In yet another "by popular demand" post, we're going to explore what I consider to be an important aspect of my yoga practice fundamentals: "marma" points for flexibility. Marma, or vital, points are a component of Ayurvedic medicine that are related to the chakra and nadi systems of yoga. According to Ayurvedic texts, there are something like 107 classical marma points in the body. These are points where it is believed that stimulation can strongly affect specific areas of the body and aspects of the constitution. For a more detailed discussion on marma points in general, Dr. David Frawley provides a great article here.
Now, I don't claim to know much about marma points beyond these few that my teachers have taught to me. It is an intricate and very old science, which would take some in-depth study to master as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool. My teachers taught us these simple exercises that are purported to provide some stimulation to marma points in the neck, shoulders, wrists, and ankles. These exercises are supposed to encourage full-body flexibility. Whatever you might think or know of marma therapy, the following exercises are at the very least a great way to bring some movement into the body's joints, encouraging their lubrication and healthy movement. I like to practice them first thing in the morning, before I go about my yoga practice, and sometimes even before I get out of bed. (Thanks for these exercises goes to Eddie Modestini and Nicki Doane, as well as Yoga as Medicine, by Dr. Tim McCall.)
Start by taking a comfortable seat, where you can sit up tall. Inhale, feel yourself lift up through the crown of your head. Exhale, drop your right ear towards your right shoulder. Inhale, come back to center. Exhale, drop your left ear towards your left shoulder. Repeat for several rounds, keeping your shoulders heavy and simply letting the weight of your head gently stretch your neck.
The next time you come to neutral alignment, exhale to draw your chin towards your chest. Inhale, come back to center. Exhale, gently drop your head back, stretching from the sternum to the chin. Repeat this for several rounds, keeping your chest lifted and your spine long.
The next time you bring your chin to your chest, begin tracing circles with your head around the axis of the spine. Make your circles full and round, passing through all 4 points you just worked. Keep your breath slow, smooth, and steady, especially when you encounter any tension, holding, or pain. Make sure to balance yourself with circles in both directions.
When you are ready to move on, use an inhalation to shrug your shoulders up to your ears, then roll them forward, down, and back. Whether you make big or small circles with your shoulders, ensure that they are smooth and round. Do your best to isolate the movement in your shoulders. Take several rounds in this direction, before taking several rounds of circles in the opposite direction.
Next, we'll move on to the wrists. Rather than try to explain the first exercise in words, I think it best to demonstrate with a video, which you can see below. (Email and social networking readers, please go directly to the blog to view the video by clicking here.) The key to this exercise is keeping the hands super straight between the wrists. I keep the tips of my thumbs touching each other to remind me. Whatever it takes, keep the hands straight, so as to isolate the circular movement in the wrists. The elbows will bob up and down like pistons in an engine, simply following the movement generated from the wrists. Be sure to circle in both directions, forward and back, equally.
Next, flare the elbows out so there's a straight line from elbow to elbow, palms facing down. Take a deep inhalation.
As you exhale, keep your forearms parallel to the floor, and drop your right wrist, raising your left. The hands stay straight and become perpendicular to the floor.
Come back to center on an inhalation. As you exhale, drop the left wrist and raise the right. Repeat for several rounds.
As you inhale, come back to center. Bring your palms to face you.
As you exhale, draw your right wrist toward you and your left wrist away. Keep your hands straight and your shoulders relaxed away from your ears.
Inhale to come back to center. As you exhale, switch sides. Do your best to keep your forearms parallel to the floor. Repeat for several rounds. When you are ready to move on, unlock your fingers and gently shake out your wrists.
For the last part of this exercise, cross your right shin over your left thigh. Interlace the fingers of your left hand between the toes of your right foot. The toes might be quite tender as you squeeze and spread them with your fingers. Grip the right shin very firmly just above the ankle, so the foot becomes loose. Take circles through the ankle, guiding it with your left hand. Be sure to circle in both directions. Also be mindful that you continue to sit up tall. Then, release the fingers from in between the toes, and slap the bottom of your foot a few times before giving yourself a quick footrub. When you are ready, switch sides.
Now, you're ready to get moving! That's all for now, yogis and yoginis. Until next time...