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Monday, December 10, 2012

An Introduction to Restorative Yoga, by guest blogger Lauren LaLonde

Even if you’re a novice to yoga, utilizing simple restorative poses is an easy way relax and stretch your tired muscles after a long day. In restorative yoga, props--such as a folded blanket or your bedroom wall--support your body and allow you to hold a pose for an extended period of time, which opens your body through passive stretching and gives you a chance to unwind and collect your thoughts.

One of my personal favorite restorative poses is viparita karani, also known as “legs up the wall.” All it requires is a wall with enough space to accommodate your legs, and a floor that you don’t mind lying on for a while. A yoga mat or blanket will provide extra padding.

  1. Sit with the side of your body against the wall. In one movement, swing your legs up against the wall and bring your lower back to the floor, using your elbows to support your weight. If there’s too much strain on your hamstrings, move away from the wall until you feel a comfortable stretch.
  2. Gradually lower the rest of your back, as well as your shoulders and head, to the floor.
  3. Rest your legs against the wall in a relatively straight position, but don’t strain yourself. You should be able to comfortably hold this pose for at least several minutes. If you feel like you need back support, you can place folded or rolled-up blankets or towels under the arch of your back as needed.
  4. Hold for 5-15 minutes, breathing deeply. You can try holding different positions with your legs, such as touching the soles of your feet together or bending your knees.
  5. To come out of the pose, bring your knees to your chest and roll to one side.
Breathe and enjoy!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Introducing: The Plank by guest blogger Lauren LaLonde

The plank is a popular isometric exercise because it strengthens multiple muscle groups, improves balance and flexibility, stretches and strengthens the spine, and requires no special equipment. It requires maintaining one pose for an extended period of time or for intervals of time, the lengths of which vary depending on fitness level. Here’s a rundown of all the areas that will benefit from the plank exercise:*

Target body part: abs, back
Primary muscles: erector spinae, rectus abdominus (abs), transverse abdominus
Secondary muscles: trapezius (traps), rhomboids, rotator cuff, anterior and medial deltoids (delts), posterior deltoids (delts), pectorals (pecs), serratus anterior, gluteus maximus (glutes), quadriceps (quads), gastrocnemius

There are variations of the plank pose, but for the most basic one, follow these steps:

  1. Get in a pushup position, with your body forming a straight line, or plank, while your hands and toes support your weight. Alternately, you can put your forearms on the ground, beneath your shoulders and parallel to your body.
  2. Tighten your abs and squeeze your glutes.
  3. Maintain a neutral neck and spine. If you feel pressure on your lower back, do a slight pelvic tilt to bring your hips and glutes down.
  4. Hold the position. Don’t forget to breathe!
Click here for a photo of the pose. If this is your first time planking, try holding the pose for 10 seconds or until your hips begin to sag, then rest and repeat if desired.

You should not perform a plank if you have heart problems or high blood pressure, or if you are pregnant. As always, talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your ability to do the exercise.

Fun plank fact!
The world abdominal plank record, set by George Hood on 12/3/11, is 1 hour, 20 minutes and 5.01 seconds.

*Source: American Council on Exercise.