Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I'll tell you mine, if you tell me yours...

After my last post about Down Dog, I got a number of comments from teachers who liked my instruction to line the wrist crease up with the mat to keep the arms aligned. This got me to thinking about other instructions I use, that I've found particularly useful. Some are ones I've borrowed from other teachers because they resonated with me, others I just discovered along the way. I love when a certain set up or phrase helps students discover a pose or gets them aligned, without any adjustment, just the words.

So, I thought, how about sharing. I'll post a couple of my favorite verbal cues and you send me yours. We can all benefit from everyone's experience and maybe we'll get a few more lovely Trikonasana out of our students just from the sounds of our voices!

My trick for getting an aligned Trikonasana
One instruction I borrowed from a Yoga Journal article is to do seated twists in three parts over three breaths. During the first exhale you focus on twisting the lower back ("twist the belly button toward the right knee"), which is a small twist but gets the student to think about the base. The second breath moves up to the rib cage ("twist the breast bone to face the right knee"). The third breath is for twisting the shoulders. You can add a twist to the neck, at that point, if you like. This approach keeps the focus moving up the spine from the least flexible part of the spine--the lumbar--to the most flexible--the cervical. It makes for a much deeper twist, and a more thorough one.

Actually,it is good in any pose that includes a twist, not just seated poses, because it keeps the student's awareness in the spine and that extra length allows them to really lift the side ribs and work the muscles of the back. It also prevents them from just twisting at the neck and shoulders, so the whole back benefits from the pose. If you are doing a forward bend, it helps deepen the bend because the spine stays long and opens up space at the hip joint.

When you apply it to Trikonasana (Triangle), not only does it help the student think about lengthening the spine and opening the chest, but it also seems to stabilize the pelvis, so the hips open, too. Very rarely do I need to remind people to roll the back thigh out or keep the back hip lifted to prevent the pelvis from tipping forward, which is so common. It seems like a really cool trick, since I'm not even mentioning the legs. It is especially effective towards the end of class if we've been focusing on doing twists this way.

So, now it's your turn. What reminders or suggestions to find to be most effective? I'm all for some new ideas for spring (it's almost spring, right?)!


Anonymous said...

Yep, almost spring, in the Netherlands, too! Amsterdam is blossomming!
Here's what I always say when doing a seated forward bend:
"Elongate the back of your legs. Inhale as you stretch your arms up, exhale as you bend forward. Place the hands where you can reach without bending the legs. Now, bring your attention to the place where you feel the stretch. Imagine the inhalation to flow there, and use the exhalation to soften and relax that area."
In fact, this works for every stretch - awareness and breath, breath and awareness.

Linda (Sama) said...

"you focus on twisting the lower back ("twist the belly button toward the right knee"), which is a small twist but gets the student to think about the base. The second breath moves up to the rib cage ("twist the breast bone to face the right knee")."

OK, I'm stupid.

I assume these instructions are for when the LEFT LEG is in front? because your left leg is leading in your picture.

if the right leg was in front and you "twist the belly button toward the right knee" you would be closing up instead of opening up. and if you "twist the breast bone to face the right knee" when the right leg is in front, then you are really twisting down instead of up.

Linda (Sama) said...

by the way, in downward facing dog I like to pigeon toe my feet a little bit -- that way I feel a nice opening in the sacral area and I think it moves the pubic bone back and the tailbone up. but that's my body!

Brenda Plakans said...

Oops, when I wrote the first section it was as a generic instruction and I was actually visualizing Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana in my head and not even thinking about the triangle explanation yet. That's what I get for writing in shifts.

Thanks for noticing, I'll go back and fit it.

Kristin said...

Great idea!

For trikonasana, I like to cue sliding the hips toward [the front of the room] as the arm reaches toward [the back]. The sliding action seems to help elongate the torso otherwise I've noticed the students try and tip w/o moving anything.

For forward folds, I cue on an inhale, to lift the sternum before forward folding on an exhale. I've noticed this helps lengthen the spine and brings the stretch to the hamstrings rather than their upper back.

And in forward folds, I have them gaze at their feet as if they are the most facinating thing they've seen that day. In the ashtanga practice we do a lot of forward folds and as corny as it is, they remember to look up rather than down.

I think what's really helped is when I call out "levels" in class. For example, drishti points in downdog, level one, look at your feet, level two, look at your knees, level three, look at your belly button. It reminds people where to look, but makes the class more approachable.

I know I've got a few more but I can't think of what they are right now!

Anonymous said...

Great ideas! I like to begin my seated twists with a reminder to "ground down thru the sitting bones." Often I see (and feel) the hips shifting in a twist, giving the illusion of a deeper twist. I encourage my students to pay attention to how much weight,pressure is on each sitting bone and to keep it even as they twist.

Megan said...

Great bit of info there. Thanks!
As a student I enjoyed one teacher's use of the body as a helper and stabilizer (rather than props). So with Trikonasana, for example, I guide the class down into the pose by first placing our [right] hand in the middle of our lower back to remind us to keep our awareness there and to help visualize the "wall" behind us. Then slide the other [left] hand down the leg until they feel resistance or they meet the floor. Then by bringing the back-braced hand straight out to the front, we follow the palm up with our eyes, then head and breath. This seems to work with getting everyone, regardless of the depth of their pose, to open up fully and both pull the top shoulder open while swinging the lower hip forward. The verbal cues I use a lot are "inhale and follow", "lead with your heart".
Megan :)