Tag Archives: home practice

Restorative Shoulder Openers

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!

Sphinx pose. Use this as a 'reset' between sides of the following two poses

Sphinx pose. Use this as a ‘reset’ between sides of the following two poses

Thread the needle stretches the deltoids and triceps

Thread the needle stretches the deltoids and triceps.

I've heard this called 'wing pose,' but I like to call it 'pigeon for shoulders.' This stretches the traps and the anterior pecs, and creates a tourniquet effect, letting fresh oxygenated blood flow to the shoulder when the stretch is released.

I’ve heard this called ‘wing pose,’ but I like to call it ‘pigeon for shoulders.’ This stretches the traps and the anterior pecs, and creates a tourniquet effect, letting fresh oxygenated blood flow to the shoulder when the stretch is released.

Bleeding heart pose stretches the rhomboids and deltoids and provides relief for your rotator cuff and tendons.

Bleeding heart pose stretches the rhomboids and deltoids and provides relief for your rotator cuff and tendons.


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Practicing Jump Backs

I recently attended an Ashtanga class at Salt Room Yoga in Pioneer Square. The teacher, Rhonda, provided a great way to practice jump backs from sukasana/criss cross apple sauce to chaturanga dandasana. I’d always just assumed I’d build core strength in other ways to achieve a jump back, but this is really using different core muscles than you get from bicycle crunches!

  • From sukasana, easy pose, scoot your feet close to your body and squeeze your knees into your chest.
  • Place your hands a few inches in front of your hips.
  • Press into the floor, doing your best to transfer all of your weight into your hands while simultaneously using your core to squeeze your knees and ankles into your chest. Flex your feet!
  • If you’re like me, you’re not quite there yet. So a good way to build strength is to start shuffling your feet under your body as best you can and then jump back to chaturanga dandasana. When you do this, squeeze your knees together so they fit between your arms. OR if you are a little past shuffling, start by taking 2-4 hops on your feet.

When you do this little shimmy, you really feel your core working. I love when a teacher presents a way to practice something that makes something difficult seem much more accessible! Try it out and let me know about your progress!


Yoga kitty says ‘have a great weekend!’ Meow!

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Don’t just do something, sit there

“Practicing meditation means learning how to get out of this current, sit by its banks and listen to it, learn from it, and then use its energies to guide us.”

I am currently reading the book Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn as required by my teacher training program. It’s wonderful, I love the snippets of inspiration I get from it without it being corny. Props to the author on writing a book teaching you about meditation, if there’s one thing that’s difficult to describe, its not thinking. As a person who’s mind is endlessly jumping from thought to thought, slowing down seems near impossible. I am determined to try meditating outside of yoga class, but I’m honestly afraid I will fail or ‘do it wrong.’ Like most people I recognize progress by creating a bar graph style system in my brain. The book addresses these things-

“You might get caught up in wanting a ‘special experience’ or in looking for signs of pregress, and if you don’t feel something special pretty quickly, you may start to doubt the path you have chosen, or to wonder whether you are ‘doing it right.’ Meditation is different. From the perspective of meditation, every state is a special state, every moment a special moment.”

While the author does a good job of describing techniques for meditation, it seems for the most part that you don’t really get it until you experience it. I feel that there is a buzz, something I haven’t tapped into yet. Some state of non-judgemental, peaceful stillness that can make you feel more clearly in this very moment.

For now, I use yoga as my moving meditation. A dance that calms my mind and body. Lately I have been flowing through sun salutations with my eyes closed, it’s amazing the sensations you experience when one of your main senses is turned off. I think, like yoga, meditation will be a life long practice for me. It’s simply the choice to spend some quality time with myself. Oh boy.

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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 littlewindmillyoga@gmail.com and I can send you the iphone/ipad version of these flows!

Home practice: Pocket Yoga Builder

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Asana of the Week: Flip Your Dog!

Flippin’ the dog

I couldn’t find a specific Sanskrit name for this, but I believe it’s a variation of Camatkarasana or ‘wild thing’ pose. A beautiful heart opener and upside-down-dog. I fully intend to bring this into a full wheel some day…

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asana of the week- wheel

my wheel… more of an ellipse.


Oh yes, we’re back-bending on this fine Friday. I recently did a yogathon at Urban Yoga Spa– two hours of hot power vinyasa, two hours of hot hatha, and two hours of yin/yang yoga. Sometimes I think I’m a special brand of insane. During the first two hours of power vinyasa, we did 5 wheel poses.

The teacher, Odessa, quoted Baron Baptiste saying: “Wheels are like pancakes. The first two are never any good” So we did two more. And when called up for the fifth, she invigorated us with another Baptiste quote. “This last wheel…is the difference between walking out of this room, and FLYING out of this room.”

I can’t say no to that, I want to fly.

  • Begin setting up for bridge pose, heels drawn close enough to the sit bones that you can brush your heels with your fingers.
  • Bring your hands mat-width next to your ears with your fingers pointing towards your feet.
  • Press into the four corners of your feet, inhale and on your exhale life your tailbone to the sky.
  • Push firmly into your hands and forearms to lift yourself up. I like to take a little pit-stop with the crown of my head on the floor, so I can go up with strength rather than momentum.
  • Draw the shoulder blades down the back, straighten the arms as much as possible.

More articulate instructions here.

Troubleshooting. If you think you’re going to die, stick with bridge for a while strengthening your back by NOT clenching your glutes. If your low back is yelling at you, make sure your feet are parallel in a number 11 and experiment walking them closer or further from you.

More. Come to your tippy toes, bring one leg into your chest and straighten it to the sky. Repeat on the other side. If this still hasn’t got you sweating, try some wheel pushups by simultaneously bending arms and legs…as if you’re doing an upside down pushup on the ceiling?

I’m still perfecting this one, any tips?

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My half-lotus with reverse namaskar. a work in progress.

Openings- on your mat and in life, take practice and patience. My shoulders prefer to stay tight and my hips rigid, so I practice and attempt to ignore any frustration I have with either. Always reminding myself that yoga is a life-long practice.

So many times I’m struggling with a pose like a perfect bound side angle or one of the koundinyasana arm balances and I just think, well I’ll just have to practice this over and over at home.  I forget that I can also target specific areas and work on opening them to help me in these poses and more. For me and for many north americans it’s shoulders and hips that need the most work. While you could sit in pigeon or bridge pose for hours, I wanted to suggest a few things that might be easier to motivate yourself to do.

Lapasana. This stretch feels wonderful, especially after a lot of chaturanga-ing. The variation I like to do is to extend your bottom leg and tap the tops of your top leg behind you. Make sure you are very warmed up for this intense stretch, try it at the end of your practice.

Ardha Bakra Chandrasana. Salute the moon! This is more of a power move that gets into your hips, shoulders, and even your back. Be sure to keep your abs firm and lumbar spine long to protect your back. To add some strength work, lift up onto the shoelace part of your back leg into full expression.

Half lotus with reverse namaskar. Just for funsies, try this one out with me. This opens your shoulders and hips, also it looks really cool. I always take the standing half lotus modification during tree pose in class because I desperately need hip openers anywhere I can get them. Again, be warmed up for this one or it will not feel good.

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Home Practice

AM Yoga. Yes, I’m in my PJ’s.

I regularly practice yoga at home. It’s a great way to start, and I’ll admit that my first experiences with yoga were with Patricia Walden and Rodney Yee in my bonus-room when I was 14. Even though I go to class about 6 days a week at my yoga studio, schedule permitting, I still love to practice at home.

Things I love about my home practice

-You can try things out. I was not confident in my ability to not knock somebody over in my headstand or fall on my face in crow. I love to use the wall in my room to practice inversions.

-If you do hot yoga like I do, there’s not always time in the day to commute to your studio, practice, shower, and get home. Life gets in the way sometimes. I think we sometimes forget that we can throw down a mat anywhere, anytime, and get the wonderful benefits of our practice.

-You can make your own mix! I hear songs all the time that I think would settle my mind during my practice. At home you can control every aspect of your practice.


-Clean up your space. I find it difficult to focus when my room is messy, so clean it up and create an ambiance.

-Get rid of distractions. Turn off your phone, email updates, etc. I am definitely guilty of not doing this, I always have to remind myself that this is time for me on my mat.

-Try something new. You will surprise yourself and feel strong and like some kind of yoga bad ass.

-For an amazing substitute for a yoga class if you find it hard to guide yourself, I strongly recommend you subscribe to the YogaDownload.com podcast. The classes are free, there’s wonderful variety, and they’re about 20 minutes long. I often do 2 or 3 adding in some sun salutations to get really warmed up. They offer everything from power vinyasa, meditation, and jivamukti to gentle restorative classes. I prefer the just audio ones because I don’t like to compare myself to the hyper-flexible fitness models on the videos and it distracts me.

Podcasts Here

-For an A.M. Metabolism kick-start, check out Slim, Calm, Sexy Yoga, by Tara Stiles.

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