Pose Breakdown: Chair

Chair Pose

 

 Two variations of chair

Two variations of chair

Chair pose, utkatasana, is a powerful standing posture that often begets eye rolls and grumbles when we teach it in class.  And usually we smile, and encourage you to breathe through it, knowing the benefits that can come for your legs, heart and mind from holding this pose for a few breaths.

How to Sit into Chair Pose

  1. Start standing at the top of your mat in tadasana.
  2. Take a deep breath in and begin to sit your hips back (as if you're sitting in a chair), as you bend your knees into a squatting position.
  3. From here you can either reach your arms up to the sky or bring them to prayer hands at your heart.
  4. As you settle into the pose, think about dropping your tailbone towards the earth and lean the torso over the thighs, keeping the chest lifted.
  5. Hold for 3-5 breath cycles.
  6. To release, you can simply press into the feet to stand or fold the torso towards your mat and press your hips up into a forward fold.

Let us know, do you love chair pose?!  

Pose Breakdown: Triangle

Triangle pose, or trikonasana, is a fairly basic standing pose.  Not basic in the sense of being very easy to master, but basic in the sense that you're likely to find it in many sequences at all levels of yoga classes.  It is a beautiful standing posture that focuses on opening up the chest and hips, while stretching the back of the front leg.  Here are a few key pointers for an effective triangle pose.

 Triangle pose is accessible to all levels!

Triangle pose is accessible to all levels!

How to Step Into Triangle Pose

  1. Begin in a strong standing pose at the top of your mat.  On an exhale, step your left foot back about 3-4 feet, opening the back foot to be almost parallel to the back of the mat as you step.
  2. This will cause your hips to open and square to the left side.  Let them do that, and allow your chest to follow.  Take a deep breath in, as you exhale bring your hands to your hips.
  3. Tilt your right hip down towards the mat, sending the left hip up and back a little bit.  You might feel a stretch sensation up the back of the right leg.
  4. Begin to hinge at the hips (still oriented through the chest to the side of the mat), reaching the right hand down towards the ground or your leg as you reach the left hand up directly over your shoulder (maybe picture your hands moving in towards the start of a cartwheel!).
  5. You can take your gaze down to the mat, straight ahead or up towards your hand.
  6. To come out of this, bring the left hand down to meet the right on the mat and step the back foot forward into forward fold.  Inhale back up to standing and repeat on the opposite side.
 Full extended triangle is a beautiful hip and chest opener.

Full extended triangle is a beautiful hip and chest opener.

How to Modify Triangle Pose

You may want to consider modifying triangle pose if you are not able to reach the mat with your hand without some compensation in your spine.  Proper alignment is looking for a spine that is straight from your shoulders to your hips.  If you have to laterally flex through the spine in order to reach the floor, it'd be better for your body to use a block underneath your hand.  See the pictures below for two comparisons. 

 Those wanting the most advanced posture can reach the hand to the floor.

Those wanting the most advanced posture can reach the hand to the floor.

 Never feel pressured to touch the floor!  You can rest your hand on or beside your shin.

Never feel pressured to touch the floor!  You can rest your hand on or beside your shin.

 Sprenk uses a block to help maintain proper alignment in her spine.

Sprenk uses a block to help maintain proper alignment in her spine.

Pose Breakdown: Tree

We're back with another pose breakdown today.  We're going to step into the realm of balancing poses today with a posture that is easily modifiable for all levels: tree pose (vrksasana).  This pose challenges you to balance on one leg, but allows for variety in the placement of the leg acting as a branch so that you can pick a stance that works for you on a particular day.

 A strong balance posture!

A strong balance posture!

How to get into Tree Pose

  1. Start standing tall in mountain pose (tadasana).  Feel the earth under your feet and a strong foundation moving up your legs into your hips.  You should be able to lift your toes up off the mat and maintain your balance.
  2. Ground firmly through the left foot as you inhale the right knee up in front of you.  Once you feel steady here, begin to open the right knee to the outside of your body.
  3. Once you feel steady with the knee open to the right, you can bring the right foot in towards the standing left leg.  See where you can get it to land without using your hand to help pull it up higher.
  4. Check to make sure it isn't pressing directly into your knee joint.  The right foot should land above or below the knee.
  5. Your hands can do a variety of things.  For centering, bring the hands to your heart.  To open your chest, grab opposite elbows behind you.  For growth and additional challenge, raise the arms up like branches.
  6. Hold for several rounds of breath, making sure to press firmly into the standing leg so the hips stay even.  Then exhale the right foot back down to the mat and repeat on the opposite side.
 Hands at your heart can bring a centering feeling to the pose.

Hands at your heart can bring a centering feeling to the pose.

 

How to modify Tree Pose

 

  1. Use the same steps to get into the pose as outlined above.  As you ground through the standing left foot, bring the right foot in to balance at the ankle of the left.  Use the right toes to press down as roots into the mat to help you hold your balance.
  2. You can choose any variety of stances for your arms, as listed out in number 5 above.

Practice using tree pose while you stand in your kitchen cooking, or watching your kiddos games from the sidelines.  It's a great way to build balance and stability in your body!

Yoga Pose of the Week: Lotus "Padmasana"

Lotus is considered to an intermediate to advanced yoga posture.  

Due to the difficulty of Full Lotus, I would recommend trying the half lotus pose "ardha padmasana" before attempting a FULL Lotus.   Most yoga students aspire to conquer the full lotus, however, it takes lots of practice, open hips and patience to master this one.  

How to get into half lotus

1. Begin by sitting on the floor in a criss cross position.  Draw both feet in toward your body, as close to your hips as possible.

2.  Take your right foot and bring toward your left hip crease, then place the outer edge of your right foot onto your left thigh.  

3. Ground through the earth, sit up tall, lift your heart up and continue to make space between your tailbone and the crown of your head.

4.  Hold this posture for 3-5 breath cycles, then switch sides. Allow your hands to rest on your knees, thighs or lap.  If you feel any discomfort or pain, come out of the pose immediatley.

Once you are able to sit in half lotus "arch padmasana" comfortably for 3-5 minutes, then you may be ready to try a Full lotus "Padmasana".  Take your time, have an open mind and focus on your breath cycle on this one.  I would encourage an auditory exhale while in this posture, allowing you to completely let go.  

How to get into full lotus

1. Begin by sitting in a criss cross position.  Draw both feet in toward your body, as close to your hips as possible.

2. Take your right foot and bring toward your left hip crease, then place the outer edge of your right foot onto your left thigh.  

3. Take your left foot and bring toward your right hip crease, then place the outer edge of your left foot onto your right thigh.  

4. Ground through the earth, sit up tall, lift your heart up and continue to make space between your tailbone and the crown of your head.

5.  Hold this posture for 3-5 breath cycles.  Allow your hands to rest freely on your knees, thighs or lap.  Then switch the position of the top leg, providing equal opening for both hips.  

6. As you practice this posture, you will begin to lengthen the amount of time in he pose from 3-5 breath cycles to 3-5 minutes.  If you feel any discomfort or pain, come out of the pose immediatley.

A few tips and tricks to keeping both sides opened evenly -  If is is an even day begin with the left leg and on odd days, begin with the right one.  Do not expect to master this pose overnight.  Every body is built differently; some have naturally open hips, while others do not.  Continue to revisit the poses that challenge you and over time these poses will become your favorites.  

 

 

 

Yoga Pose of the Week: Basic Warrior Flow

Hi friends!  The past couple of weeks we've been breaking down individual yoga poses for you.  Today, and every couple of weeks, we will build a short flow from the ones we've reviewed to help you practice anywhere you are!  

This week we will start with a basic flow that includes downward facing dog and some lunge variations.  Grab a space and try it!

  1. Begin in Mountain Pose.
  2. Inhale your arms up overhead and exhale your hands to your chest.
  3. Inhale your arms over your head and exhale, diving down into forward fold.
  4. Inhale halfway lift, exhale fold.
  5. Plant your hands as you step the right foot back to tall plank, followed by the left.
  6. Inhale, hold plank strong, exhale lower yourself all the way down to the mat.
  7. Inhale lift your chest to cobra.  Exhale fold to the mat.
  8. Inhale press to your knees then your toes in downward facing dog.  Exhale.
  9. Inhale lift your right foot up.
  10. Exhale, step the foot between the hands.
  11. Inhale raise up - crescent lunge or Warrior 1 (depends on your back foot!)
  12. Inhale hold, exhale twist open to Warrior 2.  Hold for 3 breaths.
  13. Exhale, cartwheel your hands back down to the mat.
  14. Plant your hands, step the right foot back to tall plank.
  15. Begin on step 6 and repeat the steps to the left side.

We hope you enjoy this little sequence, and this series on the blog.  Please comment if there is anything we can do to further enhance your practice or make it more accessible - see you in the studio!

Yoga Pose of the Week: Warrior 2

Hello yogis.  This week's posture is Warrior II; Virabhadrasana II.  This posture targets the legs, shoulders, thorax, abs and groin.

How to get into a Warrior II:

1.  Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose).

2. Inhale and fill up with air, then on your exhale gaze down to the mat and step your right foot back, about 3 1/2 feet(adjust your stance accordingly - longer for more work, shorter for less).

3. Inhale your arms up overhead, then exhale them parallel to the floor, palms facing down., keep your hands active.  As  your arms come down, open your hips to face the right and pivot on the right foot so it is parallel to the back of your mat.

4.  Gaze down to check your alignment, front knee is over your ankle, or behind.  If it is in front then widen your stance.  Be sure that your front knee is tracking toward your big toe and and second toe of the front foot.  Sink into the pose.

5.  Shoulders stack over your hips, chest is open, hands are active (reaching in opposite directions).  Press firmly into both feet and you send the front foot through the top of your yoga mat and the back foot (press firmly and through the pinky toe) through the back of your yoga mat, using the opposing force to stabilize you.

6. Gaze over the front fingertips, soften through your face, neck and allow the shoulders to settle.

7.  Hold this pose for 3-5 breath cycles, then step your back foot up to meet your front foot, inhale your arms overhead and exhale your hands to heart center.

8. Repeat steps 1-6 for the opposite side. 

 

Let us know how your practicing is going, and be sure to check back next Monday when we string the last few poses together into one flow!

Pose of the Month: Forearm Plank

Plank pose is a beautiful exercise that crosses the boundaries of yoga into fitness and vice versa.  It is a total body move that really focuses on core strength and developing excellent posture.  It is a foundational posture for other exercises in fitness like pushups, as well as in yoga as transitions from downward dog to upward dog.  In other words, you want to know this move and feel confident in the pose.  Here are some tips for executing a strong and effective forearm plank:

 Forearm plank

Forearm plank

  1. Keep the body in alignment: You want your shoulders over your elbows, your hips in between your shoulders and knees and your spine in a nice straight line from your head to your toes.  
  2. Press into the elbows and toes: It's fairly common to see folks sink down into their shoulder blades which causes the entire plank to sink towards the mat.  Press into your elbows to lift your spine up out of your shoulders.
  3. Tuck the hips up:  If you come to our classes you've heard several different cues for this.  You want to think about pulling the belly up towards the spine, to make a nice solid floor for the spine to rest on.  You may also think about curling the top of your hips up towards the bottoms of your ribs, almost like you're tucking your tail under.  
  4. Squeeze everything to the midline: You should feel everything gently pulling towards the center of your body.  The legs gently squeeze together, the ab muscles pull the ribs and belly up to the spine and the shoulder and triceps muscles squeeze in towards your body.
  5. Breathe: Use the stillness to focus on your breath.  Feel and see your breath moving in and out of your body and when you start to feel weak or shake, breathe a few more rounds.  Your body is stronger than you think!
 Hips too high

Hips too high

 Sinking into shoulders

Sinking into shoulders

Try it today:  Start out just by timing yourself to see how long you can maintain a plank (in proper form!).  Then, each day see if you can match that or beat it by a few seconds!  Feel free to share with us how you do, we're rooting for you!