Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Five Minute Standing Sequence

Sharing a five minute sequence, in real time, from our current sequence.  If you only have five minutes this one is lovely. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Forward bend, handstand, backbend

Here I show the transition between forward bend, handstand prep, and backbend that we are practicing in our current sequence.  

Watch the video first then I highlight some key points.  In the video I do a lot of wriggling around.  It took me several takes to complete this video.  I have several rotated vertebrae along my spine which makes arm balances difficult as I tend to lean into one shoulder and it is not comfortable.  A part of my wriggling is me squirming around trying to get length wherever I sense a sense of 'dis-ease'. 


Key points

Bend knees and push them forward.  Push hips down and forward.  Push shoulder blades forward and up.  

Continue to come down by bending knees and pressing hips down and forward.  Who cares about straight legs?  It is not important here. 
Hands to the ground, knees can be bent.  

If possible and comfortable then...
..straighten the legs. 

One hand forward, other hand pressing into back of calf.  Toe tip back (same side as the hand that is forward).  Press the armpits in the direction they are facing (firm them).  Lean forward so the forward leg toes start to grip.  Press the sitting bone of the forward leg down and forward towards the front toes. Knee can stay bent.  

Keeping previous actions, bring knee to chest.  

Keeping previous actions, take knee towards the sky.  Be mindful not to let the sitting bones go up.  I keep an effort in pressing them down and forward.  Even though my knee is going up to the sky I still feel as though I am making an effort to bring it towards my chest. 

Straighten the raised leg.  The raised leg thigh turns in.  The grounded leg thigh is rolling out. 

Bring both hands to ground in front.  Firm the armpits. Keep lower ribs lifted into middle back.

Lean forward so hands come flat on the ground.  Bring knee towards chest.  You can keep more weight on grounded foot if needed and stay here. 

Or, keep leaning forward so more weight comes to the finger tips and the back heel raises.  Keep drawing knee to chest.  Look forward.  Try to bring the grounded leg knee towards your chest.  It probably won't go anywhere but get the feeling.  Stay here.  It is pretty intense.  Or...

Maybe there is a handstand.  Maybe not.  It is all good. 

Back down.  Knees bent.  

Press hips forward to stand.  Armpits forward. 

Keep pressing knees and hips forward.  Armpits forward and up as you raise the body. 

Arms straighten as you continue to press armpits forward and up. 

Begin to lengthen the front of the body without squashing the back. 

Keep lifting and lengthening the spine, hips moving forward.  Find your position.  It may not be the same as mine.  

This is pretty intense.  Happy and safe practicing.  Do not do anything that hurts.  Ask questions as needed!

Much metta,

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Wriggling Spine to Backdrop

Here I show a fun video about how to wriggle your spine so that you dance into a backdrop!  Thanks to Paddy McGrath of DancingSpineYoga for all of her inspiration.

How To Use Shoulder Blades to Support Spinal Lengthening

In this post I just wanted to share a single point.  That is, it will help unsquash the spine in a variety of postures if you can push the shoulder blades apart and lift the front body.

I show three different actions in each position.

First, the action of squeezing shoulder blades together.  This act in itself has the effect of lifting the front chest but tends to create squashing in the back body.

Second, the action of pushing the shoulder blades apart.  This act in itself has the effect of tending to enhance a rounding of the upper back.

Third, the action of pushing the shoulder blades apart and then lifting the front body.  This has the effect of supporting length in both the front body and the back body.

I use this third type of combined shoulder/shoulder blade/spine movement in a variety of postures.  It is very important if you are trying to keep the spine long in postures, such as the ones shown here.

Watch the video below to see me show the three iterations within each posture.

In Standing: View From The Back

squeeze shoulder blades together

push shoulder blades apart

push shoulder blades apart and lift the front body

In Standing: View From The Front

squeeze shoulder blades together

push shoulder blades apart

push shoulder blades apart and lift the front body

In Virabhadrasana II
squeeze shoulder blades together

push shoulder blades apart

push shoulder blades apart and lift front body

Drop backs
squeeze shoulder blades together

push shoulder blades apart (forward and up)

push shoulder blades apart (forward and up) and lift front body

Spreading the shoulder blades while trying to lengthen and lift the front body (and not squash the back body) can help you feel lifted and lengthened in a variety of postures.  

A sample of which postures you can apply this to if provided here.  In class I give details on other postures where you can use these actions to support length and lift in even more postures.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Find Your Hips To Enhance Your Practice

Just to clarify any ambiguity this photo might provoke, this is a post about hips and not my butt!
In this post I show you how to find your hips and give some tips on how to 'level' your hips in postures like parsvottanasana and parivrtta trikonasana.  I stress the importance of creating an internal body map.  There is a quiz, a video, and some instructions to help!

Figuring out your own internal body map is one of the benefits of yoga (or any mindful practice).

By that I mean understanding where a part of your body is in space without needing to look at it.  You 'feel' it from the inside.

Feeling where your hips are in space is a tricky one, but being able to do so can really enhance your practice.

One of the reasons it is tricky, as I discovered this week, is because some of us have come this far in life mislabelling where their hips are on their own body.

This week I asked all of my classes to put their fingers on their hips and most people put their hands somewhere else.

That was a great realisation for me because I have been cueing hips for a while and if your own internal body map of where your hips are is different from where your actual hips are then you will not be thinking about the body part I want you to.

For fun, let's start with a little guessing game.

Have a look at the photos below and see if you can tell me which photo has me with my fingers on my hips.

A: Are these my hips?
B: Are these my hips?
C:Are these my hips?

 The answer is C.

From my informal class survey it seemed the most common responses were to put the hands in position B, somewhere at the top of the pelvis, or A at the waist.

That likely means if I give an instruction about moving the hips your brain will think about the waist or top of pelvis and you will be moving from a different place.

Asking the question in the first place was inspired by a question from one of my students who was having a trouble knowing whether her hip position was correct in parsvottanasana and parivrtta trikonasana.

These two postures are ones where having a good internal body map of where your hips are is important.

A lot of people try to 'feel' a level pelvis in those postures by putting their hands on the back of their pelvis.

But that relies more on interpreting the position sense of your arms as they touch the pelvis when you might be better off trying to interpret the position sense of the actual hips and direct your awareness there.

How to find your hips
The first important step is to be able to locate your own hips.  Take a look at this video for some thoughts.  Turn up your volume as I speak on this video (a little like a robot it seems!).

In the video I show how if you find the front crease of your thigh and draw an imaginary line to the outer side of the thigh, and/or find the crease under your bottom and draw an imaginary line to the outer side of your thigh then you will be around the hip joint.

Level on a front back plane
Below I show how the hips are not level on a front/back plane.  The forward leg hip has come in front of the back leg hip.  This commonly happens if you are not mindful.  It is less likely for the back hip to come forward of the front hip in these postures.
One of the reasons the front hip creeps forward in this type of posture is because the front thigh starts to roll in, which reduces the lengthening around the outer hip and hamstring.

Allowing this to happen therefore reduces the efficacy of the posture in lengthening the outer hip and hamstring of the front leg.

It tends to happen if you try to come down with your spine more than your body is ready for.

Perhaps consider not coming down so far so you can maintain the hips level on the front back plane.

Another 'feeling' that the front hip has crept forward is that the side waist on that side starts to feel shorter relative to the side waist on the back leg side.

If you feel this is happening you can try to roll the front thigh out or think about moving the front hip backwards.

Level on an up/down plane
The other thing that can commonly happen is that one hip is higher than the other, as shown below.
One hip up and one hip down
One hip up and one hip down

Level hips

In a pose like parivrtta trikonasana (reverse triangle), it is more common that the back hips tends to go down.  As far as I can tell this tends to be due to trying to take the arm across the front leg and get to the ground, which can cause you to turn drop the hip in an effort to get that arm across and down.

If you practice that way you will be turning the pelvis but not necessarily doing any active spinal movement.

It is not necessary to get the arm across the thigh or down to the ground.

The way I teach parivrtta trikonasana is to keep the hips level and to turn the spine.  You take the hand on the inner thigh and only go towards the ground to the extent that you can keep the hips level. Most people will not be able to come to the ground with level hips but you will feel the benefit of haven actively rotated the spine and also of lengthening around the front outer hip and hamstring.

Below is a video that shows the difference between turning spine not hips and turning hips not spine.

Parivrtta trikonasana is actaully a very difficult posture, especially when you maintain level pelvis.

It was tricky to film this on my own and I hope I have at least been able to show you where your hips are.  In class I can help you to find them and feel level hips in your postures.  Learning from the internet is always tough for a practice like yoga.

The postures I demonstrated in this post are complex and there are many more instructions I could have given but my main intent was to get you to think about hip position rather than overwhelm you with all of the other stuff going on

Hope you are happy and healthy.

Much metta,


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sculpture Balance

Yikes this one is tricky but fun.  

I have a vision of a group of us learning this posture and standing in a garden somewhere as human sculptures.

Not sure how long we could remain standing as it is one of our most challenging static balances.

I chose to stand on this podium to take these photos.  Which was both a good idea and a not so good one.

I wanted to get up there because I knew it would be challenging.  I can do this fairly easily on solid ground where there is not a lake to fall into.  

So I thought I'd step it up a little. Goodness fear makes it hard to do anything!

My balance was fairly disturbed up there on the podium and there was no way I could hold this for very long.  Fear can really take so much away from us, mentally and physically.  

There are a few basics to coming into this posture.  

  • when two body parts come into contact try to press them into one another.  That means pressing thigh into foot and foot into thigh, then thigh into elbow and elbow into thigh, then hand into elbow and elbow into hand, and, if you get to the top, pressing hand into chin and chin into hand.  
  • try to get a feeling that you are drawing your hips towards one another.
  • activate inner thighs.
  • find a point to focus on, grip with the toes, and relax your face and breath--these things help with the balance.
  • I create firmness in my tummy by lengthening my lower back and pressing my hips forward (though they may not go anywhere).
  • have fun.
  • don't hurt yourself.
  • try not to fall off anything.
  • it is best to learn from a physical teacher rather than the internet.
  • if it feels bad it is bad so stop.
  • natural breathing.

Toe forward, hips forward, hips together, inner thighs together
Lengthen lower back and move hips forward, toe forward.  Be on toe tip if you can.  If that is too difficult be on the ball of your foot.

To help with your balance throughout, try to press your outer hips towards one another.  Then, try to press your inner thighs towards one another.  You should feel that this creates some firmness on the inner and outer hips and helps to stabilise the balance.

My toes of standing foot are gripping.  For the first part I am looking with a soft gaze to the ground.  These also help with the balance.

Relaxing your face and breathing naturally will also help your balance.

Knee move forward, heel to thigh
 Move the standing knee forward so it bends.

If comfortable raise front foot and place heel above knee, on the top surface of thigh.  Press those body parts into one another.

Opposite elbow to top of thigh
 If comfortable take opposite elbow onto thigh.  It is hard to tell that I am doing that in this photo.

Press the elbow and thigh into one another.  Keep pressing hips forward and together.

Other elbow to hand
 If you have made it this far, congratulations.  It is much trickier than it looks!

Opposite elbow can come to palm.  Press them into one another.

Take the hand towards the forehead between the eyebrows and lightly press the skin up.

Head up
This is really challenging for your balance.

One of the things that helps with balance is to pick a point on the floor or somewhere in front of you and gaze softly at it.

Here we challenge that by trying to move the head up!

If you can, slowly move the head up so the chin comes onto the palm of other hand.  Press them into one another.


Now, who wants to get together with me and be part of a human sculpture garden?!

Happy and safe practicing.  We will be doing this posture for the next 9 weeks in our sequence.  Lots of fun.

Much metta,

Unusual core and splits

We have more interesting 'move from your core' work in this sequence that also leads to splits in another orientation to gravity.  

Remember, you don't have to do the splits--try not to 'aim' for that.  Try your best but don't be attached to an outcome.  Most people will not be able to do the splits and what you might do is bring knee to chest as shown on the left.

You do what feels possible and comfortable for you without straining.  Feel challenged but without mental or physical tension.

I have made two video versions of the sequence.  One to show what you could do for splits variation. The other to show for knee to chest variation.  

You will get a feel for what is possible for you.  

I come into these postures actively.  That means I bring my leg towards my chest without using the hands.  This will require good balance and core stability, as well as good hip mobility.  

Take a look at the videos so you can see the movement in action.  Then take a look at how I deconstruct the postures in the pictures.

Video: Splits Variation

Video: Knee to Chest Variation

Key Actions
Below are some step by step instructions.  Remember do not do anything that hurts.  Be mindful of your knees.  To get into the posture there are some tricky hip movements and whenever you are working with hips you need to be cautious of knees.  

Move slowly so there is no strain.  If you feel strain then go back to the previous position you were in. 

In this lunge bring your hand towards the ground but do not 'dump' the weight into the hand.  Support yourself with your legs.  The hand is more there for a bit of balance if you need but you should feel you could take your hand off the ground.

Turn feet 
Both feet turn the same way.  Turn the back foot 90 degrees and onto its side.  Keep your ankle away from the floor.

The front foot turns as well but that is not where the movement comes from.  I actually think about rolling my thigh out rather than moving the foot.   I lift the ball of that front foot and as I roll the thigh out the knee will move out to the side and allow your foot to move with you.  Move slowly and carefully.  If this is not comfortable go back to the lunge and remain there for a while until the side lying part comes up.

Be on the outer edge of the front foot as well.  Keep the ankle away from the ground.

In this position stay lifted out of the arm on the ground.  You could take it away.  To do this you need to ensure you are pushing your front heel down and away from you and firm in your other leg.

Lower hip to floor
Mindfully lower the hip towards the ground.  Go slowly.  No strain.  If in any discomfort go back to the previous position.

Stay lifted out of the arm as though you are pushing that hand down and away from the side of the body and so the chest feels as though it is moving away from the ground.

Lie on your side
This bit gets fun.  Take your arm under the side of your body.  Find a position where it is comfortable.   Feel as though you are pressing that arm into the ground.

Keep your legs and feet firm.

If possible take the top arm to the top side, as shown below.
Try to be in a straight line.  Hips and shoulders stacked on top of one another.  There will be a tendency to drop one hip or shoulder back.

Knee to chest

Carefully bring knee to chest.  Be mindful that you do not drop a hip or shoulder back to come into this position.  Feel your tummy muscles working for this.  As I prepare to come into the position I feel as though I am pushing the sitting bone of that top leg forward.

You can hold there or see if you can straighten the leg, as shown below.
If you straighten the leg, keep the foot and leg away from the floor.  See my foot is not on the ground. 

You can then use your hand to come into an assisted posture.  

Graceful exit
If you are in a good split you can come out of the posture by rolling tummy to ground.

Then coming up into a split.

If you are with knee to chest or if your split is not 'split' enough then hug knee to chest.   Be firm behind the knee (as though you are gripping a rolled up towel or something behind there).

If your knees are ok then carefully roll tummy towards the ground so shin is on the ground.   Be mindful.  If you are lolling around a bit like a beached whale then rethink your exit strategy!  We want graceful exit so your exit might be to come back into a lunge (not pictured).

Then come up like an elegant swan!

In this posture I still want to feel like I am lifting away from the ground.  I press my front foot down into the floor.  I am also using my back foot to press down into the floor.  I feel as though I am drawing the back knee towards my chest so that I am not sinking into it.

You will know if you have got good lift as it will be easy to take the arms up.

Have fun.  Be safe.  Feel like you are doing something but not straining.  Try your best but do not be attached to an outcome.  Move slowly.  Tense less, stretch less, breathe less, and think less.  Smile.  

We will be working with this as part of our sequence for the next 5 weeks.  Join us for outdoor classes, rain, wind or (we hope) sun!

Much metta,