Early Bird Yoga/Pilates
By Siobhan Van Lanen
You hit your alarm, once, twice, okay, three times and you’re up. Are you ready to hit the floor-mat? Just showing up is always half the challenge. Yes, even early risers sometimes struggle to roll out of bed, shake off fatigue and greet the day. Exercising willpower to get out the door for an early morning fitness class, especially in the dark waking hours of winter, takes discipline but is worth all the benefits.
Although I’ve been instructing weekly multi-level, morning yoga classes since 1999, I can relate wholeheartedly with the entropic feeling of being so inclined to nestle back to sleep. But I’m reminded, once I arrive in Studio B of how awake, aware, alive and awesome it feels to jumpstart the day with low-impact yoga/pilates fusion.
In my Monday, Wednesday, Friday 7-8am Yoga/Pilates classes, there is a group exercise support system with students with shared goals as they move together through stretching and strengthening poses and exercises. Developing and maintaining an established morning health routine which includes the best of both disciplines, effectively sets the tone of the day. It elevates mental focus, allows you to be more productive, and enhances well-being for body and mind.
As we begin, gentle music floats through the soft studio while I guide them through a short meditation, breath-work, or creative visualization to warm up and center ourselves. One of the easiest and tangible forms of meditation is on our breathing. Just feeling the rhythms of our breath as our bellies expand and contract. This brings us into body awareness and calms our hurricane-speed minds. It also helps practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing from our core. Through the ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic nervous system stress response, we unconsciously use shallow, upper chest breathing which results in over-use of the muscles in the upper back and shoulder girdle.
Once we become aware of their core center of gravity, I incorporate the ‘breath of fire.’ This is a fast, short, aerobic, breathing technique which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and the ‘rest and digest’ response. Cardio breathing also improves blood flow, tones the abdominal muscles and allows for deeper breathing in pranayama (breath control).
Creative visualizations help us envision what we hope to manifest into the new day, empowering our creativity, imagination, and affirming the positive in our lives. With modern stresses and technology always at our fingertips, it is becoming increasingly important for us to train ourselves to relax, clear mental fog, and be aware of our surroundings. Harnessing our busy minds is key to our well-being.
When we move our attention into the neck and shoulders, I guide them to slow, gentle stretches targeting the over-worked cervical flexors and then soft shoulders rolls. I highlight holding the neck and shoulder stretches gently for a longer duration than when facilitating vigorous flow style Sun Salutations. Whether we are sustaining slow, gentle or dynamic postures, I emphasize the primary movements of the spine; flexion, extension, side flexion, and rotation and range of motion for the extremities. To top it off, I include a couple balancing poses to develop coordination and concentration which gives us a feeling us of ‘rootedness.’
The focus of my classes is on strengthening the weak atrophied muscles and stretching the over-worked muscles from occupational stresses, repetitive daily living activities, and mild injuries which generate pain. Many pain conditions can be reduced or alleviated with consistent therapeutic exercise. Recent studies and research continues to prove the benefits of yoga and pilates for managing pain. We all live with varying levels of physical pain and want to be able to participate in the activities that bring us happiness. Often times the pain gets in the way of the activities we love so in order to manage our pain, we have to take the time to heal. Many have found that yoga and pilates are a form of intentional self-care with all the therapeutic benefits.
When new students come to class, I request they inform me of any recent acute or chronic injuries or conditions that may restrict them. Taking precautions is important there are always modifications and levels to each of the poses and exercises. Everyone is encouraged to listen to their body, move at their own level and rest as needed. For example, the Tree Balancing Pose takes a lot of foot, leg and core strength. Some struggle with coordination so instead of lifting your foot to the inner thigh, you can place it on the ankle or knee instead. Then, over time you may progress to the next level. It really requires patience and acceptance of the unfolding of the process. Yoga is about finding the balance between effort in the poses while simultaneously experiencing a release or letting go. The letting go is where the relaxation flows into your body.
I include some Pilates core-strengthening exercises which provide structural support and build long, lean muscles. At the end of class students rest supine on their backs on their floor-mats for relaxation ‘Svansana.’ By 8am, we are ready to carry on with the rest of the day feeling a sense of well-being.
Siobhan Van Lanen, BA, LMT, CYI
Siobhan will be offering a Family Yoga Class Sunday 3:15-3:45pm Feb.5 and Feb. 12. In this class series families re-connect while learning creative poses for managing stress, increasing body awareness, concentration, and fun. Children can be accompanied by up to 2 parents or caregivers. Adults and Children 5+ Members: $20 per family Non-Members: $25 per family. Register at Timberhill Athletic Club Front Desk or call 541-757-8559