From the strength sensai on: how to train around pain.
This could be relevant if you are "married" to a movement practice like Asthanga, or to doing a certain pose.
If something hurts, change the way you do it. If that doesn't work, find a pose that is similiar but different enough that it doesn't cause you pain.
I'm usually pretty good at arranging things whenever I move homes. If a room doesn't feel right then I'll rearrange things until it does feel right.
And that's what learning a new yoga pose can be like. In a yoga pose the equivalent of furniture or books on a shelf are the bones and how they relate to each other. By shifting relationships slowly and mindfully we can find an arrangement that feels good.
Then every time we do the pose afterwards we can enjoy it while making small adjustments so that energy can freely flow.
Two of the primary things that I work on balancing are tension and space, both in my own yoga poses and those of people I am adjusting. These are the two opposites that we can work at feeling and adjusting so that the end result is yoga, a pose that we are present in now.
Some people have difficulty getting their heels to the floor in downward facing dog. One way to stretch the calves in this pose is to focus on lifting the fronts of the feet. I never used to think of it in this way, but it's actually an example of reciprocal inhibition. (Thanks to bandha yoga for pointing that out.)
What If you've got really tight calves and the above method doesn't help? If you have access to a gym then you can try this method of calf stretching recommended by the Strength Sensei. It's actually a prep exercise for people who can't get their butt to the floor when squatting.
What if you have tight knees (and, for example, can't put your butt on your heels when kneeling)? Then you may find that quad stretching helps.
If you have difficulty straightening the elbow then one possibility is that you have tight biceps muscles. And so the solution is to stretch the biceps.
Here's a video I did a while ago on downward facing dog. The intent is to show you how to work towards the full version of the pose by breaking it down into elements.
Learn how to make the arms feel long first without weight and then with weight. Then also learn how to make the spine, including the neck, long.
The final element is learning to feel and control the legs and hips, making the legs feel long first with heels lifted and then with heels down.
For a more detailed written description read downward facing dog.
If you have shoulder problems but you still want to downward facing dog, I'd suggest modifying downward dog.
Gradually increase the work load on the shoulders by first doing downward dog with knees on the floor, then with knees lifted but bent. You could also try knees straight.
For each version of Down Dog, start with your shoulders over your wrists and then gradually push your ribcage and pelvis backwards.
In this way gradually add more weight to the arms.
I'd suggest making your arms, neck, thoracic spine and lumbar spine feel long. You can do this before you push backwards.
While in the pose pull your ears away from your shoulders and make your neck feel long. Push your finger tips into the floor. You can also try to create a slight feeling of tension at the front (palm side) and rear (back of the hand side) of each forearm.
You can then experiment and move the shoulder blades apart. Hold for a few breaths, then move them towards each other towards each other.
Notice how each position feels.
Then try rotating the upper arms outwards and then inwards.
(Try this with shoulder blades spread apart and drawn together.)
The purpose of all of these exercises is to notice how they make your shoulders feel. So rather than just doing the exercises, focus on feeling your body as you do them. Focus on feeling the part that are adjusting.
Then use the option that feels the best.
For now you may want to avoid bending the thoracic spine backwards.
Also avoid letting the body sag at the shoulders.
Instead try to create a single long line with the arms and spine from the hands to the tailbone.
Note that I do let my shoulders move down towards the floor in downward dog. But I do this as a stretch, as a preparation for wheel pose. And I work at creating length and space first. So rather than hanging down, I make the arms and spine feel long and I use the shoulders to push the ribcage back away from the hands. Then I move the arms upwards to bend the shoulders backwards.
Note I'll repeat this a maximum of three times within a single yoga session. If you are constantly moving in and out of downward dog then I'd suggest you may want to focus just on the lengthening aspect.
And, as mentioned, if you have shoulder impingement, I wouldn't recommend this at all until your shoulder gets better.
One final note, while making your arms and spine feel as long as possible in downward dog, try to relax at the same time. See if you can minimize the effort in doing the pose.
Someone asked about getting the weight even on both feet in Parsvottanasana.
So that you can feel your weight distribution in any standing pose (where both feet are on the floor) first of all practice shifting weight with feet about hip width. Shift from center to right to center to left to center.
Move slowly and focus on feeling your feet.
By moving to one foot then to both feet you should, from experience, be able to learn to feel when your weight is even on both feet. You can fine tune by noticing the way the front of each foot and heel presses down. Try to make both equal when standing on both feet with feet symmetrical.
In a pose like Parsvottansana it may be impossible to get the weight even between front and back foot. (And after the above exercise you may be able to feel this.)
But to equalize weight as much as possible, you'll probably have to sacrifice keeping the hips square to the front. In this pose that means pulling the back leg side of the pelvis backwards.
If you can get your torso to your front leg you may be able to get the weight even on both feet. If you can only get your chest as far down as horizontal then it will be more difficult.
Forgetting about getting weight even on both feet, my own current preference for this pose is to push forwards through the front leg and using that action to push the pelvis backwards while keeping the pelvis level and square to the front.
Then from there I reach the ribs and head forwards (and down) away from the pelvis. From there I adjust the "feel" of the back leg.
While I might not get equal weight on the back leg, I can get a similar feel between the legs by slightly rotating the rear leg outwards and activating the foot in such a way that the front of the foot and the back of the foot press down with similar pressure. Then I end up with both feet feeling similar but with the front foot having more pressure.
Someone asked me this question on youtube:
"I experience wrists pain after putting majority of body weight on hands. I have to add I have very mobile wrists. Is there any remedy to successfully do this pose or I should avoid any of handstands in the future?"
A few weeks after my response below, they got back to me to say that:
They had used most of my advice while doing tittibasana since it was easier to focus on their hands in that pose. And then they were able to do bakasana, a little wobbly, but they could do it.
Here's what I suggested:
First thing I'd suggest, make your fingers strong (press your fingers down into the floor.)
Second, also try "squeezing" your forearms.
Start in cat pose with weight back (like child's pose.) Slowly shift weight onto your hands (to add more weight press fronts of feet into floor and lift your knees a little.) As you shift weight onto your hands, gradually increase finger pressure and forearm squeezing pressure.
Slowly shift weight back and relax.
Repeat a few times.
As you repeat, adjust position of hands (turned out slightly or turned in) for maximum comfort.
Another action you can try adding is to separate your shoulder blades as you move your weight forwards.
You are going to have to self experiment, but the above is what I'd recommend.
Once you are comfortable in the above exercise you can try working towards bakasana, and then perhaps other inverted yoga poses. Take your time though.
One other suggestion that may help, try hanging from a chin-up bar. Try different grips, but hold while letting your body weight hang down. Focus on just using the strength of your hands.
These are top of the head suggestions. For exercise, try to smoothly move in and out of each position so that it is easier to maintain the actions that you are trying to do.
Camel pose is a little bit like bow pose. Both have a similiar shape. The main difference is that in bow pose the belly is on the floor. In camel pose the shins are on the floor. You may find that some of the actions you use in bow pose can also be used in camel pose to make the pose feel more integrated.
If you go to the youtube page for the video below you'll see that one commentary says that feeling the vertebrae is only really helpful for lazy people, or something to that affect.
In a way he is right. The way that I teach yoga is for lazy people. It's for people who want to expend the least energy possible whenever they do something.
I actually prefer to think of this as an intelligent approach.
In this video I go over a technique for improving vertebral awareness. This is part of how I increased spinal awareness to the point that now I can consciously activate (and relax) my psoas with greater ease.
And that in turn has led both to deeper twists but also a reduction in low back pain for myself.
It's not the final solution to back pain (one youtube viewer suggests that Indian clubs will help) but it may help you on that path towards a pain free lower back.
The better you can feel your body, the better you can use it.
If you have tense shoulders, it may be helpful to focus on the inner part of the ridge of the scapula as you lift and lower your shoulders. First pull your head back and up so that your neck is long.
Then concentrate on slowly pulling upwards on this part of the ridge so that you activate the middle fibers of the trapezius. Squeeze your trapezius muscle as you do so.
Then let your shoulder blades slide down your back. Focus on relaxing your trapezius. As you do so it might help to imagine your shoulder blades continually sinking or sliding down your back. Imagine them to be heavy and let the heaviness pull them down.
Repeat both actions slowly and smoothly, keeping your neck long and straight as you do so.
In this video I go over the basic steps I use to stretch the hamstrings in wide leg forward fold. The first set of actions are actually to develop hamstring strength and control while hamstrings are near or working towards maximum length.
The idea is that if you can consciously contract your hamstrings at maximum length or as you work towards it, your hamstrings will then feel safe enough so that you can relax them and stretch them.
Rather than holding any one position I often repeat a set of actions to help me go deeper. In the first instance those actions are:
Often while relaxing and letting the ribcage sink down I find that I can go a little bit lower each repetition.
Then I do the same actions but while keeping the hamstrings relaxed. And this is one other reason for first learning to deliberately activating the hamstrings. If you can deliberately activate them and feel them contracting then it is that much easier to also relax them and keep them relaxed while stretching them.
One important thing to get from the video, watch the speed with which I do the movements while I am in the stretch.
If you have any comments, or questions you can try using this facebook entry.
Ab awareness can be important in inverted yoga poses. But rather than learning to try to control your abs while inverted I'd suggest first learning to feel (and control) your abs in a pose like dog pose.
Dog pose is similiar to cat pose except that you lift the knees.
So that this turns into an ab awareness development exercise I like to use a sequential "by-the-numbers" approach. Each step is carried out distinctly with the focus being on the action in that step.
Starting on all fours with knees under the hips and arms under the shoulders and toes tucked under,
You only need to lift the knees a little in this exercise and for extra body awareness I'd suggest seeing if you can feel when your knees are just about to leave the floor. Then lift apply just enough force to lift your knees a tiny bit away from the floor. Try doing both of these steps slowly and smoothly.
You can either hold the final position for a number of breaths or slowly and smoothly move in and out of the final position.
An additionally step for shoulder awareness (and in particular to develop serratus anterior control) is to spread the shoulder blades first. Then engage the abs. Then lift the knees. Then reverse these steps to return to the start.
So that you can carry this same awareness into an inversion focus on feeling your abs as then engage and disengage. You can also focus on feeling your pubic bone, sternum, lumbar spine and ribcage.
One way to work on inner thigh strength and arm strength simultaneously is doing the half split one armed chaturanga.
With hands on the floor and elbows bent the first step is to lift the chest. This adds some load to the inner thigh so it helps if you lift your chest slowly and you activate the inner thigh muscles prior to lifting. With right leg straight, so that you can lift your right arm, engage your side abs (obliques) on the right side, and make your left arm strong. Then see if you can lift your right arm.
As you engage your leg, waist and supporting arm, focus on feeling your right arm relax. When it's relaxed (empty) then you can lift it.
Work at longer and longer holds and see if you can lift the arm and lower it smoothly. To rest just put your chest back on the floor.
(You can also try the same thing with elbows on the floor.)
Ideally this shows you how tension can be used to unify the body. The better you are at controlling tension (both creating it and relaxing it) the better equipped you are to control your body.
One way to create shoulder stability in inversions like handstands and other yoga poses where the arms bear some or all of the weight of your body is to "squeeze" the elbows.
If you "squeeze" or contract the muscles of the elbow you not only restrict the ability of the elbow to bend or straighten you can also limit the ability of the forearm to rotate.
With the hands on the floor this means that you can use the "elbow muscles" to control which direction the elbow points in. With arm rotation controlled by the elbow muscles (actually, the supinator and the pronator muscles) the shoulder muscles (such as those of the rotator cuff can focus on the task of sucking the arm bone into the shoulder socket and keeping it in place.
Read more on this technique in shoulder stability.
In yoga classes you may have been taught to stand up nice and tall with your spine long.
That's actually only one possibility for the spine. To better learn your spine and experience it, why not practice the slouch, the demi slouch and slouch zero (which is another way of saying no slouch at all.
The slouch can be a nice way to stretch the back of the spine. If you have low back pain, try to emphasize the lower back curve by tilting your pelvis backwards. Done while sitting this position (with abs relaxed) can also be a good way to practice or learn diaphragmatic breathing.
If you are finding breathing difficult try moving between the slouch and slouch zero. Move towards the slouch while exhaling. Move towards slouch zero while inhaling. You'll not only mobilize your spine you'll mobilize your ribcage as well.
As for the demi slouch, try moving from this position to slouch zero while keeping your shoulders relaxed. You may find your shoulders move forwards of their own accord when moving towards the demi slouch. And they move back when you move towards slouch zero.
To further practice shoulder mobility, try slouch zero with shoulders relaxed, shoulders forwards (serratus anterior active) and shoulders back (rhomboids active.)
Triang Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana is a seated hamstring stretch where one leg is folded at the knee. The shin is folded to the outside of the thigh. It's one of the yoga poses in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary series.
One of the problems I see a lot of students having is keeping (or getting) the bent knee hip (the hero leg) to stay on the ground.
One option is to reach the hero leg arm forwards or to the sides to add weight to the pose. The added weight comes from keeping the arm lifted.
Another option is to use the ground for leverage. Initially this can come from using the straight leg arm to prop the body. Press outwards and down with the arm. Use the arm to help push your center of gravity over your hero leg so that you can sink the hip down. But then, try pressing down with your straight leg. Press down with your straight leg and then try to lift the straight leg arm and reach it forwards. Then put the arm back down again to rest your leg.
You may have to open your straight leg out to the side slightly to get the necessary leverage, but once you get the hang of using your straight leg, then move your foot inwards more.
As with the arm, using the downward pressure of your leg to help push your center of gravity over the hero leg. You'll strengthen the back of your straight leg and stretch the hip of your hero leg all at the same time. (And then you can grab a wrist easily beyond the front of your foot.)
In Rob Lucas's video he shows a hips low and hips high technique for jumping the legs through the arms with legs straight.
Of main importance is choosing where you look. For the hips low entry, look forwards. For the hips high entry, look down.
In Dice lida-Klein's video , he shows the same two methods for jumping into bakasana, keeping the hips low and jumping the hips high (and balancing in a hand stand variation) and lowering into bakasana with control. Note that Klein is jumping into elbows straight bakasana but you could probably do the same thing jumping into an elbows bent bakasana. Also I'm very jealous of how easily he can get his knees so high. (start at about 1:20 for the jump into bakasana)
One important thing to note is how he moves his feet far enough forwards in down dog that then he can then move his shoulders forwards past his hands prior to jumping. When Rob shows the hips high entry (at about .50) he balances with hips high. Here again if you look at the shoulders you'll notice that they are past his hands. However when Rob does the hips low entry his shoulders don't move forward past his hands.
I can't do karandavasana, but here is an instructional video (it's on youtube) from someone who can, Rob Lucas who teaches out of Red Door Yoga in Shanghai.
Now he suggests getting steady in pincha mayurasana first, and that does make sense. But I'd also suggest that the shoulder exercise he shows is a good way to get steady in pincha mayurasana.
(I use that same exercise to help get steadier and stronger in handstand.)
And a way to work towards that shoulder exercise is to do it first with knees and forearms on the ground. You can have your fingers interlaced like in the picture to the right, or palms flat on the floor the way the pincha mayurasana is normally taught.
In this position practice slowly move your shoulders forwards and backwards.
Once you can do this comfortably, then try the same exercise with feet lifted, on a wall perhaps as he shows in the video.
Then try it while doing the pose in front of a wall, far enough away that you can pull away from the wall, but not so far that you can't still use it to catch yourself it you fall towards it.
Initially you might want to bend your knees as you move your shoulders forwards. If you start of with legs straight and feet on the wall, then bending the knees as you move your shoulders forwards may help to keep your center over your foundation so that you stay balanced, or close to balanced as you move your shoulders forwards. Then straighten the legs as you move your shoulders back.
Better yet, move your legs (bend and then straighten your knees as required) so that the pose feels easy and comfortable as you move your shoulders forwards and back.
I got an email asking me why it's more difficult balancing with your eyes closed. The pose in question was tree pose but it applies to any balancing yoga pose (I think.) It's because we use our eyes to help us balance. At least most of us do.
And so one of the things that I have my students do is close their eyes while balancing. Half moon pose is my favorite pose for doing this in. But you can do it in any balancing pose. And so that it is safer and more comfortable I have my students close their eyes briefly and then open them again. And then I have them gradually increase the time they spend balancing (or trying to) with their eyes closed.
close your eyes... open
close your eyes........... open
close your eyes.................open
close your eyes......................crash.... open
Actually if you fall you can open your eyes before you hit the ground.
The interesting thing for me is that as I practice, sometimes I think I'm about to fall but I keep my eyes closed anyway, and I manage to save the pose.
An interesting side note. In half moon, I find that if I look up and close my eyes, this doesn't necessarily help my ability to balance in the same pose while looking down. So I practice doing the pose with eyes closed while "looking" down, straight ahead and up.
By the way, make sure that if you are doing this, you are practicing in an area where it is safe to fall.
I've included more on balancing (and feeling your body to make balancing easier) in balance basics.
In my latest set of headstand videos I've focused on the basics of these inverted yoga poses. How to use the arms, particularly when lifting up into headstand.
How to compensate when lifting with legs straight versus knees bent.
How to roll out of a headstand so that you can safely practice headstand with a wall.
And how to use a wall or a chair in a few different ways to help you get your feet up.
Oh yes, and how to avoid a collapsed back in headstand.
These are in order of recommended viewing.
In the Alchemist, a story by Paulo Coello, a young buy is challenged to walk around a Kings Palace while balancing some oil on a spoon. He either enjoyed the palace but spilled the oil or was so focused on balancing the oil he didn't see the beauty of the palace.
We could view the drops of oil as that which happens inside of ourselves while the palace is everything around us.
How do we balance our awareness between the two?
I've recently done a series of hip stability exercise videos on youtube. Why is hip stability so important? If you get low back pain one possible cause may be a lack of control in your hip muscles. With hip muscles working properly, they can stabilize your pelvis relative to your leg(s) while standing and that then gives your abs and other muscles that work on the spine and ribcage a stable anchor from which to control the spine and ribcage.
Personally I tend to experience low back pain while standing or walking around and so it makes sense to me to practice any sort of exercises designed to alleviate or reduce the chance of low back pain while standing.
Even if you don't get low back pain, hip stability exercises can still be helpful. They'll give you better control of your hips and legs while standing on both legs or only on one. If you have trouble standing and balancing on one leg then these hip stability exercises can be a good start to improving your balance.
Read more about Hip Stability Exercises.
The following are links to the poses in the second part of the Active Stretch ebook.
I use this sequence (both part 1 and 2) as a framework for teaching my students the muscle actions that make active stretching effective.
Order the Active Stretching ebook for more details (and Active Stretching Specific instruction.)
My latest video is on scapular awareness and stability. It's basically how to feel your shoulder blades and control them. While I don't go into it in detail in this video what is also important with regards to scapular stability is first stabilizing the ribcage. Stabilizing the ribcage (video) is what allows me to better lift my feet in this position and also makes it easier for me to do this (L-sit variation below left) and this (lifting feet while in a standing forward bend below right).
I also discuss scapular stability with respect to headstand and how it makes it easier to lift the legs with knees straight and hold a position like this in yoga type headstands with knees straight.
I injured my knee recently, again. Hardly the thing a yoga teacher should be admitting to. I was playing ball with some friends at the park during the Easter long weekend. I jumped and landed with a twist and ouch went my knee.
I wasn't really surprised. It had been giving me problems for a while and while I thought I was making inroads towards rehabilitating it, it still wasn't 100%.
I spoke to my friend about it and he told me about a doctor a friend had recommended him to. Actually, more of a therapist. So him, his girlfriend and I all sat around on a Saturday afternoon in the therapists office watching as the two therapists treated patients in the middle of the room.
The second time I went I opted for the older of the two therapists (he we recommended as the better or more knowledgable of the two.) He pressed my knee, got a response from me and everyone around smiled and pointed.
I've chosen to rest as much as possible while my knee recovers, and what it feels like is that my body is recalibrating. It's getting rid of old patterns (or so I like to imagine) and getting my body back to optimum operating condition, or if not optimum, a bit closer to it.
And I like to think that I've been helping along the way. For instance I've discovered, particularly in the initial stages of my injury that sitting down for long periods of time was problematic. It seemed to let the connective tissue in my knee go slack and so after standing my knee feels like it is back to the way it was, problematic.
And so I learned that if I keep my hips active (particularly focusing on the points of my hips) then I'm less likely to have a knee that gets all floppy.
At a later stage I found that activating the back of the thigh and calve was also helpful. (I've tried activating along the outside of the knee and the inside.
Another revelation was with respect to my low back. On my first visit to the doctor I also asked him to check my low back. When I did any sort of back and forwards rolling on my back it felt like one of my vertebrae (T12 or L1) was sticking out. He had me feel each side of my back and indicated that the musculature on one side was tight perhaps causing an imbalance. He shook me out to relax my spine and sent me on my way.
Later on while musing to myself I figured out that perhaps my left outer gluteals were the source of that problem. I've been playing around with my left leg for ages, finding it problematic in poses like triangle pose forward bend, triangle twist, triangle and half moon, and also in poses like pigeon with the left leg forwards (and hip on the floor.) I realized that perhaps it was either my left TFL or left gluteus minimus that wasn't activating while standing and perhaps that was causing a compensation that resulted in one side of my low back being tense. (Perhaps my QL was activating to help compensate?) So I began playing with my left lateral glutes and guess what, my vertebral protrusion seems less pronounced.
There's lots of things going on with my body right now but the cool thing about this knee problem is that it's helping me better understand how my knee, hip and even low back all interact.
(One of the other benefits of my knee problem is that it has gotten me back into active stretching, which is the focus of my latest ebook courses.
Jim Bennitt recently wrote that he believes that:
"Yoga is very much about making the unconscious conscious and becoming more aware of the content of the mind. "
I really like the part about making the unconscious conscious. In my own practice I tend to try to become aware both of the content of the mind but also more aware how the parts of the body interact.
Personally, the two go hand in hand. The more aware I am of my body the easier it is to become aware of the content of my mind. and in addition the better I get at learning to stand outside of the discomfort of my body the easier it is for me to delve into the parts of my mind that I find unpleasant.
How is this so? In a lot of the exercises that I do and teach I build in rests or respite. So after challenging stretch I'll rest (or have my students rest) because afterwards there can often be something that comes up, a sense of sheer relief or perhaps laughter at the thought of what I am doing and about to do. But in either case the rest, and then the feeling at the end of a practice is what makes the pain of stretching worthwhile.
Sometimes I don't even need the rest because I've learned to put up with the discomfort. I don't ignore it, I become present in my whole body, sometimes I focus on breathing or sometimes I focus on simple actions that give me something else to focus on. The pain or discomfort is still there but by focusing on something bigger it (the pain) doesn't seem so big.
The first time this happened to me was while working with a personal trainer. She had me doing ab work and I was hating her for it until I had the thought that she was helping me work towards something that I wanted at the time, a better looking body. And that was enough for me to let go of my complaining and bitching thoughts. I then got on with the exercise and do you know what, it was still difficult but it wasn't that difficult. It felt like my complaining mind was actually making it bigger than it actually was.
Perhaps another way that I become more aware, more conscious of what I am unconscious of is isolating body parts. This allows me to focus on the part that I am moving without the distraction of all the other parts of my body. I then learn to feel and control the part that I am moving and I can then use that sensitivity and control to feel and control that body part in the context of larger whole body movements or poses.
More recently I've been working on a course called motorcycle yoga. Part of the work for that book was becoming more aware of how I use my body while motorcycling. One thing that I wasn't aware of was how I used my arms to push the handlebars (and not turn them) either left or right. If I pushed my hands right then the bike went right and my body went left. I always assumed that this just happened or I was somehow using my hips but the reality is that I was using my arms.
And now that I am aware of this I can deliberately use is in combination with all the other body positioning techniques that I talk about in that ebook course. (And even if you aren't a motorcyclist you may still find the exercises helpful.)
A friend, Jim Bennitt, recently asked a question about authentic yoga (versus say "traditional yoga").
My initial response on facebook was to ask "is there an organic yoga." It was my little joke, perhaps funny only to me. But I remember when I first heard the label "organic" with respect to food and my response was something along the lines of WTF (bearing in mind that I was pretty young at the time so the F part was probably missing.) I'd learned the word organic in chemistry class or some other class at school and so I knew that in general organic meant anything that was living or had lived or had grown. Why the heck would you call food organic. All food is organic. Isn't it?
Anyway Jim's question hit me along the same lines. Yoga is yoga. It may have started with some guys in caves doing something completely different than what we are doing today. Did they have guidance or were they figuring out things as they went along? Or where they doing whatever they deemed necessary to cause their Kundalini to rise?
My own understanding of yoga is that it is a state of being. It simply means being present. (There may be different types of "being present" but I'm keeping it simple.) That can mean being aware of what is happening now in the inner environment (our body) or the outer environment or both. That means noticing what's happening now and responding to it with responses guided by some overall intention.
Ideally the practice of yoga poses is one in which you are fully engaged in what you are doing.
Whether your yoga is Authentic or Traditional doesn't matter if you are immersed in the present.
(I should point out here that it is possible to be present with the intent to harm self or others. And so it could be useful to modify any intention while present to maximize benefits for all.)
And that's one of the reasons I try to make my instructions as clear as possible and as simple as possible. I try to avoid overloading my students with too much to remember because that distracts them from what they are doing. "What was that again?" Instead I give clear and simple instructions so that they can focus on feeling and controlling their body. It's probably light years distant from what our friends in caves where doing but that is so far in the past I don't care. Because that's something else about yoga. When we are present the past and future don't exist. They are products of the mind. We focus on now.
Why? Because what's happening now, in our inner or outer environment is something that we can do something about now.
When water is being poured it probably isn't thinking that it wishes it was frozen or vapor. Instead it's being pulled down by gravity into the shape of whatever container it's being poured into. And it doesn't wait to think about which way is the best way to fill the available space, it just goes ahead and fills it. (Where's my nunchuks?)
Outside of yoga is a state I'd liken to being in imaginary space. It's generally any mind-set that involves thinking or analyzing or worrying. I'm not saying that this mind state isn't valuable. I'd say that both mindsets (thinking and being in the now) are both valuable, they help us to learn, to understand and to grow. And that's a reason for me not worrying about whether my yoga is authentic or traditional. It's just yoga. And outside of the state of yoga, if I'm thinking about yoga it's how to do it better or teach it better.
Jim and I share a teacher, Andrey Lappa, and I've heard him say that the technology of yoga is constantly improving. It's growing and changing.
And I hope to be a part of that change. My aim is to help my students become their own teachers. And part of that involves feel and control their body.
Now. That's what I call yoga.
Here's Jim's article.
My latest ebook could be thought of as Yoga for Bikers.
I've been riding a motorbike for twenty years and it is only in the last few years that I've really began to understand the real basics of cornering. And it's not so much about controlling the bike as it is controlling your body.
The better you can feel and control your body the easier it is to control your bike.
I've been a yoga teacher for only slightly less longer than I've been riding but perhaps what has been most important for helping me to improve body awareness (and help my students do the same) has been studying and practicing Tai Ji. In general I apply what I've learned in Tai Ji to help my students learn to feel and control their center of gravity. And this is one of the keys to learning to be a better biker.
The better we can feel and control our own center and the bikes, the easier it is to corner with confidence because we can feel what we are doing with our body and we know the affect this will have on the bike.
You might think that you don't have the ability to learn to feel your body. And that is part of what I've spent the last few years on improving, my ability to teach people how to feel and control their body. It's been extra challenging because I teach in Taiwan and my Chinese sucks. And so I've learned how to explain things simply and clearly and how to help my students improve gradually.
Yoga for Bikers won't change you into a better rider overnight, but it will help you become a better rider gradually. And the cool thing is, like learning to ride, and actually riding, the journey can be interesting. Instead of touring the countryside you'll be touring your body, learning to feel it and control it so that you can better feel it and control it while riding, without having to think about what you are doing.
In this way learning to feel and control your body is like learning to ride a bike. You eventually learn to do all the things that go into riding without having to think about it. You can then focus on what you are doing, riding.
In plank pose with elbows straight a common problem is to allow the lumbar spine to arch backwards excessively. Another problem is sagging at the shoulder blades. Rather than telling you just to tighten your abs (and rather than ignoring the shoulders) this video looks at how to learn to feel your lumbar spine so that you can self adjust it to find the sweet spot. Likewise with the shoulder blades, you can learn how to adjust them so that they don't wing off of the ribcage. So here's the Sensational Yoga Poses Plank Video.
Ribcage awareness and control is a stepping stone towards spinal control and is useful as a model for developing better overall body awareness and control with minimal effort. The idea of learning to feel and control the ribcage is so that then we can find a balance point between maximum space and maximum openness not only in the ribcage (between the ribs) but also between the ribcage and the pelvis. The idea is to find the balance point so that we have tuned tension in the tissues between the ribs and in those that connect the ribcage to the pelvis. This "just right" amount of tension then not only gives us sensation, a feel for the ribcage and waist, it also gives us control of the structure should we with to vary or change our position and it also gives stability, the ability to maintain position with minimal effort.
Towards these ends the first set of exercises in this Ribcage Control video are designed to help students learn to feel the front, sides and back of the ribcage. Actually, the exercises are designed to help students learn to both feel and control the ribcage. Rib movements that are independent of the thoracic spine are difficult (but perhaps worthwhile) and so these exercises also include movements of the thoracic spine.
Advantages of these movements apart from the fact that they give awareness and control is that they can also be used to maintain or improve the mobility of the thoracic spine and ribcage.
This next video on Adjusting Ribcage Posture then explains how we can go about using our new found thoracic awareness and control. And here the emphasis is on finding the balance point between maximum space and maximum relaxation. This balance point will vary depending on what you are doing (say body weight exercise versus the same exercise using weights) and so the better you are at feeling your body the better you can find the balance point yourself without having to rely on external alignment or activation cues.
When I teach breathing I don't always tell my students that I'm teaching them to breathe. Instead I have them focus on movements that create breath. One of the more basic breathing movements that I use is a spinal back bend. The active phase of this exercise bends the lumbar and thoracic spine backwards. It also lifts and expands the front of the ribcage. This generally causes an exhale and uses the spinal erectors and the intercostal muscles.
Another basic breathing movement involves expanding and contracting the belly which uses the diaphragm and transverse abdominus muscles.
A third breathing method is actually a combination of the first two and encourages the practitioner to lengthen (and open) the front of the body.
More than just breathing exercises I use these exercises to help my students feel the difference between lengthening the body (and/or creating space) and relaxing it. The goal can then be finding and maintaining the balance point between these two extremes.
In this video I go over the three breathing techniques.
In this video I go over breathing while backbending the spine (a slightly more challenging proposition).
Foot awareness is something that I was forced to improve because I had (and occasionally still have) collapsed arches. I was actually diagnosed as having flat feet by a Canadian doctor and this prevented me from joining the Canadian Army. So I moved to back to England (where I was born) and joined the British Army instead. And so that I could pass the British Army medical I hid the fact that I had flat feet.
This later became the basis for some foot awareness exercises that I began using in my yoga classes. Initially I used these as a preparation for learning to balance on one foot.
Later on I dropped the exercises for the sake of saving time but now I'm starting to use them again in different ways. I'm trying to teach the difference between an active foot and a relaxed foot and rather than keeping the foot active (or shaped) all of the time, I vary between the two positions as required. But in order to do that I needed to learn the difference between the two. And I teach my students the same thing using these exercises.
This first video includes the basic foot awareness exercise that focuses on shin rotation both with the knees slightly bent and straight. With the knees bent the exercise using the hamstrings to rotate the shin. With the knees straight the exercise uses the hip muscles. I'd suggest that both options are important.
The second video focuses on heel actions. The initial exercise tends to focus on the front of the foot and at some point I realized that there can be benefit in learning to feel and control the heels also. Hence this second video
The next video focuses on toe and ankle strengthening and strengthening. Generally in any stretch I teach some sort of action. It can either be consciously activating or consciously relaxing. With toe and ankle stretching the action that I teach is activating the toes, in general pressing them down against the floor. And rather than keeping them active the exercise involves activating and then relaxing repeatedly.
For more on foot awareness check out this article on T-nation.
You can also check out these resources on the Physical Alchemy site.
This section shows updates to the sensational yoga poses site including new pages and notes on significant changes to existing pages.
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.
Sensational yoga poses, lessons to help you enjoy the experience of your body.
Here are the Ashtanga Standing Pose Vinyassas, with inhale movements highlighted in red.
These seated yoga poses have been organized into a rough routine and include lotus, virasana, janu sirsasana and marichyasana variations as well as more basic seated poses like bound angle, pigeon and seated forward bend.
In this preparation for compass pose use your arms to pull your leg towards you for a seated hamstring stretch. To modify, use a strap.
Single joint hip flexors include iliacus, pectineus, obturators, gemelli and gluteus minimus. Use them to help improve your forward bends.
Sensational Yoga ebooks and videos are designed to help you experience your body while focusing on specific poses, actions or parts of the body.
Extreme stability teaches you how to work from the ground up when creating stability, whether you are doing poses on your hands or your feet (or some combination of both).
The working towards wheel pose ebook teaches you basic body first so that you can feel and control your spine, hips and shoulders, so that working towards difficult poses (in this case wheel pose) is easier.
The Muscle control for better flexibility ebook teaches you simple muscle activation techniques that can make it easier to improve your flexibility. Techniques focus on forward and back bending the hips but can be applied to other movements also.
Building up on the material for part 1, Yoga for Beginners 2 teaches you how to make your body stable for a slightly different experience of your hips and shoulders.
Video: This set of simple hip control exercises help you to stabilize the hip joint and control it. You may find these exercises help you improve hamstring and hip flexor strength and flexibility.
One approach to learning yoga is to simply practice yoga poses. The approach in Yoga For Beginners 1 is to help you to learn to feel your body while doing yoga poses.
Some of the exercises in Balance Basics includes learning to balance on the fronts of your feet as well as on one foot using weight shifting exercises. It also includes exercises for crow pose. I've included videos based on the balanace exercises in the book on this page.
Motor control is the ability to control muscle tissue. The compliment to it is sensitivity, the ability to feel tension in muscle and connective tissue. Both can be learned and improved. Both are functions of the brain.