Yoga Bliss Gambia: Joint-freeing Series for the Upper Body

The joint-freeing series (pavanmuktasana series) challenges you to move each joint gently and systematically through its range of motion. The series starts with the feet and ankles, moves up to the knees, hips, torso and spine, and finishes with the upper limbs and neck. In the last issue, I introduced the lower body component of joint-freeing series. In this issue I will be running through the upper body component of the series.
The joint-freeing series is often recommended to people with osteoarthritis as it is a low impact exercise that can increase strength and flexibility. But it is also very beneficial to those who are introducing exercise to their life after a period of illness or sedentary lifestyle. The joint-freeing series is also a fantastic platform to practice your mind and body connection. It allows your mind to focus on certain muscles and joints as you perform the movement, this practice will ultimately give you a better understanding of your body. Your natural range may not be at its best or you might find differences between the right and left side. By understanding your body’s weakness or limit of motion, you can bring further awareness to your asana practice and other practices in your daily life to improve and condition your joints and consequently maintain a balanced musculoskeletal system.
In yoga we also believe that pain or poor movement in joints are manifestation of energy imbalances or blockages. Once you focus and improve your various joint movements through the combination of correct breathing, focus and repeated practice, it is possible to improve the energy flow and balance. By maintaining healthy energy balance and flow it will result in reduced physical, mental and emotional issues that you may be suffering from.
As we start this practice, make sure you are wearing comfortable clothes that don’t restrict any movement. Begin by taking any comfortable seating position with your spine erected, chest open and shoulders relaxed but rotated open. Bring your awareness to your breath by observing your inhalation and exhalation through your nose. Feel your chest and your stomach expand as you inhale deeply, and as you exhale observe your stomach and chest retracting. Continue for about 1 minute.
In the October issue, we reached the cat-cow pose (Bitilasana-Marjaryasana) in the series. Let us recap and begin from here. Start on all fours with your knees hips width apart and your hands directly under your shoulders with the palms pressing into the mat with the fingers spread apart. If you feel compression in your knees you can add some cushioning using a folded towel placed under the knees. Begin with the spine in a natural position, with your inhalation begin to turn your hips out so that the tail bone is pushing upwards, arch your spine, open the chest and shoulders and look upwards. As you exhale turn your hips in curve your spine upwards, open up your shoulder blades and tuck your chin in towards your chest. Repeat this for 12 rounds.
From the neutral position on all four, extend the right leg back and lift as you inhale. As you exhale bend the knee and bring your knee forward, curving the spine up to bring the forehead to meet the knee. Even if you can not bring the forehead to meet the knee, squeeze your core and push your mid-spine upwards to curve the spine as much as possible, bringing the knee and the forehead as close as you can. Repeat on the same leg 6 times, then perform the same movement on the left side.
inhale                            exhale
inhale                      exhale
Returning to the neutral position on all four. Bring the knees together so your thighs are touching and separate your palms further apart than the wide of your shoulders (you can bring the palms to the outside edge of the mat). As you inhale squeeze the thighs towards each other, with the exhalation shift the hips to the right side while pushing the hips slightly back. Inhale to come back to the center, and exhale to shift the hips to the left side while pushing the hips slightly back. Take care that during this movement the knees are not lifting off the mat. Repeat these 6 rounds.
For the next exercises we will begin by sitting on the heels. If you are not comfortable with sitting on your heels with the top of your feet flat on the ground, you can curl the toes under to rest the ball of the feet on the ground. If you suffer from knee pain use a bolster or use some pillows which are stacked to sit on, or alternatively you can sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground. We will start with wrist movements. Extend your arm forward in front of you at shoulder height with the fingers extended and the palms faced down. As you inhale bend your wrist down with the palms facing yourself. As you exhale bend the wrist to bring your hands up with the palms faced out, fingers spread and pointing upwards. Observe the sensation in your wrist and the surrounding muscles as you go through this movement. Repeat this 6 time.
inhale                  exhale
inhale                  exhale
Keeping the arms and fingers extended in front with your palms facing down. Inhale to separate the right fingers away from the left by only using the wrist. As you exhale bring the right and left fingers towards each other. Repeat this 6 times. Make sure you do not have any movements in your elbows or shoulders as you practice this. Perform this same movement with the palms facing up and repeat 6 times.
With the arms extended in front of you make a fist with your hands and rotate the wrist outwards 6 rounds and inwards 6 rounds. Each round should take the span of a complete breath (inhalation and exhalation). Make sure your elbows do not bend, and that your shoulders are kept down and open.
inhale                  exhale
Now moving on to the elbow joint. Inhale with the arms extended in front with the palms faced up and fingers extended. As you exhale, bend the elbows and bring the fingertips on to your shoulders. Take care not to move the elbows up or down and keep it leveled with the shoulders. Repeat 6 times.
Keeping the fingers on the shoulders, with the next inhalation open the elbows to the side to open up the chest and squeeze the shoulder blades towards each other. With the exhalation bring the elbows in together and spread the shoulder blades apart. Repeat this set 6 times. Bring your awareness to the sensation in your chest and back as you practice, do you feel any tightness? If so where is this tightness?
inhale           exhale
inhale            exhale
Staying in the position with the elbows apart, come into a cactus position by bringing the fingers away from the shoulders so the elbows are right angled, and the palms facing forward with fingers pointing up. With the inhalation, externally rotate your shoulders to tilt the forearms backwards. With the exhalation, internally rotate your shoulders to tilt the forearms forward, now facing the forearm downwards with the palms facing backwards. Stop the internal rotation before the shoulder blade begins to lift. With the inhalation once again externally rotate the shoulders to bring the forearm backwards. Repeat this 6 rounds. Keep your awareness at the shoulder joint, is your movement smooth and unrestricted? Does your joints make any sounds?
Staying in the seated position bring your arms to the side. With the inhalation extend your arms and begin to move them forward and up beside your ears with the palms facing each other. With the exhalation move the arms forward and down past your hips keeping the palms facing each other. Repeat this 6 times.
inhale           exhale
Moving on to spine movements.
inhale            exhale
Start by coming into a cross-legged position, if you are not comfortable with the position you can sit on a bolster or some pillows to raise your hip level, or add some support under each knee to relive any discomfort in your hips. Starting with the spine extended and the palms placed on the knees. Inhale to open up the chest, lift the sternum, tilt the chin slightly up and push the shoulders back and arch the back. Exhale to bring your shoulders forward to spread the shoulder blades, curve the spine and bring the chin to the chest. Repeat this 6 times. Observe how you feel in this movement as you expand and open the chest, shoulders and throat and how you feel as you stretch the back of your neck, upper spine, and the shoulder blades.
While staying in the cross-legged position and your arms relaxed beside you, inhale as you extend the spine.  As you exhale come into a side bend of the spine by bringing the right shoulder down towards your right hip without turning your chest nor lifting your hips.  Inhale to return back to the center, and exhale to come into a side bend to the left side.  Repeat this 6 rounds.  Take care that your head is also in line with the spine.
Inhale at the neutral cross-legged position, as you exhale bring your left arm back and twist mid-spine to open up the chest to the left and look in the same direction as your left shoulder. Inhale to return back to the center, and exhale to bring the right arm back, rotate the spine to open up the chest to the right, and look in the direction of your right shoulder. Inhale to return back to the center. Repeat this 6 times.
To complete the joint-freeing series we have the upper spine and neck joint movements.
inhale           exhale

Sitting with your spine erect, chest open and shoulders back and relaxed, inhale and tilt your head back lifting the chin extending the front of your neck. As you exhale bring the chin to wards your chest, extending the back of your neck. The movement should only be coming from the neck joint and not the shoulders or the upper back. Repeat 6 times. From the neutral position of your neck take an inhalation. As you exhale tilt your head to the right bringing the right ear towards the right shoulder, extending the left side of your neck. As you inhale come back to the center, and then exhale to tilt the head to the left. Observe the feeling in the right side and left side as you stretch your neck laterally. Repeat this movement 6 times. Coming back to the neutral position of your neck take an inhalation. As you exhale turn your head to look to your right, inhale to turn back to the center and exhale to turn your head to the left. The movement should be originating at your neck, and not a movement of your shoulders or mid-spine. Observe the difference between your left and right. Is there any difference in the degree of movement or any discomfort?

To end this series you can remain in your comfortable sitting position or come to lie on your back in savasana. Close your eyes, and bring your attention to your breath. If you are in savasana, relax your body, allow the heaviness of your body to sink down into the mat. Be present with your breath for 1 to 5 minutes.

Once you are comfortable with this issues practice, you can combine the sequence from the October Issue and practice a complete joint-freeing series (Pavanmuktasana series). This practice takes about 15 to 20 minutes, it is a wonderful sequence to add to your morning routine to kick start your day.

About Author

Melissa Kuwahata Daswani

Founder, Yoga Bliss Gambia and Yoga Bliss Creations
Melissa Daswani is a professional yoga teacher trained and accredited in Hatha Yoga from Rishikesh, India. She was introduced to yoga in the early adolesce by her mother who often practised yoga at their home and still continues to practice to date.

Melissa started to indulge in yoga with a keen interest in her 20’s after researching the benefits of practising yoga.

In order to expand her knowledge and practice, she initially enrolled on official training in India during 2009. Her initial stint in yoga teaching began in 2012 in Togo, followed by expanding in the Gambia from 2016. Melissa’s style of teaching incorporates the fundamental and crucial steps of yoga called Hatha yoga, which encompasses the basis of all other styles of yoga. Melissa believes that every individual has something to gain from Yoga which is not limited to mental, physical or spiritual.

Yoga is not a religion but more a spiritual exercise as well as a practice that can universally be incorporated into your daily routine. Melissa offers regular weekly classes in Fajara, the Gambia, which is open to all levels.

She also runs a weekly beach yoga class which is very refreshing and energizing.

It’s her love and dedication towards teaching which allows her the opportunity to share the essence of yoga and its benefits to people from all walks of life.

Whether you reside in the Gambia or a visitor in The Gambia, Yoga Bliss Gambia would love to welcome you to their next class.

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