Learning advanced poses can seem overwhelming and discouraging at times. Using blocks can help you build strength in these poses and just simply feel the shape of the pose. Shamelessly allow the blocks to be an extension of your pose. Here are a few ways you can use blocks to deepen your practice and learn some new poses.
Pincha Mayurasana/Forearm stand: Holding a block between the hands reminds you to keep pulling inward and keeps your elbows from bowing out.
Hanumanasana/Splits: Most blocks have three different heights so you can adjust to the level of openness you’re feeling on any given day.
Shoulder squeeze/Titibasana: Having the block as insurance takes away some of the fear of falling when trying poses like shoulder squeeze and firefly.
Bakasana/Crow Pose: Use a block to rest your forehead on and ‘teeter totter’ on until you find that sweet spot of balance.
Happy Saturday Yogis!
I wanted to share with you one of my favorite sequences to teach at the end of a vinyasa class that’s full of chaturangas and other poses that are weight bearing on the shoulders. This sequence should be done like hip opening, spending a good amount of time (20 breaths or so) on each side. These open the the anterior shoulder muscles, specifically the deltoids, traps, and pectoralis major. It also opens muscles that are part of the shoulder but you may consider back muscles like the rhomboids and posterior traps. If you are a typical vinyasa-junkie and have been ODing on chaturangas lately, consider the following.
Chaturanga strengthens many muscles, it’s an excellent shoulder strengthener appropriately nicknamed ‘the shoulder shredder.’ However, strong, tight pectoral muscles, if not adequately stretched, pull the shoulder blades, collarbones, and upper arm bones forward and inward, creating hunched shoulders and a closed chest. Trust me yogis, this is something I’ve struggled with for a long time.
An example of how this might effect another area of your practice is shoulderstand. Tight pecs and deltoids limit arm movement and chest opening in shoulderstand and backbends. In shoulderstand you need to pull your shoulders in as much as you can to keep your neck and spine free of weight, and if you’re all muscle and no mobility then that is going to be tough, and possibly dangerous.
Be cautious if you have shoulder injuries, these are intense openings but can be modified for any level of mobility. Don’t forget to breathe!
A bright, 29° Saturday in January turned out to make the best running weather. I know all you runners know this- but it is SO important to stretch after you run! What do you have to lose?! 5 minutes of browsing Facebook or Reddit? In that time you can prevent injury and increase your range of motion and just feel good.
Most agree that it’s not good to stretch cold muscles, so I usually stretch for 5 minutes about 1.5 miles in (good excuse for a rest!) and 15 minutes when I get back. Mind you- I do yoga daily so this is not the only stretching I do. If you are exclusively a runner I would suggest 30 minutes of stretching or whatever you have time for. Yoga is for everyone!
DO’S & DON’TS
Don’t rush it! Take your time to breath into each muscle group you are stretching, aiming for approximately 1 minute per side
Do listen to your body. What’s feeling tight today? Where could you use a little extra love and relaxation? It might even be your shoulders or low back.
Do stretch each side equally. Don’t fudge on the second side.
Don’t force it. Just like in yoga-only do what feels good and don’t try to force your body somewhere it doesn’t want to go. Sensation is okay, but pain isn’t.
Open all 7 of those lovely chakras.
I have never been a fan of backbends, wheel I didn’t attempt for years and camel makes me feel pukey. However, in the back of my mind I know that the poses I shy away from are the ones I probably need the most. Also- upon recently discovering I am of the Pitta Dosha variety, backbends were one of the recommended poses for me, but anyone can benefit from leading with their heart. What a good intention to set in 2013; you can never go wrong when you let your heart lead, right? So here we go- making backbends my new favorite poses of 2013!
Here is BKS Iyengar practicing some backbends in Pune, India. He was 73!
I will definitely check in with you about my heart-leading progress this year.
Viparita = turned around, reversed, inverted
Karani = doing, making, action
The pose described here is a passive, supported variation of the Shoulderstand-like without the risk to your neck.
Step by step:
Getting Into Legs Up the Wall Pose:
Lie on the floor near a wall and practice deep, steady breathing. Exhale and swing your legs up onto the wall so that your heels and sitting bones are supported against it. If you have any discomfort in your lower back, adjust your body slightly back from the wall so that your sitting bones are not touching it. Rest your head on the mat or floor, keeping your spine straight, and bend your knees a little so your kneecaps won’t lock.
When using support- If you have any lower back pain, support your body by placing a yoga block or folded blankets on the ground beneath your back. When positioning your support, you must consider its height and its distance from the wall. If you are not very flexible, your support should be lower to the ground and farther from the wall. If you are flexible, keep your support higher and closer to the wall. Keep a gentle arc in your torso from the pubis to the top of the shoulders.
If your neck feels strained, place a small, rolled-up towel under it.
Release the weight of your belly toward the back of the pelvis, deeply into the torso. Soften the eyes and turn them down towards your heart. After you come out of this restorative pose, be sure to lie on your side for a few breaths before sitting upright with your back against the wall, then slowly rising to your feet.
Awesome Benefits of Viparita Karani:
Reversing Gravity. The restorative nature of this posture gets blood flowing to parts of the body that need it, making it good for most any ailment including arthritis, high or low blood pressure, respiratory ailments, and menopause.
Go downtown. Alleviates menstrual cramps! For those of you lacking ovaries, this is also good for your little swimmers- it helps testicular and semen problems.
Feet. Relieves sore feet, legs, and ankles. Unlike sitting, which keeps the blood stagnant in your feet and partially cut off by your bent knees, this pose gets 100% weight off your feet to give them some relief.
Inversions calm anxiety. This is an extremely relaxing pose. No matter what’s going on, if I throw my legs up the wall and give my brain some much needed blood flow, I feel better. More benefits of inversions here.
I prescribe this pose to everyone I know. Whether it’s headaches, sore feet and legs, anxiety, Viparita Karani is soothing and symptom free. Best of all- it gives you a time out from your day to just be.
It isn’t until recently that the splits, hanumanasana, has been something that I thought was available to me. I have been taking classes recently where the peak pose is splits, or your attempt at splits. The sequences leading up to the splits are all intelligently crafted to open your hips, quads, glutes, etc. That is what I love about ‘intelligent vinyasa’ that I am learning in teacher training; it sets you up for success.
Make sure you are very warm, and loosy goosey in your hip flexors before you attempt hanumanasana. From half splits, I inch my front foot forward as far as it will go, then I take my back leg back and prop myself up on blocks. Hold like this for as long as you can, relax into the stretch and your muscles will release more. Sometimes I prop my legs up on the blocks, sometimes I put them underneath my hands next to me and hold myself up.
I like this video tutorial.
I’d love to see a cool splits picture on your blog if it’s in your practice! Comment a link and I’ll compile a post of our awesome accomplishments!
Give it a try! I’ll let you know my progress soon!
Yesterday I tried aerial conditioning at Lab5 Fitness in Capitol Hill. I was excited, this is a new thing not many places offer. Basically you perform core strengthening moves supported by long, non-stretchy straps suspended from the ceiling. This intensifies a lot of regular exercises. For instance, doing a crunch with the strap on your sacrum leaning back forces you to lift about 60% of your body weight as opposed to a normal crunch’s 30%.
It’s a difficult learning curve, so I think the second class would feel much more like a typical workout as opposed to experimentation. In yoga, we learn to trust our limbs. Our arms holding us up in handstand, our leg balancing us in warrior III. Trusting the extra appendage was difficult for me. Even though the teacher insisted it could hold up to 3,000 lbs, it was hard to fight my natural instincts and put trust in this accessory.
My favorite part of class was being upside down, shown here, you lean back with the strap around your sacrum and wind your legs above you. In this position, even the smallest movements are challenging because you are supporting the weight of your entire upper body. It was amazing to do wheel and bow pose with the strap holding you, you could really see the range of motion in your spine without having to hold yourself up.
In the end, we ‘cocooned’ ourselves for a five minute savasana. It was amazing, your own little microcosm, rocking you gently back and forth. It was fun and different, if it’s available in your city give it a try. Be fearless!
Click either picture to download
I wanted to share with you a recent addition I’ve made to my home practice. If you have an Iphone, Android, or other smartphone, you should check this out. You may recognize Pocket Yoga Builder from Starbuck’s Pick of the Week, which is where I picked up my promotional code for this cool App. Unlike other yoga apps, you can easily create sequences as it suggests appropriate poses when you are building your practice. It has a huge range of poses, from the simplest to the most advanced. I like that it’s intuitive and can be taken anywhere.
You can email your practice to friends who have the app and they can open it right from their phone. You can also email a PDF of your practice and send it to itunes. After this app came out, friends and family started requesting I build them sequences…here are my favorites:
Power Flow I – 25 min fast paced vinyasa flow
Flexibility I – 23 min restorative cocktail of hatha and vinyasa
If you have the app, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send you the iphone/ipad version of these flows!