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Yoga Poses

3 Yoga Poses to Reset Your Body

By Wellness, Yoga PosesNo Comments

I had a job once that required a one hour commute each way, with eight hours at a desk in between, five days per week. It was a lot of sitting. I wish I had yoga then! Excessive sitting, especially at a desk, in front of a computer, hyper-focused, and very possibly stressed, can result in a lot of discomfort and tension in our bodies. If your job requires you to sit for long periods of time, try out these three yoga poses to reset your body and mind. These postures are also foundational to a more comprehensive āsana practice and worth the extra attention. Practice them often to help counteract the toll sitting takes on your body. And remember to breathe deeply in each shape.

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Śvānāsana)

While not a full inversion, like Supported Headstand (Sālamba Śīrṣāsana) for example, Downward Facing Dog reverses our innate upright way of being. This posture, wherein the head falls below the heart and the arms and shoulders begin to bear the body’s weight, literally switches up our perspective. The position of our heads in this pose permits only one point of focus: our feet. Our eyes can’t dart around the room, making us prone to all sorts of distractions. In this mild inversion, we’re more inclined to invert our focus as well, to catch a glimpse of the calm beneath the heavy cloud cover of our busy minds.

If set up properly, Downward Dog can actually release stiffness in the shoulders and upper back, which are common sites of stored tension. Begin on your hands and knees. Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and spread your fingers. Lift your hips up, lower your chest towards your thighs, and relax your head completely, as if it were weighted. Align your torso and arms so your chest doesn’t dip below your shoulders. Draw your shoulder blades away from one another, engage your chest muscles, and roll your elbows down towards the floor. Notice how your collarbones broaden and the space in between your shoulder blades expands.

Low Lunge (Aṅjaneyāsana)

This is quite possibly my favorite yoga pose of all time. A pillar of Classical Sun Salutations (Sūrya Namaskar), Low Lunge is grounding, strength-building, and lengthens the iliopsoas muscle. The psoas starts in the Thoracic region of the spine (T-12), runs along the lumbar vertebrae, and connects to the top of the femur bone, or thigh bone. Because it links the legs and the torso, the psoas stabilizes the spine, which is important for balance and proper posture. However, this muscle contracts when we sit, and if we sit for long periods of time without movement or stretching, tension in this muscle can sometimes result in lower back pain.

With the knee of your back leg down, frame your front foot with your hands. Place them either on the ground, two yoga blocks, or whatever you have handy. Elevate the chest so the spine is straight and not curved. Now move your hands to the top of your front knee. Take a few deep breaths. Then, lift them overhead for the full expression of the pose. Notice how the position of your arms and torso in each variation changes the intensity of the stretch in your hip.

Garland Pose (Mālāsana)

This wide-legged, deep squat stretches the lower back and strengthens the legs. This āsana also opens the hips and exercises the muscles of the ankles and feet. It’s all together a very helpful pose for soothing tension in the lower back and improving posture, which can get thrown off from long hours of desk work.

For this pose, press the soles of your feet into the floor, and engage your lower legs and glutes. Place a prop of sorts underneath your seat, allowing gravity to lengthen your lumbar spine as you relinquish some of your weight to the support of your prop. Press your palms together at your chest. Position your elbows inside your legs, pressing them against your knees. Use this action as leverage to lift your collarbones, sitting taller. If it feels right, remove the prop and practice this pose with your seat hovering over the floor.

When practiced with focused awareness and proper form, yoga āsanas can bring our bodies back into alignment and help to relieve the aches associated with sedentary work. Begin and conclude this mini-flow either standing or seated, close your eyes softly, and take several long deep breaths. With each inhale fill your lungs a little bit more, and with each exhale relax your shoulders away from your ears, releasing tension and stress from your body.

Why Structure is Important: Effective Sequencing Through the Lens of Backbends

By Yoga Poses, Yoga TeachersNo Comments

I adore the feeling of floating off my mat after Śavāsana, feeling strong and limber, my hips yielding gracefully to every step, and my mind ever-so quiet. This post-yoga experience is no accident, but rather the result of deliberate sequencing and a well-thought-out lesson plan. As yoga teachers, if we lack a clear objective and an anatomically-informed roadmap to get there, it will likely be harder for our students to retain the lessons that lead to greater body awareness. Leading structured āsana classes offers our students opportunities to not only connect deeply with the postures, but also calm and focus their minds. It’s important to pick one thing to teach and teach it well.

It can be intimidating to lead a back-bending sequence because backbends involve so many moving parts that must be addressed throughout the class to ensure students practice these particular āsanas safely. If the body is not properly warmed up, back-bending could lead to discomfort or injury in the lower back or shoulders. As is true for all āsana sequences, but is especially important for back-bending, each pose should serve a purpose.

Let’s take Wheel Pose (Ūrdhva Dhanurāsana), for example. This āsana is an intense backbend that expands the chest, but with support from the core and the hips. To prepare your students for this pose, incorporate postures like Upward Facing Dog Pose (Ūrdhva Mukha Śvānāsana), Plank Pose (Phalakāsana), Locust Pose (Śalabhāsana), and Cow Face Pose (Gomukhāsana), which engage and open the chest and shoulder muscles. With equal importance, address the muscles involved in hip extension, which is when the angle of the hip joint increases. In order for the hips to extend and the spine to bend backwards, the abdominal and iliopsoas muscles must be properly warmed up.

The psoas muscle starts at the Thoracic spine (T-12), hugs the lumbar vertebrae, and attaches to the top of the femur bone (thigh bone). It flexes the hip joint and stabilizes the spine. Because it connects to the lumbar vertebrae and stretches when the hips extend, working the psoas through various āsanas like Low Lunge (Aṅjaneyāsana), Warrior I (Vīrabhadrāsana I), and Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Pārśvakoṇāsana) is essential to supporting and preventing injury to the lower back in back-bending postures. Along with various abdominal exercises and core-activating āsanas like Half Boat Pose (Ardha Nāvāsana), incorporating several rounds of various Sun Salutations (Sūrya Namaskar) will help students generate the internal heat needed to open their bodies in a pose like Wheel.

Those are the essential components of a back-bending class. But arranging poses together is not the same as teaching something specific. Within this framework, what insight or information can we offer our students to help them experience Wheel Pose in a new, deeper, more effective way? Let’s circle back to hip extension, which is a mechanism of Wheel Pose. But this posture, among others, also reveals something interesting about hip extension. In Wheel, the hips extend so the spine can bend backwards, but hip extension itself requires the strength of the legs in order to effectively support the backbend. And therein lies the focus of the class – the glutes and hamstrings.

Teach back-bending but do so in terms of how the glutes and hamstrings work in these postures. In Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhāsana), cue your students to engage these muscles to support the elevation of their hips. In Locust Pose (Śalabhāsana) and Bow Pose (Dhanurāsana), hip extension alone does not account for each action; the hamstrings and glutes facilitate the lift we experience in these postures. As well, include āsanas like Garland Pose (Mālāsana), Chair Pose (Utkatāsana), and Warrior 2 (Vīrabhadrāsana II), among others, for building leg strength. When it comes to Wheel Pose, make the connection for your students between these leg muscles, hip extension, and the backbend. Engaging the hamstrings and glutes specifically, along with all the leg muscles, stabilizes the hips so the spine can bend backwards in one fluid arc, without compressing the lumbar spine.

Keep in mind the purpose of āsanas; they are postures, intricate compositions of skeletal alignment and muscular engagement intended to keep our bodies fit for what they contain – our souls. As technical physical shapes, āsanas require time and attention to detail; and as gateways to Spirit, call for sincerity and reverence as well. By sequencing with purpose, we offer our students something to focus on, rather than their fluctuating thoughts, revealing the true gift of āsana: when our minds are steady and calm, soul-nourishing truths begin to emerge.

What Does it Really Mean to Let Go? (plus yoga teaching tips!)

By Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Poses, Yoga Practice, Yoga TeachersNo Comments

In my early days of practicing yoga, I found myself curious about what seemed to be a very common yoga theme – letting go. I’d hear it at the studio, I’d see it on social media, and in blog posts, but I didn’t quite understand what it meant. When in a yoga pose, let go seemed to be a cue to relax where possible. In terms of yogic philosophy, I took letting go to mean loosening my grip on the things I couldn’t control. In a sense, both are true, but as I dove into the nitty gritty of yoga, I discovered more.

Letting go is a simple phrase, but the instruction isn’t. Even for the most seasoned yoga practitioners, relinquishing control, detaching from sense distractions, and demonstrating faith is a constant, daily practice that can ebb and flow between graceful diligence and downright frustration. The following paragraphs offer another perspective of letting go, plus suggestions for teaching this topic in a yoga class.

Detachment isn’t enough – we must seek out something higher.

Like letting go, the concept of detachment or dispassion – called vairāgya in Sanskrit – suggests a release of something. But what are we letting go of and what fills the gap left behind? Vairāgya – the necessary counterpart to abhyāsa, or practice – is more than severing our attachments to the shiny objects of our sense world; it also entails repositioning our energy towards what really matters – our souls. And the texts speak to this. Translators of the Bhagavad Gītā agree that detaching from material desires is not enough; we must also engage in something greater than ourselves 1,2. Yoga Sūtra commentators mirror this understanding of vairāgya, explaining that detachment means pursuing the soul3,4.

Letting go is a choice to focus on the deeper essence of who we are, and this perspective is a powerful lesson to weave through a dharma talk, or the spiritual message of a yoga class. I’ve met this moment again and again, of realizing that a job, a relationship, or routine distracted me from Spirit, and from knowing myself. At those times, I’ve had to practice quieting my mind in order to refocus inwards. It’s really impactful to share this type of experiential knowledge with our students, backed by yogic teachings, because relating these concepts to modern life makes them more understandable and transformative.

It all comes back to calming our fluctuating thoughts.

So how does this all translate to an āsana practice? Yogic postures are tools for shifting our awareness from the actions of our bodies to the energetic levels of our souls. The reason why the postures should be steady (sthira) and comfortable (sukha) is so we can maintain them for meditation5. It all comes back to quieting our minds. In order to turn our attention within, we need to bring our minds under control so we can untangle ourselves from material lures.

To help students experience āsana as a mental discipline, pair movement with breathwork (prāṇāyāma). Focusing on our breathing gives our minds something to do, rather than fixate on our fleeting thoughts. Regulating the pace of an āsana sequence is also important. If we tire out our bodies a bit with steady to fast-paced vinyāsa before holding stationary poses, our minds have a better chance of slowing down. This might look something like multiple Sun Salutation (Sūrya Namaskar) variations to start, followed by 10 breaths in Warrior II (Vīrabhadrāsana II), several counts in Chair Pose (Utkaṭāsana), Fierce Angle Pose (Utkaṭā Koṇāsana), and Garland.

Pose (Mālāsana), and so on and so forth. This approach combines physical endurance with mental focus – the two dynamic components of āsana.

When it comes to letting go, presenting this deeper meaning opens doors for our students to connect, in even small ways, to something bigger than themselves. Letting go of the things we can’t control is part of it, as is releasing tension and giving up expectations of ourselves for our practice. But, in truth, letting go is more than a single moment; it’s a lifelong process of connecting to what’s most important, of devoting our hearts to the eternal, divine truth knitting us all together.

1. Prabhupāda, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, translator. Bhagavad Gītā, As It Is. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1983, p. 288.

2. Goswami, H.D. A Comprehensive Guide to Bhagavad Gītā, with Literal Translation. Krishna West, Inc. 2015, p. 95.

3. Iyengar, B.K.S., translator. Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Thorsons, 2002, p 62.

4. Bryant, Edwin F., translator. The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. North Point Press, 2009, p. 53.

5. Bryant, Edwin F., translator. The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. North Point Press, 2009, p. 284.

Building Spinal Strength from Cobra Pose to Upward Facing Dog

By Yoga, Yoga PosesNo Comments

In vinyasa yoga, Cobra Pose is usually considered a basic posture for beginners. Alternately, Upward Facing Dog, an intermediate pose, is regularly taught in a vinyasa sequence. In vinyasa, either of the poses can be used interchangeably during transition, though they are distinctly different. Due to the quickened nature of a vinyasa practice, these poses are usually held only for the length of an inhalation. Because of this, many vinyasa students have not experienced a full range of extension in Cobra Pose, nor have they properly aligned their Upward Facing Dog. However, when practiced regularly and correctly, both Cobra Pose and Upward Facing Dog build spinal strength and flexibility, allowing students of all levels to participate in flow-style vinyasa practices.

Vinyasa yoga has its roots in Ashtanga yoga; a style of practice developed by K. Pattabhi Jois in the mid-twentieth century, which is considered to be the backbone of modern Western yoga. Ashtanga yoga’s formulated sequence of poses is preformed in a specific order, whereas vinyasa yoga is a freeform practice with limitless variations. Both styles are energetic, dynamic, and steadily paced. The term vinyasa is a linkage of two Sanskrit words: nyasa, meaning “to place”, and vi, “in sacred accord.” To vinyasa, therefore, is to preform poses in accordance to the breath, each transition synchronized with either an inhalation or exhalation.

While a vinyasa style class known for its flowing sequences, its claim to fame is the transition of Chaturanga to Upward Facing Dog to Downward Facing Dog. In the heighted pace of a one-breath-one-pose setting, learning the mechanics of a proper Upward Facing Dog often requires a greater length of time then allotted for in a general vinyasa practice. Due to the highly mobile structure of the hand, elbow, and shoulder, an improperly aligned Upward Facing Dog places the practitioner at a physical disadvantage. Because we often misuse our hands and arms in computer-related activities, it is essential that we execute the vinyasa transition, particularly Upward Facing Dog, with precision and awareness. Because the vinyasa transition can occur with frequency, taking the time to learn proper alignment, and to build the supportive muscles of the spine, is important to prevent injury. To this end, Cobra Pose offers a well-suited alternative to Upward Facing Dog, and prepares the body for the rigors of vinyasa.

Cobra Pose is a fundamental posture within a solid asana practice. As a floor pose, it is both accessible to beginners and well suited for daily practitioners. Cobra Pose can be used during a vinyasa sequence as a substitute for Upward Facing Dog without breaking the flow, offering a variation that is gentler on the back, shoulders, neck, and wrists. To practice Cobra Pose, lie down on the floor with the stomach downward. Press the hands flat on the floor on either side of the ribcage, just below armpit level. Curl the toes under, and while keeping the ankles together, pull the heels of the feet back, lifting the knees from the ground. With an inhalation, lift the chest and upper back upwards. With an exhalation, roll the shoulders back and downwards. Keep the entire abdominal sheath on the floor while pressing the chest forwards, creating traction by firmly pressing the palms down and pulling the elbows back and in. When done correctly, Cobra Pose stretches and strengthens the upper back, chest, and shoulders, while also developing the musculature of the upper, middle, and lower back, as well as the upper arms. To fully experience the benefits of this pose, it should be practiced daily to build strength, flexibility, and the habit of good alignment.

Building from Cobra Pose, Upward Facing Dog strengthens the entire spine, deepens flexibility, and is incredibly rejuvenating. When practiced properly, Upward Facing Dog can elevate spinal stiffness, aches, and pains. To practice Upward Facing Dog, lie on the floor with the stomach downward. Press the hands on the floor on either side of the ribcage, just below armpit level. Push the hands down and straighten the elbows, lifting the body off of the floor, leaving only the tops of the feet and the palms of the hands on the mat. Engage the muscles of the legs; lift the chest forward and up, drawing the shoulders and upper back downward. Look forward, or upward, if it causes no tension. Press the pelvis forward, and the back of the knees upward as much as possible. Because all of the body’s weight rests in the hands and on the tops of the feet, avoid sinking into the joints of the shoulders and lower back by actively lifting forward and up. Engage the muscles of the legs and arms as much as possible, and avoid bending the knees or leaving them on the floor to prevent injury or soreness in the lower back.

While it might seem that established practitioners of vinyasa yoga prefer Upward Facing Dog as the gold standard of backbends, Cobra Pose is a viable alternative that builds strength, flexibility, and healthy alignment. Far from being a simplified variation of Upward Facing Dog, Cobra Pose offers tremendous benefits both physically and subjectively, especially with daily practice. When properly preformed, both Upward Facing Dog and Cobra Pose are fundamental components of a healthy asana practice. It is important, therefore, to take the time to learn proper application and alignment of these poses, especially in vinyasa practices where the length of time spent in the pose may only be a breath. When the alignment becomes second nature, and the breath is steady, both Cobra Pose and Upward Facing Dog can be preformed smoothly, and used interchangeably as needed.

 

By Holly Beck

​A Home Yoga Flow for Balance and Soothing

By Yoga Poses, Yoga PracticeNo Comments
 

There are countless yoga videos available to download or stream, and unsurprisingly many of them are focused on stress relief. These challenging, unprecedented times have yogis scrambling for a “quick fix” or a way to infuse their practice with more stress-busting approaches. However, there’s no getting around the fact that screen time alone can sometimes increase anxiety and stress. Since so many of us are working from home and staring at screens more than ever before, it’s worthwhile to dedicate at least one yoga flow a week to zero screens.

If you’ve been practicing for a while, have been thinking about pursuing your yoga teacher training certification, or are even in the middle of training, it’s especially important to learn how to create and adapt various flows of your own. For those who haven’t taught before, here’s a secret: there are a lot of yoga teachers out there (very good ones, too!) that don’t memorize and map out every single asana before every class. Intuition is a big part of being a good teacher—even when you’re your only student.

My home practice evolves around a daily flow that I create the day before. These are asanas that I especially want to focus on the next day, but they are by no means written in stone. It’s also a way to ensure that I don’t overlook some particular asanas for too long of a stretch. Left to our own devices, it’s very common to seek out the path of least resistance. Most of us like poses that we’re good at (as if there is such a thing) or that feel the best. We might not seek out the poses we find more challenging or uncomfortable if we don’t write down key asanas in advance. (Bear in mind, there’s a big difference between pain and discomfort.)

 

Creating Your Unique Flow

There is no perfect flow for balance and soothing. However, incorporating some restorative asanas into your usual flow and carving out time strictly for meditation post-savasana is a good start. Restorative yoga is often known for having ample props, but there’s no need to head straight to your favorite online yoga retailer to stock up. Props like bolsters and straps can easily be created through makeshift items in your home.

When soothing balance is the kind of flow you want to focus on, slow down. If you’re used to the uber-popular Vinyasa-style in the west, it might be time to incorporate more Iyengar-style yoga into your practice and hold poses longer.

Here’s a sample flow that I’ve practiced myself. When lockdown came into place, I transitioned to holding poses for one minute each (which means this flow will probably look a lot shorter than you imagine):

• Child: Transition from resting forearms to hands extended with fingers spread wide. Roll the forehead along the mat as you finger-walk from the left to the right, holding each side for one minute. As you stay in Child, take time to explore with your breath. You deepen your inhales and exhales as you surrender further into this pose.

• Table Top To Cat/Cow Flow: This is a great flow to warm up your spine. Feel free to explore barrel rolls, move side to side, or anything else that feels good in these two poses.

• Thread The Needle: Be sure to do both sides for this pose. You have the option to keep your free arm on the mat for support or in a half-bind behind the back. Stay in this pose for as long as you feel you need to.

• Downward Facing Dog: When doing this pose, try to pedal your heels towards the ground slowly to stretch your hamstrings. You can experiment with this pose further by bending your knees or perhaps bending one knee at a time. Find what works best for you in your own body as you explore this pose.

• Extended Leg To Big Toe: We already don’t extend our toes in our regular lives or really pay much attention to them. Our toes take a huge burden every day by helping to carry our body weight and balance us as we walk.  I incorporate this pose into every practice every day.

• Downward Facing Dog: If you’ve taken up running as a means to get outside (while still keeping your six-feet distance), experiment with extending one sole flat to the mat with the opposite knee bent as much as necessary for one minute, then switch. Tight muscles in the legs are notorious for runners and yoga can help counteract that.

• Forward Fold To Mountain: Any modifications in this transition are welcome, such as ragdoll.

• Warrior 1 to Warrior 2: Option of elevating arms or not (depending on energy levels). The first couplet in the warrior series has become synonymous with yoga for many westerners, and incorporating it into your practice can be a welcome familiarity for those new to a home practice.

• Tree: Modifications are welcome, including slow blinks or prayer hands behind the back.

• Chaturanga Dandasana: Similar to the warrior series, this vinyasa flow can help provide comfort if you’re missing your usual studio practice. Take it slower for now, and practice one long breath per movement. Opt for full belly resting on the floor instead of hovering in a tricep pushup. Cobra breaths (rise with an inhale, lower with an exhale) can take the place of up-dog to downward facing dog.

• Legs Up The Wall: You can do this pose for a minimum of two minutes or longer depending on how you need it.

• Meditation: Follow with ten minutes of meditation of your choice. You could choose a simple breathing meditation, mindfulness meditation, gratitude meditation, or guided meditation! There’s no right or wrong way to meditate to feel free to modify, tweak, or expand as you like. Remember to always listen to your body during the flow as well. Even if you’re the one who writes the flow, that doesn’t mean you have to follow it to the letter—or at all. Some days you might find you have less energy than others and that’s totally fine. Just be sure to tune into your body and listen to what’s it is saying to you.

 

Jessica Mehta is an E-RYT500® and RCYT® certified yoga instructor. She received her initial 200-hour training at Peak Beings Yoga while she was living in Costa Rica followed by her 300-hour training at The Bhakti shop in Portland, Oregon and her children’s yoga teacher training at The Lotus Seed also in Portland. Jessica is the founder of Get it Ohm!, a karmic, mobile yoga series that offer complimentary classes to individuals and groups who don’t have access to traditional yoga studios and/or don’t feel comfortable in such environments.

 

 

 

​Relaxation in One Yoga Pose: A Step-by-Step Guide

By Yoga Poses, Yoga PracticeNo Comments

A few summers ago, I suffered from terrible anxiety. To cope, I’d often sit outside under the trees noticing the light pouring through the branches and listening to the sound of my breath mingling with the tune of fluttering leaves. It would bring me tranquility and it was time just for me. I had faith in this practice to restore me, if I gave the trees my full attention. Yoga requires a similar faith. If we practice with sincere effort, equanimity and trust, over time the process of yoga will bring us back to ourselves. And like the shelter of the trees, one pose can also be a place of refuge. The āsanas are not simply things we do. They are places we go.

The current global health crisis is a moment of emotional, physical, and spiritual depletion. We may not have the time or energy for lengthy āsana practices or extended meditations right now. But if we’re tired and anxious there are simple, time-efficient ways to restore with yoga.

Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Koṇāsana), accompanied by breath-work and focused awareness, can be a complete practice for deep relaxation. Do the best you can to find a quiet space to do this exercise. If it feels impossible to calm down, don’t be dissuaded. Regardless of how long you have available to rest in this posture, it will benefit your mind and body. Proceed without attachment to the outcomes, but with willingness and curiosity.

Step 1: Reclining Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Koṇāsana)

Start in Corpse Pose (Śavāsana) and take a few breaths there. With each exhale loosen the muscles of your back, melting into the support of the floor. Bring the soles of your feet together at a comfortable distance from your pelvis, opening your knees wide. Place a block, cushion or rolled up towel under each knee. Allow these supports to bear the full weight of your legs, facilitating a release in your hips. Draw your tailbone down the mat, rolling your pelvis up towards your navel, creating space in your lower back. Tuck the chin slightly to lengthen the back of your neck and adjust as needed to ensure your spine is not compressed. Lay your head on a pillow and drape a blanket over your body. Close your eyes or soften your gaze, relax the muscles of your face, and position the hands in any way that feels best to you. Breathe naturally for several minutes. Remain in this posture for the duration of the practice, or for as long as it feels comfortable.

Step 2: Three Part Breath (Dīrgha Pranāyāma)

Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your heart. Prop up your elbows with rolled towels if desired. Inhale from the space below your navel and send the breath seamlessly through your rib cage, extending the sides of your body, and then up into your chest until your lungs are full. Draw your shoulders towards the mat as your heart space opens. Exhale completely and with control. Allow your chest to fall, your ribs to reform and your navel to gently drop back towards the spine. With each breath cycle use the placement of your hands to feel the breath dance in your body.

Step 3: Withdraw the Senses (Pratyāhāra)

Disengage your senses from the world beyond your mat. Focus on your inward experience, rather than ambient noise, anxious thoughts, or unrelenting laundry lists. When your mind starts to wander, refocus on your breathing. If the thoughts persist, don’t be discouraged. Use your breath awareness as a shield from material distractions, as well as a guide for exploring the stillness and stability of your inner self. Pay attention to your breathing, but abandon all effort in your body. Be at ease in the unknown, the mystery of the self, an uncharted holy place.

May this practice bring you solace and peace, quell worry and fear, and serve as a place of refuge protected by the unassuming presence of your own breath. May it reveal the subtle complexities of your body, the transformative power of the āsanas, and the grace of praṇa. Above all, may it revitalize your spirit in times of great uncertainty.

 

 

Claire Papell is a writer and yoga teacher (RYT-500) committed to revealing and honoring the hard truths of being human. Her yoga education included extensive study of the rich tradition of bhakti-yoga – the yoga of devotional service. Through the reading of sacred texts, yogic philosophy and kirtan, she developed a deep and persistent wonderment about Spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

​Re-Visiting the “Basics” of Vinyasa: Chaturanga and Breath

By Yoga Poses, Yoga PracticeNo Comments

Re-Visiting the “Basics” of Vinyasa: Chaturanga and Breath

Chaturanga Dandasana is a staple of Vinyasa and many other types of yoga, but a lot of practitioners make little mistakes. And once you start doing something in a not so great way, that tends to stick. Hopefully, you’ve had teachers that stop and break down Chaturanga. It’s not something that’s easy to “get” just like that. Many people who have been practicing for years can benefit from a little tune up from time to time.

Chaturanga begins in plank pose. However, you can train your body and mind to shift into Chaturanga from plank simply by moving forward about one inch. Your wrists should be directly under your shoulders while in plank, but prep for Chaturanga requires you to be slightly forward.

It’s probably been drilled into your head that your elbows need to be in when you lower halfway. Make sure you can feel your elbows brush against your ribs.

The biggest issue many people have is their definition of “half-way.” This is where a mirror can come in very handy. Some people don’t go far enough, and others are making things harder on themselves (and their joints) by just barely hovering above their mat. Many people droop in the middle at this point, which gives your back zero support.

It’s often helpful to exaggerate your hips when learning (or re-learning) Chaturanga. It might feel like your hips are way up in the air, but if you check int he mirror, they’re actually right where they should be. And yes, this will require more work from your muscles. Simply holding at the half-way point, properly, is enough for many people.

Even after practicing for several years, I prefer to start out my Chaturangas with a baby cobra. It stretches in a different way than the full Upward Facing Dog. It also helps my body get into the Chaturanga rhythm.

I encourage my students to mix and match baby cobra with Cobra and Upward Facing Dog. Listen to your body. Feel what these different poses can give you. Remember that yoga isn’t about getting to the next crazy looking asana, but about exploring your body and getting the full benefits from every breath and pose.

Yoga Breathing for Pain Management

Any woman who’s given birth can tell you that breath makes a huge difference in pain management. What you might not realize is that the breathing you learn in yoga can help you in many facets of your life. Some people faithfully go to their class of choice and wait impatiently to “get into things.” They’re there for the strengthening and flexibility that the asanas offer, and that’s fine for them. However, these types of practitioners are missing out on a very important half of yoga.

Linking breath with movement is one definition of yoga. It’s not just “movement.” If you’re not practicing the breathing half of things, you’re only doing half of yoga.

Yogic breathing has helped me in every complementary facet of my life from my years as an amateur boxer to marathon running and my HIIT training. It’s a critical training aspect of every sport, whether you’re in an intramural league or a professional. However, it’s also a crucial part of other, less active parts of my life. Recently, I had a fairly large cover up tattoo done on my spine. Notoriously a painful part of the body for ink work, I was 12 years overdue to cover up two tattoos that I got on a whim.

Even as a practicing yogi, I was surprised by how quickly I naturally went to my breathing to manage the pain. It gave me something to focus on. Breathing out the pain helped move me from dealing with the pain, to managing the pain, to finally accepting the pain so much that I managed to drift in and out of sleep during the last two hours in the chair.

This is just one example of how your practice might positively influence other aspects of your life. It’s often said the biggest challenge is just getting to the mat. But what are you going to use with what you’ve learned there?

 

 

 

 

Yoga For Anxiety And Depression: 4 Yoga Poses To Uplift You

By Yoga Poses, Yoga PracticeNo Comments

It’s not unusual for someone who suffers from anxiety to also suffer from depression, and vice versa. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States for ages 15 to 44, affecting 6.7% of American adults 18 and older. On the other hand, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects 3.1% of the US population and often co-occurs with major depression.

Yoga has been widely recognized as a way to manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, reportedly helping some practitioners adopt a more positive attitude toward life. Practicing yoga and moving the body has many physical benefits and there are also various benefits that yoga can have when it comes to mental health.

According to a Harvard University publication, yoga has been proven helpful in reducing anxiety and depression by helping regulate a person’s stress response system. With the ability to lower blood pressure and improve the quality of the breath, certain yoga poses in particular may help provide you with the means to cope with and alleviate anxiety and depression.

Here are some fundamental poses that help regulate the stress response system:

1. Child Pose

 


This basic posture helps relieve tension in the hips and lower back. By resting the forehead down on the ground or on a prop, the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, producing a relaxation response.

Find a child’s pose by starting in a table top position, on all fours. Bring your big toes together and your knees apart. Sit the hips back on the heels and rest the torso in between the knees and thighs. Reach your arms out in front of you and take 5-10 deep breaths. With each breath, try to expand the ribcage in every direction, sending the breath to your sides and to your back as well as the belly and the chest.

2. Downward Facing Dog

 


This is another foundational pose that lengthens the spine, strengthens the arms and shoulders and stretches the hamstrings. This pose is considered an inversion, helping blood circulate to the brain. This inversion of your blood flow is instantly energizing, and counters symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Start on the hands and knees. Tuck your toes under and lift the hips back and up, so your body is making an upside down ‘V’ shape. The feet should be hips-width distance apart but don’t worry if your heels don’t touch the floor. You can even bend your knees if you have tight hamstrings. Suck the belly in, firmly press the floor away and relax the neck and shoulders away from the ears. To warm up, peddle out the feet and bend one knee at a time. Then hold steady for 5 deep breaths.

3. Bridge Pose


This backbend and chest opener help open the front line of the body. In bridge pose, the back of the neck, where we naturally hold a lot of tension, is stretched. Holding this pose can relieve that tension and ease symptoms of depression.

Start laying on your back. Bend the knees and place the feet flat on the ground hips-width apart. Reach your hands toward your heels. On an inhale, press into your feet and lift the hips up off the ground. Strengthen the thighs and tuck your shoulders underneath to help you press up higher. The hands can interlace behind your back, reach for the heels, or press into the ground. Hold for five breaths.

4. Standing Forward Fold


Dropping the head below the heart has a calming effect on the mind and body. In a standing forward fold, the body can quickly relax and get a stretch of the entire back line: from the hamstrings all the way up to the back of the neck. The pose may also help ease headaches and chronic fatigue.

Start standing with your feet hips-width apart and your hands on your hips. Bend your knees, hinge at the hips, and fold forward. Drop your hands onto the floor or grab opposite elbows and let your head and neck hang heavy. You can sway the torso from side to side, and try to stay inverted for about one minute.

In summary…

Research suggests that the practice of yoga modulates the body’s stress response and can be helpful for both anxiety and depression. The scientific study of yoga indicates that mental and physical health are not only closely related, but are essentially two sides of the same coin. In addition, the holistic approach and low-risk involved in practicing yoga makes it an appealing option to manage anxiety and depression.

 

 

 

 

 

​Savasana: The Crown Jewel of Yoga Asana

By Yoga, Yoga PosesNo Comments

Though we follow different traditions of yoga asana, most all lead us to the final destination of relaxation, savasana. The practice of asana prepares our students’ minds and bodies for deeper awareness, by which savasana is the gateway. Savasana is subtle, a practice that builds the foundation for meditation and pratyahara. As yoga teachers, we can prepare our students for a deep savasana practice once we comprehend why we do it, and how.

Savasana integrates asana and ujjayi breathing on a deep level. It also serves as a transition from the formal practice of yoga into the outside world. Many students fall asleep during savasana, which is normal, but not the intent of the practice. The body becomes fatigued from the work of a balanced asana practice, while the mind becomes focused and calm through concentrated breathing. In savasana, the needs of the body and mind are transcended, and true relaxation and release can take place.

In savasana, some yogis may experience a dreamlike state, not quite like sleep, but unconscious nonetheless. Others may simply lose themselves, remembering nothing but the lingering stillness after the practice is complete. And some may have experiences beyond the mind and body that defy explanation. Because of the subtle nature of savasana, it is best to let whatever comes come, and to speak little of the inward nature of the practice. To articulate into words what cannot be perceived by the intellect bypasses the mysterious nature of our connection to the unknown. Just like yoga asana, some sessions are difficult, and some come with gentle ease, but in the end, savasana is a practice– a process to apply again and again.

From the outset, savasana appears to be simple and defined. Lie down, close your eyes, do nothing. However, for yoga teachers to hold space for our students to enter this deep state of relaxation, we require technical know-how, practice, and attentiveness. If your students are restless in savasana– fidgeting, coughing, or are lying with their eyes open, implementing the following techniques will help you to prepare them for deeper restoration. First, a balanced asana practice, with both rigor and cool down, is essential. The body must be worked in order to access the mind, and that work must be released in order to fully relax. Offering a cooling sequence about 10 minutes long is effective, especially if the final poses are done on the back, such as jathara parivattanasana, Revolved Belly Pose. Next, allow for 5 minutes of deep ujjayi breathing, either lying down or sitting up. Smoothly transitioning your students from the dynamic practice of asana into meditative breathing will prepare them to relax and will support the integrative process of savasana.

Creating a calming environment during the cool down portion of your class will subconsciously prepare your students for savasana. Dim the lights if possible, or turn them off completely. Slowly lower the volume of your regular music until it is mute prior to beginning your breath exercises. Similarly, begin to soften your instructional voice and slow your cadence as you bring your students into their final postures. I find that using the same words to guide my students to the floor, class after class, signals a state of relaxation, with each instruction slower and quieter than the last. Encourage your students to lie down quietly with minimal movement. Instruct them, practice after practice, to relax, to be still, and to let go. Finally, play a rhythmic selection of music especially reserved for savasana, ideally, without words that the mind can grab ahold of.

While your students are journeying inward, it is important for you, as the teacher, to reinforce the subtle work of their practice. Savasana is not a time for a teacher to check their phone, to leave the room and socialize in the reception area of the studio, or any number of things that might pull attention away from the students. Savasana is a time for you to go inward, as well. During savasana, you can sit in silent introspection, chant mantra in your mind, or lie down quietly. Be present in the subtly of the practice, for this space is our forum of learning, as much as it is for our teaching.

Allow your students to remain in savasana for at least 5 minutes, and then slowly, softly, and quietly draw them out of their inner space by bringing awareness back to the breath. Take several breaths yourself and give ample silence between your cueing in allowance for the deep state your students are coming out of. Encourage gentle movements before the greater motion of turning to a side. Patiently guide them to a seated position, and end your class as appropriate. In this way, the effects of the entire practice of asana, ujjayi, and savasana will stay with your students long after they leave the studio space. In the end, savasana is the crowning jewel of an asana practice, one that can touch the heart and souls of all who practice it.

 

 

Holly Beck is an experienced, advanced yoga instructor with nearly twenty years of teaching and mentoring experience. Classically trained in the tradition of the Sri Vidya lineage, Holly’s class promises an authentic yoga experience for practitioners of all levels with steady pacing, a continuous meditation on breath, and masterful sequencing. While she enjoys all levels of yoga, Holly’s true gift is working with pregnant women. Holly’s specialized prenatal yoga practice, The Yoga Of Birth, has prepared hundreds of women for empowered birthing experiences. Holly holds degrees in English and the Science of Health and Wellness from the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has been featured in the journal of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, and she is recognized by the Doula Association of Southern California as a leader in prenatal education. Holly is currently developing a sustainable, rural retreat center for conscientious living in Costa Rica. For more information, please visit www.seedsofloveproject.org. Holly also regularly writes content for YogaRenew Teacher Training.

 

How to Do Headstand (Sirsasana): 6 Tips to Master the Pose

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How to Do Headstand (Sirsasana): 6 Tips to Master the Pose

In case you haven’t noticed, headstands have been plastered all over social media lately, along with many other beautiful and intricate inversions. Being upside-down provides many benefits apart from looking graceful; the positioning of your heart above your head relieves stress, strengthens the core, increases blood circulation, gives a boost of energy, and helps to decrease leg swelling. If you are a beginner and new to inversions, attempting a headstand is the way to get started because there is more surface to balance on. From my experience and advice that I have received, here are some tips to help you navigate headstand and master this asana in no time!

 

1. Practice against a wall

As a beginner, with any inversion, the wall is a great place to start. Going upside down for the first time can be intimidating and since the most common concern is falling, using a wall can eliminate most of that fear. By practicing against a wall, you can slowly learn where your center of balance is which eventually will come naturally. Although the wall is a great form of assistance, try not to rely on it and slowly move away from it as you progress in your practice. For instance, begin in a tabletop position on the mat and lower yourself onto your forearms keeping them shoulder-distance apart. Interlace your fingers and create a cushion to support the crown of your head. Next, with your hands touching the wall, place your head onto your hands and start walking your toes closer to your torso while allowing your weight to be supported by your arms. Once your hips are above your head, try lifting one foot at a time off the mat and hugging it into your chest. When you feel comfortable and stable enough, try hugging both feet into your chest and with control, extending them up towards the sky. Practicing this while facing the wall will make you feel safer since you know it will catch you if you lose your balance.

2. Don’t kick up

If you’ve noticed in my previous instructions on how to get into a headstand, there is no kicking involved. Many beginners kick up to get into this inversion but I recommended trying to achieve this asana with control and slower movement. As you might imagine, kicking up can also increase your chances of falling. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you rely too much on kicking up into this pose against the wall, once the wall is taken away, you will continue practicing with too much momentum and might end up hurting yourself. By slowly tucking your feet into your chest, your body is still relatively close to the mat so that falling wouldn’t be as harmful. Slowly pushing up into headstand also strengthens your core and engages your entire body which provides a full-body workout. The bottom line is, you try kicking up a few times, in the beginning, to see how it feels being upside down, but try not to make it a habit and learn how to lift your body with control and intention.

3. Push your shoulders away from your ears

The way that your shoulders and arms wrap around your head in this asana is intended to protect and head and neck while balancing upside down. The important thing to remember is to always push firmly into the mat with your forearms and hands so that your upper body doesn’t sink into your shoulders which can lead to injury. Many beginners tend to do this and bring their shoulders close to their ears but this does not provide a safe and solid foundation for headstand. Instead, remember to push your shoulders away from your ears and press into the mat with your forearms because your entire body is relying on this base. If you’re still not sure if your alignment is correct, ask a yoga instructor to correct you during a class or film yourself and use the footage to correct yourself.

4. Engage your core

Generally speaking, most yoga poses require and help to develop a strong core as well as prevent injury. It’s needless to say that in headstand, your core plays a very important role. If I were to practice a headstand right now, with my core engaged versus relaxed, there would be a significant difference in the duration and alignment of the pose. That said, headstands are a major core workout and you’ll have to rely on a strong core to maintain a straight and stable headstand. Practicing core strengthening workouts before even attempting this inversion will help you significantly. Try practicing Boat Pose, plank, and side plank regularly to tighten and strengthen your abdominal muscles.

5. Keep your arms shoulder-width apart

Coming back to establishing a strong foundation, your arms are a very important aspect of headstand. Before placing your arms onto the mat, make sure that they are shoulder-width apart. One way to ensure correct alignment is by extended your arms in front of you and grabbing opposite elbows with each hand. This is exactly the distance that your arms should be from each other when placed on the mat.

6. Exit the pose safely

Before even getting up into headstand, a key thing to remember is how to exit the asana safely and with control. Usually the best way to get out of a yoga pose is the same way you got into it; in this case, slowly bend your knees and bring them into your chest with your toes pointed and your core engaged. Allow one foot to touch the mat at a time until both feet are firmly planted on the mat. Next, gently walk your toes away from your torso and rest in Child’s Pose. Try to avoid kicking down from headstand and making any harsh movements which could lead to injury.

Headstands take time and lots of practice to master but hopefully, the tips above will prevent injury, help to avoid unwanted errors, and assist with your progress. Remember to prioritize safety and practice with intention.

 

 


Stella Versteeg was exposed to yoga early in life from her father – traveling to India to practice yoga with her family. Living in ashrams and being surrounded by the beautiful and intricate Indian culture, from a young age, Stella was able appreciate and learn about the origin of yoga as well as meditation. Stella received her 200 HR yoga training from YogaRenew in 2018. She currently runs a blog, Ride Your Wave Yoga, which shares yoga tips, poses, nutrition, travel and mindfulness. Her goal is to spread honesty, love and awareness about a yogic lifestyle through her blog posts as well as create a supportive, inspired community. She aspires to share as much information as possible about the wonderful lifestyle that yoga has to offer and continuously evolve in her personal own practice.