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The Right Moves

Pause and Pose to Keep You on Your Toes

November 06, 2000|Karen Voight

Are you one of those high-energy, on-the-go people who's always ready to push yourself through another fast-paced day? If so, this classic yoga pose called Downward-Facing Dog could be a perfect antidote to help soothe your nerves and release tension in your whole body.

Before throwing yourself into an intense workout or jumping right into your hectic schedule, try practicing this pose for a few minutes each morning. Use it as a warmup and, more important, as a way to "check in" with your body, noticing how different it feels from day to day.

As we get older and busier, our bodies tend to settle into certain habits. The sloppy way we sit at the computer, or the bad posture we have while standing in line, can cause stress to our bodies. But because we are "on automatic" and these motions are so routine, we get desensitized to the discomfort--especially when we are in a hurry. Over time, this lack of physical awareness can lead to chronic pain and a variety of injuries.

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Simple yoga postures like this one can help bring you back in touch with your body. By slowing down a little and paying attention to how your body feels, you can learn to avoid some of the strain and unconscious tension hiding in activities you do all day long.

* Start by kneeling on all fours with your hands a few inches in front of your shoulders, fingers forward. Place your knees hip-width apart and curl your toes under. Breathe in deeply as you think of lengthening your spine.

* Exhale slowly and begin to lift off your knees, keeping them bent as you press into the floor with your hands. Move your hips up and backward until your body forms a straight line from your wrists to your pelvis. Now slowly straighten your knees as you maintain a straight spine. Press your thighs back, and reach your heels to the floor. (If the backs of your legs are too tight, keep your knees slightly bent.) It's OK if your heels don't touch the floor. Practice holding this pose for 20 to 30 seconds in the beginning, building up to a minute or two when it becomes more comfortable. Rest and repeat two or three times.

While holding Downward-Facing Dog, close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths. Focus on moving oxygen in and out of your body. As you get familiar with the position, ask yourself questions such as: "How do my wrists feel?" "Is more of my weight on my right hand or left?" "Can I transfer some of the weight off my arms and push it into my legs?" "How can I relax my neck to let my head drop farther down?" "Where does my back feel tight?" "Which heel is getting closer to the ground?"

Try shifting your weight around with small adjustments until you make both sides of your body feel more balanced. Imagine your hips rising up to the sky while your hands and feet are rooted to the ground. This will help to elongate your body and stretch out any areas that feel congested or jammed.

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This yoga posture provides an excellent stretch for your spine, shoulders, hamstrings and calves. The fronts of your legs and the backs of your arms will get stronger too. But more than that, it is a great way to improve your concentration. When you finish, you'll not only feel relaxed but awake and alert. Sure, you spend most of your day rushing around, but if you make the time to do this move--starting tomorrow morning--you won't be sorry. Tackling the day with a clear, calm state of mind can make a huge difference in how effectively you deal with whatever comes your way. Try it and see.

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Joan Voight, a San Francisco-based journalist, contributed to this column.

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Karen Voight is a Los Angeles-based fitness expert whose latest video is "Abdominals & Back." She can be reached at kvoightla@aol.com. Her column appears the first and third Mondays of the month.

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