Vinyasa IV: Posture Perks

18 Sep

This Posture-Perking Vinyasa is dedicated to all my yoga students (who are also my teachers!), and also in gratitude and dedication to all my beloved yoga teachers, past, present and future.  Namaste.


1.Seated_Yogic_BellyBreahs

Begin seated on a chair or in Sukhasana on the floor for a centering Pranayama practice.  Enjoy at least ten slow, deep Yogic Belly Breaths, gradually lengthening the duration of the inhale and exhale.  You may choose to place your hands on your belly to help guide breath into the space of the belly and low back.  Following ten rounds of belly breaths, transition to the Middle Ribs Breath, inhaling to inflate the side and back ribs, exhaling to release and relax, gently drawing navel to spine.  Keeping the navel gently drawn in to the spine, repeat the middle ribs breath for at least ten rounds.

 

10.Strappy_Side_Bends

Sitting in the center of your chair with feet flat on the floor, find your strap and extend your strap between arms in front of you. Hold the strap taught. Inhale, slowly and mindfully (we are simply warming up the shoulders) lift the strap overhead, seeing how straight you are able to keep the elbows. You may notice that you need to adjust the distance between your hands—be sure to do so. On an exhale, keep your side chests lifted as you arch over to the left. Inhale through center (overhead). Exhale to the right. Notice that your sit bones are equally rooted. Repeat for ten full-breathing rounds of Strappy Side Bends, lingering in any expression of the pose that feels nourishing.

 

9.Strap_Shoulder_Opening_Vinyasa

Please be very mindful and gentle to the shoulders in this posture. Inhale, lift the arms overhead, keeping a steady tension in the strap. Exhale, reach the arms back (please slide your hands farther apart on the strap until this action is comfortable for you) and perhaps the arms lower toward the back hips (it’s okay if they don’t today). Inhale the arms up and overhead. Exhale the arms to the front.   Repeat for ten full-breathing rounds of Strappy Shoulder Rolls, lingering in any expression of the pose that feels healthy. Over-stretching in this postures is not useful; listen to your body and only go as deeply as feels safe and comfortable.

 

2.Tadasana

Come to standing at the front of your mat with two blocks closeby. Place one block between your upper thighs, standing with the feet hip width apart. Find Tadasana (mountain) by lifting your inner arches, spreading your toes, lifting your knees to engage your quads, and drawing the inner thighs back. Lift your side and back chest, spread your collarbones and let your ears rest over your shoulders. Reach down through the four corners of your feet as you reach up through the crown of your head. Draw your top thighs back and side chest tall.

 

3.Urdvha_Hastasana_Collage

Take a second block into your palms. Extend the elbows straight, pressing the pinky finger side of your hand more firmly into the block than the thumb side. Maintaining the integrity in your spine (your low back will want to arch; front ribs poking forward), inhale and begin to lift the block a few inches higher. Pause to exhale, checking in with the shoulders—plug them back; keep the front ribs back. Inhale, lift the block a few inches higher. Pause to exhale. Honor where your shoulders are able to move in Urdvha Hastasana keeping an external rotation to the shoulders and internal rotation to the thighs. Work toward five or ten full breaths in this posture, being gentle yet strong.   Exhale to slowly lower the block down, keeping the elbows straight and pinky fingers of the fingers pressing in. Bend your knees, place both blocks onto the floor. You may choose to explore Urdvha Hastasana without the blocks, and see if you can keep the block-inspired actions as you move into and out of the pose.

 

4.Anjaneyasana

Find a chair and place it facing the long edge of your mat for Anjaneyasana. Step your right thigh over the chair, and rest the ball of your foot on the ground directly beneath your knee. If your front foot does not reach the ground, use a blanket or yoga block beneath the foot. Hands come to the hips, drawing left hip forward, plugging the right hip back. Walk your left toes back, back, back, until just your toes are on the ground and the heel is lifted. Toes point directly forward (in the same direction as your left hip). Extend through the back left heel; draw your inner left thigh up toward the sky, straightening the knee. Keep your quadriceps engaged. Inhale, reach arms forward, parallel with the ground. Exhale, plug the shoulders back into their sockets. Inhale, lift the arms overhead. Maintain the same action as you did in Urdvha Hastasana, drawing outer armpits in toward your ears. Draw the tailbone toward the earth and keep extending the back leg. Exhale, release the arms down to your sides. You may either progress to Virabhadrasana I on chair next pose) or repeat Anjaneyasana on the other side.

 

5.VirabhadrasanaI

To transition from Anjaneyasana into Virabhadrasana I with Chair, angle your back heel in toward the center of the mat slightly, then ground into the outside edge of the back foot. Continue to draw the inner back knee up toward the sky and press the back leg long. Inhale arms level with the floor; exhale plug the shoulders back. Inhale to raise the arms overhead, magnetizing the pinky side of the arms toward one another to find an external rotation to the arms. Draw the tailbone down toward the earth, float the front ribs back, and extend the spine upward through the crown toward the sky. Enjoy a few mindful breaths here. On an exhale, hands to hips, bend the back knee and carefully switch sides.

 

6.Virabhadrasana_II_on_chair

You may choose to move directly into Virabhadrasana II on Chair from Vira I: to do this, bring the hands back to the hips. Gently open your hips toward the front edge of the chair. You will find that this rotation allows for you to scoot your back foot further away from the body: do this, and then find a rooted outer edge of your back arch. Hands are still on hips at this point. Draw the inner right (front leg) groin toward the inner right knee; draw the outer right knee toward the outer right hip to find healthy knee and hip alignment. Lift the back kneecap to engage your quadriceps; this will help to release and straighten the back knee/hamstring as you root your outer back foot into the earth. Inhale, grow tall through your spine, checking in so that your spine is perpendicular to the earth. Tailbone descends as you inhale to reach your arms out to T. Exhale, find a soft gaze over your front middle finger. Elbows straight; shoulders release from your ears. Exhale arms down, resting hands on hips. Carefully step the back leg forward and repeat on the other side. The former three postures can be done sequentially (all on one side, then change) or one at a time.

 

11.Virabhadrasana_Block

Here is a fun variation on Virabhadrasana I with a block just below the knee on the front of the shin. Come to the wall and step your front leg close in, placing the block. Walk your back leg as far back as you can without losing your square hips. You can work here, feeling the solidness of the legs pressing into the wall and the sturdiness of the outside edge of the back foot. You can also walk the fingertips up the wall, plugging shoulders back, then raising the arms overhead. Find some full breaths into the space of the back ribs here. Exhale to release the arms, bend the back knee and grasp the block to step the feet together. Enjoy the pose on the other side. You may choose to explore the posture without the block, seeing if you can mimic the actions you found at the wall.

 

7.Adho_Mukha_Svanasana_bent_straight_chair

Adho Mukha Svanasana Variation (Downward Dog) begins standing facing the back of the chair. Step your hands shoulder wide apart on the chair, resting the pinky side of your hands onto the chair back. Bend the knees *this is a top priority in this posture* and begin to step the legs back. Keeping knees bent, lengthen your spine as you step your legs back until the feet are beneath the hip sockets. Press into the chair and lengthen back through your tailbone—as though someone is pulling your tail—as you continue to activate the arms, releasing the heart toward the earth (if you are already very flexible in the shoulders, you will need to actively resist hyperextending the shoulder joints by pressing into the chair and keeping your front ribs lifted). Keep the knees bent, continuing to work with lengthening the spine, growing an inch longer with each exhale. Only if you are able to maintain the neutral spine (no rounding!), you may begin to straighten the legs by drawing the inner knees back and lifting the quadriceps. Work here for ten breaths. To come out, bend the knees, draw the navel toward the spine, gaze forward and step one foot forward at a time to find Tadasana.

 

8.Parsvottanasana

You may find Parsvottanasana from Adho Mukha Svanasana (above). Knees can stay bent. As above, bend the knees and walk the legs back. From there, step the right foot forward—toes face the chair—and check in with the alignment of the hips: draw the right hip back and left hip forward. The back toes angle out to the left slightly. Lift the arches of the feet; lift the kneecaps to engage the quadriceps. Lengthen both side bodies and press the hands (or arms, as shown) into the chair. *Note: your torso may not be level with the floor. Make sure your spine is neutral; you may have your hands on the chair but chest lifted higher. Do what ensures a neutral spine. Each inhale inflates the length of spine; each exhale draws the navel in and lengthens your body crown to tailbone. Breathe here for ten rounds before bending both knees and gazing forward to step the feet toward the chair and transition to the other side.

 

11.Goddess_Shakti_Flow

Set the chair aside to prepare for Shakti Goddess Flow. Step your feet wide apart, toes pointing out. See that the kneecaps and toes are pointing in the same direction. Sink the tailbone toward the floor as you lower the hips. Find cactus arms. Inhale, straighten the knees and reach the arms overhead in prayer position. If you feel balanced and your neck is happy, you may choose to gaze at the hands. Exhale, bend the knees, sinking the tailbone, and open the heart to find cactus arms. Inhale here, then exhale, side bending to the left. Inhale through center and side bend to the right. Inhale through center; exhale, sink deeper. Inhale repeat the flow by straightening the legs and reaching arms overhead. Continue for five to ten rounds, exploring openness and stability in the hips and thighs.

 

13.Trikonasana

From the wide Shakti stance, turn your left toes toward the short edge of your mat, and turn your right toes in about 45 degrees from the back edge of your mat, internally rotating your entire right thigh. Lift your arches and kneecaps. Draw both hips toward the back foot as you lengthen out of the hips, both sides of the spine long. Reach the left arm out over your toes and catch a chair, your leg, or a block (avoid the knee joint) for Trikonasana (Triangle). Press strongly into the ball mound of the left big toe and equally strongly into the outside edge of the back right foot. Draw the shoulders away from your ears as you reach the arms out, extending through fingertips. To come up, draw your belly to your spine, press strongly into your feet and inhale to bring the torso horizontal. Face the other way and repeat on the other side.

 

15.Posture_Work

Make your way back to the wall, taking your blocks along. You may recognize Posture Practice at the Wall from an earlier Vinyasa, but it is so potent that I chose to include it here as well. Lean against the wall as though you are sitting in a chair. Notice if your chin or shoulders come forward of the wall. Plug your shoulders back to touch the wall and see if you can touch the back of your head to the wall, keeping your chin level with the floor. This may be a sufficient practice to work with for awhile. As you progress, inhale to lift your arms parallel with the floor, palms facing each other. Plug your shoulders into the wall on the exhale. Magnetize your pinkies toward one another to externally rotate the shoulders. Inhale, lifting your arms up a few inches. See that your back hasn’t arched away from the wall. Working with breath, gradually inhale to lift your arms higher (pause on the exhale), keeping the back body in contact with the wall. Exhale to release the arms down to the sides. Eventually, once posture practice feels simple, you may choose to squeeze a block between your knees and hold a block between the palms to increase strength in this pose.

 

12.Wide_Leg_Fold

Step one foot onto your chair. Allow the hips to be open. Lift the kneecap of your standing leg to strengthen the leg as you inhale, lift the chest, lengthening out of the spine. Exhale, fold forward, pulling your navel toward your spine to help support the back. Inhale, lengthen forward and up, finding a long spine. Exhale, fold forward into your pose and catch both elbows gently for a ragdoll variation. Shake your head softly to release your neck. Breathe deeply into the back body here, keeping navel in. You may wave the spine side to side to help release and relax muscles here, being sure to keep a firm standing leg. Inhale, belly to spine as you roll up bone by bone; the head comes up last.

 

16.Savasana

Move your chair to the side and make your way into Savasana Variation with the legs elevated on a stack of blocks and a rolled up blanket to nourish the low back. Roll the shoulders back and down, lifting the chest gently. Lengthen the back of the neck. Settle in. Make any modifications so that you can surrender completely here. Soften all muscles, all thoughts, even the breath. Watch the activity of the mind, the breath, as an observer, for at least ten minutes as you fully integrate all the benefits from your practice.

 


 

“You create the space, and the universe fills it.”

~Leslie Kaminoff  in Yoga Anatomy

Our bodies have so much to teach us. Be patient, soften, persist, and practice. Let your body be your guide.

The highest potential in me honors the highest potential in you.
Namaste.


Here are some useful resources for more work with posture, which really begins with breath awareness and an expansion of your ability to use your diaphragm and supporting muscles:

  • Many of you have asked about a guided meditation.  One practice that helps if you are in acute pain or experiencing anxiety is progressive muscle relaxation.  There are many versions and voices, with or without music, available online for free.  Here is one that I think is nice.
  • As you explore deep breathing, consider the diaphragm muscle and how it moves to assist the breathing process.  To the right is a simplified image that may help you visualize the action of the diaphragm.  Click here for a link to a more detailed illustration by Sharon Ellis from the book Yoga Anatomy.
  • I recommend Yoga Anatomy if you are interested in learning about the physiology of asana in beautiful depth (available as an e-book or paperback).  The quote above is excerpted from here.  A sweet blend of ancient and modern.
  • Here is a video of Ginger Garner, a Physical Therapist, demonstrating what she calls the TATD breath.  You can practice along with her at home:
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  1. Restore Physical Vitality with Yoga’s Downward Facing Dog | Find Me A Cure - November 2, 2014

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