Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hips might cry but sure won’t die: 20 minute practice sequence

Here's a little sequence to get your hips to shed tears of joy...
If you didn’t get the chance to make it to the hips don’t die class, don’t worry.   Here I share with you the crux of the sequence.  We started with some interesting hip-opening vinyasas to warm up before slowing down the pace and it is these ‘slow-down’ postures that I have reproduced here. 
Some of the usual suspects are there (gomukhasana) but have been befriended by some members of the hip opening gang that generally lurk in the background (utthan pristhasana).  And if all of this talk about gangs and suspects and lurking has you worried, there is no need.  These poses are not part of the criminal underworld, they are not part of the cool girls gang or even a gang of super-elite yogis who sit around with their legs behind their head all day.  These poses are part of a gang that we can all belong to—if you just believe in yourself, have patience, and try.
Before you try these poses, it would be a good idea to warm up with a few sun salutations.  Try and hold each of these poses for more than a minute.  Poses like gomukhasana and agnistambhasana or eka pada rajakapotasana could be held for longer (3- 5 minutes).  Remember that your hips will not die although they certainly might cry (tears of joy in their new-found freedom).  Relax the shoulders and your face (it is surprising how they can tense up subconsciously), and connect to your breath. 
Finally, if you weren’t at the hips don’t die class and you have never done these postures before it might be a good idea to talk to your yoga teacher before trying them as they might have some pointers on the each of the postures that can benefit you specifically. I wanted to keep it basic here rather than go into too much detail on ‘how to’ do the pose and there is a lot of fine tuning that can be done.  I tend to do all of the poses on one side first and then the other.  You can see what works best for you.
Utthan pristhasana
You can come into this from kneeling.  Have your knees slightly behind your hips.  Take the left foot around the outside edge of your left hand.  If it does not come in one smooth movement, no worries, just take it as far as it can and then move it with your hands.  It might take three or four little steps to get it there. 
Keep the front foot firmly connected to the earth.  Take your back knee back a bit further if you can.  You are going to feel this on the front of your back thigh a bit (or a lot, depending on how open it is!), but we want to keep the focus in this sequence on the front leg so don’t overdo it. 
Your left shoulder is trying to nuzzle into your left knee, a bit like a dog coming to scratch its ear.  Try and keep the knee moving in towards the shoulder.  From here, see if you can start to lower your body to the ground, imagining that it is your belly button that wants to melt towards the floor rather than your head—it’s relatively easy to just stoop your shoulders and drop your head down but why would you want to turn into a hunchback in the middle of a pose?  There’s no point.  Your elbows may or may not come to the ground, that’s not important at all.  What is important is to try not to stick your butt out to the side, which it might want to do, and, of course, to breathe.   
Eka pada rajakapotasana/Agnistambhasana/Chair variation
I am giving three variations of a similar pose here and you should find one of them works for you.  If your hips are really tight you might need to take the chair variation at first.  Then you could try eka pada rajakapotasana and, finally, agnistambhasana.   Be mindful of the knee in all of these variations, remembering you are stretching your hips and there should be no strain on the knee.
                Chair variation
This is something you can even do at work so it’s a good thing to learn even if you can do the other variations.  You need to sit on the very edge of the chair.  Your ankles should be underneath the knees and feet firmly on the ground.

Take the left leg up, keeping the foot and ankle in a shape as though it is still on the floor.  Bring your left ankle across the right knee.  Press your sitting bones evenly into the chair and shift your weight so you are sitting above them or in front of them but definitely not behind them.  Take a firm hold of your left thigh bone and turn the whole thigh out and away from you.  This might have two consequences: first, you will feel a more intense stretch in the outer left hip; second, your knee might come down a bit.  From there you can sit tall and start to fold forward, imagining you are bringing your belly-button to your shin (not the head, never the head!) to keep your spine long.
                Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
From kneeling, take the left knee towards the left hand so it points roughly straight ahead or a little bit out to the side.  Keep the left ankle firm.  Slowly start to take the right leg back so the thigh bone comes closer to the floor.  As you do this, your whole pelvis might start to lower towards the floor.  It is not important if your pelvis gets to the floor or not, it is important that you keep your pelvis level.  You really have to watch this as one side of the pelvis has a tendency to tip to the side in order to escape the stretch!  You can remain upright here or you can drape your body forwards towards the floor and make a little pillow with your hands as you relax here.
If you do not feel any intensity in your outer left hip then you should take your left foot out a little bit—as your hips open up you will eventually get your shin parallel to the front of the mat.  Don’t be in a rush though, and be mindful of the knee.
This variation is basically just the chair variation noted above but sitting on the floor, which places increased demand on your hip flexibility.  To come into this posture sit cross-legged on the floor.  Bring the left ankle on the right knee.  You need to be sure to turn from the hip and not the knee.  Some people will really struggle to get their ankle across the knee.  If this is you then please take one of the other variations until your hips are ready.  Some people will get their ankle across their knee but then be slumping in their back.  Again, be honest with yourself, if this is you then please take one of the other variations.  If you can manage to get your ankle across the knee and be sitting above or in front of your sitting bones you might find that your left knee is up high in the air.  As a general rule of thumb, if that knee is higher than your waist, then please take one of the other variations. 
Now, if you have managed to come this far it is time to take the bottom foot out so that the arch of that foot is directly beneath your left knee.  Looking from above your shins are roughly parallel.  Sit up tall and, as for the chair variation, take a firm hold of your left thigh and roll it out.  You will probably find the knee comes down a bit and the feeling in your hip intensifies.  Stay with even weight on your sitting bones and, if possible, start to fold forward and take your belly button towards your shins. 
Gomukhasana or Supta Gomukhasana
I give two variations here.  This is because if your hips are really tight you are going to find gomukhasana quite difficult to get into.  Most people can get into some form of supta gomukhasana, however. 
Supta Gomukhasana
Lie on your back.  Cross your right thigh over your left thigh as much as you can.  You are trying to get the knees on top of one another.  Take a hold of your ankles, heels or shins with your hands.  If you have trouble reaching, use a strap or a towel or something similar that you could lasso around the shins.  Basically you want it long enough so that you can still lie flat on the floor and your shoulders and head are not lifting.  You might even need a pillow or cushion under your head so that it can stay lowered as well. 
From there push your heels out and away from the midline while at the same time bringing them towards your shoulders.  You are basically trying to make an airplane wing with your legs (and I don’t mean a fighter jet with very angled wings, think more along the lines of a jumbo jet or even one of those planes the Wright brothers had where the wings stuck straight out to the side).  Your bottom might lift of the ground and see if you can send the tailbone back down towards the floor.  It probably won’t go all the way. You will feel something deep in your outer hips.
Not everyone will be able to do this, so if you cannot, don’t worry and just stick to the lying version.  For those who can do this sitting variation, alternate so that some days you do this sitting and some days lying. 
From sitting cross the thighs over one another so the right thigh is on top.  You are trying to get the knees to come on top of one another, touching if possible.  The feet are active and just beside the hips.  You can press the outside edges of the feet into the floor to generate more lift in the spine.  Keep moving the thighs into one another.  Make sure you are sitting on top of or in front of your sitting bones.  If you cannot do this then go back to the lying version until you can.  Relax (no gritting your teeth) and breathe.  For those that can bear it, you can start to make those airplane wings with the shins again, bringing the feet away from you so that the shins come closer to being parallel.  Only do this if your knees are stacked right on top of each other though. 
Ardha Matsyendrasana
Finish with this twist.  With your left foot beside your right hips, bring the right thigh over the left thigh so that the right foot is on the floor—flat if possible.  You need to use your feet here.  The more you can press with your feet, the more lift you will generate through your spine.  Again, be above your sitting bones or in front of them—no sinking behind them.  If you find it impossible to sit like this, them straighten the bottom leg and just take the right foot over the top of the straightened left leg. 
Hug yourself close into that left thigh.  Use your arms to gently pull the torso forward.  Really try to shift your weight so it is more in the front foot.  From there, lift the body and turn towards the left inner thigh.  Your right forearm, upper arm, or armpit may be able to move across the left leg to help hug you into the inner thigh.  Your left arm can help with this hugging or it could be on the floor behind you, pressing down and helping to generate lift in the spine. 
Now, it’s time to do it all again on the other side!
Happy, happy, hips.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Give Me A (Coffee) Break

Can you drink coffee and still be a yogi?
The other day I was in the kitchen at work.  We have a very nice kitchen in my office and it is a great place to exchange witty banter.  While making my morning brew one of my colleagues asked aloud whether he should have a cup of coffee now or later.  To which I replied, well, you could have one now and later if you wanted. 
“But coffee’s bad for you,” he said, “I thought you would know that.”
And here’s the thing.  Not only do I enjoy my two cups of coffee each day, I also have the feeling that it is good for me—I truly feel my morning cuppa’ has a positive effect on my health and well-being.  But I also feel that feeling that coffee is good for me is something bad.  This is because there seems to be an osmotic piece of knowledge in the community that coffee is somehow harmful.  And although there are many reports that have come out citing the benefits of this little bean I am still left with the nagging feeling that I am doing something bad, especially as I am a yogi. 
At yoga retreats I am typically in the coffee line and not the tea line.  Well, to tell the truth, there is usually no line for the coffee as nearly everyone else is drinking tea.  People who practice yoga are typically people trying to do something healthy for themselves and the osmotic coffee is bad sentiment permeates strongly (I must point out no-one else is making me feel bad on these retreats).  Alas, I don’t even drink de-caf, although I used to (because I thought the caffeine was bad) until I started reading all of these confusing reports about different types of decaffeination processes and how some of these could be bad for you too. 
I cannot even protect myself in the cloak of the haute coffee couture set since I mainly drink instant coffee these days (much easier at work and you get used to it) and am subject to downcast looks from ‘real’ coffee drinkers. 
To tell you the truth, I used to hate coffee.  I only started drinking it once I started working.  I needed to drink something with everyone on their tea break and it didn’t feel right nursing a glass of water.  I always hated herbal teas (I only discovered peppermint tea much later) and it seemed to me there was a secret wretched ingredient in any of the herbal fusions that were available at that time (after careful studying of the labels I decided it was hibiscus although I cannot verify this and don’t mean to defame the hibiscus leaf industry).
Gradually, though, coffee came to be something that I truly enjoyed and that helped me in some way I can’t prove or explain (a bit like broccoli really).  Hence the problem for a yogi: if coffee is labelled bad and you only want to eat things that are good and then you go and drink coffee are you a hypocrite?  No-one wants to be a hypocrite. 
So, as I was going over in my mind whether or not I was a hypocrite, I stumbled upon this piece of writing from yoga guru B K S Iyengar, considered to be one of the world’s foremost yogis.  On page 57 of his book, Light on Yoga, he starts a list of 27 “hints and cautions for the practice of asanas”.  I am going to copy point 5, which is about food, below:
Asanas should preferably be done on an empty stomach.  If this is difficult, a cup of tea or coffee, cocoa or milk may be taken before doing them.  They may be practiced without discomfort one hour after a very light meal.  Allow at least four hours to elapse after a heavy meal before starting the practice.  Food may be taken half an hour after completing the asanas. 
Well, hallelujah. One of the most eminent yogis in the world telling me to drink a cup of coffee before my practice if I wanted.   Now, I have not spoken to Iyengar and there may be all sorts of caveats to this statement (maybe he suggests a special type of coffee, maybe he is drinking from a very small Indian cup).  For now, I am going to enjoy my cup of coffee without guilt.   At the same time, I am not going to go overboard and start drinking coffee all day.  Instead I will try to practice mindful coffee drinking—listening to what your body is truly telling you and knowing that moderation in all things is the key. 
P.S. If anyone at work is reading this, is it possible that we could switch to Nescafe Gold?
P.P.S. Learning to listen to what your body is truly telling you is much harder than you might think and is part of the process of yoga.  There will be lots of misunderstandings between what you hear and what your body is telling you.  Case in point, sometimes you might think your body is telling you it needs a block of chocolate when, in fact, what you need is a hug or a kind word from someone who loves you. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yoga Gems #1: Lie Over Things

Lie over something.  Anything.
There are lots of little gems you can use to enhance your yoga practice.  These gems can be anything from words of wisdom, particular ways of practicing, or ‘tricks of the trade’ that experienced yogis do almost without thinking and maybe you have not heard about—or have not heard enough.  I am going to start leaving a trail of them for you to collect and put in your own treasure chest for whenever you are ready to use them. 
The first little gem is to lie over something.  I do this every day, without fail.  If I don’t have a block, I use the arm of a couch, the edge of a bed, the back of a chair—something (anything!) that will support my weight and open my upper back.  I am known to do this at work on my office chair, at home just about anywhere, in airports over benches, at friend’s places over the dining chair, in parks over fences....well, you get the picture. 
In a recent blog I talked about finding the wind in your sail, and this little gem will help start to mobilize your thoracic spine (upper back), which is usually hunched or slumped from daily life.  Basically, lying over a block counters all of that forward bending that you do around your shoulders and chest.   By practicing this little yoga gem you will improve your posture, improve your backbends, open your chest to breathe.  I would like to point out that even if it did not do any of these things I would still do it every day because it just feels so darn good!
If you don’t have a block, don’t worry.  You can use a firmly rolled up towel, a firmly rolled up yoga mat, the arm of a couch—basically anything that you can comfortably lie over.  The trick is to find the right height and the right positioning for you.  Better to start small and work up, especially if you have never done this before.
Before you start, though, just lie down flat on the floor for a few moments, bringing your awareness to your breath and to the centre of your sternum.  Relax and breathe, and, as you do, feel the expansion in the ribs below the armpits to help you come to focus on the area that is going to get opened.  Then, mindfully bring yourself to whatever it is you are going to lie over.
I can lie over higher and big things comfortably as I have developed mobility in this part of my spine and neck.  It is one of the reasons I can catch a big wind in my sail for backbends.  But I find it equally as enjoyable to lie over something lower, like my yoga mat.  Higher is not necessarily better it is just that sometimes you really feel like catching a big wind in your sail. 
The main thing that should guide the height of whatever you are going to lie over is whether or not it feels good in the spine and, more importantly, what happens to the curve in the neck.  The higher you go the more your head will have to go back.  But your neck should always follow the curve of your spine.  Your neck should definitely not go off at an acute angle. If your neck is going off at a sharp angle and not following the nice curve of the rest of your spine then you are too high and you either need to reduce the height of whatever it is you are lying over or place something under your head so the neck follows the same curve as the spine.
When you lie over something, you are looking for the “sweet spot”.  You will know the place when you find it.  It is exactly the place where you have a whole body sigh as it thanks you for taking the time to open this part that is often dull. 
Generally, this place is somewhere between your shoulder blades about the level of your outer armpit.   I sometimes need to wriggle up or wriggle down a few millimeters to find the right spot.  Sometimes just rolling yourself up and down a bit is nice too. 
Once there I just lie and hang out.  I can take my arms over my head, which stretches the outer chest/armpit/arm area a bit more, or just keep them beside me.  I spend a while taking some deep breaths into my ribcage.  This is heaven.  You can lie here for a few minutes if it feels good. 
Remove the block
After you come up, remove whatever it is you were lying over and just lie flat on the floor for a few moments.  If you had the block/prop in the right place you will now feel as though your upper back is empty and has melted into the floor.  It really is as though some magic wand has whisked away the tension that had been accumulating there.  But, as we now know, there is no magic wand.  Instead there is a little yoga gem to pack away in our little bag of yoga tricks.
Video clip explained
In the video clip that accompanies this blog I wanted to show you that yoga is not just what you do when you have yoga clothes on in a yoga class.  Here I am in jeans and a shirt one morning about to go out.  I had not done any yoga at all.  The only ‘yoga’ I had done that morning was what you see in the video clip.  You can see that I used the block to open and bring awareness to the upper chest area and start to catch the wind in my sail.  It felt so good I spontaneously came into an effortless backbend.  I am not saying this like a monkey admiring its own tail (Tilak taught me this expression last week and I love it.  I have been waiting for the right time to use it!), but rather to highlight (again) that backbending it not about grunt and grind and thrust and strength.  It is about gracefulness, opening, and ease.   Yes, I have been practicing yoga a long time and you may not quite be ready for this, but keep working on this yoga gem and I am certain that you soon will be!

Safe and joyful practicing!


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Effortless Backbending: Catching the wind in your sail

Effortless backbends
Now that I have ventured into the world of movie-making with myself as writer, producer, sound guy, actress, stunt-woman, special effects coordinator, body double etc, etc, I have noticed something I had not quite noticed before.  I have tiny little twig arms that look like they might snap in two!  Yet, even with said twig arms, I am able to come up from the floor into poses like urdhva dhanurasana (let’s just call it urdhva D, which makes the pose sound a bit like a rap song but a whole lot easier to read). 
In class people often talk about not feeling strong enough to come up into urdhva D.  However, strength is probably not the issue as you can see with my twig arm practice.  Now, I know I am going to hear a whole host of comments to the tune of I don’t have much to lift up (although these might just imagined, comments since I can’t be sure anyone is actually reading this), but coming up into a backbend is less about strength than it is about finding the wind in your sail that billows out your chest and carries you high—imagine a kite that gets picked up by a gust of wind.
Recently I have been experimenting with different ways of coming up and down into urdhva D so that I feel relaxed and free.   There are many ways and methods of coming up into urdhva D and this is just one I use at the moment.  Maybe some of the ideas might be helpful for you, which is why I am posting them. 
After you watch the movie clip and read the blog, go away and remember to practice with mindfulness and a sense of playful curiosity.  Don’t get stuck in your yoga practice and stuck in ways of doing things.  The body needs to be challenged or it gets dull.  And (obligatory safety message although as yogis hopefully the desire to be mindful and present in your poses will steer you automatically towards safety) never move into pain.  Have a chat with your yoga teacher if you have any concerns.
Your pelvis as a helium balloon
Our bums and pelvis are getting good coverage in this blog so far and that continues here.  When you come down onto the floor, remember to place the feet mindfully.  Really engage the power in the ball and outside edge of the foot. 
From here send the knees away from you a few times and feel your pelvis float away from you.  It rises effortlessly.  You don’t need to do anything.  You don’t need to squeeze, thrust, or push.  You just need to let it float up like a helium balloon.  It does not need to come up very far at all—just let it get lift-off so it becomes weightless.  And yes, even the biggest of bums is going to feel weightless here.
Once it is up there, let your pelvis and lower back be free.  Move it gently around like a hanging basket and experience this freedom. 
Your chest as a sail
With your pelvis lifted (but not pushed, or thrust etc), bring your awareness to the space between your shoulder blades and the corresponding place on the front of your chest (just about the middle of your sternum).  This part is going to become like a sail on a sailboat.  To come up into a nice urdhva D you are going to have to catch the wind in this sail.
The tricky part about this is trying to catch the wind in your sail and not the wind in your tail.  When you first start practicing this move your pelvis might come up too but you are actually trying to isolate the two movements.  So, if your pelvis comes up, don’t worry about it, just let it float down again and concentrate on getting lift in the sail (not the tail).
Another good thing to remember is that the wind is going to billow out the sail in all directions—your back is going to broaden and your chest is going to rise at the same time.
In the movie clip I add another movement here to really get my sail into full bloom.  The secret is in the arms.  Can you see what I am doing?  It might look like I am just taking my elbows around in a circle and then digging them into the floor.  What I am actually doing is using that movement of the elbows to help encourage my shoulder blades to move further down towards my waist.  This action is really important.  I will say it again just so you get how important it is.  This action is really important. 
What I am trying to do is to feel as though I have connected my outer armpits the top of my pelvis.  This action is going to help create the circle in urdhva D. 
Pause, relax, and breathe
I have never met anyone who cannot find a way to do those two actions (helium bum and wind in the sail). It might take some practice, but it will come.  And when it does, come up, come down, come up, come down, and just enjoy the movement.
Some days I just stay here for a long time, really using the combined actions of sending my pelvis one way and heart the other to create length and freedom in my spine.    In the movie clip I have come up much higher than you really need to and that is just for effect.  You can just stay low, pause, relax, and breathe.
Do not skip this stage.  If you are a person who has trouble coming up into urdhva D, you probably start to get anxious and stressed and start worrying about how you will get up and if you will get up at this point.  Rather than use your energy in worrying, take time to just breathe.  Feel what it is like to just hang out here with no pressure, no idea of what is going to come next. 
Put the hands in place
If you feel relaxed and your spine feels free, then very casually put your hands in place.  As you do so, try as much as you can to keep those outer armpits moving down to the waist. 
If you cannot get your hands on the floor without losing too much of the connection between your armpits and your waist then you might just need to stay at the previous stage until I write my blog on using a prop to help you.  For effortless backbending you really do need to keep those upper arms bones moving into the body.  You can still come up but it will feel much more like you are levering yourself up and using brute strength. 
If you can get your hands mindfully into the floor then all you need to do is press through the hands, press through the feet, catch the wind in the sail….and fly!
And finally
Nothing happens overnight.  If you can’t get your hands into the floor then stick with the initial stages.  In the mean-time, your yoga teacher should be able to give you some tips, props, and pointers, and may even help you find the lift you need by assisting you. 
In your own practice, remember to be mindful and patient, and to work on catching the wind in your sail combined with freedom in the lower back.  Other parts of your body will need to open to help you come into an effortless urdhva D, especially around the shoulders and front of the hips, but this pose is always going to be about relaxing rather than brute strength. 
Enjoy your practice!
PS: If you want to see a real genuis backbender to inspire you, check out this youtube link of Paddy doing 'extreme backbends'

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pelvis Vs Knee: Trikonasana

Pelvis Vs Knee: Trikonasana
I am often asked whether the pelvis should be opened fully to the side in trikonasana (triangle pose). 
Now, if you asked five different yoga teachers they would probably give you five different answers about how to do trikonasana, but they would all no doubt tell you that to answer the question you need to look at the relationship between the pelvis and the knee.   
In trikonasana there is a little tug of war going on between the movement on your front thigh and the opposite side of the pelvis.   The front thigh is trying to roll out while the opposite side of your pelvis is trying to move back and roll up towards the sky. 
A key action at the front hip joint is external rotation (it is also flexing and abducting—check out last week’s blog about defining movements of the hip joint).   As your front thigh rolls out, your front knee comes into alignment over the centre of your front foot. 
You can then try to roll that (front) side of your bottom underneath and press it forward at the same time so that it is not sticking out to the yogi behind you.  To do all of this you will find you need to maintain strong actions in the front leg of lifting the thigh up, rolling it out and under while pressing the big toe down so as not to roll on to the outside edge of your foot.    As you move into the posture more deeply by tipping the pelvis, you will feel the stretch on the inner front thigh and back of the front thigh as a result of these actions. 
But trikonasana is not all about the front leg.  You need to balance the work in the front leg with the work in the back leg.  And this means while you are doing all of that work in front, you are also trying to broaden the front of your pelvis and prevent the top of the pelvis (back leg side) from rolling forward and toppling over towards the floor.  To do this you need to strongly engage your back leg, pressing down through the outer edge of the foot, trying to roll the thigh out and trying to draw the whole inner thigh from the knee up and in towards your pelvis. 
But there is a reason the top of the pelvis wants to roll forward towards the floor.  And,  for many of us, it will be because allowing this action of the pelvis releases some of the stretch on the front leg and also lets us get closer to the floor with our arm if that is where we think our arm should be.
However, one of the (muscular) functions of trikonasana is to help open up the inner thighs and hamstrings so practicing in this way might not help you too much towards that end. 
What this all means is that you need to keep trying to roll the top (back leg side) of your pelvis up and back but, and here’s the point, there is no need to take it so that it is right on top of the bottom (front leg side) of your pelvis.  You do not need to square your pelvis to the side.  For most of us this is probably not even possible, and, if you persist in doing so you may find that your front leg starts to roll in and your front knee will lose its careful alignment (see my video link).  Over time this will transfer strain onto your inner knee joint, which is not something you want. 
So, should you be trying to get your pelvis open to the side?  The short answer is, start with the correct alignment of your front knee and then open the pelvis to the extent that is possible.   In the tug-of-war between knee and pelvis, the integrity of your knee needs to win. 
Trikonasana is a great pose and nearly every yoga class will include it whether or not it is for beginners or advanced students.  Thereis a whole lot more to it than I have mentioned here (did not even mention the upper body!), but more on that later.  For now, happy and safe practicing!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hips Fly High

Moments of pure joy should be savoured so I wanted to share the joy I felt at seeing students in the hips don't die class last night amaze themselves with their acts of flight! 
Tittibhasana B
(Ok, so we may not look quite like this!)

For 6 weeks now we have been working on some deep hip openers.  We have been doing a lot of forward bending type postures that involve nuzzling the shoulders inside the knee, including a wide-legged standing forward bend where we really burrow our shoulders between our knees known as Tittibhasana B.  We have continued to come back to that pose without a concept of where else it might lead.  And, to tell the truth, I had no intentions of making the pose go anywhere else.  But last night was different!

Tittibhasana A
(And we might not look
quite like this either!)
As I looked around the room, bottoms were not quite so high as the picture shown above, but spines were long and shoulders were nuzzled deeply.  And I thought to myself, "By gosh, I think they can do more!" 

And more you did.  With a few basic instructions I was astounded to see nearly everyone in class come into the first stage of the very challenging arm balance posture Tittibhasana A!  The best part was seeing the looks of awe and amazement on everyone's faces as they realised what they were doing--flying!  I know it came as a surpise to some people and I hope you realised that these sorts of postures are more about finding your centre of gravity as opposed to raw strength.

Whether or not you made it up last night does not really matter though because the potential is there in every single one of you.  No, we may not look like the pictures on this page but as long as we feel light and free and enjoy what we are doing then it does not matter at all. 
I can't wait to see what happens next week!


Sunday, February 6, 2011

What Lies Beneath (Our Bums): Observing the Hip Joint to Protect the Knees

“The Day My Bum Went Psycho” is a book written by Australian children’s author Andy Griffiths.  It’s a story about detachable bums that jump off their owners.  Zach, the main character, wakes up one night bumless and has to get help from some bum-hunters to recover his rogue bum, which has become the leader of a group of bum scoundrels that have set out to rule the world. 
If you actually removed your bum, or what most of us thought of as our bums, you would probably be removing the fat that is stored there along with large muscle that almost everyone knows the name of—the gluteus maximus.  Removing this muscle would make some things very difficult or awkward, such as walking and running or getting up from a chair. 
Now, we know the gluteus maximus is big and important because if someone had named you Samantha Maximus or Tilak Maximus it was probably not without reason.  But if you removed your gluteus maximus (for example if your bum went psycho) you would find some other very important muscles called external rotators.  You can see the people who named our body parts are in fact very clever because, as you could probably guess, it is their job to perform a movement called external rotation at your hip joint.
Understanding the basic movements at your hip joint is important for deep hip opening postures and, understanding external rotation in particular, can help prevent injury to the knee joint in some of these poses where you also need to bend your knee (think lotus, pigeon etc).
In this blog I want to talk about the six basic movements of the hip joint and then focus on the idea of external rotation in the context of protecting the knee joint.  Hip opening postures are sure to give even the most open-hipped yogi a little pain in the butt.  Practicing with awareness and alignment will also help you protect your knee joints.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

We Don't Like Cricket...We Love It

We don't like cricket, we love it!
For those of you who have come to yoga on my roof top you could not help but notice the giant billboard of the Sri Lankan Cricket Team peeking through the trees and buildings from Havelock Road.  It seems their gigantic illuminated faces are watching over us the whole time. 

Anyway, the World Cup Cricket is about to start.  I remember the last World Cup final mainly because the Tigers took the opportunity to conduct an air raid over Colombo, which turned the city into darkness and meant most of us without generators missed it!  Hopefully this final won't be as eventful.

There are lots of ways to keep up with the World Cup, but why not check out a new website that combines cricket fever with a social conscience? 

"What's the Score?" is a fun way of looking at how the countries playing in the Cricket World Cup score in terms of serious development issues. Have they been able to bowl out poverty yet? 

You can keep updated with the latest in World Cup action while also learning some interesting facts like the annual revenue of one of the sponsor's is more than the combined GDP of 12 of the countries that compete to play for the cup!!

Thanks to the people at Centre for Poverty Analysis for keeping us informed!