RSS Feed

Tag Archives: balance

Summer of Core Day 16: Side Plank T-Flows

I made this one up. Well, I’m sure I picked some of it up somewhere. But I certainly made up the name. It’s not so much side plank as it is a chance to utilize your obliques in a new way.

Here’s Katy for a second day in a row demonstrating the move.

Thanks again Katy for being a wonderful model and dedicated student!

Let’s Do It

  • Begin in kneeling side plank with your right knee down and left arm to the sky.
  • Inhale, lift from your left arm so your right arm lifts off the ground and both arms form a “T”, palms facing down, arms out to the sides, torso stacked over hips.
  • Exhale, float your left hand to your left thigh. Reach your right arm straight up.
  • Inhale, extend toward the sky, stretching from your right knee through the whole right side of your body up to your finger tips.
  • Exhale, float your right arm back to the ground with control, left arm to the sky, returning to side plank.
  • Repeat this flow five to ten times. Switch sides.

Alignment Tune-Up

  • In kneeling side plank, make sure your bottom arm is stacked beneath your shoulders, so there’s a long, straight line running from your bottom hand through your chest and shoulders and up your lifted arm.
  • Bring your bottom knee directly under your bottom hip for optimal stability.
  • Extend your top leg straight out so the foot is in line with your bottom knee. You should feel like your body is in one singular plane.
  • Engage your extended thigh and keep your top hip lifted, core engaged.

Why Flow?

We primarily practice vinyasa yoga, meaning yoga that flows with the breath. It becomes a moving meditation, which can be very effective in clearing the mind and reducing stress from our hectic, daily lives.

“The Western world has become a seated society, which is why vinyasa yoga is so important: its orientation is breath and movement, and research shows that increased movement in a seated society is absolutely essential for health. Vinyasa yoga gets us moving.” ~ Eddie Modestini, renowned yoga instructor and student of BKS Iyengar and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

I hope that this flow and yesterday’s flow will get you moving today and you’ll find some joy and freedom in the practice.

~ Shoshana

Advertisements

Summer of Core Day 15: Spinal Balance Flow

We are nearly halfway through our month of core. I hope you are feeling a difference! I know I am feeling stronger and more aware of my abs during yoga and other activities.

Today we’re going to have some fun optional flows for Spinal Balance, which we worked to fine tune yesterday.

So take that well-aligned Spinal Balance and let’s get to work.

Flow Option 1: Alternate sides with breath

  • Inhale to a solid Spinal Balance on one side.
  • Exhale return to all fours.
  • Inhale, switch sides.
  • Exhale return to all fours.
  • Repeat for three to five rounds.
  • Rest in Child’s Pose.

As you move through this flow, keep your breath flowing long, and stretch out your movement to match that long breath. Try to keep your hips stable and your core engaged. Extend through your heel and your fingertips to get long on your inhale.

Flow Option 2: Knee-to-Nose Crunch

  • Inhale to a solid Spinal Balance on one side.
  • Exhale and pull your knee to your elbow, meeting near your belly button, arching your back.
  • Inhale, extend to Spinal Balance.
  • Exhale, return to all fours.
  • Switch sides.
  • Repeat three to five full rounds.
  • You can make this more challenging by continuing on one side for three to five reps, then switching sides.

Flow Option 3: Sunbird

  • Inhale to a solid Spinal Balance on one side.
  • Bend your extended leg so your foot is facing the ceiling.
  • Inhale, lift your foot straight up to get into the glutes.
  • Exhale bring your knee to your elbow.
  • Inhale and extend, keeping your knee bent and foot toward the ceiling.
  • Repeat on one side three to five times. Switch sides.

Flow Option 4: Leg & Arm Reach

  • Inhale to a solid Spinal Balance on one side.
  • Exhale, reach your extended arm and leg out to opposite sides simultaneously.
  • Inhale, return to Spinal Balance.
  • Repeat on one side for three to five reps. Switch sides.
  • Try to keep your back flat and your torso immobile as you move your limbs in and out.

Rest in Child’s Pose.

Katy Mangan demonstrates each variation on the flow in this video.

Thanks Katy for the great demo! Katy is often in the morning flow and power classes, a dedicated student and a talented storyteller. She regularly collaborates with instructor Dawn Justice for a restorative yoga and storytelling class at Soul. It’s a real treat!

Have fun with today’s options. You might string them all together into one long flow, or take breaks between the series. These are great flows to do in the morning, as they are energizing and get the cardiovascular system going. Enjoy!

~ Shoshana

Summer of Core Day 14: Spinal Balance

Today’s pose, spinal balance, is one that takes core strength in the back muscles as well as the front for stability.


Spinal balance, dandayamna bharmasana in Sanskrit, is also known as balancing table in some yoga circles. It’s often called a beginner’s pose, but in my experience, it takes a lot of body awareness and control to execute and can be a challenge to hold.

I love using it as a warm-up, because it helps you get a feel for elongating your body while connecting to your core. In my classes I often incorporate it into a flow to get the breath linked to movement. But today, we are going to break down this pose and get into proper alignment for optimum benefit.

Let’s Do It

  • From hands and knees (use a blanket or a doubled-up mat under your knees if they’re sensitive), bring your belly button in towards your spine to firm your abs and flatten your back.
  • Keep your gaze at the ground and draw your shoulders away from your ears for length in your neck.
  • Extend your left leg behind you, keeping toes on the ground.
  • Press through your heel to strengthen your thigh and feel strong from hip to heel.
  • Inhale, lift your leg to hip height.
  • Extend your right arm forward, turning your palm to face in, your thumb to the sky.
  • Work to keep your hips level and your abs turned on as you breathe.
  • Hold for three to five breaths. Switch sides.

Options

  • Lift your leg only, not your arm if you feel unstable or wobbly. Work on your balance and strength from here.
  • If your wrists bother you, use fists for wrists or come to your forearms.

Fine-Tune the Alignment

In class, I often see students with concave backs, their bellies dipping toward the ground and their leg and arm coming higher than shoulder or hip height. To maximize the benefits of this pose:

  • Try to keep your leg at hip level.
  • Keep your core muscles engaged to support your back and keep it flat.
  • Lift your arm just to shoulder height.
  • Think about reaching out and back, creating length rather than height.
  • Keep your gaze at the ground, your neck long.

It can be helpful to have someone watch you and tell you when you are in proper alignment or to do this in front of a full-length mirror, though you may know my thoughts on mirrors and yoga.

As always, let me know if you have any questions, if anything’s not clear or if you just want to say hi!

Have a great time with this one. Come see me in class today at 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.!

~ Shoshana

 

 

Summer of Core Day 6: Boat w/ Toe Grab

Wrapping up Week 1 of the Summer of Core, we are adding on to Boat pose one more time. Today, we add a toe grab, which challenges our balance, flexibility and overall core strength.

Let’s Do It

  • Start in Boat pose.
  • Reach for your toes or feet, and get a secure grip.
  • Find balance on your sitz bones and get steady.
  • Work to straighten your legs as you lift your chest and straighten your back.
  • Pull your thighs toward your ribs as you exhale, keeping a long spine.
  • Have fun with this pose! It’s easy to roll onto your back or tip over. Don’t be afraid to laugh at the goofiness that can ensue.

Options

boat with toe grab option 2

Full boat with a toe grab.

  • If you’re really flexible, you can bend your elbows and reach around your legs for your heels.

 

 

 

 

Boat with toe grab option 3

 

  • If grabbing the toes or feet are creating too much unsteadiness and you are having a hard time keeping balance and maintaining integrity in this pose, hold on to the backs of your thighs. You still get a great core workout, just a little less intense.

 

 

 

Boat with toe grab option 1

 

  • If you’re less flexible in the hamstrings, keeping knees bent or slightly bent is a great option. Make sure to keep your chest lifted and back flat!

 

 

 

Homework

We won’t have a new exercise tomorrow, Sunday the 7th, so your homework is to go through this week’s exercises and do them in sequence. Or, you can just rest. You worked hard this week!

See you on Monday!

~ Shoshana

 

A careful balance: The yin of yoga

My husband hurt his knee. The timing could not have been worse. Leading into the USA Triathlon Age-Group Championships in Milwaukee, he wasn’t sure his knee would hold up to race.

He was hoping to beat his time from last year, and hopefully break the top 5 in his age group. He’s fast, that goes without saying. He has qualified for the World Championships twice and was hoping this year, after putting int a solid year of training and feeling strong and fast, he’d not just qualify for Worlds again but be highly competitive in that field.

The knee pain started a few weeks earlier during a hard run, and he took care to ice and rest following hard workouts. He did some stretching, he used the foam roller, and he paid attention. He knows his body well. He’s practiced yoga a lot in his life, and has been a dedicated endurance athlete for half of his life.

He was nervous the morning of the race. He kept saying he hoped his knee wouldn’t hurt. He wasn’t sure how he would do.

And after the first mile of the run split, his knee started hurting. It hurt bad enough that he couldn’t run fast. He couldn’t race like he had planned. He finished with a respectable time, still qualifying for Worlds again, but angry that he had succumbed to an injury.

I suggested he take better care of his body—perhaps with more yoga. And, he agreed.

His situation had me reflecting on the role of yoga in an athlete’s life. We train hard, we push our bodies to their limits with the hope of getting to the finish line faster, or scoring extra points or hitting the ball farther. Our bodies take quite a beating. When do we allow our bodies to heal and rest from all of that pounding? When do we relax?

Athletes are used to going hard, and the slow pace of yoga can seem like a turn off at first. I’ve been in plenty of yoga classes myself where I am wanting a hard workout, but the pace of the class is slow and gentle and I want to be flowing through sun salutations, holding warrior poses and testing my resolve during a balancing posture. I get the need to let it out, to see what new limits our bodies can physically reach.

But there is a point that is reached when the body really just needs a little yin, a little soft balance to keep it healthy. A gentle, slow sequence can be just the thing. Paying attention to breath, tuning into how the body is feeling, where there is tightness or a problem creeping up. These are important things to notice. They are as important as noticing that you ran 30 seconds faster in that 5k than last week.

If you have a few moments at home this week, try this short sequence, being mindful of the breath and easing into the poses.

  • Begin in child’s pose and breathe.
  • Come up onto the hands, positioning knees under hips, hands under shoulders. Inhale and reach the chest forward and drawing the tailbone to the sky into cow pose. Exhale and tuck the tailbone under, bringing the chin to the chest for cat pose. Flow through cat and cow, warming up the spine with each inhale and exhale. Notice any tightness in the back, shoulders or hips.
  • Return to child’s pose and rest. Breathe and allow the hips to reach back toward the heels.
  • Tuck the toes under and pick the hips up, moving into downward facing dog.
  • Bicycle the knees back and forth, feel the backs of the legs begin to open up. They might feel very tight. That’s OK, just move slowly and breathe.
  • Return to the knees, coming onto all fours again. Raising the left arm toward the sky stretch up and feel an expansion in the side body. Drive the left arm under the body, sliding it underneath the right arm, palm facing up. Lower the left shoulder all the way to the ground, reaching the hips up and back. The top of the side of the head will come to rest on the ground, gently, for Thread the Needle. Breathe here and feel into the shoulders and neck. When you’re ready, come back to all fours and repeat on the other side.
  • Return to downward facing dog.
  • Lift the left leg up toward the sky. Flex the foot, bend the left knee and twist the hips toward the sky, allowing the left foot to fall toward the right hip. Breathe and hold. Straighten the left leg and return to downward facing dog. Repeat on the right side.
  • Lift the left leg once more, press the chest toward the ground. Draw the left knee into the chest, moving forward over the hands and bring the foot up to meet the hands on the mat. Drop the back knee and gently walk the hands up to the left knee. Lifting the chest, sweep the arms overhead for Crescent Lunge. Breathe and hold. Repeat on the right side.
  • Return to child’s pose.
  • Tuck the toes under and sit up. If this is too much pressure on your feet lift the hips off the heels. We’re aiming for a good toe stretch here. Take a deep inhale and stretch the arms overhead. Exhale the arms back toward your sides. Repeat the long breaths three times. Untuck the toes and slide the legs forward.
  • Bring the soles of the feet together, letting the knees fall out to the side for Butterfly. With a flat back, move the upper body forward, reaching the chest toward the toes until you feel a good stretch.
  • Roll onto your back, keeping knees bent. Feet are hip distance apart and close to the buttocks. With arms along side the body, press the palms into the ground. Press the feet into the ground. Inhale and lift the hips. Lift the chest. Keep the gaze at the knees. Exhale and release the hips to the ground. Repeat two more times.
  • Draw the knees to the chest and rock gently side to side.
  • Take the knees off to the left side, pressing the right shoulder into the ground and extending the right arm. For an IT band stretch extend the right leg.  Hold and breathe. Switch sides.
  • End in corpse pose and relax for five minutes.

Yoga for Healing Imbalances

The other day, a new person came to my class. He had never done yoga before, and he was a runner and weight lifter. He liked to stay fitfinding-balance.

I asked him what brought him to yoga class, and he told me he’d been experiencing strange tingling in his arms that seemed to not have any explanation.

I certainly am no doctor, but I do know the healing capabilities of yoga. After telling this man I was glad he came to yoga and it was my belief that running and yoga go hand in hand, I started to tell him about how yoga helps to correct imbalances in the body. You don’t have to be a runner or a weightlifter to gain imbalances in the body.

Sitting too much, gardening all weekend, playing a single sport for many years, and any other repetitive activity—or nonactivity—can lead to imbalances, which can lead to discomfort and even injury.

Yoga works to bring alignment back to the body. That’s why we do poses on each side. That’s why we focus on finding good posture in our poses and bringing awareness to the body. When you become aware of what your body is feeling, you will notice little imbalances, or big ones, during your practice.

Perhaps your abs feel weak during plank pose, or your upper back or neck start to hurt during Warrior poses. Or maybe your calves begin to go out during eagle pose. That’s OK. It’s just something to notice.

And by the time you’ve reached the end of your practice and are lying in corpse pose in final relaxation, your body is experiencing realignment. Those last precious moments of class, lying flat on your back and in a state of total relaxation are golden. It is when the body can absorb the effects of the yoga postures. Yogis talk of a state of bliss or total calmness and peace at the end of class, and this is one of the reasons why.

When you give your body a chance to heal itself, a chance to correct those imbalances, then it will feel better. You’ll stand straighter, be less prone to injury and have fewer aches and pains. You might even begin to sleep better.

Of course, this can help for emotional imbalances, too. But that’s a whole different blog post.

Pose of the Week: Dancer

Grace, agility, freedom. These are common thoughts that arise when we think about a dancer. In this week’s pose, we will take a good look at dancer pose, also known as standing bow, dancing warrior, lord of the dance, or that one pose where you kick your leg back and try as hard as you can to stay balanced on one foot.

NataranjasanaDancer
not-ah-raj-AHS-anna
nata
= actor, dancer, mime
raja = king
asana = pose

Athletes can benefit greatly by incorporating this pose into their yoga sequence, as it helps to open the hips, stretch and strengthen the quadriceps and shoulders. As a balancing pose, it requires stability, focus and core strength to hold. Make sure you have a loose, warm body before getting into dancer, so do a few rounds of Sun Salutations (or jumping jacks and burpees) first.

Getting into the Pose

Standing in Mountain Pose, shift the weight to the left side and draw the right leg up and behind so the heel comes back toward the glutes.

Grab hold of the inside of the right foot with the palm of the right hand and draw the right knee down to line up with the left knee.

Find your center and activate your core strength.

Lift your left arm straight up, so the bicep is next to the left ear and begin to lengthen the spine. Continue to stay rooted through the standing foot.

When you feel steady and want to take this further, begin to kick the right foot into the right hand, extending the leg backward. Try to maintain squareness in the hips by drawing the right hip down as the left hip draws back.

Simultaneously, begin to reach the chest and the left arm up and forward.

Feel as if you are being pulled forward and up, but also back and down.

Breathe deeply in this pose, as you fix your gaze on an immobile object or spot on the floor or wall in front of you.

Hold for at least five full breaths.

Slowly release back to Mountain Pose and switch sides.

Benefits for Athletes

  • Engages core
  • Enhances sense of balance
  • Activates breath and focus
  • Stretches quadriceps
  • Stretches ankles
  • Stretches front of the hips
  • Opens shoulders
  • Opens chest

Common Misalignments & Tips to Keep Good Form

Chest tips toward the ground. Move slowly forward until you feel a good challenge. Your chest should always be lifted toward the front of the room. Don’t let your shoulders dip toward the ground. Keep your arm close to your ear to maintain a good lift in the upper body.

Falling out of the pose. Balancing poses are challenging, but continued practice will help you gradually improve your balance and stamina. Before you begin, find a spot to gaze at either at the floor a few feet ahead of you or on the wall in front of you. Keep your gaze fixed on this point as you move into the pose and then begin to breathe. The harder you focus and the more steady your breath, the easier it will be to stay balanced on one leg. Another handy tool is to really engage the core muscles. This will drive more stability into the pose, and you will be able to hold it longer without less wobble. Always think about rooting down through the standing leg evenly into the foot while lifting toward the sky from the crown of the head.

Lifted leg or knee turns out. It’s hard to see what you look like in this pose without practicing in front of a mirror or having someone watch you, but mirrors can be distracting, and the best way to adjust your alignment is to check in with your body. What does the pose feel like? Does anything feel weird or cockeyed? Be sure to start with both knees lined up. This squares off the hips. You will want to maintain squareness in the hips for correct alignment and maximum benefit. When you kick your foot into your hand and your leg begins to extend, press the leg inward and drive the hip down. You probably won’t be able to extend your leg as far, but you’ll be in good alignment, which is more kind to your body. Always remember that the pictures of poses you see in Yoga Journal or other yoga sites and publications are very advanced practitioners who are also very flexible and strong. With patience and diligence, your body will change. You will get more flexible. You will get stronger. But forcing the body somewhere it’s not ready to go can be dangerous and could cause injury. So always listen to the body!