Shoulderstand is considered one of the most beneficial postures of yoga. It is both energizing and soothing – it brings equanimity to its practitioner. Over the past three years, I have written several posts on its advantages. Here is a concise summary of why you should be practicing it. Continue reading “Three Reasons to Practice Shoulderstand”
“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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week I revisited the island of Oahu in Hawaii – a place I have held dearly in my heart since living there in the late eighties/early nineties.
During my trip, I was reacquainted with the ancientness of the land and its rich beauty. Despite the fact that there were more high rises and roads than I remembered, the nature of the people on the island was just as dynamic and compassionate as years gone by.
The root of these virtues can be traced back to the Polynesian heritage of the Hawaiians. A prime example is the ancient culture of Samoa. Its foundation was centered around the principle of vāfealoa’i, the relationships between people. These relationships were based on respect, or fa’aaloalo. This sense of respect continues today in the way the islanders show admiration for their land with all its gifts and the kind treatment they bestow on each other.
As ancient warriors, Hawaiians valued compassion as well as powerfulness. The most revered chiefs were those that held the wisdom of healing in as much esteem as the knowledge of war. This balance between power and humanity was their most treasured quality and has been carried down to the present time.
Your challenge this week is to evoke the ideal warrior character in yourself. To master the art of inner peace while practicing the robust qualities associated with Virabhadrasana or Warrior I.
Points of Action for Virabhadrasana I
- Bend the forward leg deeply while keeping the knee aligned with the ankle
- Extend the back leg strongly, pressing into the outer heel to secure your base
- Lift the torso firmly, drawing upward from both sides of the chest
- Draw the upper back forward, extending the sternum proudly
- Rotate the upper arms externally to fully project the arms upwards
There can be conflict within this pose as you experience extension vs compression, twisting vs backbending and internal vs external rotation. However, the non-harming nature of yoga should lend a peacefulness to this fierceness. In order to balance the two qualities, locate within yourself a sense of triumph for the spirit within – be mindful that the breath is your support as you yield to the true warrior who is both harmonious and powerful.
(If you are new to the site, here is where we began our quest for a Year of Living Yogically!)
I could have titled this Friday Focus as “Maximizing Your Glutes” or even “Glute Camp”. But I really want to generate a positive, more yogic vibration. No calisthenic connotations here. Then came the idea “Glutton For Glutes”. Although the word “glutton” most often refers to a glutton for punishment, a glutton can also be someone who is extremely eager for something, whether that be food or adventure…hmmm.
Lately, I am a glutton for glorious glutes. Because I have come to realize how vital this set of muscles is to my strength, alignment and overall well-being. Also, I am discovering that as my backside slackens (yikes), my quadriceps tighten. There is always a give and take within the body.
Here are some of the ways that the strongest muscle in your body, the gluteus maximus, and its supporting actors, the deep rotators, help with developing the overall best picture.
- stabilize hip joints
- allow you to stand straighter
- ease strain on knees and low back
- support entire back, pelvis and legs
All great points for ranking these muscles as number one for strengthening this month.
As we addressed in class, many of the one-legged standing poses do this job nicely. Vrksasana (Tree Pose), Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III), Ardha Chandrasana (Half-Moon) and Natarajasana (Dancer’s Pose) all assist with activating the glutes as does Salabasana (Locust Pose).
However, there is one other posture that we didn’t have time for in class today. It is the One-Legged Bridge Pose or Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana. As you practice this pose, an important thing to remember is to push downward through your shoulders as well as your grounded leg. As you hold the posture, try to interject tiny pulses upward through your extended leg. The trick for persevering with this is to focus on your breath. Extend upwards as you inhale and ground down as you exhale. Remember if it’s not with the breath, it’s not yoga!
Thanks to Yoga Journal for the photo!
To finish off this month of purification, our classes for the week were geared toward clearing out the old to make space for the new – in a compassionate manner.
From this intention, the Compassionate Vinyasa was created. A twist on last week’s flow, this sequence focuses on the region of the heart to remind us to move with kindness in our pursuit of revitalization. Just in time for spring!
Again, be sure to do a little warming up first with Cat/Cow, Side Stretching &/or Child’s Pose before transitioning to the flow below:
Anjali Mudra to Standing Cactus to Uttanasana to 1/2 Uttanasana to High Lunge to Crescent Lunge to Virabhadrasana II to Wide Angle Urdhva Hastasana
Pivot to the left and reverse the sequence:
Virabhadrasana II to Crescent Lunge to High Lunge to 1/2 Uttanasana to Uttanasana to Standing Cactus to Anjali Mudra
Once again, I have included a visual diagram (by popular demand) here.
As you glide through your sequence, keep in mind this beautiful quote by Wyatt Townley:
“Take this opportunity to begin to shed your outer layers, your coverings…Find the way back to center, flesh, muscle, bone, to the river that underlies us, solid and fluid…”
Namasté my friends.