Challenging Pose

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<ul><li><p>Standing Splits October 28, 2013 </p><p>The splits go way beyond the yoga practice for me. They evoked fear in me way back in my musical theatre days when I was playing Sally Bowles in Cabaret and had to learn the splits as part of a routine. It wasnt pretty, but I stretched every night (these were my pre-yoga days) and with time, my performance resembled something that looked sorta like the splits. Lucky for me, the scene didnt call for perfection. </p><p>Fast forward to my life as a yogi, I had been practicing Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow religiously but had forgotten all about the splits (now known as Hanumanasana) until the fateful day where I was taking class and the teacher said, If you want to take your lunge into a split, go for it. I paused, contemplated, and thought, might as well! Next thing you know Im in the full splits! I was in complete shock because I hadnt been practicing this pose. The beauty of my realization was that doing a full yoga practice had provided me with the tools to open my body into this posture. All I needed to do was practice and stay open minded. Ive never forgotten that moment or lesson. </p><p>Today, we take the splits off the ground and let them soar. Standing splits, while related to the grounded version, requires more muscle engagement and less help from gravity. I actually find these preps to be quite delicious and the perfect warmup to attempt the pose away from the wall. Remember this pose doesnt happen by casually swinging your leg up into the air. It takes the perfect blend of flexibility and strength. Use them both. </p><p>Step 1: </p></li><li><p> King Arthur is a love/hate pose. This Hanuman or Standing Split prep is an excellent way to open up the quad, hip flexor and psoas. Take your mat to the wall and place your left shinbone up the wall with the knee a few inches away from the floor board. Toenails are against the wall. If you have sensitive knees feel free to place a towel under your knee or double up the mat. Take your right foot forward into lunge so that the knee is stacking over your heel. Begin with your hands on the ground to see what level of sensation youre at. If it seems safe to go deeper, place both of your palms onto your right quad and lift your torso up. As your hips and back get closer to the wall, keep your left foot to the outside of your hip just like Virasana (Hero Pose). If you want more sensation continue to press into the quad with your hands and eventually bring your back to the wall. Allow your tailbone to neutrally drop as you engage and lift your lower belly. This seemingly small action turns on the psoas, so go slow! If youre feeling extra strong and stable, try lifting your arms straight up overhead with the palms spinning in shoulder-width apart. </p><p>Step 2: </p></li><li><p>Bring your hands back down onto the mat, shoulder-width apart. Lift your left knee off the ground and start to climb the wall with the ball of your left foot. Youre not trying to get into a split here, you just want the leg to elevate. The knee can stay bent. Pause when you cant get the foot higher. Try to square off your hips by rolling your left hip forward and down. Keep your standing quad engaged. </p><p>Step 3: </p><p>Transfer your weight into your hands keeping the arms straight and upper outer arms hugging in. Lift your right foot off the ground by pushing into your hands and transfer your heel to the baseboard of the wall. Walk your hands in slightly and push down to help wiggle the top leg further up and towards the wall. I prefer to keep my toes curled under during this process because it helps me to square the hips. The hips will want to externally rotate, so the curling of the toes gives you extra juice to roll the hip down and forward to level out with the right side. Its incredibly difficult to get completely square so dont push yourself too much, just do your best. If you can walk the hands in toward the wall, go for it! Remember you want to extend your chest long over your thigh and push into the ground to help engage the hold the lifted leg. After youve taken at least 8 breaths, walk your hands out and drop to your knees to rest. </p><p>Step 4: </p></li><li><p> Practicing Standing Splits in the middle of the room after using the wall is a bit exhausting but still quite rewarding. Start at the front of your mat in Standing Forward Fold. Sweep your left leg up behind you reaching it parallel to the ground. Inhale, get long through your chest, exhale begin to fold over your standing leg. I like the analogy of your chest being a pat of melted butter and your base leg is the toast. You want to evenly spread the butter! Basically, it isnt about how close your torso gets to your leg, but how long it gets. I also like to place my right forearm behind my base calf to give me more leverage. You can push that arm into your calf to help extend your lifted leg. Your left hand will stay grounded in line with the toes of your base foot. The hand is hip width distance from the right foot. The top leg requires flexibility, but, more than anything, needs engagement and strength. Spread the toes of your lifted leg and expand through the back of your kneecap. Continue to encourage internal spiral by rolling the pinky toe back. Again, its very difficult to get the hips completely square, but the hope is to stay away aware. Keep your standing quad lifted and engaged and maybe plant a kiss onto your bottom shinbone. </p><p>Hollow Back September 30, 2013 </p></li><li><p>Ive never been a natural backbender. I understand I have a flexible back compared to most people, but put me in a group of advanced yogis and my jaw still drops upon witnessing the agility of the spine. Backbends have always frustrated me because Ive felt limited. I focus on my alignment, works my cues, and give it my best, yet always find that I end up hitting a wall no matter how hard I try. The beauty of hollow back, a variation on Pincha Mayurasana, is its potentialI feel limitless. This backbend allows me to isolate my upper chest, protect my lower back, and feel what its like to keep moving forward. Its a glorious feeling! Its become not only my favorite backbend but potentially my favorite pose. I hope youll feel the same way! </p><p>Step 1: </p><p>Like any inversion, its best to start practicing this pose learning against a wall. Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with the soles of your feet flat against the wall. Your legs should be straight with the thighs pressing down. Let your hands press into the ground where they naturally fall (directly next to your hips), and then, pressing down through your palms, lift </p></li><li><p>your hips and step both feet BACK so that they are now behind your hands. The goal here is to be able to lower your forearms down while keeping the palms in the same spotthis will ensure that your feet touch the wall when you kick up. Your forearms should be parallel to each other and shoulder-width apart. If you feel extremely nervous you can have a teacher spot you or cozy in just a bit closer to the wall. If you have a tendency to splay in your elbows you might consider interlacing your fingers like in Tripod Headstand instead of keeping the forearms parallel (elbows will still be shoulder-width apart). </p><p>Step 2: </p><p>Come into Dolphin Pose on your forearms. Keep your shoulders stacking over your elbows as you walk your feet in. Lift one leg up and gently kick up into Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand) allowing your top leg to come to the wall. Keep the wall leg straight (or as straight as it will go) and let your other leg bend with the knee facing the center of the room. Immediately hug your upper outer arms in to release through the base of your neck. Keep your elbows firming into the ground to draw energy up into your shoulder sockets. Instead of looking forward like you traditionally would, begin to let your head drop neutrally. This part takes time and confidence. It may just begin with looking slightly back. </p><p>Step 3: </p><p>Once you build confidence with dropping your head, let it go completely neutral. Your gaze will now be in the center of the room. Firmly press the foot into the wall. If you need to wiggle it down a bit that will help you deepen the backbend. If you feel too far out at this </p></li><li><p>point, kick out and readjust so that your fingers are slightly closer to the wall. Otherwise, give your upper outer arms an extra squeeze in to protect the upper back and start to pull your head through your arms. The idea is to eventually clear your arms with your ears. Your chest will follow suit; pull your heart toward the middle of the room. Keep pulling the center through as you firm the upper arms in and root through your elbows. As for the leg reaching into the center of the room, the tendency is to keep it high, so youll need to engage the hip flexors in order for it to drop into the split. </p><p>Step 4: </p><p>Kicking up into this pose in the middle of the room takes time. The first part of the goal (and reaching this may take weeks, months, or years) is to learn how to balance Forearm Stand with a neutral neck. Its much easier to neutralize your neck when you bring one knee into a bent position (check out the Shape in step 2 with the wall leg slightly higher up). When you bring one leg closer to your center of gravity, it makes it easier to balance. This will enable you to slowly lower your head, let your gaze fall toward the middle of the room, and neutralize your neck. Once this balance feels normal you can add the backbend. Always re-firm the outer upper arms. The action of hollow back can cause the arms to splay, so we need to make the effort to firm them in before we add the action. Once the arms are solid, pull your head through toward the center of the room along with your chest. I have the legs picture in the splits above, but the shape of your legs is entirely up to you. The splits can be useful as it creates a nice counter balance to everything going on. Continue to drop the leg closest to your chest downward as it has a tendency to float up (youll see mine isnt parallel to the ground. Im still working on that!). </p><p>Anantasana August 19, 2013 </p></li><li><p> I know this Challenge Pose may not look as challenging as others, but this one is a hidden gem. Obviously, its challenging in the hip and hamstring department, but Side-Reclining Leg Lift is quite the ride on the core roller coaster. This seemingly innocent lounge-like posture requires a ton of abdominal engagement to maintain the balance without toppling over (which is actually quite fun). I compare the movements in this post to being a fish out of water; your body will do an interesting dance to stay in the shape of the pose. </p><p>So, skip the crunches and tell Navasana to sail ship. Lets work our core in the chill way today, and create some interesting fishy choreography. Dive in, fishies! </p><p>Step 1: </p><p>It begins rather simple. Lie on your side on your yoga mat. The goal is to line up your entire body flush with the edge of the mat. Start with your bottom heel (keep your foot flexed) and then continue along the line of your leg. Line up your hip with your heel and then prop yourself up on your bottom elbow with your head in your hand. Gently corset your ribs together so that the upper back stays along the edge of the mat. Adjust the angle of your bottom elbow to be in line with the mat. You can keep your top foot and hand on the ground in front of you for balance. Look over your shoulder to make sure everything is straight and ready to go. </p><p>Step 2: </p></li><li><p> Once your body is in a long straight line, bend your top knee and place the sole of that foot in front of your bottom thigh. Adjust your foot so that the toes and knee cap point toward your flexed base foot. Bring the pinky edge of your bent knee foot flush with your inner thigh. Place your top hand to the inside of the top thigh and gently press back to open your hips and encourage external rotation. There is a tendency to pitch the low back and puff the ribs. Counteract this by zippering your tailbone toward your flexed foot and drawing your front ribs in as if you just tightened a corset around your ribcage. </p><p>Step 3: </p><p>Keep the action of your tailbone and ribcage as you hook your top leg big toe with your top hand. Before you extend your top leg reaffirm the flex of the base foot and the engagement of the base leg. This leg will be your anchor to prevent you from falling. Slowly extend your top leg toward a straight position keeping the top shoulder in the socket. Externally rotate the top leg taking the heel forward and toes back. Heres where the dance begins; dont panic is your body wobbles, this is normal. Just keep the intention of the anchored base leg, long tailbone and corseted ribcage. Relax your gaze and head on your hand. Try to go for a solid 8 breaths or longer if youre feeling inspired. Switch sides. </p></li><li><p>Baby Hopper II August 5, 2013 </p><p>Last blog we tackled Baby Hopper, a spin on the arm balance Grasshopper. The full arm balance requires a large amount of hip opening and twisting flexibility. Baby Hopper I is a lighter variation of Grasshopper, while this variation keeps us closer to the ground. Please bear in mind that Im using the term Baby Hopper because this variation doesnt have a Sanskrit name. </p><p>This posture is great prep for the deeper versions, but is also incredibly fun! Students who struggle with the arm balance absolutely love this; its an empowering moment to realize the other postures are achievable once this one makes sense. But some people get confused on what goes where and how to lift their bottom up, so read on to demystify this sweet pose. </p><p>Step 1: </p></li><li><p> I recommend several Sun Salutations and light twists before tackling this pose to warm up the psoas and hamstrings (and IT band). Once youre warm, come into a comfortable seat with your legs straight out in front of you. Inhale, lift your chest high, and, as you exhale, extend your torso forward over your legs grabbing the outer edges of your feet. If you cant reach your feet use a strap, pulling back and forward/up with your chest. Focus on keeping the spine extended rather than getting flat over your legs. Extend your sternum forward and the tips of your shoulder blades down your back. Take 8 breaths. </p><p>Step 2: </p><p>Come up from your forward fold and bend your right knee with the foot flat on the ground in line with your right sits bone. Recreate the same actions with your torso from Step 1: extend your heart forward as you fold over your left leg. You can even place your left palm flat on the outside of your left leg with the right palm doing the same to the pinky edge of your right foot. The goal in this pose is to take your right arm in front of your right shin bone, getting the armpit as close to the shin bone as possible. Reach your right arm forward like you want to shake your foot like a hand. Once you have this deep reach, extend your arms behind you, palms out, behind your right hip. If you cant reach, grab a strap. If you can, grab your right wrist with your left hand. Pull your heart forward and root your hips down. Keep your left foot flexed and r...</p></li></ul>