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Thursday, February 08, 2007

You-Can-Do-It Yoga


Stand taller, look leaner and move more gracefully—even if you can't touch your toes.

By Naomi Barr, Prevention magazine


It's time to forget the idea that yoga is only for the young, the absurdly flexible, or the spiritually inclined. In fact, yoga is a fantastic addition to any fitness plan, no matter your age or ability. And even if you'd never try a scorpion pose, the health benefits can't be beat. Just one session can temporarily help lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone linked to a greater risk of heart disease.


Research shows that yoga relieves back pain as well as or more effectively than traditional exercises. Most recently, a small University of California, San Francisco, study revealed that 90 minutes of yoga a week for 8 weeks may help decrease the frequency and severity of hot flashes by more than 30%. Still hesitant? You'll also increase strength, get toned, and sleep better.


To get you started, Peggy Cappy, creator of the Yoga for the Rest of Us DVD series, designed this easy 15-minute routine that uses a chair to gently increase your flexibility. "As your body becomes more resilient, your mind will, too," she says. "Everyday stresses, like traffic jams or rude people, won't push your buttons as easily." Perform this routine daily, and you'll be moving with more energy and ease within 2 weeks.


Workout Basics

The plan: Do each stretch one time, repeating on the opposite side where instructed. Practice the routine at least three times a week, daily if possible.
What you'll need: Comfortable, loose clothing; a mat or carpeted floor; and a sturdy kitchen or dining room chair.
For a challenge: Hold each pose up to 60 seconds.


Shoulder/Wrist Stretch


Realigns shoulders that are out of balance from carrying handbags on one side; soothes wrist soreness from too much computer time


Sit on edge of chair, keeping spine erect. Slowly swing right arm in a large circle, up in front and then down behind you. Start a second circle, but stop when hand is directly overhead. Keeping arm up, circle hand (from wrist) clockwise two times. Then lower arm behind you, completing the circle. Do two more arm/wrist circles and then repeat in the opposite direction, making counterclockwise circles with wrist. Repeat with left arm.


Wide-Legged Forward Bend


Stretches lower back, backs of legs, and inner thighs


Stand about 2 feet in front of chair, with feet as wide as comfortable. Turn toes slightly inward and contract leg muscles, keeping legs straight. Don't lock knees. Bend forward from hips, keeping back straight. Place hands on seat or back of chair. Keep head in line with spine. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, imagining the space between each vertebra of the spine expanding. As you become more flexible, bend elbows until forearms rest on chair.


Modified Triangle Pose


Wakes up the whole body by stretching chest, hips, torso, legs, and arms


A. Stand with chair seat facing you. Separate legs about 3 feet, left foot under chair, toes pointing to left. Turn right foot slightly to left and align arch of right foot with heel of left. Keep legs straight. Contract legs as if hugging muscles to bones. Lengthen spine and extend arms out to sides at shoulder level, palms down.


B. Keeping back tall, gently push hips to right as you lean to left, bending at left hip and placing left hand on chair seat. Stretch right hand toward ceiling, looking up. Pull shoulder up and back to keep torso facing forward. To increase the side stretch, lower right arm so it extends at a diagonal. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Relax and repeat on right side. As you become more flexible, bend elbow until forearm rests on chair.


Calf Stretch


Relieves achy calves, tight Achilles, and cramped toes caused by wearing high heels


Start on all fours, hands beneath shoulders and knees beneath hips. Bring left knee to chest and then extend leg behind you, placing toes on floor. Shift left foot forward an inch and then press left heel back as if you are trying to touch it to the floor (it won't actually reach). Hold for 20 seconds. Return to all fours. Repeat with right leg.


Half-Bow Pose


Loosens the fronts of thighs, which get tight from too much sitting


Lie on right side, head on right arm. Pull knees up until thighs form a right angle with torso. Extend left leg in a line with upper body. Point, then flex foot. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then relax. Bend left knee and grab ankle (or pant leg) with left hand. Gently pull foot behind (shown) you so you feel a stretch along front of thigh. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then release leg. Roll over and repeat with right leg.


Twist


Increases back flexibility, so you'll twist more easily the next time you have to parallel park


Lying on back with arms out to sides, bend knees and place feet hip-width apart and about a foot away from buttocks. Keeping shoulders on floor, slowly drop knees to right side as you turn head to left. Let feet roll naturally and lower knees as far as comfortably possible. You should feel a stretch along left side. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Return to start position and repeat to opposite side.

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