Neck pain is quite common these days. Here are some preventive techniques


STRETCH GENTLY This jathi will help ease sore neck muscles

After one practices the toe touching jathi, mentioned in the previous article, one may feel a tension in the neck and shoulders. An important part of body awareness is to release tension as and when we experience it. The accumulated stress can be released through simple neck stretches. The neck consists of seven cervical vertebrae. The top most bone of the cervical vertebrae is called the atlas. In Greek mythology, Atlas holds up the sky, separating it from the earth. The bone atlas holds up the sky, our head. It connects this vast expansive instrument of thought to our body, which is the ground for these ideas to materialize.

The neck is an important area because of this connection between heaven and earth, between thought and action, between intellectualizing and living, between thinking and being. The neck protects all the nerves that go from the head to other parts of the body. Hence injuries or accidents that cause structural imbalances in this region can lead to a lot of problems.

Due to physical or emotional accidents, the neck can be subjected to a great deal of stress. Symptoms of damage include dizziness, pain in the neck and shoulder region, radiating pain to the arms, memory loss and in some cases, even partial paralysis. This pain can be there either due to a muscle or ligament tear or a prolapsed disc. In both cases, the damage may not be evident in an X-ray and the neck has to be dealt with gently.

Neck pain and cervical spondylosis are quite common these days and even if you do not suffer from them, preventive techniques can be followed. Yoga is not merely a science of healing; it’s mainly a science of prevention. By focusing and working on the neck region we can be more aware of the impulses that the brain sends to the body.

The technique: Bring your hands to the ground and lean back. Gently move your neck to the left and to the right as if touching ear to shoulders. Do this nine times. Then gently and loosely shake your head like you are saying `No’ and then keep nodding like you are saying `Yes’. Feel the ease in the head, neck and shoulders.

Now stretch the neck to the right and hold the position. Breathe in and out deeply by focusing your mind on that region. Enjoy the prana (life force energy) moving to where your mind is. You will feel your muscles ease and elongate. Now stretch your neck to the left and hold. Breathe in while you stretch and feel the sense of well being fill you. Release. Once again shake your head saying `No’ and `Yes’. This can be done even if you’re seated on a chair. This jathi is excellent to prevent neck strain, which is the result of sitting for hours in front of the computer.



Here are the benefits of the toe-touching jathi

A stretch that relaxes the backWhat we see and desire is where we want to be. Nowadays there are many things that grab our attention and so we desire it. However, this desire lasts as long as the next attractive thing catches our fancy. With yoga, we learn to desire things that are good for us and ultimately desire to be free of desire. When we aim to reach the stars, at least we can be sure of reaching the treetops.

In this particular jathi (conscious, rhythmic movement), the mind aims to reach the toes in order to stretch the back. The stretch starts from the lower back extending all the way to the shoulders and the tips of the fingers. Be aware of keeping the fingers together. The fingers denote the senses and by keeping them together we are aware that our senses are disciplined.

Focused mind

When the mind is focused on the toes, you will find that with time you will easily be able to touch your toes. When a child looks at a mango on a tree and aims to reach it, his entire focus is on the mango. You can be sure he will get it somehow. Either he will jump to reach it or enlist the help of someone who is taller. So also in yogic life, when we have higher aspirations they may seem unreachable. However when we are focused and determined like children, we enlist the help of the entire universe. Even people of higher stature, our gurus, will stand by us in our endeavor. Help will come from many directions. So when you start practicing this jathi and feel it’s difficult, do not get discouraged. Stay resolute and you will realize your goal. Do take breaks when you are tired. The aim is to enjoy the journey as well as the goal. So be aware and do around nine rounds and then give yourself a break. These breaks actually help stretch and lengthen the muscles. But don’t push yourself too far. Tired muscles are less elastic. The more number of times you push a muscle to do a task, it leaves a kin-esthetic memory, which may cause it to lose some of its flexibility instead of increasing it.

The technique: Sit with your back straight and feet outstretched. Bend your left knee over your right. Stretch, reaching for your right toes. Keep reaching and releasing, each time being aware of how your back feels. Let the movement be slow, gentle and rhythmic. See to it that there are no fast or jerky movements. Practice for a few minutes or until you get tired. Then you can hold onto your feet or wherever you can reach and stay in that position for 30 seconds. Remember to breathe while doing the stretch. This will further stretch and loosen the muscles. Then release the left foot. Now bend the right foot and reach for your left toes. Once again stretch gently. Then hold the position and release.



Here’s a jathi that helps relax the hip joints

IMPROVES FLEXIBILITY Of the hip jointsThis jathi works beautifully on loosening the hip joints. The hip joints can lose mobility due to constantly sitting on chairs. Most Indians have much more flexible hip joints due to the traditional method of sitting cross-legged. This posture works on opening out the hip joint. This jathi gives the much-needed circulation to the hips.

The bouncing movements make the body feel light. Take care to do it gently and regularly and you will find that your legs and hips are ready to walk in the right direction. It will literally bring a bounce back to your step.

Constant fear of the future and fear of failure bring about pranic blocks in the pelvic and lower back regions. The stress to achieve is so much that many youngsters end up with back pain. This constant fear throws their body off balance.

This jathi loosens up the lower back region as well. Practicing the jathi enhances our creative approach to life. It helps us bounce back from life’s disappointments. If we are stuck in the linear survival-oriented thinking, we miss out on the many connections that are possible with fellow humans as well as the world around us. The more the fear, the more the disconnect. The leg bounce brings about a beautiful connection between the legs, the knees, the hips, the lower back and the pelvic region.

The technique

Sit comfortably on the floor with feet stretched out and back as straight as possible. Bring the right leg over the left thigh. Bounce for as long as is comfortable. Feel the movement of the legs. Be aware of how the muscles are feeling. Be aware of any discomfort. Keep the mind focused on the movement and enjoy it. Doing it with awareness enhances the pranic (energy) flow. Then alternate and bring the left leg over the right thigh. Bounce the foot. Then relax the feet by loosely shaking them and thumping the thighs. This can also be done sitting on a chair, if the person is not able to sit on the ground.



The leg to hand swinging movement not only soothes but also stretches out the muscles of the hands and feet.


This jathi helps build flexibility in the body

Any gentle swinging movement is soothing and comforting. It brings a nice rhythm into the system. It smooths out the pranamaya kosha, also referred to as the bio-magnetic field or the aura. It releases tension and helps when there is dissipation of the nervous system. The swinging movement is used to pacify a baby. The swinging or rocking motion of the cradle helps put the baby to sleep. Even the sight of the rocking waves comforts us.

It releases worries. The leg to hand swinging movement not only soothes but also stretches out the muscles of the hands and feet. Right from the shoulders to the fingers, the muscles are given a good stretch. The swinging enables co-ordination between hands and legs and puts the body to use in a way that we have rarely explored earlier. This is the advantage of the conscious movement. By working on the body consciously, we are reducing the risk of rigid muscles as well as mindsets. Spasticity of the muscle is helped.

where the muscles become rigid due to damage to the nerves.The signals are not sent or distorted thus causing anything from slight stiffness to extreme and debilitating rigidity. The damage to the nerves can be due to physical or emotional accidents, cerebral palsy or other ailments. This jathi is beneficial in such cases. This jathi is extremely useful for athletes who want to build flexibility and agility in the body. The jathis are useful not only in curing but also in preventing degenerative conditions. With regular practice, you will feel younger. The muscles atrophy if they are not used and the jathis prevent and even reverse the loss of muscle movement.

The technique
Loosen your legs by shaking them and thumping the thighs on the floor. With your right hand, hold onto your right foot and swing it from side to side. In the beginning, you may not be able to keep the knees straight. Be gentle and don’t overstretch. Do 6-9 swings on the right side and then gently release your foot. Now, with the left hand, hold onto the left leg and swing 6-9 times and release. Then relax the feet by shaking. As you progress, increase the number of swings. Then you can also co-ordinate moving the head with the leg swings. As you swing the leg out, turn the head in the opposite direction. So if you are swinging the right leg to the right side, then turn the head to the left. Similarly, do it with the left leg.



The vajrasana helps one to stay focused



A jathi is practised
in tune with your internal rhythm

The Vajra is a diamond or a thunderbolt. Just as the thunderbolt is focused and powerful, the vajrasana hones these qualities. In Indian mythology, the thunderbolt is Lord Indira’s weapon.The quality of sharpness is also cultivated by sitting in the vajrasana. The diamond is known for its shine and sharpness. It is one of the strongest materials known to man. Changes in pressure and other conditions over millions of years transform carbon into diamond. The vajrasana also applies pressure on the ankles. However, in the beginning, one must be careful not to push one’s body too far.

This pressure transforms the darkness into brilliance. The nerves are strengthened. The word `diamond’ comes from the Greek word `adamas’, which means indestructible. Diamond is composed only of carbon and, apart from graphite, is the only gem to be composed of a single element. This posture is also called the adamantine posture due to this single minded quality of the stone.

The far-sightedness of the rishis can be seen in the appropriate names they have picked for the postures. The vajrasana is the best asana for pranayama, as it elevates the lungs and facilitates their expansion. It helps in curing varicose veins. It improves circulation to the lower back, buttocks, thighs, knees, calf muscles, heels and the ankles. The vajrasana is extremely useful for digestive disturbances. This is one asana that can be performed even after a meal.

The vajra nadi is the sciatic nerve. This is the longest single nerve in the body. It starts from the lower back and goes all the way down to the feet. Practising the vajrasana alleviates sciatica, a painful condition caused by the pinching of the sciatic nerve due to compression of the vertebrae or misaligned discs. I meet a lot of people with sciatica these days and it can be attributed to over work and lack of conscious body activity. It becomes extremely painful to even sit or stand in some cases.

Relaxing and strengthening the lower back muscles will help relieve sciatica. Constant practice of vajrasana helps in lordosis, an exaggerated inward curve of the vertebral column, as well as scoliosis, a lateral curvature of the spine. Potts disease or spondylitis is also corrected.

The technique

Sit on your heels. Check to see if the back, neck and the head are straight. Ideally, the heels are kept together. However if it is too painful, then the heels can be apart. Be aware of your breathing in this posture. If the ankles hurt, then slip to the right side, sitting on the ground beside. Then sit back in vajrasana. Then take rest sitting on the left side. Stretch out the feet and practice the jathi that you saw in the previous article. Shake the feet and thump your thighs to the ground. Then come back to the vajrasana.
Start with 30 seconds in the posture or less and then increase the length of time.



Jathis help release old, unhealthy patterns of behavior

A jathi is practiced in tune with your internal rhythm Popular yoga postures seen in books are usually complicated body contortions that would scare a layperson. In fact, practicing such postures could cause harm, if the body is not adequately prepared. Most of the postures shown should carry a warning below that says, “Please do not attempt without supervision.”

Step by step

Those who have achieved this advanced level of body control have years of experience behind them. It is like the stunt scenes performed in movies or commercials. There is a specific preparation as well as approach to it. The classical approach is a step-by-step one. The body has to be prepared for those complicated postures. This back to the basics approach has to be applied when learning the art of yoga. It is useful even for long-term practitioners. Simple need not mean ineffective. Hence a simple, systematic approach in the beginning will do wonders.

Conscious movement

When it comes to working with the body we start with jathis, then move onto kriyas and asanas. A jathi is a conscious movement done in tune with one’s own internal rhythm. A jathi is done using the right side of the body as well as the left. By consciously moving the right side of the body, one impacts the left side of the brain, and vice versa. The nervous system can get trapped into unhealthy patterns of behavior. Jathis are useful to release these old patterns.

They also open up new areas in the brain that have so far not been tapped. In the West, jathis are being used to address many special needs of children as well as the invalid. The benefits have been evident in children with attention deficit disorder too. When the jathis are combined with lifestyle changes, there is a tremendous improvement in the ability of the child to focus and concentrate. Movement therapy helps overcome past traumas and is useful while dealing with victims of abuse. The aware movements release toxic shame and guilt.

Jathis loosen and dislodge the toxins in the joints. They tone the muscles and soothe and strengthen the nervous system. Remember to drink lots of water as you practice jathis. They can be practiced in between asanas. If you find sitting in any cross-legged asana painful, then always remember to stretch out and loosen, using simple jathis.
Jathi for loosening the ankles

The technique: Sit up straight with your legs outstretched. Flex your ankles back and forth alternatively. Shake your legs and relax. This improves the circulation in the legs as well as the hips. It increases the mobility of the ankles and the pranic flow, when done consciously. Also note that the back is kept straight using the hands. The hands are pushed down beside the body. In the beginning, this downward push may be necessary till the back muscles are strengthened. To this simple jathi, add the mukha mudra of a smile to derive maximum benefit.



Sukha asana helps you to stay relaxed, yet stable

A demonstration of Sukha AsanaIn the yoga sutras of Patanjali, an asana is described as “sthiram sukham asana”. `Sukham’ means `comfortable’. Sukham in this context does not imply pleasure due to overindulgence. However, the sukha asana is the dukha (uncomfortable and therefore causing pain) asana for many who are inflexible. In India, we are used to sitting on the floor — though this practice is on the decline now. Hence, a simple cross-legged position is quite effortless. The sukha asana though simple has many key points to keep in mind. It has to have the quality of firmness or sthiram. Not be sloppy or rigid. We usually find most people in these two extreme positions. Sthiram also implies balance and homeostasis.

The minute I ask someone to be aware of their posture, they become rigid. This alertness is good and much better than jelly-like body language. However, this is not what we are looking at in Yoga. It is an awareness of being relaxed, yet stable. This body language has a direct impact on our approach towards life. Hence, we can cultivate positive mindsets by working on our body language consciously. It is an interesting and intricate science and art. We first cultivate sukham/comfort in simple positions or, in life, take on simple responsibilities and slowly work towards extending our comfort zone.

The technique

Sit in a cross-legged position. Hands can be relaxed on the thighs or in the yoga mudra as shown. There are many other mudras like the gnyana mudra that can also be used. Be aware of how the base of your body is touching the earth. Be aware of your vertebral column and how you are holding it.

Be aware of your back muscles and how they are feeling. Check to see if your base, back and head are in alignment. Now observe your breathing. Then bring your mind to parts of the body that feel stiff and gently focus on those areas, as you breathe. Feel the breath loosen those areas.

Focus on your body, observe it and continue breathing gently. This asana prepares one for the art of sitting still. This is important when one wants to sit in meditation. The body along with the mind needs to be prepared for meditation. Both need to be steady and focused. This preparation is ongoing and not a one time event.

We are constantly preparing by cultivating sukham. We learn to grow comfortable in our own skin. We learn to accept the good, the bad and the ugly.

If we are uncomfortable, sitting in this position, we know we have the choice to develop it through the various joint-loosening practices that we will see in the forthcoming weeks.