Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Moon Salutations at YogaLife Institute July 21, 2014

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:24 pm
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Last week I went to a Wednesday night asana lab at YogaLife Institute. I’d never been there before, but I was excited about the topic of the seminar: moon salutations.

YogaLife is a little far from me – out in Devon, it’s about a 40-minute drive, plus a little extra on the way there with traffic. They have a nice large space with an area for shoes, a waiting room and shop, and it looked like several studio spaces, plus offices and a kitchen. In addition to being a yoga studio, they also produce Yoga Living magazine, so the office space makes sense, but it’s definitely a larger operation than most of the studios where I’ve practiced or worked!

I was really interested to attend the seminar on moon salutations, since I know very little about them. The seminar was really interesting – Kristen had us move back and forth through short portions of the sequence, from one pose to the next then back again, to help build some muscle memory and help us remember the sequence. We also did some simple stretches to help us gain awareness of the pelvis that we could then bring to the sequence, and did some group work too. Overall, it was the sort of class where I left my notebook on the floor while we practiced, then picked it up immediately afterward and scrawled frantically to try to get down everything I remembered. I found it really informative and fun, and the Wednesday night timeslot actually fit into my schedule! I’m looking forward to coming back here again!

The way Kristen taught the moon salutation was very different from the sun salutation many of us are so familiar with. Moon salutations are much more about movement: less about hitting the right pose in the right way and more about transitioning from pose to pose with awareness. Where sun salutes rely a great deal on upper body strength, moon salutations work the lower body, especially the pelvis. The group activities we did were intended to highlight the fact that, once we each got used to the sequence, each person did it a little bit differently: one woman’s transitions revealed the flexibility in her hips, while another’s movements left room to spare discomfort in her troublesome knees, and still another person moved very rhythmically, with small adjustments in each pose that set him up to flow seamlessly to the next. There’s no one way, and no wrong way, to do a moon salutation. I really liked the emphasis on fluidity and the uniqueness and beauty of each individual’s practice.

Here’s a graphic showing the sequence of poses. I don’t think it would help for me to list the asanas in order, because it’s less a list of postures to do in order and more like a dance, which I think the graphic emphasizes. If you try it at home you might make your version a little different. The squatting transition from one side to the other is particularly an area where the sequence will vary depending on the body of the practitioner; I also found a spot where I naturally wanted to insert half-moon pose (ardha chandrasana). I found this was a fun sequence to play with, and a perfect addition to my short 5:30 am yoga sessions. I hope you enjoy it too!

Moon Salutation

 

15-Minute Sequences: Hips August 13, 2013

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 10:30 am
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My current project is to write ten brief yoga sequences. Each sequence can be done in 15-20 minutes, and each sequence follows a different theme. I’m really happy with today’s sequence, Hips. My hips have been a problem area in my yoga practice ever since my daughter was born last year, and this sequence works the hip from every angle. It’s also a lot of fun!

To see other posts in this series of short yoga routines, click here.

 

Yoga for Cyclists July 30, 2013

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 12:37 pm
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In honor of Bike to Work Day a few weeks ago (on which day I actually rode my bike to the train station* without even realizing that I ought to!), and in honor of Stacey, who requested info on this subject probably six months ago at this point, I’m pleased to present you with a post on yoga for cyclists!

Much like runners, cyclists are typically very fit, but because of the repetitive motions of pedaling a bike and the need to maintain a certain body position while riding, they can develop problems in specific body areas. These problems can include:

  • Hamstrings and hips: These areas can become overly tight, and the resulting reduced range of motion can lead to injury.
  • Overdeveloped quads: All that uphill pedaling can build great strength, but unless the hips are kept flexible, those strong muscles can pull hips out of alignment!
  • Low back pain: Unless proper form is rigorously maintained, the hours spent flexed forward while cycling can result in muscle pain, or strain in the back and shoulders.
  • Feet: The ankles, toes, and feet can become stiff when they’re held in position on the pedals, so cyclists, like all athletes, would do well to stretch the foot to avoid injury.

Luckily, a yoga practice can provide solutions to these problems! For cyclists, yoga can be beneficial in the following ways:

  • Flexibility: Yogis are obviously known for being flexible. For cyclists, yoga can promote flexibility in the key problem areas of the hips and hamstrings, the legs overall, and the feet, which will help to avert injury.
  • Spine alignment: With a regular yoga practice, you become more aware of your posture and the alignment of the spine. For cyclists, this heightened awareness can improve your form, relieving pain.
  • Core strength: Key to having a healthy spine is the core strength to support it. Many yoga postures emphasize the core,  strengthening the muscles to give you the support you need.
  • Balance: Practicing yoga improves your sense of balance, which is key when riding on rough terrain.
  • Mental clarity: Practicing yoga regularly often leads to feeling calm, alert, and clear-minded, which can help a cyclist power through a tough ride or stay focused during a race.
  • Mind-body connection: As noted above, yogis become more aware of their posture and movements as a result of their yoga practice. With this level of awareness, you’ll be better able to recognize when any part of your body is out of alignment and can take steps to fix it before an injury.

With these points in mind, here’s a sample asana sequence designed for cyclists.

  • begin lying flat on the belly
  • locust pose (opens heart and shoulders, strengthens low back)
  • child’s pose
  • rabbit pose (I’m including the link for the visual only – for this sequence, you get into rabbit from child’s pose by clasping the hands behind the back and then lifting the arms)
  • dolphin pose (mirrors the upper body alignment needed on the bike)
  • cat/cow (healthy spine warmup!)
  • downward dog (bicycle the legs here to stretch out the calves)
  • standing forward bend
  • mountain pose
  • 5 half sun salutes
  • one full sun salutation with low lunges
  • one full sun salutation with high lunges
  • one full sun salutation with heart-opening high lunges (clasping hands behind the back to open the chest)
  • one full sun salutation with twisting high lunges (opening the chest and shoulders)
  • standing sequence:
  • balance pose: dancer (works balance, lengthens quadriceps)
  • toe balance squat (a variation on malasana, stretching toe and foot while working balance)
  • kneeling with toes curled under (gentle stretch for the foot)
  • hero pose
  • cobbler pose
  • seated forward fold
  • reclining pigeon (hip stretch)
  • bridge pose (strengthens the spine – a good counterpose for on-bike positioning)
  • reclining twist
  • legs up the wall (great restorative pose, allowing fluid to drain from the hardworking legs, preventing varicose veins)
  • savasana

For me, this full sequence would probably take about an hour and a half. If you flowed more quickly through the postures, you might be able to do it in an hour, but I recommend moving more slowly and spending time in each pose to really enjoy the stretch. If you have time constraints and can’t do the full routine, you can eliminate a couple of poses from the warmup (locust, child’s, rabbit, dolphin) or the cooldown (do cobbler or seated forward fold, reclining pigeon or reclining twist), or you can cut down to two or three half salutes, or only two sun salutes with lunges instead of four. I wanted to give you a full sequence so you’d have plenty of options and an order for the poses, but this is just a framework that you can modify to meet your needs. Enjoy!

*Note: While I love to ride my bike, I am definitively not a cyclist. I am a bike rider, in the same way that a 12-year-old girl is a bike rider. My bike is shiny and red, with classic-looking fenders, a really big basket, and a bell. However, while I might not experience all the trials and tribulations that actual cyclists experience, I can still offer yoga to help them!
References:
Drop, Tuck, and Hammer
Yoga for Cyclists: Pre-Ride Warm Up
Yoga for Cyclists: Post-Ride Cool Down
Yoga for Cyclists: 3 Poses You Should Practice

 

Postnatal Yoga September 24, 2012

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:53 pm
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My body seems to have bounced back quickly from my pregnancy and birth, but there are definitely still some sore spots and changes to contend with. My hips are very tight, and my abs are still weak. I also notice that my calves are still quite tight – during my pregnancy my calves would get so tight that I’d get leg cramps at night, and that tightness seems to be persisting. I’m also trying to build up some arm strength again after taking a break from more strenuous asanas and exercise towards the end of my pregnancy.

As I try to rebuild my yoga practice, I’ve been naturally gravitating towards asanas that will stretch my hips. Pigeon feels great, and it’s nice to be able to rest on the floor again! I also love cobbler pose, especially because I can hold and play with my baby in this posture. I practice downward dog to help open my calves, and plank pose with repeated vinyasas to build back my abs and arm muscles. I’m also finding that standing postures like the warriors work all of these areas.

These are some of the asanas I’ve been focusing on, but I was also curious about what asanas are recommended for postnatal yoga practice. Here are a few resources I found:

Postnatal Yoga: Conditions and Cures for Both Mama and Babe (YogaJournal.com): I like this article because it gives a few suggestions for simple poses that might be helpful to your baby too. I know I put YogaBaby into knees-to-chest and it seemed to feel good to her.

Postpartum Yoga for New Moms (BabyZone.com): This article discusses some of the same postures as the YJ article, but it adds a few more strenuous asanas as well, good for when Mom’s feeling a little stronger, and a few different postures to try for strengthening the abdominals. I love practicing cobra again!

It looks like Shiva Rea has a few popular DVDs for new moms. Her Postnatal Yoga DVD has received some good reviews on Amazon, but it should be noted that the DVD doesn’t include any “mom and baby” postures. Rea addresses this in her new DVD, Mama & Baby Yoga. This looks to be brand-new for 2012!

 

Quick Asana Sequence for the Hugely Pregnant June 4, 2012

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:52 pm
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Here’s a simple yoga routine that incorporates the most helpful postures for pregnant women to do. This routine will take about 15-20 minutes if you give yourself time to linger in the poses that feel good. After losing my yoga mojo for a while, I did variations on this sequence three days in a row last week, and my body is feeling more like MY body than it has in a while. I also found this routine to be short enough and gentle enough to be invigorating rather than draining (which is how my former yoga practices all feel lately).

  • Child’s Pose (Balasana): Take the pose with legs as wide as you need. Personally I can’t get my head all the way to the floor anymore so I rest on my elbows. A good hip opener and calming/centering pose.
  • Cat/Cow Pose (Marjaryasana/Bitilasana): Again, it’s fine to have knees a little extra wide here if necessary. If you’re as hugely pregnant as I am, you should still be okay to arch your back like normal in cat pose, but for cow, just come back to neutral instead of curving the spine. Doing a full cow can be uncomfortable at this stage, and you want to be able to take full advantage of this pose’s benefits in relieving back pain. Also, feel free to add some movement and circle your hips around if that would feel good.
  • Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): Be gentle with yourself here, but don’t slack off. Down dog and plank are a lot harder these days with carrying all this extra weight, but you don’t want that to be an excuse for losing all your upper body strength while you’re pregnant. See if you can hold the pose for five breaths. It might help to bicycle out the feet here, dropping first one heel, then the other, towards the floor. This stretches out the calves, which is great if you get leg cramps in the night like I do.
  • Standing Forward Fold: Take your feet wider than normal and don’t even try to touch the floor. Let your upper body hang, and then slowly and gently roll up to standing. This should feel really nice to your lower back.
  • Mountain Pose (Tadasana): Pay attention to your posture and spine here. Close your eyes and allow your mind to rest.
  • Half Sun Salutes: Move through these at your own pace, and bending only as far as you comfortably can. I found that reaching up felt really good. I’ve been doing two half salutes, but you could do four or more if you wanted to.
  • Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana): A great thigh strengthener and hip opener! If you’re not familiar with Goddess, see my previous post for more details on how to do it and why it’s good for preggos.
  • Supported Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana): Another great hip opener! Bend forward over a couch, chair, or table for some extra support. Practicing this posture can help with many basic tasks, like shaving your legs or buckling your shoes. (I thank yoga for my ongoing ability to do these mostly unassisted!)
  • Warriors: Feel free to add some warrior poses here if you feel up to it (I personally have not felt up to it lately, so no shame). Warriors (and other standing postures like triangle and side angle) build strength and stamina in the entire body. However, avoid doing twisting postures like revolved triangle while pregnant. (If you are as hugely pregnant as I am, I should not have to tell you this, because you know already that twisting your midsection just ain’t happening, but, you know, I’m looking out.) Also, with warrior poses (particularly Warrior 2), take this opportunity to check in with your posture – keep your spine straight and don’t let your belly pull you forward.
  • Supported Squat (Malasana): Come down into a deep squat, using a wall or sturdy couch at your back for support. If squatting bothers your calves or ankles, try placing a rolled blanket under your heels to elevate them. In my squats these days, I take my feet wider than usual and my tush touches the floor, which is okay. Find a way into the pose that will allow you to rest here comfortably. Squatting opens and stretches the pelvic floor, opens the hips, and builds strength and flexibility in the legs. It may also be the best and most natural position for childbirth – so practice it!!
  • Cobbler/Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana): A nice hip opener. Feel free to just sit up tall here if bending forward doesn’t work for you anymore. You can also try extending your legs out into a diamond shape rather than pulling the heels close to your body. If you experience tailbone pressure in this pose (like I do!) be really gentle with how you sit and don’t push yourself too far – it’ll make your tailbone feel worse, and you can still get the hip opening benefits just from sitting up tall. While you’re here, try some neck rolls or arm stretches – for example, some Eagle arms can open the shoulders and back. Might as well work out a few things at once!
  • Wide-Legged Seated Forward Fold (Upavistha Konasana): I like doing this pose because, again, it stretches my calves, which are really tight, so stretching them helps to avoid leg cramps. This pose is also one of the few seated forward bends I can still manage to do, so it makes me feel good to do it.
  • Inversions: If you already have an inversion practice, you can go ahead and do one here, but if you’re not in the habit of doing inversions, skip it. For example, as of two weeks ago I could still get up into a shoulder stand, which is cool because I’ve been practicing shoulder stand for at least eight years, my body knows how to do it. I haven’t done headstand since last summer, so I would totally not try that at this point. If you’re going to do a Bridge pose, be really gentle with that – focus more on the leg strength than on the backbending.
  • End your practice with another child’s pose, or with a side-lying savasana. Or possibly a nap. We pregnant ladies need naps.
 

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: 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