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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.


  • 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




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.

Athletes and Yoga: A Complicated Relationship

The other day I came across an article exploring the myriad of reasons why athletes should do yoga. Actually, this was the second time I had read this article, but reading it again after some time had passed and after gaining more knowledge and experience in working with athletes on the yoga mat, I’ve come to some of my own conclusions. But I still have a lot of unanswered questions.

As an athlete myself, I love the way yoga loosens up my tight muscles and joints that have been working really hard to get me into race shape. Sometimes I am so tired and worked from training for triathlons that all I want is my yoga mat. I crave that time to nurture my body and give it some release. I crave the quiet and the attention to my body the yoga space provides. I don’t think I could train so hard without it.

But I also love yoga and have loved it for many, many years. And not all athletes do.

While exercise gurus and trainers will tout the many benefits of incorporating a regular yoga practice into an athlete’s workout routine, and while I agree with them, I have found a lot of resistance from athletes.

Reasons I’ve heard for not doing yoga are many, but the most common are:

  • I don’t have time.
  • I hate yoga.
  • I’d rather lift weights or do Pilates.
  • I’m not flexible.

Of course I could just shake my head or begin to argue with these reluctant athletes. Instead, I have found that allowing them to be on their own path and not trying to convince them that yoga will indeed help them as an athlete is a better option for me and for them.

It is true with non-athletes as well. People who come to yoga come because they feel drawn to it. Some are curious and come to their first class and never come back, saying it’s not for them. Others come to class and become a die hard yogi, starting up a regular practice that gets really deep. Both choices are OK. People will come when they are ready, and if they’re not ready when I think they should be, that’s OK too.

So, yes, I think it’s good to explain the benefits of doing yoga for athletes, and to encourage them to give it a try. But I also think it’s important that they come to it when they are ready so they will be more open to experiencing it and feeling its benefits.

Sure, sometimes people just need a little nudge, and I’m perfectly comfortable being the one to give that nudge. But I’m also perfectly happy to wait and let someone come around on their own.

Here are some things to think about if you’re an athlete who’s on the fence about yoga:

  • Take some time to find a good teacher who will help you feel comfortable in your practice but also challenged.
  • Don’t write off all of yoga after doing just one class and not feeling completely sold. Experiment with different styles and different teachers. It’s often the teacher who will make you feel connected with yoga at first.
  • Be patient with your body as you become familiar with yoga. If you’re not used to being in some of these rather twisty poses, give yourself permission to take it slow. Your body will gradually adapt and loosen up. If you take it too quickly and push too hard you will injure yourself.
  • Think of yoga as a time to heal your body and give back to it for all the hard work it does during your athletic training. Every stretch, every pose will bring balance to your body and the muscles that can often get strained from overuse. Even if going to yoga class means missing a regular workout, that’s OK. Your body will get a lot out of doing yoga that will enhance your training and protect you from injury.

If you’re not on the fence about doing yoga, you’re either doing it or not doing it. And if you are, great! I hope it’s helping you in your training. If you’re not doing it and feel like sharing reasons why you aren’t, please leave a comment and share what you do for activity/training.

Here’s Jack Maitland, coach to the very fast Brownlee brothers who do very well with triathlons, talking about why yoga is good for endurance athletes.

Recovery with Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga is a great way to nurture your body and your spirit, and a perfect way for athletes to get some much needed relaxation and rejuvenation.yoga_bolster

“It’s not even about stretching, it’s about relaxing to feel rested and recovered,” says Sage Rountree, an athlete and yoga instructor who works with many athletes.

We are introducing a restorative yoga class this Sunday afternoon following Toledo’s Glass City Marathon to help athletes recover from the race. Find out more details on our Schedule page.

In a restorative practice, the goal is to simply relax. Through the relaxation, muscles gently, slowly release and the body can let go of stress and toxins it has accumulated.

This is a perfect antidote for relieving soreness and tightness brought on by heavy training or racing.

Our restorative class will move through about six postures, and each person will stay in a posture for up to 10 minutes. The postures are supported with props, such as pillows, blocks, bolsters, blankets and chairs. But it is possible to do a restorative practice without many, if any, props.

Popular restorative postures include, supported child’s pose, legs up the wall, supported reclining hero pose and supported bridge pose. The following is a restorative video by the wonderful Esther Ekhart, who walks us through a shortened restorative sequence.

We will be doing restorative classes following major races in the Toledo area. Please check our class schedule to find the next restorative class.

Your body works hard for you, getting you to reach your athletic goals. Find some time to give back to your body. It will thank you for the love.