Yoga isn’t a magic pill, but it might be just the medicine you need

April 30, 2023 0 Comments

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I used to think that yoga was one-size-fits-all and that everyone would respond the same way if they were “prescribed” a certain pose. Do you feel a lack of energy? Try a dynamic sun salutation. Do you want to open your heart? Do a few backbends.

After teaching thousands and thousands of people over the past fifteen years and watching my own body (and life) change every day, I’ve learned that yoga isn’t so black and white. It’s not even gray. I think of it as neutrals with purple and pink undertones.

Think about the health benefits of yoga. Yes, aspects of yoga have been studied and proven to cause certain physiological responses. For example, it has been repeatedly shown that sun salutations increase the heart rate and can therefore be considered “invigorating”. But not everyone reacts in the same way. In fact, you can change the results of your practice simply by changing your approach. For example, practicing the sequence as a high-energy, power flow can strengthen muscles and improve cardiovascular endurance. Slowing down the sequence can make it more meditative and calming to the nervous system.

Some of the power of yoga – the “healing” quality of the practice – comes from you, the practitioner. It may depend on the intention of the pose. This means that depending on how you feel on a given day, you can choose a sequence that will serve exactly what you need. Like a real alchemist.

Practice with caution

Here, I’ve outlined four different “practice recipes”—sequences designed to help you reset, ground, de-anxiety, and boost your energy. You’ll notice that we’ve included several of the same poses in each sequence. See how, by simply adjusting your intention, you can practice similar shapes but create completely different effects.

While yoga is not (and should not be) a substitute for allopathic treatment, our practice can act as a powerful vitamin, helping to fill in the gaps in mental, physical and emotional health that we may be experiencing.

No matter how you practice, practice carefully. Take it from yoga instructor Donna Farhi, who calls backbends a form of medicine in her book, Yoga Mind, body and spirit. Farhi writes that backbends are “powerful healers, and like any powerful medicine, they can be harmful if practiced indiscriminately.”

Prescription poses

These are some of the key poses in the Precepts sequence, and each one offers the opportunity for many different variations and explorations.

Balasana (child’s pose): Each sequence begins with a different version of Child’s Pose. The opening pose helps set the tone for the rest of the practice. It’s amazing how simply adjusting your hand position can change the energy of your entire practice.

Cat and cow: We look at different ways of sequencing and structuring the classic Cat and Cow. Many classes start with this mini-flow as it’s an easy way to ignite the breath. Changing the position of your body allows you to target different areas and also shift the focus of your energy.

Low lunge: This stretch is considered a hip stretch because of the lengthening effect on the front of the rear thigh, but you can change the position of the hands in the Low Lunge to make it shoulder-focused or even add a twist.

Off the board: This might seem like a slightly more boring push-up, but there are tons of ways to change up the usual plank shape to not only make it more interesting, but also target completely different parts of the body.

Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior Pose 2): The Warrior 2 is like that sweater you’ve worn for years and always wear. It’s reliable and cozy, but it can get a little boring at times. Playing with your hands is a way to dress it up a bit and make it more or less energetic depending on what you need.

Ustrasana (Camel Pose): Most bodies can do this backbend. Camel pose has many benefits that come from grounding your feet and energetically arching your back. Changing the position of the hand can also make it look completely different.

Savasana (corpse pose): We can’t end a class without Savasana, but did you know that it doesn’t always have to be done just lying on your back? Exploring different configurations in this powerful pose is a great way to wrap up and sustain the work you’ve done during your practice.

More practical reception sequences:

About our contributor

Sarah Ezrin is an author, world-renowned yoga teacher, popular Instagram influencer, and mom based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her willingness to be unapologetically honest and vulnerable, along with her innate wisdom, make her writing, yoga, and social media a wonderful source of healing and inner peace for many. Sarah is changing the world by teaching self-love one person at a time. She is also the author of The Yoga of Education. You can follow her on Instagram at @sarahezrinyoga and TikTok at @sarahezrin.

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