Yoga in the Age of Social Distance: A Practice For Energetic Strength
Loss of health and mobility begins with such impediments as stiff ankles, sore shoulder joints, tension around the eyes and face, a rigid spinal column, and tightness in the wrists and finger joints. In addition, soreness in the lower back and rigidity in the hip joints are extraordinarily common ailments. It is surprising how effectively these problems can be addressed with repetitions of (the) relatively simple movements (found here).
~ Rolf Sovik, PsyD, Himalayan Institute, commenting on Exercises for Joints & Glands by Swami Rama
I wonder if we will look back on this time of living through this pandemic as the Age of Social Distancing? Even though we are able to “see” one another through our masks and screens, we can’t really feel the contact or the connection with one another like we used to. I can’t help but wonder what all this is doing to us physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Distress in a Socially Distant Age
As a Yoga instructor who now teaches students only on a Zoom platform, I’ve noticed some distressing trends. I believe we are suffering the consequences of our inability to move about our lives with the freedom and ease we normally do. I’ve had many reports about shoulder, arm and wrist issues. I myself had a bout of “frozen shoulder” from June all the way until October. In addition, those who have received the vaccine have reported to me of their arm soreness, fatigue and a general need to “recover” from the vaccine, especially after receiving the second dose.
I’ve always thought that one’s arms are like one’s wings—these are the appendages we express with. When we can enjoy the fullest expression of our lives, energetically, we are flying. Even though we all have a unique way of finding our expression, it is usually initiated from the upper body. The arms are connected to the heart; metaphorically, the heart uses the arms to tell its story. The arms are the body parts we reach out with, that we are drawn in with, and what we use to hug and hold onto those we love. I’d venture to say one of the most difficult parts of this pandemic is not being able to do any of the abovementioned, especially the hugging.
In the age of social distancing, hugging is put on hold. We can only imagine, or try to remember, the way it feels. The arms, the neck, the heart and the throat are deprived from the energetic and emotional sense of healing and positivity that hugging brings. Am I saying that the aforementioned upper body issues are related to our inability to hug one another? Yes.
However, there is also a fact that we are glued to a screen and a keyboard these days. In the most practical sense, there is nothing more draining and damaging than to stare at a computer screen and type for hours on end, day after day. From an ergonomic standpoint, even the best of set ups can’t negate the strain to the head, neck, eyes, arms, wrists and fingers. The damaging blue light from the screen is also quite harmful to our nervous system and quality of sleep. Add these factors to our current isolation and general lack of hugging and it follows that folks would be compromised right now, and suffering from repetitive stress symptoms in the upper body.
I’ve learned we have to do more to take care of ourselves, and others, in this age of social distancing. Those of us who are heeding this call are adapting, perhaps even thriving.
A Yoga Practice For Energetic Strength
In response to all this upper “stuff” I have had myself and seen in my students, I put together a brief series of movements that draws from exercises in The Joints and Glands work set forth by Swami Rama of the Himalayan Institute, combined with certain poses from the Yin Yoga tradition set forth by Paul Grilley. Some of the moves I’ve just developed myself to heal my own frozen shoulder; and in some of the moves I am taking the theory of Yin Yoga plus joints and glands and combining them to make a kind of moving Yin Yoga pose.
My own recovery has been successful, and I have had reports from several of my students that they are getting over some of their upper body issues as well. What I am noticing more than anything else is my students have become stronger and more dedicated to their practices, showing up consistently to our classes. It’s become apparent to them that Yoga is a lifeline; it is more essential now than ever before for restoring a sense of health and normalcy. This is why I am witnessing my students getting stronger—energetically stronger.
This sequence can be done by anyone and does not require any physical prowess or effort; in fact, the more effortless you make it, the better. The main point is to do this consistently. Although there are several steps, it shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to do all of the exercises, depending on how long you want to remain in the Yin Yoga Poses. As with any exercise program, it is imperative you consult with your physician prior to starting this if you do have specific health issues. If you have low blood pressure or blood pressure issues, or structural issues in the spine, please use caution and do less, but always check with your doctor first.
Do each of these starting moves for about 30 seconds:
Shoulder Shrugs and Rolls
From a standing position, lift one shoulder, then the other, and then both. You can alternate this with Shoulder Rolls. This shrugging and rolling motion will be used in between some of the other exercises, too. It serves as a type of base line for the standing part.
Vertical Arm Swings: Parts A & B
Part A: Simply stand, legs about hip distance apart and knees slightly bent. Made sure you have enough room to swing your arms, and do so. Swing the arms from the front to the back plane of the body. I also suggest you feel free to “flick” the hands and wrists a bit while going at it, especially if you have sore wrists.
Part B: Make a light fist with both hands, turning your palms to face your body, then swing the arms forward and back making a pull and release motion. So, the elbows bend on the “pull” motion, and then the arms straighten on the “release” motion. Feel the warmth in the shoulders.
Horizontal Arm Swings
Raise your arms to about shoulder height, palms face down, and swing them forward and back, alternating them so that one crosses over the other. The chest expands when the arms swing back, and the chest is slightly compressed when the arms swing forward and cross. (I like to have the arms actually pat the lungs when they cross, which is reminiscent of Qi Gong, and stimulates the lungs a bit).
Shoulder Shrugs and Rolls (repeat the first exercise)
Rotations with Extended Arms: Parts A & B
Part A: This is a variation of the one mentioned in Joints and Glands. With your palms facing outward, move your straight arms up to the sky as you inhale. As you exhale, bend the elbows and place your hands on your shoulders, and then let the arms move down by your side.
Part B: Lift the arms as in part A, but this time leave the hands on the shoulders and make circles with the elbows slowly, in both directions.
Shoulder Shrugs and Rolls (repeat first exercise)
Standing Side Bend
Sweep the left arm up as you inhale and allow the torso to lean to the right, take several breaths. Keep the knees bent and the legs about three feet apart. Straighten back to center and lower arm. Repeat on side two.
Supported Torso Rotation
Place your hands on your lower back and with the knees slightly bent, shift your pelvis to one side, then the other. Gradually, with breath, make circles clockwise and then counter-clockwise.
Standing Fluid Twist
Rotate the legs slightly out with the legs about three feet apart. Swing the torso and arms right and left to create a twist in the abdomen. When twisting to the right, momentum will make the left heel lift slightly, and then the same on the right. Repeat left then right 5-6 times.
Standing with your legs apart and knees bent, place your hands on your thighs. Tilt the tailbone and head up to arch the back as you inhale, as you exhale, round the back and exhale. While exhaling, squeeze the abdomen by pressing the breath out while toning the belly. Repeat 5-6 times.
Coming to the ground, fold over the knees in the pose of a child. Let the head rest. If you have knee issues, lie on your back instead and draw the knees to your chest. Hold this for about 3 minutes. (90 seconds if you are short on time). Completely relax and watch the breath. Let the eyes close.
From a seated position, bring the soles of your feet to touch. Do not try to stretch. Just relax, let the torso round as far forward as comfortably possible, and relax the head, the arms and back over the legs (90 secs or 3 mins).
From your seated position, move the legs out to the side in a straddle position. Turn the trunk to fold over the right leg, then the left leg, and then come down the center. Hold each position for 90 seconds to 3 minutes.
Sphinx Pose: Parts A & B
Part A: Lying on your belly, rest on the forearms with the head either held up or dangling. Allow the head to release in the dangle position if possible.
Part B: Same as part A, but this time, bend the knees, allowing the shins to be like windshield wipers and move them happily from side to side. Let the hips, lower back, neck and shoulders completely release.
Rest on the belly with the legs wide apart and the heels pointing to one another. Rest the forehead on the hands. Close the eyes, breath slowly into the belly. Practice the breath as slow and as smooth as you can. (3-5 mins)
Twisted Root Variation
Lying on your back, knees bent, cross your right knee over your left knee as if you are sitting cross-legged in a chair. Let your arms open out to the side like airplane wings. Let the crossed knees drop to the left to create a twist. With the palms of the arms turned toward the ceiling, slide the right arm out along the side of the body and slowly slide it until the arm comes alongside the body over the head. Then slide the arm back to the side of the body. Come in and out of this arm movement several times before holding it at the place where it is most therapeutic for your needs. Then hold and breathe, about 2-3 mins.
Supported Shoulder Pose
Roll up a blanket to make a 3-4 inch “tootsie roll” prop for your spine. Make sure it is not too high. Place the prop on floor and lie on top so it supports along the spine. Lie here with the palms turned up, let the chest open, and practice slow, steady breaths.
Claudia Neuman, MSW, E-RTY 500, YACEP, Certified ParaYoga® & ParaYoga® Nidra Instructor was born in Los Angeles where she studied and trained with todays’ top teachers in the field of Yoga. Claudia started her teaching career in the 80’s and continues to teach in the DC Metro area through various studios and through Zoom classes online. You can learn more about Claudia by visiting her website: www.alignwithgrace.com.
BY CLAUDIA NEUMAN