Source: Web exclusive: January 2011
Now that the holiday season is behind us, and we stand at the threshold of a brand-new year, what better way to face the unknown than to strengthen the most important part of our bodies, our "core" (abdominal and lower back muscles). There is a multitude of yoga poses that act as building blocks for this particular area, but in my opinion, none work so effectively and surprisingly quickly as the crème de la crème of all yoga poses: Staff Pose.
Staff pose is in keeping with my Kitchen Yoga ‘off the mat’ philosophy, with one big difference’it’s practiced sitting on the floor. Because I’m not a big fan of sitting on the kitchen floor, I suggest sitting with your back up against or slightly away from a sofa or chair. Staff Pose will alleviate chronic back pain and at the same time restructure and realign your posture, which translates into looking younger. It also stretches and lengthens hamstrings (yay!) and literally only takes a few minutes to do. So if you want to stand tall and radiate confidence and elegance as your take your first steps into the new year, put Staff Pose at the top of your New Year’s ‘to do’ list and make it your number 1 worthwhile daily habit.
Top 5 benefits:
‘ Builds core strength by strengthening abdominal and lower back muscles
‘ Strengthens and lengthens back muscles, promoting good posture
‘ Helps to alleviate chronic lower back pain
‘ Strengthens calf and thigh muscles
‘ Stretches and lengthens hamstrings
‘ Sitting against any wall in your home or office
‘ Sitting up against your bed
‘ Sitting under a tree in the park (on a warm sunny day)
‘ Sitting on a blanket at the beach, breathing with the ocean
Props for beginners:
A small rolled-up blanket placed under the knees for tight hamstrings and/or small pillow or rolled-up blanket placed under the buttocks for tight back and hips.
1. Sit on the floor with your back slightly away from or leaning against a sofa or chair.
2. Stretch your legs out in front of you and lift the flesh away from your buttocks so you are sitting directly on your sitting bones.
3. Contract thigh and calf muscles and push your heels forward, flexing ankles, so you stretch and lengthen the hamstrings.
4. Lift your torso and upper chest up, roll your shoulders back and down, and place your hands on the floor beside your thighs. Keep chin parallel to the floor and relax your facial muscles and jaw. Visualize your body as the letter L. Try to avoid leaning backward’though this sometimes happens for beginners, don’t let it put you off.
5. As you inhale, draw the breath up into your upper chest, lengthening your back muscles and spine, and as you exhale, hold the height and contract belly (abdominal) muscles as tightly as you can. The extra height and the contraction are the core-strengthening building blocks. (If you want to take it to the next level, work with eyes closed and on every exhale quietly say to yourself, ‘I AM STRONG’).
6. Repeat for 6-10 breaths (or more), keeping your legs contracted, your ankles flexed and the jaw and shoulders relaxed.
7. On your last exhalation, release, let go and sit back and feel really proud of yourself because you are changing your life.
Note: Many of my 55-plus-year-old students have been practicing this pose for a while and though it was challenging at first; they are now able to hold the pose for up to and sometimes more than two minutes, so no excuses!
Bad posture (slouching) is considerably more aging than wrinkles! When a woman (or man, for that matter) walks into a room with the confidence emitted through good posture, everyone notices her. Staff pose, once it gets into your consciousness (which happens if you practice it regularly), will be a constant reminder to sit up straight. These days it’s challenging for everyone to remember to find time to practice yoga or any fitness regime. That’s why Kitchen Yoga (simple, effective, poses practised while you go about your day) makes so much sense. So remember, every time you watch TV, before you get comfy and cosy, sit on the floor and build your core. You won’t be sorry’I promise.
Kitchen Yoga is available at www.ruthshawyoga.com in both print and ebook editions. Practice Kitchen Yoga for 2-5 minutes a day and you will fit 30 or more extra minutes of yoga a week, without adding one more ‘to-do’ in your busy schedule.