Category Archives: postures
Our flat in Munich is a ways out of the city and U-Bahn construction at the closest station means that cycling is the most efficient method for getting around. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any pedalling and my leg muscles are struggling with this newfound exertion.
Thankfully, our flat has a lovely open wall that’s perfect for my favourite restorative yoga pose – legs up the wall. Pair the leg-relaxing posture with a glass of wine and the strain in my lower body disappears!
The pose itself is super-easy (see my how-to in a previous post) – the most difficult part is managing the glass! I’m careful to make sure the wine is safe coming into and out of legs up the wall and set the glass within easy reach for the 10-15 minutes I’m laying on the floor.
Sipping while supine is challenging, but the relaxation is well worth it!
Without a block or bolster under my seat, ‘easy pose’ becomes ‘incredibly-hard-and-uncomfortable pose’ for me within a couple minutes. Knee injuries, tight hips, and internal femoral rotation come together to make sitting cross-legged a hard pose to hold when I’m not propped. Which means I’m rarely in sukasana without something tucked under my butt – even if it’s only a folded mat or sweater.
Just about everyone who’s taken a yoga class has done easy pose. It’s often where a practice begins and ends and is the most common position for meditating. If you find sukasana decidedly uneasy, try adding height under your seat – props can make a huge difference!
Why it’s good
- Stretches knee and ankle joints – and sometimes the hips as well
- Help strengthen the muscles along your spine (erector spinae) and contributes to good posture
- Helps calm your mind and manage stress when you hold the pose as part of meditation
How to do it
- Sit on your mat or the floor, with your buttocks on the edge of a cushion, block, bolster, or folded blanket
- Sitting on something tilts your pelvis forward and helps your knees come to the floor
- The higher your seat, the easier it is to relax your hips and soften your knees
- Bend your knees so they fall to the outside of your body and place one foot in front of the other
- Avoid crossing your ankles, which puts pressure on the joints
- Add padding under your ankles and/or feet if they are sensitive or if the floor is particularly hard
- If your knees aren’t resting comfortably, support them with folded blankets or blocks
Find the centre of your seat by moving back and forth and from side to side
- You should feel evenly balanced – right and left, front and back
- Straighten your spine, roll your shoulders back and down, and lift through your collar bones
- Rest your hands on your knees or thighs or in your lap; relax your hips and legs
- Feel the crown of your head float up towards the ceiling, connecting you with the sky; feel your sitting bones grow heavy, rooting you into the earth
- Bring balance to the pose by alternating sides
- If you’re holding easy pose for a few minutes, switch your front leg halfway through
- If you’re coming into easy pose multiple times in a practice, change which leg is in front each time
To come out of easy pose:
- Uncross your legs (using your arms and hands to help if you’d like) and slowly unbend your knees
- Gently bring movement back into your legs
- Straighten and bounce your legs
- Rest the soles of your feet on the mat/floor, bend your knees, and drop them side-to-side in windshield wipers
- Carry on with the rest of your practice or the rest of your day
Easy pose externally rotates the hips, so you may wish to counter it with an internally rotated pose like deer (see how to do deer pose on YinYoga.com), although many people feel no need for any counter pose at all.
Sun salutations are sequences with easy to remember poses that flow into each other, allowing you to focus on the moment and the movement. When you’re not worrying about what posture comes next, you can let your breath dictate your transitions and let your brain zone out.
There are many different versions of sun salutations, most of which are based on the traditional Sun Salutation A. While I like the sequences of the traditional sun salutations, I most often adapt the flow depending on what body parts feel like they need more attention and the circumstances of my practice.
Modified sun salutations are great for travel; it’s easy to adapt the sequence to take up very little floor space or to do without a mat. I’ve done something like the sequence below on muddy trails, sandy beaches, between beds on hotel room floors, and even in the snow while wearing boots as shown in the photo.
Don’t worry if you miss a breath or two or forget what side you’re on. You can always come back to the start and re-group in Mountain pose. It’s really about moving and breathing… the poses and flow are just there to help get things going!
Hands-free sun salutation
This probably looks like a lot of steps, but it’s surprising how smooth the movements become and how quickly you can glide through a full sequence.
Why it’s good
- Gets circulation going and works your cardiovascular system
- good for warming up the body and generating heat!
- Stimulates the lymphatic system
- Strengthens and gently tones a range of muscles – from the ones along your spine to your shoulders & arms and into your legs
- Stretches most muscles along the front & back body (abs, back, hips, hamstrings, shoulders, chest, calves, neck)
- Works your joints – from toes & ankles up through your neck & shoulders – in a healthy way
- Encourages balance and deep breathing
How to do it
- Start standing in Mountain pose
- standing tall, with even pressure on both feet
- As you inhale, come into a Salute
- raise arms above your head; palms facing, fingers reaching to the sky
- As you exhale, bend backwards into a Standing Back Bend
- look upwards, open your chest, and draw shoulders back
- Inhale to bring yourself back to Centre
- bring neck and back straight, arms stay up
- Exhale slowly into a Swan Dive
- gracefully lower chest towards thighs, sweeping arms wide
- Hold a Forward Fold for a full cycle of breath
→ inhale to lengthen your spine & exhale to soften your torso
- hold each elbow with each palm, hips lift upwards, torso relaxes
- As you inhale, come into Half-forward Fold
- back flat and parallel to ground, palms resting on your knees, look forward
- Exhale into a Forward Fold again
- chest towards thighs, fingertips towards the ground, bend your knees if necessary
- With an inhale, bring your Right Leg Back to Lunge
- shift weight to left side, keeping your left knee at 90° and directly over your ankle
- Exhale to settle into the Lunge
- sink hips your hips lower if comfortable and make sure pelvis stays even; rest your hands on your left thigh or at your sides
- Inhale to raise your arms up into a Back-bending Lunge
- arms are shoulder-width apart and shoulders stay relaxed; open your chest as much as comfortable
- Exhale into another Forward Fold
- let your shoulders and hips relax as your arms extend towards the ground and your feet come parallel and hip-width apart
- Inhale to draw your Left Leg Back to Lunge
- shift weight to right side, right knee bent at 90° and directly over your ankle
- Use your exhale to settle into the Lunge on this side
- keep your hips from sagging, rest your hands on your right thigh or alongside your torso, and feel the strength in your legs
- Inhale, drawing your arms up into a Back-bending Lunge
- shoulders relaxed and rolled back with your chest open
- Exhale to bring your feet together into Forward Fold
- torso relaxes towards thighs, arms dangle down, feet come together
- Inhale and lengthen your spine into Half-forward Fold
- gazing forward with a flat back
- Exhale into the last Forward Fold of the sequence
- bend your knees a little to relax your legs, relax your shoulders and let your arms hang down
- With a slow inhale, sweep up to a Salute
- bring your arms wide and palms facing as you raise your torso with a flat back
- Exhale and draw your palms together and lower your arms into Mountain with Prayer
- lightly press your hands together in front of your chest, relax your shoulders, feel both feet grounded
Repeat the series a few times, switching which leg moves back into the lunge first if you’d like. And, of course, find your own modifications dependent on what your circumstances are like!
In honour of Valentine’s Day, I’m teaching a heart-opening sequence in my 8:15pm Yin Yoga class at Bound Lotus ♥. The flow I’ve put together starts off with supported fish pose. The traditional version of fish (known as Matsyasana in Sanskrit) is an amazing chest opener and the modified version of the posture is more decadent and restorative, but still impactful.
Fish is all about reaching your chest up, while relaxing your lower body. Detailed instructions for getting into supported fish (and getting out!) follow.
If legs up the wall is the one pose I think everyone should do after a lower body workout (running, cycling, hiking, walking in heels), then fish is certainly the one pose I’d suggest for releasing any emotional issues (my friend and fellow teacher Nadine likely agrees 🙂 ). Holding fish pose (and supported fish) can dispel all kinds of long-held chest-tension, which sometimes leads to a huge emotional release (read: it’s totally okay to cry while/after doing fish).
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Supported fish pose
Why it’s good
- Increases lung capacity, which makes it great for asthmatics and athletes, and flushes mucus from the lungs
- Corrects the tendency to round shoulders, which collapses the energy centre at the heart (anahata chakra), and breaks up tension in the mid- and upper-back
- Strengthens and gently tones the muscles along your spine
- Stretches abdominal muscles and creates internal space for internal organs
- Lots of emotional and energetic benefits
- Activates the throat energy centre (vishudda chakra), which is related to the way you express yourself
- Releases grief and helps dispel old emotions by opening the heart energy centre (anahata chakra)
How to do it
- Sit on your mat with knees bent, feet on the floor; snug the short end of a bolster against your lower back/buttocks – you can also use a firm pillow or rolled blanket if you don’t have a bolster
- Using a bolster eases pressure and demand on your back muscles; the closer you place the bolster to your buttocks, the greater the stretch
- Use your arms and hands to slowly lower your back, neck, and head onto the bolster
- If your head doesn’t rest rest on the bolster, pillow, or rolled blanket, bring in another prop to support it
- If the stretch is too intense in your lower back, place a foam chip block, pillow, or folded blanket under your buttocks
- Straighten your legs along the mat; bring your heels together and let your big toes relax to the sides, forming the shape of a fishtail with your feet
- Rest your arms on the floor, at least 45° away from your body, and turn your palms up
- Tuck your chin into your chest slightly; relax your jaw, throat, and shoulders; disengage the muscles in your abdomen, hips, and legs
- Settle into the pose; inhaling deeply into your chest and relaxing your shoulders, hips, and legs with each exhale
- Remain still for up to 10 minutes, breathing smoothly and feeling your chest expand and contract with each breath
To come out of supported fish:
- Bend your knees and rest your feet flat on the floor
- Roll to side off the bolster into fetal pose; take a deep breath in fetal pose before removing the bolster and any other props used
- Release any tension in your back by holding your knees into your chest and rolling on your back
- It’s nice to link fish to a forward fold (like butterfly or caterpillar) or a reclining twist to counter the backward bend
- Take a look at the Yin Yoga website’s list of asanas (poses) for guidance on doing forward folds and twists