Category Archives: Empower Your Yoga Practice

08
March

The Minneapolis Yoga Conference was this past weekend. I was oh so lucky to be able to spend all three days participating in the Yoga Therapy Track with presentations by Indu Arora (as well as Molly McManus whom I had the absolute pleasure of meeting for the first time! Molly’s Soma Yoga therapy is definitely something I’m going to pursue learning more about!).

I had experienced Indu’s wisdom a couple of years ago at the same conference for her presentation on mudras (yoga for the hands). I also attended her book signing for the launch of her amazing new book on mudras: Mudra: The Sacred Secret. I’d never experienced anyone with as much wisdom in her every spoken word. Believe me, you realize it when you’re in her presence—she’s the “real deal”. Are there any of you old enough to remember the commercial about E.F. Hutton?  Well, the same applies here: When Indu Arora talks, people listen!

So when the opportunity to participate in three days of an International-Yoga-Therapy-Association-approved therapy track this year featuring Indu on several compelling yoga therapy subjects, I knew I had to attend.

She started and ended her classes succinctly on time, and when she gave a break, it was literally five minutes. No one complained, and they knew she’d be back to the discussion at four minutes 59.9 seconds! (And yes, it was a group of mainly women—upwards of 40 of us—with the usual three stall bathrooms in the area so getting through the line in five minutes meant there was no dilly dallying!) She joked once at the end of an hour presentation that her timer said 59 minutes and 59 seconds as she was completing her presentation. None of us wanted to miss a syllable! Seriously! There was so much wisdom packed into her presentations, she had our absolute complete attention. The expressions on my fellow-attendee’s faces reflected the same active listening I was experiencing. We were all gloriously present in the moment, ears wide open, not wanting to miss a drop.

 

Our Yoga Nidra class!

You might wonder how you’d command the same attention from your audience. I can only say that the level of truth coming from her resonated with each of us so deeply that I doubt I’ll experience the caliber of her teachings from another speaker any time soon. And that leads me to issue a disclaimer here. In her last class presentation on the components of yoga nidra/yoga sleep, we all were gifted with a luscious 45-minute yoga nidra practice. (Yes—it was an absolutely nummy experience, in case you were wondering!) Towards the end of the nidra, she suggested we bring to mind a teacher or guru who has made a difference in our life. I immediately thought of her. When I shared this with her later at her exhibit booth, she immediately reminded me, “No I am not a teacher! I am a student just like you. I am the same as you!”

Earlier that day in class, she gave an analogy of the difference between teaching and sharing. “When you teach”, she said, “You are like this” (showing her two hands palms down parallel to the floor with one hand higher than the other). “The ‘teacher’ elevates herself above her audience. But when you share, you are like this” (showing her two hands palms down parallel to the floor and even with each other). “I am the same as you! I share. I don’t teach.”

In India, where Indu is from, “a ‘Guru’ is a Sanskrit term that connotes someone who is a ‘teacher, guide, expert, or master’ of certain knowledge or field. In pan-Indian traditions, guru is someone more than a teacher, traditionally a reverential figure to the student, with the guru serving as a ‘counselor’, who helps mold values, shares experiential knowledge as much as literal knowledge, an exemplar in life, an inspirational source and who helps in the spiritual evolution of a student. The term also refers to someone who primarily is one’s spiritual guide, who helps one to discover the same potentialities that the gurus already realized.” Indu is much too humble to elevate herself to this description, although I suspect many of us view her as a  true “guru”. I mean if she isn’t an expert, I could only hope to meet her guru!

I left the conference with my heart full of gratitude and my brain soaked in “purposeful information”—her words describing the courses offered. By the way, one of her “asides” was that literally every Sanskrit syllable has 20 possible meanings and how it comes into contact with the next syllable gives the meaning direction. I learned so much this past weekend and I loved every syllable!

I would love it if you would subscribe to my blog/newsletter. I don’t publish on a regular timetable so subscribing is a good way to make sure you don’t miss out on any amazing posts such as this one! (Poking fun at myself. 🙂 ) You’ll also be the first to receive updates, resources, and more. I’ll even give you a free gift! 🙂 Click on the “FREE Chakra-Balancing & Loving Kindness Meditation!” link in the right-hand column. Thanks! 

27
February

Seated Forward Fold (Sanskrit term: Paschimottanasana)

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice, Newsletter
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Benefits: 

  • Strengthens quads, hip flexors, abs, knees
  • Stretches spine, shoulders, hamstrings, calves and hips
  • Releases and stretches upper and lower back
  • Calms the mind and relieves stress and tension
  • Regenerates the nervous system, reducing fatigue and anxiety
  • Stimulates liver and kidneys, ovaries and uterus
  • Relieves stress and mild depression
  • Improves digestion
  • Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause and menstrual discomfort
  • Soothes headache and anxiety and reduces fatigue
  • Helps to eliminate accumulated toxins and boosts the functioning of your immune system, according to yoga teacher Nancy Gerstein in her book, “Guiding Yoga’s Light: Lessons for Yoga Teachers.”

Traditional Alignment cues:

From a seated position, straighten your legs forward. Flex your feet pointing toes to the sky and pushing through the heel. This activates the leg muscles as well as encourages a stretch in the calves. Hinge at the hips reaching forward while maintaining the natural lumbar curve. Ribs stay tucked, leading with your breastbone. Use your abs to draw forward. Head stays over shoulders. Shoulders stay rolled back, relaxed and down.

March 2014 Spinal Flexion 1

Never compromise your low back for the reach. I often tell my yoga students that if you feel a sensation, it’s good.  It’s when that sensation “crescendos*” that you need to pull back.

*Yes, I know “crescendos” refers to volume and intensity of sound, but to me it also relays the message I’m trying to deliver to my students.  Heck—I’ll bet your body wishes it could make a sound before it goes beyond its limit!  So this term and when I use it has become what I like to call a “Sandyism” in class.

When you’ve come as far forward as you think your body wants to come while maintaining your natural lumbar curve, add a flex to the spine as you bring your head toward your legs. Your lumbar curve will release gently. Hands can rest on legs, ankles or feet. Or even on the floor. Knees stay pointing up. Once in the pose, use the breath to inhale and elongate, exhale and deepen if it feels good.

March 2014 Spinal Flexion 2

Not sure of your pose? Add a prop!

  • Elevate hips as necessary with blanket or yoga mat to keep a neutral spine if you have tight hamstrings (not shown), or
  • Use a strap as a prop to reach toward toes by placing the strap on the balls of the feet with either end in your hands as you walk your hands forward down the strap. (Not shown)

Alternative Option:

So where do you experience sensation in seated forward fold? The Leslie Kaminoff anatomy training introduced me to a whole new way to look at forward fold. It’s funny that I refer to it as a “new way” when it’s really the way the Sanskrit term defines it.

Paschimottanasana breaks down to mean “west” (Paschima) which refers to the back side of the body and Uttanasana—a standing forward fold. (Traditionally practice is done in the morning towards the rising sun in the east. So the back side of the body is considered the “west” side of the body.)

Another version (from Svatmarama) calls it Paschima Tana with Tana meaning to lengthen or spread out. It describes where the stretch occurs more than the shape change. It describes an experience vs. the shape. To experience the stretch on the west more evenly distributed across the whole back side of the body/superficial back line is going to be different for “every body”. Each person is different. We all have different starting points with where we feel the stretch.

Spinal flexion, for some, may or may not involve the experience of feeling the stretch on the whole back side of the body—depending on how you are doing the spinal flexion. You may be in what appears to be in a perfect forward fold, but the stretch could be coming from only a couple of places. For well distributed movement, you want a lot of little movement across a lot of places in the back/west side of the body. Finding out what is more useful so that you can experience a more evenly-distributed sensation/experience is the goal.

One of the main themes in Leslie’s trainings is that you should be looking for a little bit of movement in a lot of places vs. a lot of movement in one spot. Over-using one spot means you may be losing out on potential movement elsewhere along your spine. Consistently over-using one spot repeatedly also breaks your body down over time, creating repetitive stress and strain. You want to move the parts that can’t move so easily first to be able to more evenly distribute the movement. Healthy movement is well distributed movement.

“Flexion” refers to the relationship of the spinal curves to each other: An increase in the primary curve of the spine which corresponds to a decrease in the secondary curves—lumbar and cervical curves—of the spine. The goal of spinal flexion—the very definition of spinal flexion—is to experience a stretch across the whole superficial back line. It’s not just a stretch in the hamstrings, for example. Each of your spinal curves contributes to the flexion. The lumbar curve contributes the most at 60°. The cervical spine contributes 40° and the Thoracic spine contributes 45°. Focus on the areas of your spine that are the least flexible first to make sure you have well-distributed, maximum movement. If you go to the lumbar area first (the most able to flex), you may miss stretching areas that are least able to move.

In one of the oldest surviving texts on hatha yoga, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Svatmarama suggests putting the forehead on the thighs for spinal flexion. Krishnamacharya, often referred to as the father of modern yoga, suggests you “Lower the head and press the face down onto the knee. Face on knee.” Yes, you read that right! I, personally, consider these cues the direction you are heading, not necessarily what you’ll achieve! (Let’s just say my personal practice hasn’t achieved head to knee or thigh—unless I bend my knees, which we’ll touch upon later!)

Considering the goal of spinal flexion, forehead to knee or thigh is a good direction to shoot for. It decreases the cervical curve which is least flexible compared to the lumbar. It encourages more spinal flexion than simply hinging at the hip.

It’s all about creating the experience of a stretch evenly distributed along the whole back/posterior side—the whole superficial back line. How best to do that is what you look for. The pose is about an experience of even distribution of sensation. It’s not just about how the shape appears. Ask yourself “where is the stretch sensation occurring and where isn’t it?” Your answer will tell you whether it is distributed well or not.  A well distributed stretch relaxes the nervous system so that one area is not overwhelmed.

Bending the knees in seated forward fold:

Typically you would suggest that the student with the tight hamstring or low back issues might want to bend their knees as they go into spinal flexion. What about a more flexible person? This was another aha moment for me!

A more flexible person is tempted to simply flop into forward fold, hinging at the hip—busted! Yet they are probably not feeling it across the whole back side of the body. By bending the knees and bringing your forehead toward them, you move your breath to fill the back side of the body which gets the stretch into the thoracic area of the spine. Below is my s-l-o-w progression toward my knees and as I make contact I started to release the knees toward the ground slightly.

March 2014 Spinal Flexion other way 1March 2014 Spinal Flexion other way 2March 2014 Spinal Flexion other way 3

This opens the sides of the rib cage and the lateral muscles of the back. This helps to create full breathing for the back of the lungs—an area often forgotten about because we tend to think the lungs exist only on the front side of our body. The lungs are actually much bigger on the sides of the body and even deeper and bigger in the back.

The whole back line starts to engage. Bending the knees gives a better sense of lengthening. Engaging the front of the legs by bending the knees creates resistance to just flopping forward which creates a different sensation. That sensation can then be more evenly distributed and they will feel a more well distributed stretch throughout the whole back line of the body.

Also the bent knees helps to contract the front side of the body which helps the back side/antagonist muscles release. It helps to engage the abdominal area. Shortening the front body triggers a lengthening of the back body.

I’ve really been enjoying playing with this “new” old way to experience spinal flexion. Your body will too! Enjoy!

Contraindications and cautions:

  • Contraindicated for back injuries.
  • Bend your knees to protect the low back, especially if working with sciatica.
  • Hamstring injuries (also bend your knees here)

Highlight on Headaches:

Tension headaches, the most common type of headache, can be triggered by bad posture, muscle fatigue, overtiredness, and stress—conditions that are helped with yoga. The most common poor posture across all age groups is the Forward Head Position (FHP).  For example, a forward-head position, with its accompanying rounded shoulders, curved upper back, and resulting muscular tension, will often cause headaches (and even known to cause TMJ). Because the muscles of the neck and upper back connect to the head, tension in the neck can be referred to the forehead and behind the eyes, causing headaches.

Asanas that stretch the upper back, shoulders, and neck relax the muscles and allow oxygen-rich blood to flow to the brain. The increased body awareness resulting from yoga practice can even help predict the onset of a headache and stop it early in its course.

Stressed postural muscles may also cause nausea, generalized fatigue, lack of concentration, and visual disturbances. Chronically overworked, the muscles become fatigued and go into spasm. This is compared to a “charley horse”. Just as we would stretch a calf muscle in spasm, we need to stretch the “headache muscles” to bring relief. We should retrain the upper back to extend, the chest to open, the shoulders to roll back and down, and the head to rest on the midline.

A yoga practice which focuses on alignment and somatic awareness provides the tools for this retraining. The most common cause of headaches is the forward head position, with rounded shoulders, a curved upper back, and the accompanying muscular tension. “Anything that distorts the spinal curves has the potential to cause headaches,”

Dysfunctional breathing patterns contribute to headaches.

Deep, diaphragmatic breathing releases contracted muscles in the upper body and belly. Headache sufferers often “live in their heads; they don’t breathe fully. They need time to be in the body and develop the balance between the mental and physical parts of themselves.”

If breathwork practices interest you, consider taking my next Meditation / Breathwork “How-To” class. Sign up for my newsletter and “like” Better Day Yoga on Facebook to be in the know!

Sources: http://www.yogajournal.com/health/121?print=1

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/TIP04759/Weekend-Yoga-Pose-Seated-Forward-Bend.html

http://course.yogaanatomy.net

Spiritual aspects of Spinal Flexion:

Hatha Yoga is often been referred to as a “going within” to get to know the nature of your true self. What better way to accomplish this than spinal flexion. Embracing the “forehead to the knee/thigh” direction suggestion as explained above in the “alternative” option, truly curls you into yourself. As you hone into where you are sensing the stretch sensation, you are practicing pratyahara—control of the senses; as well as dharana—concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness. Experiencing the slow evolution of this pose—the slower the better—allows you to detach from the outer world and truly get to know yourself. You learn what’s going on in your body. You become intimately aware of your inner workings. This pose invites you to explore your inner self.

A well distributed stretch relaxes the nervous system so that one area is not overwhelmed. Relaxing and rejuvenating the nervous system is one of the hallmarks of spinal flexion. Curling inward is a protective reflex for many animals in nature—one of which is the armadillo. An armadillo’s armor is the shield it carries on its back. Their most vulnerable area is their underside—not unlike us humans.

I like to tell my students that unless you practice some form of relaxation / affirmation / meditation regularly, it won’t be “in your back pocket” to use when you really need it. It will be the last thing on your mind when you’re stressed. Armadillos teach you to carry your armor with you so you are able to use it when necessary. (Source: Animal Speak by Ted Andrews)

The fight-flight response of our sympathetic nervous system stems from fear. Stress stems from fear. By practicing the curling in of spinal flexion with the intention of focusing inward and honing in on the minute sensations you are experiencing, you are able to turn off your constant fight-flight response and turn on your rest and digest parasympathetic nervous system rejuvenators. It’s a mini-meditation asana.

Paschimottanasana / spinal flexion stimulates your first three chakras—your physical chakras. These are your stabilizing, grounding, creative, sensual, flowing energies as well as your energies of willpower and discipline. Knowing that what you need is found within and that curling inward isn’t a sign of weakness but an avenue to secure your inner strength and direction is the gift of Paschimottanasana.

Your drishti, or focused gaze, in this pose pulls you further into your very core, concentrating your intention inward, inward, inward. Intending to feel the sensation across the whole back side of your body reminds you that you are aiming for expansion in all areas—both on and off the mat. Lighting up your whole back line connects you energetically top to bottom. Your central meridian curls inward which empowers your governing meridian to vibrate outward (see photo below for a visual on where the meridians are in your body). They are partners and in their connection you are strengthened. This pose reminds you there is a time to curl inward and a time to express outward.

March 2014 Meridian lines complete

(Blue line represents your central meridian starting from the pubic bone and ending at the lower lip. Bright green line represents your governing meridian starting from the tailbone and ends between nose and upper lip)

25
September

Easy Seated Pose (Sanskrit term: Sukhasana)

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice
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Easy Seated Pose (Sanskrit term: Sukhasana)

This newsletter is about not only connecting to the energy of your ancestors, which lies in your DNA, but healing their unresolved conflicts, emotional wounds, damaging judgments, and other limitations that continue to influence generations to follow. This pose connects you to your root chakra as well as your crown chakra when used as a meditative pose. It connects you to your roots—your tribe—and to the energy funneled from the heavens.

Benefits:

  • Calms the brain
  • Creates inner harmony
  • Raises awareness
  • Rejuvenates tired legs and back
  • Strengthens the back
  • Stretches the knees and ankles

Alignment Cues:
Sit on a bolster, meditation cushion, or a couple of blankets to elevate the pelvis and release your hips. Cross the legs at the shins and align the feet under the opposite shin bones. Distribute your weight evenly over the sitting bones, balancing your shoulders directly over the hips with head on top of your spine. Sit up tall, elongate the spine, lifting out of the abdomen while opening the chest, collarbones wide. Keep the abdomen strong. Lengthen the neck, reaching your crown toward the sky as you soften your throat. The challenge is to not sink back into your hips and low back or tip too far forward in the pelvis. Balancing on the center of the pelvis enables your sacrum (the upside-down triangle at the end of your spine) to move in maintaining your natural low back curve. Leave a “comfortable gap” between the feet and the pelvis.

Bringing the hands to prayer/Namasté position at the center of your chest will help you to expand your chest, bring your shoulder blades back and down, and firm your upper back muscles.
Easy pose with prayer hands

Once you’ve established that expansion, shoulder blade position, and upper back muscles are held firm, you have the option to keep those qualities and rest your hands on your knees.

I often invite my students to “play” with energy here. Palms down on the knees feels more grounded, centered within and focused:

Easy pose with palms down
Palms up on the knees feels more open, energetic and ready to receive.

 

Easy pose with palms up You get to decide on any given day just what energy you are looking for, and then I add that it’s okay to have one hand palm up and one hand palm down if you aren’t sure, or want both. Drilling down to the subtle effects of hand placement introduces even the most conservative folk to experience energy.

You can also add a hand mudra here. Perhaps add the “Chin Mudra”. Connect index and thumb and extend the last three fingers of your hand with palms facing up. (If you have one palm down, you can still do this same mudra, it would change names to Jnana Mudra.)

jnana mudra

Keep the head centered between the shoulders. Again it’s a balance of expanding but not so much that you overarch your low back and move your lower ribs forward. It’s always a good idea to alternate the cross of the legs if you sit in this pose regularly. Our patterns create imbalances and our yoga practice is a great place to remind ourselves to balance the body.

 

Beginners:
Loosen the cross of your legs so the arches of your feet rest closer toward the opposite ankles. I even have one student who chooses to sit in butterfly pose instead of easy-seated pose as this is more comfortable for her. “Customize” the pose to fit your body.

“Sit with your back to a wall, slightly closer than the length of a yoga block, and wedge the ends of the block between the wall and your lower shoulder blades.” (Not shown) http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/2481

Advanced Option:
While an “advanced” version of easy seated pose could be lotus pose, I don’t promote lotus pose since:

1) I personally can’t do it and
2) At least one expert in the area doesn’t promote it due to possible injuries attained from practicing lotus pose:
http://yogaanatomy.net/lotus/ (The lotus dilemma. As this well-known expert says—the benefits aren’t necessarily always worth the risk.)

Contraindications and cautions:

Spiritual aspects of Easy Seated Pose:

Easy seated pose is often used for meditation. Your Hatha yoga practice was originally intended to enable the body to be still in a meditative pose for long periods. Once you start your meditation practice, coming to easy seated pose is like “Pavlov’s Dog” for your body. Your body knows it’s time to connect within. There’s nothing more spiritual than that connection.

In easy seated pose, you look down and see a triangle—three sides formed by the two thighs and the crossed shins. Trinities appear in many of the world’s religions and cultures—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; Mother, Maiden, Crone; Mind, Body, Soul.

The lucky “cat with nine lives” derives from the auspiciousness of three. Nine is composed of three trinities (9 = 3 x 3); and is considered to be “sacred three times”—the highest expression of sacred.

In the light of sacred geometry, simply finding easy seated pose in your yoga practice becomes the highest expression of sacred—the blending of mind, body, and soul.

Sources:

29
March

Dolphin Pose / Forearm Down Dog / Headstand Prep

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice
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Dolphin Pose / Forearm Down Dog / Headstand Prep

 

This newsletter focuses on the bringing the sacred into your yoga practice and your life and highlights the Crown Chakra. Headstand pose is an excellent pose for stimulating the Crown Chakra. However, Headstand pose is not a pose I use in my yoga classes, and I use a headstand prop in my own practice. That being said, I still want to emphasize a pose that activates the crown chakra!

My March 2011 newsletter highlighted Standing Straddle Forward Fold as a headstand prep pose—an option to headstand that brings many of the benefits of headstand pose without the possibility for injury. This newsletter will focus on another headstand prep pose—Dolphin Pose.

Benefits:

  • Cools down anger and relieves depression
  • Calms the mind and gently stimulates the nerves
  • Slows down the heartbeat
  • Aligns the spinal column
  • Increases flexibility of hips, knees and ankles and reduces stiffness in the heels
  • Strengthens shoulders, arms,  legs, upper back, abdominals, lower back, ankles
  • Stretches glutes, shoulders, calves, hamstrings, Achilles tendons, and arches
  • Therapeutic for flat feet, sciatica, sinusitis and asthma.
  • Improves the complexion by bringing more blood into the face and head
  • Improves digestion
  • Helps prevent hot flashes during menopause and osteoporosis
  • Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
  • May help improve immunity by stimulating your circulatory system. It increases blood flow to your sinuses, which may help you recover faster from the common cold, according to “Yoga Journal.”Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/390596-yogas-effect-on-the-immune-system/#ixzz1Kdon5aVJ
  • Could be used as modification for Downward Facing Dog when there are wrist issues.
  • Dolphin Pose is an inversion, especially when done as a headstand prep (See below). Inversions stimulate the thymus which regulates our immune system, and the thyroid which regulates our metabolism. They also bring fresh, oxygenated blood to the brain and face invigorating and nourishing them. When done correctly, inversions also release tension in the neck and the spine.

 

Alignment Cues:

From all fours, clasp your opposite elbows to establish the correct distance you want to have your elbows placed in this pose. This aligns the elbows with the shoulders.
Dolphin photo 1
Then interlace your fingers as though you are about to say a prayer and press the outside edge of the forearms into the mat. Dolphin photo 2

Take the bottom pinky finger and pull it up and into the clasped hands so that the base of your clasped hands is solid.

Dolphin photo 4Dolphin photo 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curl your toes under and push your hips up into the air, straightening the legs, as you would in downward facing dog.Dolphin photo 5

Relax your head and keep your head suspended in mid-air away from the floor. Your head should not rest on the floor. Remember to keep your neck soft.

Beginners: 

  • If your back rounds, bend your knees. (Not Shown)

Not sure of your pose? Add a prop!

  • Open your shoulders by lifting your elbows on a rolled-up sticky mat and pressing your inner wrists firmly to the floor.  Not Shown (Source: Yoga Journal)
  • Do dolphin pose at the wall—clasp your hands as above, and lay the forearms firmly against the wall keeping the shoulders directly in line with the elbows. Keep your upper arms horizontal to the floor, your throat in line with the shoulders, and the wrists firmly against the wall. Press your chest toward the wall as your shoulder blades go more deeply toward each other and into your back, “cradling” your heart. Dolphin photo 8
    A simple push away from the wall is your exit as you rest your arms at your sides.

Advanced Option:

From Dolphin Pose walk your feet as far forward to your interlaced hands as is comfortable for your body. At the full extent of this option, aim to have the crown of your head parallel to the floor, but still floating in the air. Keep the elbows in line with your shoulders.Dolphin photo 7

This is as close to the headstand prep portion of the pose that I get. It is still an excellent way to stimulate the crown chakra—our Chakrascope focus.

A nice flow to build core strength as well as triceps is to flow from forearm plank (shown below) with clasped hands to dolphin pose (shown above)—“dolphin swim”.  Dolphin photo 6 Make sure you keep the shoulders directly over the elbows during the plank portion of the flow to protect the shoulders.

Contraindications and cautions:

  • Practice this pose only if shoulders are healthy and stable.
  • Do not do this pose if you have glaucoma
  • For shoulder or neck injuries, keep knees bent.
  • Omit this pose in late-term pregnancy

Spiritual aspects of Dolphin Pose:

  • Inversions, in general, allow us to view life from another angle. While in an inversion the energy of the second (creative/sensual) chakra and our solar plexus (personal power) chakra are guided down toward the heart encouraging heart-focused creativity and action.
  • In Ted Andrew’s book, Animal Speak, The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small, Dolphins main power is the power of breath and sound. “Tension and stress can be released by simply imitating the spouting breath that dolphins use upon surfacing….Breath control is the key to the power of the dolphin.”
  • They make their home in the sea which, by some accounts, is where life began. Dolphin “medicine” can lead you to the beginnings of yourself. Dolphins have a sonar ability. “It uses a series of clicks and responds to the feedback of those clicks as the sound reverberates. Sound breath and water are all considered the sources of all life. Sound is the creative life force. Sound came forth out of the womb of silence and created all things. Learning to create inner sounds so that you can create outer manifestations is part of what dolphin can teach.” Sounds a lot like mantra meditation practices would further expand upon dolphin’s energy.

Sources:
Animal Speak, The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small, by Ted Andrews.
Yoga Journal.com
Beth Shaw’s YogaFit®, The program for a more powerful, flexible, and defined physique, Second Edition
http://www.livestrong.com/article/390596-yogas-effect-on-the-immune-system/#ixzz1Kdon5aVJ

27
January

Root Lock/Lift (Sanskrit term: Mula Bandha)

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice
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Root Lock/Lift (Sanskrit term: Mula Bandha)

Root Lock/Lift (Sanskrit term: Mula Bandha)

We’ve been focusing on the energetic knots or granthis, specifically the first knot located in the root chakra area. Root Lock/Lift affects your physical, energetic, and mental bodies. (For the purposes of this section, I’ll use “Root Lock” and “Root Lift” interchangeably. They refer to the same thing.) As mentioned in both the opening section and the Chakrascope section, the first “protective” knot/threshold in your energy body is located in the root chakra. Practicing root lift is said to help release the first knot so your energy can flow freely. So let’s focus on the “Root Lock Pose”!

Root lock is said to affect the mental/emotional body by helping to release stored emotions held in the muscles of the perineal and pelvic floor. Emotional releases can occur while practicing root lift, clearing the energy.

Root Lock/Lift grounds you. I encourage my students to engage root lift and belly lock (udiyana Bandha in Sanskrit) throughout their yoga practice holding them at a low level of about two on a scale of 1 – 10. It makes your poses more efficient, safer, and powerful. My suggestions to practice root lock/lift is based upon a gentle practice vs. some of the more advanced practices. (See the “Try this” demo suggestion below.)

Alignment Cues: Gently engage and lift the muscles of the pelvic floor—the muscles located in the diamond from the pubic bone in front, the tailbone in back and the sitting bones on either side. This activates your inner thighs and core which then stabilizes your pose. Root lock is sometimes referred to as being similar to “kegel” move with the comparison of how it feels to stop your flow of urination. “Root lock is the contraction of three small muscles within the perineum. Picture the base of your pelvis as a diamond, with a line drawn horizontally across the middle to create two triangles. The upper triangle is the perineum. The lower triangle is the sphincter muscle, which should remain relaxed.”  (Beth Shaw’s YogaFit®).

Active muscles: levator ani, coccygeus, pyramidalis (wraps into lower belly)

Benefits: 

  • Stimulates the root chakra energy
  • Calms your mind
  • Increases emotional and physical strength
  • Stabilizes and balances your mind enabling release of insecurity and negative emotions
  • Helps control anger
  • Enhances concentration
  • Prevents you from wasting energy
  • Enables you to practice yoga more efficiently and I would add that holding this lock at a low level through your yoga practice helps it to become habitual in your everyday life when you are exerting effort physically, protecting your back from harm and bringing power to your whole body. After 20+ years of yoga, I notice I now engage root lift automatically if I start to slip or fall.
  • Prevents weak pubococcygeus muscle (PC muscles), incontinence, and reproductive organs dropping


Beginners: 

  • Closing your eyes can help you focus on contracting the correct muscles.
  • Inhale in, exhale three quarters, and cough. The result helps you feel what root lift feels like.

 

Mula Bandha power flow: For more challenge, check out this great flow by one of my favorite teachers—Sadie Nardini

Try this: 

As a way to bring home the effect of holding root lift and belly lock, try this fun demo with a friend:

  • Connect your index and thumb together. Without holding either root lift or belly lock, have a friend try to pull your fingers apart.
  • Now do that same exercise again but this time hold root lift and belly lock before your friend tries to pull the fingers apart. Notice a difference? You bet! –A BIG difference!  THAT is the power of Mula Bandha (root lift) and Udiyana Bandha (belly lock)! (Sounds more powerful when you say it in Sanskrit, doesn’t it? Say it like “kowabunga!” with some sass!)

I will never forget doing this in class one time and a student was so amazed at the increased strength in her fingers while holding the bandhas that she blurted out excitedly: “What just happened here?!” This exercise really brings home the power of the bandhas to increase the efficiency of your yoga practice as well as the protective strengthening power it will bring to your everyday life once it becomes an habitual “hold” for you as you exert physical effort.

Contraindications and cautions: Approach the practice of all bandhas/locks cautiously, especially without the direct guidance of an experienced teacher.

Spiritual aspects of Root Lock/Lift: Root lock/lift activates the root chakra and, with continued practice, helps release the knot/granthi there, allowing your energy to flow freely. We must unlock the blocks in all three knots to release your potential energy stored there and become all that you were meant to be. Some refer to this as “enlightenment”. Chakra meditation, yoga asana, and pranayama are all ways to clear your blocked energy. Clearing the way for your potential to rise—your spiritual, emotional, and physical potential—is, in my opinion, why we are here.

Sources:  http://www.jaisiyaram.com/yoga-poses/mula-bandha.html

http://blog.gaiam.com/blog/bandhas-101-how-to-amplify-the-benefits-of-any-pose/

http://www.myyogaonline.com/videos/yoga/mula-bandha-power-flow

http://www.yogaforums.com/forums/f37/the-secrets-and-science-of-mula-bhanda-7673.html

www.sensational-yoga-poses.com/mula-bandha.html

11
October

Locust (Sanskrit term: Salambhasana)

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice
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Locust (Sanskrit term: Salambhasana)

This month’s opening section above is on using the slogans and taglines you see every day to your best advantage—as life affirming reminders. Viewing advertising as an affirmation is perhaps a new concept for you. It will take some baby steps to get there. Yoga poses are like that too. Locus Pose is best approached in baby steps. Make sure you are okay in the previous poses and then you’re ready!

Benefits: 

  • Strengthens: glutes, upper back, lower back, backs of the arms and legs
  • Stretches: Hip flexors, abs, chest, shoulders, thighs
  • Stimulates abdominal organs
  • Aids digestion
  • Improves stamina
  • Relieves stress
  • Opens your heart energetically (stimulates heart chakra)
  • Stimulates the solar plexus chakra, which contains your power (highlighted chakra)
  • Helps to relieve constipation and indigestion


Alignment Cues: 
Lie face-down on your stomach, forehead resting on the mat your palms face-down underneath your shoulders to start. Curl your tailbone toward the floor to release and protect your low back throughout this pose. Engage your inner thighs, your abs and glutes as you lift your upper body off the ground starting with basic cobra pose Feel a line of energy from head to toe. Keep the chin tucked, softening the neck. Press your hips into the floor and your shoulder blades down your back. If you are still doing okay, lift your legs off the ground, keeping the top of each thigh still touching. Finally, if you are still doing okay, reach your arms behind you, palms up and hovering for full locust pose. 

Beginners: 

  • Option to keep your forehead on the floor, palms underneath your shoulders as above, and lift one leg then drop it back down, and then lift the other leg and drop it back down to see how this affects your low back.  If you are doing okay with the above, option to lift both legs off the ground at the same time, keeping the top of the thighs still touching, and the forehead down on the mat. 
  • Option to just lift the upper body, leaving the legs down—reaching the arms behind you, palms up and hovering. 

Focus on lengthening more than lifting.  Reach forward through the crown of your head and back through your toes.

Add a prop:

  • “Place a block along the inner edges of your feet from your inner heel to your big toe. Play with the width of the block: If your low back is stiff, use the widest dimension. To keep the sacrum wide, resist gripping in the buttocks. Draw the outer legs down to the floor while reaching the inner thighs to the ceiling. Visualize the backs of your legs widening. If this is hard to access, press your thumbs onto the center of the buttocks and strongly move the buttock flesh away from your lumbar area. Press the center of the buttocks toward your heels as you lift the thighs (keep the block on the floor).”  http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/2714
  • You might want to add a blanket below the pelvis and/or ribs for comfort. (Not Shown)
  • You can also place a block between your inner thighs just above the knees. This facilitates the inward thigh spiral as well as activates the root chakra for grounding.
  • Add a strap around the ankles. This pose may help stabilize the Sacroiliac joint. “Strap your ankles 8 to 12 inches apart. Lie on your belly with you arms alongside your body, palms facing up. As you inhale, lift your arms, legs, and chest up. Pulling the legs strongly outward against the strap may relieve sacroiliac symptoms; it contracts outer hip muscles (gluteus medius and minimus) that put the ilium bones apart, temporarily creating a gap between the sacrum and the ilium to give the sacrum the freedom to move back into place. Introduce this pose gradually and back off immediately if it causes discomfort.” Yoga Journal, March 2008 issue.


Variation: 
Clasp hands behind you with arms straight to further open your heart center and unfurl your curled shoulders. 

Advanced version:  For more challenge, try Sea Monster Pose/ Makarasana.  Legs stay the same but the fingers are clasped with palms pressed against the back of the head.  

Contraindicated for those with serious back injury.  Those with neck injuries should keep the head neutral by looking down at the floor.

Spiritual aspects of Locust Pose: Locust pose activates your solar plexus chakra—your willpower chakra; your right to act. It also activates your heart chakra—your right to love and be loved. Locust pose connects you to your inner fire—to your spirit within. Connecting your willpower to your heart empowers your actions to be heart focused.

Backbends help to relieve depression. They encourage your inner fire to rise up. Feel this energy as your inner wisdom. Access your inner wisdom through locust pose. As you raise your upper body you raise the blinds on your inner strength and wisdom.  Activate what lies within your heart.

Sources:  Yoga Journal.com, and Yoga Journal magazine
Beth Shaw’s YogaFit®, The program for a more powerful, flexible, and defined physique, Second Edition

 

23
July

Crescent Lunge/High Lunge/Crescent Moon (Sanskrit term: *Alanasana )

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Crescent Lunge/High Lunge/Crescent Moon (Sanskrit term: *Alanasana )
*There is no agreed upon Sanskrit name for this pose.

Low Lunge: (Sanskrit term: Anjaneyasana)

“Anjaneyasana is another name for Lord Hanuman, Hanuman is an incarnation of Lord Shiva who wears the crescent moon in his hair. This posture is also known as “crescent moon”. On a subtle level develops masculine energy in the form of mental power such as determination, willpower, confidence, courage and power.” http://www.josyoga.com/anjaney.html

I wrote about Hanuman in the opening section. Hanuman didn’t know he had the strength to take the “greatest leap ever taken” until he did it. The take home message here is to believe you have the strength inside as you step into this pose.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens:  Quads, Hamstrings (legs), upper back, and shoulders (High lunge)
  • Stretches: Hip flexors, Quads
    • Opens the hips and chest
    • Stretches the arms, hip flexors, hip adductors, and calves
    • Develops concentration, balance and groundedness
    • Improves circulation and respiration, and energizes the entire body
    • Relieves joint stiffness
    • Tones the abdominal muscles
    • Beneficial for sciatica
    • Stimulates the sacral chakra—Your sensuality/creativity center—especially in deeper lunges.
    • Also stimulates the heart chakra as energy rises from the ground up radiating out of the heart center.
    • This pose can be used as a modification for Warrior I when the slight twist of Warrior I is contraindicated.

Alignment cues:  There is more than one way to enter into this pose. My favorite is from down dog. From down dog, place one foot forward between your hands, stacking the front knee over the front ankle, feet hip distance apart—basically in a low lunge. Keep your back knee solid but always with a slight micro-bend, and keep the ball of the back foot on the floor. Press your back heel toward the wall behind you keeping the heel lifted enough so as not to injure the Achilles tendon.

Raise your torso placing your hands on your forward thigh

at heart center in prayer/Namaste/Anjali mudra position

or raise arms overhead with elbows by the ears and dynamic tension in the fingertips

Sink into the hips while pulling your inner thighs toward each other. This keeps the muscles holding the pose vs. the joints. Keep the hips squared.  If neck is strained, look down. Tuck pelvis.

For a deeper pose, add a hip socket stretch: Bend the back knee down toward the ground and curl the tail bone under. While keeping the torso at the lower level of back knee down, straighten and engage the back leg to open up the hip socket a bit more in that leg.  (Not shown).

Contraindications & Cautions:  

  • Heart Problems
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Foot or toe injury
  • Achilles tendon injury
  • Hip injury
  • Arm or shoulder injury
  • Severe headache

Beginner’s tip: Still unsure on your form or new to yoga?

  • Beginners can walk up the front thigh from the floor, one hand at a time, onto the front knee.  (Not shown)
  • Beginners can also try kneeling lunge keeping the back knee down on the matUse a blanket under the back knee for sensitive knees,  (Not shown)

     

  • Add a chair under the front thigh to improve and help with balanceOr use a chair or wall in front of you to hold onto—make sure the chair is either fully on the sticky mat, or braced against the wall (Not Shown).

     

  • Reduce the intensity:  Stay in low lunge and place fingertips on the floors (See first photo)or use a block to make the floor come closer to you

 

Variation:  90 degree lungeThis pose was given to me by a Physical Therapist.  With the back knee resting on the ground, bring both the back knee and the front knee into 90 degree bends. Then curl the tailbone down and under to therapeutically open the front hip socket. Adding a raised arm on the same side as the back bent knee increases the stretch along the side body, fingers to toes.
For a great side body stretch that also gets the top of the IT Band, reach the raised arm, elbow over ear, toward the bent knee side, using either your same side hand on the top thigh for stability or on a block on the floor next to you for support

Runner’s lunge/lizard pose variation: (Sanskrit:  Utthan Pristhasana)
Bring the hands to the inside of the front bent knee and rest either the palms flat on the ground,

use fists for wrists—knuckles down—if taking care of wrists, or frog fingers.
Heel toe the front foot out away from center and leave the toes pointing slightly away from the body so the knee stays over the ankle. To lessen the intensity, add a block under your hands (Not shown). For more sensation, use a block and rest your forearms on the block,

or forearms to the floor (Not shown).  Back knee can be up or down depending on your flexibility.

Spiritual aspects of Crescent Lunge: I like to think of a crescent moon when I’m in this pose. In Hatha yoga, Ha mean Sun and Tha means moon. The moon is the receptive, yin, cooling aspect of Hatha yoga. The sun is the active, fiery side.  So in crescent lunge imagine the crescent moon and embody the receptive side of your nature. Remember, the crescent moon can be either waxing or waning—building up to the full moon or going down to the new moon.  Decide which moon you’re going to be in your practice today, because you always have a choice. You can be the building up your strength and going full-on, or you can be reflective and going within today. You always have a choice.

New moon energy is all about new beginnings, as mentioned in the opening section. So what would you like to manifest into your life going forward? Think of this as you do crescent lunge and add your favorite affirmation as you raise your arms to the sky! Let your heart fill with gratitude, affirm what you are reaching for has manifested, and breathe in new energy! Feel the energy coming into your whole body, visualizing the receptivity of the fingertips as they reach up toward the sky, and the floor contact points of both feet. Visualize the energy moving into your body.

Full moon energy is all about “what are you done with”? Fill the heart with gratitude for the lessons learned and breathe out the energy of the old, releasing it to the Universe. Feel the energy release not only from your heart center, but also your fingertips and toes!  Again, visualize the energy of what you are done with releasing away with your exhales.

 

Sources:  http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/2492/ and http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/2494
Beth Shaw’s YogaFit®, The program for a more powerful, flexible, and defined physique, Second Edition
Anatomy of Yoga,
Dr. Abigail Ellsworth

 

23
May

Hero / Heroin Pose / (Sanskrit term: Virasana)

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice
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I chose this pose to highlight the opening theme about “being your own hero”.  This pose is also used as a meditation posture which makes it a perfect pose to meditate on being your own hero.

Benefits:

  • Improves circulation to the pelvis and in the feet
  • Loosens thighs, knees, and ankles
  • Strengthens the arches—in particular the transverse arch
  • Improves digestion and relieves gas
  • Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
  • Reduces swelling of the legs during pregnancy (through second trimester). *Note contraindication below.
  • Counterbalances hip-opening postures
  • Calms the brain for meditation
  • Alleviates high blood pressure
  • Therapeutic for asthma

Propped version benefits using rolled blankets and a block or bolsters:

  • Reduces stiffness in the hip joints
  • Reduces inflammation in the blood vessels caused by standing for long periods
  • Alleviates pain or inflammation in the knees and tones knee cartilage
  • Relieves gout and rheumatic pain
  • Tones the hamstring muscles
  • Strengthens the arches of the feet, and relieves pain in the calves, ankles and heels

Contraindications & Cautions:

  • Knee or ankle injury
  • Total hip replacement
  • Heart problems
  • Avoid practicing this asana if you have a headache, migraine, or diarrhea.
  • Do not stay in this pose for more than three to five breaths if you suffer from varicose veins in your legs.
  • Some women in the last trimester of pregnancy find that their knee ligaments are too loose for them to practice comfortably, or that their thighs or lower legs are too swollen or them to enjoy the pose for more than just a couple of breaths.

“Hero-Heroine Pose is a paradox. Although it is not recommended for those who have any variety of knee injuries or undiagnosed knee pain, many students have found that it can help cure these very dysfunctions. Therefore, if you have significant knee pain or a knee injury, then practice this pose only under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.” 30 Essential Yoga Poses For Beginning Students and Their Teachers, by Judith Lasater, Ph.D., P.T.

On a more personal note, my original 200-hour training through YogaFit® does not practice hero pose. I was introduced to hero’s pose more in-depth during my second 200-hour training with TeriLeigh, LLC. TeriLeigh had been hit by a car while walking across the street, which badly injured her knees. She started with hero’s pose using several blocks and gradually lowered herself down. Per TeriLeigh, her doctor was amazed at how quickly her knees healed. Enough said. “Practiced safely, this is an excellent pose for the knees.” ~ TeriLeigh.

Before going into hero’s pose, always warm-up with a few sun salutations, standing poses and forward folds. If you experience cramping in the legs while doing this pose, stretch out into staff pose (seated with the legs out stretched out straight and heels flexed.)

Alignment Cues:  Start by kneeling on all fours on the floor. Place your feet angled slightly wider than your hips and bring your knees together, if possible; or allow for some space between the knees for comfort, if necessary.

I like to err on the side of caution, so I recommend that all of my students automatically start with two four-inch blocks stacked one over the other and placed with the long side of the blocks perpendicular to the shins and in-between the legs. Experiment with the block’s position to be either parallel or perpendicular to the shins for comfort and support, making sure the sits bones (the bony part of the buttocks you feel when you sit on a hard surface) are evenly supported on the block. Then have a three-inch block handy to replace one or both of the four-inch blocks for increased sensation. For those who have really tight hips, or really tender knees, I suggest you add the three-inch block to the stack, or perhaps a third four-inch block to your initial stack. Have extra blocks and/or blankets handy if you need more height, or want a softer seat. You can always pull blocks out for more sensation.

Also consider the following precautions before you go into the seated position:

Before you go into a seated position, sit half-way down and grab the calves of each leg with each hand and roll them out and away from the knees to allow for a deeper seat with the calves out of the way.

Some versions suggest pulling the calf muscles from the top near the knee down toward the ankles. I prefer rolling them out and away. Once seated, your big and little toes will stay in the same plane, i.e., even left to right. One is not above or below the other, the toes are pointing straight back, and the soles of the feet are facing the ceiling. This means the tops of your feet will rest on the floor (or blanket prop—see below). Sometimes it helps to place the palms of the hands onto the outer edges of the feet and gently push on the pinky toe side of the foot if the pinkies are floating up, realigning the pinkies into the same plane as the big toes. The buttocks will rest between the heels.

It is very important that the sits bones make contact with the blocks evenly left to right. If they are not making contact, it is imperative you add another block until they do. Once in the pose, you’ll feel sensation. You want sensation, right? Otherwise why are you doing the pose? It’s what I refer to as a crescendo-ing sensation that you don’t want. You don’t want a building sensation. The sensation should be a mellow stretch, in my opinion.

One last thing, before you go into the pose:  Know that you can come out of the pose whenever you start to feel like you are in discomfort, or you’ve had enough (which is true in general, but I like to stress that for this pose since so many of my students are very protective of their knees.)

Sit with the chest stretched out, the top of the sternum lifted, collar bones wide, and the palms resting on the thighs. You are simultaneously rooting down through the pelvis and rising up through the spine. I love the dual energies creating length and expression in the pose.

Typically, a beginner will stay in the pose for only a short time, 30-60 seconds. This pose is also used as a meditation posture so you can work up to sitting for longer periods. I often review Donna Eden’s “four thumps” from her book, Energy Medicine, while my students are in hero’s pose. 

For a deeper pose: Once you have mastered the above pose and require no props below the sits bones, you can advance to Reclining Hero’s Pose / Supta Virasana (not shown). Since I do not practice this version, I won’t be going into the details here.

Add a prop:  I’ve already discussed using blocks at the get-go. Here are some extra props for ankle comfort and more knee comfort.

  • Add a folded blanket on the mat underneath the whole base of the pose, and add an extra washcloth folded under each knee as well as a rolled blanket for the ankles to rest on. The block below is pictured perpendicular to where the shins would fall. That worked best for me, here. So long as your sits bones are evenly supported on the block, you’re good. Experiment with the block being parallel or perpendicular for comfort and support.

  • Alternatively, you can place two bolsters parallel to each other as the “base” support in lieu of the folded blanket on the mat. This also takes the place of needing a blanket to rest the ankles on. Kneel on the bolsters and add a rolled blanket on your shins. Also add a folded blanket to sit on instead of a block or blocks between the legs. I’m thinking a block on the bolsters wouldn’t work as well on a soft surface. (Not Shown.)

To come out of the pose lift up evenly with hands pushed onto the floor and carefully navigate around the props to stretch the legs out in front of you. It feels good to bounce the legs a few times, if you like.

Spiritual aspects of Hero’s pose: This pose is named after the hero within each of us. In this pose, it is imperative that you create your own personal foundation. It takes personal knowledge of both your temperament as well as your physical limitations to practice Hero’s Pose safely. Many want to run from any sensation, preferring to stay where they are. Discomfort is unavoidable in life so learning how to safely work with your discomforts, your ups and downs, enables you to live your life and overcome the discomforts. Hero’s pose invites you to know the truth for yourself.

“Find the answer in your own words. Ground yourself in the foundation of your own experience. You cannot know something until you discover it for yourself.” ~ Yoga path Cards by Susan Woldman

This pose demands that you be humble in your approach keeping your limitations and requirements in mind, yet noble as you hold the pose reflecting the hero within.

Image Credit:

http://a5.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc7/392434_3887779478709_1405606936_33566095_1599412569_n.jpg

Sources: 

  • http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/490
  • 30 Essential Yoga Poses For Beginning Students and Their Teachers, by Judith Lasater, Ph.D., P.T.
  • Yoga for Arthritis by Loren Fishman, MD, an Ellen Saltonstall
  • Anatomy of Yoga, An Instructor’s Inside Guide to Improving Your Poses, by Dr. Abigail Ellsworth
  • B.K.S. Iyengar, Yoga The Path to Holistic Health. The definitive illustrated guide by the world’s leading yoga teacher, by B.K.S. Iyengar
27
February

Final Relaxation / Corpse pose (Sanskrit term: Savasana)

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice
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Since I opened with sharing my favorite magic portal as a child, I decided this was the perfect time to share my favorite magic portal as yoga teacher. Savasana is one of the most important poses in your yoga practice and it is often said that this is where the “magic” happens. This is the high point of your class where your body integrates all the work it’s done, integrating the healing benefits of your practice.

We so rarely take the time to be still, yet our nervous system requires stillness to heal and to run efficiently. I mentioned earlier that being open to receive is the first step to allow magic into your life. Final Relaxation / Savasana is the ultimate time to “be open” to the magic.

You experience a deep sense of release, contentment, rejuvenation, and—as the name implies—relaxation during Savasana. (Wish your final relaxations were a whole lot longer? You might like to try “Yoga Nidra” or “Yogic Sleep”. To experience an even deeper, more profound relaxation; check out my “Meditation On The Go” section below for more information.)

Yoga connects breath with movement, making it a moving meditation with the body. When you have completed your usual 60-75 minute Yoga class, and settle into final relaxation, your body is more ready for a total relaxation and more receptive to guided imagery and positive affirmations. Your body has been prepped to receive and is open to suggestion—open to the magic of healing. I typically offer a short meditation during final relaxation for this very reason, and end with a few minutes of total silence. Many of the meditations, affirmations, and guided imageries I use have been in my newsletters.

We don’t need to go into the research here documenting the power of the mind to heal the body, but suffice to say when we don’t use the power of our minds to improve the health and well-being of our bodies, we are negating the best partner on our health team—ourselves.

The August 2010 issue of Yoga Magazine had a great article on hypnosis http://www.yogamagazine.co.uk/. I remembered thinking at first, what does Yoga have to do with hypnosis?  Then I remembered that Yoga is a somatic therapy using mind, body and breath. “Anything you do can be done better if you are relaxed. Sensory Awareness is the key to all Mind-Body methods.  Mind-Body methods are practices that promote good health and enhance the quality of life.” The Mind-Body Connection, Linda-Christy Wiler, M.S. I can’t think of a better way to describe the benefits of Yoga.

“Hypnosis is a natural state of heightened awareness where you are using more of your mind than you usually do. The average person uses about 10% of his brain at any present moment. Hypnosis lets us relax and use 100% of our mind to create habits, positive affirmations and change behaviors with the help of the subconscious mind.”  http://hyp-yoga.com/index.html.

I ran across the yoga/hypnosis connection again in an article from Yoga Journal magazine that highlighted Hyp-Yoga, the Web-site mentioned above, http://www.yogajournal.com/for_teachers/2772.   “Employing the use of visualization and commands, Hyp-Yoga helps students change their mental state, bringing about focus, clarity, and calm. It can be used for an entire sequence, but the benefits are greatest in Savasana (Final Relaxation).

Ah!  There’s that connection with final relaxation and the mind being prepped to do more when it’s in a state of relaxation! “Proponents of Hyp-Yoga believe it has the power to bring students into a trance-like state of heightened focus that is similar to states of consciousness during deep levels of meditation. This increased ability to concentrate is the result of elevated levels of gamma brain waves. Gamma brain waves are thought to be responsible for that ‘dropped in’ feeling advanced meditation brings about. According to a study by the Boston University School of Medicine, experienced yoga practitioners can help elevate gamma brain waves during a yoga session, and Hyp-Yoga techniques specifically trigger that state.”

Important note: Final relaxation pose should be at the end of both your hatha yoga practice and your pranayama/ breathwork practices. You should be in final relaxation at least five minutes for every hour of yoga practice. Never ever skimp on savasana!

Benefits:

  • Teaches complete relaxation
  • Relaxes the entire body, mind, and spirit
  • Teaches you how to access relaxation easily in your daily life when needed
  • Calms the brain
  • Helps relieve stress and mild depression
  • Reduces headache, fatigue, and insomnia
  • Helps to lower blood pressure
  • Returns cardiovascular circulation to normal
  • The circulatory system is unobstructed and delivers oxygen, nutrients and white blood-cells to where it is needed. These materials are the building blocks of healing.
  • Provides an important transition back into your daily routine
  • Stimulates the crown chakra / enlightenment
  • When you’re being held in a safe way, it supports you in letting go and coming back to feeling whole again. This is something you can learn to do for yourself and to share with others. (acupressure.com)
  • Helps to bring all of your chakras into balance and harmony.

Alignment Cues:   Prior to settling into the pose, it’s a good idea to cover yourself with a blanket and perhaps add some socks if you think you may get cold. Lie on your back, legs extended. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed with the spine in one long, straight line. Turn your palms upward to the ceiling and allow the hands to move further away from the body than usual. Allow your feet to roll open. Let your breath relax and continue to release stress and tension in this pose, quieting the mind, relaxing completely, staying in the present moment. Let everything relax and let go.

For a deeper pose: I have never tried this, but it sounds luscious. It reminds me of the practice of using a weighted blanket to calm anxiety in people of all ages:

http://www.grandin.com/inc/squeeze.html ,
http://www.ehow.co.uk/how_6828206_use-blanket-assist-child-calm.html
https://harkla.co/products/weighted-blanket

“To help release the brain and quiet the mind in Savasana, take a block and a 10-pound sand bag. After reclining on the floor, position the block on the floor above your head. The block should sit on one of its sides (the height of the block should be about 5 inches), with one of its ends lightly touching your crown. Then lay the sand bag half on the block and half on your forehead. Scrub the forehead skin down, toward your eyebrows. Then let the brain sink away from this weight.”
(Not Shown)
(http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/482

Add a prop: 

  • For lower back injury or discomfort, with feet on the floor, knees can be bent and “steepled in”, leaning against one another, if you don’t have a prop to put under the knees.

  • If you have a bolster, pillow, or towel to put under the knees, knees can be hip distance apart. (See next Photo below)
  • You can also bind the thighs parallel to each other with a strap, being careful to keep the heels comfortably away from the buttocks.) (Not shown)
  • Add an eye pillow for extra relaxation and inward focus. (See next Photo below)
  • Add a rolled blanket if neck is strained or other prop under the head for comfort. Make sure your ears are centered in between the shoulders evenly.

  • Add two ten pound bags on top of each thigh, parallel to the crease in the groin. This will allow the head of the thigh bones to relax toward the floor, creating more ease within the body. (Not shown)

Contraindicated for pregnancy: Raise your head and chest on a bolster or set of bolsters.

Variation: (Face Down / Relaxed Crocodile) This variation was introduced to me as a good option for those who might be experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The vulnerability of an open chest may be too much for some.

This option would be offered as an “either / or” option. It’s not for everyone—especially if you are experiencing low back issues, and obviously if you are pregnant!

Start by lying face-down on your belly, and slightly spread the legs with toes turned out. With elbows bent, rest your forehead on the backs of your wrists.

You could also try having one cheek to the mat and changing to the other cheek around the half-way point. Then your hands would be either straight behind you, palms down; or one elbow bent and hand placed by the face on the side your cheek rests if your neck is tight. (Not Shown) (I often use the check side down version as a neutral pose after a back-bend series.)

Having your abdomen restricted by the floor, lets you play with breathwork using your chest, diaphragm and lower belly. You’ll more noticeably experience the rise and fall of your hips and lower back as your breath gently prompts the movement.

As the instructor, it can be nurturing to gently rock your student*. The rocking motion is very therapeutic. It’s not just for children! Rocking increases oxygen delivery to the cells and increases lymphatic circulation, increasing overall health, energy and alertness:  http://www.floatingbed.com/features-benefits/medical-research
http://www.floatingbed.com/features-benefits/better-health/

* If students are laying belly-down on the floor, I always ask them to let me know if their neck is tight and they don’t want me to rock them.

Spiritual aspects of final relaxation pose: As outlined in the opening paragraphs of this section, this pose promotes the healing magic of the mind through the use of affirmations, creative visualization, and guided imagery. Savasana takes us to the still point in ourselves, where we can reconnect with the sacred by encountering the endless possibilities that emanate from your center.

“Relax into your wellness. Take good care of yourself and take all your hopes and dreams to heart.  They carry the seeds of your destiny”.  ~ Yoga path Cards by Susan Woldman

Sources:  http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/482

http://bikramyogaguelph.blogspot.com/2012/02/savasana-dead-body-pose.html

Beth Shaw’s Yogafit®. The program for a more powerful, flexible, and defined physique, by Beth Shaw.

29
December

This time of year we are “bridging” into the New Year, opening to our heart’s desires. In the Northern hemisphere, it is also a time of possible seasonal depression from lack of sunlight. I chose this pose with both in mind. Enjoy

Benefits:

  • Strengthens: Glutes, Hamstrings, Hip Adductors, Lower Back
  • Stretches:  Hip Flexors, Abs, Chest, Shoulders, Neck, Spine
  • Calms the brain and helps alleviate stress and mild depression
  • Rejuvenates tired legs
  • Improves digestion
  • Stimulates thyroid and thymus glands which regulate your metabolism and immune system, respectively
  • Reduces anxiety, fatigue, backache, headache, & insomnia
  • Beneficial for asthma
  • Energetically opens the heart center helping you to open up to the world

Alignment Cues:  Lie on your back, palms down on either side of the glutes.  Knees bent, soles of the feet to the floor. Fingers should just touch the heels or be close to it.  Keeping the top of the head pressing gently into the floor to protect the cervical spine, and the nose toward the ceiling, lift the hips.

Another arm position that gives more power to your lift uses bent elbows with palms facing in.

For a greater challenge: Externally rotate the shoulders as you walk them inward and interlace the fingers underneath your body.  Your body should be resting on the outside edges of the shoulders. Stack knees over ankles and slide shoulders gently away from ears. Keep your nose to the ceiling, the head centered and still. Engage inner thighs to keep knees stacked and over ankles. Toes in, heels out. This increases the lift providing even more safety for your cervical spine and more stimulation of the thyroid and thymus glands.

Or:  Turn your palms up to focus more on the core and on opening the chest. (Not Shown.)

Variation: One legged Bridge / Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana:  Exhale and lift right knee in toward chest. Inhale and extend the right leg to the sky, perpendicular to the floor. Release on an exhalation.  Repeat other side.

Add a prop:  If you have difficulty holding the pose, add a block or bolster underneath the sacrum to support you.

You can also add a prop between the thighs to engage inner thighs inward spiral and build inner thigh strength. This use of a block also is very grounding, activating your root chakra.

Contraindicated for those with neck injuries.

Spiritual aspects of bridge pose:  True to its name, bridge pose is a great reminder that yoga bridges the mind with the body with the spirit. As you open your heart to the world in bridge pose, you are also reminded that the heart chakra bridges the physical chakras below with the spiritual/energetic chakras above. Spiritual/energetics/physical—all connected. This pose is not only a heart opener, but also a back bend. Back bends are known to help alleviate depression. With an open heart, you shine your essence for all to see. Bridge pose reminds us that we have the capacity to beam our aura out. Your spirit is transformed through yoga just as your physical body is transformed. (See the HearthMath tip below in the “Meditation on the go” section for another way to beam out through your heart.)

Bridge the wisdom gained from past experience with an openness to learn something new.  Moments of effort accumulate, creating new paths for energy to flow.”  Setu Bandha Sarvangasana / Bridge Pose card from Yoga Path Cards by Susan Woldman.

Sources:  http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/472
Beth Shaw’s Yogafit®. The program for a more powerful, flexible, and defined physique, by Beth Shaw.

 

 
29
October

Wheel (Sanskrit term: Urdva Mukha Dhanurasana or the more advanced Chakrasana)

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice
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I chose this pose for obvious reasons—the focus on this issue is the circle!  Full disclosure—I don’t cue wheel in my classes; and in my personal practice, I typically use a fitness ball as a prop for my first wheel and then progress to not using a prop. It is not a pose to be taken lightly and requires experience and practice to be done safely. Given that low back issues are common, I err on the side of caution.

That being said, if wheel pose is already in your practice, remember to always warm up prior to attempting any backbend! Practice in a series of poses in order to work up to wheel, such as, sphinx, cobra, camel, updog (another pose I don’t cue as part of my desire to err on the side of caution—too many “dump” into the low back here), supported standing backbend, bow, and bridge. Work with the upper back first (sphinx or cobra) and progress to the center and low back with the others.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens:  Glutes, hamstrings, lower back, upper back, shoulders, arms, wrists
  • Stretches:  Hip Flexors, abs, chest, shoulders, lungs
  • Stimulates thyroid and pituitary
  • Improves your mood
  • Energizes the nervous system
  • Increases flexibility of the spine and chest
  • Improves circulation
  • Beneficial for asthma and back pain

Energetic Benefits:

  • Wheel stimulates all the chakras. The main energetic stimulation is on the heart chakra—opening your heart to the world and your solar plexus chakra—your identity and power chakra.

Alignment cues: 

After bridge pose, place hands on either side of your head. Fingers are pointing toward the feet. Feet are flat on the floor hip-width apart. I have seen various cues for how to position the feet. I’ve been cued to have the outer edges of the feet parallel to the edges of the mat like mountain pose. Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., P.T. cues the toes turned inward in her book, Yoga Body. Anatomy, Kinesiology, and Asana. Yoga Journal cues to “keep your thighs and inner feet parallel”.  http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/473
I think it’s important to keep your knees going in the same direction as your toes. It’s most important to have knee comfort and safety. So feet hip distance apart with knees and toes aligned is what I focus on.  Press through your hands to lift your head, shoulders, and butt off the floor while pushing feet firmly into the floor. Pause. Straighten your arms first, and then your legs, as you bring your body into an arch. Elbows are turned in on the rise. Keep your neck relaxed. Release your low back. Internally rotate both your thighs and your shoulders. Release your head down.

Focus on stretching the front of your body without struggle or strain. Keep the front of your body relaxed with the abdominal muscles passive so you can breathe softly. Use the strength from the back of your body.

To come out, tuck your chin and place the back of your head on the mat as you lower your back to the mat.

Important counterpose: Lay flat in neutral after the pose for as long as you were in the pose. I’ve been cued to do a supine butterfly pose bringing the soles of your feet together as your knees open out to release the low back. So I show both below. Your back is precious—take care which counterpose you choose!

Read the following excerpt from Yoga Journal online for more tips:

“Pose/Counterpose
A somewhat similar and traditional approach to sequencing is to follow some poses with their opposite movement. Most often, the concept of pose/counterpose involves practicing a forward bend after a backbend. In all my years of teaching, I have never heard students request backbends after forward bends, only the other way around.

With only a few limited exceptions, I prefer not to practice or teach using this approach; instead, I like to examine what I am doing in my backbend that makes me feel as though I need to immediately practice a forward bend. Such an urge makes me suspicious that I am compressing my spine unevenly in the backbend. Rather than jumping to practice a forward bend to undo the side effects of an uneven backbend, I attempt to discover exactly where and how I am compressing my back and to relieve that compression. I do, however, make an exception when I am teaching beginning students. Sometimes after backbends I will give beginners a little bit of a forward stretch, such as Downward-Facing Dog….

The main point to remember about pose/counterpose sequencing is that the best counterpose to a backbend is not a forward bend; instead, it is to do a lesser backbend. Most students seem to find that a lesser backbend is a relief, and it also does not strain the structures of the back as moving from an extreme backbend into a forward-bending movement can do. A couple of simpler backbends after a deep backbend practice feel great.

After several Urdhva Dhanurasanas (wheel), I sometimes have students just lie flat on the floor on their backs, with legs straight, and their arms over their heads and resting on the floor. This position is still an extension or backbending movement for the spine, but it is also, of course, less of a backbend than the previous pose. From this pose, you can easily and comfortably do a supine twist or another supine pose like Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose).

Always remember to pay attention to the effects of a pose before you choose the next pose. If you choose a counterpose, be careful not to move to the most extreme opposite movement right away. Instead, proceed gradually toward that movement, using several intermediate movements to get there.”

http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/819?print=1

Modification/Beginners:  To build strength, keep your elbows bent and only come to the top of your head.  Keep all your weight on your hands and feet—not your head and neck.  Practice several “push-ups”, making each a bit higher than previous.

Advanced variations:

  • One legged wheel / Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana:   As I explained earlier, I like to use an exercise ball as a prop and for this advanced version, I use the ball. Exhale and lift right knee in toward chest. Inhale and extend the right leg toward the sky. Hold 5-10 seconds, exhale, bend the knee and return the foot to the floor, perpendicular to the floor. Repeat other side.
  • Chakrasana:  Similar to the original pose, except that in this pose, you walk your hands to your feet and grasp your ankles—definitely NOT in my practice so not shown!  The connected hands and feet makes the body appear as a circle or wheel. “This circle represents the completion of our internal energy circuit, which begins at the energy center that is located at the base of the spine and ends at the energy center at the crown of the head.” Myths of the Asanas. The stories at the heart of the yoga tradition, by Alanna Kaivalya & Arjuna van der Kooij

Add a prop: 

  • My favorite prop for this pose— a large fitness ball, to extend your back over.
  • Loop and secure a strap around the thighs, just above the knees, to hold the thighs at hip distance, parallel to each other.
  • Place a block between the feet to keep them hip distance apart. The bases of the big toes should be pressing the ends of the block.
  • Place a block braced at the wall under your hands if armpits are tight, or under the feet at the wall if groins are tight.

  • Use the wall behind you to walk down the wall as far as comfortable.

  • Use the teacher’s ankles to grab and they can assist you upwards. (Not Shown)

Contraindicated for: 

  • back injury
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • heart problems
  • headache
  • high or low blood pressure.
  • do not do this pose while pregnant

Sources:  http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/473
Yoga to the rescue. Remedies for real girls, by Amy Luwis.
Beth Shaw’s Yogafit®. The program for a more powerful, flexible, and defined physique, by Beth Shaw.

Possible Spiritual aspects of Wheel pose:

Backbend are stimulating and exciting. They evoke a sense of openness and can build confidence. As mentioned earlier, wheel stimulates all of the chakras with the main energetic stimulation landing in the heart and solar plexus.

When you open your heart to the world you ability to give and receive love is enhanced. The solar plexus chakra is your sense of self worth and personal power. It contains your will power. Strengthening your sense of self worth is also a benefit of an open heart.

Use wheel to empower yourself to give and receive love openly while containing your power within. Shining your love out strengthens your inner wisdom. Similar to the spiral described in the opening section, the journey inward parallels your journey outward. Your progress in one direction fosters the progress in the other direction. As you are empowered within the heart, you are empowered to bring your gifts out into the world, increasing your personal power.

29
September

Crow Pose (Sanskrit Term: Kakasana) Crane Pose (Sanskrit Term: Bakasana)

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice
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I chose a bird pose this month since my opening section featured the magic of feathers.  I chose Crow Pose—sometimes referred to as Crane Pose—since crows are associated with magic (the theme of my newsletter), mysticism and mythology! See the possible spiritual benefits of the Crow and the Crane at the end of this section.

Benefits: 

  • Strengthens hands, wrists, arms, elbow joints, shoulders
  • Strengthens the abdominals and tones the abdominal organs
  • Stretches Hip abductors, upper back
  • Stretches and opens the groins
  • Strengthens body/mind connection
  • Stretches and lubricates the joints, tendons, and ligaments of the upper body
  • Increases both physical and mental balance, concentration and tranquility
  • Balances the nervous system
  • Brings lightness to the body
  • Prepares the mind for meditation
  • Activates the solar plexus, third eye and crown chakras
  • “Crow” and “Crane” as totems both activate the throat chakra—your communication chakra (see spiritual aspects below)
  • “Crow” and “Crane” as totems both activate the sacral chakra—your creative energies. (see spiritual aspects below)

Alignment Cues: 

From mountain pose, forward fold and bring your hands to the floor as you bend your knees and turn your toes out slightly. Hug the back of the triceps (upper arms) with the inside of your upper shins. Keep your gaze forward with neck soft and abdominals strong.  A forward gaze helps you keep your balance vs. drop forward.  Stay rounded in the back (I’m still trying to master that!) as you tilt forward and lift onto the balls of the feet, hugging torso close so that your tailbone stays near your heels. Draw your inner groins deep into your pelvis as you slowly take more weight onto your arms and your feet leave the floor.

This pose is really easier than it looks!  Remember to breath!  It’s so easy to forget and hold your breath while in balance!

Beginner’s tip:  It helps you mentally to place a block or bolster in front of you for your head to have something to fall into as your practice—the floor doesn’t seem so far away! You can also try this pose in stages perhaps starting with no lift of the feet off the floor, then lift one foot at a time, alternating left then right, until you’re ready to fly!  (Not shown)

Modifications: 

  • For wrist support, use a wedge or folded mat under the heels of the hand.
  • Not ready to bend that far down?  Stand with elbows pressed between the knees in an isometric hold. Knees push in while elbows push out.  This will build strength in the arms and buttocks. 

Advanced version or what I usually associate with “Crane/Bakasana pose”:  Keeping elbows tucked in toward the body, work toward straightening your arms. Keep your inner knees glued to outside of arms high up near the armpits.

Side Note on Crane Pose:  I love synchronicities.  In today’s mail, after having completed this portion of my newsletter, I received the November issue of Yoga Journal featuring Jason Crandell in Bakasana (Crane Pose).  I humbly present my asana to you knowing that I am still aiming toward Jason’s version as I listen to my own opening statements when new yoga students are present in my class:  “There is no perfect pose.  Every pose looks different on ‘every body’.  That’s why they call it a yoga ‘practice’ and not a yoga ‘perfect’”.  Someday, perhaps, I’ll get to Jason’s pose!  Awesome! http://www.yogaglo.com/online-class-940-Bakasana-Tutorial.html

Possible Spiritual aspects of Crow pose: Just as with breathwork where you extend the exhalation and dwell in the space between the breaths, use crow pose to dwell in the space where balance is found.  This pulls your concentration inward where there is no past or future, only the present. ~

Crows “have a unique ability to outwit most birds, animals, even humans at times, and they make for themselves a wonderful living. They and their other family member, the raven, have a great mysticism and mythology about them.”

Their striking black color with hints of deep blue or purple contributes to their allure. “Black is the color of creation.  It is the womb out of which the new is born.  It is also the color of the night.  Black is the maternal color and thus black night gives birth to a new day. Although the crow is a diurnal or daytime bird, it reminds us that magic and creation are potentials very much alive during the day.

In Roman mythology crows and ravens were white until they delivered bad news to Apollo and were turned black. “This connection to watchfulness is still strong today.  Crows always have a sentinel posted.  They build their nests high in the treetops so that they can see the entire area in which they are living and feeding.”  They’re here to remind us to be on the watch for magic and creation every day.

Their voice is another quality we all associate with the crow.  This reflects their ability to warn.  While most wouldn’t associate their voice as song, they are a member of the songbird family.  Crow reminds us to sing our own song with no thought toward needing the approval of others.  It is not by our doing that we are deemed “acceptable”. We are already acceptable by our very nature. We are all songbirds—each and every one—regardless.  Accept that you are magical.  Accept that you are here to create.

“Wherever crows are, there is magic.  They are symbols of creation and spiritual strength.  They remind us to look for opportunities to create and manifest the magic of life.  They are messengers to us about the creation and magic that is alive within our world everyday and available to us.”

Possible Spiritual aspects of Crane pose:  A powerful Chinese symbol of justice and longevity.  Being a bird of the water, crane teaches us to express your own feminine energies (Sacral chakra). Whooping crane has been a symbol of wildlife conservation. “If the crane has shown up in your life as a totem, it could very well reflect that you are about to recover what had almost become extinct within you.”—Perhaps the magic of the “real you”?

The crane lays two eggs but usually raises only one, reflecting the importance of undivided attention upon your primary goal.  Like the voice of the crow, the loud “whooping” sound of the crane is an attribute we associate with the crane, “reminiscent of a primal celebration over birth.  The crane can teach you how to celebrate your creative resources and keep them alive, regardless of the conditions in which they are manifest, both by simply having the proper focus in your life.”

Source:  Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews.

Contraindicated for:

  • Carpel Tunnel Syndrome or wrist injuries
  • Pregnancy
  • High Blood Pressure

(Sources:  http://www.emaxhealth.com/62/8049.html
http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/468

29
August

Mountain Pose (Sanskrit Term: Tadasana)

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice
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Last week found me at the Grand Tetons for the first time.  Anyone who’s witnessed this awesome gift of nature will know why they inspired me to focus on mountain pose this month. I have never felt more grounded than while viewing this breathtaking landscape.

Just as you can use mountain pose as your “go to” pose for grounding in your everyday life, mountain pose is the template for alignment of all the other poses.

Benefits: 

  • Strengthens body/mind connection.
  • Improves posture
  • Strengthens thighs, knees, ankles
  • Firms abs and glutes
  • Can relieve sciatica
  • Reduces flat feet

Alignment Cues:  Stand at the top of your mat, feet hip distance apart and parallel to the edges of the mat if you’re a beginner, or toes touching for mind/body connection—heels out.  Pressing down through the feet, raise the inner arches, lift knee caps, raise the inner thighs (all same cues).  Inward spiral the inner thighs—or use a block or ball between the thighs as a prop to facilitate that feeling. Relax the shoulders down away from the ears and roll the shoulders back so the shoulder blades reach toward each other and rest on the back.  Keep the ribs tucked in, containing your power. (The Solar Plexus area is the home of the third chakra, our willpower and our “sense of self”.)  Roll the tailbone down toward the floor while simultaneously reaching the pubic bone toward the tail bone creating space in both the front and back sides of the body.

Hands can be resting at your sides, palms out,

or held in prayer/Namaste position see below for more on prayer/Namaste position).

There are several arm positions for mountain pose. Shiva Rea introduced me to what I like to refer to as “Charlie’s Angel’s” hand position, or “steeple hands”

 

You can also try yoga mudra arms , or

interlaced fingers with palms up to the sky for a nice stretch.

Other options not shown would be to grasp opposite elbows behind the back for another heart openerThe possibilities are endless!  Have fun with it!  Adding a block or yoga ball between the thighs just above the knees a couple inches (also not shown) is an excellent way to facilitate the inward spiral of the thighs and promote more grounding, activating the root chakra.

“Some people approach their yoga practice as a break from the world, a separate space where they can recover from life’s stresses and strains. Once they’ve pulled themselves back together, they return to their families and jobs renewed. What we really want to learn is how to incorporate our yoga practice into the rest of our lives and to respond appropriately to life’s challenges without adding tension. It is at this level that yoga really becomes a deeper practice. You can be under tremendous stress and come back into experiencing your feet on the ground as though it were just another moment of Tadasana (Mountain Pose); or you can receive a big disappointment and be able to drop into your breath, realizing it’s just another moment of practice, and allow the breath to move the feelings through your body.”
http://www.yogajournal.com/dailyinsight/yjnl_20110422.html?utm_source=homepage&utm_medium=site&utm_campaign=dailyinsight

Beginner’s tip:  You can check your alignment by placing your back against the wall.  Stand with the backs of your heels, sacrum, and shoulder blades touching the wall.  Apply the alignment cues.  You shouldn’t be able to get your fist behind your back—Fun to try to do before and after the alignment cues.

Option to close your eyes to focus inward, build balance and breathe.

Let’s focus on Foot Yoga:

The base of any yoga pose is essential.  The feet are the foundation for mountain pose.  I am a firm believer that the health of our feet predicts the health of the entire body:

“Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles, and 107 ligaments. Virtually supporting the entire body, feet tend to hold or reflect the state of your mind and heart. If you don’t believe me, consider the seemingly endless foot metaphors to describe our moods and inclinations: When decisive, self confident, flexible, and on the move, we’re fleet of foot or quick on our feet. When immobilized, weak or wishy-washy, we have feet of clay or are dragging our feet. We get a foot up on our business competitors, and our dogs howl after a long day of rushing around. So put your best foot forward and consider the following ways to nurture your feet:

Exercise is essential for maintaining the mobility and flexibility of your feet. Foot exercises may also relieve soreness. Naturally, see a podiatrist where warranted. Here are a few exercises that can be done anytime:

Let’s focus on the benefits of good posture:

“Posture:  Why is good posture so important? It’s pretty simple. When the spine is properly aligned with its natural curvature and the entire body from the ears to the shoulders to the hips, knees and down to the ankles and feet – is in balance, we maximize spine health and avoid poor posture-related pain and dysfunction. Ideal posture creates ideal balance; it also optimizes breathing and circulation. And shouldn’t we all want to achieve that?

Get out of your slumped, bent-back, round-shoulders position that is likely all too common if you work at a computer, spend considerable time texting or checking e-mail on your cell phone (who doesn’t these days?), or engage in any of the countless activities that put your back, neck and spine at risk courtesy of poor posture. It’s time to stand tall, walk tall and improve your spinal health, all at the same time! Are you and your family ready to perfect your posture? To download the complete list of Straighten Up exercises and for more information, visit www.straightenupamerica.org.”

http://www.toyourhealth.com/print_friendly.php?pr_file_name=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.toyourhealth.com%2Fmpacms%2Ftyh%2Farticle.php%3Fid%3D1433%26no_paginate%3Dtrue

Possible Spiritual aspects of mountain pose:

  • “Let’s talk about mountainsYou start climbing one, you toil, you sweat, and finally you reach the top—and what do you get? Well along with a sense of accomplishment and peace, you get a great view of the next mountain—looming, challenging, calling your name.  Enjoy the current view, and be for now, for you. Then when you’re ready, put on your backpack and start back down the mountain, one step at a time—since that’s all you can do.  This walk never ends, you know.  There’s always another mountain.  That’s what makes life so thrilling and you breathless.

There are days, there are times when you feel like you walked so far, when the voice inside you is complaining that it’s all uphill, that it always will be.  And then, after all that, way beyond your blue horizon you see the biggest mountains you’ve ever climbed and you think..”I can’t do that.”  Well I hope you always have somebody who tells you that you can, like I’m telling you now.” (I Hope you Dance Journal by Mark D. Sanders & Tia Sillers).

  • Pavarati is the Hindu Goddess of the mountains who just happens to be the mother of Ganesh—remover of obstacles.  As in many religions, and life, the way to the son is through the mother.  So evoke Pavarati in Mountain Pose to create positive changes in your life—perhaps by removing any perceived obstacles.
  • Namaste prayer pose:  Calling the unknown—The Power of Prayer:

Humans share many things, including the urge to call on something greater than ourselves. We may invoke the heavens through astrology, meditation, the arts or science to understand our relationship with the Cosmos. That is why prayer is so powerful…we are looking to tap into the Unknown for guidance, for answers to Life’s difficult questions.

Yogis understood the technology of prayer. You press together the left palm (the negative current) and the right palm (positive current) at the heart center (sternum/mind nerve), into what is known as prayer pose, to calm the thoughts. From this place of neutrality and inner peace you are in a position to tune into the voice of your inner wisdom. We are all part of the Cosmos—a holographic “chip” off the Universal Computer. So prayer makes perfect sense. It guides you into a calm, peaceful place from which you can listen with your heart.  http://www.yogamint.com/_webapp_3866076/Calling_the_Unknown?&A=WebApp&CCID=5211&Page=17&Items=3

Contraindicated for:

  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Low blood pressure

(Source for contraindications:  http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/492)

 

29
July

Kriya by definition is something you do for a definite outcome. In Sanskrit, it means “action, deed or effort.”

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice
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Kriya by definition is something you do for a definite outcome.  In Sanskrit, it means “action, deed or effort.”

This month I am focusing on Kundalini Yoga.  I teach Hatha yoga.  Kundalini Yoga is another form of yoga.  Both forms of yoga are meant to increase awareness and increase the energy within the body.  This energy is sometimes referred to as Kundalini energy.  Read more about Kundalini in the “Chakrascope” section this month.

Kriyas are an essential aspect of Kundalini Yoga. So rather than highlight a yoga pose, in general, I’m highlighting the following Kriyas.

I’ve often reminded my readers to approach what I present with an open mind, take what resonates with them, and discard the rest.  I’ve also paraphrased author, Dr. Wayne Dyer, by saying that if I warn you something is about to sound odd, then it’s like a “pass” of sorts.  If you are knew to yoga, and even if you are knew to “Kundalini Yoga”, Kriyas may, at first, seem different than what you’re used to.

I challenge you to remember the first time you learned the steps to a spiritual practice in your personal history. I can still remember my soon-to-be sister-in-law asking me why we kneeled when we did and stood when we did in church. She didn’t understand the process. That may be a bit of a simplistic analogy, but you get the idea.

Just as a forward fold stretches your hamstrings (physical), rejuvenates the nervous system (energetic), grounds you and calms you back to your “center”—connecting you to something “more” (spiritual); Kriyas have similar physical, energetic and spiritual benefits.  And why wouldn’t they?

So if you want more energy, creativity, and prosperity in your life, I suspect you would be willing to find unique ways to invite them in—yes?  Enjoy!

Kriyas are “A series of one or more exercises or postures in combination with pranayama, locks, chanting, visualization, projection, etc., in specific sequence designed to produce specific effects. Kundalini Yoga kriyas are centuries old. The total effect of a kriya is greater than the sum of its parts. ‘Kriya’ literally means ‘work’ or ‘action’.”  http://www.kundaliniyoga.org/basic.html#Kriyas

Don’t forget the importance of warming up prior to doing the set below.  Do a few rounds of sun salutations, march in place, stretch or do any combination of safe warm-up exercises to get the body warm and flexible.

ONG NAMO, GURU DEV NAMO
is the Adi Mantra that precedes Kundalini Yoga practice, tuning one in to the higher self. Ong is “Infinite Creative energy in manifestation and activity”. (“Om” or Aum is God absolute and unmanifested), Namo is “reverent greetings’ implying humility, Guru means “teacher or wisdom”, Dev means “Divine or of God” and Namo reaffirms humility and reverence. In all it means, “I call upon Divine Wisdom”.   http://www.kundaliniyoga.org/mantra.html  Here is a wonderful version to listen to:

 

KRIYA  –  THREE EXERCISES FOR ENERGY, CREATIVITY AND PROSPERITY (Source:  Kundalini Yoga, by Shakta Kaur Khalsa)

1.      Energize.  Sit in Easy Pose with eyes closed. Bring the arms out to the sides and raise them until they form a “V” shape. The fingers are pressing against the mounds of the palms with the thumbs pointing up. Begin Breath of Fire for 3 minutes (see “Breathwork” in the Chakrascope section for a description of “Breath of Fire”). Inhale and hold the breath. Quickly begin to make fists of the hands, first with the thumbs inside the fists, then outside. Alternate rapidly as you hold the breath for 15 seconds. Then, with the hands in the original position, slowly bring the thumbs together overhead. Time your movement so that the thumbs meet when you can no longer hold the breath. Slowly lower the arms in an arc around you as you exhale deeply. Sit for 1 minute, breathing slowly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This exercise is revitalizing. It enhances charisma and makes you radiant.

2.      Creativity.  Still sitting in Easy Pose, make hands into fists and bring them to the sides of the body at chest level with the elbows pressed back. Extend your chest out. Take 5 deep breaths, then inhale deeply and hold the breath. With the breath held, begin punching the arms alternately. Get mad! When you cannot hold the breath any longer, exhale. Inhale and repeat the powerful punching motion with the held breath. Exhale. Inhale and repeat 1 more time for a total of 3 times. Then sit, eyes closed and breathe as slowly as you can for 2 minutes. Stretch and relax.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This exercise activates the fire in you to spark creativity. 

3.      Prosperity.  Sit in Easy Pose. Keep the spine straight. Look at the center of your chin through your closed eyes or look at the tip of your nose through partially closed eyes. Inhale deeply and hold, suspending the breath while you mentally recite, “I am bountiful, I am blissful, I am beautiful.” Exhale all the breath out, then, suspend the breath out as you mentally say, “Excel, excel, fearless.” Practice this for 3 minutes at a time. Feel free to practice 3, 4, or more times a day for 3 minutes each time.
This combination of breathing technique and powerful affirmation opens the mental and vibrational doors to prosperity. 

Benefits:

  • Energize exercise is revitalizing. It enhances charisma and makes you radiant
  • Creativity exercise activates the fire in you to spark creativity
  • Prosperity exercise combination of breathing technique and powerful affirmation opens the mental and vibrational doors to prosperity.

Contraindicated for:

  • Those with uncontrolled high blood pressure should not hold their breath. Always consult your doctor before attempting any pose to rule out any contraindications which may prevent you from doing it.

Sources:   Kundalini Yoga, by Shakta Kaur Khalsa, as well as:  http://www.shaktakaur.com/kriyas/three_exercises_for_energy_creativity_and_prosperity.htm

To see all of Shakta Kaur Khalsa’s books, go to:  http://www.amazon.com/Shakta-Kaur-Khalsa/e/B000APLP90/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

© The Teachings of Yogi Bhajan – All Rights Reserved
All teachings, yoga sets, techniques, kriyas and meditations courtesy of The Teachings of Yogi Bhajan. Reprinted with permission. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of these Teachings may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, except as may be expressly permitted in writing by the The Teachings of Yogi Bhajan. To request permission, please write to KRI at PO Box 1819, Santa Cruz, NM 87567 or see www.kriteachings.org
29
June

Side-reclining leg lift / Vishnu’s Pose (Sanskrit Term: Anatanasana)

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Side-reclining leg lift / Vishnu’s Pose (Sanskrit Term:  Anatanasana)

Benefits:

  • Strengthens:  Quadriceps and pelvic region
  • Stretches:  Hamstrings, Hip Adductors, Shoulders
  • Tones the abdomen and organs in this region, improving their function
  • Therapeutic for some back issues
  • May prevent hernia
  • Improves balance
  • Stimulates the solar plexus chakra

Alignment Cues: 
Lay on your right side with your right leg straight and right foot flexed as you press through your right heel.  Stretch your right arm onto the floor creating a straight line from the stretched, right fingers to the flexed right heel.  Bend your right elbow, prop your head up into your right hand, and stretch your right armpit away from the body.  Reach up with your left arm and interlace your index and middle fingers around the left foot’s big toe, capping it off with your thumb.  Alternatively, you can grab the ball of your foot instead.  Inhale and slowly extend the left leg toward the sky as you create resistance with your left hand pulling it back down toward the floor.  Feel a deep stretch in the raised leg.  Root down firmly through the bottom arm and grounded leg using the outside of the bottom foot to help stabilize. 

Engage your core to hold the pose.  As you hold the pose, it becomes a play of balance to stay on your side. In the opening article, I suggested you shine your light of attention as to why you might feel resistance in a pose to learn more about yourself and your habits.  In this pose, you intuitively know how to move to create balance—or not!  Have fun with it!

It’s fun to balance isn’t it?  It brings out the child in us when we wiggle and perhaps fall.  It helps that this pose is close to the ground so we feel safe in our attempts and perhaps more apt to go at it again and again. You might find yourself laughing at your attempts. As mentioned in the opening article, this pose reminds us how applying the fun factor removes the resistance to working with a pose we are having difficulty holding.

You’ll find that it helps to firm your sacrum toward your pelvis to keep the top leg straight up toward the sky to keep from falling out.  Engaging the straight leg’s quadriceps helps to stabilize the pose as well as helps to release tight hamstrings and inner thigh muscles. The more stability and strength you can bring to your core (solar plexus chakra), the easier it is to balance in this pose. “Think of the effort and attention you bring to this balancing pose as a meditation on calm and stability in the midst of change.” http://www.katsaksyoga.com/category/asanas/core-yoga-poses/anantasana/

Beginner’s tip: Still unsure on your form or new to yoga? You can try a practice pose. 

Add a Prop: 

  • Press the bottom sole of the foot against a wall to stabilize your body

  • Add a strap around the ball of the raised foot and hold onto the strap instead of the foot 

  • Add a wedge or bolster against your back if the sole of the foot against the wall is not enough 

Modifications: 

  • Bend the bottom knee to widen the base of support

  • Move the bottom leg forward

  • Bring the head down onto the outstretched bottom arm to decrease the intensity.

Contraindicated for:

  • There are no specific contraindications for this pose.  However, always consult your doctor before attempting any pose to rule out any contraindications which may prevent you from doing it.

 

Sources:  YogaJournal.com, Beth Saw’s YogaFIt®, https://yogaposition.wordpress.com/tag/anantasana/

29
May

Cat Pose (Marjaryasana) / Cow Pose (Bitilasana) and Side-to-Side Stretch (Anyonya Paksa Nayana)

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As the “Yoga Quote” above mentions, I often refer to Cat/Cow pose as “my Tin Man pose” since it’s like the oil can in The Wizard of Oz.  It warms and lubricates the spine giving it flexibility.  This is a great pose to do every day.

Cat Pose (Sanskrit term:  Marjaryasana) / Cow Pose (Sanskrit term: Bitilasana) and
Side-to-Side Stretch (Sanskrit term:  Anyonya Paksa Nayana)

Benefits of Cat Pose:

  • Massages the internal belly organs
  • Strengthens the abdominals
  • Increases the suppleness of the spine
  • Improves Circulation

Benefits of Cow Pose:

  • Stretches the chest and neck
  • Strengthens the upper and lower back
  • Stretches the abdominals
  • Increases the suppleness of the spine
  • Massages the internal belly organ
  • Improves Circulation

 

Benefits of Cat/Cow combined:

  • Helps transform the energies of the second and third chakras into the higher centers
  • Helps release serotonin, the mood-regulating chemical that takes you from grumpy to all good

Benefits of Side-to-Side Stretch

  • Also increases the suppleness of the spine
  • Stretches the muscles along the sides of the upper torso

 

Alignment Cues: Start in tabletop position with wrists (or fists if you’re taking care of your wrists)underneath your shoulders and hips over knees. Generating the movement with your tailbone, exhale as you bring your chin toward your chest and your navel toward your spine (Cat Pose). I like to hold the first Cat Pose moving the arch a little more toward the middle and less in the shoulders. It’s a small adjustment that opens the vertebrae and feels awesome.

Next, always starting the movement with your tailbone first, inhale as your nose gently lifts, your belly comes toward the floor, and your neck stays soft—or as I often say “no wrinkles in the back of your neck.” (Cow Pose) Continue alternating moving slowly between cat and cow at your own breathing pattern.

Beginner’s tip: Still unsure on your form or new to yoga? You can try a practice pose.
If you have difficulty rounding the very top of the upper back in cat pose, ask a friend to lay a hand just above and between the shoulder blades to help you activate this area. (Not shown.)

Other versions:

Seated Cat/Cow Pose: Done while seated, this pose is very grounding.  Try it in “easy-seated”/cross-legged pose,

or in a chair—be it your office chair, or on the airplane (not shown)!

Seated Cat/Cow Pose flow: In cross-legged pose, you can turn this into a flow that gets deeper and deeper with progressively more rocking motion.

Standing Cat/Cow Pose: I like to do this version with legs a little wider than hip distance. Bring your hands, fingertips pointing inward, onto your legs as you bend your knees. Exhale as you curl your chin to chest and navel toward the spine for Cat Pose, then inhale as you gently backbend raising the head, keeping the neck soft, and shifting your belly out, Cow Pose.

I like to do the Cat Pose version of this when I’ve been walking or standing for a long time and my back feels compressed—ahh!

Warm-up version of standing Cat/Cow Pose: Another standing Cat/Cow Pose to try is a more subtle Cat/Cow done during warm-up.  Standing with feet hip distance apart, inhale, and reach up with arms spread wide overhead and a slight backbend, Cow Pose . Then as you exhale, wrap your arms around you as you fold into yourself with bent knees and hinge at the hip, kind of like hugging yourself in chair pose, Cat Pose Do this flow several times as part of your warm-up.

Additional stretch that could follow tabletop Cat/Cow Pose:
Side-to-Side Stretch (Sanskrit term:  Anyonya Paksa Nayana)

This is another wonderful pose was introduced to me by Beth Marik, a YogaFit® instructor at the time.  She said it helped to release the Sacroiliac joint (“SI” Joint).  It was love at first stretch for my previously injured “SI” joint!

Alignment Cues: From tabletop (perhaps after cat/cow), exhale as you turn your head to the right, and at the same time curl your lower body to the right as well, forming a letter “C” with your body—kind of like you’re a dog looking at its tail.As with all yoga poses, don’t push the stretch.  Just enjoy a gentle left side of the body stretch. Inhale back to tabletop.  Repeat on the other side.  Alternate a few times back and forth at your own breathing pattern.

Tabletop Cat/Cow and Side-to-Side Stretch done together will greatly reduce any stiffness caused by too much sitting and inactivity.

Contraindicated for:

Neck concerns?  Keep the head in line with the torso.
Wrist concerns?  Choose knuckles down or “fists as shown above.

Sources: YogaJournal.com, Beth Saw’s YogaFIt®, and Essential Yoga,An Illustrated Guide to over 100 Yoga Poses and Meditations, by Olivia H. Miller., Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, Unlock Your Inner Potential Through Life-Changing Exercise by Shakta Kaur Khalsa., Whole Living Magazine.

29
April

Side Angle (Sanskrit Term: Utthita Parsvakonasana)

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Side Angle (Sanskrit Term:  Utthita Parsvakonasana)

Benefits:

  • Strengthens:  Ankles, Quads, Obliques, Hip Flexors, Hip Abductors, Shoulders
  • Stretches:  Hip Adductors, Calves, Ankles, Spine, Waist, Shoulders, Chest and Lungs
  • Increases Stamina
  • Improves posture
  • Enhances lung capacity (B.K.S. Iyengar)
  • Beneficial for Sciatica and low backache as well as constipation
  • Stimulates the sacral chakra, our creativity / sensuality center
  • Stimulates the abdominal organs

Alignment Cues: Starting from Warrior II, bend your front knee and stack it over the ankle.  Bring your front arm to rest on the front thigh, bending the elbow and your palm facing up “to receive” (spiritually receive from the Universe). Your back arm is now the top arm and reaches for the sky, palm facing forward and arm in line with shoulder.  Keep your back foot anchored into the outer edges of the foot.  Lift your ribs off the thigh.  Anchor the legs to the ground. Keep the back knee solid with a slight bend to it to protect the knee.  Elongate your neck and “keep it happy”, as I often say in class.  The classic version suggests looking up at the arm but you can also look forward or down (not shown).  Rotate your chest open to the sky.

Advanced versions:

Extended Side Angle: Lower your top arm over your ear, palm down reaching through your fingertips and pushing into your back foot. “The diagonal line created by the arm, torso, and leg symbolizes our connection from Earth to heaven and heaven to Earth.”  30 Essential Yoga Poses For Beginning Students and Their Teachers, Judith Lasater, PhD, P.T.

Hand to floor or block: Place your lowered hand on the floor or block outside of the front foot.  Press hand/fingertips into the floor or block.  Extend the torso, lengthening your ribs along the bent leg.

You can also place the lower hand on the inside of the front foot—this adds a stretch to the front groin. Bring the back of the lowered shoulder against the inner knee to add to the stretch.

Do the hand to the floor or block option only if it is in your pain-free range of motion.  There’s nothing special about the floor.  So don’t go there because your ego tells you that it’s “better”.  Let your body tell you what feels good.  I like to remind my students that more is not necessarily better.  Shorter stances or not getting your hand to the floor in this pose can mean a better quality pose for your body.

Advanced option to add a bind: This adds heat to the pose, more strength through the quads and waist, and openness through your chest and shoulders.  Because you can no longer rely on your bottom arm to prop you up, support must come from within so this increases intensity.

  • Half a bind: Wrap the top hand around the back, fingernails toward the back (resting on the back if you need to) reaching toward the front thigh if you can.  Roll chest to the sky adding a slight twist as you look over your top shoulder if your neck allows. Once you can rest the palm down on the front thigh and further down the inside of the front leg, try a full bind:
  • Full bind: Bring your forward hand inside your front foot.  Reach behind your back with your top hand as you reach beneath the forward leg with your bottom hand, clasping them together.  Lean back.  Sink hips into the floor.  Roll chest to the sky adding a slight twist as you look over your top shoulder if your neck allows.

Beginner’s tip: Still unsure on your form or new to yoga? You can try a practice pose.

Add a Prop: Practice with your back to the wall for added support (not shown).  The wall support reduces fatigue, helps you hold the pose longer, and aligns your neck and head correctly.  The wall also helps correct misalignment of the shoulders and should blades. (B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga The Path To Holistic Health.)

Neck concerns? Don’t turn your head to look at arm.  Look forward or down (not shown). In fact, B.K.S. Iyengar recommends those with hypertension do the pose with the wall for support, and look down at the floor. (B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga The Path To Holistic Health.)

Lifted back foot? Use the wall to ground the back heel (not shown).

Shoulder range of motion concerns? Put the top hand on the hip.

Contraindicated for:

  • High or low blood pressure
  • If you have cervical spondylosis, don’t turn your head or look up.
  • Stress-related headaches
  • Migraines
  • Osteoarthritis of the knees
  • Insomnia

Sources: YogaJournal.com, B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga The Path to Holistic Health, Beth Saw’s YogaFIt®, and Yoga to the Rescue Remedies for Real Girls by Amy Luwis.

29
March

Tortoise (Sanskrit Term: Kurmasana)

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Tortoise (Sanskrit Term:  Kurmasana)

Kurmasana is called yoga turtle pose as it imitates a turtle pulling its head into its shell. It is said to help reduce fat in your belly and hips.

Since this month’s newsletter is focusing on being present so you can notice the small wonders in your life, I chose tortoise pose for its contemplative aspects.  Meditating on the tortoise nadi, an energy channel found in the sterna notch of the throat, brings about steadiness according to the Yoga Sutras.  In meditation, we come closer to our inner being by quieting the mind.  This focus of attention is an important aspect of meditation as well as in our yoga practice. Asking yourself where your mind is at brings you back to the present, back to your practice.

Taking a line from Rhonda Byrne and her book, The Secret, she suggests asking yourself throughout the day “what am I thinking?”  This little question brings you back to the present moment, which we are constantly trying to escape.  This question makes you aware.  As she puts it, the moment you ask, you are aware.  The highlighted deck/card below, The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle says it even better:  “When the compulsive striving away from the Now ceases, the joy of being flows into everything you do.  The moment your attention turns to the Now, you feel a presence, a stillness, a peace.”

Tortoise Pose is a great pose to embody the essence of “Now”.

Alignment Cues:

Begin in a seated straddle position and bend the knees.  Slide the arms as far as possible underneath each calf, palms down.  On an inhale, open your chest and elongate your spine.  On an exhale, slowly straighten your legs releasing them onto your arms as the body folds forward toward the floor. Continue to lengthen on the inhales and release on extended exhales according to your own range of motion. 


 

Advanced versions: Bring the soles of the feet together until the soles touch.  Wrap your hands underneath and around the body, resting on the back; or clasping them (not in my practice!)


Beginner’s tip: Still unsure on your form or new to yoga? You can try a practice pose.

Keeping the knees bent is a great way to embody this pose.

I sometimes modify further by suggesting you bring your hands to the ankles vs. the floor which is even more comfortable to me.


Benefits:

  • Strengthens abdominals
  • Stretches hips, groin, hamstrings, shoulders, and both upper and lower back.
  • Cleanses internal organs.
  • Tones the spine.
  • Reduces your fat in your belly and hips.

Contraindicated for:

  • Low back problems (avoid full forward bend)

From “One Spirit Book of Days” brought to my attention from a dear friend at the Healing Loft (http://www.thehealingloftmpls.com), Katie Fahnel:

“A cosmic myth of Hinduism describes how the world is carried on the back of a turtle—a vivid metaphor for some of the balancing acts that life requires all of us to perform from time to time.  The difficulties might sound impossible when stated plainly and succinctly.  Yet wherever there are challenges, many will rise to them and succeed.  Break down the overall picture into its component parts to obtain a less daunting idea of what’s needed.  Human resourcefulness is inexhaustible.  Have faith in yourself:  move the world in your own way.”

27
February

Standing Straddle Forward Fold (Sanskrit Term: Prasarita Padottanasana)

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I invited you in my opener to view life from a different perspective to allow some magic into your life.  Inversions can give you a different view of your world.  So I invite you to try the following simple inversion to do just that.

“According to Pat Layton, physiology teacher for the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco’s Advanced Studies Program, “People have to do aerobics because they don’t invert. You have to run really hard—get the heart pumping hard—to circulate blood down to the feet and up the back. Not that you shouldn’t do aerobics, but inversions are a healthier way to get the benefits [to the circulatory system], particularly as you get older.” For more on how the practice of inversions is said to positively influence the cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous, and endocrine systems of the body, go to:  http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/214?print=1

Alignment Cues: Stand with your feet about 3-4 feet and turn your toes slightly toward each other.  Inhale lift up the chest and extend the crown of your head up to the sky.  Activate your abdominal muscles.  Tilt your pelvis forward to keep the natural curve in the lumbar spine, keep the hips even, hinge at the hip as you exhale while maintaining length through the spine.  Lead with your heart.  Drop your head. Keep a hyper-bend in the knee and shoulders away from the ears. Push heels out a bit to bring weight to outer edges of foot.  Keep feet flat on the floor and neck soft.  Place palms flat on the floor if you can, shoulder-width apart

(or use a block under the hands for support).

Internally rotate thighs.  Walk your fingers back to be in line with the toes if they aren’t placed there already.

Advanced versions:

  • For an extra stretch, you can, walk your fingers back to be in line with the heels and use the traction of the mat to gently pull your torso toward the thighs—if it feels good—never force.

  • Gently place your hands on the outside of the ankles.

  • Grab your big toes with your index and middle fingers.

  • Interlace your fingers behind you as in yoga mudra for chest expansion,

Balance problem? Use the wall as a prop behind you, (not pictured)

Beginner’s tip: Still unsure on your form or new to yoga? You can try a practice pose.

Start with knees bent, and feet turned out.  Then hinge at the hip and reposition feet once bent.  If the block under the hands still leaves you rounded in the back, add a chair under your forearms.


Add a flow—Twisting Straddle Forward Fold: Place your right hand palm down on the floor directly under your right shoulder to properly stack the joints for safety. If you can’t reach the floor, you can also use your fingertips or a block, and if you are working with carpal tunnel, you can use fists.  Keep your spine parallel to the floor.  Keeping your hips squared to the mat, inhale first while lengthening your spine.  Exhale as you twist your mid-to-upper back and reach your left arm toward the sky.  Use root lock to stabilize the pelvis, keeping lower body strong.  Repeat other side.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens: Quads, Hip Flexors, Abs, Torso
  • Stretches:  Hip Adductors, Hamstrings, Lower Back, Ankles
  • Increases circulation in abdomen
  • Makes the hip joints more flexible
  • Calms the brain, stimulating the third-eye and crown chakras
  • Beneficial for:  mild back ache, headache, fatigue, mild depression
  • Quiets an sooths the nervous system

Contraindicated for:

  • Low back problems (avoid full forward bend)
  • Ankle or groin injury
  • Detached retina or glaucoma
  • Avoid during last month of pregnancy
  • Avoid if you have concerns with your head positioned below your heart

 

Sources:  YogaJournal.com, Beth Shaw’s YogaFit, second edition, 30 essential Yoga Poses for Beginning Students and their teachers, Judith Lasater, PhD, PT

29
January

Cobra Pose (Sanskrit term: Bhujangasana)

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Since this is the month of heart connections, I thought this heart opening pose was a perfect one to highlight.  Backbends (like Cobra Pose) help to release emotions held in the rib cage and can help to counteract depression.

Think of the position held when laughing boisterously with your hands on your hips as you throw your head back and open your chest to the sky and you’ll easily understand why backbends help relieve depression!  Now think of the position held when you are under stress or fear—hunched shoulders raised toward your ears and curling toward the ribs, head drooping down, shallow breath, clenched teeth and other muscles in the body.  You can see why backbends help counteract the physical and emotional effects of stress (chronic fear) on the body.

Backbends open the front of the body, the heart center/heart chakra.  This center is your center for love, compassion, and support.  When you are feeling love, you have less room to feel the fear.  If THAT doesn’t make you want to do more backbends, consider that it is said you are as young as your back is flexible!

Now for the pose:

Resting on your belly, place your hands palm down on the floor by your shoulders next to your chest.  Hug your elbows to your sides. Firm your glutes and abs.  Using your mid-to-upper back muscles, lift your heart center as you elongate your spine up and away from the tailbone to the crown of the head. Resist the urge to push into your hands.  Keep your neck in line with the spine, chin tucked, neck soft.  Draw shoulders back and down.


Beginner’s tip: Still unsure on your form or new to yoga? You can try a practice pose.

To resist the urge to push into your hands and overdo your backbend, lift hands off floor to find a comfortable height for your body avoiding strain in the back. The lift should come from the extension of the spine and not from the force of the hands to the floor.  (It’s hard to tell in  my photo below, but my hands are lifted!)


Those with neck injuries should keep the head neutral by looking down at the floor (not shown.)

Benefits:

  • Strengthens upper back (rhomboids)
  • Stretches abs, chest / lungs
  • Opens your heart energetically (stimulates heart chakra)
  • Connects you to the ground stimulating your root chakra
  • Relieves stress / fatigue
  • Counteracts depression
  • Possible benefits for those with sciatica or asthma
  • Traditional texts say that this pose increases body heat, destroys disease, and awakens kundalini.

Contraindicated for:

  • Back injury
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Headache
  • Pregnancy

Sources:  YogaJournal.com, Beth Shaw’s YogaFit, second edition.


12
January

This newsletter focuses on change—both the kind we invite, like new year’s resolutions and goals; and the kind we don’t necessarily like, like unexpected snow storms.  Since this is the time of year we invite change into our lives, I thought an inversion, like legs up the wall pose, would be appropriate. This is my favorite inversion, and has fast become a favorite among my students once I introduced the bolster to class!

“Psychologically, inverted yogic practices …make us feel that the world is turned upside down.  If we could get used to that feeling, we could adapt to change when it happens without warning.” Guiding Yoga’s Light, by Nancy Gerstein.

Now for the pose:
Just like it sounds, simply scoot yourself next to the wall placing one hip against the wall

Then roll back and simultaneously swing your legs around, keeping your thighs together, and up against the wall

You can also start in “knees to chest pose” and roll over onto your side with your glutes touching the wall (Not shown).  You’d then use yourhands to roll over onto your back, swinging the legs up against the wall. Wherever your legs are comfortably straight is your ideal distance from the wall. 

Beginner’s tip: Still unsure on your form or new to yoga? You can try a practice pose or suggestion.

If you have a yoga mat, you can lay on the mat folded in half with the loop at the end where your head will be. Then after you swing your legs up the wall, you have that loop to use as leverage to reposition your body using your fingers inside the looped edge of the mat. (See Photo #2).  Your ideal distance from the wall can be attained easier with this little trick.  (You can remove your hands from the mat once you are placed where you want to be and let them rest on the floor either at your side or over head.)

If your neck feels like it needs some support, you can always add a rolled blanket under the neck (not shown).  Be careful not to jam your chin into your chest.  You want to preserve the natural curve of the neck.

A simpler, at-home version of this pose would be to lie on the floor in front of your couch and swing your legs up over the seat.  Rest here for as long as you like (5-15 minutes is ideal) enjoying the passive effects of this healthy inversion. Adding an eye pillow adds to the relaxation effect.

When coming out of the pose, slide the feet down the wall and slowly roll to the side.  Stay on your side a few minutes before getting up.  Aside from lowering your blood pressure while you are in the pose, this pose also reduces anxiety, eases digestive problems, helps prevent varicose veins, and brings fresh blood to the face, brain, thyroid, etc.  It’s better to experience it than read about it.  It is said by some to “cure all that ails you”.  You decide.  Try it for five minutes and notice the effect.

Leg options: There are several stretches to try while in the pose.  I’ve pictured a couple, and mentioned others:

Straddle splitsAllow the heels to slowly slide out toward the ground into a “V”, allowing gravity to do its work

If you are hyper-flexible, you may want to press your heels into the wall, or you can also bind your feet together—not too tight—with a strap, (not shown) so that the legs don’t fall too far out and rest into the strap.  Remember to keep the buckle in a position that’s not irritating.  You could also try pressing the soles of your feet into the wall as though you are in a “happy baby/dead bug” variation (not shown).

Butterfly—Bring the soles of the feet together and let gravity bring your knees down bringing the heels toward the pelvis,

or you can add props under the feet and knees so the hamstrings can relax (not shown).  Another variations would be “Half a butterfly”, which is basically tree pose (not shown).  If your feet begin to tingle during this pose, the butterfly version is recommended.

A deeper hip opener would be to do “Figure 4” or “Pigeon” on the wall.  I’ll cover that in another newsletter!

Benefits:

  • Lowers blood pressure while in the pose
  • Reduces anxiety, calms nerves, quiets the mind
  • Soothes the central nervous system
  • Eases digestive problems
  • Helps prevent varicose veins as well as beneficial for those who do have them
  • Brings fresh blood to the face, brain, thyroid, and pelvic organs
  • Relieves cramped legs as well as water retention in the legs
  • Stretches glutes, hamstrings, and if legs are apart—hip adductors.
  • Eases physical and mental fatigue
  • Balances endocrine system

Advanced options / Add a bolster or blanket: I’ve used a bolster as my prop here.  You can also use a firm blanket or two (or more depending on the size of your blankets).  I have my bolster tighter to the wall than you might.

The distance from the wall is personal and dependent upon the tightness of the back of your legs.  As mentioned above, you want to be where your legs are comfortably straight. The tighter the backs of your legs are, the further from the wall your props will be and the lower the support should be.  Likewise if you are shorter, you’ll obviously be closer to the wall and vice versa.  Doing the pose without the bolster a few times helps you figure out the distance from the wall that’s right for you.

Likewise the height of the bolster or blankets is going to be personal as well.  Rarely is the prop too low.  It’s usually too high.  You can always remove a blanket from a blanket-only prop, or add a blanket to the bolster if you need to adjust the height.  Make sure your lower back is supported.  Also, most people also feel best when the ribs closest to the waist are also supported by the bolster.

Similar to starting without the bolster, you would sit on the end of the bolster with one hip against the wall as in Photo #1.  Roll back and simultaneously swing your legs up the wall, keeping the thighs together.

Your hips should still be level

Your legs are “almost” vertical in the pose.  To come out of the bolstered pose, bend your knees, press your feet onto the wall, and lift your pelvis slightly.  Slide yourself away from the wall while simultaneously pushing the bolster toward the wall.  Using the bolster as support for your legs, lie on the floor for a few moments before you roll to your side and get up slowly.  Be sure not to twist off the support when coming out of the pose.

In the version without the wall, you can experiment with the angle of your legs to find the most comfortable position for you.

If you don’t have a bolster or wall space (or perhaps you want to save the time of having the class move to the wall), you can also use a strap to rest the heels into.

I’ve mentioned the benefits of legs up the wall pose earlier.  I found this great reference from Yoga Journal: Modern teachers believe that Viparita Karani is good for most everything that ails you, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Digestive problems
  • Headache
  • High and low blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Migraine
  • Mild depression
  • Respiratory ailments
  • Urinary disorders
  • Varicose veins
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Menopause

Contraindicated for:

  • Individuals with hiatal hernias, eye pressure, retinal problems, heart problems, neck problems, and some say menstruating women.  (Always discuss any concerns with your health care professional.)
  • If your lower back is uncomfortable in the prop version, try the “happy baby” version described above with the soles of the feet to the wall instead, or cross your ankles loosely and let your wall support your legs and feet.
  • Do not practice this pose if it creates pressure in the head
  • Do not practice this pose after the third month of pregnancy or if at risk for miscarriage

Sources:  Relax and Renew by Judith Lasater, PhD, PT, and Beth Shaw’s YogaFit

12
November

Warrior III (Sanskrit terms:  Virabhadrasana III)

September and October’s newsletter featured Warrior I and Warrior II, respectively.  This month’s practice pose completes the “Warrior ensemble”.   September opened with a reference to the meaning of the Sanskrit word for Warrior Pose as well as a warrior reference in regard to the Solar Plexus Chakra.  October quoted Renee LeVerrier from Yoga for Movement Disorders regarding Warrior I and Warrior II and how the back arm and leg represent the past and the front limbs symbolize the future.  Please refer to the archives for more—I have these two newsletters archived on my new Website!

This month’s I found a reference which combines all three warrior poses in what Nancy Gerstein refers to as “the peaceful-warrior flow series” in the “Asana and Peace” section, Chapter 3, from her excellent book, Guiding Yoga’s Light: “Those of us who practice yoga benefit from nonviolence and a peaceful spirit.  Our asana practice brings about a peaceful frame of mind because it asks us to become more sensitive, more conscious, and more aware of ourselves as bodies, minds, and spirits.  This awareness makes us clearer and calmer, more awakened to truth and thus better able to handle life’s endless challenges.

As we become more awakened, we move away from forcing and controlling events, and we move toward letting the universe take care of many of our daily dilemmas.  In turn these changes influence the consciousness and actions of everyone we meet.  The sensitivity we develop on our yoga mats affects everyone around us.  You soon begin to see and notice that slowly, yogi by yogi, we can shift the direction of the world.”

She then goes into the “Asanas for Deepening” and within that section she introduces the peaceful-warrior flow series:  “..moving from Virabhadrasana II to Virabhadrasana I to Virabhadrasana III.  Practice using the intuitive feeling of courage.  Be bold.  Feel the fortitude, the firmness, the determination it takes to practice the postures.  Dare to confront the difficulties of life with a peaceful intent to face internal conflicts head on.”  Her “Practice off the mat” focus for this section, advises us to “Breathe thoroughly and look for peace in every situation”.  Her “Wise Words” ending for this section suggest you “Spread peace wherever you go.  The surest way to be happier is to do all you can to improve the lives of others.”

Now for the pose:

As a recap from the tips on balance covered in my June newsletter:  A useful tip for all balance poses: Find a spot in the room that doesn’t move to focus on. It really helps! The Sanskrit word for this focus point is “dristhi”. Regularly practicing balance poses will help you focus both on and off the mat cultivating concentration skills.

Preferably, balance poses are best done on a firm, hard surface. If your yoga floor is carpeted or cushioned, it will make your balance poses that much harder. Sometimes even the thickness of your mat can be too unstable. So proceed with caution.

I learned this pose starting in Mountain Pose, so let’s begin there with feet hip distance apart. I like to keep my hands at heart center in prayer or “Namasté” position. Next you’ll want to have contact with the floor with all four corners of the feet (big toe mound, little toe mound, and both sides of the heel) with the weight on the feet evenly distributed between the inner and outer foot and the heel and ball of the foot. You’ll want a wide base, as in all yoga poses. So lift the toes, spread them wide, and plop them down. This really activates those arches, which is also important.

We’ll start with balancing on the right foot.  As you focus on your spot in the room and start to kick your left leg back, notice the toes of the grounded foot and concentrate on keeping them relaxed vs. gripping the floor. Just as you don’t want gripping, in a balance pose, you also don’t want the toes lifted. You want even, relaxed weight distribution across the whole foot.

I also like to tell my students as they’re balancing that each day is different. Each side is different. Depending on how flustered your life has been, or if you have a cold—any disturbance mentally, emotionally, or physically—all elements can affect balance.

As you start to kick the left leg back, think of your body as if it’s a stick.  Hinge at the hip and lower the upper body, as the left leg goes back and up in unison—like the body is a stick.  Drop the torso no further than parallel to the floor, and keep a slight bend in the standing leg.  “Nose and toes to the mat” which also keeps the back knee facing the floor.

Arm Options: The classic expression of this pose has both the torso and back leg parallel to the floor with the arms stretched forward like superman. YogaFit® teaches to always cue airplane arms with arms out to the side to protect the low back by shortening the lever length of the body. You can also reach the arms back behind you, palms facing up, along the sides of the torso.

I tell my students to go as far forward as they wish, no further than parallel.  It’s all about how the pose feels in your body.  As you hold the pose, extend out from the hip socket of the standing leg, lengthening the body.  Keep the top ribs pulled in resisting the urge to sink into the low back so your abs are strong and your back is flat. Keep the neck happy by keeping your gaze on the floor in front of you, which also aides balance.  Lastly, keep the hips aligned horizontally, squared to the mat.

See the beginner’s pose section for other options on both the arms and legs.  See advanced options below for other ways to come into the pose.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the ankles, shoulders, glutes, hips, upper and lower back, as well as abs
  • Stretches the hamstrings
  • Improves balance, focus, memory, concentration, and posture
  • Encourages determination
  • Increases stamina

Beginner’s tip: Still unsure on your form or new to yoga? You can try a practice pose.

For less intensity, you can add more of a bend in the standing leg, bending or straightening the standing leg as needed for balance.  You can also rest your arms lightly on the standing thigh. Your hands can also stay at heart center in Namasté (prayer hands) position, (not pictured).

Add a chair: For those who have trouble supporting yourself in this pose, you can place your hands on the back of a chair Make sure the chair is fully on your sticky mat!  Similarly, you can place the hands on the wall in front of you for support (not pictured).

Another option to aide in balance, but not necessarily “beginners”, would be to stand with your back facing the wall behind you at a distance where kicking the back leg back will land the back foot onto the wall’s surface for support.

Advanced options:

Another option for going into the pose: Stand with right foot forward and left foot back, both legs straight, torso facing forward, and arms raised overhead.  Bend your right knee as you go into Warrior I.  Keeping the bent knee directly over the heel, extend your torso forward as you straighten the right leg and lift the back leg, shifting your weight onto the forward leg, and keeping a slight bend in the standing leg. Try not to let the momentum of the shift forward swing your weight onto the ball of the front foot, as this will affect balance negatively. Resist this by focusing on slow, controlled movements, on grounding the heel of the standing leg into the floor, and on flexing the back heel toward the wall behind you.

For more challenge, you can come into Warrior III from the bottom up:

Start from Pyramid Pose—briefly described here as right leg forward and left leg back, toes facing forward, torso folded forward over front leg, head toward shin.  Bend the front leg as you shift your weight forward on the front foot and place your hands to the floor in front of the right foot, shoulders stacked directly over wrists.  Simultaneously lift the back leg up, parallel to the floor, pausing in three-point pose, “nose and toes to the mat”. Engage the quadriceps of the standing leg, lifting the kneecap up.  Then use your core strength as well as the grounded front leg to lift the torso up to parallel to the floor while straightening the front leg, keeping a slight bend in the standing leg.

Similarly, you could start this pose from a low lunge with hands framing the right foot, simply shift your weight forward on the front foot and follow the instructions above.

Try this flow for added focus on concentration, focus, and stamina development: I learned this flow from my good friend and yogini, Tracey Mortensen, owner/founder Inspiring Actions, LLC in Hudson, WI.  From three-point pose (pictured above), engage the front thigh by lifting the kneecap.  Using your core-power slowly lift the torso up to parallel—Warrior III.  Without stopping, continue flowing the back leg down and the torso up just to where the back toe taps the floor, and then flow back down toward the floor. Doing this flow a few times up and down, increases the benefits of this pose.  I favor the “Namasté” position of the hands when doing this pose.

Contraindicated for:

  • Recent or chronic injury to the hips, knees, back, shoulders, or neck.
  • Those with high blood pressure or other cardiac condition
30
October

Warrior II (Sanskrit term: Virabhadrasana II)

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice, Newsletter
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Last month’s newsletter featured Warrior I. I opened with a reference to the meaning of the Sanskrit word for Warrior Pose as well as a warrior reference in regard to the Solar Plexus Chakra. Please refer to the archives for more.

I offer the following opener from a great new book, Yoga for Movement Disorders, Renee Le Verrier: “Virabhadrasana, or warrior pose, builds strength and stamina in the face of battle, the everyday challenges as well as the life-changing ones. There are three warrior poses. In the first two, the reach is in opposite directions. The back arm and leg represent the past and the front limbs symbolize the future. While our hands and feet are reaching for both what was and what will be, our minds and bodies remain centered in the present moment. It is helpful to keep this in mind while in the poses, noticing if your body is leaning forward or back rather than balanced in the middle.”

Now for the pose: From Warrior I (with your right leg forward), keep your heels aligned as you rotate your hips and torso to the left and your back, left foot out approximately 90 degrees making it parallel to the short edge of the mat. Square your hips and shoulders lining them with the long edge of the mat. Bring your arms down parallel to the floor and extend them actively out to the sides, at shoulder level, in opposite directions, palms down. Relax your shoulders down and back away from the ears, firming your shoulder blades to the back; and lift the chest. Your tailbone points down and your spine is long. Stretch both sides of your torso upwards. Your hips are level, avoiding “sassy hips” with one hip hiked up-which I was guilty of for far too long!

Make sure your front knee stacks directly over the ankle, and not beyond, making your shin perpendicular to the ground. Your right thigh should come no lower than parallel to the ground. Lift your left inner thigh and keep the left knee straight. If it drops your chest will cave in. The center of the left knee lines up with the center of the left ankle so you don’t torque the knee. Both feet are pressed evenly into the floor. Focus weight on the back heel.

Keep the shoulders directly over the pelvis. Avoid leaning in either direction. Look out over the front hand. Energetically pull the heels toward each other so the body holds the poses vs. just hanging out in the joints. Turn your head and look over your right arm. Focusing on your hands boosts your energy in this pose.

Another school of thought on foot placement:

Aligning the front heel to the inner arch of the back foot is another foot placement possibility. This opens the hips a bit more.

You can also come into this pose by stepping backward from mountain pose and following the directions above for body placement. See advanced options below for another way to come into the pose.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the ankles, knees and hips
  • Stretches the legs, ankles, chest, and lungs
  • Tones abs, arms and upper back
  • Improves balance
  • Encourages determination
  • Increases stamina and flexibility of the hips
  • Relieves backaches and can be therapeutic for flat feet, carpel tunnel syndrome, and sciatica.
  • Alleviates the condition of a broken, fused, or deviated tailbone. (B.K.S. Iyengar)
  • Reduces fat around the hips. (B.K.S. Iyengar)

Beginner’s tip: Still unsure on your form or new to yoga? You can try a practice pose.

For less intensity, you can have less of a bend in the front leg by straightening it a bit and/or also by shortening the stance front to back. Also remember you always have arm options. If the shoulders are tired, you can bring them to your heart center in “Namaste” position; and if you have neck issues, don’t turn your head to look over the front arm. Continue looking straight ahead.

Wondering about your form? You should be able to see your big toe of the front leg as you look down, ensuring that your knee is stacked directly over the ankle. If you can’t see your big toe, self-adjust aiming the inside of the front knee toward the pinky side of the front foot keeping the knee tracking over the middle toe. Don’t allow your torso to either move right or tilt forward keeping your left armpit and your left hip in a straight line.

Add a chair: For those who have trouble supporting yourself in this pose, you can add a chair under the front thigh. Add props, such as a blanket, to make the height of the support fit your personal requirements.

Advanced option: For more challenge, you can come into Warrior II from Down Dog by stepping your right foot forward into a lunge and rotating the back foot out to the left approximately 90 degrees, Photo #5. Then use your core strength as well as the grounded front leg to lift the torso up to standing while bringing your arms out to your sides parallel to the floor at shoulder level as described above.

Deepen The Arm position: Try turning the palms and inner elbow creases (the eyes of the inner elbows) to face the ceiling while you draw the shoulder blades down the back. Then, keeping the rotation of the arms, turn the palms from the wrists to face the floor again.

Similar to the Warrior I arm positions in last month’s newsletter, there are many other arm holds that we can incorporate with Warrior II, such as cow-face arms (which I’ll cover another day!); and, alternatively, simply holding the elbow with the opposite hands behind the back, (not pictured). Cactus arms and yoga mudra arms were covered last month. Please refer to the archives to review.

Contraindicated for:

  • Recent or chronic injury to the hips, knees, back, shoulders, or neck.
  • Those with high blood pressure or other cardiac condition
  • Those with heartburn, diarrhea, or dysentery
29
September

Warrior I

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice, Newsletter
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Warrior I (Sanskrit terms: Virabhadrasana I)

The three forms of Warrior (Virabhadrasana) are named after a powerful, auspicious warrior, Virabhadra, from Hindu history. When you perform one of the warrior poses, feel the strength of this pose and imagine yourself capable of anything that needs to be accomplished — because you are! “Think of the strength, balance, and nobility of a warrior. Feel the power as your hands stretch up to the sun and your feet root to the earth.” The new guide to relaxation, Pilates, yoga, meditation, stress relief, Paragon Publishing. This pose helps you realize that no matter what you facing in your personal life, at your core you are balanced and strong.

“The warrior is an empowered person with a definitive sense of selfhood. Warriors know who they are in themselves and in relation to the world. Their sense of self is neither inflated nor weak. They have the inner strength and resilience to see their dreams materialize into reality and the stamina to meet physical and emotional challenges.” The Book of Chakras, Ambika Wauters. This is a quote from the Solar Plexus chakra section as the positive archetype for this chakra—one of the two chakras I focus on in my Chakrascope below.

From Mountain Pose, step the right leg back, aligning the heels. Turn your back toes to angle slightly forward making your back heel the furthest part away from your body. Bend the left knee to 90 degrees and reach the arms actively overhead, keeping them parallel, with palms facing in and elbows lining up with the ears. Keep your elbows straight activating dynamic tension in the upraised arms and hands, stretching from your elbows to your fingertips. Relax your shoulders down and back away from the ears, firming your shoulder blades to the back. Your tailbone points down and your spine is long.

Your gaze is straight ahead. (There are some who instruct looking up toward the hands, as well as bringing the hands together. This places unnecessary tension on the neck and shoulder joints, respectively; and the upward gaze can misalign the vertebrae in the neck.)

Make sure your front knee stacks directly over the ankle, and not beyond, making your shin perpendicular to the ground. Your right thigh should come no lower than parallel to the ground. Your waist is lifting up off the hips. Focus on keeping your arms and upper torso lifting towards the ceiling, engaging your abdominals, while your bottom torso and legs ground down into the floor. Both feet are pressed evenly into the floor.

Square your hips and shoulders lining them with the front edge of the mat. Keep the back leg straight by pressing the back foot strongly into the floor and sink into your forward leg. A strong warrior will be just as exhausting on the back leg as the front leg, Photo #1.

There are several schools of thought on foot placement:

Aligning the heels helps to square the hips forward and adds a stretch to the back hip flexor. This is the most common cue I’ve seen, and it’s how I was taught, so it’s how I cued it above.

Stepping directly back keeping the legs spaced left to right hip distance apart allows for the greatest ease of comfort in the low back, as well as aids in balance, (not pictured). When I am going to do the Waterfall Warrior flow, highlighted in the advanced pose flows below, I instruct to widen the hips a little more than usual left to right to allow for extra balance as we add a flow to the pose.

Aligning front heel to the inner arch of the back foot is another foot placement possibility. This opens the hips a bit more. http://yoga.about.com/od/yogaposes/a/warrior1.htm. Photo #2.

You can also come into this pose by stepping forward from mountain pose. See the advanced options for another, more challenging way to come into this pose.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the legs, upper back, and shoulders
  • Opens the hips and chest
  • Stretches the arms, hip flexors, hip adductors, and calves
  • Develops concentration, balance and groundedness
  • Improves circulation and respiration and energizes the entire body
  • Relieves joint stiffness
  • Tones the abdominal muscles

Beginner’s tip: Still unsure on your form or new to yoga? You can try a practice pose.

Arms: Bring the arms to the front thigh, Photo #3 or bring the hands to heart center in Namasté position, if you are taking care of your shoulders or to lessen the intensity of the upper body, Photo #4. If your shoulders don’t have the range of motion to bring the elbows in line with the ears when the arms are raised to the sky, try cactus arm position Photo #5, keeping the hands back in line with the shoulders.

Legs: You can put less of a bend in the front leg or shorten your stance between the front and back leg to decrease the intensity of the pose, Photo #6.

Tip: Beginners tend to tilt their pelvis forward. Make sure your tailbone floats down and your pubis bone lifts toward the naval as you sink into the pose. This keeps the pelvic girdle relatively parallel to the floor and the lower back elongated.

Advanced options: For more challenge, you can come into Warrior I from Down Dog by stepping your right foot forward into a lunge and using your core strength as well as the grounded front leg to lift the torso up to standing while raising your arms overhead to the sky.

Not ready to lift the upper torso from the ground just yet? You can try walking up the front leg with the hands bringing one hand to the knee and then the other Photo #7, regaining any lost balance, and then reaching the arms to the sky!

Adding movement to a Warrior I amps up the volume on building muscle! Let’s try a few of these options:

Yoga Mudra arms: Once in the pose, clasp the fleshy palms of your hands together behind your back and lift up the arms, opening the heart center, Photo #8. If your shoulders are tight, and the hands don’t connect to the palms, you can hold a strap between your hands. See below for a version of this pose that takes it one step more—Waterfall Warrior.

Humble Warrior flow as well as holding humble warrior and adding arm rotations up and back: I use Humble Warrior, Photo #9, as an option when I’m teaching Waterfall Warrior below. You bring your hands to heart center in the Namasté position and hinge at the hip engaging your abdominals as you lean forward slightly toward the front, bent knee. Inhale up, exhale down for a flow.

Humble Warrior hold with arm rotations up and back: Holding the Humble Warrior base, as described above, inhale the arms up to the sky, palms facing the sky, Photo #10. Then exhale as you rotate the palms down and swing the arms up behind you reaching the arms back so that the palms again face the sky, Photo #11.

Waterfall Warrior flow: Clasp your fleshy palms together behind your back in Yoga Mudra, as described above. Engage your abdominals as you flow exhaling down and inhaling up waving your spine as in Cow/Cat pose, respectively. As you exhale down, your spine waves into a “Cow”—baby backbend pose as you aim toward the inside of the front, bent knee, Photo #12. As you inhale up, your spine waves into a “Cat” pose, arching the back toward the sky, Photo #13. The power of your activated core drives this pose keeping your low back protected. The distance you go toward the front bent knee on the down flow is totally dependent upon your individual level of both comfort and flexibility. You can end on the down flow and go deeper toward the ground flowing into a “runner’s” low lunge and on from there to your next pose; or end on the up flow—Yogi’s choice.

Yoga Mudra coupled with the forward fold motion described here loosens the shoulders, arms, and spinal column, and improves posture and back problems. I first learned of this flow from Sadie Nardini, http://www.sadienardini.com/. I’ve also seen it referred to as the “Silver Surfer” on the Power to the Peaceful Yoga DVD by Jivamukti Yoga co-founders, Sharon Gannon and David Life, http://www.amazon.com/Power-Peaceful-Yoga-Sharon-Gannon/dp/B000X73NH2. The Vinyasa clip from Power to the Peaceful Yoga that I saw was actually a bonus clip on Sharon ’s excellent DVD, Chakra Balancing Yoga, http://www.amazon.com/Chakra-Balancing-Yoga-Sharon-Gannon/dp/B001JXPBQU/ref=pd_bxgy_d_text_c.

Cactus arm flow: I’d already mentioned using cactus arms as an option if your shoulders don’t have the range of motion to bring the elbows in line with the ears when you raise your arms to the sky. Cactus flow is a nice addition to add to a Warrior I flow. When I use Cactus arms in a flow, I exhale the front leg straight and drop the arms down to the side, Photo #14, and inhale the arms into Cactus arms as you bend the front knee again, Photo #5. Option: Pull the hands behind the shoulders/ears to work with those that have an overly emphasized thoracic curve, or simply to open the chest more and unfurl those curled shoulders, Photo #15. This flow as well as the Viniyoga flow below was introduced to me in the books referenced below. Sometimes I inhale the arms to the sky, as in classic Warrior I, while straightening the front leg and exhale into Cactus arms…this is my own version of that flow that works for me too.

Viniyoga Warrior I flow: Gary Kraftsow’s Viniyogatherapy for the low back, sacrum and hips DVD as well his Yoga for Transformation and Yoga for Wellness books, http://www.viniyoga.com/, introduced me to this flow. In Warrior I, as you inhale rest the left hand on the left thigh, and lift the right arm to the sky as you bend the left knee. The lifted right arm comes back even beyond the right ear a bit emphasizing the Psoas muscle stretch along the right side of the body, Photo #16 (I could have gone a bit further than pictured!). Exhale as you straighten the bent leg and bring the raised arm down, Photo #17. A tight Psoas muscle can be the cause of back pain—so I love this flow, and all of Gary Kraftsow’s work!

There are many other arm holds without a flow that we can incorporate with Warrior I, such as cow-face arms (which I’ll cover another day!); and, alternatively, simply holding the elbow with the opposite hands behind the back, (not pictured).

Contraindicated for:

  • Recent or chronic injury to the hips, knees, back or shoulders.
  • Those with high blood pressure or other cardiac condition
  • Those with low blood pressure should bring the hands to heart center or rest them on the front thigh
  • Yoga Fit® recommends omitting Warrior I from a prenatal class using a Crescent Moon option instead.
29
August

Side Plank / The one-armed balance pose (Sanskrit terms: Vasisthasana)

Written by Sandy. Posted in: Empower Your Yoga Practice, Newsletter
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Side Plank / The one-armed balance pose (Sanskrit terms:  Vasisthasana)

Last month we broke down Gate Pose.  I often teach a flow with gate pose and the kneeling side plank version of side plank pose since they both use the one knee on the floor and the other leg straight out to the side.  This connection inspired me to break down Side Plank this month. 

There are a few ways to come into Side Plank pose. My favorite way is to start with the kneeling side plank option. Then I offer the option from there to go into full side plank, and then progress to the advanced version. I like progression options that you can either choose to do or not do. 

Kneeling Side Plank:  My favorite way to enter kneeling side plank pose is to start this pose from all fours.  From all fours, bring your right arm over to the right in line with your right bent knee, fingers pointing away from the body, wrist stacked under your shoulder.  Keep a slight bend in the elbow.  Then as you lift the left arm up to the sky, stacking the raised wrist over the shoulder and palm facing out, you straighten the left leg out to the left and place the big toe side of the foot on the floor in line with the bent right knee. The sole of the left foot will be facing the wall to your left with the ankle flexed.  Let the sole of the left foot come to the floor. 

Your toes and your knee are facing in the same direction.  Your right wrist, right knee, and left foot are all in a straight line.  Your back, bent leg provides stability.  In all the versions of side plank mentioned here, you have the option to keep your head looking forward in neutral, or looking up at the raised hand (Photo #1).  Also, for all versions of side plank discussed here, keep lifting through the waist and hips so they don’t sag toward the floor.  Your hips press forward.

 

Optional way to come into the poseYou could also come into this pose from plank pose, bringing the right knee in to just below the hip, and before dropping the knee to the ground, kickstand the foot out to the right.  THEN place the right knee to the ground so you aren’t grinding the knee into the floor as you kickstand out.  As you reach your left arm to the sky, shift your weight to the right wrist and arm, and roll onto the sole of the back left foot with the toes facing away from you (Back leg stays straight).  Your right shoulder is directly over your right wrist and you keep that slight bend in the supporting elbow. 

Full Side Plank transition:  From here we have the option to go into full plank pose by straightening the bent right knee and bringing the pinky side of the right foot in front of and in line with the left foot.  Lift the left foot to the big toe side of the foot (Photo #2).  I’ve seen some versions that say to place the bottom leg’s foot in back of the top leg’s foot so the top foot is in the back.  “Yogi’s choice.”   Option:  Stack both feet for more challenge.  (Photo #3)   

 

 

You could also come into this pose from full plank by reaching your left arm to the sky and shifting your weight over to the right wrist as you roll to the pinky side of the right foot and the big toe side of the left foot. (Again, with the option to place the top foot on the floor behind your bottom foot, or stacking both feet for more challenge.)  Keep your right wrist directly under the right shoulder.  Keep a slight bend in the supporting elbow.

Forearm Side PlankStart lying down on the right side of your body with your right forearm resting on the ground, elbow stacked under the shoulder, and fingers pointing away from you.  Your top left leg rests on top of the right leg, and your feet are stacked one on top of the other, big toe joints and the inner side of the heels touching.  Lift your hips to the sky, lifting through the waist and hips so they don’t sag to the ground, and push the hips forward as in the previous versions. Your top arm can be raised to the sky (Photo #4) or resting on the hips.

 

Benefits

  • Strengthens arms, abdominals, lower back, legs, and shoulders
  • Stretches Obliques
  • Stretches and strengthens the wrists
  • The advanced version stretches the back of the legs

Beginner’s tip: Still unsure on your form or new to yoga? You can try a practice pose. 

The kneeling side plank, already discussed, is a great place to start, as is the following version.  From kneeling side plank with the right knee to the floor, bring the left leg forward to the center of your body in line with, and in front of, the bent, left knee and rest the sole of the foot to the floor with the toes facing away from you—i.e. turn the toes out.  Then take the right leg and straighten it, bringing the pinky side of the toe of the right foot to rest on the floor while flexing the ankle so the toes on both feet face away from you.

You could also come into this pose from Down Dog or full plank pose by stepping the left foot half way up toward the hands and placing the sole of the left foot on the ground with the toes pointing away from you (turn the toes out).  Then shift to the pinky side of the right foot as you open your chest to the sky while reaching your left arm up to the sky.  Support the weight of your body on your right wrist and pinky side of the right foot.  The right wrist is stacked under the right shoulder, your left arm is raised to the sky—palm facing out, and your left wrist stacked directly over the left shoulder.  (Photo #5)  In both the kneeling side plank and this version, the bent leg provides extra support. 

 

Remember, for all versions of side plank discussed here, keep lifting through the waist and hips so they don’t sag toward the floor.  Your hips press forward. 

Remember to repeat the pose on both sides perhaps resting in down dog in between if you like.

Advanced options: 

From full side plank, bend the top knee in toward the chest.  Reaching into the inside of the bent knee, grab the big toe of the foot with the index and middle fingers of the top arm and cap the big toe off with the thumb. Then, while holding the big toe, inhale the top leg up to the sky aiming for the leg to stretch perpendicularly to the ceiling.  (Photo #6)  To come out of the pose, release the toe hold and return the top leg to the previous position.  Repeat on the other side.  Option to add top leg pumps up and down as an outer thigh workout of the top leg.

 


Abdominal work-out options while in Side Plank:

  • Use either the full side plank base (Photo #7), the kneeling side plank base (not shown), or the forearm side plank base (not shown) and create an abdominal workout by reaching the top arm down under the raised body on an exhale and back up to the sky on an inhale. 

 

  • Use the forearm side plank base to do simple lifts up and down with the hips—inhaling the hips up and exhaling them down to rest on the floor (not shown).  Top arm can be raised to the sky or resting on the hip.
  • Use the forearm side plank base to combine the above two options—inhale the hips down and reach the top arm to the sky, exhale the hips up and reach the top arm down under the raised body. (Photo #8)

 

Contraindicated for:

  • Knee, shoulder, elbow, or wrist injuries. 
  • Option to make a fist for the bottom wrist if you are taking care of a wrist issue. 
  • Option to use a blanket/cushion under the bottom knee in kneeling plank if you are protecting your knees.