July – Hanumanasana
Hanumanasana has got to be in my top 5 favourite poses, if not my most favourite pose of the moment. I absolutely love this pose, I comes so naturally for me and is usually just a very comfortable pose for me to be in. Of course there are days when I feel tighter and need to warm p a little to get into it, but generally it is easy for me and I feel like it’s a beautiful expression in my body. I am so passionate about this pose that I feel like a have a whole bunch of students who come to my classes with the intention of working on their hanumanasana. When I teach this pose, I always take the class through a whole lot of warm up so that their hamstrings are really warm and they have the best chance possible of easing into the pose. It’s so amazing to see students who once were nowhere near full hanuman, over time actually make their way into it. I have at least 5 students who once had such tight hamstrings they could barely do the modified variation, now they can get into it no problem at all. So to get into the pose, after a good deal of hamstring warm up, come into a lunge position with your back knee on the ground. Put more weight into your back knee and straighten your front leg. Draw your hips back and heart forward and begin to hinge from your hips. From this point check in with how you are feeling here, if you feel a deep stretch, don’t go further just yet. If your hands are significantly far away from the ground, rather than curling your back to get your hands on the ground, bring your hand to your shin (same side hand as forward leg) and rather than leaning your weight into your shin, push your shin into your hand, doing this will help to keep your quadricep strong and avoid any hyper extension in your knee. If you are feeling open enough you can release your fingertips onto the ground. Once you find the best spot for you, you can a) stay still and really feel the stretch you are receiving, b) move with our breath, inhales lengthening you, exhales softening you deeper into the pose, or c) lengthen your pose, moving your forward leg more forward coming towards full hanumanasana. If you are somewhere in between and your hips are pretty close to the ground, but not quite there, use a yoga block or a rolled up blanket to rest on, remember when you have the chance to relax into a pose rather than push yourself, you will have a better chance of going deeper. Try it out, with the hot July weather, you never know, your hamstrings may be a whole lot warmer than you’re expecting!!
Vasisthasana – Side Plank Pose
Side plank is a great pose that can be done in two different ways, one is core and arm strengthening pose, the other is a heart opening pose. I find this pose to be very fun to practice and to play with all variations. The traditional full vasisthasana is a side plank with the top leg straight in the air and your holding your big toe of that leg. I find though, that it is such a versatile pose in that it can be done in so many ways for so many different purposes. One variation is done with the knee of the lower leg resting on the ground, this makes it less of an arm strengthening pose, but since you are using your knee to lean on, you are much more stable and therefore have more of an opportunity to lean back and open your core. This variation also gives you the freedom to play around with lifting the straight leg and trying many different shapes with that leg. The next variation is to be in a side plank with your forearm down rather than having your arm straight. One advantage of this pose is if you have sore wrists, you will be putting no strain onto the wrist. Another thing about this pose (you can look at it as an advantage of disadvantage) is that since you’re so much closer to the ground, you have to use your core a lot more to keep your hips from sagging to the ground. Another variation is to be in a side plank, but having the top leg bent adjacent to your body having foot resting on the ground in front of you. This makes the pose a little more stable, but also more challenging for your core than when your knee is down. The next variation is very similar, but you would have your legs stacked for the most part and just have the top foot rest just ahead of or behind your weight baring foot. A “normal” side plank would be to have your legs and feet completely stacked. From there you can play with lifting your top leg and keeping it in the air, or bringing your foot into tree pose, or grabbing your big toe and coming into “full vasisthasana”. Once you master side plank, you can play with doing different things with both legs. Also, one you create a deeper connection with your body, you can notice if you tend to hyper extend your weight baring elbow. You can play with having your hand stacked under your shoulder or having your hand a little more forward from your shoulder. You can notice if you tend to back bend or not and then trying doing whatever isn’t natural for you. So whatever it is, have fun with it and really try it out this month!
April Urdhva Dhanurasana – Upward Facing Bow Pose
For this month’s pose, well explore urdhva dhanuranasana. This is a beautiful and fun back bend to incorporate into your daily practice. To do it, start by lying on your back, bend your knees and bring your feet about an inch away from your sit bones and parallel. Allow your feet to be as wide as your sit bones and make your arches strong. Place your palms flat on either side of your head with your fingers facing toward to face. When your ready, bring yourself to the crown of your head and pause here. Plug your arm bones into their sockets and when you’re ready, begin to straighten your arms. Once you have straightened your arms, you are in the pose. Once in the pose, notice if you are overly clenching your glutes. You want to tone your glutes, but not clench them. Lengthen your tailbone toward your knees to keep a nice even curve throughout your spine. Try to puff your heart away from your knees, also to help keep an even curve throughout the spine. If this feels good, walk your feet a little closer to your head, and puff your heart even more forward. Eventually you will have your shoulders stacked over your wrists. When you’re comfortable in this pose, you can play with straightening your legs, changing your gaze, lifting one leg and alternating, maybe even playing with drop backs and standing up to get out of the pose. Make sure that you have a strong core the entire time and most importantly, have fun!
Bakasana – Crow Pose
Crow pose, a challenging but fun arm balance which is considered by many to be the best beginners arm balance pose. To get into this pose, you must be proficient at chaturanaga dandasana and have warmed up your hips. Start in malasana (yoga squat), bring your toes to touch and knees far apart. Crouch down deeply between your knees, bring your triceps back to your shins, trying to get your knees right up into your arm pits. Come to your tippy toes and lift your bum high into the arm. Strongly engage your core, rounding your back and begin to shift your weight from you toes to your hands. If you have any fear of falling on your face, practice is a pillow or two in front of your face, that way if you fall forward there is a soft landing. If you are pretty comfortable in crow pose and your knees stay high up into your armpits, begin to play around with straightening your arms. Have fun and be safe when playing with this pose, even though it’s considered “beginner”, it’s not easy!
Eka Pada Koundinyasana 2 – Sage Koundinya Pose 2
Eka pada 2 is such a fun arm balance, it’s my favourite right now. At first glance it looks very difficult, but since your legs are basically counter balancing you, it’s less difficult than some of the more compact arm balances. To get into the pose, your hips and hamstrings should be pretty warm and you should be pretty proficient at chaturanga dandasana. Once you are all warmed up, a nice way to come into the pose is from lizard pose. So imagine you’re in a lunge and the back knee is down. Hinge forward from your hips so that your heart comes closer to the earth and then bring your shoulder under your knee (or as high up your arm as possible). Once you have this positioning down you can shift your weight forward and see if you can lift your front foot off the ground, this can be very tough, so work on this first. Once you’ve got that down, shift your weight even further forward and then begin to play with straightening and lifting your back leg. Once you find lift off super strengthen both legs and you may start to feel lighter in your chaturanga arms. So this is all pretty tough when you first try it, so practice your chaturangas, get really strong in your arms and really firm with how you place your hands (so that your wrists stay open and pain free). Warming up the core helps with this too believe it or not, so do a bunch of core work as well! Try it out and see how fun this pose can be! You may be surprised to find that one side may be easier than the other!
Parsvottanasana – Pyramid Pose
This month pyramid pose will be featured. Pyramid pose is such a great pose because there is a strengthening happening, as you’re stretching, and not only that, but it’s a great detoxing pose. Pyramid pose is a great warm-up for the hamstrings and can even be an intense hamstring opening pose. I love that you can amp up the intensity of the stretch simply be folding forward more (as long as the spine continues to lengthen). It’s quite easy to forget about the quadriceps as you’re lengthening the hamstring, but it’s such a great opportunity to strengthen the quad by squeezing it here. Not only is it a great opportunity for strengthening, but the simple action of engaging the quad protects the hamstring of that leg! While you’re folding forward it is likely that you’ll feel a nice stretch in your back! It gets better! If you’re flexible enough to fold forward completely, simply breathing pushes the side of your torso into your thigh which stimulates the abdominal organs and improves digestion! What a perfect pose to practice in January!
-From tadasana, take a step back with your left foot about three feet in length, bringing the left foot to about 45 degrees
-Keep your hips parallel to the top of the mat, inhale your shoulders up and back, hinge from your hips and fold forward as far as you can while keeping your spine long (rather than rounding your spine).
-Bring your hands to blocks or the floor depending on how far forward you folded. Stay here for about five breaths.
-When you’re ready to come out of the pose, come back to tadasana at the top of your mat and switch sides.