Anxiety and Depression: Yoga Warm-ups to Awaken the Spine and Begin Your Day

Yoga Warm-Ups

It is best to begin your practice with a qualified yoga teacher who can assess your body’s needs. Many poses can be adapted for body type and ability. Here are three basic, gentle warm-ups that provide a good stretch and flex for the spine. The spine is the house of the central nervous system, so maintaining flexibility in your spine is important for the health and vitality of all the systems of the body. Practice these simple exercises every morning, even if you don’t have time for a complete Yoga practice.

Six Movements of the Spine

Cat/Cow (Spine Extension and Flexion)
Movement:
These two movements for the spine contain the rudiments of both a backward bend and a forward bend. Come into a table position on your hands and knees, placing your palms directly under your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips, or a little wider for good stability. As you inhale, lift your tailbone, then, vertebra by vertebra, lift your spine and look up through the crown of your head. In this position, your belly is like a hammock, stretching out of the house of your pelvis.

As you exhale, round the spine like an angry cat, drawing your navel back toward your spine and your chin to your chest.

Mantra:
As you exhale and round the spine, try the cooling, calming sounds of “oh, Uuu, Ah.”
Slowly go back and forth between the two positions, undulating the spine, inhaling for the full count of four through the nostrils, exhaling for six, or using the suggested mantra tomes. Do this at least five times.

Side to SideWeintraub_Ch3_SidetoSide
Movement:
These two motions give a good lateral stretch to the spine. From the same table position, bring your right hip up towards your right ear, making a “C” curve with your body, like a human comma. Imagine you could put your right ear in your right hip pocket. Now move to the other side and do the same thing. Move back and forth slowly, from right to left, exhaling through the mouth with a “ha” breath every time you move to the side and inhaling to center.

Mantra:
You can also use the energizing tone of “vam” as you swing your hips from side to side, inhaling back to center. Practice this at least five times.

Weintraub_Ch3_Thread1Threading the Needle
Movement:
From table position, inhale your right arm up towards the ceiling, then exhale and bring that arm through the window of your left palm and knee and bring the right side of your head to the mat.

Continue to breathe deeply through your nostrils as you press your left fingertips into the mat to roll your left shoulder back for more of an upper body twist. You can practice little micro-movements here, moving the hips, rolling the head for a neck stretch. If you wish, you can lift your left arm into the air and explore various arm movements.

Enjoy the stretch for at least three long breaths 4:4 count breaths through your nostrils. The body loves to twist. Play with it. Make it yours.

Mantra:
Inhale for four counts. As you exhale and twist more deeply into the pose, practice the cooling calming tones for the upper chakras, beginning at the solar plexus and moving up to the brow point. The tones are “Ah, A, E, Mmmm.” Practice these mantras two or three times.

To come out of the pose, lower your left arm down and use it to press you back into table position.

Take a moment to close your eyes and unwind yourself. Trust the wisdom of your body to bring you back into balance. Then come back to a neutral table position and practice the same sequence on the other side. Enjoy. Make every movement count by paying attention to the breath and the sensations in your body as you practice.

When you return to table after threading the needle to the other side, again close your eyes and move in any way that brings you back into balance. Yoga is not about the “doing” but the “undoing” of all those tight places, the blocks in your body that trauma and loss have stored there. Imagine that you are dissolving another karmic knot (samskara) as you release. You probably are.

When you have completed the Six Movements for the Spine, come into Child Pose by bringing your buttocks back to your heels, resting your forehead on the mat and drawing your arms alongside your body. If your buttocks aren’t touching your heels, you may place a cushion between your hips and your heels for more support. It also feels good to bring a cushion underneath your forehead. Rest in Child Pose. Yoga is about balance. Take a moment to balance the “doing” of the Six Movements of the Spine with stillness. Relaaaaaax.dvd-level-2-coverdvd-level-1-cover

You can practice this sequence with me and other poses with mantra and pranayama breathing for managing your mood on one of the two LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues DVDs. If you’re a beginner, start with level one. Click here to watch a sample. If you already practice hatha yoga and enjoy standing poses, you don’t need to start with level one. You can begin your practice immediately with the level two DVD. Click here to watch a sample.

If you would like to read more about yoga and how it transformed the lives of my students and colleagues, and saved my own life, read Yoga for Depression.

One thought on “Anxiety and Depression: Yoga Warm-ups to Awaken the Spine and Begin Your Day”

  1. Looking forward to meeting in February at Kripalu!!!!

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“I had the pleasure of experiencing several private yoga sessions with Amy Weintraub, which were for me the most profoundly healing yoga experiences I’ve had.  Amy has the gift of not only being very skillful in helping me feel supported and "held" in yoga postures physically, but, also, the ability to use words to bring me more deeply into my own inner experience. I found myself releasing emotions that had been held in my body for a long time.  After the sessions, I had the experience of being much more at home within myself and much more present to my own inner experience. This was particularly important for me since I am a body-centered therapist who specializes in helping people get in touch with emotions held in the unconscious. Amy’s work is very important in a world where so little attention is given to one’s own inner experience. I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to experience the power of yoga with Amy.” — L.F. 44, Rosen Method Bodyworker Practitioner, Florence, MA
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“In this well-written and well-researched book Amy Weintraub provides therapists with simple, easy-to-apply but powerful, breathing, meditation, and hand gesture techniques that do not require a mat or body postures. Therapists can easily incorporate these techniques into their practices without otherwise having to change what they do, and clients can use them on their own. Thank you Amy for giving us access to this ancient healing wisdom.” — Richard C. Schwartz, Ph.D., developer, Internal Family Systems Therapy, author, Introduction to the Internal Family Systems Model
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“I had been on antidepressant medication for three years and had just been diagnosed with fibro myalgia when I began to work with Amy. She designed a sequence of postures and breathing exercises for me that I could practice at home. After four months, I was feeling much better, and after six months, I was able to stop antidepressants entirely. I still have low moods from time to time, but I know they will pass. Yoga has changed my life.” — C.L., 37, massage therapist, Sarasota, FL.
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“Amy’s gentle and caring presence blends beautifully with her skillful Yoga teaching talents.  I have enjoyed attending Amy’s unique class offerings for the past 4 years now.  As a practitioner and teacher of Yoga, I find that her style of teaching creates a safe place for me to deepen my own Yoga practice, free from the competitive "striving" attitudes found all too often in Yoga classes.  I have appreciated Amy’s strong focus on acceptance and presence and always leave her classes feeling happier, lighter and more centered in my true self.” — Janine Walter, Oriental Bodywork Therapist and Teacher, Tucson, AZ
“I’ve worked with Amy’s Yogic sets for the last two years and they have literally transformed my emotional state. Amy takes me, step-by-step, through postures and breathing exercises that straighten out my emotional tangles. Practicing Yoga has positively affected my whole world.” — S.S., retired computer engineer, Cambridge, MA
“Weintraub has written…a sensitive, intelligent, painstaking exploration of the deeper psychospiritual issues that make up the complex experience of depression.” — Phil Catalfo, Yoga Journal
“Heal yourself with Yoga For Depression. I absolutely love this book and highly recommend it.” — Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. Author of Meditation as Medicine
“My life is already changed! I will use the tools I learned in my own practice and in my work. I feel safe and seen.” — Susan Andrea Weiner, MA, teacher/expressive arts facilitator, El Cerrito, CA.
“As a teacher of yoga, Amy Weintraub has continually reinforced my longtime belief in the strong connection of mind-body-spirit. For the past three years, I have benefited, both personally and professionally (I am a clinical social worker), from Amy's supportive and competent guidance in yoga. Because of Amy's influence, I often recommend the practice of yoga to friends and clients.” — Dory Martin, CISW, Tucson, AZ
“It is not just Amy’s yoga classes that have added richness to my life as both a yoga student and a yoga therapist, it is more importantly how she integrates and exudes yoga into her daily life that is inspirational for me.  While I have been the beneficiary of her thoughtful, well constructed and emotionally well tuned yoga classes, I have also received her wit and wisdom through informal, "off-the-mat" interaction as well.  In both cases, I have been able to tune into myself at a deeper level and feel more successful in my practice as a result of her care-full teaching and living.” — JJ (Jesse) Lee, owner, Body & Soul Fitness Training, Reno, Nevada
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“A psychotherapist might spend many years studying yoga and still not achieve anything near this elegant, practical, powerful integration. The instruction — while emerging from a 4000-year-oldtradition some consider esoteric — is immediately useful for treating abroad range of mental health disorders, even for therapists with no other background in yoga. As a bonus, the book seamlessly weaves in indispensable related tools, such as imagery, self-suggestion, and mindfulness meditation. It is a fabulous resource.” — Donna Eden & David Feinstein, Ph.D., Co-authors, Energy Medicine and The Promise of Energy Psychology
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“I have tried a number of antidepressants and therapy to treat my chronic depression. When I began working privately with Amy, something shifted, and I saw that I could live from a place bigger and brighter than my depression. At first, I just felt better for a few hours after our work together. But after several months, I am feeling that those positive feelings — more energy, more optimistic, more flexible — are taking me through the days in between our sessions.” — KW, technical writer, Tucson, AZ
“I am indebted to Amy's Yoga instruction for teaching the part of me that had trouble letting go. My wife died almost two years ago, and I am now free of grief and other destructive thought-patterns. Since practicing Yoga with Amy, my meditation practice has gone to new dimensions.” — John deCoville, systems analyst, Tucson, AZ
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