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”

Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Stoke Your Inner Fire

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“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

To stoke our inner fire this week, we are connecting with our Manipura or Solar Plexus Chakra and the asanas that relate to this energy source. The solar plexus is the region that covers the mid-body and can be associated with the stomach or gut yet is literally a ganglia of nerves located behind the abdominal region at the level of the first lumbar vertebra.

The third chakra is related to our power, our intention and desires. The balanced movement of prana through this area gives us self-confidence, motivation and direction.

Find your intention by balancing your Manipura (solar plexus) Chakra with these powerful, energetic postures: Continue reading “Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Stoke Your Inner Fire”

Balancing the Body’s Basin

Today we address a more delicate subject. A part of our anatomy that is not discussed often but plays a huge role in our day to day lives. Commonly known as the pelvis, it’s the “basin” for many biological systems and the root of our support. Not only is the pelvis the foundation of our stability but it is home to our organs of elimination and reproduction – thus the sensitivity.

As a structure, the pelvis is more like an architectural feat rather than a mere bony skeleton.

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It shelters and provides entrances and exits for a vast number of muscles, ligaments and nerves that feed and bring movement to our upper and lower bodies.

Therefore, the pelvis needs to stay fluid. Not too tight yet not too loose. The stability of its frame and the musculature within is easily off balanced. Pelvic distortion can lead to chronic hip misalignment, lower back pain and scoliosis. Strain or misalignment at the spine base can also lead to pelvic floor abnormalities affecting both women and men. Muscle weakness or even tightness can bring about urinary incontinence, urinary frequency, cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome and prostate problems.

Luckily, yoga can help stabilize the pelvis, engage, strengthen and relax pelvic bowl muscles. A study performed at the University of California San Francisco studied urinary incontinence and found that participants who practiced specific yoga postures experienced a 70% reduction in this abnormality. Some of the postures included in the study were baddha konasana (bound angle pose), salamba setu bandhasana (supported bridge pose) and utkatasana (chair pose).

In addition, the yogic practice of mūla bandha is helpful in generating awareness and encouraging blood flow into the hips and pelvic floor or perineum (the perineum can be thought of as a hammock of muscles between the sitting bones and the pubic bone). Although mūla bandha (along with the other bandhas) is considered an advanced yoga practice, it can be more simply characterized as a set of pelvic floor contractions much like Kegel exercises.

In Tias Little’s book Yoga of the Subtle Body, he describes one basic technique for engaging mūla bandha:

Sitting in a cross-legged position, “align the center of your skull over the center of your pelvis. Be sure to release your jaw and tongue…begin by relaxing the tissues in and around your pelvic floor. Take several long, slow breath strokes. Once your breath has settled, exhale deeply and, at the end of the exhalation, contract your perineum (or pelvic floor) rhythmically in a set of seven pulses, in what amounts to a catch and release action. Then take a long inhalation brushing your breath against your spine. Repeat 5-10 times.

A beautiful description for a delicate subject.

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YOLY Challenge #40: Making a Joint Effort

There certainly is strength in numbers.  Take joint ventures, joint commissions, joint statements, joint maneuvers or joint peace talks. The joint effect of most things is stronger than the result of standing alone. background-478072__340

There is also strength in forming a joint connection between two things such as mortar between bricks or a wood joint that links the ceiling to the floor or a knee that connects the lower leg to the upper leg. They all work to create a thing that is stronger, more complete, more effective than the single component.

Your challenge for the week is to apply this principle to your yoga practice.  We’ve explored strength through alignment, now we will investigate the balanced effort of flexibility and strength.  This is critical for the health of our joints. Hips, shoulders, elbows, spine, knees, ankles, wrists, and even the fingers and toes all benefit from this “joint concept” of  mobility and stability.

Focus on one area each day this week to create joint mobility and stability. Be sure to warm up with a gentle sun salutation prior to beginning these sequences.

Hips    Stabilize: Warrior III Mobilize: Eka Pada Rajakopatasana

Spine   Stabilize: Utkatasana  Mobilize: Cat/Cow

Shoulders   Stabilize:  Elbow Plank  Mobilize: Gomukasana/Garudasana

Wrists   Stabilize: Balasana to Half Dog (with correct hand position)  Mobilize: Reverse Namaste

Ankles   Stabilize: Ardha Chandrasana  Mobilize: Malasana

Knees   Stabilize: Parsvakonasana  Mobilize: Virasana

Toes   Stabilize: Tadasana (spread toes away from each other) Mobilize: From Vajrasana, lift forward, curl toes under & sit on heels.

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