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An American Yogi In India

Breathe in. Breathe out. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? The intuitive, gentle act of breathing should be so easy to do. Flashback to 18 months ago, I was teaching over 10 classes a week, seeing 3 to 4 private clients, had my own yoga practice, and 3 young children at home. Having a moment to myself, having a moment to breathe was not a part of my day! Then out of the blue my entire world shifts.

One day my husband changed my life with four little words. “Let’s Move to India!” he says. “Sure" I reply, thinking he was joking. About a week later he says. "I am serious about this, lets move to India and have this wonderful adventure for 2 years." The thought scared me, but if we didn't go would I come to regret it? Yes, I thought, yes I would regret it. Despite all the challenges we would encounter, we would be gaining so much both personally and professionally. So we took the leap and here we are living in Hyderabad, India for almost one year.

We've traveled all over India and internationally to Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. Andrew has grown in his career and has gained experience working globally. My children have experienced more things and seen more of the world than most people do in a lifetime. For that alone I am grateful.

And me? I completed an introductory ayurveda course, I have started taking art classes given by a talented artist from the UK, where I have fallen back in love with painting and drawing. I've taught yoga classes to expats in my community from all over the world as well as to local Indians. I've taken classes and immersed myself in the local yoga culture here.

But what I have really done more than anything is slowed down. I have taken that breath. I have had the luxury of time to revel in my body and in my life. It is a chance, I recognize, that most people do not get; we have to rush from place to place, job, school, extracurricular activities, errands. I still have many of those responsibilities but far less than I did back in the US. In this time I've been able to think about what is important to me, things like family, love, and friendship.

Due to the challenges of living in India, a developing country, where power outages, cow crossing traffic, and workmen just not turning up are the norm, I have developed more patience and calm. After seeing tremendous poverty, people living in shanties and using dirty water to bathe and drink, children not having desks, chairs, or even paper in school, I have become more appreciative of what we have and of what we can provide for all children.

Through these experiences I have relied upon my yoga practice to center me and allow me the time and space to process all that is around me.

I don't always do a full yoga practice but I have over the past 10 months found myself coming back to 5 specific poses that have helped me to stay present, stay calm and stay strong in body and mind.

1. Cat/Cow pose. (Marjaryasana)

Benefits: It warms and strenghtens the core and spinal muscles, it connects breath to movement, and helps to center and calm the mind.

Start in a quadruped position, align hands under shoulders and knees under the hips. Inhale drop the belly, lift the tail, chin and chest, draw the shoulders back and down. Exhale, tuck the chin, round the spine, separate the shoulder blades, pull the navel in and tuck the tail. Making sure the shoulders stay over the wrists and knees under the hips keep repeating the inhale and exhale with the movements of the core and spine.

2. Downward facing dog pose. (Ado Mukha Svanasana)

Benefits: It builds strength while stretching the posterior chain of the body. It is a mild inversion (less strenuous than others yet still getting benefits of an inversion) and therefore increases blood flow to the upper body, calms the nervous system, can help with insomnia, and relieves stress.

Starting in a quadruped position, walk the hands a little farther forward, tuck your toes, lift your knees and straighten your legs as you push your hips high and your chest towards your thighs. You should resemble an inverted V shape. It is such an intricate pose there is a myriad of cues one could give here are just some of my favorites. Press palms and finger pads into the ground, hug the upper arm bones in as you roll your inner shoulder towards your outer shoulder, releasing any neck tension. Think about wrapping the shoulder blades around your sides as you lengthen from armpits to the sides of your waist. Allow your hips to reach up and back as you simultaneously spin your outer hips and inner thighs back creating more space in the low back. Knees can be either both slightly bent or both straight, reaching heels down and back towards the floor.

3. Hollow Body Hold

Benefits: It is utilized a lot in gymnastics but its a wonderful core strengthening pose that is important for back health and preparatory pose for inversions like handstand and forearm stand. It teaches one how to keep core engaged with arms overhead.

Lie flat on your back pulling the belly towards the floor. Keeping your low back in contact start to bring arms over head in line with ears and raise legs, arms, head and shoulders. Find the lowest point you can hold without losing the lower back contact. holding for 30 sec working up to 3 min.

4. Shin box drill

Benefits: It works both hip internal and external rotation, improves hip flexor length and glute activation (all very important if you spend a lot of time sitting) and to improve the health of the lower back. It is also a mobility exercise.

Sit with legs bent and feet planted about hip width apart (maybe a little wider). Drop both knees to the right, your right leg will be internal rotation and your left leg will be in internal rotation. The left knee will be close to the right foot. From here press down into the shins and try to stand up on your shins slightly pressing the pelvis forward to lengthen the hip flexors. Sit back down and bring legs back to center and then repeat on the left. Move side to side with this, trying to feel the wringing action of the hips and pelvis.

5. Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana 3)

Benefits: Strengthens the standing leg and hip, core, and shoulders. Since its a balance pose it strengthens ones focus and attention. It is a challenging pose that forces one to be present in the breath.

From a standing position, put your weight on your right leg and start to hinge forward having the torso move forward and the left leg move back so your body makes the shape of a T. pull your right hip up and back and spin your left hip down, allowing the inseam of the left leg to lift. Traditionally arms extend out in line with the ears and the standing leg is bent. If needed bring arms by the sides and have a slight bend in your knee.

Give these poses a try. I hope they help to keep you strong, grounded and comfortable in your body.

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