I first learned yoga poses from a book in 1997. I didn't have a lot of money and the book explained the sequence of Ashtanga yoga poses and so I thought "why bother with yoga classes?"
Each day I'd read a couple of poses, try to do them from memory, check to see if I'd done them correctly and then move on to the next set of poses.
As a beginner the Ashtanga yoga sequence was ideal because I could practice the series of poses without having to worry about what to do next. The sequence told me what to do. When I'd memorized the sequence I know longer needed the book.
Later on I started going to classes and I realized that I had a lot of room for improvement. But even so I was off to a good start.
Two years after I first started doing yoga, I took a teacher training course and learned how to vary and play with the Ashtanga sequence of yoga poses. All of these variations started with sun salutations as a warm up and ended with some variation of the finishing sequence as a cool down.
I then got interested in learning the second series of ashtanga poses. I learned mainly from David Swenson's book. And the stuff that looked too difficult I left out.
Later on after a motorcycle accident injured my knee a teacher suggested that I focus on the primary series. Looking back I believe that I should have carried on with what I was doing. I was exploring my body through yoga and an injury provides an excellent opportunity to explore.
Despite that my knee healed anyway. (I never went to a doctor about it, never got x-rays. There were times were I wondered if it would heal or if I was beyond repair. It was very frustrating to be walking along and then all of a sudden my knee would pop out of place, like the ligaments were too lose. And so I'd play with tension to try and wiggle it back into place again.)
I continued to teach and was told that as a teacher I made Ashtanga yoga interesting even though it was the series of poses. I found ways to play within and explore the body while doing the same poses over and over again. Despite that I couldn't imagine teaching the same sequence for the rest of my life.
It was about that time I met with Andrey Lappa. I'd heard some stories about his class and so was a little bit scared. But fate intervened. One of the studios I worked at was having him over to teach a guest class. Thinking the owner was crazy I took the class anyway and was amazed enough to want to take his teacher training.
I then learned a method for teaching and doing yoga that freed me totally from the Ashtanga framework. No more sun salutations, no more wondering about when I need a counterpose or whether I was harming the body or benefitting it.
Instead I had a framework for a totally free style of yoga practice but one that was still meaningful. It was like he gave me a road map. You are going from Toronto to Vancouver. You can choose how to get there. I could use any of the roads on the map, or I could fly if I chose. That's the level of freedom Andreys course helped me to aspire to.
It made it a lot easier teaching private yoga classes to clients of limited flexibility. Finally I could develop a yoga program to suit their needs rather than trying to get them to fit into the Ashtanga mold.
What I later realized was that he'd given me the tools to teach myself. Among those tools was the dance of shiva, which is a master level practice in how to break things down meaningfully and maximize potential and flow.
However, I still wasn't flexible despite years of doing yoga. Or at least not as flexible as I wanted to be.I later moved to Taiwan (I'd gone bankrupt and didn't know what to do with myself. At the time Taiwan was the only thing that "felt" right. Plus I was also interested in Tai Ji and Chinese calligraphy.) I taught English for my first year while continuing to teach yoga. Then I got back into teaching yoga full time.
For the next five or six years my focus was on increasing flexibility. I tried relaxed stretching but found it slow and ineffective (and painful) so then I began to play with activating and relaxing muscles while I stretched. I figured out the stretching techniques that worked for me. And then I began to work on strength again.
I still do relaxed stretching but it is only one of the ways that I choose to stretch.
The interesting about focusing on flexibility was that I became mentally "flacid." Adding the strength element I began to get more focused more intentful. I also feel that for myself, focusing on flexibiity first was helpful. Generally whenever I do a yoga practice I normally focus on flexiblity first and then strength, or work on ways to combine them.
As I was in Taiwan I continued my studies of tai ji even taking part in a couple of competitions. I also began mixing Tai ji with yoga. I learned how to become more soft and sensitive and applied that same sensitivity and softness to doing yoga.
I learned how to better feel my body and control it and that is something that can be applied to anything.
And now I write this web site.
Like a yoga pose, sensational yoga poses is a work in progress. I'm working on updating outmoded material while still continuing to add new content. Hopefully even the outmoded material is still helpful. (Steps towards perfection.)
Among other things sensational yoga poses is a reference or dictionary of yoga poses. I've included yoga poses I'm familiar with and tried to describe them so that you can learn them. This may be handy if you have already been practicing yoga for a while or are a teacher. Tips and tricks to make doing these yoga poses or working towards them easier.
Ideally the links below make it easy to find the yoga poses that you are looking for (assuming that I've written about them. If I haven't, then use the contact form to ask me a question about a yoga pose and I'll create a page for that pose if I have the necessary experience.)
I'd say that right now my real expertise is flexibility and strength.
These are techniques, stretches and exercises that I use to help me get more flexible and increase strength while using the body intelligently.
Another area of interest to me is balance and as such it gets its own little section (yoga balance poses). This is one of the main starting points for building awareness and control. Imagine that with balance you feel and control your relationship with the earth. You can then apply that same awareness and responsiveness to all the relationships within your body. Or you can go the other way.
I've even written a book about balance. It's called Balance Basics and it's a step-by-step guide to understanding balance and experiencing it.
Note that a special sub group of balancing yoga poses is yoga inversions.
Arm balances can be a little less scary than full inversions, however flexiblity may be a limiting factor. Inversions can be made less scary by first learning to use a wall for support. You don't even have to worry about balance to begin with. You can simply get used to being upside down.
Another interest of mine is anatomy.
A while ago, (twenty years ago or so) I bought a series of books by burne hogarth called draning dyanamic anatomy. He taught a canon for drawing the ideal human body without requiring a model. I applied some of his lessons to doing my own anatomy sketches. (I still haven't gotten comfortable with the feet, hands and head!) And it's also a very similiar concept to what andrey lappa taught me with respect to developing a creative yoga practice.
This section is in some need of rewriting but even so you may find it helpful. My notion of yoga anatomy (an-atomic yoga) is to focus on anatomy that you can feel or consciously control. These are anatomic elements that you can isolate in your body. You can practice feeling them and controlling them. You can then use that same awareness and responsiveness within the context of an actual yoga pose.
Principles for yoga are the things that I use for any yoga pose. What makes a yoga pose a yoga pose? These principles may help.
For beginners, where do you start? Standing poses are a good way to develop some basic body awareness. These standing yoga poses are specifically for beginners.
You could also experiment with this beginners yoga workout I designed for a friend.
I should also mention the meridian and meridian stretching section. This is something that I learned after Andrey Lappa and it can make for a more meaningful exploration of the body. Understanding the meridians (and how they connect and inter relate) can make it easier to sequence yoga poses meaningfully. The chakras can also be used as a guide to sequencing yoga postures.
One of my special interests has been in figuring out meridian chakra correlations.
For people who want yoga workouts for flexibility, or strength, or just a balanced workout, then the yoga workouts section is for you.
Use the contact form to find out about custom designed yoga workouts.
All the pictures are either of me or by me. I set my camera to take bursts of 10 shots. And then I pick the shots that ideally show you what you can be trying to do. For poses that I just can't get into quick enough, I use video and then take out the frames that I need.
By the way, I love drinking coffee. (I write a lot of this while sitting in a coffee shop.) So if there's something you've enjoyed here please feel free to buy me one. Or check out my pdfs below
These have all been designed with a specific intent but above all they are all designed to help you practice getting more comfortable with your body.
Think of them as Users Guides (or Owner's Manuals) for your body.
Having trouble staying balanced?
Learn the Basics of Balance to make learning to balance easier.
If you want lift into headstand with legs straight, first get comfortable with falling safely. Then each of these steps so that you can learn to feel and control your balance while upside down.
I first started learning yoga from a book. I'd memorize a sequence of a few yoga poses at a time and then practice them. And then I'd learn some more.
Virasana is a kneeling yoga pose with the butt on the floor between the feet. The yoga pose is made more intense by laying back. You can work towards this one leg at a time.
In compass yoga pose the leg is behind the shoulder. Understanding this relationship you can use similiar poses to prepare for compass pose and in turn use it as a preparation for arm balances like eka pada koundinyasana.
Yoga balance poses can be broken down into elements to make learning (and practicing) easier. Learn how to integrate your body and feel it so that balancing is easier.
Balance Basics shows you how to do balance postures easily. Using simple exercises learn how to feel and control your center and stay balanced.
Here is a selection of hamstring stretches designed to increase hamstring flexibility. Gravity assisted stretches utilize gravity to lengthen the hamstrings. Muscle assisted stretches use the arms to stretch the legs.
These shoulder stretches use muscle power or leverage to stretch the shoulders and the arms. They can also be used as preparations for binding yoga poses.
For people who can't do them, splits are one of the stretches that we can aspire towards. You can work towards splits first by using your arms to support your body, and then learning to use your legs to support your body even as you gradually go deeper.
Use Bound Angle Pose to loosen tight inner hips.
Happy baby hip stretch can be used as a substitute for low lunge and as a preparation (or alternative) for marichyasana type yoga poses as well as foot behind the head. And it's an easy way to stretch the hip extensors without involving the hamstrings.
Shoelace yoga pose is a do it yourself iliotibial band stretch that is mildly uncomfortable. If you are new to this stretch, you may need to do this pose on a low stool or yoga blocks to make the stretch more accesable
Low lunge yoga pose is a great way to stretch the hip extensors, including the adductor magnus. And it's also a great way to prepare for hamstring stretches. To deepen this hip stretch add weight to it.
High lunge can be used to both stretch and strenghten the hip flexors. It can also be used to develop awareness and control if you focus on lifting and lowering the back knee smoothly.
Seated glute stretch is a simple way to stretch the glutes. By varying the way you use your arms and also the position of your foot you can vary the way that you stretch your glute muscles and outer thigh.
Painful pose is a variation of low lunge that you can use to stretch your glutes and outer hip muscles. It's also a preparation for armpit pose.
Armpit pose is a combination of hip opening, twisting and shoulder stretching. The nice thing about it, if you can get into it, is that you can use body weight to help you deepen your twist and the shoulder stretch.
Spiderman chest stretch is a gravity assistend stretch that can be used to prepare for pincha mayurasana and wheel pose. It stretches the shoulders in an arms up-and-back position.
Puppy dog chest stretch is another stretch that I learned from Andrey Lappa. It can be a little bit difficult to get into so here are some suggested modifications to make working towards the full yoga pose easier.
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