The following article and activites were extracted from “Body Speech and Mind” by Namgyal Rinpoche.
One of the primary laws in the practice of yoga, as well as in chiropractic (apart from putting things back where they’re supposed to be) is that when you are loose and relaxed, the original coding of your body will draw you back to your ideal form. That is true unless you were born with some type of genetic problem. The pull back to the original form is stronger than the conditioning of various dis-eases. Over a period of time, gradually the movements of correct posture increase if you allow the body to be relaxed.
For any healing to take place, however, you first need flexibility.
Flexibility in Hatha Yoga allows one to perform the movements or gestures that allow for certain healings or re-alignments to take place. Consider: Hatha indicates the sun/ moon energies, and Yoga is yoking, or union.
Typically the term “mudra” has been associated with hand gestures. But they can also be ways of placing the body such as in Hatha Yoga. For instance, the lotus posture is for balancing the energy of the body.
Begin with the five fundamental postures [before breakfast]: guru-asana, the fish, the cobra, the shoulder stand and the beginning spinal twist. Virtually all the Hatha Yoga postures extend from these five.
The following exercises should be done three times in one session:
Sitting in cross-legged position, bend slowly forward from the groin area and hip joint, as you keep dropping the pelvis and legs into the ground. Feel the elongation move up the spine out of the lumbar area, until the forehead touches teh floor (feeling the vertebrae curving), creating a long forward curve from teh base of the spine. Stay touching the floor with the forehead for as long as possibe, without straining; then, slowly sit upright, again feeling each vertebra move, while returning to the sitting position. Go slowly, until you are used to the stretch and use a pillow on which to rest your head.
2. The Fish:
Lying down, bend the knees. Roll the shoulder blades down from the ears and towards the spinal column. The lower back releases back towards the floor, as the belly drops naturally back on the exhale. Using the elbows, press them into the floor and lengthen the back of the neck to place the top of the head onto the floor. This posture opens up the front of the chest, expanding the lungs and lifting up the sternum.
After regular yoga practice, when the neck has elongated and the upper back can widen with the chest opening the elbows are removed. (The final posture is not an elbow pose.) At this time, the knees can be in a cross-legged postiion or in lotus pose. Again, the pelvis drops into the ground along with the legs, to support the opening movement through the upper chest with the breath.
3. The Cobra:
Lying face down, place the two hands – palms down and fingers spread – ont the floor, approximately level with the shoulders. Starting with an exhale that grounds the pelvis and the legs into the floor, the following inhale allows the upper body to roll up out of the pelvis and open up the front chest, while the legs and pubic bone remain on the floor. The upper back remains as wide as possible allowing the spinal column to lengthen. At this point, the upper arms roll out and the entire arm is used by moving the hands into the floor to help lift the sternum. As the shoulders remain dropped, lengthen the back of the neck. (No chins to the ceiling and contracting the back of the neck.)
Hold this position for as long as possible, staring straight ahead, and keeping the navel region as near to the floor as possible. Then slowly bring the body back to lying face down on the floor.
4. Shoulder Stand:
If this is your first time doing a shoulder stand, lie on the floor with your torso and place your feet on the wall with bent knees. Use pressure into the wall with your feet to lift up the torso towards the shoulders. Place your elbows on the floor towards the body and lace your hands above your waist, to support your pelvis. Roll out the upper arm, widen through the shoulders and drop with gravity into the floor for foundation Lengthen one leg adn take it off the wall, still feeling the drop into the ground that will help to create more lengthening through the back of the neck. If the neck feels okay with the stretch, lengthen the other leg, removing t from teh wall, as your body forms a “V” with the torso adn the legs.
Be aware if your neck and do not force straight alignment, until the neck is ready.
Once your neck and arms are comfortable with the half shoulder stand, move into the full posture by gradually moving the hands lower towards the shoulder blades, dropping more fuly into the ground with the elbows. With the deep exhalation supporting the lower and mid back, this grounding allows the pelvis to lift up out of the elongation of the spine. The lengthening continues up the back of the legs and the inner line o the legs, right up into the inner ankles. The feet and calves remain relaxed – they are not lifting the pose. The elbows need to stay within the shoulder alignment, so the fundation will not collapse. Allow the neck and lower back to lengthen and release. Remain in this posture as long as possible. Then, slowly allow the elbows to slide apart, lowering the spine vertebra by vertebra. Rest for a moment.
Contraindications for shoulderstand are: high blood pressure; eye or ear problems; any recent neck or shoulder injury; and women who are menstruating. (Not that menstruation usually becomes heavier, if inversions are done; for some who already experience pain, it can become more painful.) Release the pose if you hear blood rushing through your ears or you feel compression or pressure in the face, throat or eeys. Indicators of stress and a sign to release the pose are strain in the eyes overheating, difficult breathing or a choking feeling in the throat.
5. Spinal Twist:
Sitting with legs stretched forward, lift the pelvis up off the floor by using the hands and then lower to make sure that you are sitting directly on the sitting (sitz) bones, (forward towards the pubic bone) and not dropped back into the sacrum. The grounding of the pose is in the sitting bones and the talbone. Lift the right foot over the left thigh and draw the right leg towards the body, to the point where the spine is still perpendicular to (r growing out of) the pelvis (floor). Place the sole of the foot flat on the floor and as parallel as possible with the left leg (without stressing the ankle). Put both hands down towards teh floor, fingers pointing behind you and close to the buttocks, to help the lift through the spinal column or central axis of the posture. Breathe easily and naturally, holding this posture. Then slowly take the foot in the hands and ilft it back over the left thigh; stretch the right leg fully forward and repeat the exercise, using the other leg. This is the beginner;s exercise for the spinal twist.
When you feel comfortable with the above, try taking it further. When the left foot is crossed over the right leg and the left knee is bent toward the chest, move the left hand, so that it is resting on the floor behind your left buttock, fingers pointing away from the body. Using the area of the spinal column between the shoulder blades (where the vertebra are smaller) to lead the twist, let the right arm hug the left knee toward the chest. drop into the pelvis towards the ground with the exhale, allowing the deep exhale to suport the lower back and creating a release or movement of the spinal column, like a wave towards the crown of the head.
If the spinal column is long and elongated, the posture can continue by lifting the right arm over the left leg and placing the hand on the floor, fingers pointing towards the right foot. The left foot plants itself into the ground and, with awareness, the upper left hip is active as it rolls into the centre (internally rotates), pushing off the grounded foot. This cretes a spring action by further grounding the pelvis through the sitting bones, releasing the tailbone into the ground in order to lengthen the lower back and free the upper spinal column. Following the release and turn of the upper spine, the head and shoulders turn together to the left or towards the bent knee and around. The grounding takes place in the bottom of the spine, spiralling up into the turn in the upper back. There should be a sense of lifting up out of a solid foundation. Hold this posture for a short time. Then slowly relax and repeat with the other leg.
Contraindications for spinal twist: Do not do if you have bruised, broken or dislocated ribs. Avoid it if you are suffering inflammation from colitis, cystitis or irritable bowel syndrome. Pregnant women do only a gentle twist and an open pose away from the bent knee, to keep space for the fetus; sometimes, this posture is avoided in the last trimester.