Pre-meditative exercises – A must?
That’s a great question. Why we must practise pre-meditative exercises?
In our previous post we talked about the unwritten rules that we must comply with before starting any hatha yoga program. However, apart from the earlier mentioned basic rules, we must also make sure that our body is well conditioned physically.
From a standing position, keeping your legs straight, bend forward and try to touch your toes with your hands. If you cannot do it, then do not force or strain your body. This shows that you have a very stiff body. Due to this stiffness, many people cannot sit in one particular position for a very long time without feeling the urge to move their limbs in response to discomfort. However, sitting in one position is a necessity in higher yogic practices.
So, in order to ease your path towards meditational bliss, there are some simple exercises that will generally help you to loosen up your body and prepare you for eventual mastery of meditational asanas.
We call these simple exercises pre-meditative exercises. They prepare the body for meditative asanas, in which one remains in a specific sitting pose for a certain duration of time. Below you will find some selected pre-meditative exercises that we believe will give optimum results.
- Choose a well ventilated, unobstructed room for practising. Avoid a gale-force wind or draught.
- Use a folded blanket, a rug or a mat placed on the floor.
- Wear light, comfortable clothing which will not obstruct free movement.
- Do not apply unnecessary strain or force while exercising. At the beginning you will notice that your muscles are a little stiff. But with regular practice, they will begin to stretch.
The following exercises are selected ones which we believe will give optimum results. Do try to perform them systematically in the order that we have described below.
Simple pre-meditative exercises
Ankle crank (Goolf ghoornan)
This exercise allows us to loosen up the ankle joints.
- Sit comfortably on a blanket/mat.
- Stretch both legs out in front of the body.
- Bend the left leg, placing the left foot on the right thigh, as near as possible to the groin.
- Hold the left ankle with the left hand, and the left toes with the right hand.
- Think only about the loosening the joints. Repeat to yourself: “I am loosening up my ankle joints and with regular practice they will become loose.”
- Rotate your ankle 10 times clockwise.
- Try to relax your foot as much as possible, rotating your foot about the ankle with your right hand.
- Repeat 10 times anticlockwise.
- Now, repeat the whole process, 10 times clockwise and 10 anticlockwise, with the right foot folded on the left thigh.
Half butterfly (Ardha titali asana)
This exercise specifically loosens up the thigh, knee and ankle joints.
- Sit comfortably on a blanket/mat as in the previous exercise.
- Bend the left leg.
- Place the left foot on the right thigh, and the left hand on the top of the bent left knee.
- Do not strain the body and relax as much as you can, especially the folded leg.
- Gently push the left knee up and down.
- The bent leg should be as relaxed as possible, the movement being applied by the left arm.
- Simultaneously, mentally repeat to yourself: “I am loosening up my ankle, knee and hip joints and will eventually be able to touch the floor with my folded knee.”
- Move your knee up and down 30 times.
- After completing slowly straighten your bent leg, without jerking or twisting the knee.
- Then bend your leg, bringing your heel to the buttocks and lastly straighten it again. This releases muscular tension.
- Fold your right foot on to your left thigh.
- Repeat the same process, moving your right knee up and down 30 times.
Hip rotation (Shroni chakra)
This exercise helps to strengthen the muscles and joints of the legs in preparation for meditational asanas.
- Sit comfortably on a blanket/mat.
- Bend the right leg.
- Fold the right foot on the left thigh. Hold the bent knee with the right hand. Rotate the knee clockwise 15 times.
- Simultaneously mentally repeat to yourself: “I am loosening up my legs and will eventually be able to touch the floor with my knees.”
- Allow your bent leg to remain passive, using the force of the right arm to rotate the knee.
- Repeat 15 times anticlockwise.
- Now straighten your bent leg, without jerking or twisting the knee. Bend the leg once, bringing the right heel near the buttock.
- Then straighten the leg. This removes muscular tension and further loosens the joints.
- Repeat the same procedure with the other leg folded.
Squat and rise pose (Utthanasana)
This exercise strengthens and loosens the whole leg, specifically the knees. When it is perfected, one should be able to squat comfortably on the ground with both heels flat on the floor.
- Stand erect with your feet about 1 metre apart. Interlock your fingers in front of your abdomen and allow your arms to hang freely
- Slowly bend your knees and lower your trunk about 20 centimetres.
- Return to the erect position.
- Again descend, this time slightly lower.
- Return to the erect position again and lower the body. Your hands should be 30 centimetres above the floor.
- Now rise.
- Finally, lower your body to the final (lowered) position with your hands touching the floor. Return to an erect position and relax.
Crow walking (Kawa chalasana)
This is another excellent exercise for loosening and strengthening the legs.
- Assume kagasana (crow pose). Make sure the palms are on your knees. Start slowly to walk in this position.
- You can either walk on tiptoe or keeping the feet flat on the floor. You can spend half of your practice on tiptoe and the other half on the flats of your feet.
Churning the mill (Chakki chalanasana)
This is an excellent exercise for the shoulders, lower back, lower abdomen and waist.
- Sit on the floor with the legs outstretched, feet apart.
- Interlock your fingers.
- Straighten your arms at shoulder height.
- Rotate your hands in as big a circle as possible on a horizontal plane.
- Keep your arms straight throughout the whole exercise. Lean forward and try to make your interlocked hands pass over the top of the feet at the outer stroke of the circle.
- Then try to lean backwards as far as possible, keeping your feet on the ground, so that your hands pass over the top of your thighs.
- Rotate your hands 15 times clockwise, then 15 times anticlockwise.
- Lie back and relax yourself completely.
Breathe in as you lean backwards and breathe out as you lean forwards. When you can easily perform the physical movement alone, coordinate your breathing with the movement. When you master how to sync your breathing with your movements, then become aware of the movement of the muscles of the lower back as the exercise is performed.
Dynamic spinal twist (Gatyatmak meru vakrasana)
This exercise gives the whole spine a good twist in both directions and thereby loosens up the vertebrae and tones important spinal nerves.
- Sit on the floor with the legs outstretched.
- Separate your legs as far apart as you feel comfortable.
- Raise the arms on each side of the body to shoulder height, keeping them straight.
- The arms should stay in a straight line throughout the exercise.
- Lean forward and touch your left foot with your right hand.
- In this position the left arm should point backwards, in exactly the opposite direction to the right arm. Both arms should form one straight line.
- The head should be turned to gaze at the arm extended behind you.
- Now twist your trunk in the opposite direction, touching the right foot with the left hand, the head turned in the opposite direction towards the right hand behind the back.
- This is 1 round. In the beginning try to do 10 rounds.
- As the body becomes more flexible the legs should be spread further apart. Also, try to do more rounds.
- The legs should be kept straight throughout the exercise.
Inhale as you twist the body to either side and exhale as you centre your body.
Neck movements (Greeva sanchalana)
All nerves connecting the different parts of the body must pass through the neck to reach the brain. The following movements tone up these vital nerves and generally loosen up the neck vertebrae. It is also an excellent method of reducing tension and inducing calmness of mind. It can also help relieve headaches caused by too much tension in the neck and shoulder regions.
You can either perform this exercise while sitting or while standing.
- Sit cross-legged.
- Rest your hands on your lap.
- Relax your whole body.
- Let your shoulders drop. Make sure they are not hunched.
- Close your eyes.
- With control, very slowly tilt the head forwards.
- Then slowly return the head to the upright position.
- Slowly tilt the head backwards.
- Then tilt the head forward again to a normal position.
- This is 1 round.
- The whole movement should be completed in one smooth motion.
- Do 10 rounds.
- Bend the head to each side, with the ear going towards the shoulder, in the same slow motion that was performed in the previous exercise.
- Do 10 rounds.
We recommend that the time of rotation for 1 round be reduced to 15 seconds eventually.
- Slowly rotate your head clockwise in as large a circle as possible. Ensure that the shoulders are remain as relaxed as possible throughout the practice.
- Rotate 5 to 10 times.
- Then repeat the same rotation in the anticlockwise direction.
- Throughout the practice watch the space in front of the closed eyes.
- Try to imagine that your body is floating in this space and that your head is detached from
- your body. This will help to induce relaxation.
Full butterfly pose (Poorna titali asana)
This practice is so called because the legs move up and down like a butterfly’s wings, and when mastered it loosens the rigidity of the muscles and tendons in the groins which prevent the knees from touching the ground during meditative asanas.
- Sit on the floor with the legs extended in front of the body.
- Bend the legs sideways and place the soles of both feet in contact with each other. Don’t strain, but try to slide the feet as near as possible towards the buttocks keeping the soles in contact.
- Hold the feet with the two hands.
- Place both the elbows in contact with the inside tops of the thighs.
- Then gently push the knees of both legs towards the ground, using the elbows as levers.
- After a short duration release the legs and allow them to rise upwards.
- Again push the legs downwards.
- Without strain, try to push the knees as close as possible to the ground.
- Repeat this movement as often as available time will permit; up to 10 or 20 times is
- Release the hold of the hands on the feet.
- Keep the legs in the same position.
- Place the hands on the knees; some people will find this a little difficult, but try.
- Relax the legs as much as you can.
- Using the arms push the knees up and down.
- Try not to utilize the leg muscles in this practice.
- Do this as many times as you want; 20 to 40 times is a reasonable number if you have the time.
Chopping wood pose (Kashtha takshanasana)
This may seem a difficult way to chop wood but it is certainly an excellent method of loosening up the legs. Many people will find this exercise quite difficult for it is very easy to topple backwards when raising the arms.
- Assume a squatting position.
- Try to place the soles of the feet flat on the floor, with the knees fully bent and separated.
- Beginners, if they wish, can do this exercise with their backs close to a wall, but try to depend as little as possible on the aid of the wall for support.
- Clasp the hands together.
- Straighten the arms in front of the body.
- Then while inhaling raise your straight arms as high as possible above the head.
- Exhale while lowering the arms.
- This is 1 round. Practise as many times as you can – up to 10 or 20.
Don’t strain, for this is a position that few people use in everyday life. However, in India, people habitually squat for long periods of time while eating, talking, working and many other activities.
In fact, many Indians are far more comfortable in a squatting position than sitting in a chair.
Wind releasing pose (Vayu nishkasana)
As the name suggests this is an excellent practice for removing wind, and at the same time it stretches and loosens up the muscles of the legs.
- Assume a squatting position.
- Again if necessary sit with your back to a wall.
- Grasp the feet with the hands, keeping the arms inside the legs.
- Then inhale and raise your head.
- Exhale and straighten the legs, while simultaneously pointing the top of the head towards the ground.
- The legs should be as straight as possible but without strain. Please refer to the drawing on your right.
- Maintain this pose for a short period and hold the breath.
- Then while inhaling, bend the knees and return to the squatting position.
- This is 1 round. Do up to 10 rounds.
Note: the hands must hold onto the feet throughout the practice.
In the beginning, for those starting with these pre-meditative exercises, you will find that some, if not all, of these practices a little difficult at first . But do not let that discourage you. Persevere. With the right mental attitude and regular practice, you will feel more comfortable with these exercises, and this will definitely loosen up your legs, especially when supplemented with other asanas.
“There is no substitute for persistence. The person who makes persistence his watch-word, discovers that “Old Man Failure” finally becomes tired, and makes his departure. Failure cannot cope with persistence.”
∼ Napoleon Hill ∼
The more you practise, the more likely you are to achieve the flexibility needed to eventually master the classical meditative asanas. One of the most essential factor in loosening up the legs is your mental attitude. If you attempt these pre-meditative exercises and find that your legs are too stiff, don’t immediately feel desperate and stop the practices. Just do not give up. Do not quit.
“A quitter never wins. A winner never quits.”
∼ Napoleon Hill ∼
Otherwise you will almost defeat yourself before even beginning. No matter how stiff your legs, you must believe that with regular practice and time they will eventually become supple.
“If you believe you can, you probably can. If you believe you won’t, you most assuredly won’t. Belief is the ignition switch that gets you off the launching pad”
∼ Denis Waitley ∼