Yoga Break 2: Formosa Oolong & The Downward Dog
Downward Dog, aka Adho Mukha Svanasana is an excellent breaktime pose. First, it loosens up your shoulders. Then, that nice rush of blood flowing to your head provides stress relief.
Chances are if you're reading this, then your head is craning forward, your chin is tucked, and all that resulting jaw tension is pulling your pecs in and causing your shoulders to hunch forward like Severus Snape. (Yes, the image is necessary.) By pressing back into Downward Dog, it takes the shoulders into retraction, lifting them into a space where — Wingardium Leviosa! As your scapula float up, you'll find that you can breathe again.
Pair this with an earthy-fruity Formosa Oolong, one of Taiwan's specialties, and you're ready to start. Just make sure to wait and drink the tea after doing any kind of inversion, unless you want a very different sort of head-rush.
1) Flip back to the instructions for the previous Yoga Break, when we did Tree Pose. Prep the tea according to taste: measure out the right heap of leaves in your teaspoon, and the right amount of water to make them sing. Formosa, due to its partial oxidation, is an oolong that can take lots of different steeping styles. Don't worry about making it perfect, and enjoy the process of the cup.
If you're doing a bedtime wind-down, or prefer an alternative with no caffeine, brew up some Foxtrot. Sleek and zingy, with peppermint for relaxation. Besides, foxes are in the dog family — thematically apropos!
2) Set the tea to steep, and step onto your yoga mat, floor, or wherever you've decided to practice. Start on your hands and knees if you're a beginner, and a full Plank if you're more advanced. (What's a Plank? Find out next Yoga Break!)
Press your hips back and up into the sky, supporting them with your belly and lower core. This is just as much of a strength exercise as it is a stretch. Feel free to play around with the tension generated by different muscle groups. Stop and return to the ground if anything feels too-stretched or starts to twinge.
3) Breathe for 5. In through the nose, out through the mouth.
4) Come back to the starting pose. Repeat 2-5 times, depending on your level and whether it's been a particularly bad back week.
5) Bring yourself back to your starting position one last time, and exhale gently for a count of 3 seconds.
6) Breathe and sip.
Quick note about contraindications: do not attempt this pose if you have trouble with the feeling of blood rushing to your head. One of the many benefits of Downward Dog is the stimulation of circulation by reversing blood-flow, but practice caution if you have any medical conditions that could be aggravated by this.
*If you want to add any other insinuations about "doggy style," be my guest. Though be forewarned: anyone who's ever stepped on a mat has made that joke already!