Friday, October 31, 2008

Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose

We did twists and spine lengthening this week in class. When I have a class that is a bit more advanced, I have them try Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana, for an intense arm/torso/hip/inner thigh stretch. Everyone tried it, but most of them groaned...especially when I demo-ed stretching the upraised arm towards the foot. "Oh, right," was the exact quote.

Once I had everyone stand up and move into Trikonasana (Triangle), though, I got to thinking about how similar these two poses are. Legs are spread, spine is lengthened and then twisted, arms reach down and overhead. The knee cap has to keep lifting so that the thigh engages and keeps the extended foot pointing up, tailbone stays pointed towards the floor.

So let's try Revolved Head-to-Knee this week. After a workshop a couple of years ago, I posted a long discussion of this pose, if you need some instructions. Since we did Triangle recently, see how this one compares. I actually prefer to do it at the end of my gym workout; I find that having exercised for 30 mins. beforehand really helps my ability to lengthen and twist.

If reaching overhead makes you groan, try wrapping your belt around the extended foot and holding on to both ends in the position. You can still twist and extend, but the torso won't be folded as much. And think about the actions of makes this pose less intimidating.

See what you think!

Saturday, October 25, 2008


One of my favorite vacation poses is Vrksasana or Tree Pose. When you're out in the wilds camping, on a lanai overlooking a Hawaiian sunrise, or even just visiting your parents for the weekend, popping into Tree for a spell is a nice way to realign, get your daily yoga fix and find some balance in your new environment. It's fun, it's pretty easy (except for the balancing part) and it just feels so yoga.

I teach it early, even to complete beginners, because it is easy to assume (modifications next post) and it gets people thinking about alignment. Plus, it's sort of the "international sign of yoga" (every time advertisers want to make a wellness connection with their product, inevitably they pair it with some cute chick doing Tree). Once you've tried it, you know you're in a yoga class.

Some things to think about:
-Yeah, it's a balance pose and is great for ankle strength, but it's also a hip opener. Try to keep your hips square, while still pressing the knee out to the side. There's a tendency to start twisting towards the bent knee, so keep the standing leg strong.

-If you approach it as a hip opener, you don't really need to have your bent knee foot at the top of the thigh. Even with it pressed to the calf or ankle, with the toes on the floor, allows you to square the hips and open the knee to the side. See if that helps with balance issues. When you feel grounded, you can always place the foot higher on the standing leg.

-Find something very still or, even better, nothing to focus on. You are looking, but not seeing, so your awareness is in the standing foot and the spine. My students can hold the pose for quite some time, if I make them turn around and stare at the wall. Try it.

It's week's everybody doing?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

House-breaking the Dog

Whoops, got a little side-tracked this week helping the husb. put together his tenure package. By Monday nite he was pretty fried and needed some help organizing about a million student evaluations and making everything look pretty. Those of you who are academics, or love an academic, know how lively things have been around our house. Now the waiting begins...

So, I've been hearing about the Dog, and thinking about my own Dogs. I've got some modifications for you to try that I often do, anyway, because it shifts things around in the pose and keeps it interesting:

Hands around a block at the wall
-try placing a block between the thumbs and index fingers (the fingers will make an "L" around the bottom and side edge) and press the front edge of the block at the wall. Measure out your dog from Child's Pose, so your arms are stretched straight out from the shoulders before you come up. Lift up into Dog, letting the pressure of the hands against the block help stabilize the arms. Straighten the arms and torso first, keeping the knees soft and then open the backs of the legs as you straighten them.

Belt around the upper arms-make a loop with your belt and tighten it, so that it is about the width of your shoulders. Then slip this loop around the arms and above the elbows. When you come into Dog this also stabilizes the arms, by helping keep them straight. It is good for people with weaker arms. You have to fuss around with the placement, tho, because it can get in the way of your head.

Heels to the wall-This is a good shoulder opener, but is also nice for students whose heels don't reach the floor. Position yourself against the wall, so that as you come up the heels rest against the wall about 3 inches off the floor. This will create greater rotation in the shoulders, and give you more support in your legs. If the rotation is too much, walk the hands forwards to open up the "V" of the body, and lower the heels slightly.

Soften knees-I suggest this to students all the time, because if they have tight shoulders they tend to do a modified Plank, rather than Dog, making the pose much more difficult for the arms. As you come up, keep the knees bent until the upper body is in a straight line, then start unbending the knees (never think about forcing the heels down...better to visualize the legs lengthening). If the head starts to pop up between the arms, bend the knees again. I think it is better to keep the upper body aligned in this pose, rather than fixate on whether your feet are flat on the floor.

Whadaya think? Does any of this help? Give you ideas?

P.S. I got a massage on Monday (trading classes with a excellent is that?!?), and was told that the tightness in my left shoulder extends diagonally across my back to the right hip. Totally logical, since I thrust the left hip out to support the baby, thus fouling up my alignment completely. That would explain why a long-held, twisting standing pose was not all that enjoyable...should we do Vrksasana (Tree Pose) next?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dog, Baby, Dog

For starters, I'm going to revise that 5 minute nonsense. Anne-Marie was right when she commented, "ha ha ha ha." If you can hold these babies for 2-3 minutes, you're in the club (which means, I'm barely in the club). Whatever. Five minutes is an awfully long time to do anything except Supta (Reclined) poses. Even BKS Iyengar agrees...he suggests one-and-a-half, to two minutes for most standing asana.

So, Down Dog. Adho Mukha Svanasana. I've got to say, it's still my favorite. Everything get stretched; arms lengthen, shoulders rotate, chest opens, calfs/hamstring stretch, lower back gets released.

After about a minute or so, my arms start to get a bit tired and I find myself constantly having to remind my elbows and neck to lengthen. But they do, and the pose gets renewed energy and I can stay up.

How's your Dog doing?

(Here are some other Dog posts--I'm going to refrain from posting my Dog picture...I've obviously recycled it many times, already)
Ode to a Dog
Dog, Plank, Dog, Plank
Learning to Love the Dog (the toddler in this post is now 4 yr.s old, btw)
The Magnificent Wrist

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What I learned from a Triangle

Well, the shoulder-neck thing is getting worse, not better. I did some research and there is a lot of discussion of hip and thigh tightness, stiff necks and weak abdominals, but not much about the trapezius muscle.

Julie Gudmestad has a thorough YJ discussion about Trikonasana and recommends working on scapula placement before folding (she also suggests spending some time in Padangusthasana (Hand-to-Big-Toe)beforehand to open up the hamstrings and hip flexors...maybe that would help your hip soreness, Ivete). She suggests, before folding, extending the arms and rotating the palms of the hands and elbow creases towards the ceiling, which engages the shoulder blades and draws them down--opening the chest. Then turn the palms back over, but keep the elbow crease rotated up.

When I tried this, I noticed the action in the upper back, but the same old pain started after about a minute. It is very interesting how spending serious time in a pose can be so instructive. I knew I had tightness, but I was surprised at how insistent it is. Luckily, I have a student who is a masseuse and I think we're going to work out some sort of trade of services (score!).

As far as modifications go, I did a couple Triangles with a chair, that would be helpful for people with tight hips, who can't fold as sharply at the pelvis. My upper arm did start to fall asleep during the long hold, which is probably due to the changed angle of arm to torso. Neck was the same.

I also tried with my back heel against the wall, which helps stabilize the back leg. It also reminds you to keep your back thigh rolled out and your hips square. I like this for students who have trouble keeping the pose narrow. Doing Triangle against the wall serves the same purpose.

Sooo, what did everybody else discover? Is it still your favorite pose? Do you have some tightness lurking? Any suggestions for my neck?

Next week: my personal fave (at least until now) Adho Mukha Svanasana...Downward-facing Dog!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A pain in the neck...

Okay, so holding a pose for 5 min.s is no easy feat. I can only stay in Trikonasana for about 2 1/2 minutes. It's not the leg strength or knees locking or holding the torso parallel to the floor. My neck can't take it. At about 1 1/2 minutes it gets very tight and even if I look forwards or down it continues to tighten until I have to stop. I tried the legs wider so I could touch the floor and I tried a block. No difference. What's that all about? (Actually, my left back shoulder has been giving me trouble for about 13 months and 2 weeks...hmm, that's the same age as a certain baby...)

It's interesting what you learn as you hold a pose for awhile. I'm so used to 5 breaths and then up, or just a demo in class, that I haven't been in a position (ha) to observe what is going on in my body for some time. So this is a good exercise to see what is up. And work on it.

How did you do?

(Next post, the modifications)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Asana Project

I've been doing a lot of research lately, for my second blog, My Pig, My Cornfield. Goodness, the food blog world is huge: chefs, activisits, farmers, mom/pastry chefs, organ-eaters, art directors, etc etc. I thought the yoga bloggers were prolific, but I had no idea. Sifting through many of these, has given me some ideas for's one of them:

I tried something like this a few years ago, but was waaay too ambitious (a pose/post per day--I lasted about four days), so I've scaled it back. I'm going to focus on a pose every week to ten days. Do it for a few days, report on my impressions and then do several modifications and report on those. I teach with an Iynegar-influence, so I'm big on finding a version of a pose--often using props--that everyone can do. But, I've never really tested my versions beyond just the demonstration: do they really offer the same benefits? do they open something else in addition? Are there better modifications that I'm not considering?

Obviously, the food crowd isn't doing poses, but they're sharing recipes--"Let's all bake this together and then compare notes." So I'm thinking, maybe we can make this a group project. We can all handle 3 poses (one pose, two modifications) a week for about 5-10 min.s (if doing 2 sides) right? I want to hear what you think of the initial pose (whether you teach it, or practice it); how you change it for yourself or students; if my modifications work or not; suggestions for other poses to try.

I'm writing way more about yoga thoughts than practice, lately, and I thought this might be a fun way to get back onto the mat.

SO, first pose for the Asana Project: Utittha Trikonasa (Triangle Pose). Do it, 5 min.s (or so) each side, for the next three days, see what you notice, and report back! Here is a thorough discussion of the pose from Namaste From Duluth.

Here are some older posts, for sequencing ideas:
-Yoga is a Language
-Hip to be Triangular
-Our Friend the Spine