Friday, July 24, 2015

Free 5 Minute Practice

Before I practice suriya namaskar I 'warm up' my spine, legs and wrists with an active spinal movement sequence that incorporates dynamic balance.

When people start my classes, this opening sequence appears, by far, to present the biggest challenges.  It includes heel raises, one legged balancing, and active spinal movement--often all at once!

I took this 5 minute video at my last retreat in Talalla, Sri Lanka.  You can hear the beautiful birds in the background and see the luscious coconut grove in which we have our twice daily practice!

The video is mainly intended for my students who want a visual refresher of what to do or for interested students who might come to class.  I don't recommend learning from the internet.

After watching the video take a look at some of my practice tips.

Below I have jotted down a few thoughts for some of the movements/actions throughout the sequence.  I say these commonly in class. They are not all of the instructions.  I have tried to clarify a few points were I see students sometimes struggle.

Arms forward and up

When taking the arms overhead, push the armpits forward and up.

When practicing all of the heel raises, lean forward until the toes start to grip naturally, look at the floor to help with balance, then raise the heels.  Keep gripping with the toes.

Knee bends

When bending the knees, I push my knees forward and hips forward.  My hips don't really go anywhere and what you will see is that they lower straight down.

When knees are bending I try to keep firm behind my knees--as though you were trying to perhaps squeeze something behind them.  But don't squeeze too hard!  Remember, feel active but not tense. 

I keep the toes gripping.

Shoulders roll in

When you roll the shoulders in, press armpits lightly down.  I try to press wrists forwards and elbows back.

When you roll shoulders in it is easy to droop the top of the spine.  Be careful it does not sag.   Keep upper back lifted so you do not shorten the front of your body.

Shoulders roll out

When shoulders roll out there can be a tendency to press the ribs forward.  Look carefully in the video and you see I try to lift but not push out in the upper back.

Side bending

When you bend sideways, try to lengthen the one side without squashing the opposite side.  In the video you will see I initiate this movement by raising one elbow without dropping the other.

When you twist there is a tendency for the hip/pelvis you are turning towards to move backwards.  Try to press that hip forward so the pelvis remains pointing to the front.

Standing balance leg forward

The raised thigh rolls out.  That means your knee seems to roll away from the centre line of your body.  Be careful not to hike your raise leg pelvis up, which commonly happens when people focus on getting their leg high.  It is not how high it is that counts.

Leg to side

Again, thigh rolls out.  It is difficult to get the leg this high so keep it closer to the floor if necessary.  The leg is to the side and slightly to the front.  People who focus on getting their leg too high often have the leg too far to the front but it needs to be more to the side than the front.

Leg behind fold forward
In this posture I push my shin into my hand and pull with my hand.  The raised thigh is rolling in.  That means the knee feels like it is looking more down to the floor.

Leg straight forward fold
Here I am careful not to be too archy in my lower back.  I don't want to feel tension in my lower back.  My raised thigh is rolling in.

Balancing twist
The raised thigh is rolling out.

Additional thoughts
As always, stretch less, tense less, think less, and breathe less.  Try your best without being attached to an outcome.  The outcome people often become attached to in these postures (from my observations) is taking their legs too high.

Better the legs are straight rather than high.  This might mean that you keep toe tip on the floor.  That is an important modification I did not show in this video.  That is, you do not need to raise the toe off the floor at all.  You can keep toe tip down, do the arm and spinal movements, and then just straighten the leg when that time comes.

Relax your tongue and breathe naturally.  This will help you feel calm in these challenging movements.

This is the opening sequence in my current outdoor Canberra yoga classes.  Join us and have some fun if you like!

Much metta,

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Have Fun With The Splits

If you clicked on this post you probably are interested in doing the splits.

Great!  In this post I share two places where some splits or splits-like postures sneak into the current sequence I am teaching.

But as you watch the videos (there are two), look at the photos and read through just remind your self that when you practice anything, try your best but do not be attached to an outcome.

If the splits come they come.  If they don't they don't.  Accept that.  Do not force.  Do not strain.  Move slowly.

This is not an instructional post about how to do the splits.  It is a post to show where you can slip them (or like postures) into parts of your practice.

The first of these postures does not come until at least a good 15-20 minutes of the sequence. That means we have moved and warmed ourselves.

Watch the first video, below, which is an interesting variation on a side bending upside down splits that starts with parsvakonasana.  I deconstruct the posture afterwards with step by step photos and instructions.

Then, in the middle of our sequence, take a look at how we move from gadjastan (elephant stance) to the more traditional seated splits.

Upside down side bending splits
The video shows the transition from parsvakonasana to upside down side bending splits.

1. Come to parsvakonasana.  Watch previous posts on parsvakonasna if you are not sure how.

2. Pelvis remains in place, turn navel, ribs, chest and bring shoulders to the inside of thigh or knee if possible.  Press inner thigh and outer arm into one another.  Be mindful that your butt does not swing out to the side here.

3. Bring inside hand to back of calf from the inside.  Keep nuzzling knee and shoulder into one another.  Press that hand into the calf and calf into hand.  Again, mindful your butt is not off out to the side. 

4.  Other hand comes to ground.

5.  Lean forward and begin to bring that back foot in.  Be on toe tip so there is as little weight on that back foot as possible. 

6. Keep leaning forward, nuzzling arm and leg, pressing calf and hand, and lift off if safe and comfortable.  Look towards your back foot.

Fun on the floor!
Below is a video that shows how we transition from standing to splits on the floor.  

I show two variations--the first is for people more familiar and comfortable with full splits.  

The second is for those less familiar and less comfortable with the splits.  Remember, try your best without being attached to an outcome. 

To come into this posture we start here.

Make our way mindfully to the ground.  Pause and get that tummy firm in a way you can still feel the movement of the breath there!

Go for a upavista konasana--a sort of wide legged side split type posture.  I have my arms reaching up to lengthen my spine and I am working with sitting bones down and top of pelvis back so I am not being too archy in my lower back.

Then, either turn spine and lift and make my way to a split like this....

...or, bend both knees then lift and turn to a long lunge.

Smile and have fun.

Only do what feels comfortable.  Try to practice to your own body and how it is at that moment and not to what you think you should to be doing.  

This is a pose in our current sequence as we work our way through outdoor yoga in chilly Canberra (the ear muffs might be a give away!).  The posts are intended for students who work with me and know my teachings.  Overseas we can work on these in my upcoming retreats in Sri Lanka (July 2015) and Bali (September/October) 2015 (see

Happy and safe practicing!

Much metta,