This week (18-24 May) marks Mental Health Awareness Week. Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, the theme for the 2020 campaign is ‘kindness’.
While there are plenty of different things you can do to help look after your mental wellbeing and practice good mindfulness, one activity believed to have proven benefits on our mental health is yoga. These benefits include relief from depression and anxiety through a regulation of your stress response system, lowered blood pressure and improved breath control.
Here, Kat Basquill – yoga teacher and Royal Parks Half Marathon ambassador – talks through eight simple yoga moves that people can do from home and which don’t require any equipment. All fantastic for promoting good mental health. Enjoy!
I love a slightly wider variation of this seated pose, as the asymmetry of the fold gives a stretch to the quadratus lumborum. The QL are located around each kidney, so the deeper the side bend the more you’ll feel.
Bend into the left knee, turn it out to the side and lay the shin down. Extend the right leg out towards around 2 o’clock, but feel and see what works. Turn your upper body towards the right leg, and fold down. Reach towards the foot – but if it brings strain to the shoulders let go of that goal, and just rest your hands wherever they land. You can soak here for several breaths, and then switch sides.
Warrior II touches on most parts of the body and promotes focus, balance and stamina. It is a powerful strengthener for the legs, hips and shoulders, and also serves as a strong opening into the groin and chest. Let it empower you.
From a High Lunge, open yourself into Warrior II. Lengthen your stance slightly – allow for a leg’s length distance between the feet, unless your hips are a little too tight for this distance. Lower your back heel down, and spin the foot so the outer edge lays parallel to the back edge of the mat. Track your front knee over your ankle – squeeze into your glutes to support this opening. The spine is long, and there’s energy in all of your fingertips. Reach to your furthest. Hold for around five breaths before switching sides.
Plank is an amazing strengthener for the core muscles – think of a corset of muscle wrapped around the spine – as well as the shoulders and wrists.
From a tabletop position, lift the knees and set your shoulders above your wrists, and hips slightly lower than shoulders. Hug the legs together, lengthen your tailbone towards your heels and draw your belly into your spine. Push the hands into the earth – particularly the finger and knuckle pads – and dome the upper back. And breathe!
From Plank Pose, shift the hips up and back into the Downward Facing Dog, the cornerstone of most dynamic yoga practices. This lengthens the whole chain of the back body – particularly hamstrings and low back. The balance between hands and feet is energising and strengthening. Relax your neck and feel the relief.
Spread your fingers wide like starfish, and turn your inner armbones forward. Draw your heart through towards your thighs. If your hamstrings are feeling tight, soften the knees to allow more release in the low back. Push your heels away towards the back of the mat – it doesn’t matter if they are on the ground or not.
This variation opens the heart space – an area we close up when we are angry, afraid or anxious. It stretches the shoulders and fires up the muscles of the low back and inner thighs and glutes. Strengthening the back chain of the body is so key for preventing back pain.
Lay on your belly. Interlink the fingers behind your back, push pubic bone into the mat and lift your head, throat and heart. Squeeze into the low back and raise your legs, or keep them grounded if you need a little less. Hold for up to five breaths, and repeat.
Twists are so versatile. My favourite variations change depending on how my body feels & what it needs. I like to suggest that you listen to your body and taste whatever feels the most soothing for you. Twists keep the spine supple, as well as releasing tension around the outer hips and low back. Start with both knees hugged into the heart, and drop them to the right hand side. Make sure your left shoulder blade stays heavy. For a low back stretch, hug the knees closer to the heart. For a deeper twist sensation, extend your right leg (the bottom leg) towards the end of the mat so your left knee has further to reach. You can funk it up by wrapping left knee over right, and right ankle over left in an eagle bind, or alter into an expression that feels like honey for you. Hold for as many breaths as you like before switching sides.
Supported forward fold
This more restorative version of a forward fold targets the hamstrings and muscles surrounding the low back in a softer manner than other expressions. These two muscle groups work in tandem, so often when one is tighter the other becomes overstretched.
Place a pillow underneath your knees, and drape your upper body down over the thighs, placing pillows to support your head and neck. If you struggle to bend forwards, sit up on a block, or if you are without, another pillow will work fine. More restorative poses are wonderful for calming the nervous system and aiding rest. We are in deep need of this to counter our busy lives & frequent anxiety.
Soaking into this deep hip opener gets more intense with time. Targeting the glutes, this releases tension in the hips and low back. Holding for a minute or two is an amazing way of reminding your body of its own resilience.
From a lunge, heel-toe your right foot over to your left wrist, and allow the right knee to drop towards right wrist. Stretch the back leg behind you, and rest your upper body down over the leg. If there is a gap between your hip and the mat, place a pillow underneath to support. If you feel any twist or stretch in the front knee, please come out straight away – these aren’t movements a healthy knee should do. Flex the front foot, or relax your whole body into the shape.