Saturday, May 24, 2014

Phases of the moon

I have an affinity for Ardha Chandrasana.  It feels so light and open.  Today will travel around the wall for the many phases of "Half Moon" pose.

 Starting with the back to the wall.  This variation gives the most support.  It allows opening in the chest and a guide for the shoulders.

Turning the pose 90 degrees, the top hand uses the wall for balance as well as rotation in the upper chest.

Turning another 90 degrees to face the wall, this variation gives me the most ability to turn my torso by pressing my upper hand into the wall.

 In the final phase, the foot is at the wall for balance and support.  This version feels the most like the free standing version.  It's also nice to have something for your foot to press into.

So now, the lunar cycle is complete.  I do have some more fun ideas to try in Ardha Chandrasana.

By placing a strap on my back foot and holding it in my top arm, I'm assisting in the lift of my flying leg, give direction to the flying leg, and make my top arm work and extend.

The final attempt for the day is something I figured out when goofing around with my props.  Now I happen to have legs about as long as a 6' looped strap:
You will have to measure your own leg.  If you are taller than 5'3" and do not have a strap longer than 6', this will not work for you.  Measure the length of your leg near the top of your hip to the floor.  The looped strap will need to be this long.  Try this against a wall to begin.

Place the loop around the standing leg and hook it into the flying leg.  This will give the lovely "thigh back" action that needs to occur in the front leg to keep the hips from cramping.   It really is a lovely feeling.  My top arm is a little too far back, in this picture.  Just ignore that. 

Enjoy your props.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Finding Intensity

Last weekend, my friend Stacie came to town, we went to Anne and Devon's Iyengar yoga Immersion.  The theme was Intensity in Practice.

Normally, when I think of a pose that is intense, I think of something I can only do for a short period of time, that requires great effort, focus, and is difficult for most to do.  Yet, all poses have their own intensity: the great opening of Urdhva Dhanurasana, the quad burning of Utkatasana, the shoulder flexion of Urdhva Namaskarasana.  If you bring all of these poses together, you get Virabhadrasana 1.

Funny thing about Virabhadrasana 1.  It's an easy pose.  It's a hard pose.  It's an easy pose - at the most basic level, it's a lunge with the arms up.  Most people can lunge to some degree.  On the other hand, I remember a workshop with George Purvis where I had to demonstrate Virabhadrasana 1.  I have a crazy hard time straightening my back leg.  George was sitting on the floor, next to my back leg talking to the class about the inner chip of my back knee, as I'm struggling to make it move and stay in the pose.

So for props to be effective teachers, they must both make poses easier and more intense. 

Stacie graciously agreed to model the use of props.

The first use of props, makes it easier to bent the front leg to parallel with the floor, taking some of the intensity out of the front quad.  By placing her toes up the wall and a block on her shin bone, she can bring her thigh lower.  By placing her fingertips to the wall, with her arms straight, Stacie can lift her chest and keep herself from collapsing forward.

Here, Stacie uses a strap to find the mid-line of Virabhadrasana 1.  The strap reminds her to keep her chest facing forward and her shoulders level with one another.

In this next attempt, Stacie is using a strap to assist her back leg to lift as well as creating an intense stretch in the shoulders.  She can walk her hands down the strap and lift up strongly. 

Now, she's moved the strap down to her foot.  The same action is happening in her shoulders, but now the strap is helping her lift her back foot arch.

Stacie admitted, like me, she has difficulty straightening her back leg.  So, in her final effort, Stacie has a block underneath her back shin.  This is to keep her from bending her back leg.  The block is a gentle reminder, more than a brace.  A reminder to create her own intensity.  The black cat is making sure the block is in the right place.

Many thanks to H. S. Arun for inspirational strap work.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Walk the Line in Parighasana

Occasionally, I practice with an audio recording of a John Schumacher class.  During one of these audios, a student asked if they should close their eyes during a pose.  John said that we do Johnny Cash yoga; we "keep our eyes wide open all the time".

We aim to "Walk the Line" in our postures.  We look for the correct alignment, the right geometry.  When we find the geometry of a pose, the pose sings!  Here are some props to help find the lines of Parighasana.

Take your bent leg to the wall - this lines up your back leg with the wall as well as your hip.  Keep the hip against the wall.  You can use a blanket under your knee or fold the edge of your sticky mat, if the floor is too hard for your knees.

Line up your straight leg with the bent knee.  You can use the handy sticky mat edge to help you draw a straight line.  The pose has an extended foot.  I have a difficult time extending my foot, so I use a block to press into.  If you can plantar-flex your foot well, by all means do so.

Loop a belt around your bent knee.  Longer belts work better here, but all belts work.  Line up this belt with your bent knee hip, side chest, shoulder and arm.

With all this lining up, you'll find it "very easy to be true" to the essence of the pose.

Ok, you say, that looks all lined up, and maybe there was even a little melody going on, but the pose in the book looks different:
How the heck do you reach your foot?!?!?  It's a really long way down.

Well, what about making the foot close to your hand?  Place a block under the foot.

Ok, that might have helped.  What about two blocks?  Note: if you are using wood blocks, use a sticky mat in-between them so they don't slide.

By moving the foot closer to the arms, the hip comes in and it is easier to side bend.  Once you have the side bend, go back to the non-propped version and see how far you can go.

Remember to keep your eyes wide open all the time.

You can get your own John Schumacher class from ihanuman for $8.  There are a bunch of classes to choose from, and they are all great.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Walls don't lie and you can't cheat the floor

For part 2 on lateral standing poses, we are using a props to show us the truth in our poses.  So you think your arms are in one line in Utthita Trikonasana?  Test that against the veracity the wall.

Start with a block near your front ankle with your feet wide apart and the front leg turned out 90 degrees.  With both shoulders against the wall, bring the front hand down to the block.  Notice how much harder this is than when you do Utthita Trikonasana in the middle of the room.  Why?  Because the wall tell you the truth.  The wall has the added advantage that you can't stick your buttocks out.  More truth.
If you notice that my top elbow is away from the wall, that is a result of the shape of my arms.  For more on carrying angle, check out the wonderful interview of George Purvis on the Iyengar Yoga in Houston blog.  He really is all kinds of awesome.

Now for some more wall truth.  Utthita Parsvakonasana.  I remember when my teacher, Karuna Nicols, first taught me this.  I learned that my back leg lies to me all the time.  My leg tells me it's straight, that it's working hard and I'm pushing that thigh back enough.  LIAR!  The truth of the wall will set you free.

Here's how to do it: place a block behind your back thigh against the wall.   Foam blocks are a little easier here, but who wants easier?

Then bend your front leg to form a square, moving into Utthita Parsvakonasana - but keep the block against the wall.  Now that back leg is straight.  If you lose the block, your leg bent (or the block got stuck to the wall and didn't move with you).  The carrying angle of my top arm is pretty obvious in this pose; however, I should still work more to get that top shoulder closer to the wall.

That was exhausting, so let's lie on the floor.  It's great to be on the floor and practice standing poses.  The floor is even more accurate than the wall.  Plus you can hold standing poses for 5 minutes without a problem.  Floor poses are great for those that need more flexibility.

First let's try Utthita Trikonasana - the supta (reclined) version.  Place both feet at the wall.  Put your front foot on a block.  The foot is on a block to have the correct alignment of the front foot to back arch - if your foot was on the floor, the leg alignment would be heel to heel.   Lean on your front leg, so you can turn it out 90 degrees.  I usually get on my entire side and roll out.  Extend your back leg back so that foot also touches the wall.  Bring your front hand down to the block and roll out, so both shoulders are on the floor.  The floor, being a flat surface, will show you how much you can turn out.  It will also show how high your foot block should be.  See how my fingertips just touch the block?  Something would have to give way to get my hand all the way to the wall.
 You can do a similar thing in Ardha Chandrasana.  Here I'm using a corner, so I can press my back leg into a wall.  This pose feels so open and spacious on the floor.  It's also really hard to lose your balance.
It's fun to try the standing poses on the floor and feel how much your body wants to cheat you out of the regular pose.

You should stay long enough that a cat falls asleep in your armpit.