Sensational yoga poses are a way of Learning Your Body.
The easier it is then to improve strength, improve flexibility, coordination, or simply the ability to "be present" in your body.
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.
Note that it's not suggested here that you use stretching as a warm up for other activities. Instead, it's a way to improve flexibility, maintain flexibility, or to feel good.
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.
A key factor for improving flexibility is developing body awareness.
Yoga for Beginners 1 and Yoga for Beginners 2 gets you started with
basic body awareness techniques that can be used while stretching.
As mentioned, 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.
Some people get into yoga to deal with pain. Others experience pain in the process of doing yoga.
For myself, pain has been a signal first of all to stop what I am doing and change the way that I do things. It tends to lead to better learn and understand my body. I've included some basic pain fixes for simple problems but otherwise your first port of call should be a doctor or therapist. Otherwise, if you are going to try and fix any problems of pain yourself, I'd suggest that part of that process includes learning to feel and control your body. The feeling/sensing part is how you try to diagnose what is causing the problem. The controlling part is what you do to fix the problem. Learning to feel and control your body is a very long process. And you may find yourself going in circles, till you figure out what you need to do in order to go deeper. But if you deal with problems in other areas, the same process applies. In either case, the better you understand what you are dealing with, the easier it is to fix problems, (or redefine problems so that they are fixable.)
If posture (or a lack of good posture) is the problem, then some simple exercises, like working on thoracic mobility can get you used to the feeling of good posture. If you focus on feeling your body, 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 are actually two different mind states. Doing is what I equate to being present. (Some people label these two states in the opposite way). Part of what allows us to be present is learning to control the parts of our body without having to think.
Thinking, or 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. It can also aid with improving coordination (and creativity).
Being more present can be used to improve balance whether it is the act of balancing with respect to the earth or whether trying to balance the left and right sides of your body. (Incidentally, Dance of Shiva is very useful for the latter, particularly balancing the shoulders and arms.)
For balancing with respect to the earth, 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.
When dealing with fear in balancing yoga poses like crow pose, one thing that can help with dealing with fear is focusing on stability. A benefit of dealing with fear, particularly if we analyze why we are fearful, is that we can become more conscious.
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.
A simple way to integrate the body while at the same time learning to feel it is with friction. This is covered in Frictional Arm and Leg Strength.
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.
There are numerous ways to categorize yoga poses. Here are a few categories based on actions position. For some general ideas on how to sequence yoga poses read Sequencing Yoga Poses.
Learn how to use Friction to improve leg and arm strength.
Simple exercises with easy to follow instructions
Making difficult poses like Chaturanga Dandasana easier to learn.
Learn Your Body with
Frictional Arm and Leg Strength
PDF or Video
The standing forward bend yoga pose can be used to stretch or strengthen the hamstrings and glutes. It can also be used to stretch and strengthen the calves and as a balance exercise.
Yoga forward bends includes forwards bends for the hips and spine. Forward bends for the hips include both bent and straight straight positions.
Your iphone needs power in order to sense your touch. Proprioception needs muscle activity in order to sense your body.
Some simple exercises so that you can work towards the pistol squat gradually.
Arm supported yoga poses can be used to strengthen the arms and shoulders. Includes plank, chaturanga dandasana, downward dog, dolphin pose, side plank, wheel, reverse plank, table top pose.
This sequence of seated yoga poses includes lotus and virasana variations, janu sirsasana and marichyasana variations as well as more basic seated poses like bound angle, pigeon and seated forward bend.
These hip flexor stretches open up the fronts of the hips and can be used as a preparation for front to back splits. Bent knee hip stretches can be used to focus on rectus fermoris.
Strengthen your hands, your arms, glutes and hamstrings with these standing forward bend variations.
The small actions in this standing psoas stretch can be used to stretch both the upper and lower fibers of the psoas muscle.
Variations of the standing psoas stretch that use the same basic actions.
Here's a break down of the steps of Ashtanga Yoga Surya Namaskar A to make this sun salutation easier to learn and remember.
A reclining psoas stretch I learned from a Richard Freeman Workshop. The better you understand your anatomy the easier it is to work on your body effectively.
The hip stretches included on this page can be used to stretch and improve flexibility of the hip flexors, hip extensors, adductors and abductors.
Friction and pressure are two simple techniques that I use to help my students get stronger and more flexible. These simple techniques also offer a roadway into not only learning how to activate your muscles, but getting a feel for them and your body. Three challenging yoga poses that I use these techniques in are chaturanga, front splits and side splits. While they might not help you get all the way down into the splits, they'll help you feel stronger, and more integrated as you work towards them. And because I've got to pay for my daughters schooling this week, I'm offering a discount on the frictional muscle control videos. (First 100 people only can save over 30%).
Active stretching teaches you muscle control to not only improve flexibility but also body awareness. You'll learn how to adjust postures for better feel as well as more control through a broader range of motion.
Standing exercises for low back pain plus anatomy that can affect the low back and how to use that anatomical understanding.
Experience your body (and understand it) with sensational yoga poses.
Is it a bad idea to heel strike while barefoot running? What are the possible benefits of heel striking? When should you not heel strike?
These yoga poses for abs work on the abdominal muscles (and hips) in both standing positions and seated positions.
Here are the Ashtanga Standing Pose Vinyassas, with inhale movements highlighted in red.