Five Pillars Yoga

Posts Tagged ‘Alignment’

Fall Focus: Top Tips For Finding Balance During Vata Season

Happy Autumnal Equinox! Here at Five Pillars we hold the Intention to move through life in synch with the seasons. Listening to the messages and even advice each has to share with us and going with the flow or counterbalancing where beneficial – letting the pillars of Right Movement, Nutrition, Breathing, and Relaxation support and inform our choices.

According to Ayurveda—an ancient traditional system of medicine in India that’s been called Yoga’s sister science—Fall is Vata season. As the humidity of summer begins to wane and the Northeast experiences the incredible annual display of colorful Fall leaves, you may discover some signs and symptoms that suggest your Vata dosha is aggravated. You can adopt Vata-balancing practices to attain optimal health and feel your best.

But first, what’s a dosha? Three primary energies (aka doshas) based on the elements make up our physical and mental constitutions. These energies are Vata (Air & Space), Pitta (Fire) & Kapha (Earth + Water). Each of us has all of these elements, though one will likely be dominant in our constitutional makeup. If you want to #GoDeeper, try an online quiz.

The cooling weather patterns, Fall winds and shifting daylight hours that have arrived with the equinox often aggravate Vata. After all, the qualities of the Vata dosha are cool, light, dry, moving, and erratic—just like the weather patterns—and a basic tenet of Ayurveda is like increases like. Some common symptoms that occur when the Vata dosha is out of balance are anxiety, dry or chapped skin, indigestion, sudden bouts of fatigue, and light interrupted sleep.

Additional symptoms can occur on the physical or mental dimensions.

Common physical signs of a Vata imbalance:

  • • cold hands and feet
  • • constipation
  • • gas
  • • bloating
  • • aversion to cold and wind
  • • irregular appetite
  • • twitches
  • • spasms
  • • restlessness
  • • low body weight
  • • aversion to loud noises
  • • hypertension
  • • arthritis
  • • weakness
  • • restlessness
  • • irregular menstruation

Common mental signs of a Vata imbalance:

  • • nervousness
  • • fear
  • • panic
  • • racing mind
  • • worry
  • • spacey
  • • scattered
  • • inconsistency

The Five Pillars of Fall Wellness can help bring you back into balance, achieving your optimal state of being.

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Right Intention: Want To Book The Next Plane Ticket Out Of Here? Think Again And Dig Into A Steady Routine

When the Vata winds blow, we all need a little more grounding and stability. Now is the time to dive deeper into your mindfulness practices and stick to routines. It may help to begin by creating healthy patterns of eating and sleeping—try to sleep before 10 p.m. and eat regular meals around the same time each day. Beyond the basics, this is the perfect time to pick up or continue a yoga and meditation practice. Set an intention to be gentle and loving with yourself, and allow for plenty of time to reflect and go within. Your inner clarity will keep your health and wellness on track no matter what life throws your way.

Our recommendations: Take time to set an intention to stay grounded and stable during Vata season. Avoid the temptation to discard your routines and book the next plane ticket out of here. Instead, take a moment to organize your days into a soothing routine full of self-care and balance.

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Right Movement: Take It Easy

Choose a Right Movement practice that is light and easy on your body. Focus on flexibility and balance rather than long distances and speed.

Top movement tips: Walk through the park or take an easy breezy stroll with a friend. Power down your yoga practice and opt for therapeutics or gentle yoga, yoga nidra, tai chi or qi gong. Take some time out to practice pranayama and meditation. Focus on breathing deeply and be gentle with yourself.

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Right Breathing: Alternate Nostril Breathing

Pranayama (aka breathing practice) has incredible balancing effects on the entire body and can ward off unwanted stress & anxiety. Our favorite pranayama for inner balance and harmony during the Fall season is Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, otherwise known as Alternate Nostril Breathing. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama synchronizes the right and left hemispheres of the brain, helping to focus the mind and keep unwanted stress and anxiety at bay, providing the very foundation we need to stay peaceful and responsive no matter what the Vata winds blow into our lives.

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Right Nutrition: True Nourishment For the Fall Season

Fresh, cooling crudites were perfect for the hot summer, but the crisp fall air invites forth a natural desire to nourish ourselves with warming butternut squash soups, more protein, and hearty stews. Freshly cooked veggies are easier for our bodies to digest and assimilate than raw produce. If you are already in the practice of eating fresh, seasonal foods and shopping at the farmer’s market, you may notice the natural seasonal shift toward heartier produce that balances the vata dosha.

Begin to see your vegetables as vessels for healing herbs and spices. Each of the ancient, lasting cuisines around the world incorporate delicious, healing herbs and spices into meals. Oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary make their way into Italian sauces. Turmeric, cumin, ginger, and cayenne spice up Indian fare.

As you know, food is so much more than fuel and nutrients. Many of the aromatic herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, anti-fungal properties. As we spice up our recipes and savor the incredible flavor of international cuisine, our meals become medicine that support the immune system, keeping seasonal colds and the flu at bay.

Try cooking a healing coconut-milk curry with plenty of spices and seasonal vegetables. For inspiration, view this recipe: South Indian Style Vegetable Curry. For more information about Ayurvedic wisdom, check out this article: Vata Pacifying Diet.

Additional Vata-Pacifying Recommendations:

  • *Eat full-sized, well-portioned meals, but avoid overeating.
  • *Sip on tea and warm liquids throughout the day. Avoid chilled beverages.
  • *Sweet, sour, and salty tastes pacify Vata. Favor warming, oily, and heavy foods such as natural grains (particularly rice and wheat), soups and stews, cooked root vegetables, and sweet fruits (bananas, avocados, coconut, figs, grapefruit, oranges, lemons, melons, papaya, peaches, pineapples, dates, etc.). If you consume animal products, warm milk soothes Vata. Buy organic eggs, chicken, turkey and seafood.
  • *Integrate Vata-pacifying spices: cardamom, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mustard seed, basil, cilantro, fennel, oregano, sage, tarragon, thyme, and black pepper.
  • *Avoid bitter, pungent and astringent foods. Minimize your intake of beans, aside from mung bean dahl and tofu. Light, dry fruits such as apples and cranberries can aggravate Vata. To avoid indigestion, steer clear from cabbage, sprouts, and raw vegetables in general.

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Right Relaxation: Self-Care

Book your favorite masseuse, invest in acupuncture, or get some reflexology done. These practices boost circulation and promote relaxation. Consider investing in a weekly or monthly self-care routine that includes your favorite treatments.

Want to keep it simple and stay at home?

  • *Give yourself a massage using warming oils such as sesame or almond.
  • *Play relaxing music
  • *Connect friends who make you feel calm and relaxed
  • *Try aromatherapy
  • *Take deep breaths often
  • *Pause in between tasks
  • *Take an Epsom salts bath
If you’d like to discuss how best to attune to the season, we’re here to support you! Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns, or for an individual consultation.



*Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

Yoga Lab: Garudasana

For a pose named after something that flies, Garudasana, Eagle Pose, is all about staying still. It has potential energy, like that of an attentive bird about to swoop, and is a pose in which steadiness and concentration are key to not falling off your perch.


  • Strengthens and stretches the ankles and calves
  • Stretches the thighs, hips, shoulders, and upper back
  • Improves concentration
  • Improves balance

Before You Begin

Spend time in Utkatansa, Chair Pose, to prep the hamstrings and quads, and try coming into Eagle Arms while seated, either in Sukhasana or Gomukhasana before attempting the bind while balanced one on leg.

How To Do It

Step 1: The Legs

Stand in Tadasana. Bend your knees slightly, come on to the tips of your left toes and pour weight into your right foot. Lift your left foot off the floor. Balance evenly through all four corners of your right foot and cross your left thigh over the right. Point your left toes toward the floor and draw them back behind you. Hook the top of your foot behind your right calf.

Modification: Place the tops of the left toes on the floor if you cant hook the foot behind the right calf. 

Step 2: The Arms

Extend your arms straight forward, parallel to the floor. Palms face in and thumbs point up. Reach forward to spread your shoulder blades wide. Cross your right arm over the left and bend at the elbows. Slide your right elbow just past the crook of the left and raise your forearms so they’re perpendicular to the floor. The backs of your hands should be facing each other.

Modification: If wrapping the arms until the palms touch is not happening, hold on to a strap as you extend your arms forward. Keep pulling the strap ends away from each other as you cross the arms and energetically move the backs of the hands toward each other.  

Step 3: Refine the Arms 

Move your left hand to the left and your right hand to the right so you can press the fingers of the left hand into the right palm. Lift your elbows up, drop your shoulders, draw your shoulder blades together, knit your ribs in and extend your crossed elbows out away from you.

Stay for several breaths. Square the hips forward—left hip back, right hip forward—and be mindful of droopy elbows.

To come out, straighten the standing leg, unwind and return to Tadasana. Repeat on the second side.

Photos: Top image; eagle arms

Yoga Lab: The Other Warriors

Warrior I and II get a lot of air time in most asana classes, so we launched this mini series, The Other Warriors, to spread love to the rest of the fighters. We covered Humble and Reverse Warriors in our first post; today we’re tackling Warrior III. For Warrior I and II recaps, click here.

Benefits of Warrior III

  • Strengthens the legs
  • Works the core
  • Heart opener
  • Opens the sides of the rib cage for easier breathing
  • Strengthens the gluteal muscles
  • Stabilizes the low back by stretching the quadratus lumborum (QL) muscles on either side of the lumbar spine

Prep poses

  • Virasana, Hero’s Pose, to open the quads
  • Vrksasana, Tree Pose, to work on balance
  • Core work or Navasana, Boat Pose, to strengthen the abdominals
  • Salabhasana, Locust Pose, to open the heart
  • Warrior I to feel the squareness of the hips

Alignment Refinement

  • Find Tadasana, Mountain Pose, in the standing leg: Place the heel of your standing leg under the sitting bone, toes pointing forward and outer edges of the standing foot parallel to the long edges of the mat.
  • The hip point of the lifted leg will want to open. Bring your hands to your hip creases to manually lower the lifted hip point, rolling it in and down until the sacrum is level.
  • Lift the inner thigh up in an outward rotation.
  • Firm through the thighs and the glutes.
  • Imagine a pair of hands on either side of your hips, pressing the outer edges firmly toward the midline.

Use Props

  • Warrior III is an excellent pose to refine with props: Rest your hands on blocks directly under the shoulders to facilitate the lift of the torso up and away from your thighs. Your chest should be parallel to the floor.
  • With your hands on block, press into your palms to roll the shoulders down the back and away from the ears.
  • Extend your sternum forward, as you would in Locust Pose.
  • To come into the full expression, lift your arms in line with your ears. Make sure the back of your neck is long.
  • Keep rooting evenly through the standing foot and press through the sole of the lifted one.

Energetically, Warrior III builds power and grounding in the legs—as a standing balancing posture it asks us to find our roots—while promoting lightness and outward extension through the torso and outstretched arms. Yin and Yang, rooting and growing. Enjoy and explore the dualities.

Photos: Top Warrior III; boat pose; beach warrior

Yoga 101: The Other Warriors

Warrior 1 and Warrior 2 get a lot of love—in fact, we go into depth about them here—but let’s not forget some of the other, lesser-known Warriors: Reverse and Humble.

Before we get to those, a mini Sanskrit etymology and history lesson:


All of the warrior poses are named for a great fighter of Hindu mythology, Virabhadra (vira = hero; bhadra = friend). As the story goes, Virabhadra arose from the ground out of a broken heart and a family quarrel. Sati, the wife of the powerful god Shiva, threw herself into a fire after a fight with her father, Daksha. Upon hearing this news, Shiva tore out a piece of his hair and pounded into it the earth, out from which sprang Virabhadra, whom Shiva ordered to kill Daksha.

The three original warrior asanas come from this creation myth:

Virabhadra I is how the warrior appeared when he emerged from the earth, sword clasped in both hands over his head as he broke ground.

Virabhadra II is the pose the warrior struck when he laid eyes on his opponent and prepared to fight.

Virabhadra III is when he springs into action and decapitates Daksha with his sword.

If this all sounds particularly bloody, take heart in knowing that Shiva later brought Daksha back to life and gave him the head of a goat.

Onto today’s warriors, Reverse and Humble, which are newer shapes that don’t factor into the myth; still, they have clear antecedents and unique benefits.

Reverse Warrior


Oftentimes referred to as Peaceful, and sometimes Dancing, Warrior, Viparita Virabhadrasana grows directly out of Warrior II. If that pose is where Virabhadra prepared to attack, then this variation is where he backs off and softens. The foot patterning is the same—back heel to front arch alignment—and is usually part of a vinyasa sequence that moves in and out of Warrior II as a starting point.

Why do it:

  • Major intercostal muscle side stretch.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The front knee has a tendency to fall out of alignment in this pose. Since you can’t see it, practice proprioception and make sure it’s still above the ankle, not caving in toward the midline or jutting out.
  • As the upper body arcs back, it’s easy to put more weight on the back foot and lose the deep, 90° bend of the front leg established in Vira II. Keep the weight evenly distributed and know you’ll need to rebend the knee after finding the pose.
  • Don’t crush the back ribs. Lift the bottom ribs up and off the back hip point, creating as much space as possible between the two and avoiding the proclivity to collapse onto the back thigh. Think up with your extended arm instead of back.

Humble Warrior


Just as Reverse Warrior grows out of Warrior II, Humble—or Bound (Baddha) or Devotional Warrior—is a variation on Warrior I. The hips are square, the feet are wider apart than in Vira II, and the shoulder points are still orientated toward the top of the mat. It also signifies an energetic shift from the proud, chest-baring asana of its forebear; as the name suggests, Humble Warrior is about giving energy back to the earth and bowing down instead of rising up.

Why do it:

  • Benefits of an inversion without taking your feet off the floor.
  • Deep shoulder opener.
  • Keeps working the squaring off the hips.

Things to keep in mind:

  • In order to get the right shoulder firmly inside the right front knee you need to move the torso slightly to the left as you come down.
  • This will most likely swing the hips out of alignment.
  • Once the shoulders are in place and the crown of the head is pointing toward the front of the mat, readjust the hips, dragging the right hip point back and the left hip point forward.
  • When the shoulders and hips are square, lower the crown of the head toward the floor. Perhaps it will touch.
  • Keep the inner tips of the shoulder blades drawing toward each other. As much as the crown of the head yearns for the floor, extend your interlaced fist up toward the sky.

Enjoy your warriors, whatever shape they take. We’ll explore Warrior III next.

Photos: Top photo by David Martinez from Yoga Journal; warrior illustration found hereFaith Hunter in Reverse Warrior; Claire Fountain in Humble Warrior 

Yoga 101: Inversions

While most inversions can be built up to slowly over time, upside down shapes can really click after spending an entire class, workshop, or series of classes focusing on floating your feet over your head.

Dedicating extra time to inversions makes sense for a number of reasons. On a physical level, pressing up into handstand in the middle of a regular vinyasa class be challenging because of all the energy you’ve put into the other asanas; on a safety level, establishing a solid foundational practice is really important before attempting to freestyle without guidance.

Inversions are also in their own category energetically. Going upside down affects the body in the same way vigorous aerobic exercise does, by circulating blood down to the feet and up the back. That’s not to say inversions are a stand-in for something that gets your heart rate up, but they are another way to stimulate venous return, the flow of blood back to the heart (a good thing).


 Why It’s Good to Go Upside Down

Inversions positively impact four major body systems: the cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous and endocrine.


  • Inversions give the heart a break. When blood floods the carotid arteries in the neck, the body senses the increase of blood and subsequently slows the flow of blood to the brain, giving the heart a much needed respite.
  • They fortify lung tissue and create an efficient oxygen-to-blood exchange by bringing blood to the oxygen rich upper chamber of our chest.


  • Lymph, a fluid containing white blood cells, is our first line of defence against illness. When we flip over, lymph can flow to places it might otherwise have a hard time reaching and strengthen the immune system.
  • Head below heart postures reverse the effects of gravity and promote glowing skin by flooding the face with fresh oxygen and flushing toxins.



  • The brain uses 25% of the body’s oxygen; increasing blood flow to the brain means more oxygen, which translates to improved concentration, memory and awareness.
  • Going upside down may help you sleep and calm down the parasympathetic nervous system. Check out the benefits of Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall) in our Deep Sleep post.


  • The endocrine glands run from the base of the spine up to the brain and release hormones like testosterone, estrogen, adrenaline, insulin and dopamine into the blood.
  • Flooding these glands with blood from the lower half of the body makes it easier for the glands to absorb nutrients from the blood and release built-up waste. The result is a possible improvement in gland function, hormone secretion, and the circulation of hormones to the rest of the body.
  • Inversions are natural mood boosters. Turning the adrenal glands on their head gives them a chance to flush and release endorphins that can leave you feeling uplifted.


All things considered, inversions are worth floating heels-over-head in love with! Best of all, there are countless variations, from moderate to advanced that allow practitioners of all levels to reap the benefits. 




Photos: Top handstand from Whole Living; forearm stand with eagle legs


Earlier this month we sat deep into Utkatasana, Chair Pose, and promised we’d use it as a launching pad pose for something a little fancier: Eka Pada Galavasana, often called Flying Pigeon.

Utkatasana is that pose’s literal foundation, but there’s another important pose at play here, too, Eka (one) Pada (leg) Rajakapotasana (raja: king; kapot: pigeon), a.k.a. Pigeon. The Sanskrit changes in the flying variation and takes the name of an ancient Hindu sage, Galva, but the in-the-air shape is very clearly related to the prone one.


Eka Pada Rajakapotasana

All of that to say: Hips, hips, hips. Eka Pada Galavasana is a hip-opening arm balance that requires the thigh-muscle strength cultivated in Chair Pose and the inner groin opening that comes from releasing the hips in Pigeon. To maintain steadiness in the shape, the knee of the lifted leg needs to parallel to the bent, standing knee. In addition to spending time in Chair, you can prep for this shape in pigeon on your belly or on your back.

Lift Off Into Flying Pigeon

  • Sweep your arms alongside your ears and bend your knees to come into Utkatasana.
  • Come onto the toes of your left foot, float the foot off the floor, and cross the ankle over the outside of your right thigh, just above the knee.
  • Flex your lifted foot to protect the knee and turn your toes toward your face.
  • On an exhale, shift your torso forward and place your hands on the floor about six inches in front of you, shoulder-length distance apart, elbows slightly bent.
  • With your weight spread evenly across your palms, lift on to your right tiptoes.
  • Continue shifting your weight forward, enough so that you can place your bent left knee high on your left tricep.
  • Hook your left toes around your right upper arm and grip. Keep your left shin parallel to your collarbones and perch on your arms like a branch.
  • Now, think Crow, just on one leg.
  • Bend your right knee, pull your chest through your arms, and lift the heel of your right foot to your right seat.


  • Push the floor away to broaden across your upper back. Engage your lower abdominals to support your lower back.
  • Slowly extend your right leg behind you, inner thigh lifting toward the ceiling and thigh bone drawing straight out from the hip socket.
  • Hold for a few breaths of flying time.
  • To come out of the pose, step your left leg back into and step the right leg back into Plank or Chaturanga.
  • Move through a vinyasa or push back to Downward Dog for a few breaths before repeating on the the other side.


Eka Pada Galavasana is a wonderful hybrid of many shapes that has its own unique energy. The more time you spend with it the clearer you’ll become on which pieces you can work on individually.

Photos: Bird in flight; pigeon pose from Thoughtfully Magazine; bent leg variation from Yoga by Candace; full posture

Sit With It

Chair Pose, Fierce Pose, Lightning Bolt Pose, Awkward Pose—Utkatasana has many names.

And it has a reputation for being kind of awful. It’s challenging, often uncomfortable, and a true test of grit. If the pose could talk it might ask: How do you deal with discomfort?

That said, there is much power in our perception. If you always come into Chair Pose thinking I hate this pose! then you will most likely never learn to love it or soften into it enough to learn from it. So while the gym maxim No Pain No Gain may apply to this posture, consider approaching it from a different angle. When muscles are firing and sweat is dripping, try to find a moment of gratitude for the incredible machine that is your body and the fact that you get to play with it in this way. Really, that’s very cool.


Physical Benefits

  • Strengthens thigh and foot muscles
  • Increases mobility in the ankle joints
  • Tones the core
  • Works the triceps and biceps
  • Opens the heart
  • Increases awareness in the pelvic floor and movement of the tailbone
  • Presents an opportunity to practice Mula Bandha


How to Do It

  1. Stand with your feet together, big toes touching, and find Tadasana through the soles of the feet. Shift your weight until you feel it distributed evenly between the bases of the big and little toe and the center of the heel.

  2. With your hands on your hips, exhale deeply as you bend your knees and lower your seat toward the floor. Use the image of descending into an imaginary chair.

  3. Stop the descent when your base becomes unstable and you shift your weight to the inner or outer edges of the feet instead of balancing on your triangle of support.

  4. Look down at your knees. If you can’t see your big toes peeking out from underneath them draw your hips back until they come into view. You may have to straighten the legs a little to do so.

  5. Squeeze an imaginary (or real*) block between the upper thighs and energetically draw your outer hip points in.

  6. Lenghten your arms out in front of you and raise them overhead, palms facing each other and pinkies rotating toward the midline.

  7. Think Cat Pose in the tailbone and draw it underneath you, as if tucking your tail between your legs. Be mindful of overarching through the low back. Knit your ribs in to stay stable through the torso.

  8. Engage the muscles of the upper arms and soften the shoulder blades down the back, creating a subtle heart opening.

  9. Stay.

  10. Practice gratitude.

  11. To come out, anchor firmly through the soles of your feet to lengthen your legs, and then release your arms down by your sides.

*If you’re working with a block, start the pose with the feet hips-width distance.


Prep pose: Use a block and the wall to strengthen your hamstrings and quadriceps.

The more comfrortable you get in chair pose the more you can use it as a base for other postures, like Twisted Chair, Figure-Four Pose, Side Crow, or, the pose we’ll explore next, Eka Pada Galavasana. Until then, sit deeply.

Photos: @nikksnow in Chair Pose; exercise class; chair prep against the wall

The Tipping Point

* An etymological note: Crow Pose (Kakasana) and Crane Pose (Bakasana) have become so intertwined that most teachers (including this one) teach Kakasana but call it Bakasana and many students do Crane and think it’s Crow. The poses are quite similar, the main difference being that in Crow the arms are bent and in Crane the arms are straight. For the purposes of this post we are treating them as one pose and calling it Crow. 

Somewhere between downdog and forearm stand lives Crow Pose, a low-to-the-ground arm balance that requires trust, fearlessness, strongly grounded hands and an Uddiyana Bandha practice. 

How to Come Into Crow

  • Start in a squat, feet beneath your hips, outer edges parallel.
  • Place your hands on the floor about a foot out in front of you. They should be shoulder-width distance apart, wrists in line with your toes.
  • Fingers spread wide, press evenly through your palms and lift your heels away from the floor.
  • Pour more weight into your palms and shift your shoulders over your wrists.
  • Gaze is forward, not down.
  • Press your knees into the backs of your triceps. Bend the elbows for balance and support as needed, keeping your knees hugging toward the midline and pressed firmly into the backs of the arms. Pro Tip: This pose is really hard to do if you’re sweaty!
  • Engage Uddiyana Bandha, drawing the navel to the spine.
  • Keep the ball of one foot down. Come onto the toes of the other foot.
  • Switch feet.
  • Keep the ball of one foot down and hover the other foot off the floor.
  • Switch feet.
  • Now, with one foot up, hover the other to meet it.
  • Keep looking forward!
  • Uddiyana is engaged but you are still breathing; just maintain an awareness of your hollow belly and your bellybutton pulling your low back up toward the sky.
  • Lower your heels back down to return to earth.


Try it With Blocks

If you don’t want to fall on your face, place a block infront of your palms. Shift your weight forward and rest your forehead on the block as you draw your heels up.

If floating your feet feels impossible, start the pose by standing on one block, long edges facing the short edges of your mat. When you come into the pose, your feet will be much closer to your seat, making it much easier to lift off and experience that flying sensation.


Forearm Variations

Still afraid of falling? Totally normal. Try coming into the pose on your forearms to start.

  • With your forearms on the floor, bring your thumbs to touch and rest your forehead on them.
  • Walk your knees onto your triceps.
  • Lift your heels toward your seat.
  • When you feel comfortable, pick your head up and gaze forward.



Over time and with practice it will become easier to straighten the arms and balance for several long breaths. The options for getting out of crow in a vinyasa practice are all challenging and fun: jumping straight into chatarunga, pushing up into handstand, lowering the forehead to the floor and coming into Sirsasana…or just finding both feet back down on the ground.

Photos: Top crow; crow with crow; forearm crow; David Martinez (straight arm variation). 

Yoga Lab: Bird of Paradise

Over the past several weeks we’ve been building up to a peak pose, Svarga Dvijasana, or Bird of Paradise.

First we broke down Extended Side Angle, a challenging pose in its own right that opens the hips and inner groins — a must for what’s to come. After that we tackled binds, exploring deep shoulder opening and spinal flexibility. In addition to being a bound inner-groin opener, Bird of Paradise is a standing balancing posture. It really doesn’t get much more dynamic than this.

Our lovely Five Pillars teacher Erika Mehiel got in front of the camera to demo the transition from Bound Extended Side Angle, with both feet on the ground, to one-footed Svarga Dvijasana. Here’s how she does it:

A centered self, a steady gaze, a clear shifting of weight, and plenty of breath. These, as Erika points out, are totally key elements to rising up and staying steady.


Also crucial? Retaining an open heart. Because we rise into this posture with a rounded back there’s a tendency to keep the lumbar spine puffed out and the shoulders hunched forward. More challenging in this shape than straightening the lifted leg is broadening the collarbones, supporting the low back with a strong belly and shining the heart up toward the ceiling.

Once upright, kiss the shoulder blades together around the spine and roll the shoulders back and down.


Keep thinking about streaming the hipbone of the standing leg forward while working the outward rotation of the lifted leg. To increase your likelihood of effortlessly pointing the toes of that leg toward the ceiling,  dive into hamstring openers when you’re on the ground. Forward folds — seated or standing — and half or full Hanumanasana (a.k.a. The Splits) will all help you get there.


Svarga Dvijasana is one of those poses that looks super impressive, but the final Ta-da! moment is the result of small steps, intentional preparation and steady practice.


Photos: Bound forward fold @laviebohemeyoga; bent leg variation from lifeesbella.tumblr; extended leg variation from

Yoga on the Autumnal Equinox

Today marks the Autumnal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, the true start of fall and a day split evenly between darkness and light. Since the Summer Solstice we’ve been slowly losing daylight; now we hit equilibrium, a balancing pose between sun and earth that, as the days pass, will gradually tilt toward darkness. The process will reverse itself on the Winter Solstice in December, the shortest day of the year, when our days will grow longer again.

To honor the seasonal shift and this fine moment of cosmic balance, we’re practicing a simple sequence designed to bring our dual aspects into alignment.

Autumnal Equinox Flow

  • Start in Mountain Pose, Tadasana. Close your eyes and draw energy up through the soles of your feet. Follow it up the spine and out the crown of your head. Bring your awareness to your breath and trace it up and down the midline for several inhales and exhales. If you work with an intention, set one now.
  • Open your eyes and step your left foot back about three feet. Turn all ten toes to face the long edge of the mat, outer edges of your feet parallel. Square your hips and then set up for Trikonasana, Triangle Pose. Turn your right toes to the top edge of the mat and align your right heel with your left arch.


  • Lengthen the arms, shift your hips back and hinge forward. Place your top hand on your leg, a block, the floor or peace-wrap your big toe.
  • Stay in Triangle for several breaths.
  • Rise up from Triangle and lengthen your stance. Bend the front knee deeply over the ankle and press firmly through the outer edge of your back foot. Extend through your fingers and sink into Warrior Two.


  • From Warrior Two, tip forward and place your fingertips on the floor outside your right foot. Shift your weight and gaze forward, get light on your back toes and float the left leg up. Stack the left hip on top of the right, lift the top arm and turn your gaze to the ceiling. You’re in Ardha Chandrasana, Half Moon Pose.


  • Imagine yourself balanced between two planes of glass, or picture yourself at the intersection of day and night, not leaning more into one than the other.
  • Come out of Half Moon by lowering your top hand to the floor and squaring your hips to the mat. Keep your back leg lifted.
  • Dome your back by drawing your belly into your spine. Bend the lifted knee toward your nose and draw it into your chest. Wrap your hands around the shin below your knee, firm through your standing foot and rise up to stand on one leg.
  • Place the sole of your left foot on the inseam of your right leg. Take Tree.


  • Stay in Vrksasana for at least ten breaths. When you’re complete, lower the leg and find Tadasana. Restate your intention and prepare for the second side.
  • Move through the poses on the left side. After tree, take rest in Child’s Pose and then relax into Shavasana.
 Photos: Autumn mandala from; Triangle from; Warrior Two from; Half Moon from; Brooklyn Bridge Tree Pose from

Yoga Lab: Extended Side Angle, Three Ways

Utthita Parsvakonasana is one of those foundational yoga asanas that, much like Adho Mukka Svanasana, requires a solid understanding of body geometry in order to reap its full benefits. Plenty challenging on its own, Extended Side Angle is also a vital stepping stone for showier poses like Baddha Parsvakonasana (the bound variation), Visvamitrasana and Bird of Paradise.

We’ll cover the last of those, Bird of Paradise, in a few weeks; until then, consider this a review of the not-so-basic basics.

Option One: Elbow to Knee 


Utthita Parsvakonasana has three clear stopping points on the path to full extension. In all variations the legs are rock steady. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Legs are in…
  • A Warrior Two stance with the heel of the front foot in line with the arch of the back foot.
  • The outer edge of the back foot is yearning for the floor.
  • The front knee is at ninety degrees (look down and see your big toe).
  • Energy is being pulled up from the base of the pelvic floor; engage Mula bandha, or your root lock, to keep the pose from energetically sinking into the ground.
  • Lift the front toes to avoid gripping with the front foot and sinking too much of your weight over the bent knee.

The extended part of this pose is the side body lengthening that occurs from the pinkie toe side of the back foot through the fingers of the top arm. Imagine a clear line of energy moving up and out. But don’t let the underside of the rib cage get squished. Pick your side waist up and off the top of the bent thigh and draw your hip point up and back.

Now this is where the elbow comes in. To keep all that length, place your bent elbow on your front knee and push down, using it as leverage. Roll your shoulder blade down the back — think of the two shoulder blades kissing around the spine — and use the downward thrust of the elbow to open the heart toward the ceiling.

Sweep the front arm across the chest, past the face and up and over the top ear. Turn your gaze to your top thumb.

Option Two: Hand to Block


Place a block at any height outside your front foot. Keep everything the same in the lower body as described above but lower your bottom hand to the block. Without the press of the elbow against the knee you’ll need to breath even more length into the lower side ribs. Make sure the front knee is tracking over the ankle.

Option Three: Hand to Floor 


Feeling good? Okay, remove the block and bring your finger pads or the palm of your hand to the floor. Keep opening the heart up to the ceiling.

Bonus Option: Bound Variation 


A little visual inspiration for taking it to the next level. Here the opening of the heart is crucial to bringing the top arm back and down.

No rush. Enjoy variations one through three for as long as you desire. As we work up to Bird of Paradise we’ll spend more time breaking down the shape pictured above.

Photos: Top photo from; elbow on knee variation from; yogi Leslie Howard with the block variation from Yoga Journal; hand down variation from; twisted side angle from

Adho Mukha Svanasana

There may not be a pose more associated with yoga in the West than downward facing dog. It’s the peak of Surya Namaskar A, the Salute to the Sun, and serves as a resting pose or home base for many vinyasa sequences.

Incredibly common, it’s also sneakily hard. Adho (downward) Mukha (face) Svan (dog) asana (pose) positions the head below the heart, making it an inversion. Like any inversion, this posture requires simultaneous rooting down and lifting up. In this case the peak of the posture is the tailbone, with the heels and the palms providing a deepening foundation into the ground.



Apana vayu, the downward flow of prana through the body, is at play, drawing energy down the backs of the legs and out the heels; meanwhile prana vayu, upward flow, keeps the heart from collapsing and supports the low back by lifting the belly in and up, creating a platform for the tailbone to lift up and off of.

All of that energy play is good for the soul. Here’s how:

  • Downward dog calms the brain and energizes the body
  • Helps relieve stress and acts as a balm for mild depression
  • Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings and calves
  • Brings energy and awareness to the arches of the feet and the hands
  • Strengthens the arms and legs
  • Alleviates the symptoms of menopause and, when done with the head supported, can ease menstrual cramps
  • Improves digestion
  • Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
  • Is beneficial for anyone with high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet, sciatica or sinusitis



Before coming into it, try a couple plank poses to feel into the press of the palms and the balls of the feet. Roughly speaking, the length of your plank is the same as your down dog, meaning your hands and feet should stay in the same place as you move from one shape to another.

  • To get into Adho Mukha, start in table on your hands and knees. Stack your shoulders, elbows, and wrists; make sure your spine is long and your hips are over your knees.
  • Tuck your toes, hover your knees off the floor and slowly lift your sitting bones toward the ceiling.
  • Lengthen your tailbone away from your low back. If you had a tail, think of sending it straight up instead of tucking it between your legs.
  • On an exhale, push your thighs back and your heels down as you slowly straighten the knees. Bent knees are fine, too — whatever avoids congestion in the low back.
  • Firm the outer arms and press through the palms, especially the webbing between the index finger and the thumb.
  • Draw your forearms energetically inward, toward each other, and your upper arms out and away from each other.
  • Pick your shoulder blades up and draw them down toward your tailbone.
  • Draw your chest into your spine (no dumping in the ribs) and draw the ears in line with the upper arms.
  • Stay for as long as you like, breathing evenly and adjusting as you lift up and settle down.
  • Finish with a long child’s pose.
Photos: Top dog from lovelyyogi; partner picture found here

Yoga Lab: Ardha Chandrasana

Grounded and uplifting, Ardha Chandrasana is a standing balancing posture that’s also a hip and heart-opener. Ardha is the Sanskirt word for half, and chandra means moon. The yogi is inside the half moon: Her stacked arms create the full circle’s diameter and her outstretched leg reaches back to the curve of the moon behind her.

Astronomy bonus: The moon reached the halfway point of its cycle on Sunday, so now’s a great time to practice this asana, cosmically speaking. a0ee86aec66ff735abdcd27fc534891d

Half Moon Pose is frequently taught as part of a vinyasa flow, usually toward the middle or end of a standing sequence. As such, there’s often not a lot of time to play in it. Like any balancing posture it’s nice to have several breathes to fall in and out of equilibrium, and, as a hip opener, to find the stacking of the hips that makes the pose almost effortless.

Why do it? Well, Ardha Chandrasana

  • Works the whole core (front to back)
  • Strengthens the ankles, knees, thighs and bum
  • Tones the intercostal muscles
  • Stretches the inner groin muscles, hamstrings and calves
  • Opens the shoulders, chest and heart
  • Increases spinal flexibility
  • Improves coordination, focus and balance
  • Regulates kidney function, helping to improving digestion and relieve constipation

It also feels a little bit like flying.


Here’s how to get into it. 

Make sure your hips and groin are open and affable before you begin. Consider spending a few minutes in Baddha Konasana, Bound Angle Pose, with the soles of your feet together, knees opening out to the sides. Allow the inner groins to relax and press the feet together so the thighs can roll out and away from each other.

Next, stack and open the hips with a three-legged down dog. Lift one leg, bend the knee and point it up toward the ceiling. Lengthen through the side body, and let gravity pull the foot of your lifted leg toward the floor behind you. Stay for several breathes, and repeat on the other side.


When your hips feel awake, take a wide stance front-to-back on your mat, setting up for Utthita Trikonasana, Extended Triangle Pose. (For more on Triangle check out our Yoga Labs on the original and the revolved version.)

We’ll start on the right side. Align your front heel with your back arch. Ground down through the feet and press firmly into the outer edges to allow the inner thighs to outwardly rotate, away from the midline of your body. Extend your arms from your shoulders and hinge forward, bringing your right hand to rest on your right shin or on the floor. Moving on, bend the front knee gently and walk your fingertips out in front of you, past the edge of your mat. Advanced option: Place a block under your hand. (It is the truly wise yogi who knows when to seek support.)

Bring your left hand to your left hip crease and slowly lift your left leg up behind you, pouring weight into your right foot and fingertips as you come forward. With the left leg extended behind you, make sure your foot is in the same line as your hip socket, foot flexed, toes facing in.

Use your left hand to manually open your left hip up, stacking left hip on top of right. Stay here, or straighten your left arm up to the ceiling, making one long arm from your extended left fingertips to your grounded right hand. If it feels okay in your neck, shift your gaze to your left hand.


Continue to stack the hips and shoulders. Tip your heart up to the sky. Engage through both feet. Stay awhile. Then float on down and take it on the second side.

Photos: Top watercolor illustration available here; moon phase watercolor by tigermilk; first quarter moon photo by Priya Kumar; Triangle Pose illustration by Minne; photo from Whole Living 

Yoga Lab: Parivrtta Trikonasana

Spring on the east coast has had a bit of a late start, but it’s still the season for clearing out and starting fresh (see our colon cleanse post for a specific sort of purge), and twists are where it’s at when it comes to self-cleaning.

Deeply stimulating for our internal organs, twists improve digestion and create heat in the belly — great fuel for starting a new project or finishing one that’s been lingering. Twists also energize the spine by creating space between the vertebrae, letting energy flow more freely (consider the energetic difference between a slumped spine and a tall one).

So, let’s get into one! 

A challenging standing twist we love is Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle). There is a lot going on in this posture — twisting, forward-folding, hamstring-stretching, and balancing. It requires rooting down into the ground and ascending up toward the sky; there is an ease and lightness in the upper body and a strong level of action in the legs. The center of this pose is an engaged belly, fired-up enough to support the low back as the spine lengthens forward, and soft enough to allow the twist to happen from the navel.

How to prepare:

Start by lengthening and warming up your hamstrings in Janu Sirsasana: 

Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with both legs extended out in front of you. Draw the sole of your left foot to the inside of your right thigh, ground through your sitz bones, extend through your spine and hinge forward over your straight front leg. Move the crown of your head toward your flexed toes, keeping your spine straight. Bend your elbows out to the sides to draw yourself deeper. Repeat on the left side.

Next, take a seated twist, like Ardha Matsyendrasana or Marichyasana III: 

Come back to Dandasana and bend your right knee toward your chest, sole of your foot on the floor. For Marichyasana III stay here and wrap your left arm around your bent right leg, bringing the elbow to the outside of the knee. For Ardha Matsyendrasana, place the sole of the right foot outside the left thigh and take the twist. When coming into both, twist from the navel first, slowly turning your chest to the left. Repeat on the second side.



Come into Triangle pose in your legs, right foot forward. The distance between your feet will depend on your own body geometry, but start with your back foot behind you by about 3½ to 4 feet. In Triangle, the heel of the front foot is in line with the arch of the back foot, like in Warrior Two; traditionally, Revolved Triangle maintains the same set-up, but I like to work with the feet slightly wider apart (toward the long edges of your mat). Find a happy distance somewhere between Warrior Two and Warrior One. The back foot should be at a 45-degree angle or so.

What’s happening in the legs? Good question. The thighs are moving away from each other (outward rotation), away from the midline. Knees are slightly bent, quad, hamstring and calf muscles engaged. The outer edge of the back foot is pressing firmly into the mat.

If you have one, use a block. Place it, to start, on the inside of your front foot at the highest height.

Bring your hands to your hips. Use an exhale to square them, as much as possible, toward the top of the mat (this is where having your feet slightly wide apart comes in handy). You’ll most likely need to drop your front (right) hip point down, shift it toward the back of your mat and and pick your back (left) hip point up.

Keep your hands on your hips and hinge forward. Find a long spine and flat back; reach the crown of your head out in front of you until there’s no where else to go and then reach a little more. Keep your right hand on your hip and place your left hand on the block inside your right foot.

Hook your thumb into your right hip crease to draw your right hip back.

Inhale to draw your belly up and away from your hip crease. On your exhale, turn your torso to the right, keeping your hip points as square as possible. Ground your back heel, press through the knife edge of your back foot and move your left thigh bone back in space.

Press into the block with your left hand or come onto fingertips. Continue turning your torso to the right, twisting from the navel. Think about pressing your heart against the ceiling.

Keep your hand there or slowly raise your right arm up, shoulders in line, shoulder blades drawing toward the spine.

Being mindful of your neck, shift your gaze to your top thumb if that arm is extended. Other options for the gaze are out in front of you or toward the floor.


Stay here for several long, grounding breathes. On an exhale, release the twist and bring your torso back upright on your inhale. Repeat on the second side, twisting to the left.


Top photo courtesy of Garvey Rich; Marichyasana III picture from

Yoga Lab: Camel Pose

Full wheel, Urdhva Dhanurasana, with only your feet and hands on the floor and lots of space between your back and the ground, can be a little intimidating. Camel, or Ustrasana, is a great way to ease into back-bending. Grounded and dynamic, it offers many stopping points along the way for practitioners at any level, and, when you’re ready, the option to drop back into full wheel like a piece of spaghetti.

Why do it?

Backbends are powerful medicine. They can function like a yogic cup of coffee, drawing your energy in and up and making everything a little bit clearer and more vibrant. They’re also heart-openers in disguise: as your spine curves and back muscles fire, your heart gets (energetically) cracked wide open and intentionally exposed. Knowing what a physically exposed heart feels like on the mat makes finding an emotionally open one off the mat an easier and more familiar practice.

tumblr_lqnpkfFRei1qg46ogo1_500Here are more of the benefits: 

  • Shoulder, chest, and quadricep opener
  • Energy booster
  • Mood improver
  • Throat opener
  • Psoas stretch (the psoas is a major muscle group in the hip flexors that gets a lot of work but not a lot of love)
  • Back strengthener
  • Abdomen and chest opener
  • Entire front body stretch, from the ankles up through the throat


Here’s how to do it: 

1. Come to your knees with your legs hip-width apart. Tuck your toes under and flex your feet. Place your hands on your hips and put your thumbs on your sacrum, the broad triangular bone at the base of your spine. Stack your hips over your knees and internally rotate your thighs toward the midline. Use a prop: To find inward thigh rotation, place a block skinny-ways midway between your knees and pelvic floor, short end sticking out. Squeeze! Think of shooting the block back behind you, like a piece of Pez in a Pez dispenser.

Go Deeper: For more bend, enter the pose with your toes untucked and the tops of your feet on the floor.

2. Energetically draw your tailbone toward your knees and reach the crown of your head toward the sky, creating space between your vertebrae.

3. Imagine a golden thread anchored to your heart center and, on an inhale, allow it to pull you up toward the sky. Draw your shoulders down your back and your elbows toward each other. Feel your rib cage expand.

4. Keep your chest raised, your core engaged, and your spine long. Gently tuck your chin toward your chest. Think about opening your heart instead of bending your back.

5. Stay here. You’re doing it! Or, to go deeper, lower one hand onto your raised heel and then the other, fingers pointing toward the floor. Keep lifting through your sternum and taking long, deep breaths.

6. If it feels safe for your neck, gently lower your head behind you and gaze at the tip of your nose.

7. Come out of the posture the same way you came into it. Bring your chin toward your chest and your hands to your hips one at a time. Engage through your lower belly and use your hands to support your low back. Rise up slowly.


Use more blocks! Place two at the tallest height in between your heels and lower your hands on to them instead of dropping them to your heels. Adjust the height of the blocks as needed.

Use the wall: To keep your hips stacked over your knees, face a wall and press your legs against it. Come into the pose from here.

Use a chair: Take a cue from Iyengar and use a chair as a prop. Drape your hands back onto chair legs and lower your neck onto the back of the chair (with a folded up towel for maximum comfort vibes). For total security scoot the chair against a wall.


Yoga Lab: Warrior What?

Aside from Down Dog, Virabhadrasana I and II are some of the most commonly practiced asanas in a yoga class. This doesn’t mean they’re easy. In my mind, Virabhadrasana I is one of the most challenging postures out there — it’s a potpourri blend of stability, balance, flexibility, alignment, strength and grace. Try embodying all of those things in just one inhale and exhale before dropping to the floor for chaturanga. That’s not to say that these poses aren’t great in a flow, but it’s important to break them down first, and really understand how they feel in your body, before throwing them into the vinyasa mix.

Warrior One

warrior one

Feet: Hip-width distance (or wider) apart. The common analogy here is a train track. Place your feet wide, one on each track, to allow your hips to square to the front of the mat. If your hipbones had headlights, they’d be beaming out straight in front of you. Pro tip: If coming into this posture from downward facing dog, place your right foot to the outside of your right hand (or left foot, left hand) before coming to stand. That way you’re already starting the pose with a wide base.

Back foot: Toes angled in, toward the top corner of your mat, at a roughly 45-degree angle. The outer edge (pinkie toe-side) of the foot is pressing into the mat.

Legs: Front-knee bent at a ninety-degree angle, knee over ankle. To ensure your knee isn’t collapsing in, look down and make sure you can smile at your front big toe. The back leg is really where it’s at in this posture. The inner seam of the leg is going to want to sink toward the floor. Resist the temptation and press up from the inner arch. Take a tiny bend in the back knee to avoid locking it, and think about turning the kneecap and the inner thigh flesh up and out, away from the opposite leg.

Hips: Square! Or with the intention of square. They may never get there, and that’s okay.

Upper body: Arms raised, shoulders down the back, gaze at your thumbs. Angels sing.

Warrior Two 

warrior two

Feet: Get off the train tracks and find a tightrope. Here the feet are in one line: The heel of the front foot bisects the arch of the back, which means you’ll have to do a little shuffle to get your feet into position if coming into Warrior Two from Warrior One. The angle of the back toes is the same as in Warrior One.

Legs: Back leg is long and strong. Play with increasing the distance between your feet, from the top of the mat to the back. You may be able to bend a little bit more deeply into the front knee. Check out your first few toes.

Hips: Warrior Two is a hip opener, and the action comes from allowing your thighs to open out and away from each other. A strong foundation in the legs will allow you to sink safely into the hips. Tuck your tailbone underneath you instead of letting your butt poke out behind you, and again, ensure that your bent knee isn’t collapsing inward.

Upper Body: The shoulders love to creep up to the ears in this pose. Drop ’em! Float your shoulders over your hips, draw your shoulder blades together, and open through the collarbones. It’s also common for the torso to creep forward as the front hand reaches. Explore centering your body right above your hips

Arms: Think about making one long arm from the tips of your front fingers to the tips of your back fingers. The back hand likes to go a little wonky here, so sneak a peek and see that it’s extending out evenly from the wrist. Turn your gaze back to your front hand and ask yourself, “What is my life’s purpose!?”


And, a little yoga PSA: Remember Right Movement! What makes it “right” is that it’s right for you. Always feel free, in any class, to slow down and come into right alignment, even if the teacher is urging you on. Finding these poses in your own body is more important than finding them in someone else’s flow. Namaste.

Photos: Reposted from the awesome Instagram account Where Is My Mat

Five Pillars Welcomes David Regelin!

Photographs taken by Luke Ratray

We’re thrilled to welcome an exceptional and esteemed teacher to the Five Pillars’ family. David Regelin is well known in New York, and further afield, for his dynamic, thoughtful and alignment-focused classes.

To say he has a busy travel schedule is an understatement. David leads retreats, workshops and talks all around the world, so a regular weekly class here in NYC isn’t a given. We’re thrilled he’s able to join us here at Five Pillars on Tuesday nights (Open Vinyasa, from 6:15 – 7:30), not only because we get to share him with all of you, but because WE get to take his class as well!

I bumped into Five Pillars co-founder Karen Mehiel leaving the studio after his first class this past Tuesday, and she had that blissed-out look a great yoga class can incite. “His class was amazing!” she said with a beaming smile before floating out the door.

I asked her for some more detail…

 “David had both a personable and methodical approach. He taught the class how to achieve the best poses for each individual’s level in a straightforward and clear style. He stopped the class a few times to break down some of the more challenging postures demonstrating them on class volunteers. Even with these few breaks, the class was still a rigorous and fulfilling experience. With David’s instructions and hands-on assistance, for the first time I went into a full wheel.”

Co-founder Olga Palladino echoed these sentiments. A long-time teacher (and always a student!) she came away from class with new knowledge, thanks to the way he explained the anatomy and approach to important seated postures Pachimotanasana and ankle to knee pose.

It seems this is just what David hopes for. His profile on the Kripalu website puts it well:

“His goal is to turn students into teachers, so that they learn to self-adjust, heal, ground, and/or uplift themselves, and develop their own skillful means to become powerful and graceful practitioners.”

We hope you’ll come out on Tuesdays and welcome David to Five Pillars! In the meantime… if you’d like a little inspiration, discover his “Geometry of Yoga” video below or subscribe to his YouTube channel!