I would like to offer the perspective of this very short, 10 minute series of exercises. Carried out several times a week, ideally every day, this is a very acceptable substitute for full yoga sessions. 

10 minutes every day amounts to over an hour a week and the benefit is spread throughout the week.  And you are not paying money, travelling or being self-conscious. And you can really listen to your body and what you need – rather than what the yoga teacher reckons everyone in the class needs.

My practice is entirely using standing poses – so the slight resistance that someone might have to acquiring and then using a yoga mat is removed. It’s also possible, weather permitting, to do it outside much more easily than floor exercises. 

My understanding of the essence of yoga is that it is the form of undoing the freeze reflex that we all get into in the presence of tension, anxiety.  

The classic response to threat or problems is usually described as the Fight and Flight reflex but in fact the Freeze response comes first and often continues chronically in two ways –  shallow breathing and very poor, tense physical posture.

And these two pieces of behaviour don’t just reflect anxiety and stress but in fact lock us into that anxiety, perpetuating the state and creating something of a trap. I see yoga as focused on both those aspects – improved breathing and muscular loosening by stretching and bending.  

Recent research has highlighted the fact that a frozen body state is not just held in the joints and muscles but in the fascia –  “Fascia is a thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds and holds every organ, blood vessel, bone, nerve fibre and muscle in place. The tissue does more than provide internal structure; fascia has nerves that make it almost as sensitive as skin. When stressed, it tightens up.

Although fascia looks like one sheet of tissue, it’s actually made up of multiple layers with liquid in between called hyaluronan. It’s designed to stretch as you move. But there are certain things that cause fascia to thicken and become sticky. When it dries up and tightens around muscles, it can limit mobility and cause painful knots to develop.”

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/muscle-pain-it-may-actually-be-your-fascia

 So there is this additional scientific evidence base for the value of simple stretching and bending. There is also evidence that most of the now familiar elaborate yoga poses with impressive Sanskrit names are in fact not the classic, quite simple yoga poses but were imported by western gymnasts in the 20th century. Search Mark Singleton – Yoga Body.

If I may share my own routine: 

I start with breathing. The essence is not so much pumping large amounts of air in and out of the lungs as exploring the opposite of the startled, held breath that is triggered by anxiety. 

I am not quoting ancient yoga wisdom when I tell you about Sister Act 2, when Whoopi Goldberg calms down her panicking school choir by telling them to “yawn!”  After some protests they do that and they find that their anxiety levels drop radically and immediately. 

All we are doing when we yawn in that way is to open our throats and exhale fully. 

If you want some science, that triggers the parasympathetic nervous system which helps to reduce the anxiety hormone cortisol and releases the feel-good hormones of serotonin and even the prosocial hormone oxytocin. 

Quite a good result from such a simple action? 

One of the aspects of holding the breath is that we breathe mainly with the top of our chests – so the other aspect is to breathe into the belly fully – and then the chest – and then maybe pause ….. before breathing out fully – like the yawn and empty the lungs completely. 

It may be a good idea to do that sitting down because you can get quite dizzy initially because you may not have used your lungs that fully for some weeks – unless you do aerobic exercises 

After maybe 10 of those breaths, I start the stretching and bending aspect. I start at the top of my body with my jaw which I loosen with wide opening and then side to side movement. 

Rolling the head is really important because so much of the startled body language of stress is reflected in the strange angle that we hold our heads. 

Bending it right forward and pulling it slightly with hands on the back of the head stretches the muscles and the facia in the neck and shoulders that control the head angle. Tipping it right back also has real benefits.  

The classic neck rolling is effective. I find that shaking the head does something really interesting. It seems to trigger off  a sensation of childish, angry defiance. Just like children do when they do not want to be fed at the table. A great way of embracing the inner sulky child that we may all need to give more voice to. 

Shoulder rolling is pretty obvious because when we are tense, our shoulders tend to come around our ears.  

Shoulder joints can get quite stiff and I enjoy swimming movements at this stage which have a great advantage of my not getting wet. Crawl and the butterfly and even the backward butterfly are really quite safe in the living room. 

The lower back seems to be a real focus point for anxiety and is a huge medical problem for western cultures. Forward bends are pretty good and there is no need to let the hamstrings limit the stretch. The slight bending the knee allows a better bend in the back.  Conventional yoga gets people to go into poses and hold them for a few seconds. That is not adequate to stretch out and change the entangled state of the fascia. Try “yin yoga” style holding the posse for a minute – or two – or three.. I do my yoga to my favourite music and that makes it much easier to hold poses for quite a long time.

The pelvis is really where the tension lies and some over-controlled western cultures are  notorious for having frozen pelvises. 

Hulahoop, and slightly embarrassing movements of thrusting and twerking are really great for loosening up the pelvis and lower back and preventing back problems. (Twerking yoga? You heard it here first.) 

I feel that my legs do not get much attention in this routine but then we do walk a great deal so hopefully that makes up for it.  

Happy to have feedback.       David J