Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Open your heart

This gentle heart-center opener will help you get rid of that hunched feeling you get after sitting all day.

Setting up for the pose:
The only prop you need for this pose is a therapeutic spinal strip. If you don't have one of these, you can use a swim noodle, a tightly rolled thin mat, or a tightly rolled towel. You might also need a folded blanket for under your head.

Coming into the pose:
Sit in front of your therapeutic spinal strip (swim noodle/rolled mat/rolled towel) and then lay down on it at about the bottom of the shoulder blades. You can experiment with what feels the best to you. If your head is tipped way back or you feel unsupported in the neck, place a folded blanket under the head and neck - not so thick that your head tips forward. Your head should be level with the body or slightly tipped back.

While in the pose:
Send your arms out to the sides, palms up to encourage the heart center to open. Keep breathing, keep observing the pose in your body, and allow the body to open at its own rate. Commit to the stillness but do allow yourself to adjust your props and your body as you settle deeper in. I like to lay with my knees bent but some of my students prefer to have their legs straight. See what feels right in your body.

Coming out of the pose:
To come out, bend the knees, roll to one side, pull the spinal strip out from underneath you, and then lay back down on your back. (Or lift up the hips to bridge pose to pull the Spinal strip out from under you.) Take a few sacrum circles or a full body stretch. A nice follow-up pose is a Supported Reclining Twist.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Supported 1/2 Wide-Angle Pose - Upavistha Konasana

Enjoy Supported 1/2 Wide-Angle Forward Fold

1/2 Wide-Angle Pose looks very similar in set up to Head-to-Knee pose (Janu Sirsasana) as shown in the Yoga Journal image on the right, but instead of turning the torso to fold out over the leg, the body folds directly forward, hinging from the hips, as seen below. 1/2 Wide-Angle is easier on the inner thighs than the full version and can be used as a pose in its own right or as a warm up for Wide-Angle Pose.

Setting up for the pose:
Gather a number of different props: a chair, or a couple of blocks, or a few pillows/bolster, also, either a blanket for sitting on or else a wedge.

Coming into the pose:
Sit in front of your chair, block or bolsters with your legs open wide (about 90 degrees). Support your low back by sitting on a wedge or a folded blanket. Fold one leg in to the body so the soul rests on the inner thigh of the other leg and heel is drawing towards the perineum. Toes of the straight leg draw back toward the body and knee cap points toward the ceiling. Reach out through your heel. Hinge forward at the hip crease, walking your hands out and resting your forehead on the block, bolster or chair. If you are using a chair or bolster pile you can place your arms on the chair’s seat, hinge forward at the hip crease and rest your head on your forearms, keeping length in your spine.

While in the pose:
Keep breathing, keep observing the pose in your body, and allow the body to open at its own rate. Commit to the stillness but do allow yourself to adjust your props and your body as you settle deeper in. Watch the sit bones. They will want to creep up and often your body tries to tip more towards the folded leg. Don't let these two things happen.

Coming out of the pose:
To come up, support the torso with the hands on the floor, inhale and hinge or roll back up from the hips, protecting the spine. Take the 2nd side. After the second side you can be done or you could try the full version. Another nice follow-up pose is Bound Angle or Reclining Bound Angle.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Twisting is Profoundly Delightful

Develop Ease, Unwind Tension, and Build Strength

by Susi Hately Aldous

All movements in yoga make us feel great - backbends can boost us like no cup of caffeine can; forward bends can elicit a gracious, infinite patience; and standing poses a rooted lightness - but twists - these are profoundly delightful.

When done properly, twists take us deeply into the spine - rotating, twisting, squeezing, strengthening and releasing all the tissue that lies along the midline of the body. Their effects are fast - just one or two twists mid-day can help release locked up tension that is brought on by activities at home or work. Almost immediately, the upper body stands more upright with greater ease and relief. It's as if freedom is born within.

This incredibly awesome feeling can also lead to a certain addiction to going deeper. With addiction comes the potential for dysfunction and possible injury.  For example, depth in twists before the body is ready can shift the mechanics of the shoulder girdle and pelvic girdle as they relate to the spine.

  • In the shoulder girdle, depth too soon can lead to instability of the scapulae which can lead to issues in the neck, shoulder, elbows or wrists.
  • In the pelvic girdle, twisting too deeply can lead to overtwisting the pelvis, which can lead to imbalance in the SI joints. 

So it is important to remember the following when moving into twists:
  1. Relax first. Connect to your spine and your primary twisting area - the obliques.
  2. Be on your sitting bones with your spine vertical. Rounding the spine and twisting puts your spinal discs in some of the most vulnerable and dangerous positions.
  3. Remember the mechanics of a twist. Skeletally, twisting ideally happens at about T11-ish/T12-ish; and in the cervical spine. Muscularly, the engine of the twist is at the obliques. If you are tight in the spinal myofascia, you will be limited.
  4. Don't force. Force will only cause misery.
  5. To avoid misery think ease. When initiating the twist, keep your nose in line with your breast bone. Only go as far as you can maintain this position. You will be using your obliques more and experiencing less tension elsewhere.
  6. If you do use your arms to go further, try not to use them too much. If you do, your twist will turn into an "arm pull"  and all that effort will be wasted. Instead of building your energy and strength centrally, you'll build tension in your arms and neck. How fun is that?
Twisting is incredible for improving posture, managing minor digestive complaints and improving breathing. Remember, it is a rotation, so keep the movement central before taking it to the arms. Your body and mind will love you for it.

If you want more, there is a full chapter on twisting in Anatomy and Asana: Preventing Yoga Injuries.

If this resonates for you and you would like to tune in more: visit me at www.functionalsynergy.com

Sara's note: Susi is my teacher and my teacher's teacher for Therapeutic Yoga. This article is taken from her May newsletter 2010.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Yin Yoga Sequence from Yoga Journal

I just found this Yin Yoga sequence on Yoga Journal and thought I would re-post it here. Enjoy!

Sweet Surrender
Find stillness and greater depth by holding poses longer in a Yin Yoga sequence.
By Andrea Ferretti, sequence by Sarah Powers

If you're accustomed to sweating your way toward glamorous poses, Yin Yoga may at first glance seem too slow, too simple, and, well, too boring. But this complex practice of long, passively held floor poses is deeply nourishing and has myriad benefits for any yoga practitioner, says San Francisco Bay Area yoga and meditation teacher Sarah Powers.

On a physical level, Yin enhances the natural range of motion in the joints. By keeping your muscles soft, you release deep layers of connective tissue, creating more ease in any style of yoga and in seated meditation. On an energetic level, Yin enhances the flow of prana (life force) in the tissues around the joints, where energy often stagnates. Powers likens the practice to doing an acupuncture session on yourself: Sequences are often geared toward strengthening certain energy channels (called nadis in yoga or meridians in Chinese medicine), which ultimately support the organs, immune system, and emotional well-being.

And then there are the mental benefits: Holding poses for three to five minutes often brings up discomfort. Yin conditions you to stay with the intense sensations that arise, rather than quickly moving into the next pose. “It trains you to become more comfortable with discomfort instead of becoming alarmed,” Powers says. “It marries meditation and asana into a very deep practice.”

All that and you don’t have to trade in your dynamic practice to reap the benefits. Powers, who teaches Yin together with Yang (her version of flow yoga), encourages students to do Yin poses before or after a regular routine, or as a stand-alone sequence. She recommends a Yin session at least two to four times a week. “You’re conditioning the tissues to become more elastic, so practicing has a cumulative effect,” she says. “The more you do it, the more you’ll want to do it.”
Practice Tips
There are three crucial things to do as you practice Yin. First, come into a pose to your appropriate edge in a respectful way. Second, become still, just as you would during meditation. Third, stay for a while, as you would for an acupuncture session. In the beginning aim for three to five minutes, but if one minute is enough, start there and grow into two minutes. (To read more about the tenets of Yin Yoga click here.)

Sequence Focus

The sequence that follows balances what traditional Chinese medicine calls the kidney meridian—essential for mind-body health. “When kidney chi is revitalized, you’ll feel vibrant,” Powers says. The sequence includes passive backbends, because the kidney channel flows through the lower back. Seated forward bends act as counterposes and stimulate the urinary bladder meridian, which intersects all of the other meridians in the body.

1. Butterfly Pose

Sit on a blanket or cushion. With your weight on the front edge of your sitting bones, bend your knees, press the soles of your feet together, and let your legs drop out like butterfly wings. Take your heels at least a foot away from your hips. With your hands on your ankles, bend forward from the hips to your appropriate edge, then relax your upper spine and let it round. Rest your head in the arches of the feet, on top of the stacked fists, or cupped in the hands while the elbows rest on the feet. If you can, stay for 3 to 5 minutes in all of the poses in this sequence. Inhale as you come up, then stretch your legs forward and lean back on your hands. Pause for a few moments in a neutral position after each pose.

2. Saddle

Sit on your shins and lean back on your hands. (If this is already too much for your knees, skip this pose.) Lower yourself slowly onto your back, keeping your lower back in an exaggerated arch. If your quadriceps feel strained, rest your shoulders and head on top of a bolster or a folded blanket. Otherwise, come down onto your elbows or upper back, allowing your knees to spread apart if you need to. If there is too much pressure on your ankles, place a folded towel or blanket underneath them. To come up, place your hands where your elbows were. Engage your abdominal muscles and inhale as you lift yourself up.

3. Sphinx

Lie on your belly with your legs outstretched. Place your elbows on the floor shoulder distance apart and about an inch or so ahead of the shoulder line. Place your hands straight forward or hold on to your elbows. Rest here without slumping into your shoulders or lifting them up. Let your belly and organs drape toward the floor as you relax your buttocks and legs. If your back feels sensitive, engage your outer buttocks and inner legs all or part of the time to lessen the strong sensations.

4. Seal

This pose is similar to Sphinx but creates more of an arch in the lower back. Begin on your belly, propped up on your hands with your arms straight. Place your hands about 4 inches in front of the shoulders. Turn the hands out slightly, like seal flippers. Distribute your weight evenly across your hands to avoid stressing your wrists. If it’s tolerable, relax the muscles in the buttocks and legs. If not, contract them from time to time to relieve the intense sensations. Your ability to remain muscularly soft may take a few months of practice. Be patient, but do not endure sharp or electrical sensations. Stay for 3 to 5 minutes. On an exhalation, lower yourself down slowly. Remain still and breathe into the whole spine as you rest.

5. Child’s Pose

When it feels appropriate to move again, place your hands under your chest, and on an inhalation, lift your upper body away from the floor. As you exhale, bend your knees and draw your hips back toward your feet in Child’s Pose.

6. Half Dragonfly

Sit on a blanket or cushion with your right leg outstretched and the sole of your left foot pressing into your inner right thigh. Move your left knee back a few inches. If the knee does not rest on the floor, place a cushion under it. As you exhale, bend your spine over your right leg, placing your hands on either side of it. Do both sides before moving on.

7. Dragonfly

Bring your legs into a straddle, exhale, and bend forward from the hips. Place your hands on the floor in front of you, or rest on your elbows or on a support like a bolster or folded blanket. If it feels natural, come all the way down onto your belly. If your knees are unstable, back off the pose and engage the quadriceps from time to time. Attempt to hold this pose for 5 minutes or more.

8. Full Forward Bend

Gently bring your legs back together. Bend forward at the hips, curving your spine into a forward bend. If you have sciatica or if your hips tilt backward, eliminate this pose and lie on the floor with your legs up the wall.

9. Savasana

Come into Corpse Pose with your palms facing up or with your hands resting on your abdomen. Place the legs wider than the hips and relax your buttocks, legs, and feet. Invite ease in your mind and body, making this the most nourishing posture of all. 

Sara's note: Remember, you do not have to come into the full expression of every pose. Listen to your body, stay focused on your breath, play your edge (don't blow past it) and enjoy!