Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

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!

 

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

 

Wake-Up Yoga, Incorporating Dance Warmups for the Neck September 29, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:45 pm
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The past few mornings, I’ve been doing a fun little wake-up yoga routine that only takes about 10 minutes. Sometimes it can be hard to get my yoga on first thing in the morning, so I’ve tried to find ways to get myself moving that aren’t too strenuous and won’t seem like a lot of work pre-coffee. This little practice can be done entirely while seated (and in pajamas) and incorporates some basic stretches, some yoga moves, and a series of neck warmups that I learned in African dance class. The neck warmups in particular really help to relieve tension, so I thought I’d share the love. A little practice like this is a great way to trick your grumpy sleep-deprived self into doing some yoga, and afterwards you’ll feel refreshed.

As you move through this warmup, always be careful to move gently and not too quickly, and don’t push past your natural range of motion. As you practice, you’ll probably be able to turn farther and move deeper, but if not, don’t worry about it: just gently work with where your neck happens to be today.

  • Put on some music you like: something with a good beat but not too fast. It’s fun to do this warmup in time with music, but moving your neck too quickly could hurt! Don’t let the music distract you; it’s just there for the rhythm and to add some fun. You should always practice with awareness, especially any stretch involving your neck.
  • Sit comfortably, either in a chair or on the floor, with your back straight. If you’re on a chair, you probably want to sit on the edge of the chair; if on the floor, straighten your spine and sit up nice and tall.
  • Start off with some gentle neck circles, slowly circling your head around as if you’re trying to trace a giant circle in the air with your nose. Do eight circles clockwise, then eight circles counterclockwise.
  • Come back to a neutral neck, then drop your chin down to your chest and look down. Then lift your head, dropping it back, and look up. Repeat this for eight counts: down, up, down, up.
  • Next, turn your head and look to the right. Then turn your head and look to the left. Repeat for eight counts: right, left, right, left.
  • Drop your right ear toward your right shoulder, tilting your head. Then drop your left ear toward your left shoulder. Repeat for eight counts: side, side, side, side.
  • Now combine them together: down, up, right, left, side, side. That’s one. Do the full series eight times. If it feels good, do it another eight!
  • Next, jut your chin forward and then tuck it back, like a bird pecking. We call this “the funky chicken”. Repeat for eight counts: peck, peck, peck.
  • Shake your head, as if your neck is a spring and your head is going boi-oi-oing. (This is a small motion, like the side-side tilt above – not a full side-to-side shake or a headbang, just enough to shake out the kinks.) We call this “the bobblehead”. Shake it for eight counts.
  • Alternate the Funky Chicken move and the Bobblehead move, eight counts each, repeating each move three or four times.
  • Come back to a neutral neck. Stretch it out a little more by dropping right ear to right shoulder, then use your right hand to press your head gently down, stretching through the left side of the neck. Repeat this stretch by dropping the head to the left, and then drop the head forward and use both hands to apply gentle pressure, stretching down the back of the neck (make sure you’re sitting up straight for these stretches, and be cautious as you apply the pressure!).

I love this neck warmup at any time of day, but it seems especially refreshing first thing in the morning when my neck is stiff from sleep.

I also work in some arm stretches, which is great for a morning practice – I always want to stretch my arms first thing in the morning anyway. Stretch straight up overhead, then grasp one wrist and pull, then switch and grasp the other wrist, getting a nice stretch down each side.

Here’s one nice stretch that I just learned from Better Sex Through Yoga: lift your right arm to shoulder height out to the side, and flex your wrist so that your whole arm is engaged and your right palm is facing away from you like you’re stopping traffic. Turn your head and look to the left, away from the outstretched arm. Then do the other side. I was floored when I tried this – if you sit in an office typing all day, this stretch is amazing!

If you’re practicing on the floor, try beginning the practice in child’s pose and then move into rabbit pose to get the shoulders involved too. If you’re in a chair, you can get the same effect by bending forward, clasping your hands behind your back, and stretching up as you continue to bend.

Work in a twist or two as well, turning your body to one side, then the other, using a hand on the opposite knee for leverage as you look over your shoulder.

After a 10-15 minute practice, all the stiffness of sleep has dissolved away and I’m ready to face the day! And all without doing a single standing posture!

 

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.