Posed and Ready for the New Year

It's January (duh), which means most of us are either dedicated to the resolutions we penned down for 2015, or staunchly adherent to our 'every day is a resolution' lifestyle. Regardless, it is a new year and we are resetting our routines from the holidays, and needing to stretch the cold out of bones. For this post, we partnered with Leslie St. John--a loyal customer, local writing professor, and yoga instructor--to give us some good poses for the new year. Along with demonstrating poses throughout the store, she also offered some great instruction and insight into each one's benefits. Whether reinstating your 2014 practice or beginning yoga for the first time, these nine poses will help you make the most of your 2015, the best year yet!


Downward-Facing Dog / Adho Mukha Svanasana 


How it will help you in 2015:
This pose calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression. Energizes the body. Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands. Strengthens the arms and legs. It is a foundational pose Vinyasa yoga practice. Eventually, it becomes home.




How to do it:
From hands and knees, raise the head and trunk. Bend the legs to raise the hips. Straighten the arms; straighten the legs. Lift to an inverted “V” shape. Spread the palms, pressing the pointer-finger and thumb-mound down, hands descending and forearms rising. Move the shoulder blades onto the back. Take expansive breathes into the heart space; feel your back spreading wide like a kite inflating with wind. Lift the pelvis. Roll leg bones from outside inward. Draw thighs back toward hamstrings, shins back toward calves, ankles back and down. Relax the head and neck. Breathe.









Warrior II / Virabhadrasana II


How it will help you in 2015? 
This is a warrior pose. It builds stamina and strength in the arms and legs, while toning the internal organs. Practicing this pose builds calm intensity. As with all standing poses, Warrior II clarifies lines of energy in the body, which offers awareness and stability. I like to do this pose in the morning before I start my day. It helps build confidence. You got this! 

How to do it: 
From standing step the legs about one-leg distance apart, and stretch the arms apart. Turn the right foot out 90*, the left foot in about 15*. Exhale and bend the right knee to a square, the thigh parallel to the floor, while keeping the back leg straight and the trunk vertical. Press the outer edge of the back foot down, keeping the legs firm. Stretch from the sternum and spine through the fingertips of both hands. Descend the shoulder blades. Gaze just beyond your right fingertips, and say to yourself, I am strong; I am stable.Because you are. (Repeat 2nd side.) 


Crow Pose / Bakansana


How this will help you in 2015: 
This pose strengthens arms and wrists. Stretches the upper back. Strengthens the abdominal muscles. With the knees high into the armpits, you will stimulate the lymphatic system, which boosts immunity. It is an energizing, empowering pose. You will feel like a badass. 


How to do it: 
From malasana, or a deep squatting position, place the upper arms under the knees, keeping the palms on the ground. Kneel with the tops of the shins on the upper arms, as close to the armpits as possible, feet almost touching. Inhale to puff up the upperback. Zipper the naval toward the spine, as you straighten the arms, lifting the feet off the ground, toward the buttocks (Feel free to lift one foot at a time). Keep the head up; gaze out and down. Balance and breathe. 


b) Eagle Pose / Garudasana
An alternative to the crow pose arm balance is a standing balance posture.

How it will help you in 2015:
This pose strengthens and stretches the ankles and calves. Stretches the thighs, hips, abdomen, shoulders, and upper back. Improves concentration. Improves sense of balance. It’s also great for joint and reproductive health. Is a tangible form of self-love. You are enfolding yourself in a deep embrace. See how that intention changes the way you experience the pose.


How to do it: 
From standing, bend the legs slightly. Raise the right leg and balance on one foot. With an exhalation, cross the leg over the left knee and hook the right foot behind the left calf. Bend the elbows and cross left elbow over the right, wrapping the forearms, hooking the right fingertips into the left palm. Raise the elbows to shoulder height. Hug everything into the midline: squeezing inner shins, thighs, and forearms. Balance. Breathe. (Repeat 2nd side)


Headstand / Sirsasana 


How this will help you in 2015: 
The king of all postures, sirsana develops poise, lightness, immunity, and stimulates the brain. My teacher’s wife, the goddess Surya Little, says it is her fountain of youth, her beauty cream! Inverting just might diminish the effects of gravity and reduce signs of aging. I’m in!

How to do it:
(Use a mat or folded blanket on the floor.) From hands and knees, interlock the fingers, and place the elbows, forearms, and hands on the floor. Keep the elbows directly under the shoulders. Press the outer edges of the wrists, forearms, and elbows into the floor like knife blades. Place the crown of the head down, lifting the upper arms and shoulders. Straighten the legs, raise the hips, and walk in until the trunk is almost perpendicular. Inhale to open the chest. Stay here. Breathe. Explore raising one leg and a time. (Use a wall to kick up against for support.) Reach the tailbone high, taking the banana sway out of your low back. Squeeze the legs together like you’ve caught a Frisbee between your inner thighs. Keep reaching up, up, up as you breath. Lift UP to come down. Rest in child’s pose. *(It is best to practice this pose with a skilled teacher if new to yoga.) 

b) Legs-up-the-wall Pose / Viparita Karani 
An alternative to headstand is simply taking the legs up the wall; viparita karani is still an inversion because the heart is over the head.

How this will help you in 2015:
This pose is called the “inverted lake” for the way blood pools into the pelvic and abdominal regions. It reduces fatigue in the legs (excellent post run/hike/cycle), while also rejuvenating the lungs and brain. I often do this pose during my layovers in airports. Sure, it may draw attention (kids always want to play!), but it will also reduce that annoying swelling and lethargy in the legs and feet. It’s also a go-to tonic for low-back pain. Enjoy.



How to do it:
(You may place folded blankets under the pelvis for support and to maintain the natural curvature of the lower back.) Sit sideways next to a wall. Swing your legs up and shimmy your seat flush to the wall. Draw the legs together, flexing the feet toward the sky. (You may strap your legs together.) Let the belly be soft. Arms out by your sides, palms facing upward. Breathe.


















Cow-face Pose / Gomukhasana 



How this will help you in 2015: 
This pose stretches the ankles, hips and thighs. Stretches the shoulders, armpits, triceps, and chest. It helps cultivate balance. Folding forward, while maintaining the hip and shoulder binding, creates an excellent opportunity to find calm amidst chaos. (Do the pose; you’ll see what I mean.) Breathe.


How to do it: 
From hands and knees, cross right leg over the left, and have a seat. Stack the knees (do they resemble a cow face?), resting the feet outside the hips. For more accessibility, draw feet in close to the hips; for a deeper stretch on the outer hips, take the feet further away (think old-school bicycle handle bars). Ground through the legs, as you lift the trunk. Stay here. Breathe. Use the hands for support, or take the next option, a shoulder stretch. Bend the right elbow behind the back and take the back of the hand high up the spine. Stretch the left arm up. Bend the left elbow, stretch the hand down, and clasp the hands, your t-shirt, or a strap (ties and belts work well). Pause. Breath. Stay upright or fold forward for a deep internal bowing. 


Camel Pose / Ustrasana 

How this will help you in 2015:
This pose stretches the entire front of the body, the ankles, thighs and groins, abdomen and chest, and throat. Stretches the deep hip flexors (psoas). Strengthens back muscles. Improves posture. Stimulates the organs of the abdomen and neck. When I’m feeling lackluster or as if my light is dim, this heart-opening back bend helps elevate my mood. It’s energizing. Think of ustrasana as an espresso shot for your body and soul! 


How to do it: 
(Use a rolled mat or blanket under the knees to protect tender knees.)  Kneel with the legs about hip distance apart; keep the knees in line, both sides of the body parallel. Place the hands on the hips, and drop the tailbone, drawing the buttocks flesh down. Stretch the hips and trunk up. Move the tops of the thighs and hips forward as you arch back, reaching the hands toward the feet, clasping the heels or placing the palms on the soles of the feet. Keep the head lifted, gaze forward, unless it’s okay on your neck to rest your head into the trapezes muscles. Stay here. Breath. Keep lifting the heart up toward the sky, feeling your own inner light, bright. 


Corpse Pose / Savasana 
How this will help you in 2015:
This pose is what the entire asana practice builds toward. Here the body integrates and assimilates the effects of the practice. Savasana calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression. Relaxes the body. Reduces headache, fatigue, and insomnia. It is called corpse pose because the body lies still as a corpse and the mind is at peace. Think of a snow globe after you’ve shaken it: the stirred snow settles; all that’s left is clear water, quiet mind. I like to think of savasana as resurrection pose: I let go of that experience—whoever, whatever I was before—and rise anew, refreshed, open, and calm. 


How to do it: 
From a seated position, extend your legs forward and lean back onto your hands and elbows. Check that the trunk and legs are in line. Lie down, lowering the back vertebrae by vertebrae. (You may place a flat blanket under the head and neck, a bolster under the knees.) Extend the trunk, arms, and legs prior to relaxing them. Imagine you were on the surface of a wave and with each exhalation, you fall deeper and deeper through the water toward the ocean floor. Surrender your effort. Let go. Feel the support of that calm, sold earth. Let yourself be held.

Namaste!

Leslie is a teaches yoga workshops and retreats along the Central Coast--learn more and register for her upcoming retreat via Prose & Poses, and make sure to follow her on Instagram (@proseandposes)