If you’re interested in more information about our yoga program, please email Rebecca at yoga@4cmedicalgroup.com

Check out our class schedule here

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Our yoga pose this week is Adho Mukha Svanasana, also known as, Downward Facing Dog.

What is it & what does it mean?

Adho – Downward
Mukha – Face
Svana – Dog
Asana – Pose

Downward Facing Dog  is the poster child of the modern yoga practice. These days, it's most commonly referred to as down dog, and it’s almost everywhere you look, even animals and babies strike this familiar pose. It comes naturally to most living beings as an innate method of soothing, stretching and letting go, simultaneously.

The west side of the body, the back body, the side we can’t see, becomes the receptacle for uncomfortable states of being such as stress, anger, fear and grief and memories we do not want to face. Downward facing dog is a remedy for the universal human tendency of avoidance and disassociation. 

It would seem counterintuitive that folding in would help us confront and release these unwelcomed emotions, but it does! Folding in, forward, allows our contemplative, concentrated and relaxed state to emerge, promoting a calming affect on our nervous system, inviting our parasympathetic response to wash over our mind and body.

Health Benefits

Downward Facing Dog is the yogic trifecta: an inversion, arm balance and forward fold that stretches and strengthens the shoulders, arms, legs and back, increasing blood flow to the brain, flexibility to the muscles and mobility to the joints in the shoulders, elbows, wrists, ankles and feet.

Down dog is held and repeated many times during a Vinyasa (flow) based practice, as it is one of primary postures in a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara) and can be held for longer periods of time for restorative benefit.

Down dog improves digestion and promotes blood flow throughout the body. Inversions are known to relieve depression, stress, anxiety and worry by elevating serotonin levels while decreasing cortisol levels. Down dog is known to reduce inflammation, tone the respiratory system, and eliminate headaches by improving circulation to the brain.

Contraindications

Individuals with shoulder impingement or limitations, weak or compromised wrist joints, carpal tunnel syndrome, or ocular pathologies such as detached retina or glaucoma are advised to use the modifications on the wall or chair (described below).

Those with blood pressure imbalances, please be cautious with this posture and remain with head below heart for at least five breaths before sitting up. Ensure you have a solid support nearby to help you stand up safely.

Prep Poses

  • Supine spinal twists (modifications: seated twist or on twist seated on a chair)
  • Child’s Pose
  • Tabletop ( Cat/Cow posture: rounding and extending the spine)
  • Puppy Pose (extending arms and chest to the mat from table top, hips in line with knees)
  • Plank Pose
  • Standing Forward Bend

Downward Facing Dog Modifications

**Everyone can participate in Downward Facing Dog! Please incorporate any of the modifications below to accompany your abilities and refer to the instructions (for the full posture or wall posture) for proper bone and muscle alignments.

  • Roll a blanket(s) or place yoga wedges under your heels if you have ankle stiffness, tight hamstrings or hips.
  • Squeeze a block between your upper thighs to help engage your thighs properly, stabilize your pelvis, build inner thigh (adductor) strength and engage pelvic floor muscles. This will help keep your knees and feet in proper alignment as well.
  • You may rest your head on a block(s) or bolster to alleviate stress or pressure in your shoulders and wrists if you are new to this posture or have pathologies of the joints.
  • Place sandbags over your hands to anchor you and alleviate unnecessary stress on your inner wrists.
  • To activate your trunk muscles and ensure proper alignment, place a strap around your forearms and press outward. Attempt to pull your wrists towards your toes on the mat (without moving your hands). This will help engage and strengthen your shoulder stabilizer muscles!
  • If you are unable to put pressure on your wrists, you may place your forearms on blocks, use the wall (refer to instructions below) or a chair.

Wall Modification

Stand an arm’s length from the wall. 
Plant your hands on the wall shoulder height and shoulder’s width apart, with your index fingers pointing upward towards the ceiling. 
Apply pressure from the fingers to the base of the knuckles, focusing on the pad of the hand in between the base of the thumb and index finger. 
**Avoid over-pressing through the heels of the hands. 
Step your feet hip distance apart (a block between your legs is helpful). 
Begin shuffling your feet away from the wall, until your hands are slightly higher than your shoulders and your ears align with your biceps. 
Bend your knees, tilt your hips up toward the ceiling, and pull your belly toward your spine.
Gaze down to the floor.
Breathe. Inhale into your lower back body, exhale release the stress in your jaw, neck and shoulders. 
Press through your heels into the floor, attempting to drag the heels away from each other without moving them.
**This isometric action will create more space through your sacrum, alleviating unnecessary strain in your hamstrings and lower back. 
Drag your thumbs toward each other, hands down towards the floor without moving them. 
Hold and continue to breathe for as long as you are comfortable. 
To exit the posture, slowly step your feet toward the wall, lifting your gaze to the wall and releasing your hands to your sides.

***You may use a chair for down dog. Place your hands on the chair back and follow the instructions above. Be sure the chair rests against a wall or on a non-slip surface. 

Instructions for Downward Facing Dog from Tabletop Position

From tabletop position (on your hands and knees), walk your hands forward on the mat, until your chest lowers below your hips. 
Take a breath cycle to ground your hands: index fingers face forward.
Press firmly through the inner mounds of the hand at the base of the index fingers and thumbs and across the base of your knuckles (this relieves excess stress on the wrist joints).

Without moving your hands or knees, try to pull your thumbs and forearms toward one another as you drag your hands back towards your knees. 
Align your ears with your biceps, gazing down to the mat, elongating and stabilizing your cervical spine.
Tuck your toes, changing the direction of the pressure in the hands (forward and away from you) as you press your bottom back to your heels. 
Inhale. Continue pressing the hands forward and bottom back. 
Exhale. Draw your belly in and lift your knees off the mat a few inches. 
Hold. Keep breathing. Imagine dragging your toes to your wrists and your hip points to your armpits.
**Practice this lift a few times to initiate your core strength.

On your next inhale, press your hips back towards your heels, lifting your hips towards the ceiling.
Lengthen your legs and press your heels toward the floor.
Drag your thumbs toward one another (without moving them). Draw your shoulders away from your ears. Visualize your shoulder blades sliding away from your spine in opposite directions (to the left and right).
Align your ears with your biceps, softly gazing towards your knees. 
Bend your knees as you continue to reach your heels towards the floor. 
Tilt your bottom towards the ceiling (anterior tilt) and engage your thighs. 
Press the outer ridges of the feet, heel pads and balls of the feet firmly into the floor, lifting your inner arches.
Drag your heels away from your wrists.
Check in: your toes remain pointing forward. Push away from the front of the mat as you lengthen through the backs of your legs.
Take 5 to 10 full breath cycles.

**Seasoned practitioners: press your right hand forward (without moving) as you drag your left hand back towards your left toes (without moving), experience deep engagement in your armpit down your left side body. Switch, pressing left hand forward, dragging right hand back.

When you are ready to exit the posture, slowly bend the knees, lower to the floor and press back to a child’s pose. Toes together, knees apart, forehead to the floor, arms relaxed by your sides.
**If child’s pose is not comfortable for you, remain in tabletop with a blanket under your knees until you are ready to transition into your next posture. 

Namaste!

A Yoga Sequence to Relax the Shoulders

Did you know that we’re at our tallest in the morning? From the moment we get out of bed, we’re saddled with the pressures of life: decisions to be made, a schedule to maintain and mounting responsibilities we pile on ourselves. It’s no surprise that when we greet our beds at night, we’ve shrunk; our shoulders round in and rise towards our ears and we feel tense, stressed and uncomfortable in our skin.

Here’s a yoga sequence to counter the stress of daily life and release the burden from the body and the mind: 

Pose #1: Child’s Pose

Begin kneeling on your mat.
**Place a blanket or cushion under your shins and knees for comfort.
Press your hips to your heels.
**If you have knee and/or ankle pathologies, please use props to support a comfortable and safe position for your legs, i.e., a bolster between your legs and/or a blanket rolled under your ankles and over your calves to rest your hips at an appropriate height for your knee and hip flexion.
Rest your forehead on the mat, block or bolster.
Release your arms by your sides, palms up, allowing your shoulders to cave in, melting towards the mat.
**As you inhale, expand your ribcage outward (you may feel your waistline touch your inner thighs). On exhale, soften your chest toward the floor.
Hold Child’s pose for 2 to 5 minutes.

Pose #2: Push & Pull in Child’s Pose

Keep your hips pressing to your heels and your forehead connected to the floor.
Reach your arms forward on the mat, shoulder width apart.
Push your hands down and forward into the mat (without moving them), your forearms will lift off of the mat. 
**Feel a stretch under your armpit to your waistline.
Then, push your hands down and attempt to drag your wrists back to your knees (without moving them). 
**You’ll feel activation in your latissimus dorsi muscles (which span from under the armpit all the way down to the hips), serratus and teres (minor and major) muscles. 


Next, walk your torso and arms over to the left side of the mat, creating a stretch through your right side body and shoulder.
Press your hands into the floor (shoulder width apart).
Without moving your hands, attempt to pull (downward/backward motion) your right hand back to your right hip as you push (downward/forward motion) your left hand into the floor. 
**The stretch will be felt under the shoulder blade on the right side (this is known as a subscapular release) traveling down the side of the body.
Hold here for 8 to 10 breath cycles.
Inhale; return to the center of the mat and walk your torso and arms over to the right.
Stretch your left side by pulling your left hand toward your left knee (without moving it) and pushing your right hand into the floor (away from you).
Return to center.

Pose #3: Tabletop – Cat (Marjaryasana)/Cow (Bitilasana) Pose 

Lift your hips off of your heels.
Tuck your toes under to refresh the ankles and the toes.
Position your knees under your hips with your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. 
Exhale; push your hands into the mat in a downward/forward motion (without moving them).
Press your back towards the ceiling, rounding the spine and drawing your hips under (posterior tilt of the pelvis).
Look between your thighs.
Lift your belly towards your spine.
Inhale; press your hands into the mat, attempting to drag your wrists to your knees, pulling your knees towards your wrists (without moving them) as you extend your chest forward, tilting your hips to the ceiling (anterior tilt of the pelvis). Gaze slightly forward of your hands.
**Seasoned cue: Press your knees away from the midline of the mat (without moving them) experiencing a stretch across the sacrum (the back of your pelvis).
Continue to alternate rounding your spine (on exhalation) and extending your spine (on inhalation).

Pose #4: Twisted Cow

Inhale; maintain your hips over your knees.
Slide your left hand forward slightly as you thread your right arm (palm facing up) under your left side body.
**Ensure your right arm is in line with your right shoulder.
Rest the right side of your head on the mat, pressing the top right side of the skull into the mat to alleviate discomfort in the neck.
Slide your left hand forward (to the front of the mat) until your arm is lengthened. Your left arm will be in line with your left ear.
***If this is not appropriate for your range of motion, you may keep your left hand planted on the mat (in front of your right elbow)
Push the mat away with the left hand as you extend your right arm to the left.
Press the arm firmly into the floor.
Draw your hips to the right, to accentuate the twist.
To intensify the stretch in the back of the right shoulder, push your right shoulder into the floor as you attempt to drag your right arm (without moving it) to the right (behind you).
**Seasoned cue: Lean your back to the right as you curl your left hip towards your right fingertips, stretching the deltoid (outer shoulder) of the right arm.
Hold this posture for 5 to 10 breath cycles. 
When you’re ready to exit the stretch, slide your left hand to your right elbow, press into the mat and return to a tabletop position.
Inhale; extend the spine and switch sides (your left arm threads under your right side body). 
Follow the cues above. 

Pose #4: Sphinx Pose 

Slide yourself onto your belly.
Extend your legs behind you (mat-width apart).
Press the tops of the feet into the mat.
Prop yourself onto your forearms (your elbows will align under the shoulders).
Hands are flat on the mat, shoulder distance apart.
If you feel discomfort or instability in your lower back, you may roll a blanket under your belly for added support.
Press your upper back towards the ceiling.
Your shoulders remain lifted as you release your head towards the floor (the stretch may be felt from the neck, across the shoulders and down the muscles along the spine (erector spinae).
Breathe evenly and deeply.
Attempt to pull your thumbs together (without moving them), simultaneously dragging the forearms and elbows away from each other (without moving them).
**This will give you an additional stretch down the arms and maintain the integrity of the pose.
Hold for 10 breath cycles.
Slide your elbows to the sides, stacking your hands and resting your forehead on your top hand.
Remain prone for 10 breath cycles.
Focus on your breath.
Push your belly into the mat on inhale and on exhale, relax your shoulders and your jaw.

Pose #5: Eagle (Garuda) Wrap Arms Stretch in Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana).

Place two blocks side-by-side at medium height between your heels.
Sit back on the blocks.
You may use a bolster for this stretch if you need more height to comfort the hips.
**This pose is called Vajrasana (thunderbolt pose), effective posture to improve digestion, circulation and insulin production. 
Reach your arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor, thumbs point upward.
Cross your right arm under your left arm, maintain thumbs upward. Wrap the elbows and forearms, reaching your right fingertips (or palm) to your left palm (thumbs will point towards your face).

**If this is uncomfortable or you have limited range of motion, you may either bring your palms and forearms together, or wrap the arms as much as they will permit (comfortably) and use a strap. Holding the strap in each hand (backs of hands face each other) pulling away from your midline with both hands, like so: 


With your arms wrapped together, lift your fingertips toward the ceiling, drawing your elbows away from your chest.
Exhale; squeeze your elbows and your shoulder blades together as you pull your elbows to your chest. Resist the movement, as you pull the elbows towards the chest.
This action creates an intense stretch in the deltoids (outer shoulders), rhomboids (muscles between the shoulder blades) and the levator scapulae and trapezius muscles (along the tops of the shoulders). 
Do 10 repetitions of this exercise before releasing and switching sides.
When you complete both sides, bind your hands behind your back (you may use your strap). 
Draw your knuckles toward the floor, like so: 


With a mild bend in your elbows, attempt to pull your hands apart, stretching the chest and activating your triceps muscles. Hold for 5 to 10 breath cycles.
Release your hands to your thighs.
Remain in Vajrasana for 5 breath cycles.

Pose #6: Uttanasana (Forward Fold)

From Vajrasana, release your hands to the mat.
Return to a tabletop position.
Tuck your toes.
Pushing away from the front of the mat, press your hips back and lift your hips, extending through your legs.
Walk your hands to your feet.
Maintaining a deep bend in your knees, feet hip distance apart, hang over your legs.
Let your arms go limp, let your head get heavy, your jaw is soft, eyes relaxed or closed.
Visualize the tension from your neck and shoulders, dripping down your arms, absorbing into the floor underneath your mat.
Hold for 5 to 10 breath cycles. 
When you are ready, slide your hands to your waistline, bend deeply into your knees and press yourself to a standing position.
Stand still with your arms by your sides for 5 breath cycles before returning to life.  

Namaste!

A Yoga Sequence for the Hips & Back  

Here's a sequence you can do in the mornings and evenings to stretch your hips and back. Hold each posture for 3 to 5 minutes on each side and remember to breath! Complete this sequence feeling relaxed and ready to start your day or drift off to sleep. 

Instructions: 

Pose 1 (Supine Side Bend) & 2 (Supine Twist): 

Cross your right ankle over your left ankle and walk your torso to the left (keeping your hips anchored to the mat). Clasp your elbows overhead (if you have shoulder pathologies, goal post your arms on the floor). Press your hips and shoulder into the mat, enjoying a stretch along your right side body.

Release back to the center of your mat.

Pull your right knee to your chest (your left leg will remain extended). Then, twist: draw your right knee over to the left side. Take a moment to stack your hips (your left (bottom) hip slides to the right). Extend your right arm to the right and turn your head to the right, too.

Come back to center and switch sides (left ankle over right and lean your torso to the right. Then, left knee pulls in and over to the right for a twist). 

Pose 3 (Supine Hip Stretch) & 4 (Supine Hip Stretch with Twist):

Bend your knees, planting your feet hip distance apart on the mat. Cross your right ankle over your right thigh. Reach your right arm between your legs as your left arm reaches outside of the left leg. Clasp your left shin or your left hamstring (if you have limited range of motion in your knee). Pull your left knee towards your left breast. Press your left hip into the mat to accentuate the stretch on the outer right hip.

Release the bind of your hands. Lower the left foot to the floor. Maintaining your leg formation, draw your right foot and left knee to the floor, to the left. Goal post your arms and turn your head to the right.

Return to center and repeat the sequence on the other side (Left ankle over right leg, then legs to the right for the twist). 

Pose 5 (Half-Pigeon Prep/Lower Back Stretch) & 6 (Passive Seated Head to Knee Pose): 

Sitting upright on your mat, lean into your right hip, sliding your left leg behind you. Draw your right (front) shin parallel to the front of the mat. The back knee will be slightly forward of the back (left) hip and the back foot will be positioned behind your back hip. Walk your hands over to the right (to the outer midline of your right thigh). If you feel comfortable, lower your forearms to blocks or a bolster. Allow your head to hang, stretching your neck and upper back. The formation of the legs and torso will provide you with a stretch along the left side body, lower waistline (QL) and front hip of the left side.

Lift your torso, and lean into your right hip, drawing your left leg forward. Extend your right leg, placing the left foot midline on the inner thigh. Rock your hips from side-to-side to equalize the pressure of the hips into the mat. Fold forward, resting your hands on the mat, or forearms on blocks, on either side of your lengthened right leg.

This is a passive posture; don't be concerned about reaching or pulling into the posture. Allow the body to fold naturally. Let your head hang.

Repeat on the other side: lean into your left hip, sliding your right leg behind you and repeat the sequence on the other side. In head to knee pose, the left leg will extend, right pad of foot inside the left thigh.

Pose 7 (Diamond Pose) & 8 (Seated Relaxation): 

Return to a seated position. You may sit on a blanket to bring the pelvis into comfort and relieve any tightness in the lower back and inner hips. Draw your feet together, knees apart. Slide your heels forward until you create a diamond shape with your legs. You may place blankets or blocks under your knees, if you feel stress in your groins or inner thighs. Fold forward, allowing your shoulders to melt towards the mat, and your head to get as heavy as possible. You will feel a stretch across your back body and outer and inner hips.

Slowly, lift your torso in line with your hips. Draw your feet in closer to your body, to a comfortable seated position. Place your hands on your knees. Close your eyes. Observe your breath: hear it and feel it. Compare how you felt at the beginning of the sequence to how you feel now. Slowly open your eyes...

For more sequences and yoga pose clinics, benefits, click here.

Click here to view our schedule or email Rebecca at yoga@4cmedicalgroup.com for more information about our yoga programs. 
 
Namaste!

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Salamba Ardha Chandrasana (Supported Half Moon) 

This week's pose clinic is Salamba Ardha Chandrasana, Supported Half Moon Pose. 

What is it and what does it mean?

Salamba – Supported
Ardha – Half
Chandra – Shining (Moon)
Asana – Pose

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.” ~Buddha

The quarter moon (half moon) occurs twice in the cycle between the new moon and the full moon. The first quarter moon represents the masculine: taking action, and the latter quarter moon represents the feminine: releasing, letting go and forgiving. Even though we can’t always see it, half of the moon is always facing us, illuminated, leading the way. Ardha Chandrasana is a display of this universal truth: the duality of light and dark and the exposed and hidden elements of our lives.

Ardha Chandrasana is a balancing posture. It is an opportunity to balance our brain, our limbs and our energies. The left side of the body (controlled by the right side of the brain) is the feminine side, represented by the moon and known as Shakti: our nurturing, compassionate, emotional and creative center. The right side of the body (controlled by the left side of the brain) is the masculine side, represented by the sun and known as Shiva: our logical, driven, passionate, analytical center.

Men and women hold both energies within the body. The practice of yoga asana connects both sides and equalizes our complementary energies. This pose is a physical depiction of relationship between two people and the two sides of ourselves: the base leg and arm support the flying side. Sometimes, one person bears the weight of the other, and in a healthy union, two people take turns supporting each other.

Supported Half Moon (Salamba Ardha Chandrasana), performed up against a wall, provides practitioners (new and seasoned) with the ability to focus on the mechanics, structure and weight distribution of the posture without the added pressure of balancing without assistance.

Ardha Chandrasana is a pose that doesn’t lie. One will become acutely aware of where his or her asymmetries and weaknesses originate.

Benefits

Half moon pose is an effective exercise for strengthening the cerebellum (the brain center responsible for balancing). In fact, the ability to balance for an extended period (20 seconds or more) is a sign of healthy brain function and sustained cognitive strength.

Ardha Chandrasana is an ankle strengthener, chest and hip opener, and a psoas stretch and strengthener. It is an effective tool for learning how to articulate the hip joint and externally rotate safely.

Contraindications

Half moon pose is contraindicated for those with severe hip and knee pathologies. If you have blood pressure issues, please practice the supported version of this posture.

Prep Poses

Please refer to the hip opening yoga clinic for a preparatory sequence.

Instructions

#1: Forward bend.

Begin by placing your mat flush to the wall.
Place a block at the highest position against the wall.
Stand a foot and a half behind the block (your pinky toe will line up with the outer corner of the block).
Bend your knees and rest your chest on your thighs in a forward bend.
Release your shoulders and relax your jaw.
Take five full breaths here, while pressing your feet evenly into the mat, unclenching your toes.

#2: Hand on block and hand on hip. 

Inhale. Extend your chest forward and place your right hand on the block.
Exhale. Press your right shoulder into the wall.
Place your left hand on your left waistline for support.
Lean to the right and press your right hip into the wall.
Step your left foot back, lifting onto the ball of your foot.

#3: Rotate your hip and lift your leg to the wall.

Maintain a soft bend to your right knee.
Flex your left foot and extend your leg behind you.
The left leg will lift parallel to the floor.
Press your left calf and heel into the wall.

#4: Extend your right arm to the ceiling.

Depending on your shoulder mobility and range of motion, you may keep your hand at your hip (pressing the right elbow into the wall), or extend your arm up toward the ceiling, connecting the back of your arm and knuckles to the wall. You may look down to your hand on the block, or rotate your eyes and chin to the side, pressing the back of your skull to the wall behind you.

Check in:
Are you breathing?
Are your base (right) toes facing forward on the mat?
Are your left toes facing out to the left, away from the wall?
Are you pressing away from the block instead of pushing down? (Pressing away will lighten the posture and allow you to open the hips comfortably and alleviate unnecessary pressure to the right wrist.)
Are you pushing your left calf and heel into the wall? (This will help effectively and properly open and rotate through the left hip.)

Here is a subtle cue to help expand the external rotation of the top (left) hip and maintain the integrity of the base (right hip):

Bend the base (right) knee slightly.
Keep pressing equally through the ball and heel of the foot.
Keep your right toes and shin facing forward.
Push your flying heel firmly into the wall as you externally rotate the right femur (thigh bone) towards the wall (to the right).
Press through the floor as you engage the quadriceps muscles of both legs.

Observe: Do you feel more range in the hip and security in the posture?

Hold in the pose as long as you are comfortable. When you are ready to exit the posture, place your left hand to your hip, keep pressing your right hip and right shoulder into the wall. Bend into your right knee and slowly lower your left foot to the floor. Hold in a forward fold for five breath cycles before switching sides.

If you are confident in your ability to balance, you may try this away from the wall. Follow the instructions above. Imagine you have an imaginary support behind you. Leaning forward and lifting away from the base hand will help promote stability in this posture. Keep the flying leg active. Hold for 5 to 10 breath cycles before returning to a forward fold.

Ardha Chandrasana builds self-confidence and teaches us how to be less reactive. Subtle movement is necessary to maintain integrity and balance in this posture. Reactivity will distract the mind and cause instability to the body.

In Ardha Chandrasana, unite the calculated action of the masculine and the grace and softness of the feminine.

Namaste!

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Salamba Anjaneyasana (Supported low lunge) Sequence

This week’s yoga pose clinic is Salamba Anjaneyasana (supported, low lunge) Sequence. 

What is it and what does it mean?

Salamba – Supported (back knee supported by the floor)
Anjaneya – Son of Anjana (the female monkey who birthed Lord Hanuman)
Asana – Pose

Last week, I explained the meaning behind Anjaneyasana, a postural metaphor for Lord Hanuman. This week, I offer a slow moving sequence to stretch and strengthen the hips, legs, ankles and feet, increasing stability, elasticity and flexibility of the tendons, ligaments, muscles and fascia of the lower body.

The Salamba Anjaneyasana sequence requires patience and courage in order to navigate through muscular engagement and body alignment that may feel foreign, at first. Be gentle with yourself. Take your time. You are the expert of your own body; if you are uncomfortable attempting one of the postures, don’t push yourself. You’ll try it when you’re ready.

Use this sequence as an opportunity to focus on refining your alignment. Experiment with subtle corrections of your foot placement and weight distribution. Have fun with it; play with the orientation of your pelvis, your shoulders, your hands and your gaze.

Remember, this is a practice; there is no final exam; there is no perfect posture. Be patient with your body and your mind, they are progressing even if you don’t realize it in the moment.

K. Pattabhi Jois (the creator of Ashtanga yoga) said: “Practice and all is coming.”

Trust the process; trust the practice.

Benefits

Practicing Salamba Anjaneyasana regularly will improve flexibility and promote strength and integrity in the lower body, from the superficial muscular system all the way to the bones, while relieving sciatica symptoms, and mending pathologies in the knees, ankles and pelvis.

Each posture, whether it is held independently or linked with the other postures, encourages what I like to call, emotional proprioception—the awareness of one’s emotional state and where it is manifesting in the body (i.e., when you’re anxious, do you feel a churn in your belly? When you’re scared, do you feel pain in your lower back?).

How can you begin to hone your emotional awareness? With each inhalation and exhalation, ask yourself these questions:

  • How am I feeling right now?
  • What name would I give this feeling [this emotion]?
  • Where am I feeling [this emotion] in my body?
  • Am I able to remain in this feeling, in this posture, or do I feel the need to run from it?

**We have the ability to activate our parasympathetic response (rest and digest), which promotes a sense of relaxation and contentment. First, we need to endure and break through the sympathetic response (fight or flight). If we can breathe past the urge to struggle or flee the posture, we will enter into the rehabilitative/healing essence of the posture(s), discharging the emotion from the body, releasing acute and chronic tension, pain and dis-ease.

Contraindications

Individuals with severe knee, hip or ankle pathologies are advised to avoid placing excessive pressure on the top of the foot (while lifting the knee simultaneously). I suggest alternating between runner’s lunge and low lunge (blanket under knee) with a focus on flexing the foot (toes tucked under during runner’s lunge) and pointing the foot (un-tucking the toes, gently pressing the top of the foot into the mat during low lunge).
**If you’ve recently had surgery, please consult with your physician before attempting these exercises.

Prep Poses

Appropriate preparatory postures for this sequence are: child’s pose, cat/cow (pelvic and spinal articulation on the hands and knees), supine twists, downward facing dog, sphinx pose (prone backbend: elbows under shoulders with both forearms and hands extending in line with the shoulders), and back strengtheners, such as alternating arm and leg lifts while prone (swimming).

Sequence Instructions with Modifications

Props needed:

  • A mat
  • One or two blankets
  • Two blocks

  • Stand at the front of your mat, generously bend your knees and fold forward, maintaining a connection between your chest and your thighs.
    **A good indication you’re in the right position: your nipples will be touching your thighs. Focus on softening your waistline and extending your sternum toward your toes.
    Place your hands beside your feet (on blocks).
    Press your heels into the blocks.
    Take 5 full breaths.
    Inhale; sit your hips back, extending your chest forward.
    Exhale; step your left leg back into a runner’s lunge.
    Check in with your front knee; if you need to, adjust your foot so your ankle is slightly forward of your knee.
    Press your right knee into your right inner bicep or elbow.
    Take another five full breaths here.
    Shift and lift your hips (minimally) to the left.
    **This correction will help you avoid dumping your pelvis toward the mat, weakening muscular engagement and integrity of the hips and legs.
    Engage your left thigh, extending through your back heel.
    Exhale; lower your left knee to the mat.
    **Avoid resting directly on your patella (knee cap). If you feel any discomfort in your knee, place a blanket underneath your knee.
  • Point your toes, pressing your toes evenly into the mat.
    Push your hands into the blocks (or the floor), right knee into the right arm.
    Pointing your right toes (apply equal pressure in big toe and pinky toe), press the top of your right foot into the mat, and lift your right knee off of the mat.
    **This is an effective and beneficial stretch for the ligaments of the knee, targeting the insertion points of the muscles of the upper leg and the lower leg, while increasing flexibility in the ankle and foot.
    Hold here for 5 to 8 breaths.
  • Exhale; lower the knee and place your right hand inside your right foot.
    Allow your head to get heavy, extending the crown of your head toward the floor.
    Squeeze your right knee into your right shoulder, and your right shoulder into your right knee. 
    You will feel a stretch on the opposite hip (left frontal hip) and left waistline.
    You may also feel a stretch through the erector spinae (the muscles along the spine) all the way to your sacrum.
    Hold here for 10 breaths.

  • Next, place blocks under your shoulders and place your forearms on the blocks (adjust the level of the blocks to suit your stretch and comfort level).
    Keep the inner thigh and outer arm connected, activating the adductors and groin muscles.
    Hold here for 10 breaths.
  • Inhale; lift your chest and interlace your hands above your right knee.
    Your chest will be in line with your hips, simultaneously, press your hands into your thigh, pulling your femur away from the hip crease, accentuating the stretch.
    Hold here for 10 breaths.
  • When you’re ready, you may draw your hands to your waist, reach straight down (fingertips reaching for the floor next to your hips) or extend your arms up to the ceiling.
    Allow the scapulae (shoulder blades) to move outward (away from your spine), giving the arms freedom to extend above, while relaxing your shoulder and neck muscles.
    Continue to press through the top of your back foot.
    Hold here for 5 to 8 breaths.
  • Inhale; press your upper back and skull toward the ceiling.
    Tuck your back toes.
    Pressing through your back heel, extend your left leg, lifting your back knee, returning to a runner’s lunge.
    **Focus on the left foot. Instead of plantar flexing (tippy toes), push through your heel, while pushing the ball of foot into the mat, flexing your toes upward, toward your ankle. This dorsiflexion will help engage your thigh muscles and stabilize the joints (knee, hip and ankle).
  • Inhale; place your hands on your upper thigh, lifting your torso in line with your hips, crown of head reaching toward the ceiling.
    Keep your hands on your hips, goal post your arms or extend your arms toward the ceiling.
    Continue to press through your back heel, lifting your belly, focusing your eyes forward, or up towards the hands.
    Remain in Anjaneyasana (high lunge pose) for 5 breaths.
    Exhale; lower your hands to either side of the right leg and step your left foot to meet your right.
    Hold in a forward fold for 5 breaths.
    Inhale; sit your hips back, extend your spine and step your right foot back.
    Repeat the sequence on the left side.

Namaste!

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Anjaneyasana (High Lunge Pose)

This week’s pose clinic is Anjaneyasana, high lunge pose.

What is it and what does it mean?

Anjaneya — son of Anjana, the female monkey who birthed Lord Hanuman
Asana – Pose

**There is disagreement over the correct name for high lunge pose. Most often, it is referred to as crescent pose, however I was taught to refer to high lunge as Anjaneyasana, so this is what I’ll be teaching.

“A true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart.” ~ Hercules

Lord Shiva asked the god of wind and air, Vayu, to carry his seed and implant it in the womb of Anjana. Anjana was a woman who was born a female monkey (as a curse from a previous life), but the curse would be broken if she had a son. Anjana gave birth to Hanuman, the incarnate of Lord Shiva: a spirited monkey with unrelenting tenacity, joie de vivre and an insatiable desire for knowledge.

Hanuman was a precocious child. One day, he mistook the sun for a glowing piece of fruit. He leaped through the air, attempting to catch the floating fruit, when Rahu (a planet on a mission to eclipse the sun) distracted him. Hanuman chased after him, interrupting the eclipse. Rahu found shelter with Indra, the god of the gods. Rahul told Indra that Hanuman intercepted the eclipse, which angered Indra. Indra decided to teach Hanuman a lesson, mounting his elephant, drawing his thunderbolt, and striking Hanuman in the jaw, which sent him tumbling toward earth.

In retribution, Vayu sucked the air from the ether, threatening to end the universe. Vayu declared the only way he would restore air is if the gods apologized to Hanuman and bestowed him with blessings of protection and gifts. Hanuman was granted superpowers of speed faster than the mightiest wind and strength unparalleled, but there was a condition: Hanuman was unaware of his superpower unless reminded by others.

Despite Hanuman’s monkeyish ways (easily distracted, frenetic in action and childish by nature), he became a master of his senses and of breath (pranayama). He was the quintessential student: devoted to his teachers and parents. Hanuman is a Superman of sorts: a chariot, transporting those plagued by darkness and ushering them into the light.

Practicing Anjaneyasana is a way to remind ourselves of our own superpower: the ability to control our mind and respond to the world in a steady way even if we are surrounded by unsteadiness. We have the capacity to remain aware of the juxtaposition of fallibility and flawlessness within us: the temperamental, impulsive, selfish intellect paired with the sacred, selfless, untainted spirit.

We always have a choice to adhere to our highest mind (the master of senses) or succumb to our monkey mind (the boy who leaped for the sun).

Benefits

Anjaneyasana stretches and strengthens the hips, ankles, quadriceps and gluteus muscles. Broadness across the chest and back encourage full, unobstructed breath cycles. Anjaneyasana requires intense concentration and promotes balance by relying on the engagement of the core muscles and the stabilization of the pelvis and limbs. This posture has rehabilitative qualities for those with sciatica and lower back, pelvic and hip pathologies.

Contraindications

Individuals with severe knee injuries, lower back, foot and ankle stiffness, or blood pressure imbalances are encouraged to use the chair or block modifications.

Prep Poses

To prepare for Anjaneyasana, it is important to decompress the spine and stretch the hips and thigh muscles. Child’s pose, sphinx pose, fierce pose, downward facing dog and low lunge are effective postures to perform before entering Anjaneyasana.

Modifications

Chair Modification

Props needed:

  • Non-slip surface or yoga mat
  • One chair
  • One blanket

Place a chair on the center of your mat facing sideways.
Sit towards the edge of the chair and turn to the right side of the chair, feet and knees together.
Align your ankles directly below your knees.
Slide your left leg (behind you) along the front edge of the seat (your right buttock will remain on the chair).
Press your left inner thigh to the edge of the seat.
Hold here and breathe.
Grip the back of the chair (next to your right hip) with your right hand and the front edge of the seat with your left hand (in front of your hip).
Tuck your back toes.
Slide your back heel behind you, extending your leg (only extend as far as you feel safe and stable).
A deep stretch will be felt through the front of the left hip and thigh.
Relax your shoulders, lifting your chest upward.
Inhale and exhale here.
Continue to press through your back heel.
Glance to your back foot — Is your heel, ankle, knee and hip of your left leg on the same plane?
Look to your front right knee and foot — Ensure the toes, heel, ankle and knee are on the same plane as your right hip.
If/when you feel stable, you may draw your hands to your waist, or lift your arms toward the ceiling. Always maintaining space through your chest and upper back while relaxing the shoulders.
Hold here for five breaths.
Bring your hands back to the seat of the chair, bend your back knee and slide your left foot to meet your right.
Turn to the front of the chair.

Repeat on the left side.

Instructions with Block Modification

  • Yoga mat
  • Two blocks
  • One blanket

**Place your blocks at the front of your mat on either side. Place a folded blanket next to you to place under your knee if you plan to lower your back knee down.

Stand at the front of your mat, feet hip distance apart.
Inhale, extend your arms toward the ceiling.
Bend your knees and hips, fold forward.
Sit your hips back as you extend your spine (chest close to your thighs).
**If you are using blocks, place them on either side of your feet.
Bend your right knee and step your left foot back, into a runner’s lunge.
Observe your alignment — Is your right foot in line with your hip? Is your right ankle slightly forward of your right knee?
Look to your back foot — Are you flexed on the ball of your back foot? Is your heel actively pressing back to help stretch the calf and lengthen the quadriceps muscle? (The degree of dorsiflexion of the foot will depend on mobility in your ankle joint and flexibility of the foot, work within your range).
Slide your right hip back, as you press your left hip forward.
Direct your eyes down to the mat as you press the back of your skull to the ceiling, strengthening and elongating the neck.
Press your hands into the blocks and lift your upper back toward the ceiling.
Breathe.

**While you’re acclimating to the posture, release your jaw by sliding your bottom lip across your top lip (from right to left and then left to right). This helps dissolve tension in the lower jaw, relaxing your throat and promoting unobstructed breaths.

Press your right knee to the inside your right arm, press the arm into the knee. (This isometric movement helps to engage and strengthen your inner thigh muscles (adductor muscles), which will help stabilize you as you lift your chest into the full posture.)
Bend your back knee slightly.
Tilt your frontal hip points toward the ceiling, your sits bones will draw downward.
Keep the pelvis in this position as you press through your back heel, lengthening your leg once again. (Readjusting the pelvis into a neutral position helps to accentuate the stretch of the hip flexors and activate the leg muscles.)
Now that the legs are solid, inhale and place your right hand on your right thigh.
Check in – Do you feel stable?
Continue to look down, anchoring your gaze.
Inhale and lift your left hand to your right thigh.
Take a full breath cycle.
On your next inhale, slide your hands toward your waistline, contract your abdominals and lift your chest upright.
Focus your eyes in front of you.
Keep activated in your legs, pressing through your back heel. Maintain your front knee tracking forward, pushing down through the ball and heel of the front foot.

**If you need a break, lower your hands to the blocks and hold there. Or, place a blanket under your knee and lower your knee down if you need a reprieve from the pose.

If you feel steady with the chest lifted, you may raise your arms into a goal post position, or extend the arms upward, biceps slightly forward of your ears.
Relax your shoulders as you reach (palms facing each other).
Hold here for five full breath cycles before exhaling and lowering your hands to the blocks.
Step your left foot to the front of the mat and switch sides.

Namaste!

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose) 

This week’s pose clinic is Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, Supported Bridge Pose.

What is it and what does it mean?

Setu – Bridge
Bandha – Binding, bond, putting together
Sarva – All
Anga – Limb
Asana – Pose

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana is a gentle backbend and inversion. The posture of reunification: a bridging together of the whole being, mind, body and heart. The mission of Setu Bandha Sarvangasana is to put the parts back together that disconnect during daily living.

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana rejuvenates and awakens the entire body by connecting the joints, stretching and strengthening the muscular system and recalibrating the nervous systems. This posture is a lyrical, physical representation of the epic poem, The Ramayana:

The hero of the story, Prince Rama of Ayodhya and his wife, Sita were exiled from theirhome by Rama’s stepmother. While living in the forest, Sita is kidnapped by King Ravana (a demonic character), the king of Lanka. King Ravana takes Sita to Lanka (the lands of Ayodhya and Lanka are separated by waters). Rama is unable to find Sita and cannot cross the waters to reach Lanka. Rama befriends Hanuman, the king of the monkeys. Hanuman has a special talent; he can fly. Rama asks Hanuman to search for Sita. Hanuman is deeply devoted to Rama and faithfully does as he’s asked. Hanuman finds Sita on the island of Lanka and calls on his army of fellow monkeys and animals to help him build a bridge. Once they reach the island, a battle ensues. Rama almost loses the battle, but Vishnu, the god of preservation (the destroyer of evil and the protector of purity, truth and knowledge) assumes Rama’s human form and kills King Ravana with an arrow. Rama saves Sita. As they journey home to Ayodhya, the villagers light lanterns to illuminate their path and usher them into the age of light and goodness.

This story is a reminder that it is necessary for our heart (Sita), mind (Rama) and body (Hanuman) to work together in order to create peace within ourselves, and the environment around us. When our parts bond together, we are able to defeat darkness and persevere.

Practicing Setu Bandha Sarvangasana is a perfect time to reflect on the times you have overcome struggle in your life. What liberated you from struggle? What areas within your being have gone dark? How might you illuminate yourself once again?

Benefits

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana stretches and tones the front and back body. This posture engages the parasympathetic system, allowing the body to rest and rejuvenate. This posture is an effective and safe way to releases the hip flexors (the magnificent seven includes the psoas, the ilium, the tensor fascia lata, the sartorius, the rectus femoris, the pectineus and the adductor brevis). The hip flexor muscles work together to internally and externally rotate and flex the hips. It is important to give these muscles time, patience and attention, as they are responsible for the body’s structural alignment: the integrity of the pelvis, posture, core strength and articulation of the feet and legs. This posture corrects overstretched and under-stretched hip flexor muscles, as well as postural pathologies such as lordosis (overly arched lower spine) and kyphosis (overly rounded spine).

During this posture, gentle pressure is placed on the thyroid gland (chin toward chest) encouraging effective metabolic function. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana opens the chest and ribcage, stretches abdominal muscles, promotes diaphragmatic breathing, strengthens the quadriceps and lengthens the hamstrings, while decompressing the spine. This posture lowers cortisol levels, easing anxiety, stress and depressive symptoms.

Contraindications

Individuals with cervical, lumbar and/or sacral pathologies and hernias are advised to use modifications (please consult with your physician as well). Women in their second or third trimester of pregnancy, who have diastasis recti, have recently undergone C-section, or endured recent abdominal surgery, are advised to avoid this posture until fully recovered.

Prep Poses

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana is a preparatory posture for shoulder stand and supine and prone backbends. Sphinx pose, low lunge, high lunge, reclining bound angle and seated bound angle are appropriate poses to prepare for Setu Bandha Sarvangasana. Supine twisting and seated side bending are beneficial preparatory postures for decompressing the spine before attempting a back bend.

Block Modification

Props needed:

  • 1 Block
  • 1-2 Blankets
  • 1 strap (or belt)

This restorative version of the posture is accessible to most bodies.
***If you do not have a strap or belt, please use a block or rolled blanket between your feet to neutralize the hips and stretch the hip flexors properly and safely.

Place the strap (measured hips width apart) around your shins. Lie down on the mat. Bend your knees, drawing your ankles under your knees. Drag your feet apart until the strap pulls taut around your calves at (mid-shin level).

Check in: are you toes facing forward? This is imperative for proper ankle, knee and hip alignment.

***If you have cervical issues, I recommend lying on blanket (folded in half) aligned with the tops of your shoulders ending mid-back, to release undue pressure to the neck. Reach through the crown of your head to lengthen your cervical spine and prevent your chin from pushing into your chest.

Inhale. Lift your hips and place the block at the lowest height under your hips (on your sacral plate). You’ll know you are in the right spot if the block rests just below your iliac crests (the bony points south of your waistline). ***Ensure your lower spine is not resting on the block.

Stay here for a few breath cycles.

Slide your legs in front of you, until they are fully extended. To avoid hyperextending your knees, place a rolled blanket under your knees. You may also place a blanket under your heels for added support. Continue to press your calves into the strap to maintain neutral alignment of the hips.

If you are feeling stable and your shoulder mobility allows you, extend your arms overhead, resting your knuckles on the floor behind you. Lift your shoulders and slide your shoulder blades toward your waistline.  

***If you have shoulder issues, please keep your hands by your sides, palms facing up. 

Use the openness of this posture to inflate your lungs and distend your belly.
Exhale, soften your ribcage and melt your hips into the block.

If you are new to this posture, hold for 10 breath cycles. If you’re old friends with Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, stay for 3-5 minutes.

To exit, place your palms by your sides, slide your feet back in. Press your feet firmly into the mat as you lift your tailbone, and then hips off of the block. Hold here. Pull the block out from under you and slowly lower your mid-back, lower back and hips to the floor (in that order). Pull your knees to your chest, roll to one side. Pause before inhaling and pressing yourself to a seat.

Instructions

Props needed:

  • 2 blocks

Lie down on your mat. Bend your knees and place a block between your feet (the second widest width). Squeeze another block between your thighs (same width as the block between your feet). Position your ankles under your knees, toes facing forward.

As you squeeze the block between your inner heels and big toes, traction your heels away from the blocks (without moving them) to engage your abductors. Simultaneously, squeeze the block between your thighs to engage your adductors.

As you reach your fingertips toward the outer heels, slightly roll your shoulders under (to expand your chest), turn your palms up to the ceiling, and lengthen the back of your neck by extending the top of your head behind you.

Press your sacrum into the floor, creating a mild arch under your lower back. Hold here for a few breath cycles. Inhale. Press your rib cage into the mat pressing your lower back down, which will tilt your tailbone up creating a posterior tilt of your pelvis. Lift your hips. Maintain a connection of the feet and arms to the mat. Creating a bandha (a bind with the mat and the floor to support your body weight).

Check in with cervical spine: are you lengthening the back of your neck? Is there space in the throat? Release the chin by pressing the top of your head away from your shoulders. What about your shoulders? Are they open?

Reach through your fingertips to avoid clenching your trapezius muscles. Lift your ribs as you continue to squeeze the block between your feet and thighs. Activate the gluteus muscles by lifting your hips and traction your heels away from the midline (without moving them) at the same time. Keep your belly engaged.

There are many variations for arm placement in this posture (be mindful of your shoulder girdle, work within the scope of your mobility):

  • Roll your shoulders under, extend your arms toward your heels and bind your hands under your hips, pressing your knuckles toward the space between your heels. Try pulling your hands away from each other without letting go of the grip. Feel the broadening of your chest muscles.
  • Goal post your arms (90 degrees), knuckles to the floor, fingertips pointing behind you. Reach the elbows away from your torso as you press the arms down into the mat. This will accentuate the lift of the torso.
  • Begin with your arms by your sides (grazing your waistline), bend your elbows, bringing your arms into a 90 degree angle, fingertips point up to the ceiling, palms face in toward your torso. Press your triceps into the mat. Lift your ribcage upward.
  • Extend your arms to the floor behind you. Slide your shoulder blades to your waistline to actively stretch your trunk muscles. Focus on lifting your hips.
  • If you have the range of motion and length in the lower back, you may place a strap around the fronts of your ankles. With one strap in each hand (palms face in to the midline), pull on the strap at the same time press your ankles into the strap, and traction your feet forward (without moving them). This will lift your hips and your chest, intensifying the back bend. If you are able to comfortably reach for your outer ankles without compressing your back, you may grab your ankles with your hands and traction the same as you would with the strap.

To exit the pose, exhale and initiate your descent by lowering your mid back, then lower back, then sacrum to the floor.

If you are new to these versions of Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, stay in your posture for 3 to 5 breath cycles (repeating the backbend 3 to 5 times). Rest for a few breath in between holds, with knees bent, feet to the floor. Focus on breathing into the mat with the back body.

If you are familiar with this posture you may hold for longer periods of time, dependent on your ability to maintain a fluid and unrestricted breath pattern. When you are finished back bending, pull your knees into your chest and rock to one side. Rest in the fetal position for a few breaths. Inhale and rise to a seated position. 

The practice of Yoga is a tool we can use to build a bridge back to self anytime we find ourselves disconnected.

Namaste!

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Salamba Bhujangasana (Supported Cobra Pose (Sphinx Pose))

sphinx-pose

This week’s pose clinic is Salamba Bhujangasana, Supported Cobra Pose (Sphinx Pose).

What is it and what does it mean?

Sa – With
Alamba – Support
Bhujang – Cobra, Snake
Asana – Pose

Samatvam yoga ucyate.…evenness of the mind is called yoga.

I watched an old interview with B.K.S. Iyengar, in which he referenced this text from the Bhagavad Gita 2.48. “Equanimity is yoga,” he said. He went on to explain that if the structure of the body is misaligned in asana (in posture), equanimity is not possible.

“Alignment is a technique for equanimity,” he stated.

Without body alignment, the mind will not be able to settle into the pose. The body and the mind are teammates who need to be reminded of their camaraderie with every breath.

Salamba Bhujangasana is a subtle posture that requires mental and physical alignment in order to create evenness in the asana practice. Salamba Bhujangasana will expose the imbalances in the body immediately. This pose facilitates an intellectual and physical understanding of the mechanics of the body necessary for comfortable and effective back bending (prone and supine).

Until alignment can be assumed in this posture, Chaturanga Dandasana (lowering from plank to the floor) and Bhujangasana (prone backbend) should be avoided.

It’s fitting that the nickname for this pose is Sphinx pose. A sphinx is a half lion/half man, representing the synergy of animal nature and human nature: the mind and the body. Without equanimity in the body, the mind is wild and unruly, but if the mind is trained and focused, striving for higher consciousness, the body will become attuned and symmetrical.

It’s important to address the Sanskrit meaning of this posture: cobra pose. In Hinduism, the snake represents wealth, the awakening of wisdom, eternity, material abundance and the process of creation, preservation and destruction. Lord Shiva is depicted with a snake wrapped around his neck to symbolize the repercussions of deadly speech and his ability to refrain from vocalizing poisonous thought. Salamba Bhujangasana channels Lord Shiva’s clarity of speech. This pose is a back bend/heart opener; when we act from our heart, speak from our heart, poisonous speech is avoided. Our higher consciousness leads the way and when that happens, equanimity is the result.

Benefits

Salamba Bhujangasana decompresses the spine and stimulates the abdominal organs. This pose strengthens the muscles along the spine (erector spinae), the gluteus muscles, stretches the pectoral muscles, engages the shoulder stabilizer muscles and promotes diaphragmatic breathing by expanding the rib cage. Salamba Bhujangasana corrects poor posture and improves spinal mobility, circulation throughout the body and reduces anxious and depressive thoughts.

Contraindications

This pose is contraindicated for pregnant women, individuals with hernias, recent abdominal surgery, and severe spinal, shoulder and wrist pathologies.

Prep Poses

To prepare for this gentle back bend, I suggest child’s pose with knees together (alternate reaching the torso and arms to the right and left to lengthen the side body and stretch the chest). More length in the side body creates comfort and expansiveness in back bends.

Supine twisting is a helpful prep pose, too, establishing elongation of the spine while stretching the fascial lines, which will be challenged during the posture.

Instructions with Blanket Modification

*** If you have lower back issues or you are new to this pose, I highly recommend using a blanket under your belly for support.

Roll a blanket and place it midline on your mat.

Place your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips in tabletop position. Slowly lower to your forearms and stretch your legs behind you (hip distance apart and wider if you find it more comfortable for your lower back).

*** The blanket will be positioned slightly forward of your hip points to create lower back support.

Slide your elbows to the sides, and rest your chest and forehead to the mat. Slightly lift your right leg off of the mat and extend your toes behind you (as if you’re trying to pull your femur bone from your hip socket). As you do so, internally rotate your thigh.

Keep reaching through your toes as you place your leg back to the floor. Press your big toe and your pinky toe into the mat (this creates neutrality through the hip). Repeat this process with your left leg.

Then, prop yourself on your forearms. Position your elbows slightly forward of your shoulders. Ensure your forearms are parallel to one another.

Turn your palms up to the ceiling. Press your elbows into the mat and initiate the rotation of your palms (down to the mat) by rotating from forearms (not your wrists). Press your fingertip into the mat. 
***Index fingers forward, tendons relaxed.

Without moving your arms, traction your thumbs toward one another, elbows away from the midline (this will help to engage your shoulder and back muscles, while broadening through your chest, activating your pectoral muscles, and lengthening your trapezius muscles). Slide your shoulder blades down your rib cage.

Breathe evenly, while maintaining integrity and strength in the belly. Your eye gaze (drishti) is focused between your thumbs. Pull the crown of your head forward and lift the back of your skull toward the ceiling to lengthen your cervical spine. Press your upper back toward the ceiling as well. Slide your rib cage toward your elbows (this will help decompress your lumbar region of your spine).

As you draw your belly inward, your pubic bone will press down into the mat (hip points lifting toward your armpits). Imagine your sits bones reaching to the backs of your knees. Lift your kneecaps and pull through your toes.Firm your thighs and your buttocks.

Hold here and breathe.

If you are comfortable lifting your head and gazing forward, you may. Maintain length in your cervical spine by lifting the crown of your head toward the ceiling.

If you are new to this posture, hold for 5 breaths, lower down to the belly, forehead to the mat and repeat this posture 2 to 3 times. If you are an avid practitioner, attempt to hold this posture for 3-5 minutes. When you are ready to exit, exhale to your belly, Turn your head to one side and rest prone for 5 to 10 breath before pressing back to a child’s pose.

Equanimity is calamity’s medicine. ~Publilius Syrus

Namaste! 

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Utkatasana (Fierce Pose) 

utkatasana

This week’s pose clinic is Utkatasana, Fierce Pose.

What is it and what does it mean?

Utkata – Fierce, Powerful, Intense
Asana – Pose

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

~ Marianne Williamson (A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”, Ch. 7, Section 3 (1992), p. 190.)

We can make the choice in life to cower, to run, to give up, to give in to our fears and deny our worthiness. Or, we can choose to stay, to remain focused despite the difficulty and discomfort of life. By accessing our strengths to heal our weaknesses, we begin to honor the tenacious ferocity of our spirit.

Utkatasana is often referred to as ‘chair pose’ because it looks like the practitioner is sitting in an invisible chair. It is the most effective pose to practice ‘sitting’ in our existence.

Utkatasana is a pose of empowered humility. We are seated within ourselves, while acknowledging and reaching for something greater, honoring the higher power that provided us a seat on this earth.

Benefits

Utkatasana strengthens the ankles, hip flexors, quadriceps, gluteus muscles, adductors, erector spinae muscles, and engages the psoas muscles. Utkatasana tones the abdominal organs and activates the diaphragm. It is a beneficial posture for learning proper pelvic tilt to create full spinal extension, optimal core engagement and unobstructed diaphragmatic breathing. It also promotes focus and builds stamina. Utkatasana promotes self-confidence, endurance, mental focus and discipline.

Contraindications

Individuals with severe hip, knee and ankle pathologies and/or blood pressure imbalances are advised to use the chair modification and remain close to a wall for added support.

Prep Poses

Preparatory poses for Utkatasana include child’s pose (to stretch the quadriceps, activate the hip flexors and stretch the ankles), cobra pose (to stretch the chest, strengthen the shoulders and engage the abdominals), low lunges (back knee up or down to stretch the hip flexors and the ankles, activate the quadriceps and gluteus muscles), hero pose (to initiate flexion in the knees and lengthen the quadriceps), and downward facing dog (to tone the fronts of the thighs, stretch the backs of the legs and ankles, and prepare the arms and the torso for the posture).

Modifications

Chair Modification

Props needed:

  • One chair
  • One blanket
  • Two blocks
  • A mat/non-slip surface

Place a chair towards the back of your mat.
Place a blanket on the seat.
Sit on the front edge of the chair. 
Squeeze a block between your thighs and your feet; this initiates the activation of your adductors and aligns your hips. (Your ankles are positioned slightly behind your knees to stretch your ankles. Press your heels firmly into the mat).
Inhale.
Reach your sternum forward, tilting your pelvis anteriorly (the front of your pelvis will tip forward to the floor in front of you, while your sits-bones draw back).
Rest your hands to your hips, or extend your arms up toward the ceiling (palms face slightly behind you).
***If you have shoulder impingement, please keep your hands on your hips, at your heart, or goal post (arms bent 90 degrees, palms facing forward).
Slide your shoulders away from your ears. Reach through your fingertips. Soften your lower ribs and pull your belly inward (expanding the rib cage laterally).
Exhale. Focus on a point at eye level. 
Inhale. Lean forward. Squeeze the blocks.
Continue to press your heels firmly into the mat as you lift off of the chair. Keep directing your tailbone behind you, as though you were going to sit to the back of the seat.
Press your knees toward each other to maintain engagement in the adductors (inner thigh muscles). Traction your heels away from the midline, while squeezing the block between your ankles. Reach your sternum toward the ceiling.
Slide your shoulder blades away from your spine and relax your shoulders away from your ears. Maintain openness across the chest and back. Send your shins behind your ankles.
Sustain opposite action by sitting back through the hips, while extending upward with the chest and arms. 

Stay in this pose for 5 to 10 full breath cycles.
To exit, bring your hands to your hips, exhale and lower back to your seat.

Instructions

Stand at the front of your mat in mountain pose.    
***You may place a block between your ankles and your upper thighs to initiate proper leg muscle activation and ensure the hips remain aligned during this posture.
Press your feet firmly into the floor while maintaining a lift to the inner arches. If you are not using the block variation, bring your navicular bones (the bony nob below the inner ankle) to touch and the base of the big toes (the metatarsal phalangeal joints). Squeeze the inner knees together to engage the adductors and activate the psoas muscles. 
Traction your heels away from the midline, while squeezing the toes and ankles. Focus your gaze at something stationary. Tether your sight. Inhale. Reach your arms to the ceiling.

Check in: are your shoulders comfortable? Does your neck feel suffocated with the arms extended overhead? Is the chest cramping?

If so, relax. Draw your arms into a goal post expression (90 degrees, palms face forward, elbows in line with shoulders). Bend the knees and hips, simultaneously tilting your pelvis forward (as if you were going to pour water out of your pelvic bowl to the floor in front of you). Engage your quadriceps and gluteus muscles as you bend your knees and sit back (with the intention of sliding your shin bones behind your ankles).Keep your chest broad, awake, arms and hands alive and reaching. Continue to squeeze your knees together. Connect your feet. Lift your belly in.

Take 5 to 10 breathe cycles. When you are ready to exit the posture, inhale and stand up, palms by your sides in mountain pose.

Enjoy sitting in your fierceness…

Namaste!

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose) 

supta-baddha-konasana

This week’s pose clinic is Supta Baddha Konasana, Reclining Bound Angle Pose.

What is it and what does it mean?

Supta – Reclining (Resting)
Baddha – Bound
Kona – Angle
Asana – Pose

Within moments of guiding my students into Supta Baddha Konasana, I’m met with sighs of relief and comments like, “Ah, I could stay here forever.”

There is something magical about this pose; it comforts and soothes the practitioner on contact. The pose itself is a physical expression of vulnerability: the chest is pronounced, uncovered and defenseless. The arms are passive, resting on the floor, palms turned up. The knees are splayed open, the pelvis and groins exposed.

You’d think this pose would have the opposite effect, right?

But–This is the counter pose of life: the Yin to the Yang of daily routines, work and everyday busyness that compresses our bodies, our minds, our emotions and our breath.

In Supta Baddha Konasana, the body is at ease, soft and peaceful. The chest is expansive, allowing the ribcage to fluctuate freely during inhalation and exhalation. The diaphragm’s potential is unleashed, and the groin and inner thighs reverse the clench from sitting and remaining at attention all day long.

Once the body is in this pose, there’s nothing left to do but rest, hence the ‘Ahhh, I could stay here forever.’

Benefits

Supta Baddha Konasana stretches the front body from the shoulders to the inner thighs (adductors), while promoting length to the back body and the spine. As the body melts into the pose, the abdominal organs, reproductive organs and heart are stimulated (due to the ability to breathe diaphragmatically (initiating the massage of the organs and the spinal column)), causing an increase in circulation throughout the entire body.

This pose is known to relieve stress and acute anxiety, as well as depressive symptoms. The increase in blood flow helps reduce headaches and promotes sleep (a perfect prep pose before bedtime).

Contraindications

Supta Baddha Konasana is accessible to most bodies and can be modified to support those with groin, knee, lower back and/or neck pathologies by adding props (i.e., blankets and bolsters) to alleviate any stress or strain of the affected areas.

Prep Poses

Preparatory poses are not necessary in order to practice Supta Baddha Konasana. This pose can be done at any time of day. Supta Baddha Konasana is a preparatory pose, preparing the body for other externally rotations, including the Warrior series, Extended Side Angle Pose, Extended Triangle Pose, Tree Pose, Half Moon Pose and Seated Bound Angle Pose. Supta Baddha Konasana is considered a mild back bend (when elevated on blocks or bolsters), offering spinal decompression before and/or after back bending.

Modifications

Bolster Modification

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Props needed:

  • Two bolsters
  • Three to Five blankets
  • Two sandbags
  • Two blocks

Place the blocks in a T formation (the top of the T at a higher height and wider than the block placed lengthwise on midline of the mat). Place a bolster over the blocks.

The other bolster will rest widthwise on the mat to support your knees. Roll a blanket and place it in front of the leg bolster to support your ankles.

You may also place a blanket between both bolsters, to sit on. This will provide extra cushion if you need it. Sit down with your sacrum to the reclined bolster. Exhale and lower to your forearms (on either side of the bolster). Slowly lie down over the bolster.

Check in: do you feel any discomfort in your lumbar spine? If you do, inch your pelvis away from the bolster and roll a blanket under your lower back for extra support.

Rest your legs over the other bolster, butterflying the legs (feet together knees apart). Check in again with your head and neck: is your chin pointing up toward the ceiling? If it is, roll another blanket and place it under you neck. If you have shoulder pathologies, place your forearms on folded blankets to alleviate any stress on the shoulder joint. If you’d like to feel the comfort of extra weight, drape a sandbag over each hip.

Now it’s time to do nothing but rest.

Bring your focus to your face. Relax your forehead. Close your eyes and pay attention to where you are looking: are you searching behind your eyelids? If so, try to pick one point behind the eyelids, and focus there.

***Focused eyes lead to a focused thought process.

What’s going on with your jaw, are you clenching? If you are, slide your lower lip along your top lip, from side-to-side; this will help release the tension.

What about your arms, your palms? Soften, soften, there’s nothing to protect. You can let them hang and uncoil.

As you breathe, follow each inhalation to the top, pause, and then each exhalation to the bottom. Are you aware of the space between each breath action? That space between is stillness; this is the purpose of this pose.

We often clench our buttocks and hips without realizing it. Are you? If you are, release the muscles. Allow the bolsters and floor to support your weight.

The floor is your biggest supporter at all times, so use it, get heavy.

The hardest task for a human is not to climb a mountain, or push the body to its limits; it is to stay still, to sit still.

Can you? Can you find the joy in doing nothing except resting? Pay attention to what happens as you do…

Stay here as long as you’d like. When you decide to exit the posture, remove the sandbags. Draw one knee to the other and hold there. Breathe. Exhale and slowly roll off of the bolsters into a fetal position. Hold for five full breaths.

To rise to a seated position, use your trunk muscles and your top arm to press yourself up to a seat. If you have difficulty getting on and off the floor, have a chair nearby to use for support.

Block Modification

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  • Two blocks
  • One strap

This is a heart-opening pose, more pronounced than the bolster or resting supine on the floor. Proceed with caution. If you have lower back, cervical or shoulder issues, please use the bolster modification.

Place the blocks in a T formation (the top of the T at a higher height and wider than the block placed lengthwise on midline of the mat).

Sit down on your mat.

Place the strap around your hips (the pose can certainly be done without the strap, this is just an option), open your knees and loop the strap around the outer ridges of your feet. Pull the strap until you feel a nice stretch through your lower back and hip flexors. Prop yourself on your forearms, as you lower yourself over the block.

***The block supporting the back should span from under the bra line (mid thoracic) to the top of the shoulder blades (upper thoracic). Reach back and position the higher block under your skull.

Rest your arms by your sides. If your shoulders provide the range of motion, you may goal post your arms, stretching the forearms to the floor (fingers point behind you).

Check in: are you clenching your jaw, your buttocks or your hips? Tell the muscles to release. Consciously participating in the synaptic communication between the muscles and the spinal cord is how we refine our mind/body connection (I learned that from Dr. Ray Long).

The muscles along the spine, the Erector Spinae, tend to tense during this posture. Relax. Allow them to melt into the block. As that happens, feel the opening in the chest and shoulders.

When you are ready to exit, slowly draw your knees together to one side and roll into the fetal position. Pause and breathe.

I suggest countering this pose with a supine twist. Roll onto your back (make sure to remove the strap) with your knees bent (pointing to the ceiling), feet resting mat distance apart. Allow your knees to collapse into one another. Goal post your arms and let your knees gently fall to the right, look to the left. Take five full breaths and then switch sides.

When you are finished, roll back into the fetal position. Use your trunk muscles and top arm to help press yourself to a seat. If you’d like to counter the heart opener and twist, you may fold over your legs (knees apart, feet together), before moving on with your practice.

Instructions (Supine)

This pose may be done supine, with no supports, or you may place a blanket under your neck and/or lower back for support. It is an effective way to de-charge and recharge after a long day, or start the day off calm and collected.

Lie down on any comfortable surface. Legs extended, arms by your sides. Rotate from your hips, pointing your toes out as you draw your feet together knees apart. Pay attention to how your hips feel. If there is too much strain on the inner thighs or groin, place a blanket under your knees for support.

You may place your hands anywhere you are comfortable: by your hips, palms open, or one hand on your belly, one on your chest, or goal post (arms bent at 90 degrees, fingertips facing behind you), or reach up and overhead clasping your elbows.

This is the time for self-expression, do whatever feels good to you.

Take as much time as you need. When you are ready to exit, roll to one side and hold in the fetal position before lifting to a seated position.

Supta Baddha Konasana is an opportunity to reflect on your life, as an observer…

Is there a part of your life (in a relationship, at work, or in your community) where you could expose yourself a little more? Lead with your heart and intuition a little more? Be a little more vulnerable and less defensive?

As you take the role as the observer, remain in your body (this takes a lifetime of practice) and remember to breathe. The deeper the breath, the calmer you will become.The calmer you are, the more vulnerable you become. And, the more vulnerable you are, the more courageous you become.

Namaste!

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

uttanasana

This week’s pose clinic is Uttanasana, Standing Forward Bend Pose.

What is it and what does it mean?

Ut – Intense
Tan – Stretch
Asana – Pose

Uttanasana is an introspective, calming pose. But, before it can be a reflective meditation, it begins as a balancing act of confrontation and surrender. In this posture, we literally have our backs to the future, gazing at the past, yet anchored in the present.

There’s fear here: the fear of falling, of not knowing what is to come. It is the surrender to the unknown and the entrustment in ourselves (that we are equipped with the tools to remain steady in our vulnerability) that allows us to discover the calming nature of this posture.

What will happen if we lose our balance? Will we be able to catch our fall? Do we have faith in the solid foundation we have created in this posture?

Once we are able to lean into faith, we can safely and comfortably focus on the introspective action of this posture: softening into the fold, breathing deeply, and eager to turn inward.

Benefits

Uttanasana is an inversion of the head below the heart, which helps to calm anxiety and reduce stress in the body and mind. As the chest harnesses to the thighs, the liver and kidneys are stimulated, while the abdominal organs are massaged with every inhalation and exhalation, promoting healthy digestion.

Uttanasana strengthens the feet, stretches and tones the legs, hips and back muscles, creating length in the spine, and relieving pressure and stress in the neck and shoulders. Forward bends stretch the backside of the body, while engaging and strengthening the front side of the body. Uttanasana is a good place to learn how the tilt of the pelvis and engage the muscles of the hips and thighs, fostering the freedom to bend without strain or stress to the body.

Contraindications

Uttanasana is contraindicated for those with blood pressure issues, lower back and/or pelvic/hamstring injuries and severe sinus infections. Flexing the spine is not recommended for those with bone/spinal pathologies such as osteoporosis. It is best to use the chair or block modifications to reduce the risk of hyper-flexing the spine and exacerbating injuries. If you are pregnant, keep distance between the feet to make space for baby!

Prep Poses

Preparatory poses for Uttanasana include poses that help the practitioner learn how to engage and tilt the pelvis and understand the relationship between the pelvis, hip flexion, spinal articulation and proper alignment of the legs and feet.

A comfortable and safe way to do this is to lay supine on a mat, knees bent, feet hip distance apart, ankles and knees aligned. Place your palms on ridges of your hip points. Tilt the hip points up toward the ceiling creating a cave under the lower back (this is called an anterior tilt). Tilt the hip points down toward the floor, the lower back will press into the mat, losing its natural arch (this is called a posterior tilt).

When we fold into a forward bend, we want to direct the pelvis to tilt anteriorly, meaning the hip points will be pointing downward to the floor and your backside will be aiming upward, toward the ceiling.

Other preparatory poses to engage in pelvic tilting include cat pose (performed in tabletop position, rounding the spine, tilting the pelvis posteriorly) and cow pose (performed in tabletop position, extending the spine, tilting the pelvis anteriorly).

It’s also important to learn how to flex the spine safely and initiate a relationship between the chest and thighs. Child’s pose with knees and toes together a good learning tool for this action.

Direct your hips to your heels as you fold forward. Lengthening from the crown of the head forward, while pressing back through the sits-bones. (Child’s Pose can be done with a chair modification (refer to the Child’s Pose clinic below).)

Other preparatory poses include side bending and twisting, which helps decompress the spine and strengthen the hips to prepare for forward and back bending. You may side bend and twist supine (on your back), seated or standing. Remember to always elongate the spine and counter that action by evenly pressing the hips into the floor (or feet if you are doing the standing variations).

Chair Modification

Place a chair by a wall (on a non-slip surface) for extra support. If you have blocks, gather four blocks and place them by your mat (you can also use rolled towels (to squeeze between your legs)).

Practice your pelvic tilting on the chair until you feel you are hinging at the hips and your front hip points are angled forward.

Then–

Place one block between your ankles (hip distance apart, which is about two fists wide). Place another block between your thighs. Squeeze the block between your thighs as you press the inner arches of your feet into the block.

Place a block on the outside edge of each foot. Inhale and lift the crown of your head toward the ceiling. Attempt to sit forward, reaching your chest in front of you, your hips reaching behind you.

Imagine you were going to tip your hip points to the floor, this will allow you to access the full extent of your spine and hamstrings.

Exhale. Fold over your legs and place your hands on the blocks. Hug your elbows into your outer calves and press your calves into your elbows simultaneously.

Look down at to your feet. Press the back of your skull to the ceiling to lengthen your neck. If you are comfortable here, tilt your forehead toward your knees, stretching the cervical spine even more.

Bring your attention to your belly: are you engaging your muscles? Lifting your belly will help stabilize the entire posture.

To deepen the fold, keep squeezing the block between your thighs and attempt to pull your feet away from one another without moving them. This will activate the gluteus muscles and outer thighs creating an opening in your sacroiliac joints, so you can flex forward more, while relieving the lumbar spine of any stress.

Hold here for as long as you’d like.

When you are ready to exit the posture, exhale and place your hands on your knees. Inhale and lift your chest upright, slowly. Pause here and take 5 breath cycles before rising from your chair.

Instructions with Block Modification

Stand at the front of your mat in Tadasana, Mountain Pose. Place a block (or rolled towel) between your upper thighs and your ankles.

Before entering the full forward bend, practice your pelvic tilt and spinal flexion in Ardha Uttanasana (Half Forward Bend).

Place a block between your upper thighs. This will help engage your adductors and pelvic floor. It will also allow you to focus on the tilt of the pelvis and the effort of the muscles of the gluteus and the hips.

Press evenly through the feet with a lift to the inner arch of the foot. Squeeze the block, at the same time attempt to pull the feet away from each other without moving them (imagine pushing your heels out, while pressing through the inner balls of the feet, inward).

Do you feel the stretch in your sacrum and the activation of your outer thighs? Try to maintain this action through the entire posture.

Inhale. Reach your arms up, palms face behind you. Slide your shoulders away from your ears. Exhale. Bend deeply into your knees, sitting back like you were going to sit into a chair, your shin-bones slide back to align with your ankles.

Tilt your hip points down to the floor as you fold your chest over your thighs. Keep integrity in your chest. Reach your sternum forward.

Release your hands to blocks in front of your feet, or press your palms lightly into your shins.

Pause here and breathe. Evaluate.

Begin at the feet: am I pushing my feet away from each other while maintaining even pressure in pads of the feet? Are my hands pressing lightly into my shins, blocks or floor?

(If the hands are on the blocks or the floor, try pressing the hands away from the feet without moving them, this will help engage the shoulders and Lattismus Dorsii muscles, while releasing any tension in the trapezius muscles.)

Keep the knees bent and the quadriceps muscles lifting upward. Visualize the hamstrings lengthening at the same time. Breathe. Squeeze the block between the legs. Extend your sternum toward your toes (without losing the chest to thigh connection) as you press your hips back, initiating full flexion in the spine.

Keep your cervical spine lengthened as you direct your eyes slightly forward. Exhale and begin to lean forward, lifting your hips toward the ceiling (only as far as you can keep the chest to thighs). At the same time, press your chest back into your thighs. Keep your belly lifted and active.

***Engaging the belly is the emergency brake of the body, to keep you from crashing forward and losing your balance.

Continue to push the feet outward (without moving them). Inhale and lengthen the neck, reaching the crown of your head to the toes as you slide the tips of your shoulder blades to your waistline.

Play with your hand position. Maybe walk your blocks to the outside of your feet. If they are already there, remove the blocks and attempt to lower the fingertips or hands to the floor. Again, try to press your hands forward (without moving them) to keep the shoulders engaged.

To exit the posture:

Exhale and place your hands on your hips. Inhale, bend your knees and sit back, lifting your chest parallel to the floor (chest remains connected to thighs). Take two full breath cycles before using your gluteus and quadriceps muscles to help you press to a standing position.

Remember, this pose is not about how straight you can get your legs, it’s about connection and surrender: connecting the upper half of the body to the lower half of the body, and then surrendering to your physical capacity, at that moment. It’s about connecting to your breath in order to surrender into the stretch. And, most importantly, it’s about connecting to yourself and surrendering to the faith you have not only in yourself, but in something bigger, the unknown.

Namaste!

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) 

triangle-pose-_-chair-modification

This week’s pose clinic is Utthita Trikonasana, Extended Triangle Pose.

What is it and what does it mean?

Utthita – Extended
Tri – Three
Kona – Angle
Asana – Pose

If Extended Triangle Pose were a person, you’d want to be friends with her. Triangle pose has a grounded personality (in the legs) while maintaining a sense of lightness, spontaneity and confidence (in the chest and arms): reaching for the future, while remaining steady and comfortable in the present.

Extended Triangle Pose is helpful for taming mental stress and anxiety, as well as alleviating physiological pathologies such as sciatica. Utthita Trikonasana instills the practitioner with a sense of calm and security; essential for bringing balance within the busy lives we lead.

Benefits

Extended Triangle Pose stretches and strengthens most of the body including the feet, ankles, legs, hips, groin, chest, shoulders, back, arms and neck. This pose is an effective way to learn the mechanics and relationship between foot placement, pelvic orientation and the range of motion in the spine, and the mobility of the trunk muscles.

Contraindications

Individuals with hip, back and/or neck issues are encouraged to use modifications or avoid the posture completely if discomfort or pain arises. Individuals with equilibrium or blood pressure imbalances, please use the wall and/or a chair for support. If you have shoulder impingement(s) or cervical pain or stiffness, please look down toward your front foot to avoid overstraining.

Prep Poses

It is important to warm and stretch the body before entering this posture due to the flexibility required of the hamstring and adductors of the front leg, and the strength and stabilization of the abductors and ankle of the back (supporting) leg.

Supine twisting, Child’s Pose, spinal articulation in Tabletop (Cat/Cow), Standing Forward Bend, Supported Bridge Pose, and Seated or Reclined Bound Angle Pose will help prepare the body for Utthita Trikonasana.

Modifications

Chair Modification

Place a chair (seat facing you) at the front of your mat. Stand in front of the chair, feet hip distance apart. Inhale. Exhale, bend your knees and place both hands on the seat. Position your right foot (facing forward) to the center of the seat(your shin an inch from the edge).

Step your left foot behind your left hip (3 to 4 feet). Rotate your left foot 45 degrees. The left toes point to the left front corner of your mat, and your heel is firmly planted on the floor.

The left hip will rotate downward toward the floor, this will help stabilize the pelvis and assist in the comfort of the whole posture. (It’s important to have space between the feet for comfort and mobility within the thoracic region of the spine. This helps to broaden the chest and gives full extension to the arms as well.)

Bend your front knee slightly, to avoid any strain of the hamstring and groin. Accentuate the pressure of the outer ridge and inner ball (pad located under the big toe) of the back foot.

Maintain your eye gaze toward the chair. Keep your right hand on the chair in line with your right leg and place your left hand on your left hip.

Begin to draw your left shoulder back, in line with your right shoulder (stacking shoulders), while maintaining the angle to your left hip, pointing toward the floor.

If there is range in your shoulder, you may raise your left arm in line with your left shoulder. As you press your left heel to the floor, begin to rotate the chest open to the left. Press away from the chair (with your right hand) to prevent over-stressing the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints.

Without moving the feet, try squeezing the heels toward one another, this will help maintain integrity in your muscles, keeping them alert and active.

Please avoid rotating your head or gazing upward if you are just becoming acquainted with this posture. Look down at your hand.

Think about the energetic components of this posture—Grounded and firm in the thighs and the feet, light in the torso and the arms. Your eyes are like anchors: they will help protect the security of the posture.

Remain in the posture for 5 to 10 breaths.

To exit the posture, exhale and place both hands on the chair before slowly stepping your left foot to meet your right foot. Stay here for a few breaths before carefully switching sides.

triangle_-pose-clinic

Wall Modification

Place your mat against a wall. Stack as many blocks as you need next to the wall at the front of the mat. Stand at the front of your mat with your right outer ridge of foot pressing against the blocks.

Inhale, lengthen your spine, lift through your sternum, placing your right hand on the wall, left hand on your hip. Exhale and step your left foot back (3 to 4 feet). Rotate your left foot 45 degrees (to the left), firmly planting your left heel on the mat behind you. (Your left toes will face toward the front left corner of your mat.)

Inhale, press through your back foot. Exhale, and fold forward over your front leg. Bend your front knee slightly and place your right hand on the blocks, left hand to your hip.Press your right hip and right shoulder into the wall. Keep your left hip rotating downward as you rotate your spine, stacking your shoulders.

Press both shoulder blades into the wall behind you. Inhale here, stretching from shoulder to shoulder. Keep your eyes focused on your right hand, extending your skull forward (away from your shoulders). Lift your belly in and stretch your waistline away from your hips as you push your left heel into the floor.

Maintain a mild bend in both knees to protect your joints and engage your muscles. Soften your jaw, releasing any unnecessary tension. Lift your torso away from the floor; this will create lightness in the pose. If you are comfortable in this position, you may extend your arm up to the ceiling pressing your knuckles into the wall above you.

Remain in this posture for 5 to 10 breaths. To exit this posture, bend into your front knee and inhale, lift your torso. Exhale and step to the front of the mat. Reposition the blocks to the back of the mat and switch sides.

Instructions

Stand at the front of your mat. Focus on your feet: Are your inner arches lifted? Are you clawing your toes into the mat?

Soften the toes, press evenly through the balls and heels of the feet, lifting your inner arches. Firm your thighs, slide your shoulder blades down your ribcage and draw the back of your skull behind you, lengthening the cervical spine.

Inhale. Place your hands on your waist. Exhale and take a big step opening to the right side of your mat. Reach your arms out to your sides—your wrists should be aligned with your ankles.

Rotate your left foot in (about 45 degrees) the knee and hip will follow. Angle your left toes to face the left corner of the mat. (If you have tightness in your lower back or SI joints, please separate the feet hip distance apart, instead of heel to inner arch alignment).

Rotate your right toes 90 degrees to the right (face them directly toward the front of your mat). Bend your right knee slightly.

With the arms extended, slide your hips toward the back of your mat, as you extend your chest forward. Look to the right foot. Place your right hand on your shin, your ankle, or to a block outside of your right foot.

Check in with the hamstrings and adductors of the front leg: 

Do you feel a strain, or do you feel a stretch?

If you feel a strain, lift the torso, use a block, or lift the hand higher on the shin, and of course, keep a slight bend to the front knee at all times.

***Remember: keep your belly hugged in toward your spine. The more you engage your core, the more you protect your back, hips and hamstrings.

As you press your left heel into the mat (maintain the angle of the left hip, downward) rotate mid spine, opening the chest and stacking the shoulders. Depending on the range of motion and comfort in the neck, your gaze is either directed downward, to the side, or up to the right thumb (in line with your right shoulder).

You will feel a stretch from the crown of the head to the left hip, from the right shoulder to the left shoulder, from the groin and hamstring to the inner ankle of the front leg, and from the waistline to the outer ankle of the back leg.

Stay in this pose as long as you feel comfortable.

To exit, exhale and bring your hands to your waist, press into the floor and on your next inhale, lift your torso and rotate to the back of your mat to switch sides.

Utthita Trikonasana may become your favorite pose. She’s ever changing, just like you are, so make friends with her and enjoy the stretch, the strength, the foundation and the flight within…

Namaste!

 

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) 

warrior-ii

This week’s pose clinic is Virabhadrasana II, Warrior II.

What is it and what does it mean?

Vira – Hero
Bhadra – Friend
Asana – Pose

Warrior II is the second pose in the Warrior series/story. If you need a reminder of the story from last week, here it is:

The warrior series tells a story of love, tragedy, sorrow and the resilient power of compassion–a physical representation of the battle between the spirit and the ego, fighting over the heart.

 Lord Shiva is the supreme leader, the soul of the universe, the destroyer, the creator, the master of yoga and meditation. He is the god who goes against the grain with his dreadlocks and omniscient perspective of life.

 Lord Shiva falls in love with Sati (the good girl, the lover, the heart). They marry. Her father, King Daksha (the ruler of ego) of Yagna disapproves of their union, spreading rumors and slander of Shiva. He banishes Sati and Shiva from the kingdom. Sati, broken hearted by King Daksha’s rejection, travels back to the kingdom to talk with her father, to attempt to reconcile, but is met with a cold shoulder and a cruel reception from the citizens of Yagna.

 Sati, enraged over her father’s neglect decides to kill herself by sitting in deep meditation with the desire to no longer be in body form, and bursts into flames.

 When Lord Shiva hears the news of his wife’s brutal death, in a rage, he rips one of his dreadlocks from his head, throws it to the earth, creating his incarnation, Virabhadra. He orders Virabhadra to go to Yagna to behead King Daksha and drink his blood. When Lord Shiva arrives at the kingdom to view the aftermath, he is overcome with deep sorrow and decides to give King Daksha a new head, bringing him back to life.

 Although the bones of this story are violent, the pose itself represents our ability to use our higher mind to find compassion even in the worst of circumstances, so that we may think and act with spirit (Shiva) instead of ego (Daksha), to honor the love that resides in the heart (Sati).

Warrior I represents Virabhadra making his journey to Yagna, charging through earth with his sword over his head, ready to serve his mission and kill King Daksha. Warrior II is the reenactment of Virabhadra drawing his sword, focused, poised and prepared to behead King Daksha.

The Warrior series is an opportunity to reflect on our fallibility, mortality and resilience, to change behaviors that do not serve our heart and higher mind. We are human. There are times our egos take over and we react, acting out in jealousy and anger.

The story reminds us that although we don’t have the ability to change the past, we do have an opportunity in every present moment to do things differently that align with the integrity of our spirit. We can’t bring others back to life, like Shiva did, but we can resuscitate our hearts and lead from a place of compassion and love.

Practice makes perfect, but it also makes pain. Repetitive misalignment creates structural pathologies of our bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles.

The Warrior series offers an opportunity to make friends with your limitations. The orientation of your pelvis is dependent on your flexibility and range of motion within the hips and groin. Honor it. The goal is not to strike the perfect pose, rather, to discover comfort and stability. Remember, no two bodies are the same; every practitioner will look different when posturing in Warrior II. It’s important to celebrate your structure and avoid comparing yourself to the person on the mat next to you. 

Benefits

Like Warrior I, Warrior II strengthens the ankles, legs, hips, groin, shoulders and arms. Warrior II is an opportunity to work on your personal hip, knee and heel alignment, building stability in this externally rotated posture.

Warrior II is a fierce pose—instilling mental focus and clarity of intention in the practitioner.

Contraindications

Individuals with severe knee, ankle or hip pain (or recent surgery to the joint) are advised to use the modifications or avoid the posture completely if discomfort or pain arises. Individuals with equilibrium issues or blood pressure imbalances, please use the chair modification. If you have shoulder impingement(s) please keep your arms and hands at waist level and avoid looking over the front hand if you have neck stiffness or cervical pain.

Prep Poses

It is important to stretch and stabilize the hips, ankle joints and outer thighs before attempting this pose. Preparatory poses for Warrior II include supine twisting, child’s pose, runner’s lunge, downward facing dog, fierce pose (to promote quadriceps strength), standing wide-legged forward fold (to stretch the groin, hamstrings, and outer ankles), and Warrior I variations.

Modifications

Chair Modification

Place a chair at the center edge of your mat. Stand facing the back of a chair.
Take 5 full breaths standing in Tadasana, Mountain pose with your hands gently resting on the chair. Feel the strength in your feet, the lift in your spine. Relax your shoulders and your jaw. Inhale.

Step your feet 3 to 4 feet apart. (Maintain the center of your torso with the center of the chair.) Extend one of your arms out to the sides (or both depending on your balance) and line your wrists with your heels.

Inhale and exhale. Focus on your left foot. Begin to push your heel back, rotating your toes in. The knee and hip will follow the feet. Press through the outer ridge of your foot. Bend your right knee slightly and rotate your right toes to face right (to the front of your mat). Pause. Look at your foot alignment. The right heel should be aligned with the left inner arch of the foot (imagine the back foot like a kick stand, offering more stability to the posture).

Look to your left hip. Follow the line from your hip, to your knee, to your left toes. Are they all facing the same direction? Roughly a 45 degree rotation. Remember that every body is different. If you have tightness in your groin and discomfort in your sacroiliac joint, you may rotate in more. Press the outer ridge of the left foot from pinky toe to heel into the floor. Relax your front toes, focusing on the pressure of the ball and heel points of the feet.

Bend your front knee until the right shin is vertical and the thigh is parallel to the floor. Press your right knee to the right without moving the foot. This will help engage your right inner thigh and promote strength in the quadriceps and glutes. Draw your belly button up toward the top of the rib cage, this will lift your sternum.

If you feel stable, you may bring your hands to your waist, maybe extend your front arm forward, slightly lower than the shoulders. If you feel balanced, extend your left arm behind you, arms reaching in opposite directions.

A subtle rotation of your thumbs down toward the floor will help extend your arms and create more comfort in the shoulders. Reach through your fingertips. If your neck allows, rotate your head and eyes, looking over your front hand. Your gaze (Drishti) begins with a soft focus over the tip of your nose, past the middle finger of the right hand.

Stay here for 5 to 10 breaths.

To switch sides, take your hands back to the chair, straighten your front leg, rotate your right toes in, and begin to rotate your left toes to face to the left.

Repeat the instructions above.

Instructions

Begin by standing at the front of your mat in Tadasana, Mountain Pose. Take 5 deep breaths before stepping your right foot behind you 3 to 4 feet and opening the body to the right side of the mat.

Turn your toes in slightly, heels out to relieve your hip flexors and hamstrings. Press through the outer ridges of your feet. Extend your arms (palms down) to the sides, parallel to the mat. Check to see that your heels align under your wrists.

Hold here. Extend your tailbone toward the floor below you and lift your chest upward. Breathe. Begin to push the left heel behind you (rotating your left toes in about 45 degrees) as you bend your right knee and rotate your right toes to face toward the right (front of the mat).

Focus on your left hip, knee and heel. Draw an imaginary diagonal line from the top of the hip point to the outer ridge of the left heel. Are they facing the same direction? Are you comfortable? Remember that every body is different. If you have tightness in your groin and comfort in your sacroiliac joint, you may rotate in more.

Pause.

Look at your foot alignment. The right heel should be aligned with the left inner arch of the foot (imagine the back foot is like a kick stand, offering more stability to the posture). Survey the front leg: the shin is vertical and the thigh is parallel to the floor.

Press your right knee to the right without moving the foot. This will help engage your right inner thigh and promote strength in the quadriceps and glutes. Draw your belly button up toward the top of the rib cage, this will lift your sternum.

Press the outer ridge of the left foot from pinky toe to heel into the floor. Relax your front toes, focusing on the pressure of the ball and heel points of the feet. 

Focus on your arms. A subtle rotation of your thumbs down toward the floor will help extend your arms and create more comfort in the shoulders. Reach forward and back through the fingertips, as if someone was pulling you in opposite directions.

If your neck allows, rotate your head and eyes, peering over your front hand. Your gaze (drishti) begins with a soft focus over the tip of your nose, past the middle finger of the right hand. Focused. Ready to carry out your mission.

Every pose is alive. It transforms with each breath cycle and provides an opportunity to increase your mental and physical stamina. The asana practice is a chance to refine and work on the profound shifts that can happen with subtle tweaks to the alignment, so don’t hesitate to adjust your feet, your hips, your arms, and your gaze after each exhale.

Stay in the posture for 5 to 10 breaths.

To switch sides, begin to straighten your front leg, rotate your right toes in and begin to rotate your left toes to face to the left. Repeat the instructions above.

Namaste!

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) 

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Our yoga pose this week is Virabhadrasana I, Warrior I. 

What is it and what does it mean?

Vira – Hero
Bhadra – Friend
Asana – Pose

Warrior I is a showcase of the spiritual strength and devotion within each of us. In Warrior I, the back foot is rooted, the front leg is lunged forward and the arms are stretching toward the ceiling.

The warrior series tells a story of love, tragedy, sorrow and the resilient power of compassion–a physical representation of the battle between the spirit and the ego, fighting over the heart.

Lord Shiva is the supreme leader, the soul of the universe, the destroyer, the creator, the master of yoga and meditation. He is the god who goes against the grain with his dreadlocks and omniscient perspective of life.

Lord Shiva falls in love with Sati (the good girl, the lover, the heart). They marry. Her father, King Daksha (the ruler of ego) of Yagna disapproves of their union, spreading rumors and slander of Shiva. He banishes Sati and Shiva from the kingdom. Sati, broken hearted by King Daksha’s rejection, travels back to the kingdom to talk with her father, to attempt to reconcile, but is met with a cold shoulder and a cruel reception from the citizens of Yagna.

Sati, enraged over her father’s neglect decides to kill herself by sitting in deep meditation (desiring to no longer be in body form), and bursts into flames.

When Lord Shiva hears the news of his wife’s brutal death, in a rage, he rips one of his dreadlocks from his head, throws it to the earth, creating his incarnation, Virabhadra. He orders Virabhadra to go to Yagna to behead King Daksha and drink his blood.

Warrior I, represents Virabhadra making his journey to Yagna, charging through earth with his sword over his head, ready to serve his mission and kill King Daksha.

When Lord Shiva arrives at the kingdom to view the aftermath, he is overcome with deep sorrow and decides to give King Daksha a new head, bringing him back to life.

Although the bones of this story are violent, the pose itself represents our ability to use our higher mind to find compassion even in the worst of circumstances, so that we may think and act with spirit (Shiva) instead of ego (Daksha), to honor the love that resides in the heart (Sati).

We acknowledge the battle we face daily between our ego (anger and reactivity) and our ability to interact with life and the people in it, from a place of love.

Warrior I gives us an opportunity to reflect and connect with our own warrior friend, Virabhadra.

Benefits

Warrior I strengthens the ankles, legs, hips, groin, shoulders and arms. Practicing this pose regularly increases mobility and range of motion in the ankle and hips joints, while stretching the chest muscles. Warrior I promotes balance through engagement of the core muscles. Warrior I is a heart opener, a pose of courage; it builds emotional and mental confidence.

The pose is an effective proprioceptive tool for teaching body awareness: the subtle placement and alignment of the bones leads to a deep sense of comfort and stability within the body.

Contraindications

Individuals with severe knee, ankle or hip pain (or recent surgery to the joint) are advised to use the modifications or avoid the posture completely if discomfort or pain arises. Individuals with equilibrium issues or blood pressure imbalances, please use the wall, block or chair modifications.

Individuals with shoulder impingement please keep your arms and hands at waist level. Those with neck pain or cervical pathologies, avoid tilting your head back. Instead, look straight forward or down to the floor (if you are doing the block variation).

Prep Poses

It is important to stretch and stabilize the hip, ankle joints and outer thighs before attempting this pose. Preparatory poses for Warrior I include supine twisting, child’s pose, runner’s lunge, downward facing dog and fierce pose (to promote quad (thigh) strength).

Modifications

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Chair & Wall Modification

You may either use the wall or the back of a chair for support. Begin by holding on (lightly) to the back of the chair, or place your hands slightly lower than shoulder height on the wall web based collaboration tools.

Position your feet hip distance apart with toes facing forward. Lift your inner arches by evenly pressing the inner ball, heel and outer ridges of the feet into the mat.

Inhale.

Exhale. Bend your right knee and step your left foot (three to four feet) behind your left hip. Externally rotate your left hip to plant your left foot at an angle (a little less than 45 degrees), pressing your left heel into the mat.

Straighten your front leg for a moment and slide your hips to the left. Bend back into your right knee (ensure your right knee is slightly behind your right ankle, for joint safety).

If you feel uncomfortable in your hips, step the left foot to the left slightly pressing through the back heel until you feel a stretch in your left hip flexor and quadriceps muscle, and engagement in your right quadriceps muscle.

Hold and breathe.
Lift your belly up and in.
Slide your shoulder blades down your rib cage.
Rest your elbows near your waistline with a gentle grip of the chair or press into the wall.

Complete five full breath cycles.
When you’re ready to exit the posture, inhale and slide your left foot to meet your right foot.
Switch sides.

Modification with blocks (entering from front of mat)

Place blocks on the inside front corners of your mat (raise the height of the blocks dependent on your hip flexion comfort).

Stand at the front of your mat.
Inhale and lengthen your spine.
Bend your knees, tilt your tailbone back and begin to fold your chest toward your thighs.
Place your hands on the blocks.
Step your right foot in line with the inside of the right block.

Exhale.

Bend your right knee and step your left foot back three to four feet behind your left hip.
Face the toes of the left foot to the left front corner of the mat.

Press through the outer ridge and heel point of the back foot, creating a little cave in your inner arch (this will promote stability to your knee and hip joint).

Push your right knee to the inside of your right bicep to bring support and extra stretch to your right inner thigh. Pull your right thigh back, right hip forward.

Check in. Are you comfortable?

If you are not, adjust your stance by shortening and/or widening your gait.

As you press the left heel into the mat, lift your belly in and draw your sternum forward. Look slightly forward of your feet maintaining a length in the back of the neck.

Breathe.

If you feel stable enough, inhale and take one hand to your thigh, then the other hand to your thigh. Lift your chest in line with your waistline, hands on hips and breathe here.

When you’re ready to exit the posture, inhale lifting the crown of your head toward the ceiling.

Exhale. Lower one hand at a time to the blocks.
Inhale. Roll onto the ball of the back foot.
Exhale. Step forward and switch sides.

 Instructions

Entering Warrior I from Downward Facing Dog:

Slide your left heel in line with your right toes. Spin the left foot (left toes point to the front left corner of your mat (a little less than 45 degree angle)). Press through the outer ridge of the left heel.

Inhale.
As you exhale, slide the right foot up to the right hand. 
Pause.
Lift onto your fingertips (right hand outside the right foot, left hand under the left shoulder).
Pull your chest forward, hips back.
Anchor the back left heel to the mat.
Take your hands to your waistline and hover your chest parallel to the right thigh.
Observe the sensations in the feet and hips.

Do you feel secure? Are the feet planted firmly, legs strong?

Inhale and lift the chest in line with your hips.

***If there is limited range in the shoulder, and full extension is not an option, cactus your arms out to the sides, fingers point up to the ceiling.

If you’re fully extending your arms overhead, draw your biceps slightly forward of the ears, shoulder blades sliding down the back, shoulders relaxed. Reach through your fingertips. Remember, your arms and hands represent the sword, sharp and focused on the target.

Soften your jaw. Are you breathing? Release your front toes (they tend to claw the mat as the quads engage). Spiral your left thigh inward, as you extend back through your left heel.

Gaze forward or up to the ceiling while maintaining length through the back of the neck.

Pull your belly in and spread your collarbones. Press your right knee to the right without moving the foot, accentuating the stretch to the inner thigh.

Breathe.

After five to ten breath cycles, exhale and lower your hands to the mat. Press back to downward facing dog and switch sides.

Embrace the integrity of this posture; the externalization of the warrior spirit.

Namaste!

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Vrksasana (Tree Pose)

tree-pose

Our yoga pose this week is Vrksasana, Tree Pose. 

What is it and what does it mean?

Vrksa (vrk-shah) – Tree
Asana – Pose

Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky. ~Kahlil Gibran

Tree pose showcases the freedom of self-expression, from foot placement to hand placement to eye gaze. No two trees are identical, and neither are we. I call tree pose the pose of the soul: a physical celebration of one’s strength and the externalization of the tree, the quiet observer that resides in each of us—our soul.

Benefits

Tree Pose strengthens the gluteus muscles, leg muscles, ankles and feet, while stretching and opening the muscles in the chest and the hip of the lifted leg. Tree pose helps to improve stability while standing and walking by building strength in the lower and mid back muscles as the core muscles are contracted during the posture. Tree pose is known to alleviate emotional stress as well as sciatica symptoms.

Contraindications

If you have blood pressure imbalances, please use a wall or chair for support in case you become lightheaded and/or lose your balance. If you suffer from knee pain, please use the wall or chair modification and make sure to avoid placing your foot directly on the inner knee, as it cannot safely sustain excess pressure.

Prep Poses

It is important to prep for tree pose with poses that support balance and promote comfort during external hip rotation. Some examples are, mountain pose, plank pose, easy-seated pose, child’s pose and runner’s lunge.

Wall Modification

***Instead of a wall, you may use the back of a chair for support.

You may either stand facing the wall with both hands on the wall, slightly lower than shoulder height (for extra support), or stand with your outer right hip parallel to the wall.

Focus your eyes in front of you on an object that is not moving.
Place your right hand on the wall, about shoulder height, elbow near your right hip.
Place your left hand on your hip.
Press your right foot firmly into the mat and maintaining a lift to the inner arch.
Lift the heel of your left foot and externally rotate your foot and hip.
Slide your heel above your inner right ankle, ball of the foot remains on the floor.
Firm your thighs.
Pull your belly in.
Pay attention to your jaw and shoulders; if you are clenching, release.

Take 5 full breaths.

During your breath cycles, attempt to draw your left thumb to the center of your chest, press inward toward your sternum.
If you feel prepared to leave the wall, meet your right hand to your left.

To exit the pose, press your hand into the wall, lower your lifted leg, and switch sides.

Instructions

Stand with both feet firmly planted.
Press evenly through the padding of the feet.
Engage your thighs. Lift your belly up and in.
Press the crown of the head toward the ceiling, lowering your chin slightly.
Focus your eyes on an object that isn’t moving.
Lock your gaze, tethering yourself to the object; it will help keep you steady.
Hands remain on your hips pressing in, like a corset.
Lift the left heel off the mat and externally rotate your foot.
Draw your foot to the inner calf, or to the upper inner thigh (use your right hand to lift your leg into place).
Press the thigh (or calf) into the foot and the foot into the thigh (or calf).
Maintain a small bend to your knee, to promote the engagement of your muscles and the safety of your joints.

Keep your gaze locked and connect your thumbs and palms together at your sternum.
Stay focused on your belly lift, the limb-to-limb connection and your gaze point.

When you feel steady, play with the position of your arms, maybe raising them above your head, out to the sides, or clasping your hands above your head.

Hold for 5 to 15 breaths and then switch sides.

Remember, if you come out of the pose, take a deep breath and try again.

Have fun expressing your soul…Namaste!

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Supta Parivartanasana (Reclined Twisting Pose)
With Chair, Seated and Supine Modifications 

supta-parivartanasana

Our yoga pose this week is Supta Parivartanasana, Reclined Twisting Pose. 

What is it and what does it mean?

Supta– Reclined
Parivartana– Turning or twisting around
Asana– Pose

Pratipaksha Bhavanam means cultivating the opposite. It is a concept and action presented in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Yoga Sutra 2.33: Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksha Bhavanam — When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite ones should be thought of.

Cultivating the opposite and finding balance in the body is the purpose of twisting postures. In a twist, one muscle contracts and another muscle stretches, facilitating skeletal and muscular balance, alignment and integrity.

Twisting requires the use of the whole body: the axial skeleton (spine, ribcage and skull) and the appendicular skeleton (legs, arms, pelvis and shoulder girdle) to work together, symbiotically. Twisting rebuilds and strengthens the bond between the upper and lower sections of the body by coordinating movements between the spine, skull, torso, pelvis and limbs.

 Benefits

Twisting releases the lower back by isolating the twist mid spine, lengthening the space between the vertebrae (on release of the twist), rehydrating the spinal discs.

Whether seated or supine, twisting encourages healthy digestion, improves spinal mobility and flexibility, strengthens and tones the abdominal muscles and massages the internal organs.

Contraindications

While twisting can be an excellent lower back reliever, over-stretching or straining in a twist can exacerbate lower back issues and is contraindicated for individuals with severe osteoporosis. If you have a hernia of any kind, severe lower back, hip or knee issues, or are pregnant, please use the modifications.

Prep Poses

Gentle twisting does not require a preparatory pose, however, I suggest easing into the full posture, beginning with a seated twist.

A beneficial counter-stretch to a twist is a side bend or forward fold. Twisting is used as a preparatory pose for forward-bending, back bending, side bending and other deeper sitting and standing twisting postures.

 Modifications

Chair Modification

Twisting in a chair is a fantastic way to reap the benefits of a twist without over-stretching and straining the back, while maintaining neutrality and comfort in the hips.

Place a chair near a wall (for extra support while sitting or standing).

If your legs do not comfortably touch the ground, place blocks under your feet.
***Squeezing a block between your knees will help engage your inner thigh muscles, pelvic floor muscles and hip flexors, allowing you to isolate the twist mid spine and alleviate lower lumbar and sacral discomfort.

Sit with your left hip against the back of the chair.
Place your hands shoulder distance apart on the seat back.
Squeeze the block between your legs.
Press your feet into the floor or blocks.
Inhale.
Exhale. Begin to twist your body to the left.

Push your left hand into the chair rail as you twist your chest to the left (this will encourage you to lift your sternum and lengthen your spine).
Keep your knees directed forward.
Pay attention to your jaw and shoulders as you twist.
Relax your shoulders.
Draw your elbows toward your waistline to avoid clenching.

Take 5 to 10 full breaths. 
Exhale, release the twist and slowly switch sides.

Seated Modification (not pictured)

Sit on a bolster or blanket, legs comfortably crossed in front of you (place a blanket under your ankles for added support).

Inhale. Sit up tall, sternum leading the way.
Exhale. Take your left hand to your right knee.
Reach your right hand to a block, the bolster, or the floor behind your sacrum.
Inhale. Lift your chest.
Exhale. Press your right knee toward the floor.
Anchor your left hip and twist your chest toward the right.
Check in with your hips, feel them equally weighted on the floor, or bolster.

Don’t worry about cranking your neck to look behind you. 
Instead, look directly to the right, release any tension in your shoulders and focus on lifting out of your waistline, and twisting from mid back.

After 5 to 10 breaths, unwind and switch sides.

Supine Modification

Lie down on the floor.

Pull your knees into your chest and then rest your feet on the mat, slightly wider than hip distance apart (For an extra stretch, you may take your feet to the edges of the mat).
Allow your inner knees to collapse inward and rest on one another.

Goal post your arms (at 90 degree angle, elbows in line with shoulders, fingertips resting on the floor, pointing behind you).

Inhale.
Exhale and allow your knees to gently fall to the left, the outer ridges of the feet resting on the floor.
Turn your head to the right (if you have cervical limitations, look straight up, you may roll a blanket under your neck for extra comfort and support).
Breathe.
Stay here as long as you’d like.

***If you’d like to take the stretch a little deeper, cross your right ankle over your left lower thigh and gently press down, intensifying the stretch of the outer thigh and side body.

To switch sides: Inhale, draw the knees back to center.
Exhale knees fall to the right, look to the left.

When exiting the posture, please roll to the fetal position and use your belly strength and arms to press yourself to a seat

Instructions

Supta Parivartanasana

Lie on your back with your knees pulled into your chest.
Clasp your hands around your right knee or shin, sliding your left leg long on the mat.
Flex both feet.

Press your left leg into the mat and draw your right knee towards your armpit on exhale. (At the same time as you pull the right knee in, cultivate the opposite, press your knee into your hands, hands into your knee, this will help neutralize the hips and keep your right hip anchored to the floor).

Inhale.
Exhale and take your right knee over your left side body.
Shift your hips to the center of the mat.
Focus on directing your shoulders to the floor, instead of reaching the knee to the floor.
Place your left hand on the outside of your right thigh.
Extend your right arm to the right, palm up or bend at the elbow 90 degrees palm up.

***If there is tightness in the shoulder and/or the knee is elevated significantly off of the floor, use blankets or blocks to support the right knee and the right shoulder.

Comfort is always paramount. No pain.

On each exhale direct your right hip toward the front of the mat, creating more length in your spine and side body, intensifying the stretch.

Hold for 5 to 10 breaths and switch sides.
When exiting the pose, roll to one side into the fetal position.
Pause.
On an inhale lift the body into a seated position, take a few breaths and then move on.

Enjoy cultivating the opposite…

Namaste!

Yoga Pose of the Week 
Balasana (Child’s Pose) 

Child's Pose

Our yoga pose this week is Balasana, also known as Child’s Pose.

What is it & what does it mean?

Balasana

Bala – Child
Asana – Pose

Child’s pose, the fetal position is a posture of security and safety. The pose of a child, the action of curling into a cocoon, offers protection and a soothing sensation when an individual may be feeling vulnerable, anxious, depressed or scared.

Benefits

Child’s pose stretches and strengthens the legs, hips, thighs, back and ankles. Holding this pose for long periods of time releases stress, reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Child’s pose is known to decrease headaches, dizziness and mental fatigue. This posture massages the internal organs (stomach, kidneys, spleen and bladder), stimulating blood and lymph fluid flow throughout the body, while lengthening the spine and promoting flexibility and range of motion for the ankle, knee and hip joints.

Contraindications

Floor-based Child’s pose is not recommended for individuals with severe knee or hip pain, recent hip or knee replacements or ankle (extension) limitations. Individuals with shoulder impingements or pain–please avoid reaching your arms forward; rest your arms by your sides to avoid stressing the shoulder joints.

Prep Poses

There aren’t any prep poses necessary for Child’s pose, you can settle right into it. Child’s pose is known as a prep pose, transitional pose and resting pose between postures in an asana class.

Modifications

Chair Modification  

Individuals with limited flexion in their hips and knees may begin practicing Child’s pose using a chair. 

Position two chairs facing each other. Place a blanket on the seat you will be sitting on. Place a bolster and/or a stack of blankets on the other chair. Sit down. If your feet do not make full contact with the floor, place a block under each foot.

Separate your legs and pull the other chair to meet your chair. Rest your chest and side of head on the blankets or bolster (experiment with different heights. You’ll know you’ve found the right height when you are comfortable, without pain).

You may hold onto the sides of the bolster chair, or rest your arms by your thighs. Breathe. Stay as long as you’d like, switching the sides of your head to prevent neck soreness. When exiting this posture, stay seated for five breaths before rising from your seat.

Floor Modification

If you’re comfortable on the floor, and you can’t quite reach your bottom to your heels, and/or your ankles are stiff, this modification is perfect for you.

Blankets and bolsters are your friend.

Place a blanket or two on the mat where your knees, shins and ankles will rest. Place a bolster lengthwise on the mat, with an extra blanket(s) rolled nearby (depending on the range and depth of flexion of your knee and hip joints, you may need a couple of rolls).

Slowly lower yourself to the mat. Draw your knees apart, toes together. Place the rolled blanket on your lower calves. Sit back. Pull the bolster between your knees (you may need to stack another bolster if your chest does not rest comfortably).

Rest your chest and side of head on the bolster. Arms can relax on either side of the bolster, or back by your knees.

Stay as long as you want!

Alternate the sides of your head to avoid any cervical discomfort. With each cycle of breath, notice if you create more space, adjust your props as needed. It’s important to feel the stretch without pain. If you feel any pain, exit the pose slowly.

Press yourself to tabletop (hands under shoulders, knees under hips), hold for a few breaths and then slowly rise to a chair or your feet.

Instructions

Lower your knees to the mat. Separate your knees, toes together, forming a wide V. Press your bottom back to your heels, as you lower your chest and forehead to the mat. Extend your arms forward, shoulder distance apart.

Inhale, expand your rib cage into your inner thighs. Exhale, draw your chest closer to the mat.

If you are opting for a more passive posture, place your arms next to your legs, palms up. Allow your shoulders to drape toward the floor.

Close your eyes. Focus on a point behind your eyelids. This will prevent your eyes from searching, soothing your active mind. Press your forehead into the mat to elongate, stretch and strengthen your cervical spine.

If you’d like an active variation to this pose, extend your arms forward and plant your hands on the mat (shoulder distance apart). Lift your forearms off the mat, pulling them toward one another while rotating your shoulders away from your ears.

Push away from the front of the mat with the hands, pressing your bottom to your heels. You will feel a deep stretch in your lower back and activation in your side body muscles. Stay as long as you’d like. And, remember to breathe.

Namaste!

Yoga Pose of the Week
Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-The-Wall)

yoga with Rebecca Lammersen

Viparita Karani means ‘upside down’ in Sanskrit.

Viparita Karani, also known as Legs Up The Wall, is a restorative inversion with many health benefits. This pose reduces stress and anxiety, lowers high blood pressure, relieves cramping during menstruation, alleviates symptoms of arthritis and fibromyalgia, releases pressure on the lower back, drains the legs (reducing swelling in the feet and ankles), and helps those with chronic insomnia get a good night’s rest.

Legs Up The Wall is contraindicated for anyone with glaucoma or hernia of any kind. Individuals with low or high blood pressure are encouraged to limit their time in this posture (under three minutes). 

There are quite a few modifications for Legs Up The Wall: anyone can do some form of this posture.

If you have lower back pain, I recommend placing a blanket or two under your sacrum and lower spine for support.

If you have hip and/or hamstring limitations, use a chair instead of the wall. Rest your knees and calves over the seat.

To enter the posture, sit with one hip up against the wall (or chair). Slowly lower yourself onto your forearms as you lift one leg at a time up the wall.

Lie back on the floor with your palms open by your hips.

If you’re old friends with this posture and are comfortable with your legs fully extended, place a couple of sandbags next to your mat before you enter the posture.

Once your legs are extended, bend your knees into your chest, place the sandbags over the soles of your feet, and re-extend your legs back up the wall (the weight of the sandbags helps set the femur bones into the hip sockets and offers an extra stretch for the lower back). 

The breath is the most important ingredient in every posture in yoga. While you’re resting in this pose, it is the perfect time to focus on your inhalations and exhalations.

Breathe slowly (for a count of 4) in through your nose and out through your nose (or mouth, if you are prone to overheating).  

If you do not have any contraindications, stay in this posture for at least three to eight minutes. 

When exiting, take your time. Pull your knees toward your chest. Hold. Roll to one side in the fetal position. Hold. Use your arms to press yourself up and sit against the wall. Hold. Breathe five full breaths before rising to your feet. 

If you’re interested in more information about our yoga program, please email Rebecca at yoga@4cmedicalgroup.com

Check out our class schedule here

Primary Care & Hospitalist