Yoga Pose to Reduce Stress, Anxiety, Insomnia, Tight Legs and Promote Spinal Health, Mental Clarity and Deep Sleep
Wide-legged Straddle Forward Fold (Upavista Konasana) is a great way to release accumulated stress and tension from the day and wind down for the evening, among other benefits.
BENEFITS OF WIDE-LEGGED STRADDLE POSE (Upavista Konasana):
-Stretches the groin, hamstrings, spine and inner legs. The inner legs/thighs are often neglected, extra tense and in desperate need of a good stretch. This is especially true for athletes and weight lifters, anyone who works in an office or is seated most of the day for any reason, or anyone who is sedentary for most of the day.
-Stimulates the abdominal organs, which is great for circulation, detox, and digestive health.
-Promotes a healthy pelvis
-Calms the mind, clearing mental chatter for enhanced mental clarity
-Deeply relaxing mentally and physically
-Rejuvenating and refreshing
-Excellent in times of high stress or anxiety
-Promotes deeper sleep and may prove helpful for insomnia sufferers
HOW TO PROPERLY GET INTO THE POSE:
-Begin in Staff pose (Dandasana): If you are not familiar with Staff Pose or how to get into it, you simple sit upright, keeping the spine tall, and both legs out directly in front of you
-Take a deep inhale. As you exhale, open your legs as wide as possible into a straddle position (You should not feel any pain, if you do it means you have opened them too wide and need to bring them closer together until it is not painful. The goal in this, and any pose, is to find your "limit" or “edge”. Learn to identify the difference between pain and discomfort. Discomfort isn’t always a bad thing, it means you are getting a deep stretch. Pain, however, is always bad and always means one thing: abort, abort, abort …Get out of the pose, readjust or modify the pose so it’s not painful immediately. You should never experience pain in Yoga.
-Inhale, and as you exhale spider your fingers out in front of you in the center of your legs as far as is comfortable
-Option to take the pose a step further by bending forward and lowering onto your palms or forearms; or, to take it even further, you have the option to bring the torso to the ground
-If you have taken the option to bend forward onto your palms or forearms (obviously moving deeper into the pose is impossible if your torso is already on the ground), try to move deeper into the pose with each exhale. Moving with the breath, ripple up through the spine slightly with each inhale, and melt forward again with each exhale. I find that by doing so, and backing off a little and then moving back into it with each breath, helps me stretch further towards the floor with each exhale. When you reach a point where you cannot go any further, or it is painful to do so, stay there. THAT is your limit, or edge –-the point right before it becomes painful, but still gives you the deepest stretch possible.
-Try to take at least 10 to 15 breaths in the pose
-You can also do a supported/yin variation of the pose using a bolster or pillows (discussed below), which is my FAVORITE for relaxation (I love Yin Yoga, to those who know me I love it so much I came up with my own name for it do not even call it Yin, I call it the “Xanax of Yoga”). It is deeply restorative, so I would choose this variation in times of extreme stress or anxiety, and/or for a deeper sleep or insomnia. Typically, most people choose Yin sequences or the supported variation of poses in times of high stress and anxiety when they need to calm down. They are generally not the preferred type of Yoga in the morning or earlier in the day, as the goal is usually to wake the body up at these times (The photo for this post was taken in the morning, at the end of an early morning session. So, I am doing the normal version of the pose, not the yin variation, and am therefore not using a bolster or prop. In the morning, I sometimes like to include this pose at the end of a sequence to help wind down from my flow before ending with a centering meditation and/or Shavasna, aka Corpse Pose)
DEEPLY RESTORATIVE YIN YOGA STYLE OPTION FOR SUPPORTED-WIDELEGGED POSE:
-Place a bolster vertically out in front of you in the center of your legs, as close to your body as possible. If you do not know what a bolster is, it is a prop used in yoga, for restorative and yin poses. A bolster is basically a big firm pillow, and there are two types: round or rectangular. For this pose, I prefer a round bolster as it’s more comfortable. If you do not have a bolster, do not let it keep you from this or any other restorative or yin pose. Simply use a couple of stacked pillows instead, it will work just as well.
-Drape your upper body over the bolster. Option to rest hands out in front of you at the sides of the bolster, or to bend them and place them on the bolster either in front of you or under your head to rest it on as a makeshift pillow.
-If using a rectangular bolster and you find it is too low to the ground to effortlessly and comfortably relax into, you have the option to turn it on its side to make it taller or to stack pillow, blocks, and/pr blankets on it until it's at your preferred height.
-Relax completely into the pose, letting your body be pulled down by gravity, allowing the torso to be completely supported by the bolster as you melt into it, and releasing any tension with each breath. The pose should feel effortless (...yet, all the while, you will still reap all the benefits of it. Win-win).
-If you opt for the restorative, yin version and take supported wide-legged straddle fold, you are going to stay in the pose longer than you would in the regular variation. Restorative yin poses are held anywhere from 1 to 20 minutes. I find holding the pose anywhere between 3-5 minutes to be sufficient for relaxation, but everyone is different.
-Ultimately, just listen to your body and do what feels good. Throw the timer out the window, and do the pose until you feel sufficiently relaxed. After all, the point is to REDUCE stress, so option to say screw the clock certainly exists.
-When ready, begin to mindfully come out of the pose very slowly and gently. **It is important to come out of all yin poses slowly and gently to prevent injury. Even though it may feel like you are not doing much, yin poses deeply stretch the connective tissues and moving too quickly can cause injury. **
-Keep the feet activated and flexed while in the pose to prevent the thighs from caving in (tip: also play around with flexing the feet and toes in different directions. Doing so will give you a deeper stretch in different parts of the body). If the inner thighs DO begin to collapse inwards, it just means the legs are spread too wide and you simply need to readjust them, bringing them closer together until your inner thighs no longer cave inwards.
-**CRUCIAL**: Make sure the back is NOT rounded while in this pose. The goal is NOT to get your head to the floor, which causes rounding of the back, improper alignment that can be dangerous, and is a common misconception surrounding any type of forward fold. The focus should be on bringing the belly down rather than the head to the floor (even though your belly may not reach the ground, focusing on bringing it further down rather than the head encourages the back to remain flat, so you don’t round forward). Rounding the back in this or most forward folds tends to just stretch the back alone (which is great if trying to just stretch your back and do not end up straining or injuring it by rounding it) when what we are really aiming for here is to get a good leg stretch in.
-Both kneecaps should remain pointed upwards toward the ceiling
-Keep both heels firmly rooted into the mat or ground
-If the inner legs begin to collapse, it’s a sign that you’ve taken the legs too far apart. Bring them closer until they no longer collapse.
-Keep the shoulders relaxed away from your ears, releasing any tension in them with each exhale and allowing gravity to pull them further down. We tend to hold a lot of stress and tension in the shoulder area, and thus end up hunching them up towards our ears. Instead, you want to relax them and release tension, letting them melt downward while in this pose for ultimate comfort and to avoid any back pain.
....and that’s all there is to it. I hope I covered all aspects of what really is a super simple pose for most. However, if I left anything out, you have any additional questions, or even your own suggestions for the pose that aren't included please post them below. I love to hear other people’s input, experiences, advice, perspectives and suggestions. That’s how we keep growing: by learning from one another, and refusing to ever stop learning in life.
As always, the light in me honors the light in you. Namaste.
In the spirit of serenity,