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Posts Tagged ‘Yoga 101’

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 

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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

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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 

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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 

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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 wellbeyondmars.tumblr.com; elbow on knee variation from theberry.com; yogi Leslie Howard with the block variation from Yoga Journal; hand down variation from yogaorkney.com; twisted side angle from yogamen.tumblr.com

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.

 

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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

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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: 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.

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Ready?

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.

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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 gymflowstl.tumblr.com

Exploring the Eight Limb Path: The Niyamas

Over the next few months we’ll #GoDeep into Patanjali’s Eight Limb Path. If you’re just checking in, be sure to read our intro post on the path itself and its first limb, the yamas.

This week’s focus is the yamas‘ sister limb, the niyamas. While the yamas are practices concerning our relationships to others, the niyamas are practices we can do on ourselves. They are activities for right living with a focus on health, happiness and devotion.

The Niyamas 

  • Saucha: cleanliness
  • Santosa: contentment
  • Tapas: purification through discipline
  • Svadhyaya: self-study
  • Isvarapranidhana: devotion to a higher power

Much like the yamas, the niyamas are multi-layered practices with immediate applications and deeper possibilities of integration.

Take saucha. Have you ever practiced next to a really smelly yogi? Or maybe realized that you are that really smelly yogi? Cleanliness in body (and mat) is part of a balanced practice: Honoring your physical self sends a subtle but strong message that you care about your whole self and your practice. Off the mat, saucha extends to keeping our thoughts, actions and intentions honorable. Both interpretations are about distractions: What is keeping you from focusing on what’s really meaningful? Lack of clutter only helps clarify.

Santosa is the flip side of aparigraha. The niyama asks us to focus on contentment, while the yama cautions against possessiveness. Both send the same message: Be grateful for what is.

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Defined as internal fire or heat, the concept of tapas often comes up in yoga class; you may have heard your teacher mention it when you’re doing something taxing or uncomfortable, like holding utkatasana for forever. In that context, the idea of “building tapas” means stoking your internal fire and generating heat and energy to fuel your practice. On a deeper level, tapas means being able to sit in that fire, to stay centered and calm amidst discomfort and even fear (Will I ever be able to straighten my legs again?). Through the heat of our discomfort an internal alchemy occurs and cleansing arises; purification is on the other side of challenge.

In many ways, embarking on a yoga practice can be like taking a master class in your Self. The mat is an intimate and contained space to examine your reactions to frustration, emotional release, surprise and impatience, to name a few. Svadhyaya, the act of self study, encourages mindful navel-gazing. Being aware of our patterns and expectations only helps us come into right relationship with others.

God, Creator, Allah, Divine Mother, Gaia… whoever you do or do not pray to, isvarapranidhana is about recognizing and softening to the universe. If belief in a higher power is not your thing, think of isvarapranidhana as an awareness of the interconnectivity of life and its participants. Our actions ripple; by focusing on ourselves in positive ways through the first four niyamas we arrive at the practice of isvarapranidhana ready to look outside of and beyond ourselves.

Rather than dictates or decrees, the yamas and niyamas are invitations to reflect more deeply on actions we are already engaged in. Profound in their simplicity, they create a clear framework from which to explore right living and Right Intention.

Yoga 101: The 6 Directions of the Spine

 

“A healthy spine is a healthy body!” So has said a teacher of mine, and I doubt we’d find any medical expert or average Joe who would argue this simple logic.

In your very first yoga class you were likely introduced to the Cat/Cow spinal warm-up. And since then, it’s probably made an appearance in 99% of classes — so much so that you might have even found yourself getting bored (“not Cat/Cow again!”). It’s critical to warm up the spine as we go into a practice. In fact, it’s critical to the health of the spine (and thus the body) to warm it up every day, even a couple times a day, and especially at the start of the day. Cat Cow moves the spine in two primary directions, and there are four more directions that make up the complete spinal spectrum. These six movements elongate the spine, encourage elasticity of the spinal column, wake up the cranio-sacral “highway,” and provide a host of other benefits.

Beginning your day by easing your body into each of these six directions will ensure you’re loosened, lengthened and lubricated – ready to take on the world with a supple, strong spine.


“Warm up When you Wake Up” and Move the Spine All Six Ways Every Day

Direction 1 – Spinal Extension

aka arching the spine as in Cow Pose

This shape lengthens the spine, expands the chest, strengthens the lungs and facilitates deeper breathing.
From an emotional standpoint, this shape helps us “open our heart.” Best of all, this shape is the exact opposite of how most of us spend our days – hunched over a computer or slouched looking down at a phone.

The simplest version of Spinal Extension is just a seated arching stretch, and cow pose is also a gentle option for the morning. Poses such as cobra, upward-facing dog, bow pose, and wheel are more dynamic versions of this shape, typically called “backbends” but perhaps wisely reframed as “front extensions” going for length over bend.

 

Direction Two – Spinal Flexion

aka rounding the spine as in Cat Pose

This shape expands the backbody, stretching the back of the lungs increasing breath capacity, and tones the abdomen with an engaged core. On an emotional level, these shapes help us turn inward for reflection and calm. This shape can be done via the usual cat shape, or seated by rounding the spine forward. Deeper versions of this shape are seated forward bending like in pachimotanasana, standing forward bending in utanasana, or even balancing shapes like devotional warrior.

 

Directions 3 & 4 – Lateral Side bending

as seen in crescent arches

By bending up and over to the left and right, we lengthen our side bodies, improving rib cage mobility and again, create even more space for the lungs. These shapes lengthen the muscles between the ribs and pelvis, plus parts of the lower back. They also support the health of the lymph system. It’s easy for things to get “stuck” in life, and side body stretches clear out often-neglected nooks and crannies. These gentle C-shaped curves can be created from a seated position, or from table top by reaching “cheek to cheek” – reacing the cheek on your face towards the hips and the hips towards your face. Standing crescents poses are also a gentle lateral side bend, and more active variations include peaceful warrior and extended side angle pose.

 

Directions 5 & 6 – Twists

as experienced in seated or reclining twists to both sides

Twisting to the right and left completes the set of six directions, mitigating against fusing and limited-mobility of vertebrae. Twisting also hydrates the intervertebral disks and massages the organs within the abdomen supporting digestion. It also asks us to “look forward and look backward” which can help us find the middle ground of the present moment. You can be seated in a cross-legged position, or atop bend knees to twist side to side, thinking about lengthening on the inhale and gently twisting deeper on the exhale. Or opt for a reclining twist and let gravity do most of the work! From table top, threading the needle is a good option, and revolved triangle pose is a powerful standing variation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOGA 101: The Koshas

In yoga, we call the layers of our beings koshas. During our practice on and off the mat, we can begin to sense that we have several aspects of our beings.

  1. The physical body: skin, muscles, ligaments, joints, bones, vital organs
  2. The energy body: breath, heat, pulsing, streaming, tingling sensations
  3. The personality body: thoughts and emotions, direct response to sensory stimulation and environment
  4. The wisdom body: the non judgmental observer within, also known as intuitive awareness
  5. The bliss body: light, clarity, inner peace, unconditional love

And, when we begin to cultivate nonjudgmental self awareness and observe the layers of our being with non attachment, our hearts open… and deeper healing occurs.

 

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The five progressively subtler bodies that compose our personality are described in a yoga classic called the Taittiriya Upanishad:

 

 

 

“Human beings consist of a material body built from the food they eat. Those who care for this body are nourished by the universe itself.

“Inside this is another body made of life energy. It fills the physical body and takes its shape. Those who treat this vital force as divine experience excellent health and longevity because this energy is the source of physical life.

“Within the vital force is yet another body, this one made of thought energy. It fills the two denser bodies and has the same shape. Those who understand and control the mental body are no longer afflicted by fear.

“Deeper still lies another body comprised of intellect. It permeates the three denser bodies and assumes the same form. Those who establish their awareness here free themselves from unhealthy thoughts and actions, and develop the self-control necessary to achieve their goals.

“Hidden inside it is yet a subtler body, composed of pure joy. It pervades the other bodies and shares the same shape. It is experienced as happiness, delight, and bliss.”

Go deeper with this article by Yoga Journal: You Are Here.

And check out this article by Kripalu: Healing Anxiety and Depression: An Ayurvedic Perspective.

(Selection take from article originally published at www.yogainternational.com, Image taken from www.yogagardensf.com)

Seven Steps to Personal Transformation

We often think of yoga as movement, postures, or stretching… but the art and science of yoga goes so much deeper. Check out these seven steps for personal transformation and healing!

 

First, we can acknowledge where we are with non-judgment and curiosity, beginning to practice self-awareness on and off the mat. The first yoga sutra says: Atha Yoga Nushasanam, which can be translated to Now the Inquiry of Yoga Begins. 

 

Second, we can choose to take personal responsibility for our health, our wellness and our lives, letting go of blame (I feel the way I do because of someone else or something external to me) and shame (I am not enough). We begin to focus our attention on creating peace in our inner worlds rather than fixing and changing external circumstances. Our inner worlds begin to influence our external reality.

 

Third, we can create a vision for where we are going and a personal mission statement based on inner principles to guide our decisions in life. In that sense, we are making conscious choices rooted in character rather than reactive responses based on short term pleasure or fear. To support this process, check out Patanjali’s eightfold path and pay special attention to the the yamas and niyamas, which are observances that lead to healthy habits. 

 

Practice:

CREATE VISION- What does living a healthy and fulfilling life look like? Feel like? When you imagine a life where you are happy, healthy and living a life full of purpose and integrity, what are you doing? Who are you surrounded by? How do you treat yourself and others?

If we know where we are going and the principles are guiding us, we discover a sense of stability, integrity and inner peace in the healing process. I find my personal mission statement and vision board helps me to align the choices I make in the present moment with my deepest, most integrated self… and this in turn gives me the patience and awareness to sacrifice pleasure in the moment for long-term happiness… most of the time.

 

Fourth, we can practice presence and and self-awareness on and off the mat… letting go of attachment to end results. We can let go of trying to arrive in some complex posture or at some future destination and, instead, we can become interested in our own experience in the present moment. Here, we take the seat of the witness or nonjudgmental observer within. The asana practice in yoga (postures and breathing exercises translated as “to sit in the seat of one’s self“) is a wonderful tool to support this step.

 

Fifth, we can discover new information and personal tools to support our process. We identify gaps in our knowledge or support base (perhaps we choose to develop resources for self-soothing, or we find individual or group support systems around issues we face) and gather new resources to aid our growth. And then we can allow these external resources and support systems to interact with our own “gut” or inner compass, taking baby steps in each moment of our lives, knowing these small moments add up to big changes.

 

Sixth, we can ground our personal understanding, mission and practices in community by discovering our tribe.

 

Practice: Are there other people who are interested in exploring mindfulness practices, yoga, personal growth, or your chosen spiritual practice? How do you feel when you join this community? Who in your life already makes you feel authentic, whole, abundant, and alive? And where are there people who are being, living, doing, thinking in ways that align with your mission and vision?

We can go through life protecting ourselves and avoiding authentic connection- and yet, when we open our minds and hearts to love (not necessarily romantic love), we find ourselves attracting other people who are asking similar questions and enjoying life the way we like to enjoy life. Although it is wonderful to spend time around people who are incredibly different from ourselves, finding our tribe- people who are aligned with our core values- gives us a sense of connection and resilience in our lives.

 

Seventh, we can begin to know ourselves as multidimensional beings and “yoke” or “unite” the various aspects of ourselves. Yoga means “to yoke” the sun and the moon, the masculine and the feminine, the light and the dark, the yin and the yang. When we experience moments of yoga (the integration of the layers of our being), we move from darkness into the light… and we bliss out! We access a healing state of inner peace and experience personal transformation that is rooted in a sense of infinite abundance, love and light. 

And we remember the saying Jack Kornfield introduces in his book A Path With Heart: “After the ecstasy, the laundry.” Kornfield goes on to say, “The dazzling effects of lights and visions, the powerful releases of rapture and energy, all are a wonderful sign of the breakdown of the old and small structures of our being, body, and bind. However, they do not in themselves produce wisdom… Even great openings of the heart, kundalini processes, and visions can turn into spiritual pride or become old memories… Spiritual experiences in themselves do not count for much. What matters is that we integrate and learn from the process” (Kornfield, 129).

 

So the bliss itself is not necessarily indicative of lasting transformation… it is in the life-long, moment-to-moment process of learning from direct experience when personal transformation occurs! Beginning right now…

Yoga Lab: Heart Openers

The transition from summer to fall calls to mind incredible harvests, warm evenings and lovely weekends under the sun enjoying our favorite outdoor activities. This time of year also marks the return back to school, work and commitments, which can lead to an influx of stress as life speeds up and new routines take shape. A thoughtful high school teacher who came to yoga class recently put it so well: “Summer was a time where I was learning to be with myself in a healthy way… now my challenge is to be with other people again and this is when my yoga practice is really important.”

 

One way to create a graceful transition as life speeds up is to practice heart opening postures. During practice, we can allow the mantra love and be loved to be our guide. The way we relate to other people reflects our relationship with ourselves… so the practice of opening our hearts and cultivating nonjudgmental self-awareness during yoga practice can support healthy relationships off the mat.

 

Heart openers, also known as front extensions and more commonly referred to as backbends, support both psychological and physical health. Iyengar recommended heart opening postures to alleviate depression and anxiety, because these postures relieve the tension that builds up around the heart and they stimulate the thyroid and pituitary glands, energizing and balancing the entire body. Heart openers stretch across the shoulders and the chest, while opening the hip flexors. They also strengthen and tone the muscles in the back, arms and legs.

 

As you move into heart opening postures, imagine lifting and opening your heart, expanding across the chest, rather than bending over backwards. Like many postures in yoga, this offers a wonderful metaphor to support life. On a very practical level, this prevents over-stretching (and crunching) the flexible part of the lower back.

 

Three Tips For Heart Opening Postures:

 

  1. Warm up before moving into heart opening postures.
  2. Lift through the chest to avoid crunching the lower back: think “front extension” rather than “backbend.”
  3. If you have back or neck injuries, some heart openers can be helpful, but other postures should be avoided. Research individual postures with yoga journal’s step by step instructions to learn more and prevent injury. And check out this additional article by yoga journal to protect yourself in backbends.

 

The art and science of yoga invites you to learn from your direct experience and observe the effects in your body. To maintain inner peace and allow your loving heart to guide the way in life, check out this heart opening sequence by yoga journal.

 

Go deeper with this video: 

 

 

 

 

Yoga Lab: Triangle Pose

Thoughts of the long winter are long-gone as we continue to make our way toward mid-summer. As we move through this season of hot summer days, vacations and weekend getaways, sometimes we find ourselves experiencing even more chaos than usual as we try to maximize our fun in the sun. Setting five minutes aside to practice triangle posture or utthita trikonasana can remind us of the inner balance that is always available to us. Practicing the posture itself will ward off unnecessary stress and anxiety, inviting an essence of harmony back into our lives.

Extended triangle posture has incredible balancing effects on the body and mind:

  • ~ Strengthens core, stimulates abdominal organs, and helps with digestion
  • ~ Relieves stress and anxiety while improving mental clarity
  • ~ Tones and trims waistline, buttocks and thighs
  • ~ Stretches and strengthens muscles, ligaments, and joins in the feet, legs, and hips

Check out Yoga Journal’s Step-by-Step Instructions or this great 5-minute video that includes a warm up forward bend. We recommend taking triangle twice on each side, holding the round for five breaths each, and the second round for eight breaths each.

Common challenges:

  • ~ Many people experience the top shoulder rounding down and closing off the heart. Practice for a while with the top hand on the hip to get used to having the shoulders squarely open.
  • ~ People also experience some neck strain when gazing up towards the top hand. A delicious modification is to turn the gaze down towards the front foot. This subtle shift takes pressure off the neck and encourages softness graceful introspection, even in the midst of such a power posture
  • ~ Can’t quite reach the floor? No problem! Taking the hand to the shin is a wonderful option, or even better, use a block to bring the floor to you! Practicing with a block allows us to leave weight off the front leg which can be prone to hyper extension in this posture already. Plus, you can place the block on the inside or outside of the front leg, enabling you to experience different variations

As you explore trikonasana allow the shape of the posture to infuse your energetic experience of it. Firmly rooted feet and a strong foundation support a balanced torso, with arms fully extended in strength and grace. Strength, extension, reach, expansion. And above all, balance and alignment with the self.

 

 

**If you have a recent or ongoing injury to the ankles, knees, hips, or lower back, this posture may do more harm than good

** This posture, alongside other standing balancing postures, are not recommended if you have hernia.

 

Photo Credit YogaTrail.com – Susan J. in China

 

The Art of Letting Go: Savasana

Many of us take time out of our busy schedules to show up to yoga class. We begin our practice on our mats, observing our thoughts as they dwell in the past or race toward the future until we hear the soothing sound of the teacher’s voice inviting us back into the room, and into present moment. We move through the postures, stretch our bodies and discover new capacities to be with ourselves in a strong, kind, loving way.

We leave our comfort zones and step into our learning zones.

Our energy moves, shifts, rises and falls. At the end of class, we enter savasana or “corpse pose” where we let go of all effort and receive the benefits of the practice. Or where we’re invited to let go. For many modern urbanites, it’s just not that easy.

As a newbie to yoga, I did not understand why we would just lie on our backs at the end of yoga. I was all about the movement and the workout! In stillness, my mind would wander into the past and the future. I admit, I often used savasana to plan the rest of my day.

Looking back, I can see I held the belief that relaxation was the equivalent of laziness.

Students have shared that it’s very difficult for them to quiet the mind… that they are already thinking about the To Do list waiting for them on the other side of the studio door. Others have shared they feel they aren’t “allowed” to just relax. Even for just a precious few minutes.

As B.K.S. Iyengar has said, “It’s much harder to keep the mind still than the body. Therefore, this apparently easy posture is one of the most difficult to master.”

If you are having trouble letting go in savasana, the first thing you can try, is stop trying. You can just let it be whatever it is. You can also focus your mind on a body scan or listen to all the sounds in the room, just outside the door and farther away. If you’d like to practice savasana at home, this video provides a wonderful guided meditation

 

I did not arrive at my first yoga class with the intention of calming my mind — for me it was more about a healthy body — but over time something started to happen. I began to truly let go of all effort in Savasana. I stopped trying to “do” savasana and then really did access an inner calm.

So, while I began yoga for the workout, I continued my practice so I could maintain my inner peace, watch the fluctuations of my mind, and surrender into the feeling of “emptiness” or “clarity” I receive in savasana. Savasana has become my favorite posture. I can now see that this final resting pose is, in fact, the most advanced posture there is

 

 

Yoga 101 – Setting an Intention

At the beginning of yoga class, our teachers might invite you to set an intention, which you can carry through your practice and then off the mat into the rest of your day.

If you’re new to this idea, it can seem weird and/or forced. Plus, it’s sometimes hard to think of an intention on the spot! Besides all that, you might wonder, what’s the point?

Setting an intention is not required at all to have a lovely and beneficial yoga experience. Stick with the body, stick with the breath and you’re already winning.

If you want to go a little deeper, setting an intention is something that can help invite a different focus into your practice.

And as you get more familiar with setting an intention, it can become a special way you think of someone you love, send energy to someone in need, or simply honor your own efforts to build strength, develop compassion, take time for yourself and so-on.

Some wonderful, simple and widespread ideas for intentions are:

  • To love and accept yourself so you can love and accept others
  • To practice being non-judgmental
  • To invite in softness
  • To invite strength and cultivate your personal power
  • To send the energy created by your practice to someone facing a health, emotional or real-world challenge
  • To develop openness in your body so you can face the world with greater openness
  • To dedicate your practice to people in need or a current world issue that resonates with you

So why do we do this? The reason might be different for everyone, but a bottom line is: Our thoughts are powerful. We are creating energy on the mat, why not channel that energy into creating a reality that is meaningful for us?

If you set an intention, try to check in with it from time to time during the practice. Sometimes I imagine my intention as a little balloon or a fire that is getting bigger and bigger with each pose or each breath I take. My movements are feeding energy into the intention, giving it strength.

After class you can explore carrying your intention into your day/week/life. Try writing it down after class. Or perhaps write down some quality you felt as an effect of the intention and class. Taking a picture of your intention and setting it as the wallpaper on your phone is also a simple way to remind yourself of the qualities you are cultivating in your practice and in your life. — Erin O’Brien