Rox Does Yoga

Musings on Everything Yoga

Pose of the Month: Goddess Pose February 28, 2012

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:30 pm
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Pose Name: Goddess Pose

Sanskrit Name: Utkata Konasana (Fierce Angle Pose)

Steps:

  1. Begin in a wide-legged stance, with feet about three feet apart, or roughly the length of one of your legs. Angle your feet so your toes point out and heels point in, about a 45 degree angle.
  2. Exhale and bend both knees deeply. Don’t allow the knees to swing out to the front – keep knees right over the ankles. Also, be sure to keep your knees and your toes pointing at the same angle – if needed, adjust the angle of your feet a bit. Tuck your tailbone under.
  3. Keeping your back straight, raise your arms up to shoulder height. Bend the elbows so your fingertips point toward the ceiling. Palms face forward or in, and fingers are active and extended. Drop the shoulders down and back, and press the chest forward.
  4. Look straight ahead and breathe. (Ujjayi breath is great to use here.)
  5. To come out, exhale and release the arms down, then inhale and slowly straighten the legs.

Benefits:

Goddess pose offers many of the benefits of a squat: it’s a great hip opener and works to stretch the pelvic floor, and, like a squat, it’s a great pose for improving your sex life and for pregnant women to practice for those reasons. It also offers many of the benefits of the warrior poses: strengthening the arms and legs and building heat and stamina. Goddess pose is also a great heart opening pose, stretching and strengthening the muscles of the chest.

Contraindications:

Those with knee injuries should work gently and mindfully in goddess pose. If you have poor balance, you could try practicing the pose with your back against a wall for support.

My Experience with Goddess Pose:

Although I’ve always liked this pose, I didn’t practice it often until just recently. Now that I’m pregnant, I find this pose is a nice alternative to a squat and a great supplement to my warrior series: I really enjoy bringing some strong feminine energy to my standing sequence, since the warrior poses feel so masculine to me. I love this pose because it feels elegant and fierce, strong and grounded.

 

Pose of the Month: Malasana (Squat) February 23, 2012

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 8:44 pm
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Pose Name: Squat

Sanskrit Name: Malasana (Garland Pose), Upavesasana (Sitting-Down Pose)

Steps:

  1. Begin standing in tadasana (mountain pose): feet hip-width apart, spine nice and straight, hands in prayer at heart center.
  2. Slowly bending the knees, come down toward the floor in a squat. Try to keep your feet flat on the floor. If you need to, you can widen your stance slightly – toes as far as the outside edge of the mat, heels pointing in.
  3. If you can, work your elbows inside your knees with your hands in prayer. Try to use the elbows to press the knees back, opening the hips and lengthening the spine. Press your shoulders back – you want to keep the chest open and spine straight. Don’t hunch!
  4. Work on balancing here. Find your center of gravity and try to find a way to hold the pose comfortably. Feel your pelvic floor muscles relaxing and opening.
  5. If you need to, you can rest by leaning forward a bit and placing your palms on the floor. You can allow your heels to lift as you do this. When you can, come back into the pose.
  6. To release, simply sit your tush down on the mat.

Variation Using the Wall:

Begin in mountain pose as described above, but with your back pressed against a wall and heels a little out from the wall (maybe a fist’s width). As you come down into your squat, slide down the wall, then use the wall to support your back in the pose. This will take some pressure off and help you balance, allowing you to focus on opening the hips and relaxing the pelvic floor.

Benefits:

This is a great simple pose for anyone to practice since it stretches the hips, works and relaxes the pelvic floor, and strengthens the legs. Because it works these regions, it’s a good pose for improving your sex life. It’s also a great pose in particular for pregnant women (hence my current interest!).

Contraindications:

This pose may be difficult for those with balance issues or knee/ankle problems. If it’s difficult to keep your feet flat on the floor or you feel pressure in your ankles, you could try using some support under your heels (like a blanket folded in half or the folded edge of your mat). Over time, gradually use less support until you can comfortably keep your foot flat. If the whole pose is difficult, you could try it seated on the front edge of a chair: with thighs at right angles to the floor, and heels slightly forward of your knees, lean your chest forward between your thighs.

My experience with this pose:

Right now I am loving squats. They feel great and I know they’re a good preparation for childbirth. I’ve liked squats for a long time, though – one of my yoga teachers in Boston had his students practice squats regularly. As a yoga teacher myself, I like squats for sequencing reasons, because they make a great transition from standing to seated poses, adding more interest and structure to an asana sequence than “OK, let’s all come to the floor now.”

Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), since I’ve been practicing this pose regularly, I’ve been finding myself using it in other parts of my life – like examining items on the bottom shelf at the grocery store, picking up something I’ve dropped, or cleaning up a spill. It’s nice to be able to hang out down there for a while to compare nutrition info on product labels or find that loose change!

For more useful tips on this pose, check out Tori’s post On Squatting.

 

Pose of the Month: Head-to-Knee Pose December 7, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:10 pm
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Pose Name: Head-to-Knee Pose (also known as Pyramid Pose or Intense Side Stretch Pose)

Sanskrit Name: Parshvottanasana

Steps:

  1. Begin in a wide-legged stance. Turn your right toes forward to face the top of your mat; place your left foot at a 45 to 60 degree angle, and turn your hips to face front. (This is the same basic stance as Warrior I Pose.)
  2. Reach your arms up overhead and stretch. Fold forward, bringing your fingertips to rest on the floor on either side of your front leg. (Less flexible students can place their hands on a pair of blocks if they can’t quite touch the floor; more advanced students can bring their hands into reverse prayer behind their backs before bending forward, or can simply cross the arms behind the back and grasp opposite elbows if reverse prayer is too much.)
  3. Keep the back leg straight and firm. Work on straightening the front leg. If you can’t quite get the front leg straight, it’s okay to bend it slightly.
  4. At first, keep the torso parallel to the floor. Then, if you have the flexibility, you can bend further while keeping the hips aligned and the spine straight.
  5. Although this is called “Head to Knee” pose, don’t focus on trying to bring your head to your knee. Instead, work on bringing your chin toward your shin – this will help to keep you aligned properly.
  6. Check in with your torso alignment: the midline of the torso should be above the line of the inner thigh. More flexible students can rotate to bring the midline of the torso over the midline of the thigh.
  7. Keep breathing. Work on lengthening the spine as you inhale and folding deeper on your exhales.
  8. Press strongly through the back leg to return to standing. Rise up slowly to avoid getting dizzy. Repeat the pose on the other side.

Benefits:

Head-to-knee pose really stretches out the front leg, which is great when the backs of the knees or calves are tight. The pose also stretches the spine, improves posture and balance, and stimulates the abdominal organs.

Contraindications:

Those with knee injuries may want to avoid this pose. Those with a back injury or high blood pressure can try a modified form of the pose: practice facing a wall, and instead of bending all the way forward, bend just enough so that the torso is parallel to the floor and then press your palms into the wall for support.

My Experience with Head-to-Knee Pose:

I never practiced this pose before coming to my current yoga studio, and I’ve struggled for a long time to figure out exactly what should be going on in this pose – which way are the hips facing? Should I feel so uncomfortable in this pose; am I doing it right? It seems like such a simple pose, but I continue to struggle with it. After working on asanas during October’s teacher training weekend, I understood this pose better, but I still feel some confusion when I try to teach it, so I wanted to spend a little more time learning about this pose.

 

Pose of the Month: Downward-Facing Dog December 5, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:30 pm
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Pose Name: Downward-Facing Dog

Sanskrit Name: Adho Mukha Svanasana

Steps:

Downward dog is usually done as part of a sun salutation sequence – the instructions here tell how to get into the pose on its own.

  1. Begin on hands and knees, with a neutral spine and knees directly below the hips.
  2. Curl the toes under. Exhaling, pressing into the hands and balls of the feet, lift the knees off the floor and press the hips into the air.
  3. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis, and lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling. Lengthen the spine; lengthen the waist.
  4. Check in with your body. The back and legs should be straight, as if you’re forming a big triangle with your body: straight lines from hip to heel and from head to tailbone. Knees are straight, but don’t lock them; let them be soft.
  5. The feet should be hip-width apart, with the weight on the balls of the feet. Press your heels down towards the floor, stretching the backs of the calves.
  6. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart, with fingers spread wide. Press your weight down through your whole hand, not just your palm, so the whole hand is active. However, rather than pressing the whole hand completely flat, give yourself a little bend through your finger knuckles – this will give you a little more leverage. Make sure your weight is balanced between hands and feet so your feet aren’t taking the whole load.
  7. Extend strongly through the arms so that your elbows are straight. Stretch and press through your inner arms, gently revolving your elbow creases forward. You don’t want a deep bend at the wrist, so take a look and see if you have a crease on the top of the wrist, and if you do, press back more strongly.
  8. Stretch and open the shoulder blades, drawing them toward the tailbone.
  9. Hold here for five long, deep, even breaths, or longer if you feel comfortable.
  10. To come out, drop your knees to the floor to return to a neutral tabletop pose. Or you can walk your feet up to your hands to come into a standing forward fold.

Benefits:

Downward dog is an important core posture in yoga. It stretches and strengthens the entire body. Down dog warms and energizes the body, calms the brain, and relieves stress.

Contraindications:

Those with carpal tunnel syndrome or other wrist problems may have difficulty and pain in downward dog and should consider dolphin pose instead. Downward dog should not be practiced in the late stages of pregnancy.

My Experience with Downward Dog:

I’ve practiced yoga for almost nine years, so I do downward dog all the time. Recently one of my students asked for some guidance on down dog, and it was difficult for me to respond helpfully because this pose is so automatic for me now. As we talked together about the pose, I realized I didn’t have all the answers to her questions (tilt of the pelvis? orientation of the elbows?), so I wanted to look into the pose more closely to better understand the alignment and what’s going on. As my student pointed out, we do downward dog all the time, but we rarely look at exactly what we’re doing in this pose, and yoga teachers don’t usually give detailed instructions on doing the pose, assuming that any non-beginners understand it already. It was good to look more closely at this pose so that I can guide students with different body types into practicing the pose correctly.

Yoga Journal has some nice videos about performing downward-facing dog, which you can view here and here.

 

Pose of the Month: Partner-Assisted Wide-Legged Forward Fold November 7, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:32 pm
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Partner-Assisted Wide-Legged Forward Fold 2Pose Name: Partner-Assisted Wide-Legged Forward Fold

Sanskrit Name: Upavistha Konasana

Steps:

  1. Sit facing your partner. Lift your legs and stretch them out wide on the floor.
  2. Rest your feet or ankles against your partner’s feet or ankles – this will be different for everyone depending on your and your partner’s leg length and degree of flexibility in the hips and groin.
  3. Reach out and clasp your partner’s hands or wrists. Clasping hands may be easier if you’re farther apart; clasping wrists will give more stability and will be better if you’re able to be closer together.
  4. Bend forward with a straight spine, keeping your legs active and engaged. Your partner will lean back, helping to pull you further into the bend.
  5. If you have difficulty bending forward, you can bend your knees a little bit, and even put a rolled-up blanket under the knees for support, but as you bend, make sure the kneecaps are facing up towards the ceiling.
  6. Come up gently, then switch – you lean back while your partner bends forward.
  7. Work dynamically, allowing each partner to move in and out of the forward bend. See if you can bend a little deeper each time.
  8. On the last round, come up slowly and release your hands and feet.

Benefits:

Wide-legged forward fold stretches the insides and backs of the legs, stimulates the abdominal organs and detoxes the kidneys, strengthens the spine, calms the brain, and, most importantly for our yoga and sex series, it releases the groins and opens and stretches the hips and thighs. It also opens the root and sacral chakras and increases blood flow to the pelvic region. Working on this pose with a partner can be a lot of fun and can help you to bend further into the pose.

Contraindications:

Those with lower back injuries should take care, sitting on a folded blanket and staying mostly upright. Pregnant students should take care with any forward bend.

My Experience in Wide-Legged Forward Fold:

This is a pretty simple pose that I’ve been practicing for many years, even before I tried practicing yoga. I was really surprised to see how much further I could move into the pose with the help of a partner!

Partner-Assisted Wide-Legged Forward Fold 1

 

Pose of the Month: Double Boat Pose October 31, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:06 pm
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Since we’re talking about yoga and sex this month, I’ll be bringing you a few fun poses you can do with a partner!

Pose Name: Double or Partner-Assisted Boat Pose

Sanskrit Name: Navasana

Steps:

  1. Sit facing your partner with your knees bent. Reach out and clasp your partner’s hands or wrists (clasping hands will give you a little more room to work with your legs, but clasping wrists gives a little more stability).
  2. Lift your right foot off the ground while your partner lifts her left foot off the ground. Press the soles of your foot against the sole of your partner’s foot. (It will help if you’re able to keep your right knee inside your arms.) Begin to straighten the right knee.
  3. Repeat on the other side, lifting your left foot and pressing it against your partner’s right foot.
  4. Once both feet are up, you can work on straightening the legs. Make sure to use your core muscles to hold you up as you would in regular boat pose.
  5. Work playfully with the pose, have fun, and don’t forget to breathe.
  6. Come down slowly, one foot at a time, and release your hands.

Benefits:

Boat pose really strengthens the core muscles and stimulates the abdominal organs. In terms of our ongoing yoga and sex series, boat pose is great because it warms up the core and gets your energy flowing!

Practicing boat pose with a partner can give you added stability and support to straighten the legs while you work the core. Plus it’s fun!

Contraindications:

Contraindications for boat pose include asthma, insomnia, diarrhea, heart problems, low blood pressure, and pregnancy. Those with neck problems may want to practice boat pose at the wall (so you can lean your head back and rest it against the wall).

This isn’t a contraindication, but if you’re practicing double boat with a partner, it will be trickier to do if the two of you have different leg lengths (i.e., someone short practicing with someone very tall). See the photo below: my legs are longer than Stacey’s, so my knees are slightly bent. However, I can still move much further into the pose with a partner than I can on my own! If you and your partner are differently proportioned, try the pose anyway and just have fun with it. Be ready to laugh!

My Experience with Boat Pose:

Long have I hated boat pose. It’s one of those poses where I just never seem to improve. My core isn’t strong enough, it’s hard to straighten the legs, and even my arms get sore. So I was excited to find this fun modification of boat that can be practiced with a friend. You still get a core workout, but without all the disappointment. Instead, it’s a great way to share yoga with your partner and get warmed up together!

 

Partner-Assisted Boat Pose

Thanks to Stacey for helping me model this pose!

 

Pose of the Month: Cobbler Pose October 20, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:34 pm
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Pose Name: Cobbler Pose or Bound Angle Pose

Sanskrit Name: Baddha Konasana

Steps:

  1. Begin by sitting up straight in a cross-legged position.
  2. Press the soles of the feet together and bring the heels close to the body.
  3. Sit up tall on your sitting bones and use your hands to pull any flesh away from the sitting bones.
  4. Make a basket with your hands and clasp them around your feet.
  5. Sit up nice and tall. If that’s as far as your hips can work today, that’s okay – just focus on sitting up nice and tall and opening up the hips.
  6. If your body allows, bend forward over the feet while keeping a flat back. Don’t hunch your back to get your head to your feet – your goal should be to bring the navel towards the feet.
  7. Engage the mula bandha, the muscles of the pelvic floor, to move deeper into the pose.
  8. As you inhale, lengthen the spine; as you exhale, bend a little deeper. Walk your hands forward on the ground if you wish.
  9. Relax and let gravity pull you forward. Take several slow, deep breaths.
  10. Come up slowly and return to a comfortable cross-legged position.

Benefits:

Cobbler pose opens the hips and promotes greater flexibility in the hips. It increases blood flow to the pelvis and opens the root chakra, which helps to energize and cleanse the sexual organs.

Contraindications:

Those with hip problems should work gently in this pose. Pregnant students should take care in any forward bend and modify as needed.

My Experience of Cobbler Pose:

This month, working on my presentation about yoga and sex, I learned a lot about cobbler pose, so I thought I’d feature it as a Pose of the Month. Practicing this pose can really pay off in the bedroom, since it opens the hips and really engages the pelvic floor muscles.

I’ve always liked this pose, and over the years I’ve made a lot of progress with how far I can bend forward. Still, some days I can’t get very far, so this pose always reminds me to work gently with wherever my body is today.

Cobbler Pose

 

Pose of the Month: Legs Up The Wall September 15, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:32 pm
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Legs Up The Wall 1Pose Name:

Legs Up The Wall

Sanskrit Name:

none

Steps:

  1. Move your mat to be perpendicular to a wall. Lie on your back on the mat.
  2. Draw your knees in and drop your legs over to one side.
  3. Skootch your tush up as close to the wall as you can.
  4. Lift and extend your legs, letting the backs of the legs rest against the wall.
  5. Rest your arms flat on the floor. Close your eyes. Relax here for a few minutes, letting the breath grow deep and even.
  6. To come out, drop the legs off to one side and skootch backwards until you’re able to roll up to a seated position.

Benefits:

This relaxing pose bestows the benefits of any inverted pose – inversions alter the flow of blood in the body, calming the mind, helping with depression, and stimulating the thyroid gland. Placing the body in an inverted pose also works the internal organs and the abdomen, aiding digestion. However, legs-up-the-wall doesn’t require the strength or stamina needed for other inversions like headstand or shoulderstand. Most students can accomplish this pose.

Contraindications:

Inversions are contraindicated for headache and high blood pressure. Some sources say not to practice inversions while menstruating.

My Experience with Legs Up The Wall:

When I was taking vinyasa yoga classes, I had never heard of this pose, so I only began practicing it in the past few years. I love how relaxing the pose feels, how I’m able to let my mind rest. I also love the simplicity of it – I’m able to achieve this pose no matter how I feel that day. As a teacher, my only frustration with legs-up-the-wall is that my front porch doesn’t have enough wall space for all the students in my little class to be able to do this pose at once!

Legs Up The Wall 2

 

Pose of the Month: Shoulderstand September 12, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 8:28 pm
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Shoulderstand 1Pose Name:

Shoulderstand

Sanskrit Name:

Salamba Sarvangasana (“salamba” means “supported”; there are other forms of shoulderstand practiced without arm support)

Steps:

  1. Begin by lying flat on your back on the mat. Bend your knees and walk your feet close to your sitting bones.
  2. Pressing your arms into the mat, lift your legs, curling your thighs in to your chest and your knees toward your face, lifting your pelvis and back off the floor.
  3. Shimmy your shoulders together underneath you. Place your palms against your back for support. Press your upper arms into the floor and lift the pelvis to be over the shoulders, so that the torso is perpendicular to the floor.
  4. Try to work the elbows closer together so that the upper arms are parallel. As you lift, walk the hands up your back (towards the floor) – this will give you more support as you lift your hips. (It may help to put your palms against the skin of your back; if you find your hands slipping, try lifting your shirt and placing the hands against your skin.)
  5. Begin to lift the legs into the air. Bring the thighs and finally the lower legs in line with the torso, so the whole body is a long, straight line perpendicular to the floor.
  6. Find your balance here. Your weight should be in your upper arms, your shoulders, and a little on the back of your head – there should be no weight or pressure on the neck.
  7. Press the legs together. Press the balls of the feet toward the ceiling. Activate your thighs, buttocks, and abdominal muscles to help hold you up.
  8. Keep breathing. Keep the body active throughout the pose; press through the upper arms and keep the shoulders engaged.
  9. To come down, gently lower the legs, bringing the knees down to rest on the forehead.
  10. If you wish, take plow pose: lower your toes to the floor above and beyond your head, extending the legs and keeping the torso perpendicular to the floor. Clasp the hands behind your back and press the arms into the floor.
  11. Coming out, keep your head resting on the floor and press your fingertips into the floor while you gradually roll out on a curved spine. Follow shoulderstand with fish pose as a counterpose.

Shoulderstand 2Benefits:

Shoulderstand is known as the queen of yoga postures (headstand is the king). Inversions alter the flow of blood in the body; this can calm the mind, help with depression, and stimulate the thyroid gland. The muscle control needed to hold the body in an inverted pose works the internal organs and the abdomen, aiding digestion, and builds strength, toning the legs and buttocks. Shoulderstand, when done properly, stretches the neck (when not done properly, it can turn into neckstand, which hurts the neck, so care is needed!).

Contraindications:

Those with serious neck injuries should not practice shoulderstand, or should do so only under the supervision of an experienced instructor. Using a stack of folded blankets to support the shoulders will help those with neck problems to practice the pose.

Shoulderstand is contraindicated for headache and high blood pressure. Some sources say not to practice inversions while menstruating. If the student is experienced, shoulderstand can be practiced until late in pregnancy, but if you don’t already practice the pose, you shouldn’t begin practicing shoulderstand after becoming pregnant.

My Experience of Shoulderstand:

When I was a teenager, I didn’t have a phone in my room, so I always used the one in my parents’ room. The second floor of the house had been converted from an attic into bedrooms, so on one side of my parents’ room the ceiling slanted all the down to about two feet off the floor. As a teenage girl spending long hours on the phone, I sometimes got bored and would lie on the bed and walk my feet up the ceiling. So, when I attended my first yoga class years later, I had no trouble doing shoulderstand – it was just like talking on the phone in my mom’s room! Being a silly teenager had paid off for once; I’d been doing a supported shoulderstand for years and was comfortable with both the mechanics of the pose and with being upside down in general.

As I progressed through my yoga practice, my shoulderstand has improved even more, especially recently as I began paying close attention to the logistics of each pose with an eye to teaching. Now my husband says that my shoulderstand looks kind of freakish, like my head isn’t attached to my body, which I think means that I’m doing it right.

Unfortunately, not everyone grew up in my parents’ house, and for many people shoulderstand is really challenging. I’m discovering this firsthand by teaching a small weekly class at my home. Teaching shoulderstand for the first time was hard for me, and a few of my beginning students just couldn’t do it. One person will need to work on her core strength to make this pose achievable. I want to try teaching the pose with blankets for additional support, and I also want to teach some other inversions so that students who can’t manage shoulderstand yet will have some other options.

Back to my own practice, I really enjoy shoulderstand: how strong I feel in the pose, and the feeling of being upside down. For right now I am taking a break from doing headstand because of neck pain, so coming back to shoulderstand feels good and helpful.

 

Pose of the Month: Kneeling Twist / Thread-the-Needle August 22, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:12 pm
Tags: ,

Thread the Needle 1 - Side StretchPose Name:

Kneeling Twist / Thread-the-Needle

Sanskrit Name:

I can’t find a specific Sanskrit name for this one.

Steps:

  1. Begin on hands and knees with a neutral spine. Make sure that the knees are right below the hips and that the wrists, elbows, and shoulders are in a straight line.
  2. Inhaling, life your right arm up to the ceiling. Keeping hips centered, stretch up.
  3. Exhaling, bring the right arm down, under the body, and out under the left arm. Rest the right arm and shoulder and the right temple on the floor.
  4. Rest here, or if you want a deeper stretch, extend the left arm to the ceiling.
  5. Relax into the pose, breathing deeply.
  6. When you’re ready, bring the left arm down and plant the hand on the floor. On an inhale, unwind, lifting the right arm and stretching up toward the ceiling.
  7. Release and return to a neutral tabletop pose. Repeat the twist on the other side.

Benefits:

Twisting poses compress the internal organs, releasing toxins and cleansing the body. Twists are beneficial for abdominal health. This pose also incorporates a side stretch that opens the chest.

Contraindications:

This pose is contraindicated for students with serious back/spine injuries. Pregnant students should be cautious with any twist and may want to consider doing Cat/Cow instead.

My Experience of Kneeling Twist / Thread-the-Needle:

Before coming to my current yoga center, I rarely did this pose, but now I practice it regularly both in class and at home. J often uses this pose as part of his warm-up sequence in class, and so I’ve really come to like the pose. The twisting action and side stretch begin to wake the body up for practice and also calm the mind, readying it for practice as well. The pose is refreshing by itself and makes a good warm-up too.

Thread the Needle 2 - Twist

 

 
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