To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (14th - 20th May), take to your yoga mat and namaste your way to better mental wellbeing
The modern world can be a huge stress on our bodies, making it so important not to forget about looking after yourself and practising some much needed self-care. Here, yoga instructor and Lululemon ambassador Kirsty Gallagher recommends her top five yoga poses that you can do daily to show your body some love and help take the very best care of you.
1) Unknot your neck
After hours spent hunched over the computer your neck may be crying out for some TLC. This is also an area often affected by stress with a tendency to get very tight, achy and tense, often causing a knock on effect through the rest of the body Show your neck some love by stretching it out. Sit up tall in a comfortable cross-legged position. With the shoulders relaxed down away from the ears drop your right ear over to your right shoulder. Feel a sweet stretch all the way down the left side of the neck. For a little bit of a deeper stretch place your right had on the side of the head just behind the ear – don’t pull or strain the neck, just use the hand here as a gentle encouragement to go deeper. Hold for eight to 10 deep breaths then repeat on the left side. Then drop the chin in towards the chest, interlock the fingers behind the back of the head and gently draw the elbows in and down and much as you need to to get a nice sweet stretch along the whole back body.
2) Happy hips
If you’re deskbound all day it’s a commonly known problem that ‘the longer you sit the tighter the hips’. Tight hips can cause a myriad of problems including lower back and knee pain and limited range of motion in this area as the muscles tighten up. Show your hips some love by practising Baddakonasana. This sweet hip opener is one of the best for increasing flexibility of the hips and counteracting tight hips and poor posture after sitting all day or travelling. Come to seated then bend your knees and bring the soles of the feet together letting the knees drop out to either side. The closer the heels to the pelvis the more challenging it will be so keep the feet away a little to begin with so you don’t round your spine. You can sit on a blanket or block if needs be or even practice sitting against a wall.
3) Digestion aid
Ever get bloated or sluggish digestion? Between eating on the run, high stress levels and processed foods our busy, rushed modern day lives can cause havoc on our digestive system. We’ve probably all at some point experienced some problems associated with this area, with many people suffering on a daily basis. Show your digestive system some love by sitting in Virasana (hero’s pose) This pose is incredible for the digestive system as it helps to stimulate the stomach meridians in the legs and is said to increase jatharagni, the digestive fire in the body. It can also be done straight after eating to help beat the bloat and improve digestion. This is also a great thigh, knee and ankle stretch but do use props and take care of the knees. Come to kneeling, the knees should ideally be together with the feet slightly apart just outside the hips and the tops of the feet on the floor. If the knees are tight then place a yoga block, folded blanket or towel on the floor between the shins. You can also place blankets underneath the knees, shins, ankles and/or feet for extra comfort.
4) Support your spine
Spinal health is so important to overall wellbeing and leading a healthy happy life, anyone who has ever experienced back pain of any kind knows how debilitating it can be. A sedentary lifestyle, sitting all day in a desk job and poor posture all put you at risk of back problems, which in turn can cause pain, low energy levels and migraines just to name a few issues. Show your spine some love by doing salabasana (locust pose) daily. Not only will this amazing pose help build strength and flexibility in the back it will also help counteract the ‘back hunch’ caused by all day sitting, opening your chest and improving your posture. Come to lie on the belly with the arms down by the side and your forehead resting on the floor. On an inhale lift the head, chest, arms and legs up off the floor. Draw the shoulders down away from the ears and smile the collar bones back, lengthen through the toes and crown of the head. You can either flow up and down with the breath or go up and hold for five breaths.
5) Time to unwind
It is so important to schedule in to your daily routine time out for you, time to allow yourself to unwind and let go in body, heart, mind and soul. Even just a few minutes of blissful heartfelt nourishing time out each day will make the biggest difference to your wellbeing. Show yourself some love by blissing out in viparita karni (legs up the wall) When you want a few moments of peace this deeply restorative pose will help calm the mind, relieve anxiety & completely relax the entire nervous system. Surrender into stillness and allow this poses supportive softness to sink into every cell of your body, heart and mind. Sit next to a wall with one of your hips resting next to the wall. Gently swing your legs around until they are up the wall with the backs of the thighs resting on the wall. Then slowly lower yourself down to lie on your back. Make sure your buttocks are as close to the wall as possible and rest your arms down by your sides with the palms facing up.