After almost twenty years of practice, I am amazed at how full my yoga toolbox has become. I started collecting yoga tools with my first class, although I didn’t really know how or when to use those tools in my “real” life at the time. That came later. But I believe that consistent use of these “yoga” tools through the years has helped me build a better me, both physically and emotionally.
So what yoga tools can help you in your day-to-day life? When should you reach into your yoga toolbox?
When you want to improve your flexibility
Most people come to yoga because they hear it will help them improve their flexibility, especially in their hamstrings. Yoga can also help with tight hips, knees, shoulders, chests, and shoulders. LeBron James credits yoga for improving his flexibility which alleviates muscle cramps and reduces the occurrence of injuries on the basketball court. Not a bad endorsement!
Your hamstrings need a good stretch? Reach into your toolbox and pull out a Downward Facing Dog or a good ‘ole Standing Forward Bend. Want to increase the range of motion in your knees? How about a Bound Angle posture or Hero’s pose? Tight hips? Grab a Pigeon, a Happy Baby, and a Half Lord of the Fishes. Battling chest constriction? The Locust is a great way to open the chest as well as the fronts of the shoulders.
When you want to work on your strength
Yoga isn’t just about flexibility. Use the right yoga tools and you can quickly boost the strength in your arms, legs, and abdominals.
Want to banish those flabby arms? Dolphin Planks, the Four-Limbed Staff pose, and Crow are tools that will get you on your way to lean, strong arms. Want to strengthen your legs and ankles? Reach into your toolbox and pull out any of the standing postures. Seriously. ANY of them. Your belly not quite a six-pack? Hard to beat a good Boat, Plank, or Half Moon.
When you need to calm down
Yoga tools aren’t just for use on the mat. When you are stressed, no matter what the reason, know that there are yoga techniques that can help you refocus your mind and lower your blood pressure.
Whether you are stressed at work or the kids are driving you nuts, sometimes the only tool you need is your breath. Nice thing is, it doesn’t have to be complicated! Simply taking a few slow, deep, and deliberate breaths that extend all the way down to your belly will help lower blood pressure and calm you right down. I reach for the breath tool a lot when I am about to say something I might regret!
When you need help losing weight
We, as a society, are way too obsessed with weight. But there are legitimate health concerns to consider when someone is obese. Is there a yoga tool for weight loss?
Yes! But the key is consistency. You can’t go to just one class and expect to loose weight. One of the ways yoga helps with weight loss is by making a person more aware of his or her body and what is being put into it. Some great yoga tools for weight loss are the eating meditations, like the Taste and Tracing Origin meditations. I describe these meditations in my book “How to Sneak More Meditation Into Your Life.” These tools will not only slow down the eating process which will help you eat less, but will also compel you to consider where your food comes from and what it is really made of. Then you have the choice of whether or not you want to introduce that particular food into your body.
When you have back pain
Chronic back pain is, unfortunately, very common in adults. Luckily, yoga offers many ways to address releasing and relaxing the back as well as strengthening the back and improving your posture. Many doctors are now prescribing yoga to their patients because it has been found so effective in combating back pain.
Got pain in your lower back? In your toolbox, you will find the Cat/Cow, Child’s Pose, and Bharadvaja’s Twist. Stiff between your shoulder-blades? Pull out an Extended Puppy Pose and a Locust Posture. Wanting to improve back strength to help stave off back issues in the future? Grab a Chair, a Cobra, and a Bridge.
When you want to improve your balance
Balance becomes more of a challenge as we age. Overwhelmingly, the majority of my students over the age of sixty say that falling is one of their greatest fears. Yoga can help you improve your balance, but it also makes you more aware of your environment so that you can better anticipate any rough patches ahead.
When you want to improve overall balance, the king of the balance postures is Tree. Tree teaches you to find and work with your center of gravity, then that information can be applied to any of the other balance postures. You can pull out any standing posture from your toolbox and you will be addressing balance, however, the standing twists, like the Revolved Triangle or the Revolved Half Moon, are especially helpful. But your yoga toolbox also contains non-standing balance postures, like the Two-Legged Table, the Boat, and all arm balances contribute to your overall coordination and balance.
When you want to improve your ability to concentrate
With so many distractions and everyone’s propensity to multi-task these days, our ability to focus has really suffered. So what does the yoga toolbox have for us on the concentration front?
When you find yourself battling a “monkey mind,” take a deep breath and reach into your toolbox for a simple meditation technique. Again, this does not have to be difficult! You could spend several minutes simply following your breath, or you could try the Counting Backwards meditation. Or practice a Walking meditation, gaze at a candle for a few minutes, or concentrate on a sound. Or make a sound. As long as you bring your attention time and again to your object of concentration you have succeeded in the battle against that hyper monkey!
I have only scratched the top layer of the yoga toolbox in this article. Yoga is a diverse and rich practice that deepens over time, but one has to be willing to invest in these tools with practice, study, and application. Is it worth it? Ask the 30 million people practicing yoga across all backgrounds, nations, and cultures in the world right now if it’s worth it to them, and you will hear a resounding YES! Building a better you IS possible if you have the right tools and are willing to use them.
What are your favorite yoga tools? Feel free to comment below!
K. Kris Loomis is the author of the humorous travel memoir, Thirty Days In Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador. She also writes adult parables and short stories as well as books about yoga and meditation. Kris is a determined chess player, an origami enthusiast, a classically trained pianist, and a playwright. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and two cats.
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