The Figure Four Stretch is a simple, yet extremely effective way to release tightness and tension in the hips, glutes, and lower back. It can be practiced many different ways so feel free to explore the this stretch from your bed, couch, or anywhere else you can lay comfortably.
1. Start with both feed solid on the surface you are resting on, with the knees up to the sky.
2. Place your ankle on your opposite thigh, directly below the knee. Keep the foot flexed.
3. Your hand can rest on the inside of the knee, gently pressing the knee out and away from the body. If this feels well on your hips, feel free to stay here.
4. When you are ready, thread through your legs picking up the belly of the thigh. (Make sure to grab the thigh that your ankle is resting on).
5. Connect with the breath and pull both legs in towards your chest.
6. You can explore staying active in the stretch, while you are pulling the legs into the chest try and press the knee out and away from the body at the same time.
7. Feel free to explore using a strap here like our model Gabi is doing.
8. Hang out in your stretch for 10 breaths.
9. On a long exhale, gently set back down and come out of your variation of the figure four stretch.
10. Repeat on your opposite side. Do you happen to notice a difference in that side compared to your opposite?
Yoga model: Gabi is a Deputy Sheriff 1, and her favorite stretch is the figure four. She is a passionate foodie, dog and cat mom, kayaker, and loves to beat her husband at video games.
Do you ever sit for long periods of time and get an achy back? While you may not have the time to take a yoga class, we invite you to do this mini yoga back sequence that explores the four movements of the spine. This back-focused sequence may provide the refresh you need to get you through your next desk project, airplane flight, or waiting room delay.
The spine's natural range of motion includes: flexion, extension, bending, and twisting.
Flexion is the rounding of the back. Sit tall in your seat with your hands resting palms down on your lap. As you exhale, begin to tuck the chin toward your chest, as you gently push in to and round your upper back. Simultaneously, you can roll your shoulders forward and lift up your pubic bone. Then, inhale and release.
Extension is arching the back. Sit tall in your seat with your hands resting palms down on your lap. Then, inhale and begin to draw your shoulders back, allowing your hands to slide toward your hips and lift your chin, thus creating an arch. Be cautions not to tilt your head back too far, compressing your neck. Then, exhale and release.
Bending is moving the spine in the lateral plane to the left and right. Sit tall in your seat, and hold firmly to the bottom of your chair. Bring the back of your left hand to the left side of your chair. On an inhale, lift your hand up toward the ceiling. Then, exhale as you continue to bring your hand over your head, in a rainbow (or bending) manner. Inhale to unbend, and repeat on the opposite side.
Twisting is rotating the spine to the left and right. Sit tall in your seat and as you exhale, rotate to the left from the base (or lumbar) area of your spine, then a little more mid back (thoracic), and perhaps a little more in the upper (or cervical) neck area. Honor your range of motion and ability.
Use caution in both flexion and twists if you have bone density conditions. Seek your doctor's approval or recommendations before beginning or practicing physical activity.
A good rule of thumb is to exhale as you twist or draw your body into a smaller position, and inhale as you untwist or open your body up to a larger position.
Virabhadrasana II (veer-ah-bah-DRAHS-anna)
Warrior II is a powerful standing pose, and can help strengthen the lower body. It is often practiced with other poses such as Warrior I, Side Angle Pose, and Peaceful (Reverse) Warrior. Warrior II is a powerhouse of a pose, the hips are open, and the practitioner has the ability to actively ground into the floor below.
You can start with either side. We will start with the left side for the instructions.
1. Begin in standing pose. Step the right foot back towards the back of your mat.
2. Adjust your feet so that your left (front) foot toes face forward and your right (back) foot toes turn out towards 90 degrees.
3. Bend the left knee into a lunge. Bring awareness to the knee so that it so that it doesn't tip in towards your center or bend too far, you should be able to see your left big toe, keeping your knee nicely over your ankle.
4. Intentionally press into the outside edge of the back foot for grounding and support.
5. Arms reach out in opposite directions.. If you left foot is forward, your left arm reaches forward and your right arm reaches back. Both palms face down. Try not to twist your hips when reaching.
6. Engage through the core for stability by bringing the lower belly up and in towards your spine.
7. Center your gaze over your left (front) ring finger.
8. Connect with your breath, staying strong and stead as you breathe for 5-7 breaths.
9. Try repeating to yourself "I am strong. I am steady. I am a warrior."
10. Repeat on the other side. Right leg forward, left leg back.
Feel free to explore practicing from the support and stability of a chair. You could also use a chair in front of you while standing for added stability. Remember to notice the strength in your shape, and the strength in you!
Yoga model: Patricia served 4 years in the Army National Guard and is a proud military spouse of twenty years. She has a 200 hour yoga certification through YogaFaith and started teaching veterans in her community in 2019. She is Trauma Conscious certified with Connected Warriors, and has a Mindful Resilience Certification with the Veteran Yoga Project. She currently teaches yoga through the VA with their Whole Health Program.
Vrikshasana (pronounced: "vrik-SHAHS-anna")
Tree pose is a wonderful balancing pose and can be adapted for any level yogi. Balancing in yoga helps to strengthen the ankles, legs, glutes, and core. It also helps the practitioner remain steady and focused. Balancing on one foot can be a challenge, but sometimes being on both feet is hard too! Remember to have fun with your pose, and also give yourself grace.
Feel free to start off near a wall or something sturdy to hold on to for support. Props (a wall is definitely a yoga prop!) are our friends - they are there to help us blossom in any yoga pose.
1. Pick a non-moving spot in front of you to gaze upon.
2. Begin to firmly plant your foot into the ground beneath you. (This is called "grounding" in yoga. Can you lift and wiggle your toes?)
3. If it feels well, engage the upper portion of your standing leg. (Maybe you notice the knee cap lifting here)
4. When you are ready, actively draw the working hip in towards your midline.
5. Engage through your core. If you would like, explore brining the low belly up and in.
6. Kickstand your opposite heel to rest on your ankle. Externally rotate through the hip allowing the knee to open up to the side. Feel free to stay here with the toes plugged into the ground below. You can also explore lifting the foot to rest below the knee or above the knee in the inner thigh area.
7. Place palms together at the heart center, or feel free to find a different arm and hand variation. Grow your "branches" (arms) out to the side, or let them reach up towards the sky.
8. Connect with the breath and remain in your pose for 5-7 breaths.
9. Release when you're ready by lowering the hands, then the raised leg, and return to standing.
Feel free to practice near a wall. Start with the entire hand on the wall, and as you practice. slowly start to take away a finger at a time. Another option is to practice resting the entire side body against the wall for support.
Yoga model: Sara is a boy mom who teaches yoga and fitness in her local community. She is married to a Sheriff's Office Investigator. Together they are two-time NICU parents.
Do you have a hard time falling asleep or have interrupted sleep?
There are specific yoga postures and practices to help you improve sleep. Yoga Nidra is an ancient yoga for sleep practice. A modern, veteran-friendly practice is called "Integrative Restoration Yoga Nidra Meditation" or "iRest" for short.
iRest is an evidence-based practice that leads to enhanced well-being and improved sleep. According to iRest.org, "the practice is integrative as it heals the various unresolved issues and traumas that are present in your body and mind, and restorative as it enables you to recognize your innate peace of mind that is always present amidst all changing circumstances of life." Some veterans have shared testimonials that the practice helped with symptoms of insomnia, pain, and PTS/PTSD.
What are the benefits? iRest tools and practices are developed to help you:
~ Relax deeply
~ Release stress
~ Increase resiliency
~ Nourishes noble qualities such as joy, peacefulness, empathy, and more
We are excited to announce that we will be offering a six week iRest workshop for women veterans and first responders this spring. Watch our social media channels and Events page on our website for information coming soon. If you have questions about this offering please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.