July 13, 2016

Yoga made simple

Yoga practice can often be intimidating to someone who has never tried a class before, with pictures of acrobatic handstands and gurus with their feet behind their head floating in your mind.   In reality, yoga is much more grounded and personal than a beginner might realize and can bring many positive physical and mental changes to your life.

Yoga in the western world often only practices one 'limb' of the ancient practice of yoga, called 'asana'. There are 8 limbs of yoga laid out by the ancient sage Pantanjali with practices like meditation and 'no-harm' being just as important as the physical part of yoga. The asanas or poses begin to train the yogi to be more present in their body and mind for the other aspects to become easier and more clear. (But that is a lot of information to process so just knowing that going to your first yoga class can open up a whole world of peace and serenity is enough for now. )

Below are some details about how to move into a few of the most fundamental asanas that you will see in most yoga classes.  The most important goal of yoga is to feel your own body, move with your breath and do things that feel good for YOU! Your teachers are there to help guide you through the practice and make sure your alignment is safe but the goal of yoga is to move in and through your unique self while respecting your body.

Marjaiasana/ Bitilasana Cat/Cow pose
Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position, the spine is long and straight. Make sure your knees are stacked directly below your hips and your wrists, elbows and shoulders are in one line and perpendicular to the floor. As you inhale, lift your sitting bones and chest toward the ceiling, allowing your belly to sink toward the floor, moving into cow pose. Lift your head to bring the gaze or 'drishti' forward.
Flowing into cat pose a s you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling, making sure to keep your shoulders and knees in position, pushing the floor away from you with the hands. Release your head toward the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest.

Tadasana : Mountain pose

Tadasana is a fundamental pose for all standing asanas, it can look passive but is actually very active. There are several things to think about in mountain pose. 

  • Stand with the bases of your big toes touching, heels slightly apart, lift and spread your toes while rooting the three pads of the foot firmly into the mat and placing the toes intentionally on the mat. 
  • Firm your thigh muscles and lift the knee caps.  Turn the upper thighs slightly inward.  
  • Lift the inner ankles to strengthen the inner arches, then imagine a line of energy all the way up along your inner thighs to your groin, and from there through the core of your torso, neck, and head, and out through the crown of your head.
  • Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor and lift the pubis toward the navel. 
  • Press your shoulder blades into your back, then widen them across and release them down your back. 
  • Without pushing your lower front ribs forward, lift the top of your sternum straight toward the ceiling. 
  • Extend your arms beside the torso all the way through the fingertips. Chin is parallel to the ground and gaze is forward and soft.

Utthita caturanga dandasana:   High plank 

Catarunga dandasana: 4 limb staff pose 
Draw your chest forward until the arms are perpendicular to the floor and the shoulders directly over the wrists, torso parallel to the floor in high plank Press your outer arms inward and firm the bases of your index fingers into the floor. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then spread them away from the spine.  Press your front thighs up toward the ceiling, but resist your tailbone toward the floor as you lengthen it toward the heels. 

With an exhalation slowly lower your torso and legs to a few inches above and parallel to the floor through chatarunga dandasana.  Throughout your stay in this position, keep the tailbone firmly in place and the legs very active and turned slightly inward. Draw the pubis toward the navel.  Keep the space between the shoulder blades broad. Don’t let the elbows splay out to the sides; hold them in by the sides of the torso and push them back toward the heels. Press the bases of the index fingers firmly to the floor.

Adho Mukha Svanasana : Downward facing dog
{BKS Iyengar , one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world, asserts that downward facing dog stretches the shoulders, legs,  spine  and whole body; builds strength throughout the body, particularly the arms, legs, and feet; relieves fatigue and rejuvenates the body; improves the  immune system , digestion and  blood flow  to the  sinuses , and calms the mind and lifts the spirits. }

From upward facing dog or childs pose, exhale and lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis and press it lightly toward the pubis. Against this resistance, lift the sitting bones toward the ceiling, and from your inner ankles draw the inner legs up into the groins. Straighten the legs and press the heels towards the floor.
Firm the outer arms and press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. From these two points lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders turning the inner elbows towards each other. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone.

Bhujangasana and  Urdhva mukha svanasana 
Cobra and Upward facing dog
For cobra, on an inhalation begin to straighten the arms to lift the chest off the floor, going only to the height at which you can maintain a connection through your pubis to your legs. Firm but don’t harden the buttocks.  Firm the shoulder blades against the back, puffing the side ribs forward. Lift through the top of the sternum but avoid pushing the front ribs forward, which only hardens the lower back. Distribute the backbend evenly throughout the entire spine.

For a deeper backbend in upward facing dog, inhale and press your inner hands firmly into the floor and slightly back, as if you were trying to push yourself forward along the floor. Then straighten your arms and simultaneously lift your torso up and your legs a few inches off the floor on an inhalation. Keep the shoulders over the wrists and the shoulders away from the ears. Keep the thighs firm and slightly turned inward, the arms firm and turned out so the elbow creases face forward.

Alanasana* : High Lunge
*This sanskrit term is not agreed upon by all, just go with high lunge 
Standing in mountain pose, step your left foot back, with the right knee bent engage the legs to ground down through the feet and make sure the right knee is directly over the right ankle. Keep the knee and heel lifted off the ground, square the hips and the shoulders to the front of the mat.  Engage the back leg by extending out through the back heel and rotate the thighs inward. 
Relax the shoulders down and draw the shoulder blades towards the spine to open the chest. Inhale the arms over the head next to the ears with the palms facing each other. Keep the shoulders relaxed and the chest lifted.  

Virabhandrasana II  - Warrior 2
From warrior 1 place the the left heel on the ground toes a 45 degree angle outward, opening the hips towards the side of the mat. The chest and hips are opening to the side and the torso is stacked over the pelvis.  Press into the feet and roll the thighs towards the midline of the body keeping the legs strong. Sink the hips down towards the floor, and reach the crown of the head up to lengthen the spine. 
Relax the shoulders down the back, pressing the chest forward. Extend the right arm forward and reach  through the finger tips bringing your gaze towards the front middle finger. 

Savasana: Corpse pose
Said to be the hardest asana, savasana is a pose of total relaxation.  
Lying on your back, let the arms and legs drop open, with the arms about 45 degrees from the side of your body. Make sure you are warm and comfortable, if you need to place blankets under or over your body. Close the eyes, and take slow deep breaths through the nose. Allow your whole body to become soft and heavy, letting it relax into the floor. As the body relaxes, feel the whole body rising and falling with each breath.   Scan the body from the toes to the fingers to the crown of the head, looking for tension, tightness and contracted muscles. Consciously release and relax any areas that you find. If you need to, rock or wiggle parts of your body from side to side to encourage further release.  
Release all control of the breath, the mind, and the body. Let your body move deeper and deeper into a state of total relaxation. Stay in savasana for 5 to 15 minutes. To release, slowly deepen the breath, wiggle the fingers and toes, reach the arms over your head and stretch the whole body, exhale bend the knees into the chest and roll over to one side coming into a fetal position. When you are ready, slowly inhale up to a seated position.

{ A few tips for your first yoga class }

  • Always tell your instructor if you have any health issues they should be aware of, this is to keep you safe during your practice. 
  • Listen carefully to the cues the instructor gives during each pose, essential movements that might be difficult to see are often said many times during a class. 
  • Yoga should not be painful, if at anytime you are in pain slowly back out of the pose and come to your breath in child's pose. Yoga might be difficult at times but should not cause sharp pain. 
  • This is YOUR practice, do not worry about what your neighbors are doing or if you are not as flexible as the instructor. Honor your body and love it for what it can do.
  • Never compare yourself in yoga class and don't take it too seriously! Have fun with it and go with the flooooowwww :) 

Check out one of great instructors at The Sweat Shop Studio as they guide you through the calming and rejuvenating practice of yoga. With classes daily and great packages, this boutique style studio is the perfect place to begin or continue your yoga journey. Find schedules online and follow us on facebook for recipes, events and more!

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