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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

 

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: 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!

Pose of the Week: Extended Side Angle

Happy Monday and welcome to the first installment of our new Pose of the Week series, where we select a single yoga pose and break it down, explain correct form and its benefits for athletes.

This week’s pose: Extended Side Angle
Utthita Parsvakonasana
(oo-TEE-tah parsh-vah-cone-AHS-anna)
utthita = extended
parsva = side, flank
kona = angle

Extended Side Angle

Extended Side Angle with lower arm on the thigh.

Getting into the Pose

From Mountain Pose, step the left foot back, creating a leg’s length stance wide on the mat. Right foot is perpendicular to the top

edge of the mat. Left foot is firmly planted into the mat and turned out about 45 degrees. Hips are square to the side. Tailbone is tucked and belly button is pulled in toward the spine.

Stretch the arms out long, palms face down, with shoulders stacked above the hips. Roll the shoulders down and reach the fingertips to opposite walls.

Bend the right knee and sink the hips straight down toward the ground.

Draw the right elbow down to meet the right thigh and extend the left arm up toward the sky.

Continue to sink the hips as you press evenly through the back leg, connecting to the outer edge of the back foot.

Extended Side Angle 2

Deepen the pose by lowering the bottom arm to the ground on the inside of the front foot.

Deepen the pose by releasing the right hand to the ground on the inside of the right leg. A block or a thick book can be used as a prop here to meet your hand halfway between your thigh and the ground.

Hold and breathe for up to a minute, continuing to sink the tailbone toward the ground and reaching the upper body toward the sky.

Think about stretching in all four directions, feeling lightness and breathing into the pose.

Benefits for Athletes

  • Opens hips
  • Opens shoulders
  • Opens chest
  • Strengthens legs
  • Strengthens back
  • Strengthens abdominals
  • Stretches inner thighs and hamstrings

Common Misalignments & Tips to Keep Good Form

  • Knee moves beyond the ankle or to ether side of the foot and out of line with the middle toes.
    Press the front foot evenly into the ground to feel the center of the food. Gaze down to make sure your knee is in direct alignment with your middle toes.
  • Back foot lifts up.
    Brace the back heel against a wall and as you lower down, imagine pressing the wall away from you. Begin to feel the fullness of the foot connected to the ground.
  • Upper body collapses into the leg or into the ground and the integrity of the pose falls.
    Imagine your back side is glued to a wall. The shoulders are stacked directly above the hips and you are in one long line. As you bend the front knee, allow the upper body to stay in this straight, long line. Reach toward the ceiling and engage your abdominal muscles to keep you strong and lifted. Draw your shoulder blades together. Begin to rotate your chest toward the sky.

The body should be warm before getting into this pose, so complete five to 10 rounds of sun salutations prior, or get into the pose following a workout.

Let us know what you think in the comments below!