Increase Your Mobility Through Stability with Yoga

Happy to be back writing Yoga Posts! While I was gone, among other things, I took a Continuing Education class based on the Iyengar style of yoga. It felt good to revisit the principles of alignment. I was reminded how important it is to study the core elements from time to time; especially when your practice is more advanced. In moving back to the essence of Iyengar, I have refreshed my way of practicing yoga.

So this week, I would like to share what I have been learning. The first concept I focused on was how to generate mobility through stability. While I know that grounding is important to keep a pose steady, through this training, I’ve discovered that establishing an effective base can actually improve your pose.

I created the following sequence for my personal practice and class sessions by choosing a group of poses for the upper body – specifically the neck, shoulders and main torso.

Centering and Warming Postures:

  • Seated Melting Meditation is a great way to bring awareness to the upper back body. Sit comfortably and visualize yourself melting from the base of your skull to your hips.
  • Experiment with this Myofascial Neck Release to relax the deep tissues of the neck. Briefly stretch your right ear towards your shoulder then return your head to center. Massage your left ear cartilage and the area around the ear. Then, repeat the stretch to feel the effects of the massage.
  • Try this mini vinyasa flow that moves from a Kneeling Urdhva Hastasana to Anahatasana to build stability for the upper body. You can also add a kneeling open twist with your arms extending forward and backward.

Focus Poses:

  • Practice Standing Marichyasana and Revolved Side Angle by using a chair facing the wall. This is the heart of the Iyengar workshop I took with Carrie Owerko. It is an awesome method for focusing on what needs to be grounded or stabilized for the openings to occur. We placed our hands on the wall to activate the shoulders and used a yoga strap to anchor the hips (by connecting a large loop from the back foot to the front hip).

It is amazing how effective this was for myself and for my students. We could truly create space to move more deeply into these poses.


  • Then, I chose to isolate the upper body with Warrior I variations. First, flowing from a cactus arm position to a shoulder hug and then by pushing and pulling the arms away from and into the body. In the end, the traditional pose felt easier and more stable.

Poses to Wind Down:

  • The sequence winds down and resolves with Constructive Rest Pose. Simply lie on your back, bend the knees and place your feet mat width apart. Allow your knees to rest together to neutralize the pelvis.
  • End with a version of Supported Savasana. In the example below, the spine is lifted with a bolster to open the shoulders and a blanket wrap anchors the ankles and feet in Buddha Konasana.

This is a practice I will revisit often. Its lesson is invaluable as it affects us both physically, mentally and spiritually. It is particularly important to keep in mind when we are transitioning or facing new challenges in life.

Through preparation, we can provide ourselves with a stable base so that we are better equipped to move into action. A pretty important concept for those of us who like to step out onto the ledge from time to time.

Photos by Yoga Journal & YogaU

Use Restorative Yoga to Release and Rebalance

Typically the final resting posture is the most relaxing part of a yoga session. In Savasana or corpse pose, yoga students learn to focus on their breath and completely release any effort of body and mind. The reward is a sense of peace and equanimity that can lead to a reduction in stress and an easing of ailments caused by anxiety or tension.

There are many yoga pose variations that can elicit a Savasana-like awareness and promote relaxation. For this post, I will give you the techniques for the restorative pose called Supta Baddha Konasana or Supported Bound Angle Pose. Continue reading “Use Restorative Yoga to Release and Rebalance”

Tips for a Safer Yoga Practice: Mastering Chaturanga Dandasana

If you are a practicing yogi, you know what a sun salutation is – a set of postures linked together in a particular sequence. Although there are slight variations, most sun salutations include plank, chaturanga dandasana, upward facing dog and downward facing dog. Chaturanga dandasana (or 4-limb staff pose) is that tricky transitional pose that occurs between plank and upward facing dog. It takes awareness, alignment and strength to avoid injuring the shoulder joint. The question is, should everyone be using it?

Well, how else can you get to the floor? Sure, you can start in 1/2 plank or ardha phalakasana to make the transition easier. However, it still takes good alignment and overall strength to get safely to the floor. It also requires full body awareness – and that is the key.

Here are some steps to start building the full body awareness you need to master the elusive chaturanga dandasana: Continue reading “Tips for a Safer Yoga Practice: Mastering Chaturanga Dandasana”

Live Younger with a Mindfulness Practice

You may have heard that being more mindful makes you a better person. And, it’s proven scientifically that this is the case. Creating a consistent mindfulness practice will grant you a healthier and more productive life. But what exactly is mindfulness?

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” It is the practice of focusing fully on the here and now. In my experience, in order to incorporate present moment awareness into your life, you need to do so gradually. Here is my step-by-step guide to help you move towards mindfulness. Continue reading “Live Younger with a Mindfulness Practice”

Protecting Your Neck in Your Yoga Practice

In class, we learned this week that neck tension can result from shoulder joint rigidity, any area of tightness in the upper back, spinal misalignments or even issues with the hands and wrists. Due to the neck’s ability to move more freely than the rest of the spine, special attention must be given to maintain the alignment of the cervical complex.

Be Aware

At all costs, only move the neck to the extent that you feel comfortable. If a teacher asks you to lift your head in a pose, only do so if your neck permits the action and it feels pleasant. Think in terms of lifting your chin rather than releasing your head back. This will help maintain the integrity of your cervical curve.

Depending on your particular cervical structure, you may need to protect your neck in certain yoga postures. Headstand and Shoulderstand in particular come to mind. Although these are known as the father and mother of yoga asanas respectively, if they are not practiced with awareness and adequate preparation, they can do more harm than good. Having appropriate shoulder strength and knowing the angle of your neck’s curve are important precursors to practicing these poses.

Use Variations

Performing posture variations will help you to judge whether a pose is suited to your body type and can help you gain the strength to go further when (and if) you are ready to proceed.

In lieu of Headstand, try working in Forearm Downward Dog. This will tune up your shoulders and upper back to facilitate the strength and endurance for future headstands. Walking your feet in toward your head will keep you challenged and on the path. Forearm Plank is another good variation. From both of these preparatory postures, you can easily rest on your knees when you need to take a break.

To move toward Shoulderstand, Bridge pose is the ideal forerunner. Again, you can build this up slowly by increasing the lift of the hips over time. To get even more height, place your feet on a folding chair to form a Half Shoulderstand. When moving more weight toward your neck and shoulders, use caution. Avoid moving your head from side to side and do not elevate it with a blanket.

The Energetic Neck

The neck is a direct channel from the heart to the head and, subtly, energies flow from one region to the other. So, keeping this pathway tension free is paramount to preserving the health of the energetic body.

In the words of Nischala Joy Devi:

“The neck is a super highway passing messages from the head to the heart and the heart to the head. When the head and the heart agree, the neck is like an open freeway moving energy along at 60 mph. If the head and the heart are at odds, the freeway gets jammed and the neck stars to ache. Ideally, our heart and minds should have equal input so we can make balanced decisions – allowing the neck to be free from tension.”


Be the Light That is Returning

To appreciate the wonder and joy of the season, let’s reflect on this magical poem from Robinson Jeffers:

“The things that one grows tired of—O, be sure

They are only foolish artificial things!

Can a bird ever tire of having wings?

And I, so long as life and sense endure,

(Or brief be they!) shall nevermore inure

My heart to the recurrence of the springs,

Of gray dawns, the gracious evenings,

The infinite wheeling stars. A wonder pure

Must ever well within me to behold

Venus decline; or great Orion, whose belt

Is studded with three nails of burning gold,

Ascend the winter heaven. Who never felt

This wondering joy may yet be good or great:

But envy him not: he is not fortunate.”

Wonder and Joy – Robinson Jeffers

Sending deepest blessings to all of my fellow yogis out there. May we refresh ourselves and kindle the flame of compassion, joy and wonder for this holiday so that we be a light for those who most need it.

Happy Solstice!

Kim.

Can Yoga Relieve Lower Back Pain?

downward dogWe often hear people complain of back problems. In a culture that sits in chairs, sofas and cars, we are especially vulnerable to low back issues.

lumbar spine

Yoga helps to educate and bring awareness to this tender and highly susceptible area of the body called the lumbar spine.

The lumbar spine is normally comprised of five vertebra that sit between the upper back (thoracic spine) and the sacrum (click here for last week’s discussion). As you can see in the drawing, the position of the lumbar spine sits directly behind the abdominal area. Unlike the sacrum, it’s highly mobile and can rotate, flex and extend, making it, and the muscles that surround it, candidates for injury and pain.

Here are three key concepts that will help you to generate awareness and right action for your lower back: Continue reading “Can Yoga Relieve Lower Back Pain?”