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Posts Tagged ‘Asana’

The Yoga of Swimming

If you love swimming and are interested in deepening your pranayama practice on the mat, you are in for a wonderful surprise. Whether you swim laps or enjoy water recreationally, you probably recognize that swimming can transform the way you feel. Similar to yoga, the before and after effects are astounding! A powerful, low-impact activity, swimming can also become a incredible pranayama.


Pranayama refers to breathing exercises or breath control. Breath control is one of the very first things we learn during swim lessons by blowing bubbles into the pool. Aside from yoga practice and swimming, there are few places in life where we intentionally control our breathing. With intention and awareness, we can transform swimming into yoga.


What was that about pranayama? Most of the time, we breathe automatically. During yogic breathing exercises, we control the breath to create more energy or prana in our bodies. Pranayama is one of the eight limbs of yoga (Ashtanga = eight limbs) in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Ashtanga Yoga is a pathway to ultimate freedom and bliss. Although modern-day yoga is often dominated by yoga asanas or postures, breathing exercises are given equal importance in the Yoga Sutras.



How do we practice pranayama while swimming? When we swim, we hold our breath to go under water and then slowly let the air out while we propel ourselves forward or backward. When we surface, we take another big breath and continue the pattern we have started. The more rhythm we create with our breathing, the more ease we feel when swimming. In essence, we learn to coordinate our breath with movement, which is the foundational concept in a yoga vinyasa class. In fact, the word vinyasa means “a method in yoga in which movements and breath are coordinated.” Paying attention and controlling our breath during yoga practice and swimming alike has the capacity to create a vinyasa, or a moving meditation.


 Swimming and pranayama are mutually beneficial.


Practicing swimming requires breath control and rhythmic breathing, which will deepen your yoga practice on the mat. And practicing pranayama on land can help to enhance your swimming techniques and lung capacity in the pool. Win-win.


That said, you may be thinking to yourself: I swim all summer and even during the other months of the year, but my mind races while I swim and I am hardly aware of how I am breathing… I am on autopilot. How is this like yoga?


Like the ease we feel peddling and balancing once we have learned to ride a bike, breath control while swimming becomes automatic. Even though we are raising our energy levels and opening energy channels in our body when we swim regardless of our intention, awareness and mindfulness gradually shifts our experience in the water.


The Yoga of Swimming = Swimming + Intention + Awareness


Without intention and awareness, yoga resembles stretching, calisthenics, sitting, or even napping. Similarly, without mindfulness, swimming is the act of moving through water. Intention and awareness transforms these movements and postures into what we call yoga. Yoga is the union or yoking of mind with spirit.


When you cultivate mindfulness and intention, swimming can become yoga, leaving you with a deep sense of inner peace, freedom, and even bliss! Ready to dive in?



Three Ways to Practice the Yoga of Swimming:


In the pool: How does your physical body feel before and after you swim? What happens to your energy before and after you swim? Do you feel pulsing, streaming or tingling sensations? How do you feel emotionally before and after your swim? Notice your state of mind before you enter the water. Then notice your state of mind at the end of your practice.


On the mat: While you are practicing yoga on your mat, imagine you are moving through water. Anytime you expand (raise your arms, lift your heart, head, or hips), inhale deeply. And anytime your contract (fold forward, root into the ground, sink your hips, lower your hands), slowly exhale. When you hold postures, create long inhalations. Imagine you are about to dive under the water at the top of your inhalation and pause. Then slowly exhale. At the bottom of your exhalation, imagine you are still under water and pause. Continue this breathing pattern. With a little intention and imagination, you can use your experience in the water to deepen your yoga on the mat.


Practice yoga by the water: Practice yoga by the water. If you are by a pool, take your standing balancing postures into the shallow end of the pool. Then, end your asana practice with savasana on a floatation device or lying down next to the water. Try meditating near water after you swim or practice yoga.


*Be sure to use safety precautions while practicing by water, especially the ocean, and have fun!

 

 

 

 

Yoga 101: Breaking Down the Bandhas

Much like the chakras, the bandhas are an esoteric, unseeable internal-energy system. This makes them pretty hard to describe, let alone use, but chances are you’ve wondered about them if they’re not already part of your yoga tool kit.

Let’s break them down.

Bandha means lock or bond in Sansksrit. There are three bandha spots in the body that correspond to three chakras, or energy centers. From the ground up they are:

  • 1st chakra: Mula Bhanda (Root Lock)
  • 3rd chakra: Uddiyana Bhanda (Navel Lock)
  • 5th chakra: Jalandara Bhanda (Chin Lock)

When a bandha is engaged it stops the flow of energy, in the form of breath, to that part of the body; when a bandha is released it floods that area with extra energy.

Why use them?

We’ve nested this post under the pillar of Right Breathing because the energy dynamics at play when the bandhas are engaged and released are pranayama energies. By manipulating breath—in some sense, the body’s greatest natural drug—we’re able to shift our internal landscape. Think about the heat-building qualities of Breath of Fire, the balancing effects of Alternate Nostril and the cooling capabilities of Sitali—all ways to enhance or shift our experience.

The same is true of the bandhas. When we incorporate the bandhas into our yoga and pranayama practices they enhance and change the nature of the poses, essentially kicking them up a notch. Simultaneously, they support the pranamayakosha—one layer of the energetic body—in deep cleaning by encouraging the flow of energy up (toward the crown chakra, seat of enlightenment) instead of down.

For the purposes of this post we’ll explore Mula Bandha, the root lock. Mula bandha is said to cut through brahma granthi, internal resistance to change that resides in our first chakra. Muladhara chakra is the one responsible for keeping us grounded and safe, so it makes sense that we’d have a natural aversion to anything unknown.

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How to Engage Mula Bhanda

First, release any weirdness around talking or thinking about the sex organs—they’re what this pose is all about.

A true root lock is very subtle. It takes time, practice and the help of a good teacher to really “get it,” so, in the beginning, cultivate a relationship with your pelvic floor and just get used to playing around down there.

  • Engage the muscles you use when you are trying not to pee.
  • For women, contract the muscles behind the cervix, at the base of your pelvic bowl, like a Kegel exercise.
  • For men, contract at the perineum, the sensitive spot between the anus and the testes.
  • Think about drawing the base of the pelvic floor up.
  • Start with big contractions. Initially, your anus will likely lift into the body, but over time, with refinement, it will stay neutral.
  • Sit on your heel or atop tennis ball. Position in at your perineum and roll over it while contracting the pelvic floor to feel the difference between anal and perineal contractions.
  • Like we said, it’s subtle, but the act of putting pressure in this zone will make Mula Bhanda feel more natural.
  • For women, this perineal contraction is happening while also drawing the vaginal walls in and up.
  • As you get more comfortable, explore Mula Bhanda from a deep squat, Goddess Pose, or Warrior 1.

The implications of Mula Bhanda on your yoga practice are manifold. Some schools recommend engaging it throughout your entire practice, a constant reminder to lift up and stay light. It’s especially useful in standing sequences or balancing poses, any time you want to shore up your foundation.

From a meditative standpoint, Mula Bhanda means bringing our senses in; it’s a cousin to the practice of Pratayahara, the fixing of our internal gaze inward. When we restrain our outward gaze we tune into our inner landcape and strengthen the third eye, our energetic seat of insight and intuition.

Check back for future posts on Uddiyana and Jalandara Bhanda.

Images: Sacred chakra wheel and Muladhara illustration

Yoga 101: Balancing Postures to Practice Every Day

Although it seems like winter weather patterns will never end, spring is officially here. Seasonal change affects our bodies much like it affects the nature that surrounds us. Our bodies are incredibly adaptable as we transition from season to season. That said, you may discover that you experience the less than desirable effects of your body’s spring cleaning. As your body gets ready for spring and summer, you may experience uncomfortable congestion and stagnant energy.

As the weather begins to change, practicing balancing postures can support mental, emotional and physical alignment, keeping you healthy all year long!


All About Balancing Postures


Benefits:

  • Strengthens ankles, legs, thighs and abdomen
  • Stretches calves and hamstrings
  • Improves balance and coordination
  • Hones focus/attention/coordination

Contraindications:

  • Injury to low back
  • Injury to ankle or knee
  • Irregular blood pressure

Adaptations: 

  • Microbend your standing leg
  • Practice with the support of a chair or the wall
  • Use any props (blocks, straps, etc.) that support the posture

Practice these two balancing postures daily to support your body as we transition from the colder winter and early spring months to the warmer months of spring and summer.


1) Ardha Chandrasana (Half-Moon Pose)


Providing an incredible stretch and powerful muscle engagement, half-moon pose challenges you to focus your mind, pay attention to your breath, and stabilize and align your physical body. By steadying your breath and focusing your gaze, you will easily enter the present moment with a calm mind and a strong body.

Get Started: Begin with your right foot facing the front of the mat. Engage your standing leg. Ground your right hand down on the floor or a block. Lift the left leg parallel (or higher) with the floor, stacking your hips. Flex the left foot and reach back through your heal. The left arm can stay on your hip. Once you find balance, extend the arm up towards the sky, opening across the chest. Allow your shoulder blades to move down your back. Pause between sides to receive the benefits of the posture- then repeat on the other side.


2) Natarajasana (Lord of the Dancers Pose)


This powerful and challenging posture combines balance with backbend, expanding across the heart center and calling upon our deepest inner attention. You will receive all of the strengthening and focusing benefits of balancing while working against the compression of the spine and expanding your lung capacity.

Get Started: Begin with your right foot facing the front of the mat. Engage your standing leg. Lift the left foot towards the sitting bone and take hold of the inner foot/ankle. Encourage your knees to move together and your hips to square forward toward the top of the mat. Extend your right arm to the sky. Press you foot firmly into the hand to broaden across the chest and open your shoulders. With concentration, slowly extend your left foot and leg back and up, while simultaneously reaching your torso and right arm forward and up. Pause between sides to receive the benefits of the posture- then repeat on the other side.

If you’d like to discuss how best to attune to the season through yoga, we’re here to support you! Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns, or for an individual session.

Spring Self Cleaning – Nice & Easy

As the cold of Winter sluggishly makes way for the energy of Spring, our bodies go through a similar process… Yearning to let go of all we’ve stored for the colder months, our body craves foods and practices that will help us detox and freshen up. Spring Cleaning starts from within!

Bitter greens, like arugula and dandelion, are the first edibles to sprout after the last frost, and it’s exactly these that we should be eating! An example of the genius and perfection of nature that we can use to inform our Right Nutrition. The bitter quality of these greens wrings out the liver and stimulates our digestive system. A far cry from the hearty curries, stews and casseroles that keep us warm December – February (or April this year!?), these young plants alert the body that winter is o-v-e-r! So, put Dandelion Tea and Arugula Salad at the top of your shopping list. Wash, rinse, eat, repeat! Mirroring the warming of the weather, the heating qualities of Ginger also help warm up and melt any stored abundance, while the light cooling qualities of cucumbers and the activating qualities of green tea can help lift us out of hibernation mode.


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Some Recipes to Get You Started:

Easy Sauteed Dandelion Greens

~ Arugala’s Greatest Hits, Courtesy of Marth Stewart

~ Spring Detox Smoothie

~ Easy Ayurvedic Cleansing Tea





As for Right Movement, the same principal applies: out with the old, in with the new! Our bodies crave TWISTS at this particular time.Twists give our organs a deep yet gentle massage, waking them up from sluggish functioning. Just like wringing out a wet towel, twisting enables our body to release stored toxins and acts as a general reboot, bringing about optimum functioning for the lighter, brighter season to come.


Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 3.29.07 PMTwo very basic but yummy options are Seated Spinal Twist and Reclined Spinal Twist. Getting a bit more advanced, you could opt for Revolved Triangle or Twisted Side Angle. Best not to go into deep twisting too early in the morning, before your body has a chance to get the Prana flowing… but practice a couple of these midday (or even at night as the body goes to sleep and into its rest/rejuvenate cycle) and your body will thank you!

Click Here To Check out Yoga Journal’s Encyclopedia of Twisting Shapes To Get Inspired

Or Try This Energizing, Twisty Sequence At Home

 

Yoga 101: Twist Into Spring

The cold winter months so often leave us feeling stagnant indoors, longing for the warm weather that is just around the corner. As the seasons change, twisting yoga postures can support a graceful transition from winter into spring by opening stuck energy channels. As we twist, we wring out the old and allow space for the new, cleansing and detoxing our bodies and minds. Plus twisting postures aid digestion and help to relieve lower back pain, while improving the health of the spine.

Twist yoga postures have incredible cleansing effects on the body and mind:

  • ~ Strengthen core, stimulate abdominal organs, and help to aid digestion
  • ~ Relieve stress and anxiety while improving mental clarity
  • ~ Stretch and strengthen muscles, ligaments, and joins in the back, chest, core, hips, and thighs
  • ~Hydrate the intervertebral discs, preventing compression that can occur as we age

#GoDeeper with Yoga Journal’s instructional video that will help you cleanse, detox and purify the body with twists. This sequence begins with a simple seated twisting posture and then quickly moves onto the feet, culminating with some standing postures that will challenge you to balance and then twist. If you do only one section of the video, make sure to practice your twists on both sides of your body.

Common challenges:

  • ~ Many people twist before finding extension in the spine, which causes the top shoulder to climb up toward the ear, closing off the heart and limiting the range of motion in the twisting position. Practice rooting into the ground, finding extension in the spine, lifting the chest, and then twisting from your center.
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  • ~ People also experience some neck strain when looking over the opposite shoulder during twisting postures. A delicious modification is to tuck the chin toward the chest, elongating the back of the neck. With the chin slightly tucked, allow the movement of the neck and head to follow the twist coming from your center. This subtle shift takes pressure off the neck and refocuses attention inward, allowing ease and grace to exist during the challenge of twisting postures.
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  • ~ Does your opposite sitz bone lift when you are twisting in seated positions? No problem! Use a blanket or cushion under your one or both of your sitz bones to bring the floor to you. This will help you to feel grounded so you can find extension through your spine as your twist.


As you explore twisting yoga posturestake your time to feel grounded and deepen your breath. Then find extension in the spine before twisting from your center. Firmly rooted feet or sitz bones support the extension and then the rotation of the spine. With your heart lifted and shoulders relaxed, follow the guidance of your own breath, finding extension in the spine on the inhalation and twisting deeper on the exhalation. Imagine letting go of any stuck feelings, thoughts, or energy each time you twist, connecting your body with your mind, moving into spring with clarity and balance.


 

 

Contraindications Worth Noting:
~ If you have a recent or chronic back injury or inflammation in any part of your body affected by twisting, these postures may do more harm than good.

~ These postures are not recommended if you have herniated disc.

 

Warm Up With Our Winter Yoga Sequence

Winter is in full swing and it has been absolutely frigid. If you are feeling stagnant and finding your Right Movement practice challenging, you are not alone. After weeks of freezing weather, you may be feeling a bit lethargic, blue or just not quite yourself. Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Although we obviously did not create the frosty weather, we are often able to choose how we respond to our circumstances. Yoga is the perfect practice for shifting mindset, re-energizing the body and the mind.

So when when the doldrums set in- or better yet, before the blues take hold- take 10 minutes to practice our short soothing sequence to build warmth from the inside-out. You will find yourself renewed and ready to take on your Winter plans with presence and zeal.

This sequence is designed to slowly warm up with breath and continuous movement; and then go deeper into energizing postures that will leave you feeling ready to head out into the brisk air.


Sun salutation variations plus some standing
core-strengthening postures build heat.

This helps to warm the muscles up and prevent injury.

It also begins the process of moving in meditation. 
Once the heat and breath flows, deeper twists, folding and backbending
postures open up stuck energy channels and generate much-needed life force.
Take your time flowing from posture to posture, breathing deeply and moving joyfully.
Hold postures for 3-5 deep breaths.


 


Sequencing is about balance — exploring a posture and then offering the body a soothing counter posture. Winter is a time to balance the natural tendency to turn inwards with postures that open the heart and generate a sense of openness to the world. Rather than push through the stagnant energy that so easily builds during Winter, there is the opportunity to breathe deeply and move into yoga postures slowly and deliberately, paying attention to the subtle shifts that emerge.

Holiday Survival Sequence

The frosty chill in the air marks a transition from Fall to Winter, as well as the holiday season, which can be a time for slowing down and enjoying the company of loved ones.

Perhaps more than any other time of year, the holidays are a time to celebrate giving as well as receiving. They are a time of cherished exchange.

For many of us, however, holidays can bring up mixed emotions. More often than not, we find ourselves overstretched providing for others, accommodating the crowd, and filled to the brim with rich holiday food, not to mention the challenges many people face reuniting with relatives absent from our lives until this special time of year. We tend to hold this tension in our bodies.

A regular yoga practice can provide tremendous relief amongst the cheer and chaos of the holiday season. Remembering the core values of holiday spirit and slowing down enough to enjoy the experience is easier said than done. The following short sequence can support digestive and emotional balance in the upcoming weeks, helping you to ride the waves of the season.

~ Begin with a short warm-up. You can practice 3-5 sun salutations, take a brisk walk or jog, and/or practice 3 rounds of kapalabhati breathing to prepare the body for the postures.

~ When you feel warm, move into the following sequence, holding each posture for five deep breaths, or until your body tells you to move onto the next side or into the next posture. Be gentle with yourself.


 

The sequence

  1. Eagle for stability 

  2. Squat for strength 

  3. Seated Spinal Twist for digestion 

  4. Reclined Spinal Twist for relaxation


 

Eagle pose    Squat TwistReclining Twist



Simple? Yes.

Powerful? Absolutely.

Each of these asanas will give your body and mind a different gift that we are certain you deserve this season! And for those who think they don’t have time, here’s a gentle but firm reminder to chuck out any excuses, slow down and practice some self care.


Go Deep @ YogaJournal.com!

If you’re more drawn to a restorative practice, check out their restorative sequence for holiday survival! 

And if belly health is your top priority, they’ve got a more active sequence to support digestion. 

Your Bones On Yoga

It’s easy to forget that bones are living tissue, constantly being dissolved and rebuilt in a natural cycle. So, while statistics around bone health are quite staggering, the good news is that we can have an impact on maintenance and repair at any age.

Our bones are comprised of both minerals (like the obvious calcium) and a “gelatin matrix” of water and collagen. They appear solid, but, like bamboo, are healthiest when they are strong and but flexible, pliant and moist.

Surprise surprise: Yoga is one of the most effective practices for bone health.

There have been many studies published over the last few years that show yoga can not only slow bone density loss, but can in-fact increase bone mineral density.

In short, the three yogic practices below can help maintain bone health starting from a young age, slow or prevent density loss, and even boost bone density, restoring strength and elasticity.

Research has recently shown that 72-seconds is an ideal time to hold a yoga posture for maximum benefit. But no worries if this is too long, yoga is a practice so work at your capabilities and gradually over time you might find your endurance increasing.
As you practice these asanas, listen to your body’s signals and work to your edge but not past it. Uncomfortable strain on joints should signal you to back off.

 

1. Take the Path of Most Resistance

Weight-bearing yoga postures put the right kind of “stress” on the bones: enough to stimulate cellular production, but not too much that the bones break or fracture. Resisting gravity’s pull and supporting our body weight stimulates our bones isometrically, signaling the bones to build up their mass in answer to the challenge.

Warrior 2

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Warrior I & II
These powerful standing postures activate the largest bones of the legs and arms, plus the ankle, knee and shoulder joints.

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Low Cobra

Bhujangasana is an active back bend that supports spine health, lengthening vertebrae and keeping them supple and limber.

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Bhujangasana

Bhujangasana

Plank
Resisting gravity in this shape strengthens wrists and builds core strength to support the spine.

 

 

2. Strike a Good Balance

The WHO estimates one in three women over 50 — and one in five men — will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture. Many bone injuries are caused by falling, and we’re not just talking about a serious fall. Even a little roll of the ankle off the curb (or from teetering on a pair of stillettos) can cause a fracture. Maintaining our balance as we age is a huge piece of preventing injury.

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Bhuj

Bhujangasanana

Vrkshasana
Tree pose is one of the simplest standing balancing postures to practice, yet has a powerful effect on developing balance and equilibrium. Best of all, it offers many different modifications suitable for all ages and levels.

 

Check out our Yoga Lab on Tree Pose to explore what variation is right for you

 

3. Make an Impact, Safely

There has been so much research done about various exercises that support bone health, and one that remains ahead of the pack is high-impact movements. The New York Times goes so far as to suggest simply jumping up and down!
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Shaking Qi Gong
This simple Eastern exercise delivers many of the same benefits of jumping or running, and many more. Best of all, it decreases the intensity of contact, making it safer for those with fragile knees or limited capacity for cardio-vascular workouts.
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Check out the video below that explains and demonstrates this easy movement. We recommend doing this for five minutes a day, several times a week. 

 

 

Additional Food & Lifestyle Tips for Bone Health

  • *Boost your intake of calcium-rich plants like Kale & Spinach
  • *Reduce or eliminate processed sugars from your diet – these sugars leach calcium from the bones and contribute to loss in bone density
  • * Stay moist – incorporate Abhyanga into your routine
  • *If you suffer from severe symptoms of Osteoperosis, check out this great yoga sequence created just for you – with modifications for all levels.
  • * When beginning any new type of exercise, always consult your primary care doctor, especially if dealing with acute physical problems.

 

Go Deep @ YogaJournal.com

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.

Benefits

  • 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

Summer Shape Up

 

Recently we were asked by Hamptons Magazine to share our top tips for getting in shape for Summer. They picked just one, but we want to share all 4 with you! While it may seem like beach time is months away, NOW is the time to start working towards that bikini bod.

 

Have fun & let us know how it’s going by sharing your process and progress on our IG or FB!


1. BE FIERCE!

Top yoga asana for getting in shape fast? Warrior III. Every… singe…. day. This powerful standing posture tones legs and hips, strengthens core, works the arms, and it’s even a fat-blasting cardio-vascular challenge! Practice this total-body workout 3x on each side, holding first for 30 seconds each (about 5 long breath cycles) and working up to 60 or 90 seconds.

 

2. BELLY BLAST, FAST!

Our core muscles respond to increased attention and activity faster than any other muscle group. Even just a 10-minute routine done 5 days a week will get noticeable results, fast! Plus, hit the mat a few minutes early and do a little core work (crunches, sit ups, Boat pulses, etc.) before your regular yoga practice — your abs will be activated and firing for the rest of class in a more efficient and more effective way.

 

3. SEASONAL RIGHT NUTRITION

Besides boosting workouts to burn off any extra winter weight, let your diet help shed excess from the inside. Add bitter leafy greens like arugula, baby spinach and dandelion tea to your menu to fire up liver function, which aids in detoxification and metabolization of fats. Plus – bitter greens have been shown to reduce cravings for unhealthy foods! Add either a green salad or a green juice to your menu every day.

 

4. GO WITH THE FLOW

Between the sluggish hibernation of Winter and the body-baring days of Summer, there’s a very helpful season called Spring. In Eastern traditions, Spring is the season of “Get Up And Go!” — plants are sprouting, birds and bees are busy, and it’s the perfect time to rev back up. Spring is a time to introduce more movement, whether it’s a flowing vinyasa class, long walks, runs, biking or spinning, focus on moving rather than just muscle building and let the natural energy of the season support your fitness goals.

 

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:

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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

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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

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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).

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 Why It’s Good to Go Upside Down

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

Cardiovascular

  • 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.

Lymphatic

  • 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.

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Nervous

  • 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.

Endocrine

  • 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

Liftoff

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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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 Year of the Roar

For many of us, the end of the year and the start of the new can be both uplifting and exhausting. Travel, meal planning, angst over consumerism, and dark days (although they are getting lighter!) may contribute to the latter, while the feeling of working with a clean slate, having the opportunity to give to and receive from dear ones, and allowing time for introspection can give us a loving boost.

Whether we’re reveling in the fresh start or recovering from end-of-year commitments and festivities, we’ve all got stuff to clear.

Enter Lion’s BreathSimhasana.

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“Stretches away tension lines in the face. Helps prevent wrinkling.”

As you can see from the bold claims on this OG poster (Yoga for no wrinkles!), Lion’s Breath has long had a reputation for relieving stress. More recently, Colleen Saidman Yee reccomended the posture for releasing trauma and anxiety in her excellent book, Yoga for Life.

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Here’s How It’s Done

As a pranayama practice, Simhasana can be done in any posture. You may release the breath in heat-building poses like Utkatasana, or in a shape that exposes the throat, like Cow or Upward Facing Bow. We explored Jalandhara Bandha in a recent post, where the throat is constricted and the chin and sternum meet. Lion’s Breath is that bandha’s physical and energetic opposite. Here the focus is on expelling air forcefully through a wide-open mouth and opening the front side of the body.

The classic posture with breath is taken like this:

  • Sit on your knees and cross the front of one ankle over the back of the other, letting the feet splay out to the sides. Gently snuggle the perineum onto the top heel.
  • Flatten your palms against your knees, fingers spread wide—think lion’s paw. Press down firmly to lenghten and straighten you arms.
  • Breathe deeply through the nose. Pause at the top and open your mouth wide; stretch your tongue out, tip curling toward the chin; lift your brows to widen your eyes; contract the muscles in the front of your throat, and exhale out the mouth with an audible “HAAAAA.”
  • Repeat two or three times before changing the cross of the legs and roaring for the same number of times with the other heel on top.

    9a07224464cad7377c0d1125c436b54bThe Gaze

There are two options for where to set the drishti in this posture. One is right between the eyebrows, gazing up toward the third eye. This technique, Bhrumadhya Drishti, means “mid-brow gazing”–bhru is Sanskrit for brow while madhya means middle–and is often used in meditation to acheive dharana. Another possibility is to focus the gaze at the tip of the nose in Nasikagra Drishti, another common gaze for meditators looking to go deep; here nasa means nose and agra meas the foremost point, which, in this case, is the tip of the nose.

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However you sit or wherever you choose to gaze, use Simhasana to move energy, clear what feels stuck, or as practice for saying what it is you want to say. A hallmark of this pose is that you will look fiercely ridiculous while doing it; you could also think of yourself as looking ridiculously fierce.

Photos: Lion; vintage yoga photos; Colleen Saidman Yee shot by Johanna Yee; awesome illustration by Miriam Castillo

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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 101: Uddiyana Bandha

A few weeks ago we dove into the Bandhas, a series of energetic locks in the body. We’re working from the base of the pelvis up, so read our first post for a refresher on Mula bandha, the Root Lock.

The next bandha is Uddiyana, the Navel Lock. In Sanskrit Uddiyana means to fly or rise up. On a physical level, your diaphragm, stomach and abdominal organs lift up when this bandha is engaged. Energetically, you’ll feel uplifted.

In the chakra system, Uddiyana bandha corresponds with Manipura, the third chakra; fiery and powerful, Manipura is the seat of our personal will and motivation. Picture it located at the solar pelxus and imagine the energy of fire and the sun. If you’ve ever practiced Breath of Fire you’ve connected with the third chakra and experienced an element of Uddiyana bandha. In that breath the belly contracts in and back with each exhale, a quick and less concentrated version of the abdominal engagement that occurs in Uddiyana.

How to Engage Uddiyana Bandha

Before you begin, be sure to:

  • Practice on an empty stomach after a complete exhalation.
  • Start your inquiry in a standing position. Over time, you can explore this bandha while seated.

1.

  • Stand with your feet about hips’ width distance apart.
  • Take a slight bend in the knees and rest your hands above your kneecaps.
  • Keep your arms straight but round your torso forward.

2.

  • Breathing through the nose, inhale deeply and exhale quickly and forcibly. Use your abdominal muscles to push as much air as possible out of your lungs.
  • Relax and stay empty.

3.

  • Perform a mock inhalation. Expand your rib cage as if you were inhaling, but don’t take in any air. This will pull your abdominal muscles up and hollow the belly.
  • Tuck your chin slightly toward your chest. We’ll go into this posture, Jalandhara Bandha, in more depth in our next post.

4.

  • Hold on empty until you feel any strain, tension, or tightness—anywhere from five to 15 seconds for beginners. The hold should feel effortless.
  • Slowly release the hold and inhale normally.
  • Perform several more rounds, keeping an eye on any dizziness or lightheadedness, alternating with normal breaths between each round.

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Benefits

If you’re looking to float, fly, lift, twist, or invert in your asana practice with less effort, Uddiyana bandha is key. This is a hold that’s all about rising up.

Given all the focus on the gut and its connection to the chakra in charge of digestion, it’s no surprise that Uddiyana bandha is an effective remedy for constipation, indigestion or bloating. It tones the inner abdominal muscles and serves as the yogic equivalent of crunches (i.e. flat abs). Try it when you need to beat fatigue, lethargy or stress.

Photos: How-to drawing; third chakra; floating yogini.