How to regain your flexibility
As we “advance” in modern-day comforts with seemingly limitless access to more user-friendly, time-saving devices and products offering “extra support” and “more ease”, it seems we’re becoming less and less comfortable with our natural state of being and more and more cushioned, or propped up, from the earth.
Before the advent of chairs, cars and toilet seats, we squatted more often and our hips were regularly opened. Today, though, many of us are no longer able to sit or squat with the heels resting firmly on the ground where they belong.
As babies and young children we spend many years playing on the ground, keeping our joints mobile, but as we “grow up” we use couches and chairs to eat meals, study, drive, work, watch TV, go to the toilet, chat with friends and even to sit in parks and on the beach! With all these aids we’re making it harder for our body to stay flexible, limber and healthy. We’re literally “helping” our body to age simply because we’ve become accustomed to a certain way of living.
Many physical conditions can be avoided through spending more time sitting on the floor and avoiding seats whenever possible. Keeping the hips open, the legs stretching and circulation flowing, especially through the pelvic and reproductive organs, helps to improve overall health and keep the body’s immune system strong. In a squat position, as opposed to a seated one, bowel movements come more naturally and require less force. Squatting frequently has been linked to the prevention of constipation, Crohn’s disease and colon disease. By not sitting on chairs we can also avoid the tendency to cross our legs, which causes restriction in the hips and slowly misaligns the pelvis and spine. When we sit for long periods on a hard chair the base of the spine becomes compressed, restricting circulation through the whole spine and the flow of nutrients to our vital organs.
Easy ways to stay flexible
At home use a low-lying table with comfortable cushions to sit and eat meals. This creates a cosy Asian-style atmosphere and keeps the hips open. If watching TV, reading or chatting, lie on a cushion or sit in a comfortable cross-legged position (with your back against a wall if needed) instead of slumping in a lounge seat, which restricts circulation and promotes poor posture.
At work, have a fit ball for sitting on and alternate between your office chair and the fit ball. As the ball is round, your spine is kept mobile and fluid as you constantly readjust to find balance, avoiding spinal compression and restricted circulation. At my home office, I sit on a small table rather than a chair, as I can be in a comfortable cross-legged position with my hips open and my spine straight.
Another great way to stay flexible and healthy is to construct a simple squat-style toilet by placing large bricks either side of your toilet seat. Take up yoga or another physical exercise in which you’re made to sit on the floor and stretch out each part of your body for all-over health.
Here’s a yoga sequence to get your hips open, ankles stretched and heels resting firmly on the ground. Some of these postures may be challenging. Stay focused on breathing through your nostrils as you soften your body into the postures. Avoid anything that doesn’t feel right for you and make modifications where needed.
- Stand with your feet hip width apart, knees softly bent, your shoulders relaxing forward. Focus on releasing tension in your feet and heels, ankles and calves. Let your hips and pelvis yield to gravity and sink downwards.
- Inhale, raise your arms overhead. Exhale, fold at your hips, bending your knees, and come all the way forward and down into uttanasana (extended pose), head hanging, hands resting on the floor.
- Inhale, look up, bend your knees and come to a squat position with your heels raised off the floor. Have your fingertips on the floor, either side of your feet for balance, and lift your heart as you gaze upwards.
- Exhale back to uttanasana as in position 2, knees bent or legs straight.
- Inhale, swing your arms forward and up, coming into utkatasana (intense/powerful pose), a mid-air seated position with arms extended overhead, heels pressing down, thighs moving parallel to the floor.
- Exhale back to uttanasana, knees bent or legs straight.
- Inhale to come into a squatting position, your feet hip width apart and turned out. Bring your palms together and press your elbows into your knees to open your hips more as you squat deep into the back of your heels. Lift your chest, straighten your back and be here for a few deep, full breaths.
- Step your heels together, keeping your knees wide apart, and stretch your arms forward. Drop your head and focus on sinking your bodyweight back into your heels. You may need to rest your heels on a rolled-up towel or blanket (8B). If you have your balance, try wrapping your arms under your knees and taking your hands behind your back, aiming at joining your hands (8C).
- Now bring your feet and knees together, coming into a bent-knee squat with your back straight, focusing on sinking your heels to the earth. Use a rolled-up towel for balance if needed. You may also find a chair helpful (9B).
- Now twist to the left, with your left hand on the floor behind you for support. Inhale, raise your right arm and lock it over your left knee. Turn and twist more to the left with your breath. Use a chair for stability if needed. 10B. If you have your balance, wrap both arms behind your back so your hands meet as you come into full pasasana (noose pose); you may need the rolled-up towel under your heels for support. Release and twist to the right.
- Next, sit your buttocks on your heels, toes tucked under. Focus on stretching out the back of your feet. Stay here with the focus on deep, full breathing.
- Stay in position 11 or try stretching forward and down, lying over your thighs, forehead down, arms extending forward. Stay here for a few breaths.
- Next, come up into downward-facing dog pose and bend your right knee, pressing your left heel down to stretch your left calf. Change over, bending your left knee and pressing your right heel down. Do this a few times on each side, focusing on your breathing.
- Finally, relax completely in pose of the child. With regular practice, your body will naturally soften, open and release.
Jessie Chapman is a yoga teacher and author of four yoga books (HarperCollins Publishers) and has released a new Radiance Yoga DVD for home practice. She runs regular Radiance Yoga Wellness Retreats in Byron Bay and Bali. W: www.radianceretreats.com