Yoga poses are an opportunity for you to get to know your body. The shape of any pose is just the starting point for improving health, strength, balance, flexibility and coordination. It's a context for learning to sense and control your body.
If you are doing yoga to get more flexible then a first step is to become familiar with the different types of stretching techniques. You may find that with a repertoire of stretching methods it is easier to stretch responsively. You can vary the type of stretching you do based on the state of your body at the time.
If you're goal is to improve flexibility, here are some flexibility tips.
Most effective stretching methods (effective in that they improve flexibility) include some sort of muscle control whether relaxing the muscle being stretched or activating it or it's opposing muscle. You can try basic muscle control (activating and relaxing your legs) in these stretches for tight hamstrings.
Another reason to get into stretching is that it can feel good.
Relaxed stretching is particularly beneficial in this regard. For a more profound effect you may find meridian stretching is helpful, particularly if you learn to use the meridians to guide the sequence in which you stretch the parts of your body. A very basic technique is to "follow the flow" of the meridians.
Whether you believe in the idea of Qi or not, the meridians offer an effective model for stretching the parts of the body in an organized manner.
One of the things that doesn't come across well on a printed page is learning how to move slowly. It helps to see some movements in action. So sensational yoga poses also has a video channel on youtube. Here's a partial list of some of the videos. And here's a yoga routine designed for improving body awareness.
Some people get into yoga to deal with pain. Others experience pain in the process of doing yoga.
Learn how to alleviate pain when doing yoga poses with simple adjustments and practice of some basic actions.
If posture (or a lack of good posture) is the problem, then some simple exercises can get you used to the feeling of good posture. Rather than thinking about good posture and reminding yourself to sit upright, you'll be able to feel good posture. If you focus on feeling your posture you'll be able to find good posture with minimum effort. You might even like the feeling.
If you want to do yoga as an exercise you may find that Ashtanga yoga is suitable since it is a set series of yoga poses. The first challenge is learning the sequence of yoga poses. I'd suggest learning a few poses at a time and then gradually adding on more and more poses. Once you've learned the sequence (and even while you are adding to the sequence of poses) you can then focus on refining both the poses and the transitions between poses, which are called Vinyassa.
Thinking and doing yoga are actually two different mind states. Doing yoga we are actually learning to be present. Part of what allows us to be present is learning to control the parts of our body without having to think.
Thinking, of discernment is what we can use to make learning more effective.
Read more about the difference between these in Being Present.
One practice that lends itself extremely well to practicing discernment or clear thinking is the dance of shiva.
Being more present can be used to improve balance.
Simple balance exercises can include balancing on one foot or balancing on the fronts of the feet. More challenging balancing poses can include learning to balance while upside down. But as a first step it helps to get comfortable while upside down without having to deal with the balance component, hence the use of a wall. Even with the use of a wall fear may still be a problem. Learning how to deal with fear can be one of the benefits of doing inversions.
With sensational yoga poses the goal is the minimum effort required to stabilize the body so that sensitivity is maintained. This balanced state could be thought of as Tensegrity. With a focus on balancing sensitivity and stability it becomes possible to adjust the amount of effort required to suit the circumstances while still keeping the body safe. The result can be a yoga practice that ends with you feeling like you've done work but are reasonably refreshed at the same time.
When doing yoga poses it can easily become apparent when you are lacking in strength, whether in the arms, the waist or the hips.
One trick to working for strengthening the body while doing yoga poses is being able to disassemble yoga poses into component parts that make it easier to strengthen the individual parts of the body while at the same time improving awareness and control of those parts.
From there gradually integrate the isolated parts using progressively more challenging poses or actions.
For yoga teachers in particular anatomy can be a boon to both your personal yoga practice and to teaching yoga classes since in gives you greater flexibility in how you direct your students (or your own) awareness within the body. It also provides you various themes for exploring the same poses in different ways. In this sense anatomy is more than just learning the names of bones and muscles. It is experiencing them first hand in your own body and helping your students experience it in their own body.
Technical names don't even have to be used so long as you can direct them clearly on where to plant their awareness within their body.
Breathing (and bandhas) are closely related to anatomy because breath can be one of the ways in which you learn to feel your anatomy. Different breathing exercises use different muscles, and so you can use breathing exercises to learn to feel and control specific muscles. In the same way bandhas and other yoga exercises target particular muscles. Learn to feel and control bandhas, then you further learn to feel and control your anatomy.
Work is required to maintain any relationship. But that doesn't mean you need to be serious all of the time.
Yes I am serious in a lot of the photos on this page. But when I'm in front of a class and seeing a sea of serious faces I often like to suggest that students lift one or both eyebrows, perhaps in time with their breath or a particular action. Another exercise is to pucker the lips.
Another way to have fun in yoga is to practice poses like arm balances or other crazy poses just for the fun of it. Another way to have fun, particularly when you practice a set sequence of poses like Ashtanga is to try something different, try mixing up the order of the poses or try poses that you don't regularly do.
But failing that, try smiling while doing a difficult yoga pose, or an easy one for that matter. It's just yoga.
One approach to sequencing yoga poses is to focus on body position. For example start with standing poses.
Standing poses are handy as warm ups and also a great place to start flexibility work particularly if you aren't flexible to begin with. Then you can go to the floor to work on types of seated poses.
To make transitioning between seated poses smoother you can focus on doing cross leg poses together, then kneeling poses, then seated poses with one or both legs straight.
Prone and belly facing down poses can be used to work on the front of the body and the back, likewise supine and belly facing upward poses.
Yoga arm balances and Inverted yoga poses deserve special attention since they involve balance and turning our usual world upside down.
The seated get up is a way of getting into the one legged squat from a seated position. Even if you aren't interested in one leg squats this video does include tips on stabilizing the knees (at about the 5 minute mark.) Usual muscle activations for knee stability might include the quads, the hamstrings or any of the glutes. This looks at another set of muscles all together. If you like the video or find it helpful, please do share it! Thanks!
Some tips for learning how to do deep squats (without weight). The first tip is on how to stay balanced while squatting.
How do you learn the body weight safely? How do you work towards this pose even if you aren't sure if you are capable of doing it.
Basic yoga poses: standing, sitting, arm balances, binds, twists, inversions, back bending, front bends.
Scapular stabilization becomes a little bit harder when working agains the weight of the body. It can be easier to learn if you gradually increase the amount of body weight the scapular stabilizer muscles are working againsts..
Some hip flexor strengthening exercises.
These yoga poses can be used as arm strengthening exercises.
Turn yoga poses into leg strengthening exercises using floor pressing actions, leverage and friction.
One way of finding and fixing hip problems is to do standing hip strengthening exercises while balancing on one leg.
Knee anatomy for yoga teachers looks at the bones and muscles that comprise the back of the knee in simple terms.
Working towards a kneeling quadriceps stretch you first need to be able to kneel. If you have difficulty kneeling, you may find it helps to activate your quadriceps.
When doing quadriceps stretching it may help to activate and then relax your quadriceps in these standing, lunging, pigeon and supine yoga pose variations.
Some exercises and yoga poses for working towards a lying quadriceps stretch one leg at a time.
What are the benefits of the Dance of Shiva? Arm strength and balance, learning to learn and improving creativity.
This yoga routine video is designed to help you strengthen your arms and legs via the use of friction and pressure. It also teaches you how to become more aware of your body.
The transverse abdominis muscle can be broken down into three parts. Transverse abdominal exercises can thus affect the SI Joint, lumbar spine and the lower portion of the ribcage.
To improve the resiliency of your knees it can help to exercise them in a variety of positions. The following yoga poses can be used as knee strengthening exercises. The trick is to activate your knees while doing them.
Learn to consciously control your quads and hip flexors with Conscious Muscle Control: Quads and Superficial Hip Flexors. This downloadable video course teaches you how to feel and activate your quadriceps (the vastus muscles) as well as the rectus femoris, tensor fascae latae and sartorius muscles.
For any calf stretch you have to bend your ankle forwards to stretch the soleus and/or gastrocnemius. How you bend the ankle forwards can make the stretch more or less effective.
Yoga for flexibility with stretches for the hips, quads, hamstrings, glutes, psoas, shoulders and arms. These yoga stretches are designed to improve flexiblity.