Y O G A

Often when people think of yoga, they think of skinny, fit people contorted into crazy positions they didn't even know were possible. While those positions are aesthetically pleasing, they take years and years of practice to master, whereas simple, foundational yoga is accessible to all, it's just about knowing and utilizing variations. These yoga poses, called asanas in Sanskrit, only comprise 1 of the 8 limbs of yoga. Let's start there...

I love to refer to yoga as a "choose your own adventure." Every pose has a spectrum of variations that can allow for yogis of all skill levels to participate. The most important aspect of yoga is listening to your body. Yoga should never be painful, instead a balance between ease and effort. When your body begins to "talk" to you, before pain even arrives, this is its way of saying the stretch is too much and you should ease out of the pose slightly. Observe, listen, and love all that your body is capable of.

Click on any of the asanas below to see key points, variations, dynamic options, and an overall breakdown of the pose and its proper alignment! 

These photos are screenshots from a personal flow I did on top of a mountain near Silverton, Colorado. Eventually, I'd love to do a voice over for the entire flow so you would be able to follow along at home, but for now I will break down each pose and its proper alignment. Yoga can help build strength, flexibility, confidence, and self love but it must be done in a safe manner, meaning you must listen to your body and never push it into pain. Challenge is different than pain, so finding that line is important and must be respected.

As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions!

 

Side Stretches 

I love warming up with side stretches. These can be done from standing, sitting in a chair, or even on your bed first thing in the morning. They begin to awaken your core and arms, while finding length and juicy stretching in the side body. 

  • find length and stretch in the side bodies 

  • keep an engaged core to maintain spine integrity 

  • relax shoulders from ears

  • lift up and find length even in the side body that is being compressed, meaning if you're stretching to the right and finding length in the left side body, breath space into the compressed right side body as well, not letting it crunch together tightly 

Key points:
Variations:

Side stretches can be performed standing, sitting on the ground or even in a chair. If you choose to sit on the ground, a blanket folded under your hips can help with an anterior (or forward) rotation of your hips that helps to protect the low back. Utilizing a blanket in this way can be useful for all seated poses. If side stretches are done seated, still think about grounding down through your sits bones and lengthening up through the crown of your head.

dynamic:

Begin by feeling grounded and supported by the earth.

 

Inhale and find length, lifting up through every aspect of your body, spine, neck, reaching the crown of your head up to the sky.

Exhale relax into the lengthening without slouching back down.

 

Inhale, reach your arms over head, soften the shoulders away from the ears, and with an exhale stretch your arms to the right. While here, continue to think about finding length not only into the left side body you're stretching but also breathe length into the bent right side to resist compressing into it.

 

With an engaged core, inhale back to center, re-find the length you initially created, and exhale to the left. Again, soften the shoulders, breathe length into both side bodies and keep your abdomen tight as if your belly button could kiss your back.

Inhale back to center and repeat however many times, as long as you do both sides the same amount of times.

 

Working with the breath per movement is a great way to link mindfulness with motion but sometimes your body may crave multiple breaths in each side stretch and that's totally okay too! 

 

Forward Fold

uttanasana

Forward folds are the perfect way to ignite your hamstrings, the back of your legs, and to bring your awareness inward. They can be a place a relief at any time during a yoga flow to reconnect to your breath and to your heart. 

Key points:
  • Feet hips distance apart

  • Generous bend in the knees, keeping quads engaged

  • Fold from hips, reaching your torso for your thighs

  • Relax and surrender

Variations:

Forward folds can be hard for those with very tight hamstrings, and that's totally okay! The goal is not to touch your toes, it's to find length in those hamstrings, however much length your body is capable of. Having a block or chair to rest your hands on can help, and always know that you can bend your knees as deeply as you'd like. Avoid arching the back, instead find length in your spine. This pose is about release and connection, not strain and pain. 

A common misconception with forward folds is that the goal is to reach your hands or head to your feet, which often compromises the low back and can lead to serious pain over time. Instead, think that you're trying to connect your stomach to your thighs, with a generous bend in the knees. By bending the knees, you protect your low back because your quads and hamstrings are engaged. If you feel any pain, or your low back "talking" to you, ease out of the fold as that is your body's way of saying it's too much. Your knees can be bent as deeply as you'd like, and over time begin to straighten them, always being conscious of that low back. Think of keeping your back straight, knees bent, folding at the hips to reach your stomach towards your thighs. In the picture above, you can see that my upper back is relaxing and arching some, which in this case is okay because of the bend in my knees and that the rounding is coming from my upper back, not my lower back. 

Stillness in forward folds are a great way to find extra release. Feel the connection to your heart and to the universe. Imagine water running down your back and falling like a waterfall from the top of your head. Now imagine this water is the pain, grief, or tension you are currently carrying with you. Feel it wash down and off of you. You are light, you are love, you are whole. 

Dynamic 1:

Take turns bending deeply into one knee and then the other. Feel the massage as your hamstrings stretch and relax. You can even incorporate your arms as you bend one knee, planting the opposite arm on the ground between your feet and floating the other arm up high to the sky. This also ignites and awakens the IT band, the pesky muscle running along the outside of your thighs from hip to knee. Mindfully switching between each side, connect to your breath, the moment, and the world. 

Dynamic 11:

Use your breath to flow with half way lifts. Exhale completely, letting go of all tension, and releasing into the forward fold. On an inhale draw your back straight and parallel with the Earth, bring your hands to your shins. Exhale release back to a forward fold. Flow with your breath like this. On the halfway lifts, be conscious to be keeping integrity in the spine and neck, as if someone had a long stick you were placing your back and head against. 

 

Single Legged Mountain pose

Eka pada Tadasana

Single legged  mountain pose is a fun way to play with your balance and focus. For all balance poses, finding a steady, unmoving object in front of you to focus on, called a drishti, will allow you to steady your mind and body.  

Key points:
  • Ankle, hip, and shoulders all stacked on top of each other for the standing leg

  • Even hips, lifting up out of the planted leg and raising the lifted hip to align

  • Easy, steady gaze for stability

Variations:

To begin to increase balance, you can practice near a wall, ledge, or chair to hold onto and practice letting go of. Concentration, ease, and focusing on your breath are all ways to help with balance. Experimenting with static or dynamic versions is also fun and can create an extra challenge. 

Tadasana, mountain pose, is simply standing, but with great mindfulness. Alignment begins in your feet, feeling grounded and stable. Trace your focus up your legs, engaging and lengthening, all the way up the spine and out the crown of your head. Breath space into each gap between your vertebrae, relax your shoulders down and back, feeling strength and structure in your entire body. Once grounded here, find a drishti in front of you, an unmoving object for you to focus your attention and intention. Draw your hands to heart center, and move your weight into your right foot. Slowly begin to lift your left foot up off the ground, keeping your drishti and breath steady. Once lifted, think about your hips being square to one another, just as your shoulders are. Lift up out of the planted hip and notice if you're dropping, or over lifting, your other hip with the lifted leg; you want both hips to be level. From here you can stay and find stability, or you may experiment with dynamic motions of the lifted leg or arm variations. You can even try to close your eyes, drawing your focus and attention inward. Balance poses with closed eyes are incredibly challenging, but focusing on your breath for stability is helpful!

 
 
Dynamic:

Having movement in single legged mountain pose is a fun and challenging way to practice your balance. Balance begins in your mind and heart so make sure those stay steady, but once stabilized, you can move the lifted leg, potentially straightening it (a strap around the extended foot is helpful in straightening that leg out in front of you.) You can move the lifted leg out to the side or crossing it to open and close the hips. 

The above sequence shows me beginning with my lifted leg bent and in front, straightened, and slowly brought through the midline (without ever setting down), and finally extended, and straight behind me. Drawing this line through the sagittal plane and moving from hip flexion to hip extension is a successful way to stretch and challenge your hips while working on your balance. 

HAVE FUN with it! It's okay to fall. It's okay to wobble. Yoga, and life, are not about perfection. They are however about challenge, ease and effort. 

 

Standing figure four

Eka pada galavasana

Standing figure four, a version of Flying Pigeon (Eka Pada Galavasana), is an awesome way to practice balance while gentle stretching the hips. I'm personally so tight in my hips from being a runner that traditional pigeon is too aggressive for me so I take a figure 4 variation on my back. Above is a standing, balancing version. Let's break it down.

Key points:
  • Straight knees, not collapsing inward or outward

  • Flat back, hinging at the hips with a neutral pelvis

  • Hips squared and level to one another

  • Heart open and shoulders down

Variations:

Be intuitive with your motions and variations. Your body will tell you what it's craving in that moment. Hands can be on hips, to heart center, raised over head, or even planted on a nearby object for help balancing. Standing leg can be bent, in a squatting position, or straight similar to Tree pose. Chest can be shining forward or you can hinge at the hips as a one legged standing forward fold. Each variation will bring different muscles into play and stretch in many ways.

 

Warrior 1

Virabhadrasana 1 

Warrior 1 is a more intricate asana than many give it credit. It's alignment feels a bit funky sometimes, but if you know the correct way it should be done, you can work towards making it feel more and more natural

Key points:
  • Hips and shoulders squared toward the front of your mat (or mountain)

  • Front knee bent, as much or as little as possible without pain

  • Feet are on "train tracks"- stepped about hips width distance sideways 

  • Knee tracking over the ankle, and not pushing past toes 

  • Back leg strong and engaged with the knee pointing towards the ground

  • Tight core 

  • Shoulders relaxing away from ears 

variations:

One of the biggest alignment adjustments that helps with Warrior 1 is a shorter stance: step that back foot closer in toward your front foot. This lessens the strain on those front leg hamstring muscles. Also, don't feel pressured to bend that front knee heavily if your body won't allow it. Lessen out of the bend if you feel tension or pain. Hands can be on hips or raised above head, just remember to relax those shoulders down. 

The proper alignment for Warrior 1 comes from your hips and shoulders. Contrasting to Warrior 2, in Warrior 1 you want your hips and shoulders facing forward. Consciously draw that back hip forward to come into line with the other hip. Lift up out of the hips to level them together. Arms can be to hips or over head, I love doing a steeple hands, or the Kali Mudra, for power and focus. 

 

Warrior 2

Virabhadrasana 2 

Warrior 2 is a main focal asana in almost every yoga flow. It is used often and misdone often, considering in the middle of class it's hard to communicate all of the complex components of alignment. It also is so popular because it serves as a transition to many other asanas. 

Key points:
  • Hips and shoulders squared toward the long edge of the mat

  • Front knee is tracking over the ankle and you can still see your toes

  • Feet are in "heel to arch alignment"

  • Back toes are turned slightly forward

  • Arms are raised to T and gaze is over front hand

  • Core is engaged 

  • Shoulders are relaxed but arms are strong

  • Both legs are engaged, think as if you could pull your mat apart using your feet 

Variations:

Warrior 2 is a challenging pose so never feel bad for needing to take a variation. You can straighten the front leg or take the pose dynamically transitioning between more and less bent. 

 

Arms can come to hips and stance can be shortened.

 

You can even use a chair to sit on while in the pose position to get the stretch without so much of the muscle activation. 

Warrior 2 activates your legs, core, and arms. It is a peak pose for some and a pose of rest for others. I love to make it dynamic by transitioning into other asanas and then right back into Warrior 2, as kind of a yo-yo between poses. It is often transitioned to from Crescent Lunge and transitioned out of by windmilling your arms to the ground and doing a chaturanga dandasana. However you get into or out of Virabhadrasana 2, make sure while you are there you are being conscious of your alignment. It helps to imagine yourself in between two planes of glass to visualize opening your hips and shoulders to the long edge of the map. Feel strength and energy exuding from each of your 4 limbs. 

Dynamic:

My favorite dynamic movement incorporating Warrior 2 is on an inhale, straighten all four limbs (legs straight, arms above head reaching for the sky) and on an exhale bend and press down into Warrior 2. Use your breath to flow through this multiple times. Also listening to fun music, Odesza is especially recommended ;) to vibe and move with the sound, massaging into areas that are tight and connecting to yourself and to the moment. 

RACHAELINOR YOGA