Almost all Westerners, except athletes and the very young or very limber, find their joints protesting painfully when they begin Yoga practice. In addition, sitting for even a few minutes in a fixed position will make your limbs ache. This is only natural, and when this happens, simply stretch briefly, gently massage the aching spot, then resume the position. At the end of a week you will find the whole procedure a good deal easier. In this article we discuss two basic asanas which benefit the backward stretch of the spine.
1. Dhanurasana, or Bow Posture, celebrated for its rejuvenating effects and the relaxing of many little-used muscles.
Method: Lie flat on the mat, face down, arms by your sides, both stretched taut, then bend the legs at the knees as far back as possible and catch the ankles with the corresponding hands. Pull the feet well down. Now lift the knees and thighs off the ground, pulling hard on the ankles and simultaneously raising your head and chest until you are poised on your abdomen. Lift the head well up and look straight ahead of you.
At first you may find it a help to widen the space between the knees for the second part of this exercise. You may not be able to achieve elevation at first. Continue to lift as far as you can without jerking, hold this position for five seconds, relax and rest. It will help the lift if you push the knees out. Gradually you will gain elasticity. Once you have managed to raise the chest and thighs, try to reduce the space between the knees and deepen your stretch.
Therapeutic Value: The Bow Posture, together with the Cobra Pose which follows, are the two exercises which benefit the backward stretch of the spine. Meanwhile the abdominal region is stretched and exercised and the entire sympathetic nervous system stimulated. This results not only in physical well-being and longevity, but improved emotional and nervous control.
2. Bhujangasana, or Cobra Pose:
Method: This is one of the basic asanas which all beginners should master. Lie face down on the mat, forehead touching the ground, with arms bent so that the elbows point upward and the palms rest on the ground just below the shoulders. Stretch the legs well out, keeping them stiff and straight, with the soles pointing upward. Do not allow the knees to slacken or bend. Now raise the head slowly, as high as possible, jutting the chin forward, feeling the stretch.
Lift chest and torso off the ground, pressing down on the hands but letting the contraction of the back take most of the strain. Feel pressure traveling down the spine all the way to the sacral region. Make sure your body from the navel to the toes rests on the floor. When you are finally upright, like a cobra poised to strike, retain the pose for as long as possible without feeling undue strain. Increase the time gradually from a few seconds to a full minute. Then slowly return to the face-down position. Relax and rest.
In time you will be able to dispense almost entirely with support from the hands and arms, although at first this may seem not even remotely possible. However, once perfected this asana gives great benefit even though it need be performed only once a day.
Therapeutic Value: An exercise to make the spine amazingly supple and flexible, at the same time it revitalizes abdominal muscles. Kidney, liver and pancreas are stimulated so that the appetite improves and bodily heat increases. This asana is of great value to persons who do a great deal of stooping -- sedentary workers and women overburdened with housework -- and all who suffer from habitual backache.
Caution: If your spine is stiff, proceed cautiously. Remember that whereas a smooth slow stretch will benefit you, a wrench may be painful or even harmful.
You will get a lot out of both these basic asanas.
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