King Cobra at the wall

King Cobra at the wall

King Cobra (Raja Bhujanghasana) is one of those poses that seems like a pipe dream.  You see it in the pages of yoga journal or in super fancy “advanced” yoga classes, but it’s not a pose that is featured much in most classes you take –  you might hear it suggested as a challenging modification to an already challenging full cobra.  So when I learned this version at the wall at a weekend intensive with Tias, I almost jumped for joy.  I love finding ways to make these seemingly impossible poses possible. Also – it’s fun.  Sometimes, amidst all the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of the yoga practice, I feel like teachers can forget that one of the reasons that we stuck with a consistent practice in the first place is that it’s fun!  Yoga is a very serious business in many ways, but I have to say that one of my favorite moments of teaching is when a student came up to me after class and said, “That was fun!?”  Her shocked smile was worth 1000 samadhis to me. It’s no secret on this blog that I love backbends.  I particularly like this one because the wall and floor help you engage your legs strongly enough to keep the backbend out of the lumbar spine.  And it looks really pretty.  Because you must engage your legs so strongly, it’s a great quad strengthener.  Your shoulders, arms and back work a lot as well. Start by lying down on your tummy with your knees bent and your shins against the wall.  You want to be able to push...
Headstand Prep/Dolphin

Headstand Prep/Dolphin

Morning everyone! The weather here in DC is simply gorgeous – sunny, cool in the mornings, comfortably warm in the afternoons.  The windows are thrown open and I’m trying to avoid the Athleta website like the plague so I won’t purchase big fluffy (expensive) sweater dresses.  🙂 Days like this make me want to play, and, in yoga, playing for me usually equals upside down.  Before we get fancy with our inversions it’s nice to work on the prep poses.  These are also great for folks who want to work on inversions but can’t put much weight on their heads (but don’t feel like trying the chair headstand yet). Inversions take strength (among other things) and the best way I’ve found to get ready for bearing weight on your arms is dolphin – or forearm plank to forearm downward dog and back again.  I do this in front of the tv (not particularly yogic but it gets the job done). Note: I offer forearm downward dog as an alternative to downward dog in class when I have students with wrist pain or fatigue – it seems to work well. Start in a downward dog on the forearms.  Press down into the mat with your forearms to raise the shoulders up and away from the ears.  Then slowly move down into a plank shape on the forearms – you may have to shimmy your feet back.  Hold for a breath or two and then slowly move back into a forearm dog.  Repeat. Once you’ve had enough of that that, you can practice walking the feet into the body to position...
Transition: Chaturanga Dandasana to Upward Dog

Transition: Chaturanga Dandasana to Upward Dog

Happy Labor Day everyone!  Though this holiday means a lot of things to many, for me it marks a time of transition.  Summer transitions into fall, pools close, kids go back to school etc… So in honor of this day of transition, I thought we might cover one of the most used and abused asana transitions in yoga.  Chaturanga Dandasana to Upward Dog (Urdva Mukha Svanasana) is featured heavily in most flow/vinayasa styles and many many yoga classes in America.  Most people do it wrong. Wrong isn’t a word I use much in yoga – there are many variations and expressions of asana.  But because you can really hurt yourself in chaturanga and upward dog, I think the ‘W’ word is appropriate.  The lovely folks at Yoga Tune Up have named chaturanga the shoulder shredder because of how many people injure their shoulders doing it.  You almost never see upward dog performed in a way that protects the lower back. So why cover this transition? Well I think the ubiquity of it in classes demands that we address it AND I found a fabulous way to teach these two poses and the transition safely that makes me really excited. Hello Bolster!  You need a fairly thick square bolster for this.  If you need more height you can add a folded blanket on top of your bolster. You’ll start in plank pose over the bolster set up, positioned so that your torso will land onto the bolster when you lower into chaturanga.  My chest will move forward slighly when I lower. To come into chaturanga supported on the bolster, I...

Chair Headstand Video

Hi Everyone!  After I posted on Friday about getting my plus size yoga class to do Chair Headstand and to turn their “I can’t”s into “I can”s, Amber from Body Positive Yoga asked via Twitter if I could do a video of me demonstrating the pose.  I’ve never done video before, but Amber gave me a quick idea how to go about making one.  During our second photo shoot this weekend, Melinda (Supportive Yoga Photographer Extraordinare) was able to film me doing the pose.  A few swear words directed toward IMovie later, I have a rudimentary video to share.  Hopefully it looks ok – and if not, Amber made me do it! 🙂 *Update (April 2014).  In the video I say to bring the torso and head to rest against the wall.  If you are having trouble getting your hips over your shoulders, this can be a helpful way to train the body to recognize where it should be BUT it isn’t necessary.  Eventually, you should be able to kick up and balance with your head and torso a few inches away from the wall.  It might even be preferable to avoid messing with the natural curve of the spine.  You can, or course, always rest your feet on the wall.  As practice evolves so does teaching!   A note about kicking up:  When we were filming this, I was trying to come up with a way to describe the mechanics of kicking up for folks who are interested in trying this.  The best I came up with was that you are using your top leg as a lever...
Keeping it simple: Downward Dog with blocks

Keeping it simple: Downward Dog with blocks

Happy Monday everyone!  After taking Friday off from yoga blogging, I’m feeling like I have 12 different things to tell you!  But, rather than inundate you with all of my thoughts from the last 5 days, I’m going to follow the advice of my yoga teachers and keep it simple.  Before we get started on downward dog though, I want to take a moment to congratulate the newest batch of yoga teacher training graduates from Blue Heron Wellness.  I had the good fortune to have a few of them observe my class as part of their training and it was always wonderful to chat with them, answer questions and talk about all things yoga teaching! So downward dog…while this pose might not be the king (headstand according to traditional texts) of yoga poses, I do think it is the most ubiquitous.  There are good reasons for this – it’s a good transition pose, and, once you practice for a while, it’s a good resting pose (my new students always snort when I tell them this after trying it for the first time).  Downward dog is also a multifunctional pose.  It’s a forward bend, a backbend, an inversion, an arm balance and a standing pose all in one. I think most of you are probably familiar with the “upside down V position” us yoga teachers talk about all the time, but just in case, here’s a photo for you: My hands are on blocks in this photo.  For me, this is a key adjustment to making downward dog a resting pose rather than a why did I get started on...
Supported Supta Virasana

Supported Supta Virasana

Good morning!  I’d really prefer to be back in bed, so this morning is a perfect time to share one of my favorite reclined (supta) restorative poses, Supportive Yoga style! When I was younger and more limber, the full version of supta virasana (reclined hero’s pose) was one of my favorites.  But then when my body changed so drastically about 3.5 years ago (gained a lot of weight really quickly and lost a lot of mobility), it was one of the poses I thought would never feel good again.  What I realized during teacher training and workshops later on is that because there is so much going on in this pose, you really have to take extra care getting in and out of it.  Also, you may need a lot of support/props to make it feel ok. Virasana is really great for your knees, if done correctly and with the proper support, but can be absolutely killer if not supported to the level your body needs.  For those of you new to the pose, you sit up on your shins, bring your knees together and you feet far enough apart so you can sit your butt (butts again!) down to the mat in between your ankles.  Most people need some sort of elevation to keep their knees happy, so you will probably want to place a block or bolster under your butt so you don’t have so far to go when you sit down.  Make sure once you are situated that your feet are pointing straight back and they are outside of your hips to prevent ankle unhappiness. In...