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A fun balance pose yoga sequence for your vinyasa practice

Playing in Ardha Chandrasana during a recent trip to Florida. I love balance poses!

Playing in Ardha Chandrasana during a recent trip to Florida. I love balance poses!

How has this week of the Grand Cross been for you? I’ve been feeling balanced and energized. I’m getting stuff done – stuff like creating sequences for my vinyasa flow yoga classes. I love balance poses, and since I’ve been enjoying so much balance in my life I decided to share a balance flow that I like to play with. Give it a try. The worst that can happen is some  less-than-graceful transitions.

Start in Mountain (Tadasana). Inhale your arms overhead, then bend your knees for…

Chair (Utkatasana). Drop your arms to shoulder height, wrap your arms with the left arm on top, wrap your right leg around the left leg and make your way into…

Eagle (Garudasana), balancing on the left foot. Keep your weight in your left leg as you straighten your left knee, bring the right foot to your left inner calf or thigh and lift your arms overhead into…

Tree (Vrkshasana). Drop your right hand, lift your right foot behind you and grab your toes with your right hand. Press your foot into your hand to come to…

Dancer (Natarajasana). Release your foot, reach your right hand overhead and reach your right leg behind you, finding yourself in…

Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III). Keep reaching back with your right foot as you bend your left leg, put your right toes down and lift your torso for…

Crescent Lunge (High Lunge Variation). Spin your right heel down, open your torso to the right and drop your arms into…

Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II). Straighten the left leg and move to…

Triangle (Trikonasana). Shift the weight into the left leg, take a chance and reach for the floor in front of your left toes as you lift your right leg for…

Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana). Rotate your torso until you’re looking at the floor and bring your arms to your sides like airplane wings. You’re in…

Airplane (Virabhadrasana III, variation). Bend your left knee while crossing the right leg behind the left and come down to a seated position, right leg bent on the floor, left knee lifted, left foot outside the right thigh. You are ready to twist to the left into…

Half Lord of the Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana). Without using your hands, see if you can stand up on your left leg into Airplane again. Reach your hands to the floor, bend your left knee and put your right toes down into a…

High Runner’s Lunge. Press the right heel down as you swing the left leg back and up into…

Downward Dog Split. Open the hips more by bending the left knee and lifting it towards the sky as the left foot drops towards the right hip. Then square your hips to the floor and swing your left knee under your chest to set it down behind your left hand in…

Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana). Fold forward first, then lift your heart into the full Pigeon pose. You can bend your right knee and reach back for your toes with your right hand to add a quad stretch. Release Pigeon, make your way to your hands and knees, then drop your chest and chin and flow into…

Cobra (Bhujangasana). Press back to…

Downward-facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Step your right foot between your hands, spin your left heel down and lift your arms overhead for…

Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I). Drop your arms behind your back, interlace your fingers and, keeping your feet grounded, fold from your hip to lower your torso over your right thigh. Drop your head towards your right instep. Come up with a flat back and return to Warrior I. Then reach for the floor and step the left foot forward into a…

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Lift to standing, reach your arms overhead and bring your hands to your heart to end in…

Mountain (Tadasana).

That’s it! After you do the whole sequence once, don’t forget to do the other side by balancing on your right foot in Eagle. And always give yourself a few minutes in Savasana at the end of your practice.

Enjoy! And if you’re not feeling balanced, don’t worry. The astrological craziness should calm down after the solar eclipse on April 29th.

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Free your inner chaos and flow through Dancing Star

“One must still have chaos in oneself to
be able to give birth to a dancing star.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Dancing star in my art journal.

Dancing star in my art journal.

Do you pay attention to the folks who pay attention to the stars? If you do, you know that we’re in the thick of it right now. There’s a planetary alignment called a Grand Cross going on and it’s stirring up all kinds of stuff. (There’s a great post here about what to expect this week.)

I created this vinyasa yoga flow sequence, which I call Dancing Star, in 2011, but it seems appropriate to share this week.

The circular pattern of the flow fills the whole mat, and the ever-changing focal points give you a nice sense of the cosmic chaos. The movements flow through five-pointed star and dance in and out of triangle pose on the way around the mat.

Roll out your mat, free your inner chaos and be a dancing star.

stand in tadasana
reach overhead and fill your lungs with a big inhale
as you exhale, fold into uttanasana
lift halfway up, hands to shins, and extend your spine
jump (or step) back and lower yourself to chaturanga dandasana
lift to urdhva mukha shavanasana
reach back into adha mukha svanasana
lift your right leg behind you into a down dog standing split
step your right foot forward between your hands into
runners stretch
spin your left heel down, reach your left arm forward
then up, lifting you into
virabhadrasana II
straighten your right leg and bend to the right
into trikonasana
lift your torso upright
turn your right toes toward the side of your mat and feel
five-pointed star
drop your arms down
sweep your hands together in front of your heart, then
press your hands overhead
open your arms back to shoulder height
turn your left toes toward the back of your mat
and bend left into trikonasana
lift out of triangle, bend your left knee and take
virabhadrasana II
windmill your arms to the floor framing your left foot
in high lunge
step back to plank and take the vinyasa to down dog
lift your right leg behind you
step your right foot forward between your hands
and flow from lunge to virabhadrasana II to
trikonasana to five-pointed star
(you should be facing the other side of your mat this time)
bring your hands together at your heart then press them overhead
turn your left toes to the front of the mat
and flow to triangle then warrior II and back to lunge
step back to plank and vinyasa back to down dog
now you’ve circled all the way around your mat
you’re facing front again
repeat the flow, beginning with your left leg this time
you’ll circle around in the other direction
when you flow back to down dog facing the front of your mat
hop (or step) forward
lift halfway up
fold deep and let go
come up to standing, reaching your arms overhead
return to tadasana
smile
you’ll make it through
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3 post-run yoga stretches your body will thank you for

Just as the mental calm created by a regular yoga practice permeates the rest of my day, my asana practice tends to show up in my other physical activities, especially running. In addition to being aware of my breath, I also adjust my posture to Tadasana (mountain pose) as I run – lifting the front of my pelvis, engaging my core, relaxing my shoulders back and down. And Uddiyana Bandha has gotten me up more than one tough hill.

Post Run Pigeon

No surprise that when I need to stretch after a run I turn to the asanas. If you’re looking for a few good post-run stretches, here are my favorites:

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (pigeon pose) is my go-to pose after every run. Folding forward into what I affectionately call “lazy pigeon” opens the piriformis on the front leg side (nasty little muscle that thinks nothing of pinching your sciatic nerve if it’s tight) and stretches the hamstrings and glutes. The hip flexors of the extended back leg get a nice stretch, too, and they deserve some pampering after a run, especially if you’ve been on hills. The key in pigeon is to keep the hips squared and level, rather than collapsing to one side. Keep drawing the hip of the back leg forward and breath through that juicy stretch in the other hip.

Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog pose) opens the backs of the legs and, with a few minor adjustments after you’ve settled in, opens the low back. As your heels sink toward the floor you’re lengthening your hamstrings, gastrocnemius and soleus (those well-defined calf muscles that let everyone know you’re a runner) and glutes. With a reach back through your tailbone you can lengthen the sides of your waist and decompress the lumbar spine a bit, which is nice after it’s been your shock absorber for a few miles. The diaphragm and intercostals also get a stretch. Know what they’ve been doing? Working really hard helping you suck in oxygen.

Janu Sirsasana (head-to-knee pose, or half forward fold) gets to all our favorite muscles down the back of the extended leg – hamstrings, gastrocnemius, soleus, piriformis and glutes. Up in the torso you’re opening lats and obliques. You’re also hitting the hip adductors in the bent leg. Since deepening in this pose requires some help from the breath, you’ll feel your heart rate come down as you focus on breathing deep.

Take five minutes in some yoga poses after your next run. Your body will thank you. And who knows? Maybe yoga will start sneaking into the rest of your life.

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Put Me in Down Dog

Downward-facing Dog on the rocks at Split Rock in New Russia, NY

Downward-facing Dog on the rocks at Split Rock in New Russia, NY

A day without Adho Mukha Svanasana is like a day without sunshine. I’m a down dog addict. I could hang out in downward-facing dog all day, or for five minutes, whichever comes first.

While teaching yoga I’ve noticed some people would happily hang out in down dog with me, but others look like they’re counting the breaths until I tell them to move on. Some bodies look natural and relaxed, with their backs extended, shoulders neutral, heels dropping and necks loose. But some bodies don’t get it. Their backs round, their shoulder blades end up somewhere near their ears and their legs will never be straight. Some others never stop moving, unable to find a comfortable stillness even for one breath.

Adho Mukha Svanasana is a tricky pose to practice and to teach, requiring strength from the arms, legs and shoulders as well as flexibility throughout the back body. Ray Long wrote an excellent article on the mechanics of downward-facing dog for My Yoga Online, well worth a read if you hope to hang out in down dog all day or even if you’d just like a relaxed moment in the pose.

Every time I get on my mat (or anywhere I can practice), barring injury or a nasty sinus infection, I find myself in down dog. I often end up there even if I intended to keep my practice gentle. It feels good to be there. Besides, they say if you can hold downward-facing dog for five minutes, you can do a handstand. It hasn’t worked yet, so I have to keep trying.

What’s your “I could hang out here all day” asana?

Note: Ray Long’s The Key Muscles of Yoga is the anatomy book I chose for the True North Yoga teacher training program. I recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about anatomy and yoga.

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Meditation Cat and Yoga Dog

Meditation Cat, doing what she does best

Meditation Cat, doing what she does best

My favorite meditation position is sitting in Ardha Padmasana (half lotus) with my hands in Dhyana Mudra. Dhyana Mudra represents an empty bowl, symbolic of a pure, free, empty mind, which the universe will fill with whatever is needed. I must need a cat, because, more often then not, as soon as I close my eyes my hands and lap are filled with a purring ball of fur. She might sleep and allow me to quiet my mind, or she may demand that I pet her 108 times. It’s okay with her if I add an appropriate mantra, such as “this is me petting the cat” or “the cat is in charge.”

My yoga mat is attractive to the other quadrupeds in my house, too. One dog in particular, a border collie named Morgan, can’t resist the call of the yoga practice. She waits for me to settle into Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog) then flops on my mat between my hands and my feet, insuring I’ll be holding down dog for a long time. Oh, and while I’m stuck there she’ll lick my face, because there’s nothing like Ujjayi breath through dog spit.

Later Morgan will snuggle into my side during a supine twist and probably stay through Savasana. Sometimes dog number two grabs the other side. I’ll admit it’s nice to have dog snuggles on cold mornings.

I wonder why my four-legged family members make themselves part of my practice. Do they sense my calm energy? Does the peace I radiate draw them to me? That’s what I tell myself. But, honestly, I suspect they’re making sure I don’t practice through breakfast.

Do your pets join you on your mat?

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The one thing you need to do to have a really fabulous holiday season

Sometimes you have to give yourself a subtle reminder to get on your mat.

Sometimes you have to give yourself a subtle reminder to get on your mat.

It’s that time of the year. There’s shopping and decorating and holiday parties. There’s family gatherings and festive meals. There’s spiritual rituals and secular traditions. And it’s all fabulous…on paper.

The upcoming holiday season looks wonderful on glossy magazine covers and in thousands of new pins. All the recipes look yummy and gift-buying guides are full of inspiration.

All we have to do is make time for the holiday hoopla. And pay for it.

Got your holiday stress on yet?

I’ve had some pretty miserable holiday seasons. And I’ve learned one very important thing from them. It’s the thing that has kept me from driving head-on into a house trimmed with perfectly straight icicle lights, right through Santa and his eight light-up reindeer.

Before you deck the halls, trim the tree, wrap the gifts or stuff the turkey, take this little piece of advice.

Get on your mat.

Unroll your yoga mat every day and practice, even if that means twenty minutes in Viparita Karani (Leg Up the Wall Pose) while tears run down your face because you are going to have to choose between the toy your kid really wants and paying the rent. (Been there, done that.)

Take ten, twenty or thirty minutes a day for yourself to recharge. Not only will you feel less like strangling an elf, but in a moment of clarity you might just figure out how to get those antlers to stay on your dog’s head.

The truth is, in this time of giving, the greatest gifts you can offer are your presence and your inner light. And you won’t find either one unless you crawl out from under that pile of tinsel and cultivate your own serenity. Trust me, when your youngest finally climbs into Santa’s lap and smiles instead of running away screaming about the scary red man, you’ll want to be here and now. Practice, so you’ll be ready for the really fabulous stuff that comes in moments, not in boxes.

And however you celebrate the return of the sun, I wish you a holiday season full of peace, joy and Adho Mukha Svanasanas.

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