Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Yoga Link Round-Up August 1, 2014

I’ve been collecting links for a while, so here’s a link round-up!

  • Mother and 4-Year-Old Daughter Take Impressive Pictures Of Their Yoga Poses: I linked this in a¬†recent post about practicing yoga with YB, but I just can’t get over this. It makes me a little teary, actually. I love these photos: I love the joyful looks on their faces, I love the little girl’s obvious commitment to each pose, I love their matching pants. I would love to do a photo shoot like this with my YB someday, but clearly I need to step up my game because there are some arm balances here that I just can’t pull off. ūüôā
  • A Selection from the Hammer Museum at UCLA’s Contemporary Collection: Katie Grinnan’s Mirage: To create this fascinating sculpture, Grinnan “cast multiple molds of her body executing a sun salutation”. I find the piece exhilarating, exciting, and also a little creepy.
  • The Strength-Building Yoga Pose That Tons of People Do Wrong: Related to sun salutations, I love this informative video from superstar yogini Kathryn Budig on how to chaturanga properly without hurting yourself.
  • Bending the Rules to Offer Yoga With a Beer Chaser: My father-in-law sent me the link to this NYT article about yoga classes in breweries, offering a beer tasting after class. While I love both yoga and craft beer, I’m really not sure how I feel about this. I find that yoga, like running or dancing or working out, makes me feel fresh and healthy and connected to my body; afterwards I typically want a glass of water, a banana, a salad, a smoothie. I just don’t feel like beer would taste¬†right after a yoga practice – but believe me, I’d try it! And I think it’s fantastic that classes like this are leading people to yoga and helping them build a practice that can extend beyond the brewery.
  • Yoga Every Damn Day: My husband sent me the link to this piece about how, when we’re dealing with other issues in our lives and can’t make it to the yoga mat, we’re still practicing yoga every damn day. I don’t know Angela Arnett but I admire her strength and calm in this piece.
  • Pope Francis Reveals Secrets of Happiness: Can I tell you how much I love Pope Francis? He seems to be so full of kindness and peace, focused on loving and helping and supporting people. Everything he lists here is also discussed by Matthieu Ricard, former scientist and Buddhist monk, in his book Happiness, and seems to be in agreement with everything I’ve ever heard or read from the Dalai Lama, including the concepts discussed in The Art of Happiness. When the Catholic Pope and the Dalai Lama¬†agree about how you should live your life, I feel like there’s something right happening.
  • And finally, for your giggle for the day:¬†Men in Yoga Pants.
 

Reading: Yoga Journal September 2012 issue September 27, 2012

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:21 pm
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Now that my maternity leave is over and I’m trying to get back in the swing of my normal life, I’ve made a start on the stack of Yoga Journal issues I have saved up, in the interest of getting my yoga groove back and getting back in the spirit of teaching again at some point. The September 2012 issue of YJ has a nice photo of India.Arie on the cover – it’s always interesting to see what musicians are also yogis.

In this issue, I really enjoyed the basics article focusing on downward-facing dog. This core pose is such an integral part of almost all yoga traditions, but it seems like it’s rarely taught in detail. I’ll be tearing out this article to review more carefully later . I’ve done some reading on down dog in the past, but it’s such a crucial pose that I want to have as many tools for teaching it as possible!

I’m also tearing out the section on smoothies. F and I used to make a smoothie every morning; with the baby, we’ve gotten away from it a bit, and I’d like to get back to having some liquified fruit in my diet. This article had good tips for incorporating green ingredients like avocado and kale into our repertoire, which is exciting!

 

Reading Yoga Journal March 27, 2012

At the end of my teacher training (and beginning of my pregnancy), I started to get a little burned out on my yoga reading, so I have a pile of Yoga Journal back issues sitting around that I’ve been trying to work my way through. I recently read the December 2011 issue and was pleased to find some articles related to things I’ve been blogging about here lately, so I thought I’d share.

The first thing that really caught my attention was a short article about teaching yoga to Deaf students, since that’s a topic I’d never really thought about, but a Deaf person could walk into my yoga class anytime. There are some simple things a yoga teacher can do to make a class more accessible for a Deaf student, like making eye contact, demonstrating poses, and using touch to guide. These are easy things to do that wouldn’t disrupt my usual teaching rhythm at all but that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own, so I was grateful that this article broadened my awareness. Definitely tore that one out for future reference, and in the future I’d be really interested to learn more – the DeafYoga Foundation offers trainings and presentations on how to make simple adjustments that really help Deaf students, and I’d love to attend one.

There was an article on Chair Pose that I really appreciated, since Chair is one that I struggle with a bit (see the comments here and my write-up from last year here). They describe the alignment bit by bit – getting the top half of the body aligned correctly, then getting the lower half aligned, and then putting the two together for the full pose, which is an interesting bit of yoga dissection. I can see myself coming back to this article for reference later, since they give some good tips.

This issue of YJ also includes a moon salutation sequence as an alternate to sun salutations, which I found really interesting. I haven’t tried it yet, and it could end up being a little flowy for me, but it’s definitely something I want to try. I’ll keep you posted!

I was also really interested in the article on yoga and religion. Regular readers will recall that this is an issue I’ve done some serious thinking about here on the yoga blog. I really appreciated that YJ put together a panel to discuss this. After reading the article, I went back to the March 2012 issue that I’d read a few weeks earlier, and there were several letters from readers about this article, some of whom really liked it. One reader noted that the article might have had more depth if the panel had included some actual religious leaders (priests, nuns, rabbis), rather than just yogis, which was an interesting point. I was glad, though, that Brooke Boon, the founder of Holy Yoga, a Christian ministry group, was included on the panel. I’m really interested in the intersections of yoga with personal faith, and the article gave me some new perspectives and talking points. I wish YJ made its back issues available online.

 

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.

 

Books: Yoga Anatomy, by Leslie Kaminoff November 22, 2011

Filed under: books,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:36 pm
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Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy is a fantastic reference and guide to the way the body moves during yoga. The drawings are incredibly detailed and really help to increase understanding of how each pose works. The introductory sections on breathing and the spine are clearly written and really helpful for comprehending how breathing functions and how the spine develops and moves. The remainder of the book is organized by categories of postures: standing, sitting, kneeling, supine, prone, and arm support poses. Each pose gets detailed coverage with at least one drawing, often two or more showing the pose from different angles. For each pose, the text describes relevant joint actions and structures and muscles that are working, lengthening, or stretching, and provides any notes on or significant obstacles to practicing the pose as well as notes on breathing. Common variations on certain key poses are described in detail as well.

I started out trying to read this book from start to finish, which was fine in the early chapters on breath and spine, but less fine when I got into the specific postures. Eventually I began to use the book more as it was intended, as an on-the-spot reference guide. The biggest problem I’ve had with the book is that of vocabulary: I’m just not familiar enough with the names of bodily structures to be able to follow along with some of the text. For example, the text will often go into detail describing how a muscle is stretching, but the drawing won’t have those structures labeled. I have a very vague sense that the obturator externus is somewhere in my leg, but telling me that it’s lengthening in a seated wide-leg forward fold doesn’t help me identify it. I wouldn’t expect the drawing for each pose to have every single active muscle labeled, since that could easily become overwhelming, but I could have really benefited from a chart somewhere with all muscles labeled that I could flip to for quick reference. I also had trouble keeping straight exactly what sort of action is occurring with words like “flexion” and “extension”, particularly because one part of the body can be flexed while another is extended, and if you add to this my anatomic vocabulary confusion, I have no idea what’s going on. Sometimes I would have to perform the pose while I read so I could literally feel what the author was talking about, and that did help. In general, though, the descriptions really lost something for me, which is a shame because the book is very thorough and detailed and I could have really gotten a lot out of it if there had been more help included for less scientific minds. Overall, this is an excellent reference, but I’m going to be looking for another anatomy book to accompany it on my reference shelf.

 

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!