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Pose of the Week: Bridge Pose

Bridge PoseBridge Pose

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
(SET-too BAHN-dah)
setu = dam, dike, or bridge
bandha = lock

Feeling tight in the hips? Maybe the lower back is a little out of whack? Bridge pose can help with that! This pose is great to hold after the body is already warm or it can be used during warmup using a short, slow and flowing movement.

Getting into the Pose

Laying on the back, bend the knees and place the feet firmly on the floor. Arms are alongside the body with palms facing down.

With a deep inhale press the feet and hands into the floor and lift the hips toward the sky. Take a few breaths here working to lift the hips higher and draw the chest upward. The curve in the spine should happen mostly in the middle back (thoracic spine).

Maintain good alignment by keeping your gaze directed toward the knees and making sure the knees stay in line with the ankles.

To deepen the pose, walk the shoulders under the body slightly and clasp the hands together, palms facing inward. Lift higher, and maybe come up onto the toes or lift one leg at a time.

After slowly returning the hips to the ground, take a moment to come back to center and then bring the knees into the chest for a counter stretch.

Benefits for Athletes

  • Stretches hips
  • Stretches neck
  • Stretches chest
  • Releases stress in legs and back
  • Builds core strength
  • Brings focus in on breathing
  • Strengthens legs and glutes
  • Builds energy

Improve your Form

Knees splay out to the sides. Place a block or yoga ball between the knees and squeeze as you elevate the hips. Drawing the thighs inward and keeping the feet solidly and evenly driven into the ground will help give you good alignment in the knees and legs.

Too much pressure on the neck. In this pose, and any poses that have potential to put weight into the neck (cervical spine), pay close attention to your form. Rest your weight in the shoulders rather than on your neck or head and draw the chest upward moving drawing the hips up and forward.

 

 

 

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!

Pose of the Week: Warrior II

Warrior II
(veer-ah-bah-DRAHS-anna)
Virabhadra = the name of a fierce warrior

Ah, Warrior II…what’s not to love about this pose?

It is perhaps one of the most practiced poses in modern yoga. You can walk in to any random class, and the chances are very high that the instructor will lead you through at least one round of Warrior II. And for good reason.

This pose oozes strength, focus and power. And what athlete wouldn’t love that?

Getting into the PoseWarrior 2

From a strong Mountain pose, step the left leg back three to four feet (about a leg’s length). Turn the left foot out so the outer edge of the foot is parallel to the back edge of the mat. The foot can be turned inward slightly, and you can play around with foot stance, but be sure that the back foot is firmly planted into the mat from the ball of the foot to the heel.

The back leg is strong, kneecap lifted. The front leg is bent.

Begin to lower the hips straight down, finding a point of challenge that you can sustain with your breath.

The arms stretch out strongly. Shoulders roll back and down, away from the ears. Shoulder blades move in closer together.

Take the gaze over the front hand.

Tuck the tailbone under and draw the belly in. Begin to lengthen the spine.

As you breathe, sink the hips on the exhale, and lengthen the spine on the inhale.

Hold for at least five breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Benefits for Athletes

  • Opens hips
  • Opens shoulders
  • Strengthens legs
  • Strengthens arms
  • Strengthens abdominals
  • Strengthens ankles and feet
  • Increases stamina

Common Misalignments & Tips to Keep Good Form

Warrior II is a strong pose, but it’s easy to fall out of alignment in the pose without knowing it. That’s why it is so important to keep the focus strong and the breath going while practicing this pose.

  • Front knee moves out of alignment. As you sink into the pose, maintain a watchful eye on that front knee so it stays in line with the ankle moving toward the middle toes. It has a tendency to creep inward. Draw the front thigh up and out to stay strong.
  • Spine is at an angle, not straight up and down. Remember that the shoulders should be stacked directly over the ribs, and the ribs stacked over the hips. To check this alignment, place your hands on your hips, find the hip bones and straighten your spine straight up. As the arms reach to either side, sink the hips straight down, not forward.
  • Pelvis tilts forward. Tuck the tailbone under, and draw the pelvic floor up, engaging the lower abdominals.
  • Shoulders tense. Warrior II can be a workout for the shoulders. Keep the arms strong, feeling the triceps engage. Roll the shoulders back and down and relax them. Breathe.
  • Back leg bends. Keep that back leg working, pressing firmly into the ground with the full back foot. Lift the back kneecap to engage the thigh. Lift the arch of the back foot and press into the heel.

There’s a lot to think about in Warrior II, and the body is working hard for you. Remember to keep the breath steady and strong to infuse this pose with energy. If the muscles tire, the breath can take over and keep you strong and focused.

Have fun!