YOGA FOR DYSTONIA
by Kathy Randolph, Certified Practitioner of Yoga for the Special Child™
Yoga is an ancient discipline to bring body, breath and mind into balance. The eight-fold path of yoga includes avoiding unhealthy behaviors and attitudes, cultivating healthy practices, practicing yoga postures to gain control and stillness in the body, breathing exercises to control energy and stress, mental exercises to focus within, concentration, meditation, and a connection with the universe.
The two physical branches of yoga, the postures and the breathing, make up Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is founded on the truth that the state of the mind is inextricably combined with the condition of the body. Using the postures and breathing together provides a powerful method for reducing muscle spasms and tightness in the neck and shoulders, relaxing the body and mind, and relieving stress.
First, the full diaphragmatic breath, to provide maximum oxygenation of the muscles. Place one hand on your abdomen, with your thumb on your navel and the rest of your hand below. Breathe deep into your lungs, trying to fill the lowest section first. Your lungs extend to two inches below your navel on the right and four inches below your navel on the left. As you inhale, your lungs will expand, moving your hand away from your spine. As you exhale your lungs will empty and your hand will move toward your spine. Continue breathing fully into your low lungs until the motion is smooth. Then add your ribcage. First, fill your low lungs, then try to expand your ribcage and fill your lungs in your middle chest. Continue this breath, low lungs and then middle lungs until it feels smooth. Then add the upper chest. Fill your low lungs, then middle lungs, and then try to top it off, filling your lungs to maximum capacity. Continue breathing in this wave, low…middle…top, until it feels smooth.
The deep breathing of yoga brings oxygen into the muscles, and allows the old chemicals such as lactic acid and adrenaline to be released back into the blood stream and exhaled, speeding the release of tension from the muscles. In addition, since you are moving more oxygen with each breath, using your full lung capacity allows you to breathe slower, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure. When we are calm, we breathe slowly and deeply. Our minds and bodies are so connected that when we breathe slowly and deeply, our minds think we are calm. This allows us to use our ability to control our breath to choose to deliberately alter our mental state.
Building on this base of oxygenation, muscle relaxation and stress relief, let’s add the physical stretches for the neck and shoulders. Refer to the illustrations for a general idea of the pose.
Slow Motion Dive: Sit erect in a chair with your hands on your knees and inhale fully. As you exhale, slowly lower yourself with your hands to knee level and let your head hang freely. If you can go further, place your hands on the floor and continue to lower yourself. Pause there up to one minute, breathing fully, letting the weight of your head stretch out your neck and spine. Then, inhaling, lift yourself up with your arms, head still hanging until last. This pose stretches the neck, shoulders and upper back.
Seated Neck Stretch: Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor, breathing fully. Place your right hand behind your left ear, grasping the base of your skull. As you exhale, gently pull your skull to the right, stretching your neck, then turn and look at your right knee. Pause, gently pulling and breathing fully, then release. Repeat on the other side. This pose stretches the neck muscles.
Seated Half Moon: Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor, breathing fully. Place your right hand on the seat of the chair or the floor. With your left palm up, inhale and lift your left hand up, then exhale, curving to the right. Be sure to move sideways, rather than forward. Repeat on the other side. This pose release the ribcage.
Seated Twist: Sit comfortably in a chair or cross-legged on the floor. Inhale and straighten your spine. As you exhale, bring your right hand across to your left knee and turn in your low spine to the left. Hold the position as you inhale, then as you exhale try to turn further, using your ribcage. Hold the position as you inhale, then exhale turning your head if possible. Repeat on the other side. This releases the neck and ribcage.
Circle of Joy: Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor. Interlace your fingers. Exhale and press your arms forward, palms away from you. Inhale and lift your arms overhead, palms up. Exhale, releasing your arms to the side and around behind you. Interlace your fingers, palms away from you and inhale, straightening your elbows as much as possible. Exhale, bending forward. Inhale, release your arms and sit up. Repeat as desired. This stretches the neck, shoulders, arms and back, releasing all the muscles used in breathing.
Bent Knee Dive: Sit comfortably in a chair. Place your left ankle on your right knee. As you exhale, lower yourself forward, head hanging. Pause and breathe, then raise yourself with your arms, head hanging until last. This pose stretches the neck shoulders, back and hips.
Now, having done the stretches that appeal to you, return to the full diaphragmatic breath. Does it feel freer? smoother? deeper? The breath enhances the benefits of the poses, and the poses make the breath fuller and more beneficial.
Remember, you control your breath, and with that control, you can alter your physical and mental state at will.