Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all of the postures and alignment cues presented in yoga classes? Are you ready to discover simple and easy tips to master all yoga postures?
I can still remember the confusion I felt during my first several yoga classes. There were so many postures to learn, my muscles trembled in downward facing dog, I confused my right and left, and my hands kept slipping on my mat. Looking around the class, I felt that I was missing out on some secret strength and knowledge that the rest of the class possessed. Despite my initial struggle, the layers of yoga began to reveal themselves to me as I stuck with the practice. Understanding the four main movements of yoga helped me to find my own strength, balance, and alignment in all yoga postures.
If you master these four movements of yoga, you will be able to discover your own optimal alignment in any yoga posture.
1) Tadasana or Mountain Pose
Tadasana or Mountain Pose is the foundation of all of the postures where we find a balancing point between expanding and contracting, discovering stability and ease within our bodies. We find tadasana alignment in all standing postures, balancing postures, seated meditation, and many reclined postures.
Tadasana helps us to practice and explore important, foundational concepts in yoga:
1) We discover the architecture of our bodies and explore our triangular base of support in our feet
2) We learn to stack our bones
3) We discover length in the spine, imagining the spine as an accordion and creating space between each vertebrae
4) The bandhas are engaged
5) We learn to engage the core
6) The heart is lifted
7) We practice relaxing the shoulders, allowing the shoulder blades to glide down our backs
8) We discover a balance between strength, concentration, relaxation & ease
Postures that work with expansion open the stuck places around our hearts, increasing our energy and sense of vitality. While often described as backbends, expanding postures are better known as front extensions. Rather than bending over backwards, we lift the heart and allow the inhalation to expand across the ribcage. Picture extended mountain, camel, bridge, cow pose, and extended low lunge.
When we contract, we are folding inwards either hinging from the hips with a long spine or tucking & rounding the spine. With our attention turned inwards and the breath expanding the back of our bodies, we increase our sense of focus and security. Some common postures in this category are child’s pose and seated & standing forward bends.
As we twist, we move from the center of our beings turning the gaze in one direction and opposite hip in the other direction. We wring out the old and allow space for the new, cleansing and detoxing our bodies and minds. Twisting postures stimulate the organs in the abdomen, aiding digestion. They can also help to relieve lower back pain and improve the health of the spine.
Yoga classes are often designed to explore one posture and then provide a counter-posture. To experience the effects of the postures, we return to tadasana. For example, after experiencing a full wheel or bridge pose, a teacher will often guide the class into a forward fold or happy baby position. First we expand and lift the heart. Then we contract and turn our focus inwards. And finally, we rest in reclined mountain posture for a moment to feel the effects of the practice.
This balance between expanding and contracting in yoga and in life is essential to maintaining wellness.
Check out our short two minute sequence to explore the main movements of all yoga postures and therapeutic adaptations:
Tadasana: Standing Mountain Posture
Begin in standing mountain posture, or adapt this posture by sitting on the edge of a chair as pictured below:
Urdva Hastasana: Extended mountain pose (Expanding)
Extend your arms up overhead and lift the heart, being mindful to drop the shoulders away from the ears and breathe deeply. If you are practicing chair yoga and experiencing injury in your shoulders, bring your hands to your knees and lift the heart. If your shoulders are injury-free, extend your arms up overhead as pictured in the standing posture.
Uttanasana: Standing Forward Fold (Contracting)
From extended mountain posture, take a deep inhalation and then swan dive forward on the exhalation, leading with your heart. Hinge from the hips and let your head go down last. Soften behind the knees or bend the knees deeply to support your body if your hamstrings are feeling tight. Rest your hands on your legs, blocks or the floor. Shake your head “yes” and “no” to release the back of the neck. Rather than forcing your legs to straighten, work on sending your tailbone up toward the sky and pressing through your heels. Hold for five deep breaths.
Uttanasana With A Twist or Spinal Twist In A Chair (Twisting)
Twist to both sides from a standing forward fold position or seated in your chair. Hold each side for five deep breaths. To come out, bring your hands to your hips and inhale all of the way up to standing with a flat back to tadasana or standing mountain posture. Pause and notice the sensations pulsing, streaming and tingling through your body.
Ready to explore these four movements in class?
Check out our class schedule: Click Here
#GoDeeper with our Spinal Warmup Sequence. You will expand, contract, twist & explore mountain posture.
*Tadasana image taken from www.verywell.com
*Chair yoga images taken from yogatherapyalacarte.com and verywell.com
*Urdva Hastasana image taken from www.livestrong.com
*Twist taken from Shape.com
*Chair Yoga Twist taken from Vitalityseniorliving.com