Yoga is mainly known for its meditation methods. Similar to breathing exercises, there are lots of different ways to meditate. You may have heard meditation referred to as emptying your mind of thoughts. This is pretty much impossible (even for long-time meditators). We are born thinkers. The aim is to hold up the runaway train of thoughts and also to learn not to let our thoughts constantly carry us away from the present moment. It is a contest to stay truly in the present. A huge amount of the time, we are thinking about something in the past or ruminating about the future.
Preferably, you want a tranquil place where you will not be disturbed. In this activity, you’re aiming to become aware of your thoughts. Detect them but don’t let them carry you away. Some thoughts, such as, “What should I have for dinner?” are small distractions. Others can result in full-fledged fantasy conversations. Either way, you want to notice them and gently nudge your mind back to the moment.
Use your senses to bring you back into the moment. Notice the sounds which surround you—those which are close, those that are farther away. This can return you back to the present moment.
Studies have revealed that regular meditation can help depression, which makes chronic pain worse. The practice helps you stay present and less likely to anticipate negative future events.
Similar to the breathing exercises, in focused meditation, the practitioner focuses on one particular thing. This could be breathing, notice small details of how it makes you feel. For instance, notice the air tickle through the nostrils; sense how the air expands the belly and lungs. The focus could be sounds, for instance repeating a prayer or a simple phrase such as, “I breathe in energy, I exhale and release frustration.” You could also focus visually, for example on a candle, observing as the colours and flame flicker and shift.
Meditation in Action
You can meditate throughout your day even if you can’t find some isolation. It’s a matter of noticing and utilising everyday events to remind you to stay present. For instance, when you are driving, you can use red lights or stop signs as representations for you to take a moment to check in with your thoughts. Similarly, when the phone rings, let it return you to the present. Don’t anticipate what you will and won’t say. Stay alert in the present moment and let the conversation unfold calmly.
Strike a Pose with Asanas
Mind-body yoga exercises are great ways to strengthen your core and therefore reduce common aches and pains. No two people’s poses will ever be identical because no two bodies are exactly the same (except identical twins). Attempt these techniques gently and don’t put your body into any extreme positions. As with any exercise for back pain or rehab, if you are unsure if a position is good for you, talk to your doctor or physio therapist.
This exercise improves core and back muscles and gently massages your spine.
Start on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms down at your sides. A block between your knees is helpful but not essential. The block will help you engage your inner thighs.
On exhale, gently pull your abdominal muscles in, curl your tailbone up through your legs, and lift your hips up toward the ceiling. Cease when you reach your shoulder blades. Hold to inhale, and then gently lower your spine down vertebra by vertebra; maintain even weight distribution on both sides of your back. Repeat several times.
WATCH YOUR BACK
Avoid letting your hips sag down and creating stress in the lower back.
Seated Spine Twist
This works on the rotator muscles and generates more flexibility in the spine.
Start seated with one leg bent, the other straight.
With the right leg bent, wrap your left arm around your knee, rotate, and place your right arm behind you with your palm on the floor. Hold to inhale, and as you exhale, slowly return to center. Repeat several times to each side.
This works on the abdominal muscles and creates flexibility in the spine. Done after each other, these poses work stretch the spine in opposite directions—gentle forward bends and back bends. Start on your hands and knees with your hands in line with your shoulders and knees in line with your hips; your spine remains neutral (neither extended nor flexed).
Inhale to prepare; as you exhale, pull your tailbone under as you round your spine looking down and through your legs. Pause. Inhale as you slowly move the spine into an arched position, drawing your shoulders back and looking up toward the ceiling. Return to neutral. Repeat several times.
WATCH YOUR BACK
During the cow pose, be careful not to just drop into an arched lower back. It is a gentle arch held firmly in place with your abdominal muscles.
This exercise is great for the legs and aids loosen the hip joints. It is particularly useful for counterbalancing the effects of sitting.
Start on your hands and knees. Position your right knee toward your right hand, extend your left leg back.
Put your elbows to the floor and notice the stretch in your right hip. To increase the stretch, you can fold your body forward and place your head on the floor. Maintain this stance for several seconds, then move to the opposite side.
Happy Baby Pose
This stretches hip flexor muscles, easing their pull on your back.
Start on your back, both legs up and knees angled narrow to your body. Grip the outside of your feet and firmly pull the feet down toward the floor. Your knees will not reach the floor. Maintain the position for a few seconds. Release and experience the opening in your hips. Lots of people report that their legs feel longer after this exercise.
This pose stretches the hamstrings, the muscles located on the back of your legs. These can get tight due sitting and also from exercise.
Start on your back with one leg up with a strap around the foot. Gently draw the leg toward your head, trying to keep the knee as straight as possible. The opposite leg can be bent or straight, depending on how flexible you are. Maintain the pose for several seconds on each side.