Teaching Asana

PADANGUSTHASANA/PADAHASTASANA

English Translation: Pada – Foot, Angustha – Big Toe, Hasta – Hand = Foot Big Toe Posture and Foot to Hand Posture

Dristi: Nose

Ashtanga Count: This pose has three vinyasas altogether and the second is the ‘state of the asana’. This means that there are three movements (which co-ordinate with the breath) into and out of the pose including being in the pose itself. On the second movement you are ‘in the pose’ and you would stay there and take five breaths.

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Ekam Inhale Place the feet hip width apart, fold forward, take your toes, lift the chest Third Eye
Dwe Exhale Fold down (5 breaths) Nose
Trini Inhale Lift the chest
Exhale Place the hands under the feet
Ekham Inhale Lift the chest
Dwe Exhale Fold down (5 breaths)
Trini Inhale Lift the chest
Exhale Place the hands on the hips. Come up to standing. Samasthitih

INTRODUCTION

This pose is an intense forward bend and in the Ashtanga sequence it comes very early on. For these two reasons it’s a very good place to talk about some important principles of forward bends and about the importance each student learning to recognise and respect their ‘edge’ and modifying the pose to make it right for their body.

The key principles to emphasise in terms of forward bends are: staying balanced and centred and relaxed in your foundation; lengthening through the spine as well as folding down into a forward bend; keeping the muscles in the neck relaxed and the back of the neck long and engaging the quadriceps to allow for a release in the hamstrings.

In terms of modifications it’s important to enable students to understand their body type and how they need to ‘work’ in the pose. Are they hyper flexible? If so it’s probably best for them to focus on drawing in to their centre and engaging muscles to develop strength. Does their pelvis tilt? If they have a posterior tilt they are probably working on folding forwards from the groins and pressing the sit bones up to the ceiling and away from each other. If they have an anterior tilt then it’s probably best for them to strongly engage the bandhas and to draw the sit bones towards each other. The sit bones don’t actually move closer together or farther apart, but that’s the feeling of the action in the hips.

In terms of modifications, for some students it will be best for them to fold all the way down and take the toes. For some it will be healthier to keep the legs straight and rest the hands on the legs, for some to bend the knees and have the hands on the legs or have the hands on the floor or on blocks. You as a teacher, along with each student will have to work this out on a case by case basis (see below and under ‘Modifications’).

During this pose I also like to talk about how each pose will be different for each student and probably different on different days for the same student. That there is no such thing as a ‘perfect pose’ and it’s often not helpful to think in terms of the ‘Full Pose’. It doesn’t matter if a student has their face right down on the shins or if they are very far away from that. What’s important is that they are breathing, tuned in to the feelings in their body (and therefore tuned into the present moment) and that they trust themselves and the practice and enjoy the process. If they are not enjoying it, or at least if it doesn’t feel ‘right’ then it very probably isn’t.

See also ‘Principles of Standing Poses’ and ‘Principles of Forward Bends’, ‘Importance of the Edge’, ‘Modifications’ and ‘ Injuries’

TEACHING POINTS

  • Weight even between the heels and balls of the feet [heels and back of the hands for Padahastasana – the gentle pressure on the hands in Padahastasana is a nice counterbalance to all the work the wrists have done in the sun salutations]
  • Bend the knees as much as you have to [signals that a student has to bend the knees include: sharp or intense pain; inability to breathe slow and deep; desire to clench the teeth and tense the face; and signs that they are not enjoying the practice – also, if you see that a student’s back is very curved, they should either come a bit higher up or bend their knees so they can lengthen their spine
  • If the legs are straight – pull up on the front thighs [engaging the quadriceps so the kneecap is drawn up] and rotate the thighs in [medial rotation] to a neutral position
  • Strong uddiyana bandha to support the back
  • Lengthen through the front of the body, the sides of the ribcage and the core of the spine and the back of the neck
  • Relax the head, neck and muscles in the face
  • Relax the arms
  • Shoulder blades move towards the hips/away from the ears
  • Take the knees away from the eyes
  • Lengthen the back of the neck
  • Belly towards thighs, chest towards knees, top of head towards the floor

BREATH: 

Talking students in to and out of poses with the breath adds to the flow of a class and increases the students awareness of how they are moving. It’s good to start this process with beginners even if they don’t fully ‘get it’ at first. You can add or take away breaths as you feel your students need, or according to the kind of class you want to teach. In terms of the needs of the students, give beginners more breaths to get into and out of the poses and gradually take away the extra breaths as they develop more awareness, stamina and deep breathing. In terms of the kind of class, if you want to ‘go for the flow’, then go into the poses in fewer breaths. If you want to teach a technical class giving more pointers about alignment and making the poses safe, add in extra breaths.

Breaths into Padangusthasana:

For a beginners class or slow technical flow:   Take a minimum of three breaths talking into the pose. ‘One breath’ is the inhale and exhale. This breaks down as follows:

Inhale: step or jump the feet hip distance apart.

Exhale: place the hands on the hips.

Inhale: lift the chest up and create space.

Exhale: fold forward and hook the first two fingers around the big toes.

Inhale: lift the chest and lengthen the spine.

Exhale: fold down bringing the belly towards the thighs, the chest towards the knees and the top of the head towards the floor.

 

For a medium paced flow class, take two breaths into the pose.

Inhale: jump the feet hip distance apart and place the hands on the hips.

Exhale: fold forwards and  hook the first two fingers around the big toes.

Inhale: lift the chest and lengthen through the spine.

Exhale: fold down.

 

For an advanced flow class: you can go into the pose in just one breath.

Inhale: jump the feet hip distance apart, reach down, hook big toes and lift the chest.

Exhale: fold down.

 

Breaths from Padangusthasana into Padahastasana

For all levels: take two breaths.

Inhale: lift the chest.

Exhale: place the hands underneath the feet.

Inhale: lift the chest and lengthen the spine.

Exhale: fold down.

 

Breaths Out of the Pose

For beginners take two breaths.

Inhale: straighten the arms, lift the chest, lengthen the spine.

Exhale: place the hands on the hips.

Inhale: come up to standing.

Exhale: jump or step the feet back together.

 

For a medium or advanced flow class: Take one breath.

Inhale: straighten the arms, lift the chest, lengthen the spine.

Exhale: come up to standing and jump the feet back together.

ALIGNMENT:

The feet

Position the feet so the outside edges of the feet are hips width apart. Position the body so the weight is even between the ball of the foot and the heel. Lift up the arches, this can be done by lifting up the toes then gently placing them back down.

Note: For most people positioning the outside edges of the feet so that they are parallel gives the best alignment for the knees which normally means the knees and toes point in the same direction. When the outside edges of the feet are parallel,  the toes turn slightly in. Sometimes if the knees or hips have a strong turn out or in, parallel feet might not be comfortable or possible. If the knees turn outwards (or inwards) then it will probably be more comfortable and safer for that student to turn the feet outwards (or inwards) too. It’s important to judge this on a case by case basis. If you are unsure then you could talk to the student and suggest they experiment with different foot alignment positions and work out together what works best.

The Legs

Engage the quadriceps muscles on the front of the thighs. This holds the knee still and keeps it protected. It also helps the hamstrings to relax (the quadriceps and hamstrings work together so if one is engaged the other will relax more easily). It also keeps the energy of the pose rising and brings the pose to life. If the student hyper-extends the knees they need to bend the knees and engage the quadriceps. It is good practice for all students to have a slight softness in the knees, locking a joint can put pressure on tendons and ligaments and cause over-use injury or inflammation over time.

The hips

The ideal position for the hips is neutral so the tail bone is not tucking under or pressing up to the ceiling. However in most students, the hips are moving towards neutral so the direction each student needs in move in will depend on body shape. If the hips have an anterior tilt they will be lengthening the tail bone towards the floor. If they have a posterior tilt they will be lengthening the tail bone toward the ceiling.

The Spine

Just before moving into the pose the action is to lengthen the torso by lifting the chest and looking up. Care should be taken not to over-arch the spine at this point. The focus is on creating space by lifting the rib cage away from the hips and expanding the chest.

While in the pose the ideal is for the curves of the spine to be in a neutral position. In forward bends there is often a tendency for student to hunch the shoulders and over-curve the spine forwards in their enthusiasm to get ‘further’ into the pose. Encourage students to keep the front of the body just as broad and long and open as the back of the body.

The Shoulders and Arms

Once in the pose the ideal position is for the shoulders to be equally open across the front and back of the body, and for the shoulders to be drawing away from the ears. For most students this means pointing the elbows directly back behind them (rather than out to the side). It can help to suggest to student to completely relax the arms and shoulders, then draw the shoulder blades up the back towards the hips and then point the elbows back.

The temptation to pull into this posture with the arms should be avoided, this will just create tension in the rectus femoris, psoas and shoulder muscles. If a student wants to go ‘deeper’ they should use the bandhas then let gravity do the work for them.

The Head and Neck

When standing in tadasana preparing to go into the pose the action is to ‘look up’. In order to protect the neck, it’s important that the face is lifted up towards the ceiling (as if lifting the face up to be kissed by a taller person) to create lift in the back of the neck.

When in the pose it is tempting to some students to press forwards into the pose using the head. This creates tension in the neck and possible puts stress on the rest of the body. Encourage students to relax the head and neck, then gently lengthen the back of the neck by drawing the chin (just slightly) down towards the chest

MOVING INTO AND OUT OF THE POSE

The initial breath or the first few breaths, are to lift the chest, to lengthen the front of the body and lift the face.

Step or jump the feet hips width apart, check the outside of the feet are parallel (or the student has the correct alignment in the feet for their body, see above under ‘The feet’). Activate the feet by lifting the arches, this creates a lift through the whole body and wakes up the brain, this can be done by lifting up the toes and gently placing them back down again. Lift up through the lower legs (I think Richard Freeman says ‘pull up your psychic socks’). Engage the muscles in the thighs. Engage the bandhas. Draw the front points of the hips in and lengthen the tail bone towards the floor. Lift the rib cage away from the hips. Lengthen through the side of the rib cage. Gently draw the shoulder blades down the back. Lift the sternum and press the bottom points of the shoulder blades in to the rib cage. Take a deep breath in and tilt the head so the face lifts up towards the ceiling.

The next action is to fold forwards and down. Here it is important that the student doesn’t curve the spine forwards or over-arch the lower back as this will put stress on the inter-vertebral disks and create tension in the hip flexors and psoas. Encourage students to keep neutral curves in the spine as they fold forwards, they can do this by  leading with the chest, strongly engaging uddiyana bandha and if necessary bending the knees.

Uddiyana bandha is very important at this stage as it will help to stabilise and protect the lower back muscles. This applies especially to anyone with lower back issues or weaknesses. Cue your students to draw the navel in and up as they fold forward and down into the pose.

It is safest for the weight in the feet to remain even as the student moves into the fold. If the weight goes back into the heels, it can cause the pressure of the stretch to go straight to the hamstring attachments and over time cause inflammation, pain and maybe injury to the hamstring tendon.

The forward fold should happen by hinging at the hips – not a bending in the back, which might put pressure on the vertebrae.

It’s safest for students to bend the knees slightly as they go into and out of forward bends as this takes pressure off the muscles in the back and the back of the legs. Suggest that students bend their knees if they ‘feel it too strongly’ in the back or at the back of the legs. By ‘feel it too strongly’ I mean feel a sharp or burning pain, or a sensation that causes the breath to quicken or the face to screw up. If the student has hyperextending knees it is best practice to bend the knee and engage the quadriceps.

Encourage students to fold forward so they feel a gentle stretch in the middle of the hamstrings so tell them if they feel it too strongly right at the top of the legs, or in the back of the knees, they should bend the knees and/or back out of the pose a bit.

Each student will have a slightly different placement for the hands. There are several different options you can choose at this stage. The first is for the student to fold down until they feel their edge and at that point to place the hands on the legs (not on the knee). They might also have their knees bent depending on their level of flexibility. Some feel this can be unstable and prefer students to put their hands on blocks to give a full sense of grounding and stability. The other option is for students to bend the knees as much as they need to in order to hook the first two fingers around the big toes (see under Modifications).

The next action is to straighten the arms, lift and broaden the chest and lengthen the spine. It is common for student to lift the head up too much and put pressure on the back of the neck, so it’s good practice to remind student to keep the back of the neck long at this point.

Then, using uddiyana bandha, fold forwards into the pose staying long and open in the upper body.

Once folded down the next goal is to check the weight is still even on the feet, the front of the legs are engaged, mula bandha has created stability in the pelvis, the body is long and that the front of the body is as long and open as the back, the navel is drawing in and up, the head, neck and face are relaxed with the back of the neck slightly lengthened, the shoulders relaxed with the shoulder blades gliding up the back towards the hips.

Then to check the stretch is gentle and in the belly of the muscle.

Then to let go of thinking about the pose and focus on slow, deep, even, relaxed powerful breath.

When moving from padangushtasana to padahastasana, there is an inhale to lift the chest. Again, here the tendency is to lift the head up too much and put pressure on the neck. Emphasise to student to look up but at the same time keep the back of neck long. Then on an exhale place the hands under the feet with the palms facing up and the toes to the crease of the wrist. Now so long as the legs are straight, the weight is even between the heel and the backs of the hands. It can feel a bit scary at this point to take the weight forward into the back of the hands, encourage students to play with it and explore it slowly. Putting the weight onto the hands can give a stretch for the wrists, it can really connect a student to their core strength, and help work on balance and self trust. Again there are several options here, to keep holding onto the legs or place the hands on a block, to bend the knees to get the hands under the feet or to place as much of the hands as possible/comfortable under the feet.

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The next inhale is to lift and lengthen again. Then to exhale and fold forwards and down into the pose.

Take five slow deep breaths.

Coming out of the Pose:

Encourage students to come out of the pose with just as much alignment and awareness as they went in. Keeping the weight even in the feet, keeping the spine straight with the natural curves, using a strong uddiyana bandha to protect the lower back and if necessary bending the knees.

MODIFICATIONS

If students have tight hamstrings or lower back problems encourage them to either keep the legs straight and not go so deeply into the pose or bend their knees, either way the priority is to keep the length in the spine. Make sure the knees stay pointing forwards in the same direction as the toes.

1) Legs Bent and holding the legs

It’s important not to sacrifice alignment and the breath and general comfort and ease to ‘make a shape’ and ‘get’ the pose. For some the best option is to bend the legs and place the hands on the legs. Bending the legs will help those with lower back issues or weakness and those with hamstring issues (although this is not always the case see under ‘Injuries’)

2) Legs Straight and holding the legs

For some hamstring injuries it may be best to keep the legs straight and not go so deeply into the forward bend. For some back issues it may be best to not go so deeply forward and  work on lengthening or even extending the spine

3) Legs bent and holding the toes

If there are no injuries and it’s possible to hold the toes with the knees bent and still keep openness in the front of the body and not too strong a curve in the spine and the shoulders and neck open and relaxed… then this is a good modification that is closest to the full expression of the pose.

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Modification with the knees bent

4) Legs Bent and hands on blocks

Some people will be helped by using blocks under the hands to give grounding and stability.

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blocks under the hands can give a sense of stability

 

WORK IN THE POSE

Starting from the foundation, encourage students to keep their weight even in the feet. Pulling back into the heels happens mostly with students who have their legs straight. Center them verbally or by putting your hand on their sacrum and gently moving them forward. Students with hyperextension will tend to pull back into their heels, make sure they bend their knees slightly but keep the energy in their thighs.

By lifting the arches in the feet it can help a student to feel the hamstrings lengthening as well as feeling of broadening across the sacrum. The arches can be lifted by lifting up the toes and then gently placing them back down again.

Buy pressing down into the floor with the feet there is an equal and opposite lift upwards – like bouncing a ball – you send it down to the floor and it bounces back up again. Pressing down through the feet gives a lift through the whole body.

How strongly the quadriceps should be engaged depends on the individual student. If the muscles in the legs are weak or the knee joint hyper extends or there is an injury in the knees then putting a slight bend in the knees and lifting up the knee caps strongly will probably be helpful. If the legs are already very strong or there is stiffness then it shouldn’t be emphasised too much.

The actions in the pose are to lengthen through the front of the torso as well as going into a forward fold. In all forward folds, the muscles in the back of the body are lengthening, in the legs that is the calf muscles and the hamstrings, in the back it is the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum. It’s important for the muscles in the front of the body to engage to support this opening: the quadriceps engage but also the muscles in the pelvis and the abdominals (bandhas!).

We can use two features of the nervous system to help us to go into the pose. One is the ‘stretch reflex’. If we go slowly and gently, this keeps the nervous system calm and more likely to allow the stretch, if we go into a pose fast and hard the nervous system reacts by tensing up to protect the body from sudden sharp movements. The second is ‘reciprocal inhibition’ which means that if muscles are antagonists which means they oppose each others actions, (like the quadriceps and hamstrings) if one engages (quadriceps) the other can lengthen and relax (hamstrings).

As students go into the pose and once they are there, it’s best to avoid over arching the lower back – this causes ware and tear on the spine.

If the student is very flexible encourage them to focus on ‘drawing in’ to their centre line, pressing the sit bones together and pressing the sit bones towards the public bone toads each other. Encourage them to fully engage the bandhas. If the student is not so flexible they can think about pressing the sit bones apart and up to the ceiling.

Encourage students to create space between the shoulder blades by breathing into the upper back and by sliding the shoulders towards their hips.

Relaxing the head. If students have their head lifted up, this usually means the back of the neck is very tight and it can be extremely painful to relax completely. Encourage them gently with your hand, but do not force. Some people out of lack of awareness will hold their head up in the pose creating tension – remind them to hang the head down, if it’s due to tightness in the muscles in the back of the body, allow them to do what’s comfortable.

In the opposite direction some student will push forwards into the pose with their head. This creates tension in the neck. Encourage them to relax the head and neck.

Going deeper, if a student want to ‘work’ in the pose it’s important to them to find a way to do this that doesn’t create tension elsewhere in the body (e.g. by pulling with the arms and pushing with the head they can create tension in the shoulders and neck), and that doesn’t put unhealthy pressure on joints. In this pose encourage them to use the bandhas and then allow gravity and the breath to take them deeper. For students who are more aware and experienced it is possible to work deeper into to the pose by creating resistance between the big toes and fingers without creating tension in the shoulders and neck. Always be very cautious when cueing students to ‘go deeper’ it’s maybe best to give these tips to individual students who are respectful of their own ‘edge’ and can work intelligently and safely without the danger of over-stretching and injuring themselves.

Remind students that yoga isn’t about ‘stretching; or ‘flexibility’ it’s about much deeper and more interesting things than that. Yes when you practice asana as your yoga practice, the body does get stronger and more flexible and that feels good and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying this process and ‘working on it’. However this can often become an unhealthy obsession and become the whole point of a person’s practice ‘to achieve’ physical shapes with the body, often at the cost of injury and mental stress and unhappiness. If someone is breathing and aware and present that it much ‘deeper’ yoga than putting the head down on the shins, and potentially much more transformative and life changing.

As with all poses the most important job of a student after making sure their alignment is correct is tuning into the stretch and making sure it’s gentle and safe, is letting go of all the thinking and just focussing on the breath.

ADJUSTMENTS

I normally wait until Padahastasana to adjust to give a student time to warm up.

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put your hand on their sacrum and press straight down to make sure their weight is evenly balanced and not pressing back into the heels

 

 

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If someone is tensing their neck – gently hold their head and place your thumbs just under the occipital ridge – this can feel very nurturing and relaxing

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one hand on sacrum to press down for stability, one hand above the curve of the back to gently encourage the forward fold

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the hands either internally rotate the thighs and the belly presses the body gently down and in

 

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if they are very flexible press the sides of the hips in to create stability

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANATOMY

Joint Actions: Hip flexion, Knee extension, Spine mild flexion, Legs – thighs rotate inwards, Shoulders – external rotation, arms draw into their sockets.

Lengthening: Spinal muscles, hamstrings, gleuts, piriformis, adductor magnus, soleus, grastrocnemius.

Notes:

Restriction folding forwards could be due to tightness in the hamstrings, the spinal muscles or the gleuteals

ROTATIONS, DIRECTIONS AND LINES OF MOVEMENT AND ENERGY 

Knees away from eyes

Shoulders away from ears

Top of head towards floor

Chin towards chest

Legs rotate inwards. Arms rotate outwards.

 WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Check that the arches of the feet are lifted. Collapsed arches can lead to knee problems and unbalance the alignment of the whole body.

Check that the weight isn’t tipped forwards into the toes. This would show up as tense toes clenching the floor. Tense toes can create tension all the way up the body.

Check the weight isn’t tipped back into the heels. This would show up if you look from the side and see the hips are further back that the heels. Tipping back can throw all the pressure of the pose into the hamstring attachments points at the sit bones.

Check the hips are in a neutral position, or at least moving towards neutral. If the sit bones are pressing too much up towards the ceiling this can put pressure on the hamstring attachments. Suggest the student focusses on mula bandha by drawing the sit bones towards each other and the sit bones and public bone towards each other and engaging a strong uddiyana bandha. If the sit bones are pressing too much towards the floor this can put pressure on the discs between the vertebrae. Suggest the student presses the sit bones towards the ceiling and/or bends the knees to take the pressure off.

Check the spine is lengthening as well as folding forwards.

Check the shoulders are open and relaxed with the shoulder blades sliding towards the hips.

Check the head and neck are relaxed and the student isn’t pulling themself into the pose with the arms or pushing with the head. Encourage them to go into the pose by activating the feet, engaging the quadriceps, engaging the bandhas, and then softening and focussing on the breath becoming slow, deep, relaxed and powerful.

BENEFITS GIVEN IN YOGA MALA

Padangushtasana dissolves the fat of the lower abdomen and purifies both the kanda, or egg shaped nerve plexus in the anal region, and the rectum.

Padahastasana purifies the anal canal, kidneys, and lower abdomen.

BENEFITS GIVEN IN LIGHT ON YOGA

The abdominal organs are toned and digestive juices increase, while the liver and spleen are activated. Persons suffering from a bloated sensation in the abdomen or form gastric troubles will benefit by practicing these two asanas.

CONTRA-INDICATIONS AND CAUTIONS

Forward bends should be approached with caution for those with sciatica or periformis syndrome, SI joint pain/injury, hamstring pain/injury, spinal or disc injuries and during pregnancy. For those with low blood pressure it is a good idea to come up out of deep forward bends slowly and carefully, taking extra breaths if necessary and keeping the chin to the chest and bring the head up last.

If a student starts to feel pain at the back of the knees or hamstring attachments in this pose, it’s important that they don’t just ignore it and carry on regardless. Pain is often a pre-cursor to injury. Taking a bit of time to work out why the pain is there at the initial stages can save huge amounts of time dealing with a painful, disabling and frustrating injury. If the pain is at the top of the leg it is likely to be the hamstring attachment, injuries here can take up to two years to fully heal. Check that the student isn’t tipping back into the heels either going into the forward bend or once they’re there. (see the section on ‘Injuries’ for how to deal with hamstring attachment pain). If the pain is at the back of the knee, make sure the student isn’t hyper-extending the knee. So long as the sensations felt are in the belly of the muscle and not too strong or sharp then it is probably ok to continue practicing.

If a students legs start to shake in this pose, proceed with caution. Shaking could be due to several different causes. First check the student isn’t pushing too hard and straining the muscle. Or that the student is just tired and it’s muscle fatigue. If either of these are the case then it’s important to back off and take it a bit more easy. If the shaking is due to fatigue or over-stretching it’s important to back off as over-doing it doesn’t help to get stronger or get more flexible, if we over do it in fact it’s probably more likely to cause injury. So suggests to the student they go into the stretch slowly and gently and don’t push too hard at their edge. Sometimes less is more. Shaking can also be a symptom of dehydration so suggest the student makes sure they are properly hydrated before they practice (but to leave 30 mins between drinking and practicing). Shaking can be caused by too much caffeine so check they haven’t had a double cappuccino right before practice. On a more serious note, shaking can be a symptom of something more serious like MS or fibromyalgia, of course be cautious about suggesting this to a student and causing unnecessary worry, but it’s something to bare in mind. If they have other symptoms they may want to check it with their GP. Other symptoms of MS are Fatigue,Walking (Gait) Difficulties, Numbness or Tingling, Weakness, Vision Problems, Dizziness and Vertigo, Bladder Problems.

Oh the other hand shaking can just be tension being released from a gently stretched muscle. So as always take time to get to know your student and work out what is happening for them.

 

UTTHITA TRIKONASANA

English Translation: Utthita – Extended, Tri – Three, Kona – Angle = Extended Triangle Posture

In the ashtanga count there are five vinyasas (or movements into and out of the pose), with the 2nd and 4th vinyasa (or movement) being the actual asana.

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Ekam Inhale With the right leg step wide, turn the feet, arms to shoulder height Top hand
Dwe Exhale Right arm down left arm up (5 breaths)
Trini Inhale Come up, turn the feet
Chattwari Exhale Left arm down, right arm up (5 breaths)
Pancha Inhale Come up
Exhale Samastitihi

INTRODUCTION

This pose is great for strengthening the legs and stretching the side of the torso, but only if done correctly, both of these benefits can easily be lost depending on the technique used. In terms of building up strength in the legs, it really depends on using the foundation in the feet. This means pressing down with the feet to go down into, and come up out of the pose, slowly, really using the muscles in the legs, and not just swinging the upper body around. Once in the pose, it’s important not to lean on the lower hand, instead to rest the hand lightly on the leg or block or if holding the big toes to actively lift up away from the big toe so the torso is being supported by the work in the legs and not by simply resting on the lower hand. In term of the stretch in the side of the body, this is a matter of finding the correct alignment in the torso, this can be done by focusing going into the pose, that the top shoulder doesn’t fold forwards and the torso stays above the leg and rotating up to the ceiling. Often a very small movement out of alignment can mean there is no stretch in the side of the body, a small adjustment in the positioning of the torso can give a strong, good stretch. Encourage students to play around and explore which positioning gives them the best experience of the asana.

Standing poses like trikonasana symbolise standing on your own two feet, being balanced, strong and relaxed, being centred but at the same time being open and out in the world. Taking open, powerful stances has been shown to have a measurable affect on the body’s chemistry. It has been shown to change levels of cortisol (lowering) and adrenaline (increasing) in the brain which rescue stress and increase energy and confidence respectively. This suggests that practicing these poses can actually help us to feel more assertive more powerful and more optimistic. (ref: The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation Amy J. C. Cuddy & Caroline A. Wilmuth, Harvard University Dana R. Carney, University of California at Berkeley).

Standing poses like Trikonasana are open powerful poses and if this research is right can actually alter our body/brain chemistry and change how we feel about ourselves and our relationships.

TEACHING POINTS

  • Neutral position for the hips and spine [students who are either over-arching the lower back or tucking their tailbone too far under need to lengthen the tailbone away from the head to work towards the neutral curves in the back]
  • Heels in line (or heel and instep in line)
  • Feel equal presuure in both feet
  • Press the feet down into the ground
  • Lengthen through the sides of the ribcage – especially the side closest to the floor
  • Draw the right shoulder away from the right hip
  • Lengthen through the spine
  • Lengthen from the tailbone to the top of the head
  • Keep the back of the neck long
  • Rotate the ribcage up towards the ceiling
  • Stretch from fingertip to fingertip
  • Broaden across the upper back
  • Broaden across the chest
  • Expand into the posture

BREATHS

For beginners or a slow technical flow class, take a minimum of two breaths talking into the pose:

Inhale: step to the right.

Exhale: turn the left foot in and right foot out.

Inhale: reach out to the side.

Exhale: go down into the pose.

 

For a medium or advanced flow class, you can take one breath.

Inhale: step to right, turn the left foot in and the right foot out.

Exhale: reach out to the side and fold down into the pose.

ALIGNMENT

The Feet: 

There are two options for lining up the feet, either you can line up the front heel with the instep of the back foot or line up the heels.

For most people the left foot turns in around 45 degrees. The exact angle will depend on the angle of the knee, the golden rule is that the knees and feet both point in the same direction. The right foot turns all the way out so it points to the back wall. When moving the feet from side to side in the pose, to keep the same distance between the feet, if you are keeping the heels in line, the toes should lift up and the foot should swivel on the heel. If you are aligning the heel to the instep then you will need to lift the front of the foot first to turn it in, then raise the heel and turn it out.

Position the feet so that they are the same length apart as the student’s leg. This means that each person will have a different stance with an equilateral triangle between the legs and the floor. Normally the feet are under the elbow when standing with arms out at shoulder height.

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feet same length apart as leg – left foot in right foot out, heels in line

The feet are pressing into the ground especially through the big toes joint, little toe joint and centre of the heel (some would say the two corners of the heel). The important point is that the foundation is balanced and active. The toes stay relaxed otherwise it can create tension all the way up the body. If the student is very flexible the feet draw in towards each other as if they are trying to ruck their mat up, if working on flexibility, the feet are pressing away from each other as if there is a tear in the mat and they’re trying to make it bigger.

The Legs

The muscles in the legs are lightly engaged, if the student is weak then this engagement can be strong, if they are already plenty strong enough then it can be a light engagement.

The knees should point in the same direction as the toes, so check the direction of the right knee. In many people it will be pointing inwards. If this is the case, putting a slight bend in the knee can help the knee align and point towards the right toes.

The Hips

The hips face towards the long edge of the mat as much as possible, but the priority is to keep the knee of the right leg facing towards the toes of the right foot so for most people the hips will be facing at an angle.

The Spine

Encourage student to work towards the spine being in a neutral position with the natural curves. It is common for students to over arch the lower back and/or put an anterior tilt in the pelvis in order to ‘go deeper’ into the pose. The can create tension in the psoas, hip flexors and lower back muscles, so encourage them not to go down so low and keep the spine neutral and the torso in line with the right leg. If the hips are tilted, it will help most students to lengthen the tail bone towards the back heel once in the pose. If there in an anterior arch in the hips it can help to bring the front of the rib cage down towards the hips.

It is common for the side of the rib cage closest to the floor to become shortened and curved, encourage students to lengthen evenly through both sides of the rib cage.

The Shoulders and Arms

As always the shoulder blades are sliding away from the ears. It is common for awareness of the bottom shoulder to be lost, this shoulder should keep drawing away from the ear.

If the elbows hyper-extend then the bottom arm should have a slight bend in the elbow.

Eventually in the pose the front foot and the two shoulders and top arm will be in a straight line when viewed from the side. Most students will be working on this.

It is common for the top arm to tilt back, this over-stretches the shoulder joint and can throw the whole pose out of alignment. Make sure the top arm points straight up and is kept steady.

The Head and Neck

The neck stays aligned so it is a continuation of the spine. Try to keep the throat relaxed and the neck muscles passive. The back of the head the spine and the tail bone are in one line

MOVING INTO THE POSE

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as they move into the pose encourage them to lengthen through the side of the rib cage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First step out to the right and position the feet so they are the same distance apart as one of the students legs. Keep the feet pointing forwards. Straighten the legs keeping a slight softness at the knee joint, especially the knees hyper-extend.  Engage and lift the feet and  all the muscles in the legs. The top of the head lifts up towards the ceiling, the rib cage lifts out of the hips. Bring the arms to shoulder height, engage all the muscles of the arms and draw the arms in to the shoulder joint. Reach to the finger tips as if trying to lengthen the arms. Keep the fingers together.  Head straight on the neck.

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Next, lift up the toes and swivel on the heel to turn first the left foot in to around 45º (keeping the foot and toes pointing in the same direction) and the right foot out 90º. Keep the heels in line (or line up the heels to the instep, whichever system you prefer). It can be a good idea at this point to have the students line up the heels with the edge of the mat to check they are aligned.

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Now align the hips so they are level and as open as possible but the priority is to the right knee pointing towards the right foot.

Then there are two ways to go into the pose from here. One option is to exhale and bend down sideways reaching out over the right leg, lengthening the right side of the rib cage. Bring the right arm down as low as possible to rest on the leg wherever it comfortably lands (but not on the knee). At the same time, keeping the left shoulder stacked above the right shoulder. The second option is to turn the hips towards the short end of the mat and bend the right knee, reach down and hook the first two fingers around the big toe, then straighten the leg as much as possible and reach up as far as possible. This might be the best option if a student has sciatic pain or SI joint pain, see below under ‘Position of the Bottom Hand). While moving down into the pose the right hip moves towards the left hip, the left hip will rise and the right hip will drop.

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The top hand faces forwards. The rib cage revolves towards the ceiling, and so long as it doesn’t create tension in the neck, the head turns to look up directly at the top hand.

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The top shoulder stays vertically above the bottom shoulder as much as possible. For a while it was fashionable for yoga teachers to say something along the lines of ‘imagine you are between two pains of glass’ to get over the idea that it’s best not to bend forwards and lose alignment in the lower back to get further down into the pose. It might be more helpful to suggest a student keeps the top shoulder drawing back so it stays above the bottom shoulder.

Position of the Bottom Hand

This is somewhat controversial. The ‘traditional’ Ashtanga method is to reach down and hold the big toe with the first two fingers and then lift up and back with the top shoulder from there. Some feel this is an energetic connection and brings the pose to life. Others feel this can compromise the alignment in the spine and prefer to have the student reach down and rest the hand on the shin or thigh. The hand can rest anywhere on the leg but not directly on the knee. As with all areas of differing opinion try for yourself and see what makes sense to you. Maybe different things work best for different students. I think it’s important not to be ‘right’. You have your opinion – others are entitled to their opinion. Experiment, investigate and keep an open mind – yoga is about freedom – not dogma.

MODIFICATIONS

If the student has problems reaching down in the pose, they have three options.

1. Rest the hand on the leg as low down as comfortable and keep the back in alignment.

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2. Bend the knee in order to catch the big toe and straighten leg as much as is comfortable.

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the ‘traditional’ ashtanga version is to take hold of the big toe and then straighten up as much as comfortable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Rest the hand on a block.

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Also a student may have to modify the position of the head. If a student has tight neck or shoulders, don’t insist they look up at their thumb. Have them keep their head facing directly forward until they start to feel more comfortable with the posture or they can look down at the big toe.

WORK IN THE POSE

The arches in the feet are lifting. Toes are spread wide. Base of big toe, base of little toe and centre of heel are pressing down. The inner ankle lifts and the outside edge of the foot presses down. This all creates a spiral effect in the feet with the right foot spiralling anti clockwise and the left clockwise.

There is even balance between the inside and outside edges of the feet. If the ankles are dropping in, try to encourage the pressure in the foot to even out and the inner ankle bones to lift. Bring focus to the big toe joint and heel. This can often be related to misalignment in the hips so if the hips look out of alignment, check what’s happening in the feet first.

The feet are pressing down into the floor, this pressing down gives an equal and opposite lift up through the whole body.

The feet either press down and away from each other (if the hips are restricted) or down and towards each other (if the hips are very flexible).

The muscles in the legs engage.

If the student has hyperextending knees, suggest they bend their knee on the way into and out of the posture. They need to focus their attention on pressing down into the ball of the foot and not just into the heel. In extreme cases, have them keep the knee bent softly for the entire posture, but continue to engage the thigh.

The right sit bone moves towards the left big toe.

Lengthen from the tail bone to the crown of the head. Lengthen the back of the neck, the crown of the head moves out over the right toes. Keep the head in line with the spine.

It is common for a student to over arch the lower back (therefore compromising alignment) in order to go deeper into the posture. Encourage a neutral position in the lower back by lengthening the tail bone towards the back heel or bringing the front of the rib cage towards the hips.

Another reason for a student to have an arch in the back is tightness in the hips and weak abdominals. Suggest they draw the lower ribs in toward the spine and move their tail bone forward.

Encourage students not to lean down too much into the right hand. Suggest they engage the legs and use the legs to support the torso and just rest lightly on the hand. Once the two fingers are hooked around the big toes, engaging the band has and core strength can create a feeling of lifting up away from the toe.

Often the lower side of the ribcage will shorten so one of the main actions is to lengthen the side of the rib cage closest to the floor.

The rib cage rotates up to the ceiling, the right side of the rib cage moves forwards, the left side moves back keeping the left side directly above the right.

Breath deeply into the whole rib cage.

The shoulder blades draw down the back.

The shoulder blades press back as if there is a wall behind them.

The shoulder blades and the back of the rib cage press in towards the front of the body.

If the elbow hyper-extends then the lower arm should stay bent.

The back of the neck stays long so the neck is a natural extension of the spine.

The arms are reaching to the finger tips expanding into the pose.

Feel for the triangles within the pose, especially between the two feet and the top hand – press down with the outside edge of the back foot and reach up with the top hand – feel a stretch all down the side of the body.

It is especially important to engage the legs and the bandhas when coming out of the pose.

ADJUSTMENTS

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the outside of your leg against the top of their front leg and hold the hip to stabilise, your other hand to the shoulder to ease them into the pose

 

ANATOMY

Joint Actions:

Spine: neutral extension, slight rotation, hips neutral

Arms: abduction, upper arms – external rotation lower arms inward spiral

Front Leg:            Hip: external rotation, flexion, abduction

Knee: extension

Back Leg:            Hip: internal rotation, adduction, extension

Knee: extension

Lengthening:

Front Leg: adductors, hamstrings, quadratus femoris, obdurator externus

Back Leg: Gleuts, Sartorius, biceps femoris

ROTATIONS, DIRECTIONS AND LINES OF MOVEMENT AND ENERGY 

Ribs rotate to ceiling

Lower armpit away from hip

Side ribs parallel

Feet press down to lift legs up

Shoulders over front foot

Front thigh – upwards and outwards

Back thigh slightly inwards

Back edge of back foot presses down strongly

Rotations: The front leg often wants to rotate in – try not to let this happen, keep the front leg rotating externally. The back leg rotates internally.

Arms – the upper arm is rotating externally and the lower arm internally.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Check the position of the feet, that the heels are in line and that the knees and toes are pointing in the same direction.

Check the balance is even between the front and back of the feet and the inside and outside edges of the feet.

Check the thighs are engaged and the knee is not hyper-extended.

Check the lower spine is not over-arched.

Check the top shoulder is drawing back towards being directly above the bottom shoulder.

Check the alignment in the neck.

BENEFITS GIVEN IN YOGA MALA

Utthita Trikonasana dissolves the bad fat at the waist, and brings the body into shape. It also expands the narrow portion of the breathing channel and strengthens the backbone.

BENEFITS GIVEN IN LIGHT ON YOGA

This asana tones the leg muscles, removes stiffness in the legs and hips, corrects any minor deformity in the legs and allows them to develop evenly. It relieves backaches and neck sprains, strengthens the ankles and develops the chest.

CONTRAINDICATIONS AND CAUTIONS

Care should be taken with this pose and SI joint issues or sciatica. It may help to go into the pose by bending the front knee and turning the hips towards the front leg. Or it may be best to avoid poses with asymmetrical hip positing until the issue is resolved.

 

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Theory and Practice of Adjustments

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Dandasana

Correct alignment of the spine

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…by drawing the spine back against your leg

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or by lifting the spine

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with your feet

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Half Bridge

Correct alignement in the spine by lengthening the tail bone towards the feet

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Giving Foundation

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Correcting Alignment

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UHP

Reiterate foundation by pressing down on the base of the big toes

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Correct alignment by pressing the hip back and down (my left hand – you can’t see it that well in these photos)

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deepen the pose by supporting the leg so the student can lift it up higher if that feels good to them

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Prasarita Padotanasana C

 

Reiterate foundation by pressing down on the sacrum

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Correct alignment by drawing the shoulders away from the ears and opening the upper back and chest

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You can use your chest to ease the arms down further if they want to go

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reiterate foundation as you finish the adjustment

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Reverse Trikonasana

reiterate foundation by pressing down the outside edge of the back foot

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Correct alignment by bringing the hips level

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To take someone deeper – first give foundation by squeezing the hips between your hip and your hand

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Then use your other hand and leg to lengthen the spine and increase the twist

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Janu Sirsasana

Give foundation by drawing the hip back and down with your foot

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Correct alignment by rotating the rib cage towards the straight leg

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then take them deeper into the forward bend if it feels good

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Chatturanga

ask the student to press back into your hands to connect them to their core strength

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Correct alignment by lengthening the tail bone towards the heels

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Correct alignment by making sure the shoulders don’t go too low

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Warrior 2

Give foundation by squeezing their hips between your hip and your hand

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Correct alignment by drawing the knee back and pressing the sit bone forwards so they are in line

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Teaching Asana : Yin Yoga

Butterfly

How to get into…

Sitting up with legs in front. Then bring soles of feet together and draw heels towards hips. Leave a substantial space between heels and hips (two hand lengths) and then slowly begin by lengthening forwards and bringing head towards heels so there is a gentle curving of back. It can be good to use props for support (for example, resting the head onto bolsters/hands).

How to modify…

If there is restriction in hamstrings/back/hips, then sit on enough blocks to give a straightening of spine. If the knees are significantly off the floor or there is any discomfort, you can use support (like bolster or bricks) below thighs.

Alternatives and variations

Half butterfly, reclining butterfly, butterfly on the wall; if experienced, then you could have the feet on a block or bring the heels closer to hips.

Anatomy and meridians

External rotation of hips, flexion of spine

Meridians: Liver, Kidney, Gall Bladder

 

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feet on a block

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belt around legs

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blocks under legs

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2 bolsters crosswise under spine – and smile!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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butterfly with no frills

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reclining butterfly

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reclining butterfly on a bolster

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butterfly with legs up the wall

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butterfly with legs up the wall 2

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reclining butterfly with feet on a block (Emil) and with blocks under knees (Liz)

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butterfly – block under hips leaning on a bolster

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butterfly with forehead resting on a block

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butterfly with hands on blocks and sand back on back

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butterfly with forehead on 2 bricks

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butterfly on bolster and blocks with blanket under hips

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can I stop now?

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we all do reclining butterfly…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Half Butterfly

How to get into…

Have one leg straight out in front and place sole of the foot of other leg along that thigh. Often known as Janu Sirsasana.

How to modify…

By taking the foot of the bent leg further away from you, this lessens pressure into knee joint; also if knee is off the ground, then make sure it is supported; bending the knee of the straight leg can ease tightness of hamstrings (also can sit on a block).

Alternatives and variations

Eye of the needle; half square (where the foot of the bent knee is taken over the straight leg so there is a slightly different accessing of hip)

Anatomy and meridians

The hip of bent knee is externally rotating and also inner thigh of that leg is stretched; the back of thigh of straight leg (hamstrings) are stretched.

Meridians: Urinary Bladder, Liver, Kidney

 

Deer

How to get into…

Fold back one leg (so that foot is pressing towards its hip as in Triang Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana) – and bring other foot against inner thigh of first leg.

How to modify…

Virtually everyone will benefit from sitting on a block (and sometimes two); placing a rolled up belt in the inside of knee can be helpful as can supporting the externally rotating knee if it is off the ground.

Alternatives and variations

Have one leg straight if it feels too much; can add the extra ingredients of folding forwards or going backwards.

Anatomy and meridians

The hips (one is internally rotating and the other externally rotates); the front of thigh (especially the hip that internally rotates). By going forwards/backwards, this brings more of the back of body and hip flexors into the posture.

Meridians: Gall Bladder, Liver, Kidney; also possibly Stomach, Spleen

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first position legs

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support knee if necessary

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either lean backwards

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or fold forwards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dragonfly

How to get into…

Sitting down and take legs out wide though not necessarily as wide as anatomically possible because you want to keep a level of muscular relaxing.

How to modify…

For hyperextending knees or stiffness in the hamstrings, have bricks/blankets below the knees; can have feet flat on floor (‘bankers’ pose’). Sit on block/cushion and using the arms behind to avoid collapsing and compression of back.

Alternatives and variations

Legs up wall and wide apart if there is a lot of restriction and it is straining/distinctly uncomfortable for the back. There are the variations of half dragonfly: going forwards in between the straight leg and the foot that is tucked into that thigh; can also take that foot tucking into thigh behind the hip. There is twisting dragonfly: taking one hand around the back to the other thigh. If very open in the body, going over right leg and bring right hand to inside of that foot and left arm over to also take hold of right foot; and of course change sides.

Anatomy and meridians

A stretch of back thighs and inner thighs; emphasis of back of body and some inner rotation of hips

Meridians: Kidney, Urinary Bladder, Liver

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lying on 2 bolsters blocks under hands

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blankets under knees

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blocks supporting feet

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sandbag on upper back

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eye bag on neck

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blocks under knees hands on bolster behind back

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rest forearms on bolster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swan

How to get into…

Start from either kneeling or down dog – or from Dragon. Bring the right knee towards the right hand and the right foot towards the left hand. To lessen stretch and protect the knee, keep the right foot closer to left hip – if there is comfort without strain to knee, then bring right foot in direction of that left hand. Swan is sitting upwards (with the weight in hands and arms); sleeping swan is folding upper body over lower body.

How to modify…

Nearly everyone needs support under the right hip; having that right foot flexed is a way of supporting knee. Placing a bolster below upper body can be helpful.

Alternatives and variations

Happy Baby; Eye of the Needle; Shoelace.

Anatomy and meridians

Hips, thighs, lower back (when in Swan)

Meridians: Liver, Kidneys, Stomach, Spleen, Gall Bladder and Urinary Bladder (all six of the lower body meridians)

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bolster under hips

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and leaning on a bolster – blanket under back knee

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little toe tucked under

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saddle

How to get into…

Sit on heels and lean backwards (sounds simple but actually is challenging for nearly everyone). Keep sitting bones pressing down into heels to accessing base of back area. Lengthen the tailbone towards the feet to avoid over-arching the lower back.

How to modify…

Sit on a block (to lessen pressure on knees); place rolled up blanket below ankles (to lessen strain to that area). Use bolsters behind to support upper body.

Alternatives and variations

This is a challenging and strong posture. If it is too much, do Sphinx/Seal; or also explore Reclining Hero (supta virasana). By having a bolster along spine, becomes more ‘restorative’; a bolster across the mat with the head hanging down makes it more ‘active’. Taking the arms over head influences shoulders/chest.

Anatomy and meridians

Front of thighs (can be helpful for knees as long as there is no strain in that area); front of upper body such as abdomen and hip flexors; and the lower back

Meridians: Stomach, Spleen, Urinary Bladder, Kidney; if arms are taken over the head, then also Heart, Lung

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first kneel

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place a block between upper and lower legs if necessary

 

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then lean back – press sit bones towards heels

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then lie back – place a bolster under back if necessary

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keep knees hips width apart to keep the stretch in the psoas and hip flexors

 

Reclining Hero’s Pose

How to get into…

Kneel up with the knees close together and the feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Sit on three blocks. See how that feels, if necessary add more blocks or take one or two or even all away. It is a good idea to begin with more and then exploring the possibility of going lower.

How to modify…

Virtually everyone needs to sit on at least one block; as with Deer, having a rolled belt in the knee joint can help as also can a rolled up blanket below ankles (please make sure that it is done equally below each ankle).

Alternatives and variations

Sit on the heels (with big toes touching) as a way of stronger stretching of feet and ankles. If there is discomfort in the feet, place a blanket under them to provide padding. If there is comfort here and the back can tolerate strong stretching, then go backwards into Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero). Keep knees grounded and avoid strain in sensitive areas. Use hands/arms for support and avoid twisting. Make sure when coming up to avoid twisting and keep breathing.

Anatomy and meridians

Internal rotation of hips and stretch of quadriceps; if Reclining Hero then stronger stretch of quadriceps and also front body and lower back

Meridians: Stomach, Spleen, Liver

 

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bolster under spine

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bolster cross ways under spine

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half saddle

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blocks under hips – bolsters under spine

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blocks under hips – sitting up leaning back

 

Child’s Pose

How to get into…

Sit on heels and fold/lengthen forwards; place forehead on support such as hands or the floor.

How to modify…

Use blocks to sit on; have rolled up blanket or block at knees; can also have rolled up blanket at top of thighs which can be helpful for lower back/SI issues. Please make sure that forehead is resting on hands/block/bolster and the hips are grounding towards heels.

Alternatives and variations

Lying on back and hugging knees to chest

Anatomy and meridians

Gentle stretch of spine (flexion) and compressing of stomach and chest

Meridians: Spleen, Stomach, Kidneys, Urinary Bladder

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bolster cross ways head on block

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bolster long ways

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bolster behind knees – and under hips

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childs pose adjustment :)

Forward

How to get into…

Sit down with legs in front place the fingertips on the floor in front of the hips and lengthen the upper body. Keeping this length, fold the upper body over the lower body. Then explore the possibility of a gentle rounding/curving of back of bodyHow to modify…

Legs up wall; sitting on a block

Alternatives and variations

Using support of bolster or rolled up blanket below knees can be very helpful.

Anatomy and meridians

Back of thighs (hamstrings); flexion of hips; back of body

Meridians: Urinary Bladder, Kidneys

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bolster under knees

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bolster supports upper body

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bolster rests on 2 bricks

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legs supported by belt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Forward on a block

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bolster under knees and belt holding legs

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bricks and bolster make a bridge to lean no

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hands rest on bricks

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hahahaha!

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write that down!

Dragon

How to get into…

Begin on hands and knees and bring one leg forward placing the foot next to the hand to come into a low lunge. Can slide the other leg backwards to intensify stretch around hips and thighs.

How to modify…

Using a blanket below back knee softens the pressure; can also tuck under toes of back foot or take that knee off the ground.

Alternatives and variations

Eye of the needle or happy baby/half. Have hands on bricks or have hands on that front thigh; can have the hands inside the front leg. Can also take that front leg further forwards like coming into a split.

Anatomy and meridians

Hips and thighs (front of thigh of that leg behind and back of thigh of leg in front); psoas muscle

Meridians: Stomach, Spleen, Liver, Gall Bladder, Kidneys, Urinary Bladder

 

 

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blanket under knee – hands on block

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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dragon leads into hamstring stretch

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hamstring stretch could lead into hanumanasana

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adding a strong stretch for front of thigh

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dragon with a twist

 

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lizard – back knee on blanket

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hands on bricks

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lizard variation – adds flexion of hip

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bolster under back knee and hips rest on blocks

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bolster under back knee

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back toes tucked under and blanket under knee – take pressure off knee

Sphinx and Seal

How to get into…

Begin being flat on front of body and then bring elbows below shoulders (and as wide as shoulders) with forearms flat on floor. Now the heart and the head are lifted off the ground. For Seal, move the hands further away from each other and further away from the body, point the fingers out. By straightening the arms, there is a lifting up higher.

How to modify…

Use a bolster beneath chest or hips or bricks below forearms.

Alternatives and variations

Using a bolster below thighs makes this posture more accessible for pregnant women; how the arms are placed in Seal will affect the strength of stretching (closer to hips with hands and stronger stretch of back). You can have lower legs vertical; you can have legs wider or the legs pressing together.

Anatomy and meridians

Stretching lower back/lumbar curve and also (with Seal) strengthening for arms and an interesting stretch for shoulders.

Meridians: Urinary Bladder, Kidney, Stomach, Spleen

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blanket under hips – bolster under arms

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bricks under forearms

 

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head rests on bricks

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feet rest on bolster

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… or a rolled up blanket

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or tuck the toes under

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feet together…

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feet apart

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Variation – hips on a bolster

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Seal on a bolster

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Seal with no bolster

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we all do sphinx

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Sphinx on bricks, blocks and bolster

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sphinx on a bolster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forward Bend on Wall

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legs straight

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knees bent

Legs Up Wall

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sandbag on tummy

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sandbag on feet

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legs held by belt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Candle

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support legs and press feet down

Melting Heart

How to get into…

Begin on hands and knees, then bring one arm forwards with the other forearm flat on floor. Have the forehead either on that forearm or just behind while the chest/sternum sinks down towards ground and arm keeps stretching forward.

How to modify…

Using a bolster beneath chest can be helpful; also blanket below knees.

Alternatives and variations

Some people teach this with both arms forwards. I personally think that can be too much for some people. Can be flat on floor and take right arm forward and the left arm under right armpit.

Anatomy and meridians

Shoulders of course; and upper back and front of chest/armpit area

Meridians: Heart, Lung, Small and Large Intestine

 

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support tummy with 2 bolsters

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Constructive Rest

How to get into…

Lying on back and have feet flat on floor with heels close towards hips

How to modify…

Have feet as wide as mat with knees touching. Also a blanket as pillow below head is helpful.

Alternatives and variations

If pregnant, lie on the left side.

Anatomy and meridians

A release of lower back and a gentle ease of musculature around hips

Meridians: the six lower body meridians can be mildly influenced by this posture

 

 

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Hero’s Pose

How to get into…

Kneel up with the knees close together and the feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Sit on three blocks. See how that feels, if necessary add more blocks or take one or two away. It is a good idea to begin with more and then exploring the possibility of going lower.

How to modify…

Virtually everyone needs to sit on at least one block; as with Deer, having a rolled belt in the knee joint can help as also can a rolled up blanket below ankles (please make sure that it is done equally below each ankle).

Alternatives and variations

Sit on the heels (with big toes touching) as a way of stronger stretching of feet and ankles. If there is discomfort in the feet, place a blanket under them to provide padding.

Anatomy and meridians

Internal rotation of hips and stretch of quadriceps

Meridians: Stomach, Spleen, Liver

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Variations: sitting on blocks (Julia) or kneeling (Nina)

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kneeling variation – toes tucked under to stretch feet

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kneeling variation feet straight

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rotate thigh externally and calf internally

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alternative to hero, saddle lie on side gently draw foot to bum, and press hip forwards

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héros on blocks

Reclining Twist

How to get into…

Begin by lying on back and have feet flat on the floor close to hips. Then shift the hips a few centimetres to left and bend the knees up towards the chest; take knees/legs towards the floor in the direction of the right shoulder. Make sure the knees are level or above the hips.

How to modify…

Support the knees with bolster; can also have support in between the legs. Support behind the hip can help some people to relax.

Alternatives and variations

Do one knee at a time (while keeping the other leg straight); the closer you bring knees towards shoulder, the higher stretch goes up in spine/back of body (when knees are level with hips, it is more about that area). Can wrap right leg around left leg (and then twist to left). Can also change positioning of other arm (like taking it over the head or out to the side).

Anatomy and meridians

Stretch of back body; also shoulders, chest and potentially neck

Meridians: Urinary Bladder, Heart, Lung, Gall Bladder.

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reclining twists – hand on leg to give extra twist

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blanket under legs and block under shoulder

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bolster between knees

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blanket under back for support

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Variation with bottom leg straight

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Variation with both legs straight

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bottom leg straight top leg on a bolster

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arm on blanket

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Variation: garudasana legs

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sandbag on shoulder

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knees closer to shoulder makes twist more intense

 

Square/Cross Legs

How to get into…

Sitting up with legs crossed in front of body; with the crossing, have this as high as possible on shins/calves so that heels are drawn towards knees. If this is comfortable, then try placing one foot on top of the other thigh (close to knee – unlike a half lotus shape where that top foot goes to the other hip). The knee of that foot has to be reasonably close to the other foot – and the foot that has gone over the thigh has to be active and flexing (so the heel extends away to protect the ankle and the knee). If there is significant space between knee and foot or if there is any discomfort or if it is simply too intense, please have the legs crossed. With both of these options, it is like there is almost a box shape of the lower body limbs.

How to modify…

Sitting on a block; placing a rolled up blanket below the cross of legs; doing Half Butterfly.

Alternatives and variations

Eye of the needle; twisting; lateral stretch (placing right hand on ground in line with hip and slowly taking further away while keeping both sit bones grounded) – and folding forwards to intensify stretch.

Anatomy and meridians

Hips, thighs, spine

Meridians: Liver, Kidneys and Gall Bladder – if folding forwards, Urinary Bladder

 

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variation folding over knee

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variation with a twist

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variation with a belt

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variation with foot on top of knee – make sure foot is flexed

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a blanket to support the knee

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a belt behind the knee creates space if there is pain in the knee

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lengthen as you fold forwards

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block under hips

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blanket wraps around ankles

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blanket under the ankles

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staying sitting up is fine

Adding a Shoulder Stretch to any reclining pose

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reach up to the ceiling – then settle the arms back into the shoulder joint

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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hold onto to each elbow with the opposite hand

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rest the arms over the head – on a block if necessary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knees to Chest

How to get into…

Lying on back and then bring knees to chest with feet off floor.

How to modify…

Hold behind knees; take knees wider rather than together; rest feet on a lift such as chair or bolsters.

Alternatives and variations

Constructive Rest or Happy Baby or Childs Pose.

Anatomy and meridians

A gentle pressing of abdomen and a mild forward bend which influence hips and thighs

Meridians: the six lower body meridians can be mildly influenced by this posture

 

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right leg first to stimulate the ascending colon – left leg (descending colon) second

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then both legs together

 

Heart Opening

How to get into…

Have three blocks at front of mat. Sit on bolster and place a belt around thighs (reasonably tight) – then with heels on blocks, slowly slide back until head and just the skin of shoulders are on ground.

How to modify…

Have feet flat on floor close to the bolster as a way of lessening stretch of lower back; or rather than using bolster, have blocks and blankets (so there is less stretch of upper body).

Alternatives and variations

Do sphinx. If very open, make support of bolster higher. By taking arms over head, this influences the shoulders in a different way (or hold elbows with arms over head).

Anatomy and meridians

Chest, thoracic spine, shoulders

Meridians: Heart, Lung, Urinary Bladder

 

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bolster under back – shoulders on floor, belt hold around thighs

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feet can go flat on floor

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arms can go over head

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adjustment – press down on shoulders

 

Squat

How to get into…

One of the few yin poses that is quite active and should only be held for three minutes at most. Start by standing with feet wider than hips and then sit downwards while keeping feet (including heels) firmly on floor or other support such as blocks or rolled up mat. Make sure that knees are pointing in same direction as feet. It is a simple squat shape like how much of the world is waiting for the bus.

How to modify…

Using support under heels can be helpful – and taking feet wider apart.

Alternatives and variations

There is Happy Baby or Wide Child (Frog); the hands can be in prayer position with arms pressing against inner thighs – or the hands can wrap around shins and go towards back of body.

Anatomy and meridians

Hips, thighs, lower back (this can be a great counter pose after strong backbends)

Meridians: Liver, Kidneys, Urinary Bladder

 

 

Happy Baby

How to get into…

Lying on back and bring knees towards armpits; keeping lower back pressing down, take knees wider than upper body and feet upwards while drawing knees towards ground.

How to modify…

Could do this against a wall (with feet pressing into wall); rather than reaching for feet with hands, can hold around ankles or thighs – or use belts that are looped around feet.

Alternatives and variations

Half Happy Baby (sometimes this is called ‘Half Stirrup’); taking the feet over the head and allowing lower back to lift up off ground (though be careful if there is any strain in SI area). It is similar to a Squat or Wide Knee Child. According to Bernie Clark, “this posture is the single most important reason that cameras are not allowed in yoga studios”.

Anatomy and meridians

Hips, thighs

Meridians: Urinary Bladder, Kidneys, Liver

 

 

Shoulders

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1) stand behind and support the back with your legs – press down on the right shoulder and draw the arm in towards the body

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2) press the shoulder down firmly but gently

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3) press the shoulder of the top arm down and lift the elbows up

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rotate the arms to create space across the shoulders

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support the back with your legs and hold the hands so the shoulders can relax

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support the hands and gently press them together

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holding the wrist take the arm out to the side – hold the other shoulder the stabilise

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guide the arm up the back – back of the hand to the body

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take the other arm up first then guide it down the back towards the other hand

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if the hands don’t meet give a belt to hold

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then press the shoulder blade down and lit the elbow back and in towards the centre line of the body

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pectorals – Catepillar Stretch

Lie on your tummy – put your right arm out at shoulder height – caterpillar the hips up – lift up and turn the face the left – at the same time press the hips forwards so the shoulder and hips stay in line – then place the feet flat on the floor and the bum on the floor (as much as possible) – now reach over with your left hand and take hold of the right finger (keep the right wrist down on the floor (if you can’t reach use a belt) – breathe!

 

Pectoral Stretch

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arm out to side – shoulder height

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lift hips up

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place hips back down in line with shoulder

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reach over and take hold of your fingers – bring feet flat on floor

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deltoid Stretch

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start in sphinx

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palm facing up – thread across chest – make sure you don’t twist and stay with shoulder parallel to floor

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lie down with other arm down by your side

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rotator Cuff Stretch

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if someone isn’t comfortable with the lying down version they can do this version sitting up – back of wrist to waist – hold elbow and gently draw forwards

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lie with elbow out to side – palm down – fingers not quite touching spine

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bend up opposite leg and roll towards the bent arm

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bring other arm over next to head

 

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Music

With Bendish

Tantric Sunset

 

Disappear Here

 

Into Dust

 

With Steph Horak

Diamonds and Rust

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/114402685" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /]

 

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Teaching Asana: finishing poses

Urdha Dhanurasana

English Translation: Urhhva – upwards Dhanura – bow = upwards bow posture

Dristi: nose

Vinyasas: 15 Vinyasas – 9th is the state of the asana

Sapta – inhale – forwards – Dandasana

Ashtau – Exhale – lie down – position hands and feet

Nava – inhale – up into the posture (5 breaths)

Exhale – lower down onto top of head

Nava – Inhale – lift up again (5 breaths)

Exhale – lower down onto top of head

Nava – Inhale – lift up again (5 breaths)

Dasa – exhale – lie down

Inhale – Chakrasana

Ekadasa – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana

Dvadasa – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Trayodasa – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

 

Sapta Inhale Dandasana
Ashtau Exhale Lie down – position hands and feet
Nava Inhale Come up into the posture(5 breaths)
Exhale Lower down onto top of head
Nava Inhale Lift up again(5 breaths)
Exhale lower down onto top of head
Nava Inhale lift up again(5 breaths)
Dasa Exhale Lie down
Inhale Chakrasana
Ekadasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Dvadasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Trayodasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Lengthen the front of the body
  • Breathe into the front of the body
  • Work towards straightening the
  • arms, then work on straightening the legs
  • Soften the muscles in the bum
  • Engage the muscles in the legs
  • Squeeze the inner thighs towards each other
  • Stay grounded in the feet

How to Break Down for Beginners

It’s good practice for everyone to do ‘half bridge’ first to warm up and for beginners and many students this pose will be enough. In this pose the hips are lifted while keeping the shoulders and arms down on the floor. The Sanskrit name is setu bandha sarvengasana.

To talk students into the pose:

Lie back and bend the knees up and place the feet flat down on the floor. Feet are hips width apart and as close to the body as comfortable. The outside edges of the feet are parallel.

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first position the feet – then lengthen the spine by pressing small of back down and lengthening back of neck

Lengthen the spine as much as possible, lift up the hips and put them back down again further away from the head, gently press the lower back down into the ground, draw the chin towards the chest to lengthen the cervical spine.

The weight is then ‘poured’ into the feet and it’s the connection between the feet and the floor that lifts the hips. Avoid clenching the butt muscles and lifting from there. The legs are engaged and active – especially the hamstrings.

Then interlace the hands and rock up onto the shoulders so the arms are tucked under the body. The arms then gently press down into the floor to help give a lift in the chest and take the back bend into the thorasic spine.

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interlace fingers – rock up onto shoulders – press down with arms

If there is restriction or weakness in the front of the hips the student will want to turn the feet to point out and/or flare the knees out to the side. If the feet turn out without the knees this will put pressure on the knees. If the knees point out this causes congestion in the lower back, pressure into the SI joint and it just doesn’t help the backbend.

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a block between the feet will keep the feet aligned

This half bridge pose is a very nice back bend and is enough for many students.

If a student wants to lift into urdhva dhanurqasana:

It is good practice to stand with a student the first time they try to come up into ‘full’ urdhva dhanurasana to make sure it’s safe for them.

They go through the same steps as above to lift the hips.

Then place the hands in position by the shoulders with the fingers pointing towards the feet, and lift up onto the top of the head.

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first lift the hips as for half bridge

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then position the hands

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then lift up onto the head – plug the arms into the shoulders and point elbows directly back

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then lift up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this point make sure the elbows point directly back and the arms stay parallel, if the elbows point out then pressure is put on the shoulder joint. Then keeping the alignment in the arms lift up into the pose.

Modifications

Half backbend or bridge pose

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If a student has a hard time keeping the legs together they can do the pose with a block between the legs.

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Belt around the arms.

this will stop the elbows from ‘flaring’ out

Blocks under the feet.

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if the restriction is in the front of the hips this will make it easier to lift up

Blocks angled against the wall under the hands.

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place blocks at an angle against the wall

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then lift up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Points to Watch Out For

The three key aspects of back bends are Foundation – Lengthening the Tail Bone and Lifting the chest

To help understand the importance of the foundation and to see how much it helps with backbends, have a student try lifting into cobra while you press down on their feet.

Pressing on the feet reiterates the foundation and should make it much easier.

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press down on the feet before they lift up into cobra

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To feel the lengthening of the tail bone – press the tail bone down in sphinx, or lengthen the tail bone in half bridge or in ustrasana (camel)

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press back and down

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hold the sacrum and draw towards you

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one hand on sacrum presses down – the other hand between shoulder blades presses up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To feel the lift in the chest – do the adjustment for half bridge or camel

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the feet stabilise the shoulders – the hands on the rib cage just below the shoulder blades lift up and towards you

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Generally in back bends, the muscles in the front of the body are lengthening and the muscles in the back of the body are working.

If there is pain in lower back it could be due to poor alignment ie not enough length in the lower back. Or to tightness in the psoas or hip flexors.

Feet stay parallel, otherwise pressure can be put on the lower back or knees.

Knees stay pointing forwards.

Internal rotation in the thighs allow space for the lower back to lengthen which allows the back bend to distribute up into the thorasic spine and not just hinge in the lower back.

The lower back is naturally more flexible as there is no rib cage there and the articulating processes of the spine are shaped to allow it more easily. But if all of the back bend comes from here it can put pressure on the discs and vertebrae in the lower back. If possible the back bend should be distributed evenly through the whole back. This is done by lengthening the lower back and lifting the upper back by pressing the bottom points of the shoulder blades into the ribcage (banker pose).

Head relaxed

Dristi nose

Strong bandha

What is happening in the bum is complex and you will hear lots of conflicting advice and suggestions. If the bum completely clenches it causes external rotation at the hips, which we don’t want as it may jam up the area around the sacrum. But these muscles also help with hip extension, which we do want in backbends. Depending on the student it may be helpful to completely relax these muscles, engage them lightly or pulse them by engaging and relaxing.

Internal rotators of the hips are Glut medius and minimus so a light engagement of these muscles – that is the deeper bum muscles – will help. This can be done by pressing the sit bones away from the head and up towards the ceiling.

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Spine – full extension

Shoulders – glenohumeral – flexion, external rotation, adduction

Upper arms – outwards

Forearm – pronation

Thighs – internal rotation, adduction

Feet parallel maybe slightly inwards

Hips – extension – pushing upwards

Top of right shin towards top of left forearm

Top of left shin towards top of right forearm

Lengthening:

Legs – rectus femoris, psoas major, illiacus

Torso – abdominal muscles, anterior rib cage muscles, internal intercostals, anterior neck muscles

Arms – pecs, lats

Rotations:

Legs – internal

Arms – external

How to Work on a Back Bend

One of the key areas to work on for many students is lengthening the hips flexors ie. the muscles at the front of the hips and psoas.

To stretch these we can use, low lunge and supta Virasana. To strengthen them lung with the back knee off the floor.

Supta Virasana

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position feet pointing back slightly wider than hips width apart

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sit on as many blocks as you need to be comfortable and lengthen tail bone away from you

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lie back on as many bolsters as you need

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunge/Psoas Stretch

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back knee on blanket – front knee directly above ankle

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lift up back knee to add strength work

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to change stretch come up with hands on front thigh

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reach arms up and add a back bend

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or stay low and add a twist

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lift up the back foot to take the stretch into the front of the thigh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The muscles that are working are the entire extensor group and serratus anterior, rectus abdominus and the obliques to stabilise the lumbar spine.

To strengthen these we can use super man and cobra with no arms, forearm plank and side plank. It can also be helpful to lengthen these muscles with side stretches for example dolphin and ardha chandrasana.

Super man

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Cobra with no hands

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To strengthen the legs – sitting on a wall

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To lengthen the side of the body

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In the upper body the muscles lengthening are pecs, biceps and lats.

To stretch we can use shoulder sequence, 3 intense stretches, wall hanging and dolphin for the lats side stretches.

Shoulder Sequence

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1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2

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3

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4

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5

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6

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7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wall Hanging

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Dolphin

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A fairly intense shoulder stretch

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Some nice yin/restorative back stretches

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For the action of lengthening in the lower back – squeeze a block in half bridge.

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To help a student bring awareness to this action sphinx and cobra can be helpful.

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For the hip extension, internal rotation and adduction cobra and salabasana and twisted chandrasana.

For the scapula upward rotation and shoulder external rotation and forearm pronation – sphinx and cobra.

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For the internal rotation of the hips we want to engage the deep medial rotators ie glut med and min all other bum muscles externally rotate and will not help. For this we need to use moola bandha and awareness and pressing up with the sitting bones.

We want the hamstrings to engage to allow the quads to release – press down with the heels. We also want the adductors to engage for internal rotation – imagine there is a football (or place a block) between the legs and squeeze.

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squeeze!

To create space for the sacrum and to allow the lower back to lengthen – use foundation. To bring awareness to the importance of foundation use cobra and ustrasana.

We want erector spinae engaged – use cobra with no hands and Salabhasana (note different uddiyana bandha in backbends when tummy on floor).

The wrists also need to stretch.

Adjusting Urdhva Dhanurasana

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if the elbows flare out – hold them in place as they come up

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if the shoulders are stiff or weak holding your ankles will create more space

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if they are up in the pose – stand on their hands and lift the shoulders

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or put your hands on their hips and ask them to lift up into your hands

Counter Poses: Twists, child’s pose and forward bends.

 

Salamba Sarvangasana

English Translation:

Salamba – supported, Sarva – all or whole, anga – limb or ‘Whole body supported posture’

Halasana – Hala – Plough so ‘plough posture’,

Karnapidasana – Karna Ear, Pida – Pressure, ‘Ear pressure posture’

Urdhva Padmasana – Urdhva – Upward, Padma – Lotus – ‘Upward Lotus posture’

Pindasana – Pinda – Embryo – ‘Embryo Posture’

Matsyasana – Matsya – Fish ‘Fish Posture’

Uttana Padasana – Uttana Extended, Pada leg or foot, ‘Extended leg

posture’

Dristi: nose/ navel

Vinyasas: (13/14 Vinyasas – 8th and 9th are the state of the asana)

(In Yoga Mala: Salamba Sarvangasana, Halasana, Karnapidasana Matsyasana and Uttanapadasana are listed as having 13 Vinyasas. Urdhva Padmasana and Pindasana have 14)

Sapta – inhale – forwards

Exhale – lie down
Ashtau – inhale – swing legs up into the pose (10 breaths)
Ashtau – exhale – bring legs down to Halasana (7 breaths)
Ashtau – exhale – bring knees down to Karnapidasana (7 breaths)
Inhale – legs back up to Salamba Sarvangasana
Nava – exhale to Urdhva Padmasana (7 breaths)
Nava – exhale to Pindasana (7 breaths)
Nava – exhale – lower legs down to floor – Matsyasana (7 breaths)

Nava – inhale – Uttanapadasana (7 breaths)
Exhale – release
Inhale – Chakrasana
Dasa – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana

Ekadasa – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Dvadasa – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Energy in the legs
  • Energy in the feet
  • Lift through the inner thighs
  • Think about this pose in terms of being Tadasana upside-down
  • Soften breath
  • Look towards the navel
  • Gently squeeze the legs together
  • Foint the toes – neither point nor flex – actively in between
  • Fingers point up to the ceiling
  • Index fingers press in to the back
  • Elbows move towards each other
  • Make sure there is space between the back of the neck and the floor
  • Keep a sense of space between the chin and the chest
  • Press back of head gently into floor

Halasana

  • Keep the legs active
  • Lift the sit bones up
  • Lengthen through the arms
  • Top of the feet flat on the floor
  • Lift the thighs
  • Stay light on the toes
  • If the feet are still off the floor then keep the hands on the back

Karnapidasana

  • Release moola bandha
  • Bring the knees towards the ears
  • If the feet are still off the floor then keep the hands on the back
  • If the knees are by the ears then gently press the ears with the knees
  • Feet stay together

Urdhva Padmasana

• Engage both bandhas

Pindasana

• See if you can bring the knees closer together

Matsyasana

  • Arch the chest up towards the ceiling
  • Lengthen through the spine
  • Lift out of the lower back
  • Sink the knees towards the floor (if in padmasana)

Uttana Padasana

  • Nasagri dristi
  • Keep the lift in the chest
  • Squeeze inner thighs together
  • Strong bandhas

 

How to Break Down for Beginners

First show beginners the whole sequence you want to teach them, it’s important that once they are in the posture they don’t move their head to look at what you are doing. Explain it’s not as hard as it looks and you will talk them through.

Always explain the contra-indications and give alternatives first.

Inhale bring the legs up – initially with the knees bent going over into Halasana to set the position then coming up into shoulder stand. Eventually a student may feel comfortable slowly swinging the straight legs in a controlled way straight up into shoulder stand.

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Bring the legs over the head into Halasana position, bring the elbows are close as comfortable, press down with the shoulders to lift up off the neck

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elbows close together, finger point up to the ceiling

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then start to lift the legs up – go carefully being cautious with the neck

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if the student is strong and experienced they can come up with straight legs

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bring the legs up just as far as it’s comfortable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The student should go as far up into the pose as is comfortable for the neck – if there is any discomfort or pressure on the neck they need to immediately – this is not a pose to push – There should be space between the floor and the neck, if the neck is down on the floor or if there is any discomfort then props or modifications should be used, so the student should come down and put something under the shoulders to create space.

Once in Halasana, the next action is to bring the elbows as close together as comfortable and press down with the shoulders so the neck and the middle of the upper back is off the floor – it is shoulder stand NOT neck stand. Then slowly and carefully lift the legs up into shoulder stand. The hands are on the back with the fingers pointing up, if possible the hands walk up the back towards the head. The hands provide stability rather than support.

The next action in the pose is to lift the ribs away from the shoulders, the hips away from the ribs and the legs out of the hips.

The legs are engaged as in tadasana

Toes fointing

Inner ankles lifting up

Heels back pubic bone forwards

Bandha engaged

Contra-Indications

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It’s important to always explain the contra-indications and give alternative before you teach this posture. Contra-indications are

While menstruating

High Blood Pressure

Glaucoma or eye problems

Any problems with the neck

Pregnancy (the baby needs to know which way is up so (s)he can position correctly for the birth and to avoid the umbilical cord wrapping round the neck)

Over-active thyroid

If any of these apply they can either lie with the legs up the wall, or lie back in supta baddhakonasana. Or for some neck problems Viparita Korani can be practiced as there is much less pressure on the neck.

Benefits of Inversions

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Improves venus return – the flow of blood back to the heart from the lower body

Improves flow of lymphatic fluid and so helps the functioning of the immune system

Increases the blood supply to the glands in the neck (thyroid) and brain (pineal) and so aids functioning of the hormonal system

Helps people overcome fear and boosts self –confidence

Gives a fresh perspective on life

In yogic terms the nectar of immortality that drips down from the third eye is no longer burnt in the fire in the belly and this is nurturing and rejuvenating for the body.

Modifications

Blanket or blocks under the shoulders create space if the neck is being pressed into the floor – a straight shoulder stand with nothing under the shoulders requires a significant amount of flexion at the neck, some people can do this comfortably but most people really should put something under the shoulders to take the pressure off the neck. Problems probably won’t start to happen straight away but creep up over time – and by the time you realize you should have something under the shoulders it might well be too late – better safe than sorry.

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place a blanket or blocks on the mat and the shoulders 2 inches away from the edge – this lifts the shoulders and takes pressure off the neck

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the legs don’t have to go all the way up

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if the toes don’t touch the floor in Halasana the students can place the feet on a bolster

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karnapidasana can be done with the feet on a bolster

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if padmasana isn’t possible or comfortable urdhva padmasana can be done with the legs crossed and the hands on the back

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or the hands on the knees

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if placing lotus: support the back with the right hand and use the left hand to guide the right foot into lotus position

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then swap so the left hand supports the back and the right hand guides the foot into padmasana

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for pindasana the knees come down to the chest and the arms wrap around the legs

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to modify urdhva padmasana: take half lotus and bring the straight leg towards the floor – rest the foot on a bolster if it doesn’t reach the floor

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to modify pindasana: keep the legs crossed and bring the knees towards the chest – hands either on the back or hugging around the legs

 

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if you are putting blocks under the shoulders it looks like this

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it’s nice to place a blanket or fold the mat over the blocks

To check: if you can slide your finger comfortable under someone’s neck whilst they are in shoulder stand and everything feels ok for them then it’s probably ok, if the neck is flat down on the floor then they need something under the shoulders.

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there should be enough space under the neck to slide a finger under – if not, put blocks or a blanket under the shoulders

If the neck is uncomfortable in shoulder stand, Viparita Korani is a nice alternative. Go up into this pose in the same way as for shoulder stand but don’t come so far up, so the hands are supporting either side of the hips with the elbows on the floor and the upper body and the legs make a sideways V shape.

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Viparita Korani – hands hold the outside of the hips, legs and body make a V shape

If someone is worried about coming up into shoulder stand, but there is no physical reason why they shouldn’t, they can either

Lie with the legs up the wall then push into the feet into the wall, so the hips come up then place the hands in position on the back then bring the legs over into shoulder stand one at a time

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firstly lying with the hips on the floor and the legs up the wall

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then press the feet into the wall to lift the hips

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then try taking one leg away from the wall

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finally both legs away from the wall into shoulder stand – horay!

OR

They lie and place their heels on your shoulders, they press into your shoulders to bring the hips up, you can move forwards to place your knees against their hips to support them while they position their arms and hands, then one leg at a time you bring the legs into position and they can support themselves.

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first have the student put their heels on your shoulders

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next they press into your shoulders to lift their hips up

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then you can place your knees against their hips to support them

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then one leg at a time take their legs into position so they can do shoulder stand – make sure they have their hands on their back and their shoulders close enough together

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take the second leg into position and stay supporting them with your knees

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then finally step away and they are in shoulder stand – horay again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Normally once you have assisted someone into shoulder stand and they realise how to do it they can get themselves up next time.

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if someone is lying with the legs up the wall, placing a belt around the shins can rely help them to relax

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make sure the metal buckle isn’t on the skin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Points to Watch Out For

The neck is vulnerable in shoulder stand so extra care needs to be taken. It is important to keep the natural curves in the neck. Once up, a students neck in flat down against the floor then a folded blanket or blocks should be placed under the shoulders to give enough of a lift for the neck to be in its natural healthy position. Start by placing the blanket or blocks and lying with the shoulders 2.5cms from the edge, the head is on the floor, then carefully go up into shoulder stand. If the lift is high the student needs to take care not to swing up to fast and swing over onto the neck. Also when coming down from a supported shoulder stand extra care needs to be taken.

If C7 the big vertebrae at the base of the neck becomes discoloured or the skin there goes very dry it is a sign that it is being pressed down into the floor. It seems like a bad idea to press a single vertebrae down into the floor so much that the skin goes a funny colour and grows thicker, so it is a good idea to put something under the shoulders to create more space.

Halasana

From Shoulder Stand – exhale to Halasana

Bring the toes down towards the floor – if the toes don’t reach the floor they can rest the feet on a block or two and/or keep the hands on the back for stability and support. If the toes are down on the floor and everything feels ok then they point the toes away so the toenails are in contact with the floor, then interlace the fingers and put the arms down on the floor.

Teaching Points

The sit bones lift to the ceiling

The arms come down towards the floor and the hands away from the body

Legs lightly engaged

Karnapidasana

From Halasana exhale to Karnapidasana

Keeping the feet together bring the knees down towards the ears. If the knees are next to the ears they squeeze gently to reduce external sound – the sound of the breath here is said to be the sound of the mother’s breath to the baby in the womb.

Eventually the shins are down on the floor.

The arms stay where they are for Halasana.

Urdhva Padmasana

From Karnapidasana, inhale up into shoulder stand then exhale to Urdhva Padmasana

If it’s possible to place lotus with no help from the hands then the traditional Ashtanga method is for the right foot to go in first as usual, however you might want to alternate which leg goes in first to avoid imbalances in the body. Then the knees rest on the hands with the arms straight. While a student is working to find this balance it can be helpful for you to stand behind them so your legs support their back and your hands hold their hips, you can then save them from falling completely out of the pose – which is just annoying, and from falling over onto their neck which is potentially stressful or injuring for the neck.

If it’s difficult to place lotus without using the hands, then keep the right hand supporting the right side of the back and use the left hand to guide the right foot into position. Then swap so the left hand supports the left side of the back and the right hand guides the left foot into place. Here the hands can either be kept on the back or the student can work on placing the knees and the hands – you can help them while they find the balance in the same way as described above.

If lotus isn’t possible or comfortable, then cross the feet as if sitting cross legged, either keep the hands on the back for support or rest the knees on the hands with the arms straight or take half lotus – if they are in a legs crossed position they can keep the legs crossed in the same way and bring the knees towards the chest for the next pose (Pindasana) – if they are in half lotus they can change to the other side in stead of Pindasana.

Pindasana

From Urdhva Padmasana, exhale bring the knees down towards the chest and hug arms around the legs and catch the hands.

If you were helping a student to balance in the previous pose you will need to stay with them for this one. Whatever modification they were doing for Urdhva Padmasana they can stay in for this pose (except half lotus as described above)

Matsyasana

From Pindasana exhale roll the legs and hips down, then, inhale and lift up into Matsyasana. If the legs are in lotus, they can stay in lotus, if the legs are crossed then they can either keep them crossed or straighten the legs out and place the hands under the hips.

For new students this is quite often a confusing posture, they often want to lift the hips and stay on the shoulders and can’t work out how to lift the shoulders and head off the floor.

So still with the legs in lotus or legs crossed, they lie back and bring the arms down by their side, lift up onto the lower arms by pressing down with the elbows. Then lift the head as they arch the upper back and take the head back and rest the top of the head on the floor. The arms can stay here providing support to stop too much weight being on the head. Or if the neck feels ok then they either hold onto the big toes if they are in lotus or not, place the hands on the thighs.

If when they lift the upper body up, and the top of the head doesn’t reach the floor, they usually need to slide the hands down towards the feet to re-position the arms – then they will be able to do it.

This pose is contra-indicated if the student suffers from vertigo or neck problems – they can lie back with the knees bent up, feet flat on the floor and hip width apart, knees resting together and cross the arms over the chest.

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matsyasana can be modified by crossing the legs instead of taking padmasana

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or by having the legs straight and the hands under the hips

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or by lying back with the arms crossed over the chest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uttana Padasana

From Matsyasana, keep the head where it is and on an inhalation bring the arms and legs to a 45 degree angle to the floor with the hands and feet together.

Students will often want to bring the legs much lower down towards the floor or higher towards the ceiling, but if the legs are lower this makes it harder and more stressful for the lower back if they are higher it makes it easier.

Then to release they can go into Chakrasana vinyasa, the feet don’t touch the floor but the legs swing straight over into Chakrasana. Please note that

Chrakrasana is one of the dangerous and difficult postures known in yoga!

Or release the pose lie back swing the legs over the head, then roll up to sitting and take a normal vinyasa from there.

Shoulder Stand Variations to Play With

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Adjustments

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place your feet just outside the elbows – lift the ankles just to take the weight off the arms and use your feet to bring the elbows closer together

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place your hands on the rib cage just below the shoulder blades – lift up to deepen the arch in the back

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if the arms aren’t down on the floor in halasana…

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step in between the arms with the back of your leg against their back… gently press the arms down towards the floor

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if the arms are already down – hook the hands with your heel and pull towards you to give an extra stretch

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if a student is working on finding their balance in urdhva padmasana – stand with the outside of your leg against their back and hold their hips with your hands to guide them into the right place to balance

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stay with them for pindasana

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then help them roll down

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an alternative adjustment is to hold around the legs to lift up – you need to be very careful you don’t put pressure on the neck

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hold the heels to lift up – start with your knees bent and straighten the legs so you use the strength in your legs not your arms

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use your feet to bring the elbows closer together – make sure you don’t stand on the skin of the arms – ouchy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Variations

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Sirsasana

Sirsa – head ‘head balance pose’

(13 vinyasas – 8th is the state of the asana)

Sapta – inhale – jump forward to a kneeling position

Exhale – place head on floor
Ashtau – inhale – come up into the posture (15 breaths) Exhale – bring legs down parallel to floor (10 breaths) Inhale – legs back up to Sirsasana
Exhale – Balasana (10 breaths)
Nava – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana
Dasa – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Ekadasa – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Press down with the forearms and side of wrists
  • Elbows squeeze towards each other
  • Lift the shoulders away from the floor
  • Press the shoulder blades against the back
  • Draw the shoulder blades towards the hips
  • Draw the shoulder blades away from each other
  • Keep the front of the ribcage coming towards the spine
  • Keep the weight even on both arms
  • Relax the fingers and avoid gripping the head
  • Use the strength in the arms to take pressure off the top of the head
  • Try to have a slight space between the top of the head and the floor
  • Strong bandhas
  • Pubic bone forwards – heels back
  • Energy in the legs
  • Energy in the feet
  • Press up into the feet
  • Lift through the inner legs to the big-toe joint
  • Squeeze the legs together
  • Lift the legs up out of the hips
  • Lift the hips away from the shoulders
  • Lift the shoulders away from the floor

How to Break Down for Beginners

In order to lift up into headstand in a way that is safe for the neck and spine a student will need a fair amount of strength in the arms and upper body and core.

To build up this strength they can use chatturanga on the forearms with the hands clasped. Side plank on the forearm will build up strength in the oblique abdominals too. Dolphin – downward dog on the forearms with the hands clasped and then walk in the feet as much as possible to get the spine as vertical as possible.

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When a student can do this for 20 breaths comfortably, then they are ready to practice going up into headstand.

There is also a strengthening variation against the wall – kneel on all fours, facing away from the wall, place the feet flat against the wall, position the elbows under the shoulders and clasp the hands, keep the head off the floor, walk the feet up the wall until the legs are parallel to the floor.

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Once a student is strong enough:

To place the arms: hold the hands around the elbows to position the elbows on the floor, then move the hands a clasp – this makes a stable triangular base.

The hands can be clasped with the palms together, with the hands flat down or with the fingers interlocked and palms open.

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Fingers stay relaxed.

Move the bottom little finger out of the way – this can be enough to make the whole pose uneven.

Change the interlock of the hands each time you practice.

To place the head – draw a line directly up from the top of the ears – this part of the head should be on the floor – for most people this puts the neck in a position of neutral curves

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Dristi: Nose or point on the mat.

So if a student has the strength, they place the arms and place the head correctly – then press down with the forearms and sides of the wrists – lift the shoulders away from the ears – draw the front of the rib cage in to the body – engage bandhas – then WITHOUT jumping, see if they can lift the toes 1 cm off the floor. They should spend a while practicing here and get stable and comfortable – then play with coming up higher.

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Or

See if they can lift one foot at a time up to the hips, then lift the knees to the air, then lift the feet all the way up.

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In Ashtanga, after doing full headstand for 10 breaths, we do a variation coming half way down so the legs are parallel to the floor – extra strength is needed for this or the neck will be stressed.

Then there is an inhale back up to headstand – careful of balance at this point – then exhale lower down slowly with control with legs straight if possible.

There is also a lift up at the end of the head routine so the head comes off the floor – this is a good variation to build up the correct strength – the head needs to lift so as to look towards the navel.

Points to Watch Out For

Kicking up into headstand is wrong and should never be done! It is jerking on the neck with the whole body weight on the neck and is a slow motion car crash!

The neck evolved to support the weight of the head – not the whole body so as with the hands – if we are taking weight here extra care should be taken with alignment and correct technique.

If the hips are flexed (ie bent) give the instruction press the heels back and pubic bone forward. If they can’t do this it is probably because the abdominals are weak – in this case they should go back to the strengthening options

If they banana (ie over arch the back and flare out the rib cage) give the instruction draw the front of the rib cage in towards the spine. If they can’t do this they need to strengthen the abdominals – lie back – press lower back to floor with the knees bent and the feet up in the air, then slowly lower legs.

Some people have arms too short to reach the floor past their head – they need to do different variation of headstand.

If someone falls out of headstand they need to roll or land on their feet into a back bend – not just crash down in one line!

There are pros and cons of practicing against a wall – people get stuck to the wall and afraid to come away and have to re-learn the whole thing – it’s best to try in the middle of the room with a teacher spotting.

Variations to Play With

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Adjustments

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against the wall – stand with the outside of your leg against their back – hold their hips with your hands – ask them to press back against your leg – this connects them to their core strength and stops that back from banana-ing

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to spot someone going into headstand in the middle of the room – stand with your head OUT OF THE WAY – you do not want to get kicked in the face – believe me! hold their hips – guide them up

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once they are up swap to holding around their legs so you can catch them if they fall either way – make sure your head is still OUT OF THE WAY!

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go back to holding their hips as they come down

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to connect someone to their core strength hold your fist between their calves and ask them to squeeze

Counter Pose

The counter pose is Balasana or child’s pose although it’s not usually called this in Ashtanga – the arms stay forwards in the same position as for headstand. It is held for 10 breaths

It allows the blood to normalise between the head and the body and allows the neck to decompress.

 

Childs Pose

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first gently press the hips back and down

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then walk up the side of the spine pressing the muscles on either side of the spine – sink in with your body weight

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third – hook your fingers over their shoulders and draw them up and back – use your forearms to press down either side of the spine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga Mudra, Padmasana, Uth Pluthi, Sivasana

(14 vinyasas – 9th and 10th are the states of the asana)

Sapta – inhale – forwards

Exhale – Dandasana

Ashtau – inhale – take Padmasana

Exhale – bind the arms behind the back

Inhale

Nava – exhale – Yoga Mudra – fold forwards (10 breaths)

Dasa – inhale – come up, place back of hands on knees, chin towards chest, look to nose – Padmasana (20 breaths)

Dasa – inhale – place hands to floor either side of hips, lift up – Uth Pluthi (10 breaths)

Exhale – come down
Inhale – lift up
Dasa – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana

Ekadasa – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Dvadasa – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

Trayodasa – inhale – forwards, lift chest Chaturdasa – exhale – fold down
Inhale – come to standing in Samastitihi

Closing Chant

Ekam – inhale – reach up

Dve – exhale – fold down
Trini – inhale – lift chest
Chatvari – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana

Panca – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Shat – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

Sapta – inhale – forwards to Dandasana

Ashtau – exhale – lie back – Sivasana

How to Break Down for Beginners

Give the options of the usual modifications for lotus, sitting cross legged, if necessary on a block until the hips are higher than the knees, supporting the knees if they are off the floor, or half lotus or students can kneel, have the legs straight, whatever they need to do to be comfortable. It’s best not to lean back against a wall if possible, but if that is the only way a student can be comfortable then that’s fine. State clearly that it’s important for the student to be comfortable. This is a little section of stillness and meditation/pranayama and if the student is just feeling uncomfortable and distracted by pains in the body it won’t be enjoyable and it won’t have the desired affect (ie calming the nervous system).

If a student is in lotus they may be able to bind by holding the big toes behind the back – if not holding the elbows behind their back is fine.

Then….

Exhale fold forwards aiming the chin towards the floor. Five breaths.

Inhale come up, release the bind and bring the back of the hands onto the legs with the arms straight.
Chin mudra, moola bandha, uddiyana bandha, jalandhara bandha, nasagrai dristi, free breathing.
Take 25 breaths.

Then pranayama and uddiyana bandha if practicing

Then Uth Pluthi – lifting up for 5 breaths.

Then vinyasa to standing for the closing chant

Then vinyasa to sitting and REST IN SIVASANA

Sivasana

Teaching Points

  • Relax the breath – normal breathing
  • Allow the head and body to become heavy and sink down into the floor
  • Allow your thoughts to drift through your mind
  • Completely relax, completely let go
  • If the lower back is uncomfortable, bend knees up and place feet flat on the floor

Props for Sivasana

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you can use props to make Sivasana super-comfy – the sand bags on the shoulders have blocks under them

 

NAMASTE!!!!!

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Teaching Asana: general topics

Importance of strength to go with flexibility

Importance of The Edge

Modifications

- For hyperflexibility

- For an anterior tilt of the pelvis

- For a posterior tilt of the pelvis

Going Deeper

-why would you do it? what does it mean? is it yogic? is it safe?

Injuries

- hamstrings

- knees

- SI joint

- Lower Back

- Shoulders

- Pain leads to Injury!

Principles of Standing Poses

Principles of Sitting Poses

Principles of Forward Bends

Principles of Back bends

Principles of Twists

Chants

 

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Yoga Immersion

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Time:  5 March 2015 to 19 March 2015

Place: Brahmani Yoga, Anjuna, Goa, India

Yoga Immersion and Foundation Course for Teacher Trainings.

This course is specifically designed for all yoga enthusiasts whether you are interested in becoming a teacher or not. The structure of this programme will take you through a 2 week intensive study to deepen your understanding, knowledge and experience of yoga and its many aspects.

If you have wanted to learn more about your asana practice and what is the right approach for you, understand anatomy and discover more about the philosophy behind the practice, then this is the course for you. Not only will you be immersed in daily practice and teachings that will enhance your skills and knowledge, but you’ll also be giving yourself a great foundation should you want to continue on to a teacher training programme later on.

At Brahmani we guide students to gain the best experience to prepare them to embrace their practice or even move forward to become a teacher. We believe that a simple 200 hour teacher training is not enough and therefore offer this course as a preparation and offer our level one courses at 350 hours so that should you choose a path as a teacher you are better prepared.

I amexcited to have our amazing senior teachers: Emil Wendel and Josefin Wikstrom running this course with me.

More details

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Teaching Asana: Sitting poses

Dandasana

English Translation: stick or staff = Staff Posture

Dristi: nose

Vinyasas: none

 

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Sapta Inhale jump through Dandasana Toes

Teaching Points

This posture is like Samastitihi; it is about setting the foundation, finding a neutral position for the spine and wiping the slate clean in between other postures. All these teaching points can apply to all the sitting postures when the legs are straight:

  • Flex the feet
  • Keep the heels down on the floor
  • Press into the heels
  • Draw the little toe back level with the big toe
  • Engage the front thighs
  • Inner thigh moves down towards the floor (medial rotation of thigh)
  • Find a central position for the sitting bones – not tipped forwards or backwards
  • Keep the bandhas working
  • Find a neutral position for the spine
  • Find a gentle lift through the spine
  • Ground the hands into floor
  • The arms may be straight or bent – shoulders are relaxed and lightly drawn down
  • Back of neck long
  • Look towards the toes

How to Break Down for Beginners

There are a lot of points in Dandasana that apply to all the sitting poses so it is worth spending some time to set it properly.

Legs straight out in front. The feet here are the same as when standing: feet flexed so the toes point up to the ceiling and the little toes are level with the big toes. Toes spread wide and the base of the big toe and base of the little toe pressing away so the arch across the base of the toes is activated. As with standing, the action in the feet will support the action of the muscles around the knees, so if the feet are flopping out to the side or the toes are out of alignment, there is a risk of placing uneven pressure on the knees that can cause problems over time.

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feet flexed so toes point up to the ceiling – toes spread – press away with the base of the big toe, base of the little toe and center of the heel

The heels stay down on the ground – if the heels come off the floor, the knees can be pressed down too much and could be hyper-extended.

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Wrong! if the heels come off the ground the knees may hyper-extend

The center of the heel presses away.

The thighs, especially the quads are engaged – this keeps energy in the pose, strengthens the legs and protects the knees. The quadriceps muscle turns into a tendon, which goes around the kneecap (patella) so if the quads are engaged it holds the kneecap still and stabilizes the knee joint. Engaging the quads also allows the hamstrings to release and stretch (inverse stretch reflex).

The knees stay pointing up to the ceiling.

The hips are in a neutral position, sitting slightly on the front of the sit bones. If a student has an anterior tilt or very flexible hamstrings or very internally rotated hips, it can help them to tuck the flesh of the side of the hips under the body. If there is a posterior tilt it can help to draw the flesh of the side of the hips out.

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if a student is very internally rotated then externally rotating the thighs can help them find balance -

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Wrong! if the student sits with the weight in front of the sit bones the lower back will over arch – if a student is very internally rotated and/or has a strong lordotic curve they can rotate the thighs inwards

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Wrong! if the student sits too far back on the sit bones or has restrictions in the body that stop them from sitting up they will place pressure on the lower back

The sit bones press down to give a lift through the spine, neutral curves in the spine.

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Right! sitting on the center of the sit bones with a gentle lift through the spine keeping the natural curves

Back of the neck long.

Gaze to toes. The gaze stays soft and peripheral, the point is to take the awareness inside – not to look at the toes.

Hands are placed slightly behind the body with the fingers facing forwards. The arms can be bent or straight depending on the length of the arms in relation to the torso.

The shoulders lightly drawn back and down with the bottom point of the shoulder blades (bra strap line) pressing lightly forwards into the body.

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depending on the length of the arm relative to the torso the hands may be flat down with the elbows bent or just the finger tips touching – the shoulders stay lightly drawing back and down

Head sits straight on the neck with the back of the neck slightly lengthened.

Modifications

If the student is very tight in the hamstrings or has a significant posterior tilt in the pelvis so the lumbar curve is pressed outwards, they need to sit up on a block and/or bend their knees so they can lift up enough to get natural curves in their spine. If the lumbar spine is pressed outwards, this can put pressure on the vertebrae and discs between the spine. The psoas muscle and hip flexors will also engage to try to draw the torso upright, and this will create tension in those muscles and the body ends up fighting against itself.

IMG_0532

sitting on a block will help a student lift out of the lower back and so protect the spine from stress

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if no blocks are available or if they still have trouble lifting up they can bend their knees aswell

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if the curve in the upper back is very pronounced then using a belt around the feet can help them to lift and straighten the spine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Points to Watch Out For

Make sure the teaching points you give apply to all body types. For example if a student is rounding the shoulders forwards they need to draw the shoulder blades together – but if a student is over arching the back they need to do the opposite to create space between the shoulder blades. Ideally, the chest and the upper back are both broad and open. Encourage the student to create the openness with softness by breathing up and out into the rib cage, chest and upper back.

Adjustments

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supporting a students lower back feels very nice in Dandasana – it can also help students with a rounded lower back to lift up

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start the adjustment by placing the balls of your feet against their lower back either side of the spine – have your knees bent – then press in so the whole of your feet makes contact lifting and supporting the lower back

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or stand behind them with the outside of your leg against their back use your hands to draw their shoulders back so they are supported in an upright position against your leg

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to give awareness of where the feet should be place a block against the soles of their feet

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or you can use your feet

IMG_0543

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Thighs: inward rotation, adduction.

Calves – outwards.

Heels – downwards.

Back of knees – downwards but avoid hyper extension.

Knees – point to ceiling.

Hips – flexion to 90 degrees.

Spine – neutral curves.

Feet – dorsi-flexion

Lengthening:

Hamstrings, gleuts.

Notes:

Slight relaxing of toes.

If moving forwards causes discomfort in sacrum/lower back, you can place rolled blanket tight against top of hips to give more space and avoid compression of sensitive areas.

Engage front thighs – relax back of thighs.

Dandasana sets the foundation for all sitting postures.

Rotations:

Legs – internal to neutral.

Paschimattanasana

English Translation: Paschima – Western, Uttana – Intense Stretch = Western

Intense Stretch Posture

Dristi: toes

Vinyasas: 16 Vinyasas – 9th is the state of the asana

 

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
From Dandasana
Ashtau Inhale reach forward hook 1st two fingers round big toes
Nava Exhale fold forward (5 breaths) Foot
Inhale lift chest – hold around outside of feet or hold the wrists
Exhale fold forward (5 breaths)
Dasa Inhale straight arms – lift chest
Exhale release
Ekadasa Inhale inhale – cross the legs and lift
Dvadasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Trayodasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Chaturdasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Draw the navel in as you fold forwards
  • Keep the foundation in the legs
  • Relax the arms and shoulders
  • Draw the shoulder blades down the back towards hips
  • Gentle stretch on the back of the legs
  • Sitting bones go back and down into the floor
  • Lengthen through the front of the body, back, sides of the ribcage, back of neck
  • Heart towards the feet

For the second hand position

  • Use the fingers to draw outside edges of the feet towards you and the thumbs to press the big toes away

How to Break Down for Beginners

First make sure all students who need to modify the pose are safely up on their blocks.

If the concave curve in the lumbar spine is pressing strongly outwards, a student needs a block to allow them to start drawing the curve back to its natural position.

If the hinge is not from the hips but from the lower back, then a block will help the hinge come from the hips and avoid pressure on the spine.

If the hamstrings are very tight and the student is really struggling or shaking or feels the stretch too strongly, or feels the stretch at the muscle attachment (either at the knee or the sit bones) they can either bend the knees or sit on a block.

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Wrong! if a student is over-curving their spine to fold forwards they can be putting un-healthy pressure on their spine

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…they can bend their knees to take the pressure off the spine…

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…..or sit on a block….

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…and use a belt to help straighten the upper spine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next make sure students who are curving strongly forward in the upper backs have belts to put around the feet so they can use resistance between the belt and the feet to draw the shoulder blades back and down and open across the chest.

Explain to those students that they need to work on getting the spine in a more neutral position and getting a hinge in the hips before they start to fold forwards otherwise they can cause damage to the vertebrae and discs.

If you have no belts or blocks available or if you prefer to work without them, you can ask the student to bend their knees and hold onto the shin rather than the feet and work in the same way ie staying more upright working on the hinge and the hips and length in the spine.

Encourage students not to fixate on being able to touch their toes or fold all the way down. Instead to work with lengthening the spine, the front of the body, the sides of the rib cage – to work towards being able to fold forwards with the natural curves in the spine.

If someone is very flexible and folding forwards too strongly or over arching the lumbar, they can cause problems in the hamstrings – especially the attachment or the SI joint – they need to press the sit bones back and down, strongly engage uddiyana bandha and hold back a bit.

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some students student is over-extending forwards and pulling on the SI joint or top of the hamstrings – you will see the sit bones lifting off the floor….

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they need to focus on staying grounded through the sit bones as they fold forwards

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…to keep a healthy stretch in the muscles in the back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Modifications

Sitting on a block for tightness in the hamstrings, hips or back.

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Using a strap to work on lengthening the front of the body and broadening the chest.

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If the knees hyperextend, place a rolled up towel under the knees to stop them pressing into the floor (and engage the quads).

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if the knees hyper-extend place a rolled up towel under the knees to protect them

Points to Watch Out For

If a student is very flexible when they fold forwards they are likely to lose their foundation in the sit bones, and often their connection to their uddiyana bandha. This will result in them pulling on the sacro iliac joint (they will often experience shooting pains coming and going there). They need to press down with the sit bones, strongly engage their uddiyana bandha and not go any further forwards in the pose (see above).

There is a tendency for students to pull themselves forwards into the pose with their arms creating tension in the shoulders. The shoulder blades draw down the back towards the hips and the bottom points of the shoulder blades in towards the body creating openness and space.

IMG_0554

to break the habit of pulling into the pose with the arms try doing it with the hands holding the elbows behind the back

If the student is flexible enough, the arms can often drop down and flop onto the floor. This creates a disengagement of focus and energy in the pose. The arms stay up with the elbows at the same height as the toes and pointing out to the side – this keep openness and energy in the pose.

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Wrong! the arms are flopping down onto the floor – no energy or action in the pose

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Right! the elbows are level with the toes – bandhas engaged – the pose stays alive

The dristi is the foot, but how the student finds their dristi will change depending on how far forwards they fold. If they are high up they look at their toes. If they are very flexible with their heads down on their legs, at first they need to keep the back of the neck long with the top of the head pointing at the feet and look up just with their eyes. They are looking towards the toes but don’t actually see them. Then, once a great degree of flexibility is gained they can place their chin on their shin without creating stress on the back of the neck and look at the toes directly again.

If the head rests down on the legs the energy of the pose is lost, the head is always lifted.

If pain is felt in the back of the knees the student needs to bend their knees to take the pressure off the ligaments and tendons.

If pain is felt at the sit bones where the hamstring attaches, it’s a bit more tricky. Bending the knees will take pressure off the distal end of the hamstring (furthest away from the hips) but may put more pressure on the proximal end (near the hips). It might be best for them to fold forwards only in the pain free range and strongly engage the quads to allow the hamstrings to release. Also pointing the toes can release the calf muscles, which can lessen pressure on the hamstrings. Whenever there is pain at a muscle attachment, the best advice is always to back off, even if it’s just a slight ache, slight aches can have a habit of turning into major injuries if they are ignored. It’s much easier to rest for a while to allow any inflammation to ease off, than to heal a hamstring attachment injury which often takes up to 2 years.

The legs are active with the quad muscles engaged. The bandhas still engaged.

Adjustments

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if the student has restrictions in the body and cannot lift up in the lower back to hinge at the hips – press your feet into their lower back as with dandasana (above)

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if they are more flexible then use your knees to squeeze the hips in and your hands to press the sit bones back and down

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for medium flexibility use the knees to squeeze the hips in and place your hands between the curve of their back and the hips and gently press forwards and down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0721

if the knees are bent because the hamstrings are tight but the back is fairly open hug their legs towards you and use your abdomen to hug them into the pose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Spine – flexion moving towards extension.

Hip – flexion, adduction, internal rotation.

Lengthening:

Spinal extensors, latissimus dorsi, Hamstrings, external rotators of hips, gastrocs, soleus, rhomboids, lower traps.

Notes:

For all sitting postures:

Avoid dropping elbows (keep at level of toes) there is a connection between active arms and open lungs.

Rotations

Legs – internal

Upper Arms external

Lower arms – internal

Purvattanasana

English Translation: Purva – Eastern, Uttana – Intense Stretch = Eastern Intense Stretch Posture

Dristi: Nose

Vinyasas: 15 Vinyasas – 8th is the state of the asana

 

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
From Down Dog
Sapta Inhale jump or step through – sit down
Exhale place hands 30cm behind back – fingers face forwards
Ashtau Inhale lift up into the posture (5 breaths) Nose
Nava Exhale Lower down
Dasa Inhale inhale – cross the legs and lift
Ekadasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Dvadasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Trayodasa Inhale Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Wrists under the shoulders
  • Squeeze the feet together
  • Squeeze the legs together (squeezing the legs together engages the adductor muscles, these muscles connect the psoas to the rectus abdominus and the pectorals – the strength muscles of the front of the body)
  • Press the toes down towards the floor
  • Breathe into the chest
  • Lift the hips towards the ceiling
  • Lift the chest towards the ceiling
  • Lift the face towards the ceiling
  • Press down through the hands
  • Energy in the legs

How to Break Down for Beginners

For beginners, explain the positioning of the hands, fingers facing forwards, hands flat down on the floor around 30 cms behind you. Then quickly demonstrate the modification, then the full pose, explain about safely positioning the head. Then talk through the pose.

Modifications

With knees bent.

IMG_0569Place the hands as usual with the heels of the hands around 30 cms behind the hips – when lifted up into the pose the wrists should be under the shoulders. Fingers facing forwards. The bend the knees and place the feet flat on the floor half way to the body. Then on an inhalation lift the hips up. Keep the head lifted up looking forwards.

With forearms down.

IMG_0571Place the elbows under the shoulders with the forearms parallel with each other and flat down on the floor. Squeeze the legs together to lift the hips.

With hands down but just lifting the chest.

IMG_0567Place the hands behind the body flat down on the floor as above then lift the chest – use the shoulder blades pushing up into the rib cage.

Points to Watch Out For

If the weight of the head is thrown back, it can put pressure on the neck. So the face should be lifted up towards the ceiling as the head goes back to create a nice curve in the neck.

If there is stiffness, weakness or injury in the neck, the chin must stay on the chest to keep the head up and the neck in a safe position.

The head should either be all the way up or all the way back – anything in between creates stress in the neck muscles.

If there is injury of weakness in the wrist the student can try with the forearms down.

Pressing down with each finger and thumb distributes the weight through the wrist and hand and helps to protect the wrists and helps to lift.

Pressing up with the sit bones helps to lengthen the lower back. It also helps to engage the muscles in the bum in a healthy way that is not completely relaxed but also not completely clenched – a gentle engagement. Too big an engagement will create congestion around the SI joint and gives external rotation in the hips. For back bends we want internal rotation at the hips. However engaging the gluteal muscles also extends the hips which we do want for back bends. Also too much engagement at the gluts can mean the hamstrings and lower back muscles don’t engage – we want all the muscles – hamstrings, gluts and back muscles working in balance.

There is a tendency for student to start to puff the breath up into the belly in this pose. The breath should stay expanding into the chest – not the belly.

The feet press together and the toes press down.

Adjustments

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the positioning of the feet for the first adjustment – if this isn’t possible (because they are too high or too low), just use one foot and support your leg with your hands

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get into position first with the ball of one foot against their sacrum – as they go up into the pose gently push up and away with your foot – your hands press their shoulder straight down

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or stand with your legs mid-thigh – place your heels close together toes pointing out so you can support their legs and squeeze them in just using your legs

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then place your arms around the widest part of their hips (normally the top of the legs) hold your wrist with one hand so you’re not grabbing their bum – lift up and lengthen tail bone towards the feet. Watch your own back here.

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Spine – extension.

Hip – extension, internal rotation, adduction.

Shoulder – glenohumeral joint extension, neutral rotation.

Elbow extension.

Forearm pronation.

Wrist extension.

Lengthening:

Spine – rectual abdominus, obliques, psoas, sternocleidomastoid, quads, biceps, pecs.

Notes:

If weakness in hamstrings then gleuts will take over (tense bum) which brings in external rotation – which is hard on the back. The gleuts should be lightly engaged – not completely tense but not completely relaxed.

Rotations:

Legs – internal.

Upper arms – external to neutral.

Lower arms – internal.

Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana

English Translation: Ardha – half, Baddha – bound, Padma – Lotus, Paschimattanasana – Intense Western Stretch = Half bound lotus intense western stretch posture

Dristi: toes

Vinyasas: 22 Vinyasas – 8th and 15th are the states of the asana

 

 

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
From Down Dog
Sapta Inhale jump or step through – sit down
Exhale Dandasana
Inhale take right foot into Padmasana – bind right arm behind back – take hold of left foot with left hand
Ashtau Exhale fold forwards into the posture (5 breaths)  Foot
Nava Inhale straighten left arm – lift the chest
Exhale release
Dasa Inhale cross the legs and lift up
Ekadasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Dvadasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Trayodasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana
Chaturdasa Inhale jump or step forwards
Exhale Dandasana
Inhale take left foot into Padmasana – bind left arm behind back – take hold of the right foot with the right hand
Pancadasa Exhale fold forwards into the posture (5 breaths) Foot
Sodasa Inhale lift the chest
Exhale release
Saptadasa Inhale cross the legs and lift up
Astodasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Ekoonavimsatih Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Vimsatih Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Engage and internally rotate the straight leg
  • Soften the bent leg
  • Soften the bent leg down towards the floor (don’t press down – allow gravity to take the leg down if it feels good for the body)
  • Soften the right shoulder down towards the floor so the shoulders are parallel to the floor
  • Draw the left shoulder back and down so the shoulders are level
  • If comfortable in the padmasana, draw the thighs towards each other

How to Break Down for Beginners

For beginners, always start by explaining the importance of being careful with the knee when externally rotating the hips and putting the leg in lotus. Explain that any pain in the knee is an indication that the ligaments, tendons or cartilage are being stressed and that this is likely to result in an injury. So if they feel any pain in the knee they need to back off and do one of the modifications.

Explain that it’s common for people to injure themselves whilst getting in and out of poses so they need to keep breathing and always move slowly and carefully. They need to go just far enough to feel a stretch in the middle of the muscles and stop there. If they try to go too quickly or too strongly into a stretch, the nervous system will react by tensing the muscle to protect it.

Even if a student has enough flexibility to ‘do lotus’, I prefer them to do one of the modifications for a while until they get used to working with their body in a safe way and are able to tell the difference between a safe stretch and an injury about to happen.

Once they have positioned the right leg in a way that is safe for them, they rotate the rib cage towards the straight leg and inhale lengthening the body forwards, taking hold of the leg, ankle or foot, then exhale fold down.

The bent leg relaxes. Some students think the knee of the lotus leg should be down on the floor and try to push it down by tensing the muscles in that leg. This can cause tension and stress in the knee and should be discouraged. If the knee is off the floor the safest thing is to rest it on a block.

The straight leg engages.

The shoulders are working towards being parallel to the floor.

For more experienced students:

The safest way of getting into lotus:

1)   First bend the knee up towards the ceiling so it is fully flexed and the joint is closed. This way the knee is held still. It’s when the knee is half closed then taken out to the side that it is most vulnerable.

IMG_0583

2)   Then holding underneath the ankle take the knee out to the side. The hold underneath will encourage the external rotation (holding from above will encourage internal rotation which doesn’t help and may cause stress on the knee). Holding the ankle rather than the foot will ensure that the outside of the ankle isn’t pushed outwards and stressed (which can also cause stress on the knee). The foot and ankle are held in a fairly neutral position.

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3)   Then aiming the heel towards the navel gently draw the foot (still holding the ankle from underneath) in to the body – the knee pointing forwards.

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4)   Then place the foot down at the top of the thigh so the sole of the foot turns up and the arch curves around the hip bone eventually the knee may point forwards and the thigh bones (femurs) be parallel.

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With all these moves – no sharp pain and no pain in the knee or ankle or hip.

If possible – the knee is down on the floor and pointing forwards so the thighs are coming towards being parallel. Maybe next life-time!

If the foot is in lotus fairly comfortably the next thing is the bind.

Take the arm out to shoulder height, point the thumb down to slightly internally rotate the upper arm, then take a big circle back with the arm and see if they can reach their big toe.

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Modifications

The first modification is to put the right foot down on the floor with the sole of the foot pointing down the inside of the left leg as in Janu Sirsasana.

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Next the ankle of the right foot can be placed just above the knee of the opposite leg. The foot is taken far enough over to the side so that the foot and ankle are neutral and no pressure is placed on the ankle and knee. If the knee is very high up off the floor, or if the student seems strained or uncomfortable ask them to put the foot back on the floor. If the knee is only slightly high and everything seems ok, they can rest the knee on a block for safety and comfort.

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The next option is for the right foot to be drawn gradually higher up the leg. If the ankle pressing on the thigh is uncomfortable then a towel can be placed under the foot to padding.

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If the bind isn’t possible they can fold forwards with both hands coming forward.

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If there is some discomfort or an old injury in the knee, they can place a rolled up scarf or a folded over belt behind the knee before they close the joint. This creates a bit more space for the knee and often really helps students in this pose.

IMG_0599Getting the Bind

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arm shoulder height – reach out to the side – point thumb down to internally rotate the shoulder – take a big circle round the back of the body

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if the bind is close – take hold of the wrist with the other hand and draw it round – twisting away form the foot can also help

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holding the base of the big toes gives more grip and using the thumb to press the big toe forwards helps to keep the grip

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the pose!

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if the bind is not possible a student can hold on to their t-shirt

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or they can use a belt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Points to Watch Out For

It is very common for students to injure their knees trying to ‘do full lotus’ -explain that everyone needs to work with their bodies with sensitivity and compassion. We do want to challenge our selves and always strive to be the fullest expression of our self, but we need to find the line between doing nothing and doing too much and hurting our self. Sometimes that’s a very fine line. If they are unsure they should err on the side of caution and back off.

Point out that there is a huge amount of learning and growth in trying to do something that is challenging and difficult, even if we never actually reach the ‘end point’ – whatever the student imagines that is. We learn patience, sensitivity and awareness. We get to observe our self in our patterns and process. We learn to accept our self and stop judging and criticising and comparing our self to others. It’s at time like these in the practice that it can come alive and start to be with us off the yoga mat and into our whole life.

Adjustments

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put your hand on the opposite shoulder to stabilize. Hold the wrist and pull the arm out to the side – make sure they are relaxed – be quite firm

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take the arm around until it points directly back – at this point take hold of the middle of the forearm and rotate the shoulder inwards as you continue to take the arm around

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then use your other hand just above the elbow to help their arm continue round

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if they can’t quite reach the bind you can give them your hand to hold

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if they’ve got the bind but only just – keep holding their hand in place and use your other hand just above their elbow to give gentle pressure

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once they are in the bind and everything is ok the adjustment is NOT to push them deeper – lotus poses are vulnerable – the adjustment is to bring the shoulders so they are level using your hand and elbow

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Spine: flexion moving towards extension.

Straight leg: Hip flexion, adduction, internal rotation.

Bent Leg: Hip flexion, abduction, external rotation, knee flexion, lower leg external rotation.

Bound arm: glenohumeral joint – internal rotation, extension, adduction;

elbow – flexion; forearm – pronation.

Lengthening:

Straight Leg: Hamstrings, external rotators of hips, gastrocs, soleus.

Bent Leg: Adductors, pectineus, tensor fascia lata, gleut medius and minimus, quads.

Bound arm: subscapularis, pecs, teres major, deltoid, triceps.

Rotations:

Straight Leg – internal rotation.

Bent leg – external rotation.

Bound arm – internal rotation.

Tiriangmukhaikapada Paschimattanasana

English Translation: Tri – three, anga – limb, mukha – face, eka – one, pada – foot, Paschimattanasana – Intense western posture = Three limbs face one foot intense western posture

Dristi: toes

Vinyasas: 22 Vinyasas – 8th and 15th are the states of the asana

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
From Down Dog
Sapta Inhale Jump through – sit down
Exhale Dandasana
Inhale Inhale – fold the right foot back and reach forwards
Ashtau Exhale fold forwards into the posture (5 breaths) toes
Nava Inhale straighten the arms – lift the chest
Exhale Release
Dasa Inhale Cross the legs and lift up
Ekadasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Dvadasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Trayodasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana
Chaturdasa Inhale Jump or step forwards
Exhale Dandasana
Inhale Inhale – fold the left foot back and reach forwards
Pancadasa Exhale fold forwards into the posture (5 breaths)
Sodasa Inhale Lift the chest
Exhale Release
Saptadasa Inhale cross the legs and lift up
Astodasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Ekoonavimsatih Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Vimsatih Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Strongly engage the straight leg and rotate the inner thigh down towards the floor (activating the straight leg is more important in this posture as it keeps the body upright)
  • Relax the right hip down towards the floor
  • Connect the right toes to the floor
  • Press the top of right foot into the floor to encourage the hips towards the ground

How to Break Down for Beginners

From Dandasana, beginners lean over to the left side and fold the right leg back. The important points here are firstly that there is no pain in the knee and that they aren’t tipping over to the side. If there is pain or if they are tipping to the side they need to sit up on blocks (see modifications). Secondly, check that the toes of the bent leg are pointing straight back, if the toes are pointing out to the side this can stress the knee, so they also need to sit up on a block. If the toes are pointing inwards it can stress the ankle.

IMG_0635

lean over to the side and fold the right leg back

It can help to create space for the hips to go down to rotate the calf muscle of the bent leg out of the way – to avoid over-doing it, place the thumb to the center of the calf and press in.

IMG_0636

press the thumb into the center of the calf to create space

Then the student inhales and lengthens forwards to hold the shin or the foot and exhales and folds down into the pose. Most people will feel as if they are tipping over to the left, so they need to strongly engage the left leg and internally rotate that leg to hold themselves straight in the posture.

The bent leg relaxes. If a student tries to press the hip of the bent leg down it will cause the muscles to tense and may cause pressure on the knee.

To keep the hips in line, make sure the knees are the same distance away from the body (that is, knees in line)

IMG_0657

Wrong! the hips are out of line

IMG_0659

Right! make sure the knees are in line then the hips will also be in line

Modifications

The main modification here is to sit on a block (or as many as necessary to get the hips level). The block goes under both sides of the hips.

IMG_0637

Wrong! if the block is only under one hip there will be a shearing action on the SI joint

IMG_0638

Right! the block is under both sides of the hips

If they are only slightly leaning out to the side they can place their hand on the floor to help them stay upright.

IMG_0642

placing the hand out to the side can help a student stay upright in the pose

If the student is challenged hinging at the hips or broadening across the chest they can use a belt around the feet to lengthen the body and open the chest.

Points to Watch Out For

If the toes are pointing out to the side it will stress the knee – tise can be due to lack of awareness or due to stiffness in the body. If it is due to stiffness they need to sit up on a block.

IMG_0654

Wrong! the foot is pointing out to the side.

If the toes are pointing in to the body with the ankle curved it can stress the ankle and the knee. Normally this is a lack of awareness rather than a physical restriction so this can be corrected quite easily.

IMG_0655

Wrong! the foot is pointing in

 

IMG_0657

Right! the toes are pointing straight back

The knees don’t have to be together, it is more about thigh-bones being parallel.

It can help some students to hold the right arm out to the side (for the right leg bent back) first to add some extra weight to help the hip go down. Or place the left hand to the ground for support and to help the hips become level. It can also help to hold onto the right heel as they go forwards to give some resistance to help the forward fold.

IMG_0641

holding on to the heel can help a student go more comfortably into the pose

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bringing the arm out to the side (not on the floor) adds a bit of weight and can help the hip to sink down

If a student can’t reach the foot they can hold the shin

IMG_0644or use a belt

IMG_0651If they can reach the foot but find the shoulders are hunching up to the ears, it can help to cross the hands and draw the shoulder blades down the back

IMG_0649

Adjustments

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first place you foot to the center of their thigh, the inside of your leg supports the side of the rib cage

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then place our hand on their hip to gently press down – either on the thigh like this…

IMG_0665

…or on the lower back like this

IMG_0666

next place your hand on their upper back NOT on the shoulder blade

press back and down with the hand on the thigh or hip and press forwards with the other hand and your leg

IMG_0671

you can use your foot to press their little toes down

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Straight leg: Hip flexion, adduction, internal rotation

Bent leg: hip flexion, internal rotation, adduction, knee flexion

Spine: flexion moving towards extension

Lengthening:

Straight Leg: Hamstrings, external rotators of hips, gastrocs, soleus

Bent Leg: quads, tibialis anterior

Rotations:

Both legs: internal rotation

Janu Sirsasana A, B and C

English Translation: Janu – knee, Sirsa – head = head to knee posture

Dristi: toes

Vinyasas: 22 Vinyasas – 8th and 15th are the states of the asana

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
From Down Dog
Sapta Inhale Jump or step through and sit down
Exhale Dandasana
Inhale A: take the right leg out to the side with the sole of the foot pointing down the inside of the straight leg.B: take the right leg out to the side in the same way as for A then lift the hips, slide the hips forwards and sit on the foot with the heel to center of the perineum.C: take the right leg out to the side tuck the toes under and place the heel against the inside of the left legAll: reach forwards
Ashtau Exhale fold forwards into the posture (5 breaths) foot
Nava Inhale straighten the arms – lift the chest
Exhale Release
Dasa Inhale Cross the legs and lift up
Ekadasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Dvadasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Trayodasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana
Chaturdasa Inhale Jump or step forwards
Exhale Dandasana
Inhale A: take the left leg out to the side with the sole of the foot pointing down the inside of the straight leg.B: take the left leg out to the side in the same way as for A then lift the hips and slide forwards to sit on the foot with the heel to centre of the perineum.C: take the left leg out to the side tuck the toes under and place the heel against the inside of the left legAll: reach forwards
Pancadasa Exhale fold forwards into the posture (5 breaths)
Sodasa Inhale Lift the chest
Exhale Release
Saptadasa Inhale Cross the legs and lift up
Astodasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Ekoonavimsatih Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Vimsatih Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana

 

Teaching Points

  • Engage the straight leg
  • Relax the bent leg
  • Press the right sit bone back and down
  • Rotate the ribcage towards the straight leg
  • Lengthen through the sides of the ribcage – especially the left side

How to Break Down for Beginners

From Dandasana

A

Bend the right knee up so the joint is closed, this way the knee is protected, then take it out to the side. If this in uncomfortable for the knee or if the knee is really high off the floor they should take one of the modifications (see below).

IMG_0674

bend the knee up first to close the knee joint and protect it

Then lift up through the spine and then rotate the rib cage so the torso faces over the straight leg.

IMG_0676

lift through the spine and rotate towards the straight leg

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for some people, raising the arms will help them to lift up through the spine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then inhale lengthen forwards and hold the shin or the foot.

IMG_0681

Then exhale fold down.

B

Follow the instructions above to place the knee out to the side

Inhale lift up the hips and shift forwards

Exhale sit on the foot with the heel to the center 0f the perineum

IMG_0689

Inhale reach forwards, Exhale fold down.

C

Inhale: Take the knee out to the side and bring the right hand underneath the leg. Take hold of the toes and flex the toes and the foot. The left hand gently presses the heel up towards the ceiling.

IMG_0693

Exhale: The two hands guide the toes into position as high up towards the body as comfortable. The heel gently presses into the inside of the straight leg

IMG_0697

Inhale reach forwards, exhale fold down.

Modifications

A

If the student is challenged hinging at the hips or if the spine is strongly curved, they need to sit on a block.

IMG_0676

If the knee has pain they can try:

Moving the foot further down the leg away from the body

IMG_0685

Resting the knee on a block

IMG_0686

Placing a belt behind the knee

IMG_0687

B

If A was already a challenge or if B is really challenging or painful they can repeat whatever modification they did for A

Or sit on a block

IMG_0690

Or half or full Gomukasana can be a nice alternative

IMG_0691 IMG_0692

C

Sitting on a block often makes this pose much more accessible and comfortable.

IMG_0697

Putting the foot into position but not folding forwards works for some people.

IMG_0698

Kneeling with the toes tucked under stretches the foot in one of the directions necessary for the pose, it’s also really good for a lot of people to stretch the soles of the feet.

IMG_0701

tuck the toes under and sit back to stretch the feet – this is a good opportunity to stretch the shoulders – either garudasana arms….

IMG_0702

or gomukasana arms…

IMG_0703

or a mudra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Points to Watch Out For

A

If the student is very flexible they need to keep their foundation in the sit bones and make sure they don’t over fold forwards and pull on the ligaments on the SI joint (see under Paschtimattanasana).

If the student has problems with their SI joint it might be best for them to miss out this pose as it causes an a-symmetrical pull on the hips.

B

It is more of a challenge now to lengthen through both sides of the rib cage and rotate the rib cage towards the straight leg

If there is any pain in the knee they should repeat A, the knee in general and the meniscus in particular are potentially vulnerable.

C

Once the foot is in position some people will want to shift the hips forwards, the knee is vulnerable and it’s better not to shift forwards to avoid going so deep and putting pressure on the knee.

Angle of the leg (if it is comfortable)

A: The ‘ashtanga version’ of the pose the knee comes out to just over a 90 degree angle. For many students this will cause the SI joint to be stressed so a 90 degree angle and no more will be healthier for their body.

B: 85 degrees.

C: 45 degrees.

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Straight leg: Hip flexion, adduction, internal rotation

Bent Leg: Hip flexion, abduction, external rotation, knee flexion, lower leg external rotation

Spine: flexion moving towards extension

Upper Arms: external rotation

Lower arms: internal rotation

Lengthening:

Straight Leg: Hamstrings, external rotators of hips, gastrocs, soleus

Bent Leg: Adductors, pectineus, tensor fascia lata, gleut medius and minimus, quads

Rotations:

Straight leg – internal

Bent leg – external

Adjustments

IMG_0706

If the leg is down on the floor and there are no knee probelms: First re-iterate the foundation and externally rotate the hip by placing your foot at the top of their thigh (DO NOT PRESS DOWN) draw the top of the thigh gently baack and down

IMG_0708

then place your left hand under the bottom of their rib cage and your left hand on the back to the right of the spine below the shoulder blade

IMG_0714

For B or if the leg is off the floor – place your foot in front of the leg (not on it)

IMG_0712

if the hips are posturally tilted place your hands on the hips and press up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marichyasana A

 

English Translation: Marichi – a sage from Mahabarata the son of Vishnu = Posture Dedicated to Marichi

Dristi: toes

Vinyasas: 22 Vinyasas – 8th and 15th are the states of the asana

 

Teaching Points

How to Break Down for Beginners

You can talk beginners through the pose. From Dandasana….

Placement of the Foot

Inhale: bend up the right knee and place the foot as far up towards you as comfortable, emphasise that the hip stays still ie make sure the students don’t shift the right hip back – this will result in the hips being out of alignment and possibly putting pressure on the sacro iliac joint.

Then place the foot out to the side so the outside of the foot is level with the outside of the hip, or so there is a gap between the foot and the leg big enough to put the hand down in.

IMG_0701

draw the foot up towards you then place the foot an open hands width away from the leg then hug the leg in towards you to lift up through the spine

Alignment of the Spine

Next hug that leg in to give a lift through the spine.

Placing the bind

Place the right arm to the inside of the right leg – check all your students have their arm in the right place at this point. Then on an exhalation, they then reach forwards and down as much as they comfortably can.

IMG_0703

place the arm to the inside of the leg and exhaling reach forwards and down as much as comfortably possible

Can the Sitting Bone Lift Up?

At this point it is ok for the right sitting bone to come off the floor. Normally we want the sitting bones to stay down as part of the foundation. In this pose, students can stay sitting up with both sitting bones down and nothing happening for years. If they bring the sit bone up, they can start to fold forwards and then work on bringing the sitting bone down towards the floor.

Back to the bind

Inhale: point the thumb down to the floor to give internal rotation at the shoulder and take the arm in a big circle across the front of the leg, the other arm then does the same – internal rotation, lead with the thumb and bring the arm in a big circle and see if they can catch the hands behind the back. If possible and comfortable, the back of the right hand is next to the body and is holding the left wrist.

IMG_0704

point the thumb down to give internal rotation at the shoulder

IMG_0705

then take the arm across the front of the leg – bring the arm as high up the back as comfortably possible

IMG_0706

then the same with the other arm – thumb points down, take the arm in a big circle back – then bring the hand as high up as comfortable

IMG_0707

then the arm wrapping round the leg takes hold of the opposite wrist

Next the action is to inhale broaden the chest and lengthen, then…

Exhale fold down over the straight leg.

IMG_0708

Modifications

Sitting up hugging the leg in towards the chest.

IMG_0714

Arm in front of the leg and hands to the floor either side of the body

IMG_0715

Holding a strap

IMG_0716

Sitting on a block.

Points to Watch Out For

Often students will sacrifice the alignment and space in the pose to ‘get’ the bind – sometimes it’s better for students to work on opening before they go for the bind.

Problems binding could be due to tightness in the pecs, deltoids.

Problems folding forwards could be due to tightness in the hip rotators.

The Marichyasana leg stays pointing up to the ceiling, to help this a student can hold the leg in place as they take the bind.

IMG_0717

hold the Marichyasana leg in to the rib cage

To help with the action of reaching forwards and down when placing the bind a student can take hold of the front foot and use it to draw them forward.

IMG_0718

hold the foot to draw the torso forwards and down

Adjustment

IMG_0719

first place your hand on their knee and press directly down to give foundation. Then place your hand on their shoulder and help them go forwards and down – you can usually be quite firm at this point.

IMG_0720

rotate the shoulder forwards and down and holding the wrist draw the arm out to the side

IMG_0721

take the hand as high up the back as it comfortably goes and trap the arm in place with your leg

IMG_0722

next do the same with the other arm – rotate the shoulder forwards and down and hold the wrist – draw the arm out to the side and take it around in a big circle

IMG_0723

then place the hands together and press above the elbows to make the bind as deep as comfortable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the student can already bind…

IMG_0725

one hand on the knee presses down – your leg to the middle of the arm guides them into position and presses forwards – your other hand (placed below the shoulder blade) presses forwards and down

IMG_0726

If the hip is coming away from the floor (normally when people get more flexible in this pose) then you can press the hip back and down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0727

thumb in the crease and press back and down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Straight leg: Hip flexion, adduction, internal rotation

Marichyasana leg: hip – deep flexion, knee flexion

Spine flexion towards extension

Lengthening:

Straight Leg: Hamstrings, external rotators of hips, gastrocs, soleus

Marichyasana leg: quads, external rotators of hips

Rotations:

Straight leg – internal

Marichyasana leg – neutral

Marichyasana B

English Translation: Marichi – a sage from Mahabarata = Posture Dedicated to Marichi

Dristi: nose

Vinyasas: 22 Vinyasas – 8th and 15th are the states of the asana

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
From Down Dog
Sapta Inhale Jump through – sit down
Exhale Dandasana
Inhale Take left leg into Padmasana – bend right knee up to ceiling and bind right arm around the front of the leg
Ashtau Exhale Fold forwards into the posture (5 breaths) foot
Nava Inhale Straighten the arms – lift the chest
Exhale Release
Dasa Inhale Cross the legs and lift up
Ekadasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Dvadasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Trayodasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana
Chaturdasa Inhale Jump or step forwards
Exhale Dandasana
Inhale Take right leg into Padmasana – bend left knee up to ceiling and bind left arm around the front of the left leg
Pancadasa Exhale Fold forwards into the posture (5 breaths)
Sodasa Inhale Lift the chest
Exhale Release
Saptadasa Inhale Cross the legs and lift up
Astodasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Ekoonavimsatih Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Vimsatih Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Keep your foundation in right foot – as if you are standing on it
  • Keep the straight leg active
  • Rotate the shoulders level to the floor
  • Relax the right sit bone down towards the floor
  • Open the chest

How to Break Down for Beginners

First show the modifications.

Make sure you mirror (so get your lefts and rights straight) then explain that if they have any pain or stiffness in the hips and knees they need to modify this pose. Thread the needle (see below) is a good modification for this pose that opens the hip. The other modification is good for the forward fold and working on binding the arms. Allow students to choose which modification they want to do but recommend that they swap between the two.

Next explain that the modifications are working towards the pose with the leg in lotus. You don’t have to demonstrate the lotus version, just indicate where the foot goes.

Make sure everyone in the class who needs to modify is in a modification that works for them.

Then on an exhale the class folds down all together.

Modifications

Leg on Floor: Bend the right leg up to the ceiling, place the foot on the floor so the heel is in line with the sit bone. Then place the left foot on floor behind the right foot (so the feet make a T shape). Bind the arms in the same way as for ‘A’ (see above), then fold forwards.

IMG_0739IMG_0741 IMG_0742

Thread the needle: Bend right leg up to ceiling and place foot flat on the floor (to give more space bring the foot only half way up at this point), lean back so you can place the left ankle just above the right knee. Stay lifted through the spine by placing the hands on the floor slightly behind the hips. The stretch should be felt around the left hip. To make the stretch less intense slide the right foot further away, to make it more intense slide the foot closer and lift more through the spine.

IMG_0730

bend the right leg half way up

IMG_0731

take the left knee out to the side and place the ankle just above the knee

IMG_0732

the stretch should be in the hips not the knee – to make it more intense draw the foot towards you – use the hands behind to lift up through the spine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the back is rounded, the pose can be done lying back and holding behind the right thigh, or lying back with the right foot against a wall.

IMG_0735 IMG_0736

Part way into Pose: Place the left foot into half lotus in the same way as for Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana (above). Lean back to bend up the right knee, place the right foot on the floor just to the outside of the right hip. Slowly and carefully come back forwards bringing the lotus knee down towards the floor just to the outside of the left hip. Hug the right knee in towards the chest and lift through the spine. If the left knee is off the floor it’s safest to place it on a block.

IMG_0745

take the left leg into half lotus following instructions for ardha baddha padma paschimattanasana

IMG_0746

then lean back and slowly carefully bend up the right knee and place the foot flat on the floor

IMG_0747

now – again slowly and carefully – come back upright and bring the left knee towards the floor

IMG_0748

if the knee doesn’t touch the floor place it on a block and stay sitting upright

IMG_0750

If the knee reaches the floor – bind the arms – following instructions for Marichyasana A – make sure the foot and knee are either side of the hips – then fold forwards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It will probably take a while to explain all the different options and make sure everyone is in the correct modification for them. I ask students to get into their variation and wait in a lifted position so when everyone is ready the whole class can exhale and fold forwards together.

Placing the Pose

Follow the instructions for going part way into the pose (above), then bind as in Marichyasana A – place the right arm to the inside of the right leg. Then on an exhalation, reach forwards and down as much as comfortable. Inhale: point the thumb down to the floor to give internal rotation at the shoulder and take the arm in a big circle across the front of the leg, the other arm then does the same – internal rotation, lead with the thumb and bring the arm in a big circle and see the hands can catch behind the back. If possible and comfortable, the back of the right hand is next to the body and is holding the left wrist.

Then on an exhalation fold down.

Exiting the Pose

Keeping the bind in place – inhale lift the chest, then exhale release the bind and whatever modification the legs are doing, ready to inhale lift up for the vinyasa.

Points to Watch Out For

The leg in lotus is vulnerable – this is not a pose to push. The ankle and the knee are both vulnerable. If a student is struggling to ‘get’ the full pose encourage then to do one or both of the modifications to warm up and open up the body.

Care needs to be taken going into and out of this pose.

Students often shift the hips over to the side getting into this pose. The hips should stay central.

The knee and foot are either side of the hips and the head aims down towards the floor in the central point between them.

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Straight leg: Hip flexion, adduction, internal rotation

Leg in Lotus: Hip flexion, abduction, external rotation, knee flexion, lower leg external rotation

Marichyasana leg: hip – deep flexion, knee flexion

Spine: flexion towards extension

Lengthening:

Straight Leg: Hamstrings, external rotators of hips, gastrocs, soleus

Leg in Lotus: Adductors, pectineus, tensor fascia lata, gleut medius and minimus, quads

Marichyasana leg: quads, external rotators of hips.

Notes:

keep hips on floor when entering bind

Rotations:

Leg in lotus – external

Marichyasana leg – neutral

Marichyasana C

English Translation: Marichi – a sage from Mahabarata = Posture Dedicated to Marichi

Dristi: side

Vinyasas: 18 Vinyasas – 7th and 12th are the states of the asana

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
From Down Dog
Sapta Inhale Jump through – sit down – bend right knee up to ceiling, twist to the right and bind left arm around the right the leg (5 breaths) side
Exhale release
Ashtau Inhale Lift
Nava Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Dasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Ekadasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana
Dvadasa Inhale Jump or step forwards – bend left knee up to ceiling, twist to the left and bind right arm around the right the leg (5 breaths)  
Exhale Release
Trayodasa Inhale Lift
Chaturdasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Pancadasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Sodasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Keep your foundation in the right foot – as if you are standing on it
  • Both sit bones move towards the floor
  • Keep the straight leg active
  • Rotate the shoulders towards the side wall
  • Rotation is from the navel and above
  • Hips stay level to the front
  • Lift through the spine as you twist

Lengthen upwards on inhalation and twist on exhalation

How to Break Down for Beginners

You can talk beginners through the pose. From Dandasana…

Inhale: Bend up the right knee and place the foot as far up towards you as comfortable, emphasise that the hip stays still ie make sure the students don’t shift the right hip back – this will result in the hips being out of alignment and possibly putting pressure on the sacro iliac joint. Then place the foot out to the side so the outside of the foot is level with the outside of the hip, or so there is a gap between the foot and the leg big enough to put four fingers (closed hand) down in or so the heel is in line with the sit bone.

IMG_0752

Inhale: Next lift up through the spine, the lift comes from pressing down with the sit bones and hugging the knee into the body.

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Exhale: twist to the right. The sitting bones both stay down on the floor so the hips stay facing forwards.

Positioning of the Hips: If the hips stay facing forward, and the twist is in the thorasic spine (from the navel and above, this will ensure that the side of the body is lengthened and not just turned around to the side with no real twist going on. Having said this it’s important not to be too rigid with the position of the hips – if a twist is forced into the lumbar spine it can pull on the ligaments there and cause problems.

Place the right hand behind on the floor close to the bottom of the spine to help with the lift. Then, to help with the twist, with the left arm, hug the knee in to the chest, then take the elbow to the outside of the knee, then lengthen through the front of the body. It’s enough for many students to stay there. Make sure at this stage the student doesn’t pull the leg over the central line possibly pinching the groin.

IMG_0758

If the student wants to go into the bind, the next action is to bring the side of the rib cage as close to the top of the leg as possible, then straighten the left arm, point the thumb down, then bend the elbow to bind the arm behind their back and then catch their hands. The back of the left hand touches the body and holds the wrist of the right hand.

IMG_0759 IMG_0760 IMG_0761

IMG_0762 IMG_0764 IMG_0763Make sure the student doesn’t end up hunched over with the knee pressed over to the side to ‘get’ the bind – it’s more important to keep the lift in the twist to avoid crunching the vertebrae together. The pose is about the twist not the bind.

Benefits of the Pose

The twist literally wrings out the internal organs and stimulates the joints in the spine to bring fresh synovial fluid.

Modifications

Sitting on a block – this will help with the lift in the lower back

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Hugging knee to chest –also helps with the lifting through the spine.

Arm to outside of leg – adds a twist but no bind

Fingers under foot – this gives a firm foundation to lift and lengthen away from.

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Points to Watch Out For

Hunching spine down to ‘get’ bind (see above). The lift through the spine is as important as twist – the lift creates space between the vertebrae so the discs are safe as the spine twists, it’s actually more of a spiral than a twist.

The twist happens in the thoracic spine where the rib cage is, this is because the transverse processes of the vertebrae are shaped differently in the thoracic to the lumbar. The transverse processes of the lumbar are oriented to allow bending forwards and backwards, in the thoracic for twisting.

If the lower back is flexed too much it decreases the stability of the lumbar discs. If it is extended too much it locks the thoracic – this means that a neutral spine important.

The energy of the twist comes from the external oblique muscles of the abdominals, not from cranking with the shoulders or neck and head. It’s ok to use a bit of resistance between the elbow and the knee to go into the twist – but this shouldn’t be at the cost of losing the alignment of the knee pointing up to the ceiling.

Avoid pressing into the twist with the head – this can cause strain in the neck.

In twists the breath is often restricted – students may be helped by breathing into the back of the body.

Very flexible people shouldn’t over twist – shoulders parallel to side is enough.

If a student is struggling to get the bind but is close – taking the straight leg out to the side can help – the leg comes back again after.

Adjustments

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If someone can’t bind

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their left arm holds on to your leg and you hold their right arm with your hand – then sink your body weight back to help them twist

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their left arm holds your leg – you can secure it with your hand

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your hand holds their right hand – sink your body weight back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Straight leg: Hip flexion, adduction, internal rotation

Marichyasana leg: hip – deep flexion, knee flexion

Spine: rotation neutral extension

Lengthening:

Straight Leg: Hamstrings, external rotators of hips, gastrocs, soleus

Marichyasana leg: quads, external rotators of hips

Notes:

Rotations:

Straight leg – internal

Marichyasana leg – neutral

Marichyasana D

English Translation: Marichi – a sage from Mahabarata = Posture Dedicated to Marichi

Dristi: side

Vinyasas: 18 Vinyasas – 7th and 12th are the states of the asana

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
From Down Dog
Sapta Inhale Jump through – sit down – take left foot into Padmasana – bend right knee up to ceiling, twist to the right and bind left arm around the right the leg (5 breaths)  side
Exhale release
Ashtau Inhale Lift
Nava Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Dasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Ekadasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana
Dvadasa Inhale Jump through – sit down – take right foot into Padmasana – bend left knee up to ceiling, twist to the left and bind right arm around the left the leg (5 breaths)   
Exhale Release
Trayodasa Inhale Lift
Chaturdasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Pancadasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Sodasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Keep your foundation in the right foot – as if you are standing on it
  • Both sit bones move towards the floor
  • Keep the straight leg active
  • Rotate the shoulders towards the side wall
  • Rotation is from the navel and above
  • Hips stay level to the front
  • Lift through the spine as you twist

Lengthen upwards on inhalation and twist on exhalation

How to Break Down for Beginners

First show the modifications.

The modifications for ‘D’ are exactly the same as for ‘B’ but adding a twist. So the legs are placed either in Thread the Needle or with the ‘lotus leg’ on the floor behind the “marichyasana leg’ then lifting and twisting into the pose.

Make sure everyone who needs to modify is in a modification that works for them.

The guidelines for binding are also exactly the same as for C with the added caution that if the leg is in lotus then the knee is very vulnerable with potentially a fair amount of strain placed on it. If any pain is felt in the knee back off and do a modification.

Modifications

Place lotus leg on floor and bend up other leg and twist, adding the bind if possible.

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Thread the needle: Bend right leg up to ceiling and place foot flat on the floor, place the left ankle just above the right knee. Stay lifted through the spine, hold on to the left foot with the left hand and twist to the right – the right hand stays down on the floor near the base of the spine to help with the lift.

IMG_0828

Part way into the pose: place the left leg into half lotus, lean back to bend up the right leg, hug the right leg in to the chest to lift the spine, then either hold the outside of the right knee with the left hand and lift and twist, or bring the elbow to the outside of the knee. If the left knee is off the floor, support it with a block.

Points to Watch Out For

Hunching spine down to ‘get’ bind

Lift is as important as twist

The lotus leg is vulnerable.

Don’t over twist

With beginners, even if they can ‘do’ the pose with lotus and bind I prefer them to do a modification for a while until they learn to judge the sensations in their body what is a safe stretch and what is damaging.

The energy of the twist comes from the oblique muscles of the abdominals, not from cranking with the shoulders or neck and head. It’s ok to use a bit of resistance between the elbow and the knee to go into the twist – but this shouldn’t be at the cost of losing the alignment of the knee pointing up to the ceiling.

One of the sit bones will probably come up off the floor in this pose, that is ok but the students should work towards getting it back down again.

Some students want to lift both sit bones off the floor to get the bind, but this makes the lotus knee vulnerable and can stress the hips and SI joint so it should be discouraged.

This is a very tough pose for most students and many will never be able to ‘do’ the ‘full’ pose but they can do one or more of the modifications.

It is a gateway pose.

Adjustments

The adjustments are exactly the same as for Marichyasana C – the only slight difference is your leg goes over the lotus leg not the straight leg.

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Leg in Lotus: Hip flexion, abduction, external rotation, knee flexion, lower leg external rotation

Marichyasana leg: hip – deep flexion, knee flexion

Spine: rotation neutral extension

Lengthening:

Leg in Lotus: Adductors, pectineus, tensor fascia lata, gleut medius and minimus, quads

Marichyasana leg: quads, external rotators of hips

Notes:

keep hips on floor when entering bind

Rotations:

Leg in lotus – external

Marichyasana leg – neutral

 

Navasana

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
From Down Dog
Sapta Inhale jump forwards into the posture (5 breaths) toes
Ashtau Inhale Lift
Exhale Down
Sapta Inhale Again! Repeat 5 time
Ashtau Inhale Lift
Nava Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana  
Dasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Ekadasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Squeeze the legs together
  • Send energy right to the toes
  • Strong bandhas
  • Imagine you have a hook to your heart lifting you towards the ceiling
  • Draw the shoulder blades down back
  • Send energy to your fingertips

Lift up out of the lower back

Navasana

English Translation: Nava – boat = Boat posture

Dristi: toes

Vinyasas: 13 Vinyasas – 7th is the state of the asana

 

 

Teaching Points

  • Squeeze the legs together
  • Send energy right to the toes
  • Strong bandhas
  • Imagine you have a hook to your heart lifting you towards the ceiling
  • Draw the shoulder blades down and back
  • Send energy to your fingertips
  • Lift up out of the lower back

How to Break Down for Beginners

For beginners first teach the pose with the feet flat down on the floor. Ask them to engage the bandhas first, then lean back holding on to the back of the legs just above the knee. Explain that it is important not to sink down into the lower back to get the legs up because this can put pressure on the lower back. To avoid this they need to imagine they have a hook in their heart lifting them up to the ceiling.

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The Lift

Then place the hands flat down on the floor either side of the hips, fingers facing forwards. The first option is to press down into the floor. Then they can lift the hips. Then lift the hips and one foot (alternate which foot). Finally, total lift off.

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Building Up the Pose

For the second time they can keep the legs on the floor but bring the arms out parallel to each other and to the floor

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Repeat lift off

Then lift the legs so the knees stay bent with the lower legs parallel to the floor. The hands can hold the legs or be out along the side of the legs.

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Then the arms parallel to the floor and the knees bent

IMG_0787Or the legs straight and still holding onto the legs

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Finally the legs are straight and the arms by the side of the legs.

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Modifications

As above

Points to Watch Out For

Some students fling themselves up with little awareness of attention to alignment and end up sinking into the lower back and pressing the abdominals outwards or trying to do too much and stressing the body and losing connection to their breath.

Strength poses should be built up gradually.

Some students have a knobbly tail bone or sitting bones and need to sit on a folded over towel to make it comfortable.

If the hamstrings are tight the lower back may round and put pressure on the vertebrae – the knees need to stay bent to allow the spine to straighten.

There is a direction forwards into the sit bones rather than collapsing into the sacrum.

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Spine – neutral extension resisting flexion

Hip flexion, adduction, internal rotation

Lengthening:

Hamstrings

Notes:

Weight ideally between sitting bones and tail bone

Rotations:

Legs inwards

 

Bhujapidasana

 

English Translation: Bhuja – arm, pida – pressure = arm pressure posture

Dristi: nose

Vinyasas: 15 Vinyasas – 7th and 8th are the states of the asana)

 

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
From Down Dog
Sapta Inhale Jump the legs around the arms – balance on the hands – cross the right foot over the left
Ashtau Exhale Exhale – fold forwards – chin towards the floor (5 breaths) nose
Nava Inhale Come up – straight legs
Dasa Exhale Fold the legs back into Backasana
Inhale Lift the hips
Ekadasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Dvadasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Trayodasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana

 

Teaching Points

  • Keep your foundation in the hands/keepthe hands flat down
  • Squeeze the feet up towards the body
  • Squeeze the legs against arms
  • Lift the chest
  • Lift the sitting bones
  • Lengthen the front of the body

How to Break Down for Beginners

First show modifications:

The first option which is accessible to most people is a squat – place the feet slightly wider than hips width apart, squat down allowing the heels to come off the floor if necessary – if the heels are far off the floor it might be better to place a rolled up mat or blocks under the heels. Place the hands in Angali Mudra and place the elbows to the inside of the legs. Press the elbows and legs together and use this resistance to lift up through the spine.

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if the heels are off the floor place a block or rolled up mat under

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knees and toes point out

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press knees and elbows together to lift through the spine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frog pose – from downward dog with the hands shoulder width apart fingers facing forwards, jump or step the feet outside and in front of the hands and place the feet on the hands with the heel to the wrist. It’s important that the hands stay flat down on the floor. Then bend the elbows and point them backwards. The work is to lift the hips and lift the chest and lengthen the front of the body. This should help to give the opening in the hips needed to do the pose.

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feet mat-width apart – bring the arms through the legs – hold the centre of the calves -

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place hands on the floor – step feet onto hands point elbows back – lengthen front of body

Then from frog pose by bending the arms with the elbows pointing backwards, the upper arms make a ledge to sit back on, the student can then work on getting the feet off the floor.

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sit back on the arms – aim the elbows to the centre of the thigh underneath the body as high up towards the hips as possible

Next the feet are crossed with the right over the left

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Next is the fold forwards. Initially they can put the feet down and the top of the head can come down to the floor, then the feet stay off the floor and the chin touches the floor, then the chin hovers just above the floor.

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As the student folds forwards the elbows can bend to create control.

Eventually the student jumps straight into Tittibhasana, crosses the legs and folds down and comes up without the feet touching the floor at all. For most people this is a long term project.

Next is to lift back up into Tittibhasana. The weight needs to shift back and the elbows need to bend. There is a counterbalance between the head and the hips to keep from falling onto the bum. Squeeze the legs together and straighten at the same time.

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IMG_0851Next fold the legs back to Bakasana – lif the hips first then just move the lower legs and jump from there to Chatturanga Dandasana. A student will normally need to work on being able to do Tittibhasana and Bakasana before they can start jumping straight into them and move between them without the feet touching the floor.

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Modifications

Squat

Frog pose

See above

 

Points to Watch Out For

The hands need to stay flat down to avoid stressing the wrist.

If a student falls forwards they need to tuck the chin in to land on the top of the head and not on the nose. Falling onto the had is still quite a shock but not as painfulas the face! Falling onto the bum normally doesn’t hurt! (only the pride)

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Spine – flexion, arms, glenohumeral joint – external rotation, flexion, adduction, elbow flexion, forearm pronation, wrist dorsiflexion. Hip flexion, legs external rotation

Lengthening:

Spinal extensors, rhomboids, trapezius

Notes:

Squeeze legs up against arms

Bend elbows to maintain control when lowering

Try to hover chin above floor

 

Working On Bakasana

If Bhujapidasana just isn’t happening, Bakasana is often more accessible and easier to work on

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place hands on the floor shoulder width apart – place knees against the back of the arms high up towards the arm pits

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lift the hips – take the weight forwards – look forwards – lift one leg off the floor

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see if it’s possible to lift the other leg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working on Tittibhasana

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feet mat-width apart – hold onto calves – wriggle shoulders as far through as possible

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place hands on the floor behind the feet – sit back on the arms

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squeeze legs together and straighten

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adjustments

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hold the right shoulder with your right hand so they don’t fall forwards onto their face – ouch!

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hold their bottom (right) foot with your left hand and lift up towards the body

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lower them down towards the floor – hold for 5 breaths – then lift them up

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once they are up switch to holding behind the hips so they don’t fall back onto their bum

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to help someone jump back from Bakasana – hold their hips

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and support them as they jump back

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to assist someone working on Bakasana 0 stand in front with your hands on their shoulders so you can stop them falling forwards 0 make sure you have a long stable stance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rotations:

Arms – external rotation

Legs – external rotation

For a YouTube clip of me doing the pose click on this link….

Bhujapidasana

 

Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana

English Translation: Kurma – tortoise = tortoise posture supta – sleeping

Dristi: third eye

Vinyasas: 16 Vinyasas – 7th and 9th are the states of the asana

Sapta – inhale – jump legs around the arms, lower down to the floor (5 breaths)

Ashtau – exhale – bind the arms

Nava – inhale – cross the right foot over the left (5 breaths)

OR

Ashtau – exhale – sit up, put the feet behind the head (left then right), fold forwards

Nava – inhale – bind the arms (5 breaths)

Dasa – inhale – lift up to Tittibasana
Ekadasa – exhale – to Backasana
Inhale – lift the hips
Dvadasa – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana

Trayodasa – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Chaturdasa – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

How to Break Down for Beginners

Beginners jump the feet to the outside of the hands and work on lifting up into tittibhasana. Place the feet about as wide as the mat and fold down between the legs, take hold of the calves and wiggle the shoulders through, now bend the knees until you can place the hands flat down on the floor behind the feet, then squeeze the legs in and see if they can lift the feet off the floor, this is Tittibhasana. Once in Tittibhasana, lower down so the hips are on the floor – ideally eventually the heels and hips touch down at the same time with the legs still straight. Encourage beginners to try this but if it’s not happening just sitting down is fine.

Next for beginners sitting down, have the feet on the floor about as wide as the mat and heels down and toes up and knees bent up. They fold forwards between the legs keeping the inner thighs squeezing against the side of the rib cage. The arms come to the inside of the legs and under the legs to take hold of the feet. They can then use the connection between the hands and feet to stretch the chest forwards and down towards the floor.

IMG_0892

Once a student can get the shoulders under the legs and still be broad across the chest they can bring the arms under the legs out to the side (so long as there is no pressure on the elbows or shoulders) and press the heels away to come down into the pose. Eventually the chest is down on the floor with the arms out to shoulder height and the legs over the arms pointing forwards. Finally the heels and bum lift off the ground.

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IMG_1472 IMG_1471

 

For Supta Kurmasana for beginners, bring the feet together so the legs are in a diamond shape and fold forwards.

 

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For more experienced and flexible students, they first bend the knees up and bring the feet closer to the body, then turn the palm up and bring the arms next to the body to stretch back and get the shoulders under the legs as much as possible. Then reach out to the side turn the palm up and reach behind the body and as high up as possible and catch the hands, then the feet come in together and cross behind the head with the right over the left.

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bend the knees up and turn the palms up – arms next to body – stretch arms back along the floor

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one by one reach the arms out to the side – palm facing up – bring the arm behind the back as high up as possible

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catch the hands behind the back

IMG_1477

then bring the feet together – cross the right over left

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or they can sit up and place the left foot then right foot behind the head, lower down to put the forehead on the floor and then bind the arms behind the back.

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or sit up and put the legs behind the head – left first

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then lower forwards

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then catch the hands behind the back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Supta Kurmasana there is a lift into tittibhasana as for Bhujapidasana then fold the legs back to Bakasana and jump into chatturanga.

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first lift up with the legs still behind the head

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then release the legs to tittibhasana

 

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then fold back to Bakasana


 

 

 

 

 

 

Click on this link to see the YouTube clip

Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana

Modifications

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How to Work on It…

Some poses that help work towards this pose are happy baby, square pose, pigeon, pigeon with a twist, resting heels on blocks and folding forwards between the legs to allow gravity to take the body forwards and down, rotator cuff stretch, pec stretch,

Pigeon

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pigeon

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pigeon with a twist

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happy baby

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square pose

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stretching the wrists (for Bhujapidasana)

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stretching the wrists

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flexion

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eye of the needle

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bird of paradise 1

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bird of paradise 2

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bird of paradise 3

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bird of paradise 4

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Standing Tittibasana 1

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Standing Tittibasana 2

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Standing Tittibasana 3

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Standing Tittibasana – variation

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resting heels on blocks

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stretching the shoulders

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strengthening the external rotators

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Points to Watch Out For

This is a fairly extreme pose for a lot of people, the lower back and sternum in particular are vulnerable. The lower back is vulnerable because the spine is rounded forwards and then the weight of both of the legs are placed on the neck which all puts pressure on the inter-vertebral discs so if there is any pain in the spine a student needs to back off.

The sternum is vulnerable if a student tries to go further into the pose before the shoulders can go under the legs the chest will be really rounded and pressed inwards, it is especially vulnerable during the lift up to tittibhasana.

The neck is delicate and care should be taken when putting pressure on the neck

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Kurmasana:

Spine – cervical extension, thorasic and lumbar flexion moving towards extension.

Hip – flexion, abduction, neutral rotation

Shoulder – glenohumeral joint – lateral abduction, internal rotation

Forearm – pronation

Supta Kurmasana

Spine – flexion

Hip – flexion, external rotation, adduction

Shoulder – glenohumeral joint – internal rotation, extension, adduction

Lengthening:

Kurmasana

Adductors, external rotators of hips, hamstrings, extensors of spine,

Supta Kurmasana

Hamstrings, gleuts, external rotators of hips, adductors, all spinal extensors, anterior deltoid, pecs, traps, rhomboids

Rotations:

Kurmasana – arms – internal, legs neutral

Supta Kurmasana – arms – internal, legs – external

 

 

Garbha Pindasana

English Translation: Garbha – womb, pinda – embryo = baby in the womb posture

Dristi: nose

Vinyasas: 15 Vinyasas – 8th is the state of the asana

 

Sapta – inhale – jump forwards

Exhale – Dandasana

Ashtau – inhale – take Padmasana, thread the arms through

the legs (5 breaths)

Nava – exhale – roll round 9 times in a clockwise circle

Nava – inhale – come up to balance on the hands – Kukkutasana (5 breaths)

Dasa – inhale – release the arms and lift up

Ekadasa – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana

Dvadasa – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Trayodasa – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

How to Break Down for Beginners

First show the options.

The first option is to keep the legs together with the knees bent and lift the feet off the floor, holding in the knees and do the whole pose like this.

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Then to cross the legs and hold onto the feet.

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Then to take half lotus and hold the bottom foot and bottom knee,

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then full lotus and hold around the knees

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then full lotus and bind the arms through the legs.

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for the first sitting up bit the hands cup the chin – fingers in ears

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for the second rolling around bit the finger ti[s touch the forehead

Once everyone is in a position that works for them, you can talk through the pose all together. First sitting up in a balance for 5 breaths. Then rolling round in a clockwise direction, taking 9 rolls altogether, exhale down inhale up, down on the left side of the spine up on the right, not rolling directly on the spine but on the muscles either side. Using abdominal muscles not the neck muscles.

Then the lift up into Kukutasana. The first option is to place the hands either side of the hips and press down into the floor and engage the bandhas connecting to core strength – that will be enough for some students.

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Then to lift the hips off the floor but keep the feet down.

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Then add one foot (alternating which foot) then to lift both feet.

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If they are in lotus and/or bound they can roll straight up into the pose. Five breaths.

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Then the jump back to chatturanga – if they are in lotus and don’t have any knee problems, they can try the lotus jump back – come up onto the knees and place the hands on the floor in front, it helps to turn the hands out a bit. Then bend the elbow back and in towards each other and place the abdomen on the elbows. Then using the hamstrings, lift the legs and push back with the feet to jump into chatturanga.

 

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1) lift up onto the knees

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2) place belly on elbows

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3) lift up legs and jump back to chatturanga

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to place lotus. First leg – close joint, take knee out to side, lift through spine then holding under the foot guide it onto opposite leg. Then bend up other foot and place the lotus knee and other foot on floor next to each other. Again holding under the ankle guide the foot over the leg and draw it up as far as comfortable.

How to thread the arms through – the right arm goes in first – start with the elbow pointing out to the side and the palm facing down, aim along the shin – then when the lower arm has threaded through turn the palm upwards and aim the arm forwards. The the same movements with the left arm.

For the first part of the pose (the balance) the chin rests in the hands with the middle finger closing the ears. For the rolling the finger tips touch the forehead.

Modifications

The first option is to keep the legs together with the knees bent and lift the feet off the floor, holding in the knees and do the whole pose like this. Then to cross the legs and hold onto the feet. Then to take half lotus and hold the bottom foot and bottom knee, then full lotus and hold around the knees

Points to Watch Out For

If the student is very thin or has a ‘bony’ back it might hurt the spine – they can put down an extra mat to roll on.

If there is a restriction in the spine it might hurt in that area. They should stop rolling and get it checked by a physio or other bodyworker.

Care should be taken rolling up into kukutasana not to over shoot and land on the head – ouch!

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Spine – flexion

Arms – to enter posture internal then working towards external

Legs – external

Lengthening:

Spine – extensors, traps, rhomboids,

Legs – Adductors, pectineus, tensor fascia lata, gleut medius and minimus, quads.

Rotations:

Legs – external

Arms – external

 

Baddha Konasana

English Translation: Baddha – bound, Kona – angle = bound angle posture

Dristi: nose

Vinyasas: 17 Vinyasas – 8th and 10th are the states of the asana

 

Sapta – inhale – jump forwards to sitting, put soles of feet together, knees out to side

Ashtau – exhale – lengthen forwards (5 breaths)

Nava – inhale – come up, tuck chin in

Dasa – exhale – fold forwards curving the spine (5 breaths)

Ekadasa – inhale – sit up
Exhale – release the legs
Dvadasa – inhale – lift up
Trayodasa – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana Chaturdasa – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Pancadasa – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Press the heels together
  • Relax the knees towards the floor
  • Strong uddiyana bandha
  • Even stronger moola bandha
  • Press the sit bones back and down
  • Relax the shoulders down away from the ears
  • Elbows in to the ribcage

How to Break Down for Beginners

You can talk beginners through this pose. Take the knees out to the side. Soles of the feet together. Bring the feet as close to the body as comfortable. How close the feet are will take the stretch to slightly different places. Encourage students to experiment with how close the feet are and how it feels. Open the soles of the feet up to the ceiling as if you are opening a book.

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experiment with how far the feet are from the body to get the best stretch

The first version of this pose is to inhale and lengthen – thinking about lengthening through the abdominals through the spine and the sides of the rib cage then exhale and fold down aiming the chin towards the floor just in front of the feet. Some people will be very close some far away – just so long as everyone is going in the right direction and feels a good safe stretch that is the main thing.

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The second version of this pose is to curl down flexing the spine aiming the top of the head to the feet. The inhale brings you up from the first one, then draw the chin down towards the chest and exhale curl down.

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This pose is about calming the body and mind down – the previous poses are stimulating and exhilarating, now we start to calm down…

 

Modifications

If the knees are off the floor or there is pain in the knees or hips place a block under the knee.

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If it is hard for the student to sit up and lift the lower spine then sit on a block.

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Points to Watch Out For

Keeping the heels pressed together engages muscles all the way up the leg and helps to protect the hip from being over stretched.

Make sure the students don’t hunch the shoulders up in their enthusiasm to get into the pose – especially in the second version.

Elbow stay in to the side of the rib cage – if they come out to the side the shoulders hunch up.

Moola bandha is very important in this posture.

Adjustments

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if the student can’t lift up through the lower back – use your feet to support them – this adjustment feels good for most people

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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hands close in to the hips is the safest adjustment – press back and down

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while pressing back and down with the hands – use your belly to very gently press forwards and down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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now use the inside of your knees to ground the hips and use your thumbs either side of the spine to lengthen the neck forwards

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if a student is on a block and you can’t use your feet to lift them up – use your hands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Spine – A – mild flexion. B – full flexion

Hip – flexion, external rotation

Shoulder – glenohumeral joint – external rotation, anatomically neutral

Lengthening:

Legs – major stretch to adductor magnus, also other adductors, tfl, gleut min and med, hamstrings

Rotations:

Legs – external rotation

Notes:

Depending how close feet are to body, different muscles will be stretched

 

 

Upavishta Konasana

English Translation: Upavishta – seated – kona – angle = seated angle posture

Dristi: third eye

Vinyasas: 16 Vinyasas – 8th and 10th are the state of the asana

 

Supta Konasana

English Translation: Supta – Sleeping Kona – angle = sleeping angle posture

Dristi: nose

Vinyasas: 16 Vinyasas – 8th is the state of the asana

 

Sapta – inhale – jump through, legs wide, hold outside edge of feet, lift chest

Ashtau – exhale – fold forwards (5 breaths)

Nava – inhale – head up
Exhale – release
Dasa – inhale – lift into the balance (5 breaths) Exhale – release
Ekadasa – inhale – lift up
Dvadasa – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana Trayodasa – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Chaturdasa – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

 

Sapta – inhale – jump forwards

Exhale – lie down

Ashtau – inhale – legs over head, feet wide apart – exhale – hook first two fingers around each big toe (5 breaths)

Nava – inhale – roll up and catch the balance Exhale – lower down, head towards the floor Dasa – inhale – lift chest

Exhale – release
Ekadasa – inhale – lift up
Dvadasa – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana Trayodasa – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Chaturdasa – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

 

Teaching Points

  • Keep the legs strongly engaged – to protect the muscles in the legs
  • Keep the knees and feet pointing up towards the ceiling
  • Press into the heels – keep the heels down
  • Keep the foundation in the sit bones
  • Strong bandhas
  • Lengthen through the spine and the back of the neck

When balancing:

  • Point the toes
  • Look up
  • Lift the chest

Supta Konasana

  • Energy in the legs
  • Lift the sit bones towards the ceiling

How to Break Down for Beginners

Upavishta Konasana A

You can talk beginners through this pose. Take the legs wide, not necessarily as wide as possible – aiming for 90 degrees is good. Make sure everyone who needs to sit on a block, ie if they can’t lift up enough to get a forwards tilt in their pelvis they need to lift the hips with blocks until they can. Then inhale lengthen forwards and exhale fold down. The hold is the outside edge of the feet.

Upavishta Konasana B

After 5 breath inhale to lift the chest, exhale to sit up. Beginners can take hold of their big toes and bend the knees first then experiment with lifting the feet into the air into the balance.

More experienced students can inhale lift the chest, exhale lift the arms out to the side around shoulder height, then inhale lift the feet to the hands into the balance the hold is the outside edge of the feet.

The ‘full version’ of this transition is to keep hold of the feet and inhale straight up into the balance with straight arms and legs – not many people can do this!

First the spine straightens , then the legs, then the feet point.

Look directly up.

Lift the chest and keep the shoulders away from the ears.

Then vinyasa

Supta Konasana

Then exhale lie back. Inhale bring the legs over, feet wide apart. Exhale take the big toes with the first 2 fingers and thumb. Then 5 breaths there. The actions are to engage the legs, and lift the sit bones. Then keeping the legs straight and keeping hold of the toes if possible, inhale and roll up – catch the balance for a split second then exhale and roll down, landing on the calf muscles – not the heels. The rolling up action initially comes from momentum by rolling a bit back and pressing back into the heels – eventually it comes from controlling the core strength. So a big inhalation, press with the toes, press down with the shoulders, at the point where the student is about to fall back the action is to lift the chest and straighten the spine.

Modifications

While folding forwards:

Sitting on a block.

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If hyper-extending knees place a cushion under the knees.

For some students leaning back to lift through the spine is the best option

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In the balance:

If the hamstrings are tight then the lower back will be curved so the knees should bend to allow the spine to straighten to the natural curves.

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wrong! – spine is curved and possibly stressed :(

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right! spine has natural curves and legs are bent

Rolling up is made easier by bending the knees.

Points to Watch Out For

Once people get very flexible in this pose they need to hold back a bit. People can end up flopped on the floor over-extending their lower spine and pulling on the ligaments of the SI joint. They need to ground through the sit bones. Engage strong bandhas. Fold forwards keeping the natural curves in the spine and not over arching the lower back.

When students get flexible in this pose they should work on not leaning on the feet so they have to engage the core and work on core strength.

Keep the legs strongly engaged and the knees and toes pointing up to the ceiling. This will help to protect the hamstrings and adductors. The hamstrings, and also adductor magnus (which attaches to the sitting bones and acts like a hamstring) are very vulnerable in this pose. The adductor is vulnerable as it is under a ‘double stretch’ as an adductor and as a hamstring.

If the hamstrings are tight then the roll down from the balance after Supta Konasana should be avoided

Adjustments

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hold close to the hips – press back, down and in

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hold at the top of the legs and lift gently directly up

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Spine – mild flexion

Hip – major abduction, external rotation, flexion

Calves – outwards

Lengthening:

Legs – periformis, gleut max, adductors, hamstrings, gastrocs

Spine – extensors

Notes:

Hamstrings are vulnerable – need to strongly engage legs to protect them

Rotations:

Legs – external towards neutral

 

 

Supta Padangusthasana

English Translation: Supta – sleeping, Padangustha – big toe = sleeping big toe posture

Dristi: toe

Vinyasas: 28 Vinyasas – 9th , 11th, 17th and 19th are the state of the asana

Sapta – inhale – jump forwards

Exhale – lie down

Ashtau – inhale – lift right leg up, hook big toe with first two fingers of right hand

Nava – exhale – lift head (5 breaths)

Dasa – inhale – head back down

Ekadasa – exhale – take right leg out to side (5 breaths)

Dvadasa – inhale – lift leg back up

Trayodasa – exhale – lift head

Chaturdasa – inhale – lower head back down

Pancadasa – exhale – lower arm and leg

Sodasa – inhale – left leg up, hook big toe with first two fingers of left hand

Saptadasa – exhale – lift head (5 breaths)

Astodasa – inhale – head back down

Ekoonavimsatih – exhale – take left leg out to side, look over opposite shoulder (5 breaths)

Vimsatih – inhale – leg back up
Ekavimsatih – exhale – lift head up
Dvavimsatih – inhale – head back down Trayivimsatih – exhale – lower arm and leg Caturvimsatih – inhale – Chakrasana
Exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana
Pancavimsatih – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Satvimsatih – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Left leg moves down towards the floor
  • Use the left hand to encourage the left leg down
  • Foint the left foot
  • Sit bones move towards the floor
  • Right sit bone moves in towards the centre line of the body
  • Lift the chin to the shin or chest towards the knee
  • Use the bandhas

When leg out to side:

  • Keep left side of hips down on the floor
  • Relax both shoulders down towards the floor
  • Bring right heel down towards the floor
  • Turn your head to look directly to the side

How to Break Down for Beginners

You can talk through this pose going through the modifications one by one suggesting each student choses which modification to stay with.

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first bend up the knees and put the feet flat on the floor

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first option – lift up the leg and hold behind the thigh

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second option hold behind the calf

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or if they prefer hold onto a belt

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or if it’s possible/comfortable hold the big toe with the first 2 fingers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then they can either stay lying back or lift the chest towards the knee

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to take the leg out to the side with a modification – bend the knee and hold the knee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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or holding the toe or using a strap

To talk through the pose without explaining all the modifications:

Exhale lie back. Inhale lift up the right leg and take the toe. Exhale lift the chest and head off the ground – the traditional instruction here is chin towards the shin – but this can lead to many students jutting the chin forwards creating tension in the neck – the instruction chest towards the knee, creates more ease in the pose.

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The actions here are to press the left leg – especially the inner left leg towards the floor, and press the right sit bone down and in towards the centre line of the body – both these actions will help the hips become more level and aligned.

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Wrong! left leg and right sit bone lifting up

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Right! left leg and right sit bone down on floor

Inhale head down, Exhale take the right leg out to the side. Many students will just tip over to the side allowing the left side of the body to come completely off the floor – this misses the point of the pose which is to open the hips – it’s better to keep both sides of the hips on the floor and not take the leg down so far but be working on opening the hips.

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Wrong! tipping over to the side with the left hip lifting up

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right! left hip down on the floor

Once the foot is close to the floor the heel normally needs to be pressed down.

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often the foot is close to the floor but the heel is angled up

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press the heel down towards the floor

Inhale bring the leg up, exhale lift the chest, inhale bring the head down, exhale release the leg.

Adjustment

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first use your left hand to draw the hip down and in towards the centre pine of the body – your priority is to get the hips in alignment – then place your hand on the heel (or calf if you can’t reach) and gently press the foot away

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keep your left hand where it is supporting the leg as it goes out to the side and encouraging external rotation at the hips – your other hand can lightly press down on the calf

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if you don’t want to press the leg down just externally rotate the thigh

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Variation: you can press the centre of the hamstring with your knee to encourage the muscle to relax

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when the leg is out to the side, focus more on supporting it so it can relax rather than pressing down

 

Chakrasana

This pose is very strong on the neck. Some weight on the neck will be strengthening and positive, too much will be stressful and very probably lead to injury, So be very cautious teaching this pose. If a student has any old injury or any stiffness or weakness or any problems in the neck they should hig the knees in to the chest and roll up and take a normal vinyasa from there.

First bring the legs over the head into Halasana position.

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Then place the hands as for Urdhva Dhanurasana. Then, with the feet off the floor, press the hands down into the floor and lift the hips and take a big inhale and go back. Make sure the head and neck stay straight – don’t let students go over bending over to the side.

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To help someone, have them get into the starting position, stand with one foot behind the hips and one next to their head, hold the top on their legs from underneath, as they inhale lift their hips up and encourage their movement back.

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stand so you have your foundation very balanced and hold the top of the legs – as they inhale and press down with their hands – you lift the hips up

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Once a student can do it like this, the next thing to try is going over straight into chatturanga, lie back, place the hands, then starting with the legs down on the floor and straight and together, with the inhale, keeping the legs straight and together, swing the legs all the way back and go over, shooting the legs back into chatturanga.

Points to Watch Out For

The ‘exit’ from this pose is Chakrasana or backwards roll – if a student has any neck problems or stiffness, then they shouldn’t try to do this. Also do not allow students to do this by cranking the neck to one side – they should only go over if they can do it with a straight neck.

Anatomy

Joint Actions

A

Spine – flexion towards neutral

Leg on floor – internal rotation towards neutral

Leg in air – external rotation towards neutral

B

Spine – neutral

Leg on floor – internal towards neutral

Leg in air – thigh – external, lower leg – internal towards neutral

Lengthening:

A

Hamstrings, gastrocs, soleus, gleut max

B

Hamstrings, adductors

Rotations:

Leg on floor – internal rotation

Leg in air – thigh – external, lower leg – internal

 

Ubhaya Padangusthasana

English Translation: Ubhaya – both padangustha – big toe = both big toes posture

Dristi: upwards

Vinyasas: 15 Vinyasas – 9th is the state of the asana

Sapta – inhale – jump forwards

Exhale – lie down
Ashtau – inhale – bring legs over head, feet together

Exhale – hook first two fingers around each big toe

Nava – inhale – roll up into the posture (5 breaths)

Exhale – release
Dasa – inhale – lift up
Ekadasa – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana
Dvadasa – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Trayodasa – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Straighten the spine to catch the balance
  • Point the feet
  • Lift up out of the lower back
  • Lift the chest up to the ceiling
  • Draw the shoulder blades down and back

How to Break Down for Beginners

First demonstrate the roll up, and quickly show the posture with the legs bent and with the legs straight.

Then talk the class through, exhale lie back. Inhale take back the feet, exhale reach back and hold around the big toes. Then straight away roll up, first a little push with the toes, take a big inhalation, then roll up and at the point where you feel like you’re about to roll back down again, lift the chest and straighten the spine.

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first place the feet and hold the big toes

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then roll up – at the point you feel you are going to fall back down again….

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straighten the spine and catch the balance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suggest a student tries the roll 3 times and if they don’t manage to find the balance, they move on and set the pose from sitting up. If a student can’t hold the pose yet they are unlikely to be able to roll up into it. So they should sit up and bend the knees with the feet flat on the floor and take hold of the toes, then lift the toes off the ground and lift the legs as high as comfortable for the hamstrings and as far as the alignment of the spine stays good ie the natural curves stay in the spine. Stay here for 5 breaths. The dristi is directly up, so the whole head looks up towards the ceiling but the gaze is to a point around 2 feet about the head.

The release is on an exhalation, the legs come down into a legs crossed position, then inhale lift up for the vinyasa…

Modifications

With bend knees

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Points to Watch Out For

Lift chest

Imagine there’s a hook to your heart lifting you up

Engage legs

Squeeze legs together

Internally rotate legs

Shoulder blades back on down

Lengthen through sides of rib cage

Point toes/Barbie Feet

Lift out of lower back

At first use momentum to roll up then use control

These rolling poses are about learning to control the core strength

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Spine – extension towards neutral

Hips – flexion, internal rotation

Shoulders – glenohumeral joint – extension, external rotation antomically neutral – shoulder blades – depressed

Lengthening:

Spine – extensors

Legs – hamstrings, gleut max

Notes:

Tightness in either the spine extensors or the hamstrings can cause bent legs and/or rounded back – the legs should be bent to allow the spine to straighten

Rotations:

Legs – internal

 

Urdha Mukha Paschimattanasana

English Translation: Urdhva – upwards mukha – facing Paschimattanasana – intense west posture = upwards facing intense western posture

Dristi: upwards

Vinyasas: 16 Vinyasas – 10th is the state of the asana

Sapta – inhale – jump forwards

Exhale – lie down
Ashtau – inhale – bring legs over head, feet together
Exhale – hold the outside edges of the feet
Nava – inhale – roll up and catch the balance
Dasa – exhale – draw legs and body towards each other (5 breaths)

Inhale – straighten arms
Exhale – release, cross legs
Ekadasa – inhale – lift up
Dvadasa – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana
Trayodasa – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Chaturdasa – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Straighten the spine to catch the balance
  • Foint the feet
  • Lift up out of the lower back
  • Lift the chest up to the ceiling
  • Draw the shoulder blades down and back

How to Break Down for Beginners

The roll up into this pose is almost the same as for the last one – exhale lie back inhale take back the feet exhale take the arms back and this time hold the outside edge of the feet. Then straight away inhale roll up and catch the balance, then exhale draw the legs in towards the body.

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place the feet and hold the outside edges of the feet

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roll up and catch the balance

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then draw the legs in to the body

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again if the roll up isn’t possible, place the pose from sitting, take hold of the outside edge of the feet and lift the feet off the floor bring the legs as high up as possible or comfortable keeping the natural curves in the spine and not sinking into the lower back.

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if the roll up doesn’t happen – from sitting take the feet and lift up into the pose

 

Modifications

Keeping the knees bent, it’s best to keep the thighs in contact with the abdomen and lift as high as possible.

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Adjustment

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Points to Watch Out For

Hunching the shoulders up

Sinking into the lower back

It could be tightness in the hamstrings or glut max restricting the hips flexion

Anatomy

Joint Actions

Spine – flexion moving towards extension

Hips – flexion, adduction, internal rotation

Shoulder – glenohumeral joint – flexion, slight external rotation, adduction

Lengthening:

Spine – extensors, lats, rhomboids, lower traps, lats

Legs – hamstrings, gleut max, external rotators of hips, gastrocs, soleus,

Notes:

The challenge in this posture is to lift up out of the lower back without tensing the shoulders up

Rotations:

Legs – internal rotation

Arms – external rotation

 

Setu Bandasana

English Translation: Setu – Bridge, Bandha – bound = bound bridge pose

Dristi: nose

Vinyasas: 15 Vinyasas – 9th is the state of the asana

Sapta – inhale – forwards, place heels together three hand-lengths away from body

Ashtau – exhale – arch back up, place top of head on floor

Nava – inhale – press down with feet, lift hips up towards ceiling (5 breaths)

Dasa – exhale – lower hips down
Inhale – Chakrasana
Ekadasa – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana

Dvadasa – inhale – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Trayodasa – exhale – Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • Press the feet into the floor
  • Work towards straightening the legs
  • Lift the chest
  • Nasagrai dristi – look to your nose. It often feels strange to a student to look to their nose in back bends; the natural instinct seems to be to look up. The nasagrai dristi is an energetic counterbalance to discourage throwing back the head

How to Break Down for Beginners

This pose is very strong on the neck. Some weight on the neck will be strengthening and positive, too much will be stressful and very probably lead to injury, So be very cautious teaching this pose. If a student has any old injury or any stiffness or weakness or any problems in the neck they should stick to the first modification. Don’t teach the full pose to the whole class, teach it to carefully selected students individually, progress gradually through the modifications and be there with them to help them up into the pose for a while to make sure it’s safe for their neck.

To prepare place the heels together and feet apart like Charlie Chaplin. Have a distance of 3 hands lengths between the body and the feet. Then holding the tops of the legs with the elbows on the floor take the top on the head onto the floor. This is the first modification.

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If the pressure on the neck feels healthy and good, and the student wants to go further the next stage is to add some weight to the pose by crossing the arms over the chest as if you are dead.

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If that feels ok then place the hands in Urdhva Dhanurasana position and keeping the head on the floor, lift the hips up. Here the student can use strength in the arms to determine how much pressure is placed on the neck by pressing into the hands.

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Once that feels ok (ie no stress in the neck at all) then place the hands on the floor out to the side either side of the hips then starting on the top of the head (drawing a line up from the ears) roll up onto the head by pressing into the feet.

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The sides of the feet touch the floor normally not the whole sole of the feet. The legs are straightening.

Once that feels ok then cross the arms over the chest and roll up from there.

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When teaching this pose, describe and demo the first version. Let student know that if they know what they are doing and they want to do the full pose they can. If a student wants to try a new version of the pose they need to ask you to show them individually. Always help students up into the pose, stabilising by placing you legs either side of their hips so they don’t risk falling to the side and injuring the neck, and taking some weight by holding the back of their rib cage just below the shoulder blades so they don’t put too much weight on the neck and risk injuring it.

This pose can be strengthening and healthy for the neck if it is practiced with great care and appropriately for the body.

Adjustment

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have your legs either side of the hips to stabilise – hold the rib cage just under the shoulder blades and lift gently up to take the pressure off the head and neck

Modifications

As above

Points to Watch Out For

If there is any strain or pain in the neck then back off and do an easier/less intense version. If a student is unable or doesn’t want to put any weight on the neck at all, they can do the pose on the shoulders.

Chakrasana Vinyasa

 

This is the last pose of the primary series!!!!!

 

We made it!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Teaching Asana: Sun Salutations

SURYA NAMASKARA A

(9 Vinyasas)

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Samasthitih
Ekham Inhale Reach up Hand
Dwe Exhale Fold down – Uttanasana Nose
Trini Inhale Lift the chest Third eye
Chattwari Exhale back and down to Chatturanga Dandasan Nose
Pancha Inhale Urdvha Mukha Svanasana Nose or third eye
Shat Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana (5 breaths) Navel or back edge of mat
Sapta Inhale forwards to standing, straight legs, lift the chest Third eye
Ashtau Exhale Fold down – Uttanasana Nose
Nava Inhale Come all the way up – hands together Hands
Exhale Samasthitih

HOW TO BREAK DOWN FOR BEGINNERS

The sun salutations are a complex sequence of postures – there is a huge amount of information for a beginner to take in. Sun Salutations contain forward bends, a back bend, arm balances. To teach sun salutations thoroughly, you will need to explain the principles of all these movements, how to co-ordinate breath with movement, the importance of the bandhas, plus the importance of foundation especially when jumping.

If you are teaching a beginners course it is worth taking at least the first two sessions to cover the sun salutations. Make sure each student knows how to make it right for their body – for example, if they don’t have so much upper body strength they may need to bring their knees down in Chatturanga to avoid stressing the shoulders or if their hamstrings are very tight they may have to bend their knees in down dog.

If you are teaching a general led class and there are some beginners go through the first one or two sun salutations slowly holding each position for a few breaths so you can point out the important points of alignment and how to modify the poses and movements for injury or weakness or stiffness. The most important and most tricky part is the transition from chatturanga to up dog. If a beginner is getting this wrong then the shoulders, neck, wrists and lower back are all vulnerable to injury.

BREAKING IT DOWN FOR BEGINNERS

After you have explained about breath and bandha, start a beginners’ class off by standing in Samasthitih and simply raising the arms up and down with the breath. This helps them to get a feel for the idea of moving with the breath and warms up the shoulders. So standing in samasthitih inhale reach up, exhale bring the arms down, inhale reach up and exhale bring the arms down and repeat a few times. Explain that the movement is timed to go with the breath. That the alignment in the spine stays the same (ie they don’t ‘over-arch’ the lower back to reach up). The shoulders stay open, back and down – if the shoulders hunch up to the ears they need to keep the arms shoulder-width apart). The face tilts up with a lift in the back of the neck (ie the weight of the head is not just hanging backwards on the neck)

Then add on the first few movements

Ekam – inhale – reach up

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Dve – exhale – fold down – Uttanasana

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Trini – inhale – lift the chest

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Dve – exhale – fold down – Uttanasana

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Inhale – come all the way back up to standing – arms come up the sides

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Exhale – Samasthitih 

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fold down from the hips keeping the natural curves in the spine – bending the knees will help keep the alignment

Demonstrate first once or twice then talk them though. Here you can emphasize using the bandha on the way down to protect the lower back. Also explain to students that if they feel it too strongly on the back of the legs or lower back, they can bend their knees to take the pressure off. Another important point is to relax the head and neck when folding forwards, explain that pushing forwards with the head or keeping the head lifted creates tension in the neck. Lead them through it a few times with you talking – just choose two or three teaching points to focus on – remember do not give too much information or they will switch off or get frustrated. Then get them to do it a couple of times by themselves.

Another point to watch out for is Trini (the third position) – as they lift the chest, it is best to avoid saying  “look up”. This is the ‘traditional’ instruction but most people when they hear this will just lift their head and so crank their neck. The action we want here is for the students to lift their chest and lengthen through the front of the body and broaden across the chest. And as far as the dristi is concerned, it’s the eyes that need to look up, not the whole head. Also here it is good to encourage students to draw their shoulders away from the ears to create correct alignment in the shoulders for chatturanga.

Then move on to plank.

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RIGHT! heels pressing back, legs engaged, spine aligned, shoulders drawing down the back, looking ahead

Things that can go wrong in plank: Make sure the shoulders are over the center of the hands and that the abdominal muscles are engaged. Watch out for hips dropping creating a sway back, or sinking in between the shoulders. If the hips drop, encourage the student to lift up the navel or abdominal musculature (uddiyana bandha), engage the front of the thighs and lengthen the tail bone towards the heels. If they sink in the upper back, they need to press down with the hands and press up between the shoulder blades. People who have great difficulty here can put their knees down on the floor. Watch out for students with hyper-extending elbows, they will need to keep a micro bend in the elbow with them pointing back.

Key points in plank: Working from the feet, they need to press back into the heels so the feet are vertical, if they are forwards on the toes, this will tend to take the weight of the pose into the shoulders which aren’t so strong instead of the legs which are. Then engage the muscles in the legs, engage the bandhas, lengthen the tail bone towards the feet (or another way to describe this action is to press the center of the buttocks down towards the floor), lift the navel up towards the ceiling, draw the shoulders away from the ears, gently press the hands down to the floor to lift up between the shoulder blades and look forwards so the head is held in place. This is a lot of information to give, but if any of these things are not in place it is unlikely that their chatturanga will be well aligned or comfortable. If you were to hold beginners in the pose and explain all this at once they would probably all collapse. You can demonstrate the pose and explain these things first. You can ask them to focus on one thing at a time.

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place a belt around upper arms to make it easier to hold plank

Or you can ask the students to place a belt around the upper arms, this makes it much easier to hold the pose. Placing blocks under the hips also makes it easier to hold the pose to play around with the alignment and understand what is happening.

Next comes chatturanga. Demonstrate first. Then start them off in plank with the arms straight.

First they press back into the heels so the sole of the foot is vertical and engage the thigh muscles. This connects them to their core strength and ensures they can use the legs (which are strong) rather than the shoulders (which aren’t).

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WRONG! if they are too far forwards on the toes, stress goes into the shoulders

Next draw the navel up to the ceiling – to protect the lower back. Check that each student’s spine is as straight as possible for them (allowing for the natural curves) so they are not collapsing down to the floor or sticking their bum up in the air.

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WRONG! the bum is sticking up into the air and shoulders are too low

Then draw the shoulder blades down the back

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RIGHT! modify chatturanga by bringing the knees down to the floor and then bending the elbows just as much as possible whilst keeping alignment in the shoulders and spine

Most beginners will need to bring the knees down to the floor at this point. First they keep the knees off the floor, go through all the points above, and then bring the knees down last. Watch out for hips dropping first, elbows bending to the sides,

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WRONG! elbows pointing out to the sides – make sure the points of the elbow point straight back

dropping the head lower than the shoulders. Pay attention to students who have weak abs, as they are more likely to drop hips first. Insist they put knees down each time until they gain strength. Start with a modified Chatturanga where they just bend the elbows a little bit to build strength. Make sure the aim is not to go down as low as possible and ensure that the shoulders do not go any lower than the elbows. This is because if the shoulders go too low, in most people they start to round forwards and this creates tension in the muscles around the shoulders and puts pressure on the acromium/claviclar joint, which is not a weight-baring joint. It is important to develop strength in the muscles in the back such as latissimus dorsi and serratus anterior and use these muscles for support rather than the smaller muscles in the shoulders which often tend to get tense and stressed. The pectorals and deltoids will also be engaged here, but ideally the muscles in the neck and shoulders are not doing too much work.

It’s best not to hold students in plank or chatturanga for too long or they will get too tired. While they are in these poses, make sure they keep breathing and the breath is not held, this is essential so keep reminding them to maintain breathing.

There are two ways of lowering down and moving into up dog. The first is to lower all the way down to the floor and then shift the hands back ready for up dog. This is probably the easiest to teach in a led class.

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1) lower all the way down to the floor

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2) then shift the hands back

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3) then turn the toes over and lift up into up dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

If it is a beginners course and you have more time, then in their modified chatturanga with the knees down, they bend the elbows as low as they can keeping the alignment in the shoulders, then push with the toes and slide the knees forwards along the floor at the same time straightening the arms for up dog.

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1) knees to the floor and bend the elbows as much as possible with correct alignment in spine

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2) then push with the toes, slide forwards and straighten the arms into up dog – make sure shoulders are directly above wrists

This is a bit harder to teach and for them to get, but it is potentially better at building up the strength they need for the full poses and transition. The key thing is that when they end up in up dog, their shoulders are directly above the wrists to avoid putting pressure on the lower back or wrists, and they are lifting the chest and drawing the shoulders back and down. This avoids hunching the shoulders up to the ears.

Up dog: First make sure that the shoulders are directly above the wrists and not further forwards or back.

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WRONG! the shoulders are too far forward – make sure the shoulders are above the wrists RIGHT! the knees are down – often for beginners they will need to keep the knees down to protect the lower back

Next take their awareness to hands, which are be pressed fully into floor. The shoulders need to be back and down so they are not hunching around the ears creating tension. The chest moves forwards through the arms. If they have problems with their back, allow them to keep knees on the floor. If the knees are off the floor then the tops of the feet work into floor with the hands pressing down and resisting away from each other. Make sure the head does not drop all the way back putting pressure on the neck. The gluteus muscles are lightly engaged – encourage students not to completely clench the gluteus muscles, this creates tension in the external rotators and can create stress and congestion in the sacral area. If the elbows hyper-extend – micro-bend.

Then for beginners to transition back to down dog they bring the knees down tuck the toes under and then press through the hands and bring the hips up and back. Knees can stay bent.

Down dog: First check out the foundation: the feet and the hands. The feet are parallel with even weight in the inside and outside edges of the feet and the outside of the feet parallel. Nearly every student will have their heels off the floor due to tension in the hamstrings or calves or ankles. The hands are flat down with the fingers spread wide.

Watch out for hyper-extending elbows. If the elbows are hyper-extending they need to slightly bend them with the point of the elbow pointing backwards.

Tight shoulders will show up by a rounding in the upper back. Try to get them to take their weight back by bending the knees, no matter how much the knees bend.

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If the upper back is rounding forwards the heels will be off the floor

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Tight hamstrings and rounded back – bend the knees

If the back over-arches

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WRONG! over-arched back in down dog

place your hand on the curve and ask them to push up into your hand.

If their wrists or arms start to hurt allow them to come down to knees and rest for a few breaths. The students are aiming to move shoulders away from ears by getting them to rotate their armpits in towards the head while the top of the head moves towards the floor. Look for hyperextension in knees and correct with slight bend in the knees, but still engaging the thighs.

Beginners can walk or step forwards to lift the chest

Fold down

Then come all the way up – arms up the side – gently reach up

Then exhale Samasthitih

Always include the breath with the instructions but remember that if beginners can keep breathing and make roughly the right shapes and that is a great start. They probably will not ‘get’ everything straight away.

Initially keep students in each posture of sun salutations for 3 or more breaths. Keep the pace slow until they start to understand what comes next. Then you can start to eliminate the number of breaths as you feel they are progressing. On their first class they can do at least two sun salutations at the normal pace of breaths (i.e. one for each movement and then five in down dog) so they can get the idea of the flow.

MODIFICATIONS

In the forward fold: Suggest the student bends their knees if they have back problems. They can hold onto their ankles or shins if they have tight hamstrings or tight lower back.

Ideally encourage them to bend their knees so the hands can be flat on the floor to create a foundation for Chatturanga. You will notice someone with a tight neck will not be able to allow his or her head to drop towards the floor. Sometimes a student will keep their head up due to a lack of awareness, but often it is due to stiffness and it will be very uncomfortable for them if you insist on pressing their head down. When teaching beginners allow them to hang out here for a few breaths on the first few sun salutations.

If the wrists are sore – then chatturanga, up dog and down dog can all be done on the forearms

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If the wrists are sore chatturanga, up dog and down dog can all be done on the forearms

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If the lower back is sore – replace up dog with cobra or sphinx

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if the lower back is sore replace up dog with cobra or sphinx

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If a students gets too tired/weak – then child’s pose can replace down dog, they can put their knees down in chatturanga, and they can replace up dog down dog with cat cow, or alternate arm and leg raises.

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down dog can be replaced by childs pose

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for variety they can use childs pose with a twist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If up dog is causing problems then suggest they try doing it in as relaxed a way as possible. Up dog is not a good place to work strongly into a back bend – it is more of a gentle expression of the back bend for energetic and re-aligning purposes.

Also, cat/cow

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or alternate arm and leg raises

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can replace up dog and down dog

If reaching up and putting the hands together causes the shoulders to hunch up, encourage the student to keep the hands shoulder width apart and work on external rotation of the upper arms (right arm rotates clockwise, left arm anti-clockwise.

WRONG! if the shoulders hunch when reaching up…

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RIGHT! keep the hands shoulder width apart so the shoulders can stay back and down and open

to help the shoulders stay down, lead with the little finger whilst reaching up (this gives slight external rotation of the shoulders)

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the the shoudlers are tight a student can work on creating space by doing the Bollywood light bulb move

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the right hand moves clockwise and left anti-clockwise

POINTS TO WATCH OUT FOR

Samasthitih

What you can tell about a body by seeing it in Samasthitih?

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anterior tilt – typically – weak abdominal muscles, tight psoas/hip flexors, tight lower back muscles, wear and tear on lower spine

Weak Abs: If the student has a sway back (lordosis) the abdominal muscles are likely to be weak

Tight Psoas: If the Pelvis is tilted forwards (anterior tilt), it can look same as sway back. The student will probably have a tight psoas, tight lower back muscles, they might be putting pressure on the discs of the lower spine and they might have back pain. The chest will stick out in compensation, which can cause stiffness in the neck. They could also have weak abdominals and probably find it hard to connect to their core strength.

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posterior tilt – typically tight psoas/hip flexors, weak lower back muscles, tight abdominals, wear and tear on lower spine

If the pelvis is tilted back (posterior tilt) it looks the opposite to sway back and creates a slightly different pattern of tension. The psoas will also be tight, the abdominals tight and the lower back muscles weak. The shoulders often hunch forwards to compensate, creating tension in the front of the chest and weakness and pain in the upper back.

Anterior Pelvic Tilt Guide and Treatment

Tight Trapezius: If the shoulders lift even when the student is trying to keep them down it could be due to tight trapezius muscles.

Curvature to the spine: If the student is uneven in the shoulders or the hips it could be due to curvature in the spine or sometimes it is due to one shoulder or hip being tighter than the other.

Tight Neck: If the chin sticks out it could be postural (for example compensating for a sway back) or due to tight neck muscles.

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the chin pushing forwards will create tension in the neck

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shoulders drawing too far back create tightness in the upper back

Hyper-extending knees: Knees will be locked back creating a “banana” shape to the legs. To correct this, the student micro-bends the knees and strongly engages the quads.

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ouch! hyper-extending knees

a link to a Yoga Journal article on hyper-extending knees is here

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hyper-extending elbows

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the image on the left show the elbows hyper extending – on the right the elbows are slightly bent to protect the joint (from The Daily Bandha)

Dropped arches: If the inner ankles roll in, and the knees knock together this can be due to a lack of awareness or due to dropped arches. This can cause knee problems and often back problems. With exercise and awareness arches could be lifted back up. A yoga practice is a good place to do this.

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dropped arches (over pronation)

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medial arch lifted too high

Exercises for the feet:

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kneel and tuck the toes under to stretch the soles of the feet

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curl the toes under

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lift the toes up and stretch ‘em out

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use your toes to draw a piece of material towards you – feel those muscles in the feet WORK!

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play the piano with your toes – place them down one by one first starting with the little toe – then with the big one

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keep the big toe and little toe down and lift the middle three toes

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keep the four smaller toes down and just lift the big one

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spread your toes w-i-d-e

Breaking Down the Sun Salutation – Finer Points

For the first count of Ekham – Inhale – Reach Up

Foundation in Feet

It is important to keep the weight even in the feet. This is because an uneven foundation can cause tension all the way up the body before the student has even moved.

Knees and Thighs

The thigh muscles are engaged, if a student is already strong and maybe stiff they look for a gentle engagement, if the student is weak and maybe flexible) they are looking for a strong engagement of the quadriceps so the knee caps pull up.

There is always a slight softness in the knees so they are not completely locked backwards.

Neutral Hips

It’s also important to keep a neutral position in the hips – the tendency is for the lower back to over arch (which can cause wear and tear injuries over time), so the tailbone stays pointing down at the floor.

Relaxed Shoulders

Encourage students to keep the shoulders drawn back and down without tension – the tendency is for the shoulders to hunch up around the ears, which creates tension in the neck and shoulders. Encourage them to think of the shoulder blades moving down the back and towards each other while the armpits rotate towards each other.

Head and Neck

The dristi point is the thumbs, but a lot of people drop their head back completely and this can be bad for the neck. Remind them that the dristi point is for the eyes and once they can see their thumbs with their eyes the head is far enough back.

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tilt the face up and look to the thumbs

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if there are neck problems – keep the back of the neck long and just look up with the eyes

The head tilts up while the back of the neck stays arched. If there are neck problems they can keep the head still.

For the second count of Dve – exhale – fold down – Uttanasana,

Foundation in the Feet Again

It is even more important to keep the weight even in the feet – pressing back into the heels in a forward bend will stress the hamstring attachment (right at the top of the back of the legs) and over time possibly cause tendonitis (inflammation, pain and injury).

Protect the Lower Back

Also emphasize uddiyana bandha to protect the lower back. If there is tightness in the hamstrings or weakness/injury in the lower back the knees are bent. In some students there is a tendency to over arch the back on the way down – if the student leads with the chest and uses strong uddiyana the over arching is best avoided.

Relax the Head

Once folded all the way down, the head and neck are relaxed. The tendency is for a student to push into the pose with the head – this just creates tension in the neck

For Trini – inhale – lift the chest, the first thing to point out is that the back of the neck stays long. It is common for students to lift the head up too much which then creates pressure and possible damage in the back of the neck. It is also good to encourage students to prepare for stepping or jumping back by putting the shoulders in the right place – which means drawing the shoulder blades down the back towards the hips, externally rotating the upper arms and pressing the bottom point of the shoulder blades in towards the front of the body. The knees bend enough to allow the hands to go flat down on the floor. The bandhas are engaged.

Moving on to Chatvari – exhale – Chatturanga Dandasana. The first thing to talk about here is jumping. Jumping back to plank or chatturanga and jumping forwards out of down dog can feel very nice and flowing and energizing, but it is asking a lot of the hands, arms, shoulders and neck in terms of taking the body weight in a way that is (for most students at least at first) fairly uncontrolled. I think it can be a good idea for students to step at first to get used to moving on the hands and keeping a good foundation (i.e. not coming half way up onto the fingers in a way that is potentially stressing for the wrist all the way up to the neck). This can also help then to position the shoulders above the wrists to avoid swinging on the shoulder joint. They also need to get used to connecting to the bandhas and core strength, which is really essential when jumping. So there is a lot to get right before jumping is safe and aligned. Jumping is a fairly advanced part of the practice and I think it is a good idea for beginners to build up to it slowly. It’s also a good idea to step the first few sun salutations even for advanced students to allow the shoulders time to warm up.

I have already mentioned the importance of the alignment in the shoulders in chatturanga. The ideal is for there to be a right angle between the wrists and lower arm and between the lower and upper arms. This is not always possible due to body proportions or lack of upper body strength. If this is the case then the shoulders go no lower than the elbows. This way the shoulders and chest can stay open and the pressure of the trapezius muscle is minimized. A quick note about jumping straight into chatturanga rather than going into plank and lower down from there. If a student has a large amount of upper body strength and control and normally narrow hips and light legs then it is fine for them to do this. For many students however it will just put pressure on the lower back and shoulders to jump straight in so it is really best for them to step or jump to plank and lower down slowly. The slower they go the more strength they build up

Panca – inhale – Urdvha Mukha Svanasana

Up dog is an important pose to do right. If not it can cause all kinds of problems.

It’s a good idea to teach up dog by going through each modification so you can go over the main points of alignment and action in the pose slowly and safely.

In Sphinx:

Feet: The feet are hips width apart and active so the toes are pointing back and the centre of the foot is pressing down. If the heels are flopping out to the side this creates an uneven stretch on the knees and the front of the hips.

Legs: The legs are engaged.

Hips: The gluteus muscles are lightly engaged – mainly through the engagement of mula bandha – an over tense bum can put pressure on the sacrum and externally rotate the hips too much.

In Cobra:

Back: the back bend comes from the front of the body lengthening and the chest pressing forwards through the arms – not from a strong arch backwards which can put pressure on the lower back.

Shoulders: the shoulder blades are sliding back and down the back and the bottom point of the shoulder blades are pressing towards the front of the chest.

In Up-Dog

Arms: vertical so the shoulders are directly above the wrists. The elbow joint is slightly soft – this is a general rule – locking a joint especially while it is taking weight can cause stress. Elbows are pointing straight back.

Hands: fingers spread as wide as comfortable, pressure through the base of each finger and the tip of each finger. The action in the hands is to press into the floor with the right hand spiraling clockwise and left anticlockwise. The hands don’t actually move but that’s the feeling.

The head: If there are no neck problems, the chin can tilt up and the face lift to stretch the front of the neck. It’s important to keep the jaw relaxed and not to drop the weight of the head right back, which could stress and damage the neck. If there are any problems with the neck then it is best if the head stays neutral. Some students will press back into up dog with their head, discourage this as it can cause pressure on the neck.

Down Dog

Feet

The feet are hip width apart with the outside edge of the feet parallel. The toes spread. The weight is even between the inside and outside edges of the feet. If a student is collapsing onto the inner edges of the feet then the legs will tend to rotate inwards and there will be stress on the knees. Down dog is quite a good place to work on lifting the inner arches (always making sure a student is not over doing it – we are always moving towards balance in a neutral position, these are general points addressing the most common patterns and are not necessarily right for everyone).

Legs

Down dog is for many students a strong stretch on the back of the legs. So the heels can be up off the floor and the knees can be bent. Encourage a student to tune into the sensations they feel and modify the pose so it’s right for them.

Hips

Down dog is a place where many students will either over arch the lower back (anterior tilt in the hips) or over round the lower back (posterior tilt in the hips). If there is a posterior tilt it will look like the lower back is rounding up towards the ceiling, here it is important a student bends their knees so they can work on getting a neutral position in the hips and lower back. If there is an anterior tilt it will look like the lower back is sagging down towards the floor. This is also likely to stress the back and shoulders and cause the student to lose connection to their bandhas and core strength. So these students will benefit by lifting the rib cage towards the hips.

Shoulders

The shoulders stay open. If the student has stiff shoulders it will look like the shoulders are too far forwards, they can bend their knees so they can take the weight back and work on getting the shoulders in the right place. The top of the head moves down towards the floor, the shoulder blades move up the back towards the hips, creating space and openness. The shoulder blades move away from each other.

Arms

The action in the arms is very important for the position of the shoulders. The upper arms rotate out (lateral rotation) the lower arms rotate in (medial rotation) so the right upper arm rotates clockwise and lower arm anticlockwise and the left does the opposite. This created opening in the shoulders and keeps the grounding in the hands. The elbows slightly soft. Elbows pointing backwards.

Hands

When the hands are taking weight it is really important that they stay properly grounded to protect the whole line from the wrists up to the neck. Base of each finger and tip of each finger presses down, the centre of the palm lifts up. A bit like suction pads. Somewhere between the first finger and middle finger points forwards this is vary depending on the shoulders and what feels comfortable. Fingers spread as wide as comfortably possible.

Adjusting Plank and Chatturanga

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ask the student to press back into your hands – this will ensure they engage the legs and connect to their core strength and not go too far forwards and stress the shoulders

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catch the shoulders so they don’t go too low

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press down each finger and thumb so they keep a nice foundation in their hands

 

 

 

 

 

 

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lengthen their tail bone down towards their hips to connect them to their core strength and avoid ‘hanging’ in the lower back

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Adjusting Up Dog and Modifications

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In Sphinx: lengthen their tail bone down towards the heels – verbally you can tell them to press the public bone down into the floor

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In up dog: rotate the upper arms back

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rotating the upper arms back

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In cobra: press down on their feet to give them their foundation

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In Sphinx or Cobra: press down on their feet

Adjusting the transition from chatturanga to up dog to down dog

It is common for the heels to ‘flop’ out to the side – this can stress the ankles and put pressure on the knees and avoids a nice stretch for the psoas

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place your hands to the outside of the heels and guide the heels to stay upright as they go through this transition

You can also help them to find how to roll over their toes if they are having problems with this move – just hold the feet and gently push to take them over and back.

Adjusting Sun Salutation A

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put your hands on their shoulders as they reach up to encourage them to stay back and down

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your hand on their sacrum presses directly down while the other hand gently encourages the forward fold

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open their chest and draw their shoulders away form their ears

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catch the shoulders so they don’t go down too low in chatturanga

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or lengthen their tail bone towards their heels

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rotate the upper arms back in up dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

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lift up the shoulders

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if posterior tilt in pelvis or very tight hamstings – hold the hips and take them back

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or you can hold the hips with your hands

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or place your hands either side of the spine and press up and back

 

Surya Namaskara B

(17 Vinyasas) 

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Ekham Inhale bend the knees – reach up – Utkatasana Hand
Dwe Exhale straight legs – fold down – Uttanasana Nose
Trini Inhale Lift the chest Third Eye
Chattwari Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana Nose
Pancha Inhale Urdvha Mukha Svanasana Third eye or nose
Shat Exhale Ardho Mukha Svanasana Belly button or back edge of mat
Sapta Inhale left heel in, right foot forwards Virabhadrasana I Hand
Ashtau Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana Nose
Nava Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Third eye or nose
Dasa Exhale Ardho Mukha Svanasana Belly button or back edge of mat
Ekadasa Inhale right heel in, left foot forwards Virabhadrasana I Hand
Dvadasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana Nose
Trayodasa Inhale Urdvha Mukha Svanasana Third eye or nose
Chaturdasa Exhale   Adho Mukha Svanasana (5 breaths) Belly button or back edge of mat
Pancadasa Inhale Step or jump forwards, straight legs, lift chest Third Eye
Sodasa Exhale fold – Uttanasana Nose
Saptadasa Inhale bend knees – up to standing – Utkatasana Hand
Exhale Samasthitih

HOW TO BREAK DOWN FOR BEGINNERS

When I am teaching complete beginners I usually start by going over Utkatasana, then transition into Virabhadrasana I by stepping back with the left foot. I keep them here and take them through the main points of alignment and what things to watch out for. Then place their hands down on the floor and go through the sun salutation to Virabhadrasana I on the other side, stop here again and go over the main points, and then flow to the end of the sun salutation.

Utkatasana

Starting by setting Samasthitih then ask the students to bend their knees. The important point here is that the hips stay neutral, not over arching the spine nor over rounding the spine. Mention the balance staying even in the foundation so there is equal weight in the heels and the balls of the feet. Then ask the students to reach the arms up. If the shoulders are stiff students can modify by bring the arms shoulder width apart (see below under modifications). Encourage students to take care with the alignment in the spine (see below under Points to Watch out For)

Virabhadrasana I

So starting with a big step back with the left foot. Next turn the back foot in around 45 degrees. The exact angle will vary from student to student depending on the alignment of their knees: knees and toes point in the same direction. Then turning the front foot to point towards the front. Next the hips move round towards the front (see under Points to Watch Out For). This is a good place to talk about the alignment in the spine here (see below). When reaching up with the arms talk about shoulders staying relaxed and down. Then finally looking up – either with the whole head, taking care to tilt the face up by lifting the chin and keeping space through the back of the neck, or just looking up with the eyes. Face stays relaxed.

MODIFICATIONS

It is often helpful for students with stiff shoulders to modify Utkatasana by bringing the arms shoulder width apart working on outwards (lateral) rotation in the upper arms (right arm clockwise, left arm anticlockwise). The same applies to Virabhadrasana I.

In Virabhadrasana I, the back knee is vulnerable. This is because the foot is fixed with the lower leg rotating outwards and the upper leg is rotating inwards (to square the hips towards the front) so the knee is in the middle being pulled in two directions. If the students has knee problems or stiff hips it might be helpful to modify Virabhadrasana I by bringing the back heel up or by stepping the feet further apart, i.e. out from the centre line towards the long edges of the mat, as if they are on train tracks. This gives more space for the hips to come round and takes the pressure of the knee.

POINTS TO WATCH OUT FOR

Utkatasana

There are 2 different versions of Utkatasana that have slightly different alignment. In the one normally practiced in Ashtanga, the heels, hips and shoulders are all in line – stacked above each other so the pose is pretty upright. In the other one the student folds forward hinging at the hips so the torso is at a 45 degree angle to the floor.

Front of rib cage. There is a tendency for the front of the rib cage to flare up. This causes the lower back to over-arch possibly putting unhealthy pressure on the spine and causes the student to lose connection to core strength and bandhas.

Relax face. There is a tendency for the face to become tense and stressed. This connects to the nervous system and signals for the whole body to become tense. It also restricts the flow of energy through energy points in the face. It also feels less pleasant than relaxing the face. It also causes wrinkles.

Virabhadrasana I

For this pose in Ashtanga the heels are in line – definitely not crossed, if the feet are crossed then it becomes impossible to square the hips to the front and the student just ends up fighting with themself.

The weight even in feet, the tendency is for the weight to go into the front foot, the weight is 50% in each foot.

A common habit is for the weight to pushing into the toes of the front foot creating uneven engagement in the muscles in the legs, so encourage students to press down with the front heel.

Collapsing onto the inner edge of back foot. As the weight and attention are forward in the pose the back foot often gets forgotten and ends up collapsing onto the inner edge. This can create uneven pressure on the knee. The student aims to lift up the inner edge of the back foot.

Hips square. It is not necessary or even desirable for the hips to be completely square to the front. For many students it is not possible to do this without over arching the lower back or stressing the back knee.

To work on the squaring, the action comes from pressing down with the front heel which enables that hip to draw back, and pressing down with the outside edge of the back foot which internally rotates that thigh and allows that hip to go forwards. So the hips are squaring but not necessarily square.

The gluteus muscles relaxed. There is a tendency to tense up the left gluteus muscles (when the right leg is forward). These muscles are external rotators of the hips, but for the hips to square there needs to be internal rotation. So if those gluteus muscles are tensed, the body ends up fighting against itself and creating tension.

Front of rib cage. Remind students not to flare up the front of the rib cage, this over arches the back in an unhealthy way. So front of the rib cage down towards the hips and tailbone points down towards the floor.

Tensing gluteus muscles. The thigh of the back leg rotates inwards to help the hips to square, if the external rotators in this hip are engaged this works against that movement, so gluteus muscles relaxed!

Breath

For beginners and also for many more experienced practitioners, the breath up to Virabhadrasana I is a challenge. If a beginner is really struggling you can add in extra breaths:

Inhale Uttkatasana, exhale fold down, inhale lift the chest, exhale chatturanga, inhale up dog, exhale down dog, inhale turn in the left heel, exhale step the right foot forwards, inhale come up to Virabhadrasana I, exhale bring the hands down, inhale step the feet back to plank, exhale chatturanga and so on

For more experienced students the breath is

Inhale Uttkatasana, exhale fold down, inhale reach up exhale chatturanga, inhale up dog, then all on the next exhale go to down dog and turn the left heel in step the right foot forwards then inhale come up to Virabhadrasana I

Always stress to students to keep breathing and not hold the breath.

It is common for the breath to get a bit lost in up dog so suggest a student fully exhales in chatturanga so they have space for a full deep relaxed breath in up dog.

Adjusting Uttkatasana

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externally rotate the upper arms

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make sure the front of the rib cage is not popping up

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lengthen the tail bone down towards the floor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adjusting Warrior I

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stabilise the back foot – put the whole outside edge of your foot on the floor and gently ‘cradle’ their foot with yours

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externally rotate the shoulders and draw them back and down

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draw the front of the rib cage down towards the hips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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lengthen the tail bone down towards the floor

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internally rotate the back leg

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close up of the foot action!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RESOURCES

An article about Joint Hyper extension here

 

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Teaching Asana: Standing Poses

Padangusthasana/Padahastasana

English Translation: Pada – Foot, Angustha – Big Toe, Hasta – Hand = Foot Big Toe Posture and Foot to Hand Posture

Dristi: Nose

Vinyasas: 3 vinyasas – 2nd is the state of the asana

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Ekam Inhale feet hip width apart, fold forward, take your toes, lift chest Third Eye
Dwe Exhale fold down (5 breaths) Nose
Trini Inhale Lift the chest
Exhale Place hands under the feet
Ekham Inhale Life the chest
Dwe Exhale Fold down (5 breaths)
Trini Inhale Lift chest
Exhale Hands on hips
Inhale Come up to standing
Exhale Samasthitih

How to Break Down for Beginners

BREATHS: to get into Padangusthasana:

Beginners:   6 – Inhale (step/jump feet hip distance apart) Exhale (hands to the hips) Inhale (lift the chest up/create space) Exhale (fold forward hook big toes) Inhale (lift the chest/lengthen) Exhale (belly to thighs, chest to knees, head towards the floor).

Led primary:   4 – Inhale (jump feet hip distance apart, hands to hips) Exhale (fold forward hook big toes) Inhale (lengthen through the spine, lift chest) Exhale (fold belly to the thighs)

Mysore style: 2 – Inhale (jump feet hip distance apart, reach down, hook big toes, lift chest) Exhale (fold belly towards thighs).

You can add or delete breaths as you feel students need. This is the basic principle to follow for all postures, i.e. give beginners more breaths to get into it and delete the extra breaths as they develop more stamina and even breathing.

KEY POINTS:

Position the feet – hip width apart – place the hands on the hips

Feet should be parallel if possible – sometimes if the knees or hips have a strong turn out or in, parallel feet might not be comfortable or possible.

Then take an inhale and lift the chest (to lengthen the front of the body) and lift the face (to avoid putting pressure on the back of the next), then, leading with the chest (to avoid over arching the back), fold forward.

The forward fold should happen from the hips – not a bend in the back, which might put pressure on the vertebrae.

It’s safest to bend the knees slightly as they go into and out of forward bends.

They should only fold forward so they feel a gentle stretch in the hamstrings so tell them if they feel it too strongly or in the back of the knees they should bend the knees.

IMG_0315

If a student feels the stretch too strongly, or feels it at the back of the knees then bend the knees

Emphasise: relaxing the head, keeping weight even in the feet and tuning into the stretch and making sure it’s gentle and safe.

Feet – parallel, weight even front back and sides of feet.

By using energy in the feet they can feel lengthening of the hamstrings as well as feeling of broadening across the sacrum or widening the hips.

Elbow/shoulders – should lift up the back towards the hips and away from each other to create space in the upper body. If there is a lot of slack in the elbows have the student bend them towards the back of their mat.

MODIFICATIONS

If students have tight hamstrings or lower back problems encourage them to bend their knees, but keep the length in their spine. Make sure they keep knees and ankles in the same line. In extreme cases it is OK to do both Padangusthasana and Padahasthasana by holding onto the legs (but not the knees) with knees bent.

IMG_0316

blocks under the hands can give a sense of stability

Some people will be helped by using blocks under the hands to give grounding and stability.

Points to Watch Out For

As they inhale and lift the chest the tendency is to lift the head up too much and put pressure on the neck – so emphasise back of neck long

The actions in the pose are to lengthen through the torso as well as go into a forward fold.

Lifting up on the knee caps will help some people in the pose but not all. If the muscles in the legs are weak or the knee joint hyper extends or there is an injury in the knees then lifting up the knee caps will probably be helpful. If the legs are already very strong or there is stiffness then it shouldn’t be emphasized.

If the hamstrings are tight they should bend the knees on the way down into the pose and whist they are there

If the back is injured or weak they should pay especial attention to uddiyana bandha on the way down and whilst in the pose

The head and neck should be relaxed – some students will want to push their way into a pose with their head – this creates tension and should be discouraged.

The shoulders should be active – so shoulder blades sliding up the back towards the hips, elbows pointing back – this gives maximum openness for the breath.

It’s important to keep the hips above the feet so the weight is even between the heel and ball of the foot – if the weight goes back it will put pressure on the hamstring attachment.

Students not relaxing in their neck. This usually means the back of the neck is very tight and it can be extremely painful to relax completely. Encourage them gently with your hand, but do not force. Some people out of lack of awareness will hold their head up in the pose creating tension – remind them to hang the head down. Others will find it hard to hang their head down, due to tightness in the muscles in the back of the body, so allow them to do what’s comfortable

Shoulders up around ears. Encourage students to create space between the shoulder blades as well as lifting them towards their hips.

Pulling back into the heels. This happens mostly with students who have their legs straight. Center them verbally or by putting your hand on their sacrum and gently moving them forward. Students with hyperextension will tend to pull back into their heels, make sure they bend their knees slightly but keep the energy in their thighs.

IMG_0321

put your hand on their sacrum and press straight down to make sure their weight is evenly balanced and not pressing back into the heels

As they go into the pose and once they are there they should avoid over arching the lower back – this causes ware and tear on the spine.

Adjustments

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If someone is tensing their neck – gently hold their head and place your thumbs just under the occipital ridge – this can feel very nurturing and relaxing

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one hand on sacrum to press down for stability, one hand above the curve of the back to gently encourage the forward fold

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the hands either internally rotate the thighs and the belly presses the body gently down and in

 

 

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions: Hip flexion, Knee extension, Spine mild flexion, Legs – thighs rotate inwards, Shoulders – external rotation, arms in sockets

Lengthening: Spinal muscles, hamstrings, gleuts, piriformis, adductor magnus, soleus, grastrocnemius

Notes:

Restriction folding forwards could be due to tightness in the hamstrings, the spinal muscles or the gleuteals

The temptation to pull into this posture with the arms should be avoided, this will just create tension in the rectus femoris, psoas and shoulder muscles. If a student wants to go deeper they should use the bandhas then let gravity do the work for them.

Hips are moving towards neutral so the direction will depend on body shape

Toes turn slightly in

Directions:

Knees away from eyes

Shoulders away from ears

Top of head towards floor

Chin towards chest

Rotations:

Legs inwards. Arms outwards.

Padahastasana:

IMG_0319

as with Padangusthasana – bend the knees if necessary

BREATHS: Transition from Padangusthasana:

Beginner: 4 – Inhale (lift chest) Exhale (place hands under feet) Inhale (lengthen again) Exhale (fold in)

IMG_0320

hands under feet with the toes to the crease of the wrist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Led Primary or Mysore: 2 – Inhale (lift chest, change hands) Exhale (fold in)

WHAT TO ESTABLISH, LOOK FOR AND MODIFICATIONS: All principles of correction are the same as Padangusthasana.   Especially note that those with hyperextension will be more likely to pull back into their heels once they are in Padahasthasana.

Adjustments

IMG_0327

hug them into the posture

I normally wait until Padahastasana to adjust to give a student time to warm up. If they are very flexible, give the foundation/stability by pressing the sides on the hips in (not shown). If they are less flexible, hold mid-thigh and internally rotate the thighs.

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if they are very flexible press the sides of the hips in to create stability

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hand on sacrum to ground – hand on back to gently ease them forwards and down

If a student is less flexible place your hand on the sacrum tp press straight down and the other hand above the curve of the back and gently encourage them down into the pose.

IMG_0321

press straight down to re-iterate their foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trikonasana

English Translation: Utthita – Extended, Tri – Three, Kona – Angle = Extended Triangle Posture

Vinyasas: 5 vinyasas, 2nd and 4th the state of the asana

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Ekam Inhale With the right leg step wide, turn the feet, arms to shoulder height Top hand
Dwe Exhale Right arm down left arm up (5)
Trini Inhale Come up, turn the feet
Chattwari Exhale Left arm down, right arm up (5)
Pancha Inhale Come up
Exhale Samastitihi

How to Break Down for Beginners

BREATHS:

Beginners: 4 – Inhale (jump/step to the right, feet three feet apart) Exhale (turn the right foot out) Inhale (breathe into the chest and lengthen arms) Exhale (reach down to grab big toe/or ankle)

Led primary/Mysore: 2 – Inhale (jump/step to right, turn right foot out) Exhale (reach out and fold to grab big toe)

KEY POINTS

Position of the Feet:

The heels are in line – in other kinds of yoga the front heel lines up with the instep of the back foot – in Ashtanga we line up the heels

The left foot turns in around 45 degrees (although this depends a bit on the angle of the knee) and the right foot turns all the way out to face the back wall. To keep the same distance between the legs the toes should lift up and swivel on the heel.

Feet are the same length apart as the student’s leg so each person will have a different stance with an equilateral triangle between the legs and the floor. Normally the feet are under the elbow when standing with arms out at shoulder height.

IMG_0332

feet same length apart as leg – left foot in right foot out, heels in line

The feet are pressing into the ground especially through the big toes joint, little toe joint and centre of the heel (some would say the 4 corners of the heel). The important point is that the foundation is balanced and active. The toes stay relaxed otherwise it can create tension all the way up the body. If the student is very flexible the feet draw in towards each other as if they are trying to ruck their mat up, if working on flexibility, the feet are pressing away from each other as if there is a tear in the mat and they’re trying to make it bigger.

Hips

The hips face to the students’ front as much as possible, but the priority is to keep the knee of the right leg facing towards the toes of the right foot.

The hips stay neutral with no anterior or posterior tilt.

Moving into the Pose:

IMG_0334

as they move into the pose encourage them to lengthen through the side of the rib cage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the student goes down into the pose the right hip moves sideways towards the left hip

The right side of the rib cage lengthens

The top shoulder stays vertically above the bottom shoulder as much as possible

Position of the Bottom Hand

This is somewhat controversial in Ashtanga. The ‘traditional’ method is to reach down and hold the big toe with the first 2 fingers and then lift up and back with the top shoulder from there. Some feel this can compromise the alignment in the spine and prefer to have the student reach down and rest the hand on the shin or thigh.

IMG_1249

the bottom hand can rest on the leg (not on the knee) or on a block

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neck

The neck stays aligned so it is a continuation of the spine.

MODIFICATIONS

If the student has problems reaching down in the pose, they have three options. 1. Rest the hand on the ankle or shin and keep the back in alignment. 2. Bend the knee in order to catch the big toe and straighten leg as much as is comfortable. The first option is best for extreme tightness in the hamstrings and hips. 3. Rest the hand on a block.

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the ‘traditional’ ashtanga version is to take hold of the big toe – if that is not possible or comfortable they can rest the hand on the leg or on a block

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If they have tight necks or shoulders, don’t insist they look up at their thumb. Have them keep their head facing directly forward until they start to feel more comfortable with the posture or they can look down at the big toe.

Points to Watch Out For

It is common for a student to over arch the lower back (therefore compromising alignment) in order to go deeper into the posture – encourage a neutral position in the lower back with the tail bone lengthening towards the back heel.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:

Students who have hyperextension. Get them to bend their knee on the way into and out of the posture. They need to focus their attention on pressing down into the ball of the foot and not just into the heel. In extreme cases, have them keep the knee bent softly for the entire posture, but continue to engage the thigh. If it is the elbow that hyper-extend they need to be careful to keep the lower arm bent.

Look at ankles dropping in. Try to encourage the pressure in the foot to even out and the inner ankle bones to lift. Bring focus to the big toe joint and heel. This usually sorts out misalignment in the hips.

Arch in the back. Students with tightness in the hips and weak abdominals will tend to arch their back in Trikonasana. Verbally instruct them to draw the lower ribs in toward the spine and move their tail bone forward. Physically put one hand on the lower ribs and draw them in. Support and balance the student with you leg and hip against their lowest hip.

Note: for standing poses generally Ashtanga has a shorter stance than other styles such as Iyengar.

Anatomy

Joint Actions:

Spine: neutral extension, slight rotation, hips neutral

Arms: abduction, upper arms – external rotation lower arms inward spiral

Front Leg:            Hip: external rotation, flexion, abduction

Knee: extension

Back Leg:            Hip: internal rotation, adduction, extension

Knee: extension

Lengthening:

Front Leg: adductors, hamstrings, quadratus femoris, obdurator externus

Back Leg: Gleuts, Sartorius, biceps femoris

Directions:

Ribs rotate to ceiling

Lower armpit away from hip

Side ribs parallel

Feet press down to lift legs up

Shoulders over front foot

Front thigh – upwards and outwards

Back thigh slightly inwards

Back edge of back foot presses down strongly

Rotations: Front leg – external, back leg – internal. Arms – upper – external, lower – internal

Adjustment

IMG_0340

the outside of your leg against the top of their front leg and hold the hip to stabilise, your other hand to the shoulder to ease them into the pose

Parivrtta Trikonasana

English Translation: Parivrtta – Revolved, Tri – Three, Kona – Angle = Revolved Triangle Posture

Dristi: Hand

Vinyasas: 5 vinyasas, 2nd and 4th the state of the asana

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
From Trikonasana Inhale Come up. Arms to shoulder height. Turn the left foot in right foot out. Turn the hips to the back. Top Hand
Dwe Exhale Left hand down right hand up (5)
Trini Inhale Come up. Turn the feet. Turn the hips to the front.
Chattwari Exhale Right hand down left hand up (5)
Pancha Inhale Come up. Square the feet. Arms to shoulder height
Exhale Samastitihi

How to Break Down for Beginners

BREATHS: from Utthita Trikonasana

Beginners or slow Led Primary: 5 – Inhale (back up to standing) Exhale (turn left foot in right foot out) Inhale (square hips and body over right leg, reach up with left arm – this can be an extra breath) Exhale (fold, place hand on floor/shin) Inhale (rotate the top shoulder open and reach up with arm. You can add an extra breath here between rotating the shoulder and reaching up)

Fast Led Primary/Mysore: 2 – Inhale (back up to standing, change feet) Exhale (square hips and fold, place hand on floor, reach up with the other).

KEY POINTS

Make sure the distance between the feet has not shortened whilst turning the feet between sides in Trikonasana

Feet – back foot works like an anchor by connecting the outside edge of the back foot into the ground as most of the weight is now on the front leg. Big toe joint presses down to keep stability especially in the front foot

The heels are in line, but if a student is very stiff they can increase the width between the feet to allow the hips to square to the back

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if a student is stiff they can increase the distance between the feet to help them to square the hips to the back without causing tension

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hips are level in two directions if possible

While moving into the pose encourage the students to lengthen through the front of the body and then fold forward and down

IMG_0343

create length through the front of the body on the way down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Encourage students to keep the legs straight if possible and modify the position of the hand rather than bend the knee to get the hand on the floor

The hand can be placed on the shin or the foot or on the floor – or it can be placed on a block

IMG_0344

if a student can’t reach the floor they can rest their hand on their shin, their foot or a block

Once the student has placed the hand down the next part of the pose is the twist

The twist happens in the upper body, ideally the hips stay still and square and the ribcage twists

 

Twists happen with the exhale and uddiyana bandha. The hips stay level and the twist is in the upper body, the thorasic spine where the rib cage is.

Then students can place the other hand either resting on the sacrum or reaching up towards the ceiling

IMG_0346

if reaching up creates tension the hand can stay resting on the sacrum

The top shoulder rotates back and down to help open the chest.

MODIFICATIONS

If the students has problems reaching down to the floor they can either rest their hand or hands on the shin, or use a block

This posture is difficult for people with tight hips, stiff lower backs and tight hamstrings.   Allow them to place the front hand on the shin or the floor to the inside of the foot to begin with. If they have really stiff lower backs, get them to just fold forward putting both hands on the front shin (pregnant woman should do this option). If reaching up with the arm is too much then have them put hand on hip (this will also help to remind them to keep hips square).

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:

Hyperextension If the front knee hyperextends, get them to bend the front knee slightly while still engaging the thigh muscle. If it is the elbow that hyper-extends, they need to be careful to keep the lower arm bent.

Pulling head back to look up at hand. This is usually from tight neck muscles or shoulders. Have them look down first, lengthen through the back of the neck and then only turn head as far as they can comfortably. They can still look up with their eyes, though they might not see their thumb.

Points to Watch Out For

If a student is very flexible they should take care not to turn the back foot in too much – it will put the hips out of correct alignment

Again if a student is flexible make sure they are lengthening as well as twisting in the pose – the top side of the ribcage needs to lengthen so there is a cork screw action in the torso with the top of the head moving towards the back wall

Hips twisting with the rest of the body. This is usually corrected though hands on adjustment, but can be sorted by having them do one of the modifications above if they just don’t have the movement in their lower back.

Anatomy

Joint Actions:

Spine: Neutral extension, Axial rotation

Front Leg: hip flexion, adduction, knee extension, external rotation

Back Leg: hip flexion, knee extension, strong internal rotation

Arms: external rotation, Abduction, elbow extension

Lengthening: Gleuteus maximus, Hamstrings, Lats, Teres Major

Lengthening and Working: Gleuts medius and minimus, Quadratus Femoris, Obdurator Internus and Externus, Piriformis

Notes:

If the balance is difficult it could be due to weakness in the abductors and rotators

If the hips are not level it could be due to tight hamstrings

If the rotation in the spine is restricted it could be due to tightness in the lats

Inner thighs draw towards each other

Squeeze hips together

Directions

Top armpit and hip away from each other

Lengthen spine

Top of head to back of room

Top shoulder up and back

Rotations:

Inner thighs towards each other

Adjustment

IMG_0348

the first thing is to encourage the hips to be square

IMG_0349

then you can ask them to pull away from your hands

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outside of your leg to the top of their back leg, the front of your thigh to the back of their rib cage, hand to shoulder

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0358

if you can’t get your thigh against their back (because they are too tall for example – use your hands to their rib cage behind and the shoulder to the front

Utthita Parsvakonasana

English Translation: Utthita – Extended, Parsva – side, kona – angle = Extended Side Angle Posture

Dristi: Hand

Vinyasas: 5 vinyasas, 2nd and 4th the state of the asana

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Ekham Inhale Step out to the right. Arms to shoulder height. Turn the left foot in right foot out. Top Hand
Dwe Exhale Bend the right knee. Bring the right arm down. Left arm up and over (5)
Trini Inhale Come up. Turn the feet. Arms to shoulder height
Chattwari Exhale Bend the left knee. Bring the left arm down right arm up and over (5)
Pancha Inhale Come up

How to Break Down for Beginners

BREATHS:  

Beginners: 8 – Inhale (step out to the right, a bit wider than for Trikonasana) Exhale (turn left foot in and right foot out) Inhale (stretch arms out) Exhale (bend right knee towards a maximum of 90 degrees) Inhale (lift ribcage out of hips) Exhale (reach down with right hand to outside of right foot or elbow to thigh) Inhale (reach left arm up, turn palm to face back wall) Exhale (bring arm down to create a long diagonal from the left foot).

Led primary (slower level): 4 – Inhale (step out to the right, turn the right foot out) Exhale (bend the right knee towards 90 degrees) Inhale (lift ribcage out of hips) Exhale (reach down to outside of right foot, take left arm over head.

Mysore or fast led primary: 2 – Inhale (step out to the right, turn right foot out) Exhale (bend right knee 90 degrees, right hand to outside of foot, left arm over)

KEY POINTS

The feet are slightly wider apart than for Trikonasana – feet under wrists when arms out to shoulder height.

IMG_0360

feet wider than for trikonasana – heels under mid-forearm

Heels are in line. The bent knee aligned directly above the ankle. Get the students into Virabhadrasana 2 first. Have them press the middle of their right heel into the floor and the outside edge of the back foot down. This should automatically engage the thighs and will prevent them from taking the right knee too far over the ankle. Have them keep the position of their legs and then lift the ribcage out of the hips and lengthen as much as they can to get their hand towards the floor. The front of the ribcage should be parallel to the wall in front of them. The torso shouldn’t rest on the bent leg thigh, but lift out of the hips.

IMG_0363

back of neck long

Chin needs to be drawn down slightly to avoid straining the back of the neck. It’s the eyes that will look toward the fingers, not the whole head.

The bent knee is directly above the ankle – one way to ensure correct positioning is to ask the student to look down at the toes then bend the knee towards the toes and stop as soon as the toes go out of sight – they should just be able to see the big toe to the inside of their knee

The right sit bone is in line with the heels – the tendency is for the hips to stick out behind so the student is aiming to bring them forward

The lower back is in a neutral position – the tendency is to arch the lower back – so the tail bone should be lengthening towards the back heel

Beginners should rest the middle of the forearm on the middle of the thigh – students should try not to rest too much weight on the thigh – the arm is lightly resting there – and check the shoulder stays away from the ear.

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rest the middle of the forearm on the middle of the thigh – the top arm goes behind to encourage the rotation of the rib cage upwards

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or the hand on a block

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If resting the arm on the thigh is easy but the hand to the floor is too much the hand can rest on a block

Once in the pose the tendency is for the outer edge of the back foot to come up and for the weight to go too much into the toes of the front foot so stress the importance of lifting up the inner edge of the back foot and pressing with the heel of the front foot

It is important to stress the positioning of the head – chin to chest, chin to top shoulder, the back of the neck long – just the eyes move to find the dristi – not the whole head.

The top arm straight, reaching to the fingertips but shoulder softening down away from the ear – external rotation.

The outside edge of the back foot presses down the lower leg is neutral, the thigh is rotating in then uddiyana bandha creates and outward movement – a spiral.

MODIFICATIONS

The student can either rest the forearm on the thigh (without putting too much weight there) or on a block.

If the neck or shoulders are really tight have them look straight ahead or down at their big toe and not up at their thumb.

Points to Watch Out For

When a student becomes very flexible they need to make sure the hip does not go too low – level with the knee is far enough

As the student reaches up and over with the top arm the tendency is for that shoulder to hunch up towards the ear – so stress the need for that shoulder to move down away from the ear as the arm reaches over

Folding their ribcage towards the floor instead of toward the opposite wall. This can be due to tight hips or to lack of strength in the thighs. Get them to take the left arm behind the back and rotate their shoulder towards the ceiling. Once the ribs are in the right place have them reach up and over with the arm while keeping the torso where it is.

Another option, which is good for those who have tight shoulders, would be to reach the arm straight up to the ceiling instead of overhead.

Arching the back. This can be either week abdominals or tight psoas. They may need to come up onto their elbow, or get them to draw the lower ribs in towards their spine. As they engage the abdominals they should be able to straighten out the back.

Hyper-extension: If the elbow hyper-extends they need to be careful to keep the lower arm bent.

Anatomy

Joint Actions:

Spine: neutral with lateral flexion

Shoulder blade: abduction and upward rotation

Glenohumeral Joint: flexion, external rotation

Front Leg: hip flexion, external rotation, abduction

Back Leg: hip extension, internal rotation, abduction

Lengthening:

Serratus Anterior, Internal Obliques, Gleuteus Medius

Directions

Outside edge of back foot presses down – Inside edge back foot lifts up

Top arms stretches up – top shoulder moves down

Front knee presses back towards arm, front sit bone presses forwards

Rotations: Front leg – external, back leg internal

Adjustments

IMG_0369

either standing or kneeling – side of your leg or hip to the top of their bent leg – and to hip and hand to knee

IMG_1277

for your stability make sure it’s the outside leg that is bent up

Parivrtta Parsvakonasana

English Translation: Parivrtta – Revolved, Parsva – side, kona – angle = Revolved Side Angle Posture

Dristi: Hand

Vinyasas: 5 vinyasas, 2nd and 4th the state of the asana

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
From Pasvakonasana Inhale Turn the left foot in right foot out. Turn the hips to the back
Dwe Exhale Bend right knee bring left hand down to the floor and bring the right arm up and over (5 breaths) hand
Trini Inhale come up, turn feet, square hips to front
Chattwari Exhale exhale bend left knee. Bring the right hand down to the floor and the left arm up and over (5 breaths)
Pancha Inhale Come up
exhale Samasthitih

How to Break Down for Beginners

BREATHS: from Parsvakonasana.

Beginners:   7 – Inhale (come back up to standing) Exhale (change feet) Inhale (stretch arms, lift the ribcage) Exhale (bend knee 90 degrees) Inhale (square hips and torso over bent knee, reach up with opposite arm) Exhale (place opp elbow across thigh) Inhale (reach up and over with other arm or place in prayer position).

Led Primary: 5 Inhale (come back up to standing) Exhale (change feet and bend knee) Inhale (reach up with opp arm) Exhale (draw arm across thigh and place hand to floor) Inhale (reach other arm up and over.

Mysore: 2 Inhale (come back up to standing, change feet) Exhale (bend knee and draw arm across thigh, hand to floor) Inhale (reach other arm up and over)

KEY POINTS

Feet – the back foot is the anchor again, so awareness of the outside edge of foot, big toe and heel are important. Like Utthita Parsvakonasana brining the focus to the front heel as well as the back foot will activate the thighs and prevent the hips from sinking or twisting out of alignment.

The twist happens on the exhale and like Parvritta Trikonasana the twist happens from the waist and above so that the hips stay square.

The back of the neck needs to lengthen slightly as the head rotates. The eyes are looking up towards the hand, not the whole head unless this is perfectly comfortable for the student.

Modifications

This is a very difficult posture for many people and therefore everyone will need to play around with various modifications before they find the one that suits them the best.

Setting the posture can be made much easier by putting the back knee down first, establishing the twist and then either keeping the back knee down or straightening the back knee and placing the foot down.

IMG_1280

modification 1 – back knee down, hands in prayer position

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If they feel discomfort in their back knee then allow them to keep the back heel up and press away into the heel in order to keep the lift in the back thigh.

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modification 2 – back knee up but heel off the ground (to take the twist out of the knee)

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modification 2 – alternative view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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modification 3 – back foot down but hands in prayer twist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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modification 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer twist is the best variation for the arms. Use some resistance between the elbow and the knee to go into the stretch and lift the heart towards the hands – make sure they don’t push the knee over to the side

Some other variations -

IMG_1281 IMG_1282

Points to Watch Out For

Back foot – the tendency is for the student to lose connection to the back foot and collapse onto the inner edge thereby possibly stressing the knee. Encourage the student to press down with outer edge and lift up with the inner edge of the back foot. If there are knee problems then the back heel can be lifted but there should still be action in that foot with the foot vertical to the floor and the student pressing back into the heel. As most people can’t get good grounding with the back foot in the beginning, suggest they don’t bend the front knee so far until they can twist and ground the feet at the same time. Also the foot can lose its grounding due to weakness in the inner thigh or weakness in the ankle. If that is the case they need to bring their awareness more to the back foot than the twist for a while.

Distance between the feet, watch that the feet don’t shuffle closer together between the previous pose and this one and between sides – if the pose is done longer on one side than the other it can create imbalance in the body.

Back of neck long face relaxed

If the back knee has an injury – lift the back heel

Problems with SI joint or sciatica go into this pose gently

Hyper-extension in the elbows – keep bottom elbow bent

Anatomy

Joint Actions:

Spine: axial rotation

Front leg: hip flexion, adduction, knee flexion, external rotation

Back Leg: hip extension, adduction, knee extension, strong internal rotation

Arms: external rotation

Lengthening: Gleuteus Maximus, Hamstrings, Lats, Teres Major

Working and Lengthening: gleuteus Medius and Minimus, Quadratus Femoris, Deep hip rotators

Notes:

Prioritise twist of torso and keep length in the spine

Make sure upper arm doesn’t slip past front thigh

Avoid hyper extending elbow of front arm

Keep front knee directly over ankle (avoid arm pushing it out of alignment)

Many modifications: hands in prayer, back knee down, back heel off floor

If knee problems choose one of modifications and when adjusting do not fix the back foot – fix the thigh

Front leg knee-hip-heel alignment

Directions:

Top hip and shoulder away from each other

Top shoulder away from ear – arm reaches – lengthening in 2 directions

Rotations:

Front leg – external, back leg – internal

Adjustments

IMG_0374

if they are in prayer twist – your foot over their foot to stabilise, your hands to their shoulder and bottom rib cage and twist!

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draw the hips level

IMG_0377

your leg against the hip of their back leg, hand to the hip to draw it back and in towards the center line, hand to the rib cage to rotate it up towards the ceiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prasarita Padottanasana

English Translation: Prasatita – Spread out, Pada – foot, Uttana – Intense Stretch = Feet Spread Intense Stretch Posture

Dristi: Nose

(5 Vinyasas – 3rd is the state of the asana)

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Ekham Inhale step wide and to the side – hands on hips Nose
Dwe Exhale fold forwards hands down – head up
Inhale straight arms – lift the chest
Trini Exhale exhale fold forwards (5 breaths)
Inhale straighten arms lift chest
Exhale hands on hips
Chattwari Inhale come up to standing
Pancha Exhale hands on hips
Ekham Inhale arms to shoulder height
Dwe Exhale hands on hips
Inhale lift the chest
Trini Exhale fold forwards (5 breaths)
Chattwari Inhale come up to standing
Pancha Exhale hands on hips
Ekham Inhale arms to shoulder height
Dwe Exhale interlace fingers behind your back
Inhale lift the chest
Trini Exhale fold forwards (5 breaths)
Chattwari Inhale come up to standing
Pancha Exhale hands on hips
ekham Inhale lift chest
dwe Exhale fold forwards – hook big toes with first 2 fingers
Inhale lift the chest
Trini Exhale fold forwards (5 breaths)
Chattwari Inhale lift the chest
Exhale hands on hips
pancha Inhale come back up to standing
Exhale Samasthitih

How to Breath Down for Beginners

Breath

This pose doesn’t need so much breaking down, you can pretty much talk beginners through with the same breath as above.

Pause at the beginning and talk about the width of the feet. For beginners or those less flexible, the feet can be as wide apart as for parsvakanasana (ie feet under the wrists with arms out straight and parallel to the ground) – and no wider. Once a student becomes more flexible, in order to allow space for the spine to lengthen they can then bring the feet closer.

IMG_0378

Outside edges of the feet parallel – heels in line. If someone is very internally or externally rotated, they might have to modify this to be comfortable. Neutral position in the hips (ie pelvis not arching forwards or tipping back). Hands on the hips. On the first inhale the action is to lift the chest to lengthen the front of the body – not to go all the way into a back bend – and not to flare up the front of the rib cage. The face is also tilted up without letting the weight of the head fall back and put pressure on the neck. Lifting the face up as if there’s someone on the ceiling we want to kiss.

Wrong! back is over-arched and the head is thrown back

Wrong! back is over-arched and the head is thrown back

Right - fold forwards keeping the natural curves in the back - the fingers can go into the crease of the hips to check the fold is from the hips (not the back or the sit bones)

Right! – fold forwards keeping the natural curves in the back – the fingers can go into the crease of the hips to check the fold is from the hips (not the back or the sit bones)

Then as the student folds forward they should bend their knees if necessary (ie if there is pain/weakness in lower back or back of the legs), pay attention to their bandhas, keep the spine neutral and hinge at the hips. You can suggest they place their thumbs on the PSIS (knobbly bit at the back of the hips) and fingers in the inguinal crease (where the legs meet the hips) – if the hips are hinging they should feel the thumbs going up and the fingers disappearing into the crease. The spine stays long with the neutral natural curves (ie not swan diving).

if there is stiffness or pain place the hands on the legs...

if there is stiffness or pain place the hands on the legs…

or on a block

or on a block

Once they have gone as far as it’s comfortable, they can place their hands on their legs or on a block or if they can reach – to the floor.

The hands are shoulder width apart with the fingers facing forwards, and, if possible, hands flat down. The hands then walk back as far as they can while keeping them flat down until the heel of the hands are in line with the heel of the feet. At that point the hands stay still but the action is as if they are trying to slide the floor away from them. Elbows point back. Then the top of the head aims towards the floor in between the hands.

IMG_0384

hands shoulder width apart – fingers face forwards, eventually (maybe) heels of hands in line with heels of feet

For ‘B’, when the hands are kept on the hips, emphasize lifting the elbows up to the ceiling to create space across the front of the chest. Then breathing into the chest – it’s a good pose for students to take their awareness inside and feel the heart beat and the lungs move with the breath. The more a student can really feel what’s happening in their body, the more ‘embodied’ they can become and the more they can experience life as it happens.

For ‘C’, the fingers are interlaced and the palms kept open. It’s good practice to alternate the interlacing. On the inhale lengthen the arms away, then bring the arms over. Keep hands next to body and fold all the way down, then bring the hands up and over – this creates space around the shoulders.

For ‘D’, students can create a bit of resistance between the big toe and the hands to go deeper into the pose – so long as this doesn’t create tension in the shoulders. The wrists lift up away from the floor. The thumbs complete the circle and don’t press down into the floor.

Wrong? the elbows are too far forwards...

Wrong? the elbows are too far forwards…

Wrong? the elbows are too far back...

Wrong? the elbows are too far back…

Right! elbows directly out to the side

Right! elbows directly out to the side

Modifications

The hands can always be placed on the legs or on a block if forward folding is uncomfortable.

For ‘C’ the student can hold the elbows if it’s a struggle to hold the hands and bring the arms over.

if it's a struggle to hold the hands try holding the elbows

if it’s a struggle to hold the hands try holding the elbows

Points to Watch Out For

If a student bends so far over that their head touches the floor and the spine is curved, suggest they bring their feet closer together so they can work on lengthening more through the spine. Some people suggest that there is always a space between the floor and the head to allow for lengthening. Some people say that once the spine is straight then the top of the head should be in contact with the floor.

It’s fairly common for students to hang in the outside of the ankle. This pushes out and stresses the whole line up the outside of the leg. The outer ankle presses in towards the inner ankle to a neutral position of balance.

If the foundation in the feet isn’t balanced and the weight goes back into the heels, pressure can be placed on the hamstring attachment at the top of the leg – this can cause problems such as tendonitis.

In ‘C’, watch that the shoulders don’t hunch up around the ears – there should still be space between the ears and the shoulders.

If a student has SI joint problems or sciatica, they should hold back in this pose or if it causes pain, miss it out altogether.

If the knees hyperextend, they need to keep their knees bent and thigh muscles engaged.

On the way up encourage students to keep the back of the neck long and the chin towards the chest so they don’t ‘crank’ the neck.

Adductor magnus is vulnerable in this pose as it is under a ‘double stretch’ – as an adductor when the legs are taken wide apart and as a ‘hamstring’ in the forward fold.

Because the SI joint and hamstring attachment are vulnerable in wide legged forward folds don’t adjust A,B and D by pressing the student further into the fold. If they have problems in either of these areas it can help them to press the sit bones towards each other and down. This can be done in downward dog as well.

If someone has lower blood pressure or low blood sugar, it quite often shows up in this pose as dizziness. They can come up slower adding in extra breath, keep the chin to the chest as they come up and not go down so low – or in extreme cases, do the pose sitting down.

Adjustments

press the outside of the hips in to give a sense of stability

A: press the outside of the hips in to give a sense of stability

if the elbows are hanging down lift them towards the ceiling (but not too much)

B: if the elbows are hanging down lift them towards the ceiling (but not too much)

Make sure the elbows are directly out to the side

Make sure the elbows are directly out to the side

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

if the arms are far enough down to step through - place your leg just touching their back and pull the shoulders against your leg

if the arms are far enough down to step through – place your leg just touching their back and pull the shoulders against your leg

then very very softly press down

then very very softly press down

if the arms are high up - leg against their leg - one hand to upper back and one to arms - very very gently press down

if the arms are high up – leg against their leg – one hand to upper back and one to arms – very very gently press down

if they are struggling to keep their grip - hold either side of the hands

if they are struggling to keep their grip – hold either side of the hands

or either side of their arms

or either side of their arms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions:

Hips: flexion and abduction

Spine: mild flexion

Hips and/or knees: mild medial rotation

Legs: internal rotation of thighs

Arms for C:            Shoulder: extension, external rotation

Lengthening: Adductors (except pectineus); Hamstrings (especially semitendinosus -medial hamstring); Spine extensors; Gleuteus Maximus

Notes:

The toes turn in slightly so the knees point over the toes and the legs stay aligned

The more the legs and bandhas can engage, the more the torso can release

The posture gives mild traction for the spine

Directions:

Hips towards the sky – until neutral

Top of head towards floor

Outer leg up

Inner thighs back and towards each other

Rotations:

Legs – internal to neutral

Parsvottanasana

English Translation: Parsva – side, Uttana – intense = Intense Side Stretch

Dristi: Nose

Vinyasas: 5 vinyasas, 2nd and 4th state of the asana

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Ekham Inhale step the feet apart – turn feet – squaring hips towards the back – bring hands behind back in prayer position Big Toe or Nose
Dwe Exhale fold forwards (5 breaths)
Trini Inhale come up and turn to face the front
Chattwari Exhale fold forwards (5 breaths)
Pancha Inhale come up
Exhale Samasthitih

Teaching Points

  • Body weight even in both feet
  • Press down the outer edge of back foot and the inner edge of front foot
  • Squeeze the hips together
  • Hips squaring towards short end of mat
  • Strong uddiyana bandha
  • Draw the chin downwards so back of neck lengthens
  • Draw the shoulders away from ears
  • Shoulders parallel to the floor
  • Lift the elbows up towards ceiling
  • Press the hands together

How to Break Down for Beginners

Breath

For beginners, you can talk them into the pose in 6 breaths: inhale, lift the arms, exhale place the hands behind the back, inhale step out to the side, exhale turn the feet and the hips to the back, inhale lift the chest, exhale fold down.

For led primary, you can do it in 4: inhale lift the arms, exhale place arms behind back, inhale step out to side and turn to back and lift the chest, exhale fold down.

In Mysore style, there are only 2 breaths into the pose (it’s quick!): inhale place the hands, step to the side and turn to the back and lift the chest, exhale fold down.

For beginners, first place the arms. Lift the arms to shoulder height – point the thumbs down to the floor so the shoulder is slightly internally rotated (don’t over do the internal rotation), then bring the arms behind the back. If there is stiffness in the shoulders or wrists then the student can hold their elbows. If it is comfortable then place the hands in prayer position (anjali mudra) behind the back. The hands don’t necessarily go as high up the back as possible, forearms parallel to the ground is enough. The base of each finger moves towards the base of the opposite finger. The shoulders roll back and down to a neutral position.

Inhale arms to shoulder height, thumbs pointing down to give internal rotate at the shoulder

Inhale arms to shoulder height, thumbs pointing down to give internal rotate at the shoulder

bring the back of the hands together then flip them over into prayer position

bring the back of the hands together then flip them over into prayer position

Then step the feet out to the side, a shorter distance than for Trikonasana – about 2/3 of one of the student’s legs. Turn the back foot in around 45 degrees and turn the front foot all the way out so that it points to the short end of the mat, the hips are squaring towards the back. At this point, emphasize that the hips are as square as possible, it’s very hard to correct misaligned hips once the student has gone down into the pose so it’s best to get the hips as square as possible at this stage. If someone is struggling to square the hips they can step the feet wider apart (tram lines).

stepping feet wider apart if it's hard to square the hips (tramlines)

stepping feet wider apart if it’s hard to square the hips (tramlines)

Then add in an inhale to lift the chest and lengthen the front of the body, then fold down into the pose.

Modifications

The main modification is for the student to hold their elbows if the shoulders or wrists are stiff.

hold the elbows - bend the front knee if there is hyper-extension

hold the elbows – bend the front knee if there is hyper-extension

Points to Watch Out For

Alignment of the hips. It’s common for students to lose their alignment in the hips as they go down into this pose. Sometimes it’s due to tightness in the muscles (especially the hamstrings), sometimes it’s due to a lack of awareness. Suggest they press down into the ball of the front foot as they go down to keep that hip up and back and levelling with the other hip.

Wrong! the hips are wonky!

Wrong! the hips are wonky!

Right! pressing down with the ball of the front foot keeps the hips level - also keeping 'space' in the front hip

Right! pressing down with the ball of the front foot keeps the hips level

Collapsing the front of the hips. The hip of the front leg often gets ‘lost’ in the movement into the pose. They can think about ‘presenting’ the front of the thigh, front of the hip and abdominals separately.

Shoulders hunching to ears.

It’s important to protect the spine by keeping a strong Uddiyana bandha on the way down.

As the student folds down there is also a rotation of the torso towards the front leg. (Navel towards the centre of the thigh).

Some students will feel pressure behind front knee especially if they have hyper-extension in their knees. They need to put a micro bend in the knee and strongly engage the quadriceps.

If the student is fairly high up in the pose the dristi is the big toe. Then as they gain flexibility and go lower the dristi is the nose. Then as they get even more flexible the dristi is the big toe again.

Adjustments

to help bring the arms behind the back - take hold of their hands...

to help bring the arms behind the back – take hold of their hands…

then bring arms to shoulder height - make sure their arms are relaxed

then bring arms to shoulder height – make sure their arms are relaxed

then on an exhale swing their arms round into position

then on an exhale swing their arms round into position

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hold their hips as they go into the pose to keep them as level as possible

hold their hips as they go into the pose to keep them as level as possible

then either hold their hips with your elbows and their elbows with your hands - lift their elbows up and press them together

then either hold their hips with your elbows and their elbows with your hands – lift their elbows up and press them together

or your abdomen to their sacrum and your arms hold all the way round their shoulders and arms - again lift the elbows up and press them together

or your abdomen to their sacrum and your arms hold all the way round their shoulders and arms – again lift the elbows up and press them together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hold their arm and shoulders with your arms

hold their arm and shoulders with your arms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stretching the Wrists

point the fingers down and press the wrist away

point the fingers down and press the wrist away

make a 'stop sign' and press the wrist away

make a ‘stop sign’ and press the wrist away

hand against the wall fingers pointing back

hand against the wall fingers pointing back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

start with fingers point back towards you

start with fingers point back towards you

then walk around your hand

then walk around your hand

until you've gone as far as you can

until you’ve gone as far as you can

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stretching the Pecs

hold a belt and take it behind you

hold a belt and take it behind you

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions:

Spine: mild flexion

Front leg: deep hip flexion – external rotation towards neutral (like tadasana)

Back Leg: hip flexion and strong internal rotation

Arms: Scapulae: downward rotation and adduction on ribcage; Glenohumeral Joint: extension and medial rotation; Elbow: flexion; Forearm: pronation; Wrist: dorsiflexion; Hand: extension.

Lengthening:

Hamstrings (especially the front leg); Gleuteus maximus (especially the front leg); Soleus and Gastrocnemius (back leg); abductors (in both legs); spinal erector muscles. Infraspinatus, teres major, lats, rhomnoids, traps.

Notes:

If the hips are uneven it could be due to tightness in the hamstrings, gleuts or calf muscles.

If the stance is wobbly and hard to maintain it could be due to weak or tight abductors, or it could be incorrect alignment in the feet.

If the forward bend is restricted it could be tight spinal muscles.

If the problem is putting the hands behind the back it could be tight pecs, deltoids or the shoulder joint capsule.

Directions:

Shoulders away from ears, Elbows towards ceiling, Hips level – when adjusting do this before they go down. Or give the instruction – ‘press into ball of foot as you go down’.

Rotations: front leg – external, back leg internal, arms, internal.

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana

English Translation: Utthita – extended, Hasta – Hand, Padangustha – big toe = Extended Hand to Big Toe Posture

Dristi: Foot (the one that’s up) for first and last part. Out to the side for the middle variation – an alternative dristi is down at the floor off the end of the nose.

Vinyasas: 14 vinyasas – 2nd 4th 7th 9th 11th and 14th are the states of the asana

 

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Ekham Inhale right leg up – hook the big toe
Dwe Exhale fold forward (5 breaths) Top Foot or down at floor off end of nose
Trini Inhale head up
Chattwari Exhale leg out to side (5 breaths)
Pancha Inhale leg back to centre
Shat Exhale fold forwards
Sapta Inhale come up hands on hips (5 breaths)
Exhale release leg down to floor
Ashtau Inhale lift left leg – hook big toe
Nava Exhale fold forwards (5 breaths)
Dasa Inhale head up
Ekadasa Exhale leg out to side (5 breaths)
Dvadasa Inhale leg back to centre
Trayodasa Exhale fold forwards
Chaturdasa Inhale come up – hands on hips (5 breaths)
  Exhale Samasthitih

Teaching Points

  • Keep the supporting leg straight
  • Pull up on the front thigh of the supporting leg
  • Right hip comes back and down – level with left hip
  • Right shoulder draws back and down – level with the left shoulder
  • Stand a little bit taller
  • Keep the gaze point steady
  • Strong bandhas
  • Relax the shoulders
  • Relax the face

When Leg Out to Side

  • Press both hips in towards the central line of the body
  • focus on straightening and strengthening the standing leg

How to Break Down for Beginners

Breath

This pose doesn’t need so much breaking down, you can pretty much talk beginners through with the same breath as in the table above.

There are two main ways to modify this pose, holding the knee and holding the toe with the leg bent (see below under Modifications). When you are teaching beginners demonstrate both modifications first, then quickly show the version with the leg straight and then go back to the version with the bent knee. Demo the pose with the leg to the front, then out to the side, then back to the front again with the hands on the hips. Then talk them through the whole pose. Emphasize that the important thing isn’t how high up you can get that leg, but the foundation in the standing foot, the standing leg being straight with the muscles engaged, the alignment in hip and the leg that’s up in the air and the alignment in the shoulders. Emphasize the importance of the bandhas. Emphasize the importance of the dristi.

Make sure you stay still while teaching this pose or students try to watch you and end up falling over.

Modifications

The first modification is to keep the leg that’s up in the air with the knee bent and hold on to the front of the knee.

IMG_0436

one hand holds the front of the knee the other hand on the hip – supporting leg straight with the knee soft and leg muscles engaged – stand up as straight as possible

 

 

IMG_0437

take the leg out to the side – if the balance is good look to the side, keep left hip pressing in towards the center line

IMG_0438

exhale fold down

IMG_0444

inhale both hands on hips – if the student is feeling strong they can straighten the top leg at this point

The next option is to hold the big toe but to keep the leg bent, the student should work on standing up straight and alignment in the hips and shoulders.

IMG_0441

have the arm to the outside of the leg so the leg can stay aligned, stand up straight and tall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the arm now has to swap to the inside of the leg

the arm now has to swap to the inside of the leg

bring the leg back to the front and exhale fold forwards

bring the leg back to the front and exhale fold forwards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If that is too much the student could try holding under the thigh, or just bringing the foot slightly off the floor.

if the balance is a real struggle just bring the foot very slightly off the floor

if the balance is a real struggle just bring the foot very slightly off the floor

If the balance is just not happening and the student is getting frustrated they can go near a wall and have the elbow of the arm with the hand on the hips against the wall.

or put the elbow against the wall

or put the elbow against the wall

...or the finger tips

…or the finger tips

Points to Watch Out For

Key points to help balance are awareness of foundation in the supporting foot, bandha, squeezing everything but especially the hips in to the center line, strong un-wavering dristi.

Point out that balance is like everything, the more you practice the better you get.

Balance is often a challenge for tall people with long legs as their center of gravity is higher. If a tall student is struggling it can be a real relief for them to know it’s not just them.

Balance is often an expression of state of mind.

Foundation in the supporting foot should be big toe joint, little toe joint and center of heel pressing down. Aches lifting up. If the inner arch has ‘fallen’ then balancing can be much harder.

The supporting leg is straight with a slight softness in the knee with the thigh muscles strongly engaged.

As the leg goes out to the side the sit bone tends to shift back and up, so it needs to press forwards and down.

Wrong! as the leg goes out to the side the hip will tend to lift up

Wrong! as the leg goes out to the side the hip will tend to lift up

RIght! it's better to have the leg lower down and the hips aligned

Right! it’s better to have the leg lower down and the hips aligned

The foot of the leg in the air is pointing.

Wrong! the arm is reaching forwards out of the shoulder joint and the leg is out of the hip socket

Wrong! the arm is reaching forwards out of the shoulder joint and the leg is out of the hip socket

IMG_0457

Right! the arm and leg are drawing back into the shoulder and hip respectively

 

 

 

 

 

 

The shoulder of the arm holding the leg tends to shift forwards and up – it needs to draw back and down so the shoulders are level.

When the leg is out to the front with the hands on the hips the upper body often tilts back to counterbalance. The ideal is for the weight to stay centered.

Adjustments

IMG_0462

hold the foot with one hand – the other hand presses the hip back and down

IMG_0461

if the hamstrings are very tight hold underneath the thigh

IMG_0466

as the leg goes out to the side swap hands one hand supports the foot the other rotates the hip externally

IMG_0468

then as you let go hold the shoulder to make sure they have their balance

Anatomy

Joint Actions:

Spine: neutral, Shoulder: flexion, Elbow: Extension.

Legs:

When Leg to Front

Standing Leg: neutral hip extension, knee extension, internal rotation.

Lifted Leg: Hip flexion, knee extension, external rotation.

When Leg to Side

Standing Leg: same.

Lifted Leg: Hip Flexion and abduction, external rotation.

Lengthening: Lifted Leg: Hamstrings, gastrocnemius, soleus, gleuteus maximus.

Notes:

If the hamstrings or the gleuteus maximus of the lifted leg are tight it will cause spinal flexion.

If the gleuteus maximus of the lifted leg is stiff it can cause the hip to lift up and back.

If the standing leg is weak it will cause the hip to push out to the side.

Check foundation – supporting foot pointing forward

Shoulders and hips towards level.

Legs into hip joint. Arm into shoulder joint.

Standing leg priority.

Stand tall.

Hand on hip elbow and shoulder in line.

Rotations: standing leg – internal, lifted leg – external to neutral.

Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana

English Translation: Ardha – half, Baddha – bound, Padma – lotus, Uttana – intense stretch = half bound lotus intense stretch posture

Dristi: Nose

Vinyasas: 9 Vinyasas – 1st 2nd 6th 7th are the states of the asana

 

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Ekham Inhale right leg half lotus – bind Nose/floor
Dwe Exhale
Trini Inhale lift the chest
Exhale
Chattwari Inhale come up
Pancha Exhale release the leg
Shat Inhale left leg in half lotus – bind
Sapta Exhale fold (5 breaths)
Athau Inhale lift the chest
Exhale bend supporting knee
nava Inhale come up to standing
exhale Samasthitih

Teaching Points

  • Supporting leg straight and strong
  • Bent leg softens
  • Right shoulder relaxes forward level with left shoulder
  • Relax the head

How to Break Down for Beginners

Breaths

For tree pose take 3 breaths – that is: inhale lift the leg, exhale place the foot, inhale bring the hands together in prayer position by the heart.

For the ankle on the thigh: 4 breaths: inhale lift the leg, exhale place the foot, inhale lift the chest, exhale bend the knee and fold forwards.

For ABP: For led primary 6 breaths: inhale lift the leg, exhale place lotus, support the foot in lotus with the left hand, inhale reach the right arm out to side, exhale reach around the back of the body and hold onto arm or big toe, inhale lift chest, exhale fold forwards.

For Mysore it’s 2 breaths: inhale take lotus and bind, exhale fold forwards.

Lotus is a challenging pose for many students so encourage everyone to work out which version of this pose is best for their body.

Explain it is best to hold the ankle not the foot when placing lotus. This is because if the foot is pulled it can ‘sickle’ that means the ankle is pulled into a twisted position, which can put pressure on the ankle or knee joint.

It can help the bind if the student brings the arm to shoulder height, points the thumb down to internally rotate the shoulder, then take the arm in a big circle around the back.

Bending the knee of the standing leg can also help the bind.

Modifications

The first modification is tree pose, with the sole of the right foot against the inside of the supporting leg. The foot can go anywhere except against the knee.

IMG_0477

IMG_0478

the foot doesn’t have to be at the top of the leg – it can be anywhere except directly on the knee

Next they can try to place the ankle of the right leg just above the knee of the left leg. The left leg is then bent. Finally the student can fold forward.

IMG_0482

make sure the foot is in a neutral position

IMG_0479

 

 

 

 

 

 

If lotus is possible, then place the right leg in lotus, support the foot with the left hand, then bring the right arm round the back and hold the arm. Eventually they may reach down and take the big toe. Then they can fold forwards.

IMG_0483

they can stay in half lotus supporting the foot with the left hand

or take the arm behind the back and hold the arm

or take the arm behind the back and hold the arm

 

 

IMG_0486

or hold the foot

IMG_0485

if the foot is just out of reach bending the knee can make it reachable

IMG_0492

finally if everything is in place they can fold forwards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the student is scared of folding forward they can try holding on to a wall as they go down

IMG_0495

 

 

 

 

 

 

If they can almost reach the floor but not quite they can use a block

IMG_0497

 

 

 

 

 

 

Points to Watch Out For

This is the first major opening for the knee, so stress that the student moves gently and slowly with awareness.

The leg lifts itself up, the hands receive the foot holding the ankle rather than the foot. This is because pulling on the foot can cause stress in the outer ankle, which can also affect the knee.

So the foot in lotus is supported by the left hand.

The supporting leg is slightly bent on the way down and up to protect the knee.

Once down the hand goes flat on the floor right next to the foot – or as close as possible. Fingers aligned with the toes.

Once folding forwards the shoulders are rotating so they are level with the floor.

The head and the neck relax.

This pose is a ‘blood stop’ pose. The foot against the inguinal crease stops the flow of the femoral artery. When the pose is released there is a flush of blood around the body. This can cause dizziness after the pose. Students with low blood pressure or those affected by dizziness need to strongly engage moola bandha and come up slowly bringing the head up last.

Anatomy

Joint Actions:

Spine – mild flexion (moving towards extension).

Supporting leg – hip flexion, adduction, internal rotation, knee extension.

Leg in lotus – hip flexion, abduction, external rotation, knee flexion.

Lengthening:

Spine – extensors, lats.

Supporting leg – hamstrings, gleuts, external rotators, gastrocs.

Leg in lotus – adductors, pectineus, tensor fascia lata, gleut medius and minimus.

Notes:

Attempt to bring hips parallel to floor.

Attempt to bring shoulders level.

Align finger of hand on ground with toes of foot on ground.

Avoid any discomfort in knee.

Use Vrskasana (tree pose) as an alternative.

Only fold forwards when bound.

Top of head towards floor.

Rotations:

Standing leg – internal.

Leg in lotus – external.

Utkatasana

English Translation: Utka – fierce or Powerful = Fierce Posture

Dristi: Hand

Vinyasas: In Surya Namaskara B it is the first count. In the warrior sequence it is the seventh.

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Ekham Inhale reach up – legs straight Hand
Dwe Exhale fold down – Uttanasana Nose
Trini Inhale lift the chest Third eye
Chattwari Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana Nose
Pancha Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Third eye or nose
Shat Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana Back edge of mat or navel
Sapta Inhale Utkatasana (5 breaths) Hand
Ashtau Inhale fold forward straight legs and lift the chest Nose
Nava Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana Nose
Dasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Third eye or nose
Ekadasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana Back edge of mat or navel

 

See under sun salutations for ‘How to Break Down for Beginners’, ‘Modifications’ and ‘Points to Watch Out For’.

Teaching Points

  • Press the heels into the ground
  • Press the inner thighs together
  • Neutral position for the hips
  • Soften the front of the ribcage down towards the hips
  • Soften the shoulders down
  • Lift the face towards the ceiling – it is important not to hang the weight of the head back onto the delicate structure of the neck
  • Back of the neck long
  • Sink the hips a little bit lower
  • Lift up out of the hips

Adjustments

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ground their heels with your toes and allow the student to sit on your thigh

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lengthen their tail bone down towards the floor

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or draw the front of the rib cage down towards the hips

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or soften the shoulders down or externally rotate the shoudlers

Anatomy

Joint Actions: Shoulder flexion, elbow extension, forearm supination, Spine axial extension, hips neutral, hip and knee flexion.

Lengthening: Lats, rhomboids, gleuteus maximus, soleus.

Notes:

Ensure heels flat to floor (often too much weight in balls of foot).

Avoid jamming heels together.

Press inner thighs inwards and together.

Lift arms higher while drawing shoulder blades down the back.

Lower hips without over arching the lower back.

Front ribs down.

Keep spine neutral – just natural curves.

Shoulders down.

The Ashtanga version is very upright with the heels, hips and shoulders in line – other styles of yoga do the pose folding forwards. Either way the lower back should have natural curves and not be over arched.

Rotations:

Legs – internal, arms – external.

Virabhadrasana I

English Translation: Virabhadra – Hero or warrior = Warrior Posture

Dristi: Hand

Vinyasas: In the warrior sequence the 7th and 8th is the state of the asana

 

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Sapta Inhale left heel in right foot forward Virabhadrasana I(5 breaths) Hands
Ashtau Exhale turn to left and bend the knee (5 breaths) Hands

See under sun salutations for ‘How to Break Down for Beginners’, ‘Modifications’ and ‘Points to Watch Out For’.

Transition from Utkatasasa

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place the hands on the floor either side of the feet – tip the weight forwards into the hands – if possible lift up into a tucked handstand – or lift one foot off the floor to work on strength and balance

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then jump the feet back the plank or chatturanga

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or step the feet back one at a time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching Points

  • Lift up and out of the lower back
  • Lengthen the tail bone down towards the floor
  • Hips are squaring – note they do not have to be square – very few people can do this
  • Draw the front of the ribs down towards hips
  • Soften the shoulders
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    turn the back foot in – then internally rotate the back thigh – this rotation comes from the action of pressing the outside of the back foot down – this will help with the squaring of the hips by bringing the left hip forwards

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    it can help to ask students to use their hand on the upper thigh to assist awareness of the rotation

    • The front heel is pressing down which helps to draw the front femur back into the hip socket and draw the right hip back

Adjustments

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gently ground the back foot and encourage the internal rotation of the back hip

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or draw the front of the rib cage down

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or soften the shoulders down

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or draw the right hip back the left hip forwards – this is a suggestion not a big adjustment

Anatomy

Joint Actions: Spine extension, Shoulder flexion.

Front Leg: hip flexion, knee flexion, external rotation to neutral.

Back Leg: hip extension, internal rotation, knee extension.

Lengthening: Lats, rectus abdominus, pecs, rectus abdominus, external obliques.

Front Leg: hamstrings at hip joint and quadriceps at knee joint, gleuteus medius and minimus.

Back Leg: Gleuteus medius and minimus, psaoa, rectus femoris at the hip.

Notes:

If the lats are tight it can pull the spine into over arching the lumbar.

If the psoas or rectus femoris are tight it can cause the back hip to roll forwards.

Weakness in the hamstrings or adductors or quads in front leg can cause difficulty in maintaining the posture.

If there is a knee issue keep the back heel up – press back into the heel and engage the leg.

Directions:

Reach upwards but sink hips downwards.

Front knee directly above ankle.

Rotations:

Back foot – back edge down.

Back thigh – inward rotation.

Hips – towards level and squaring – side to side and front to back.

Rib cage – front down.

Shoulders – towards level.

Virabhadrasana II

English Translation: Virabhadra – Hero or warrior = Warrior Posture

Dristi: Hand

Vinyasas: 9th and 10th vinyasa of the warrior series

 

Sanskrit Count Breath Basic Instruction Dristi
Following on from Virabhadrasana I
Nava Inhale arms down to Virabhadrasana II (5 breaths)
Dasa Exhale turn to right and bend right knee (5 breaths)
Ekadasa Inhale hands down jump both feet back
Dwadasa Exhale Chatturanga Dandasana
Trayodasa Inhale Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Chaturdasa Exhale Adho Mukha Svanasana

Teaching Points

  • If necessary re-position the feet
  • Bring the bent knee so it is directly above ankle
  • Press down with the heel of the front foot
  • Press down the outside edge of the back foot
  • Stretch to the finger tips
  • Shoulders down
  • Sternum (chest) up
  • Spine perpendicular to floor
  • Shoulders directly above hips
  • Hips neutral
  • Gaze strong and steady

How to Break Down for Beginners

In Ashtanga we move into warrior 2 from warrior 1 so the legs should already be in the right place.

If you ask people to bring the arms down to shoulder height and open the hips and shoulders to the side, that gets most people into the right place.

The hips stay level side to side and the neutral curves in the back – that is the tail bone stays pointing down to the floor so there is no anterior or posterior tilt to the pelvis.

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Wrong! the hips are un-even with the tail-bone sticking out behind

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Right! the hips are level and the tail bone pointing down to the floor

Modifications

Hands on hips if there are any issues with the arms or shoulders.

Points to Watch Out For

If the student has turned the back foot in to a steep angle in warrior one they will need to adjust is by turning it out slightly.

Adjustments

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place the outside of your leg or hip to the top of their bent leg one hand to their back hip and one hand to the inside of their front knee – the action to to put the bent leg in the correct alignment with the heel, knee and sit bone in line – draw your hands towards you and press back with your hip

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your hand to the inside of their knee

 

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lengthen their tail bone down towards the floor

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put your hands on top of their wrists and ask them to press up – give equal and opposite pressure down

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or put your hands under their wrists and ask them to press down – again give equal and opposite pressure back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anatomy

Joint Actions: Spine – neutral, head – rotated on axis, upper arm abduction external rotation, forearm pronation.

Front thigh – external rotation, abduction.

Back thigh – internal rotation, abduction.

Lengthening: back hip joint – tensor fascia lata, iliopsoas.

Front hip joint – hamstrings, quadriceps.

Rotations:

Back thigh internal.

Front thigh – towards neutral (probably external).

Front foot – inside edge lifting.

Back foot outside edge press down.

Toes relaxed.

Hips neutral.

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