Hanumanasana

Hanumanasana

I promised you a hanumanasana post last week – so I’m sorry for the delay – I got a bit distracted by my article on Mind Body Green.  If you haven’t see it yet, please go check it out! I shared a picture of me (yay, yoga selfies!) in hanumanasana on My Real Yoga Body’s facebook page and on my own page and I thought it might look intimidating, and it can be, but I’d like to show you how you can work on the pose using various props.  My feeling is that it doesn’t really matter whether you ever do it unsupported – it’s a good stretch no matter where you end up in relation to the floor. But before get into the mechanics of the pose, let’s talk about Hanuman.  Hanuman is monkey god in the Hindu pantheon who plays a main role in the Ramayana.  He helps Ram rescue his wife, Sita, by leaping to the island (Sri Lanka) where she is being held captive.  I first encountered this story as a kid when I read Seasons of Splendour by Madhur Jaffrey, a book I adored (foreshadowing my interest in yoga as an adult?) and then subsequently during yoga teacher training. The shape of those pose is reminiscent of Hanuman’s famous leap, but I also think that this pose requires a little bit of a leap of faith.  Faith in your legs, in your props and in your breath to move into the pose intelligently. One of the best ways to ease yourself into the pose is to bring the floor up to you.  You can then...
Wall Cobra

Wall Cobra

Have I mentioned that the wall is my favorite yoga prop? Maybe once or twice? Yeah, I suspect that you knew that.  Anyways, I’m sure I’ll eventually talk about other propped poses, but for today I’m sticking with the wall and how to use it for back bends.   I’ve already shown you how awesome the wall is for wheel pose or king cobra, but the wall is also great for regular cobra pose. I’m sure I’m not the only one who every came up with this, but I did actually think of it on my own (as opposed to getting it from a book or another teacher), when I realized that I had students in my classes who were not comfortable with putting any weight on their bellies.  Buh-bye cobra, sphinx and salabhasana, right? Wrong.  I also like teaching these poses in my larger bodies classes because it allows me to transition from standing poses to back bends without having my students get back down on the floor.  And since someone always looks like they want me murder me when I suggest getting up and down off the floor (understandable – it can be really stressful on the body), I like having the option to stay upright. 1. Stand about an arm’s length away from the wall.  If your heels do not reach the floor, simply walk closer to the wall.  Your elbows will bend, which is totally fine since we’re all going to bend our elbows anyways in step 2. 2. Bend your elbows straight back, hugging them into your body and bring your chest towards the wall....
L-Shaped Handstand

L-Shaped Handstand

I’m on an inversion kick (haha – get it?) lately.  We’ve already established that inversions are my favorite group of yoga poses and that I wish that more people thought that inversions were accessible to them.  If you are a reader of this blog, you’ve probably heard me throw around the term L-shaped handstand often enough.  So I thought that L-shaped handstand deserved its own post. L-shaped handstand is the first inversion I learned.  In fact, I tried it at the end of my very first yoga class.  I remember some parts of that first class (a free intro at Jivamukti Yoga School more than 11 years ago) vividly.  I remember gasping for breath and thinking that this yoga stuff was way harder than I thought it would be.  I remember how packed the room was.  And I remember the teacher announcing that we were all going to try something together, as a community, that might be a little scary.  I was definitely anxious as she told us to find a spot on the wall.  There were so many of us that we must have resembled sardines as we squeezed into the available wall space.  As the teacher talked us through L-shaped handstand, there were many scoffs, snorts and other sounds of disbelief (sounds I hear in my classes now, which is really beautiful when I think about it.)  But everyone tried it, including me.  I’m pretty sure that I didn’t actually make it up during that first class, probably because I really didn’t want to crash into the people on either side of me.  But the bug had...
Upside down again

Upside down again

When I was little, my mom never let me say, “I can’t.”  I rolled my eyes like every kid does.  She was convinced that the key to maintaining my self-esteem was for me to believe that anything was possible if I put my mind to it, and that a “defeatist” attitude was destructive.  I still roll my eyes at my mom (do you ever grow out of that?) but I’ve come to appreciate her unwillingness to accept, “I can’t” from me and, as an adult, I try not to let my fear or prejudgment dictate what I do. I also really don’t like labels so it always raises my hackles when people say things like, “all larger yogis want…” or, “larger yogis shouldn’t do x poses” etc…even if the intentions are good.  For example, I have heard yoga teachers say “all larger yogis prefer to be in classes geared specifically toward them” or “larger yogis should only practice gentle yoga” or “you shouldn’t do inversions with larger yogis, they won’t be able to do them safely.”  None of these things are universally true, and aren’t those statements sort of the same as saying, “we can’t”?  Except this time the “can’t” is imposed upon larger yogis by others, which is disturbing. The idea that we larger yogis can’t (or shouldn’t) practice “fancy yoga poses” like inversions, arm balances or whatever bothers me.  Maybe it’s my mom drilling me about not saying, “I can’t” that makes statements like that rub me the wrong way.  Obviously, everyone is different and our bodies all perform asana in different ways, but why are we...
Finding plank

Finding plank

I know, I know – why would you want to find plank? Plank was just fine lost, thank you very much!  I get it – plank is a pain (literally sometimes).  There’s nothing like the audible groan that goes around the room when I say, “come forward into a plank pose”, especially when students expect me to keep them there for a while. But plank pose is important.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s the number one strengthening pose that prepares the body for  arm balances and inversions.  It also helps us develop a strong core, which is essential to protecting the often beleaguered lower back.  The legs come into play in a big way too – so basically it’s a one stop shop for full body strengthening. Unfortunately, plank is an easy pose to cheat.  Especially in flow or vinyasa practices where you literally pass through plank on your way to other things.  So much of finding correct alignment in poses time after time is muscle memory – but if we don’t spend some good quality time with plank pose, our muscles never get a chance to learn what the correct alignment is.  The two main issues I see with plank are 1. collapse in the core/lower back – this kind of looks like a hybrid plank/upward dog and 2. butts high in the air in a kind of hybrid plank/downward dog. I, myself, used to be an offender of the latter variation until a teacher (who was awesome and I still miss her) came over and sat on my butt until it was in the correct place....
Wall Dog

Wall Dog

It’s no secret that I love using the wall in my yoga practice and in my own classes.  My favorite thing to hear from teachers is, “please take your mats to the wall” – it’s a signal that awesome things are going to happen.  When I teach my larger bodies classes I keep the mats at the wall for the entire class.  There are just so many ways to use the wall to enhance a practice.  Plus – how often do you get to kick walls on purpose in a non-destructive fashion?! One of the things that the Washington Post article highlighted was my use of wall dog as an alternative to downward facing dog.  I realized I hadn’t posted about wall dog on the blog yet, so I will remedy that right now. I always try to provide students with alternatives to downward dog because, well, it’s a darn hard pose – especially for beginners who haven’t gotten the hang of distributing some of their weight to their legs and feet.  When I say that downward dog eventually becomes a resting pose, at least one student per class laughs in my face.  Also, I can pretty much guarantee that downward dog will show up in almost every hatha/vinyasa type class you’ll take in the US (unless it’s a class specifically designed not to include weight bearing in the arms).  Offering different options is part of my mission to make everyone feel comfortable in whatever class they take. Wall dog is especially useful because it allows you to find the shape of downward dog and the stretch in the shoulders...