs, lift the heart towards the sky and begin to lean back against the firmness of the back side of the body.  Keep the gluteal muscles firm but not hard.  Watch that your hips aren’t protruding too far forward moving beyond your knees.  To counter act this, press your thigh muscles back towards the leg bones.
 
 
Begin to see if you can bring the hand to the heel.  Mindful that you are not twisting the spine to do this.  If you bring your hand to the heel rather than the top of the foot, the heel will be higher and less extension in the spine will be needed to accomplish this.  If one hand reaches all the way down, allow the opposite hand to reach towards the sky.  The spine should make a “c” curve rather than a “v” curve.  The thighs are perpendicular to the floor and the thoracic (upper spine) is arched and lifted to the sky.  Once you find stability, form and breath, take deep expansive breaths staying here for 10 breaths.  Keep a slight tuck in the chin to avoid hyperextension in the cervical spine.
 
 
When you are ready to come up, bring your fists back to support the low back and return yourself to neutral position.  To counter stretch the spine come onto all fours exhaling and rounding into cat pose.  Bring awareness, space and breath into your upper and lower back.  Repeat this process again by switching hands.
 
 
To Deepen The Pose:
 
Once you feel successful taking one hand down at a time, it’s time to try the full pose.  The tops of the feel will firmly press into earth and once again both fists will be supporting the low back.  As you come back into the extension this time, bring both hands down to the heels.  Make sure you are lengthening out of the low back and opening the heart to the sky.  Allow the neck to come back to the point where the throat opens but does not harden.  Maintain a neutral alignment here in the cervical spine.  Stay here for up to a minute.  Make sure you support your low back again with your fists when you come up. Return to cat pose to neutralize the spine.
 
 
Practice this pose at your ability level to create better posture, strength, length and breath capacity in the body; also to increase vitality, energy, self-healing and expression with in yourself.  
 
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BOAT POSE /NAVASANA                    
 
 by Nikki Estes
 
 
In the physical practice of yoga, the center of the asana’s strength comes from the core.  The core is the center of balance, movement and personal power.  A strong core helps to heal emotionally bound problems while giving us an innate sense of who we are.
 
 
In our practice, a strong core helps to support the spine and lower back. This helps to prevent injury while lessoning the chance of S.I. joint issues and compression of the lower lumbar disk while igniting the digestive fire to help eliminate the toxins from the body physically and mentally.
 
 
A pose that helps to strengthen the core substantially is boat pose (Navasava). Boat pose strengthens the abdominal muscles, spine, low back and hip flexors.  Therapeutically, this pose stimulates the kidneys, thyroid and intestines helping to improve digestion.  This strong pose can even relieve stress.
 
 
Getting started:
As you begin to practice this pose, you may initially lack the strength and flexibility to perform the full pose.  Remember form and breath are necessary to maintain the integrity of the pose.  Taking a more modified approach to the pose initially will prove beneficial until you can progress to full boat.
 
 
Start in a seated position with knees bent and feet on the ground, hip width apart.  Lifting the arms straight out from the shoulders, begin to lean back and engage the abdominal muscles by scooping the navel up and in towards the spine. Make sure not to cave the upper body.  Press the feet firmly into the earth particularly through the big toes and insides of the heels.  This will engage the inner thighs, the adductors, so the deep transverse abdominal muscles will fire.  This modified version is appropriate for pregnancy or anyone will low back issues.
 
 
 
 
Deepening the pose:
 
As you build strength, you can begin to lift the feet off the ground.  This will require you to lengthen out of the lumbar spine (low back) and to lift the chest towards the sky while keeping the abs engaged.  Feel the head of your thigh bones anchor into the pelvis to give the pose a base of strength.  If you lack the  flexibility in your hamstrings to straighten your legs all the way, you may need to keep them slightly bent until you can straighten the legs with out caving the spine.
 
 
So this is how to perform Navasana – baot pose.  Practice this pose to gain inner strength as well as strength in the abs, spine and hip flexors.  Gaining strength in this pose will also help to improve your posture, lessen back pain and will help to increase your center of power in other poses. 
 
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 TAKING A MIND-BODY APPROACH TO A HEALTHIER LIFE STYLE
 
Have you thought about trying  yoga but figured you were too inflexible? Do you connect yoga with religion?  These are common misconceptions about the practice.
 
 
There is a reason yoga has been around for 5,000 years and isn’t just the latest fad.  Yoga works to heal the mind, body and spirit.  Just some of the benefits of the practice are:  healing and preventing injury and disease; increasing muscle strength,  flexibility, balance, and range of motion in the joints; reducing stress,  promoting peace of mind; and promoting better oxygen consumption in the body.
 
Many athletes and “work-out warriors” are realizing the benefits of cross training with yoga.  The practice can improve your over all performance and increase your endurance and stamina.  If you are inflexible you are the exact candidate for yoga! Yoga isn’t a religion but rather a mind-body dicipline that any body can practice.