Monday, June 30, 2014

Being a guest

Last week my mom and I drove to El Paso with to deliver my sister's cat Nepo back to her.  We stayed for a short visit.  Although her apartment has carpet, she has many good props disguising themselves as furniture.  Next time your staying as a guest somewhere, see what is around to give new life to your poses.

Here is a little backbending sequence using whatever was nearby.

Staring out with some standing poses:

This overhanging kitchen counter was a nice surprise.  It's a little like using a horse/tressler in an Iyengar studio.  I would love something like this at home.  I enjoyed being able to press into something with the top hand.

Another use for the kitchen counter - a great shoulder stretch.

Not only are cat trees great ways to spoil your cats, they make great props.  This one was especially good given all the different levels.

Grab two pillows and you can have a great supported backbend in supta sukhasana.  I wish Nepo would stay on my thighs, but cats can be difficult to train.

My sister had these great bar stools that were almost perfect for supported backbends.

I say almost perfect because I couldn't quite reach the support bar between the legs.  It would be nice to wrap my feet and/or my hands around that bar.

Now, I don't have this type of couch at home, but oh my, is it great for supported setu bandha.   I just grabbed a cushion off the futon, placed it under my shoulders, and bliss was achieved.

Special thanks to Nepo, the guest kitty.  He's using me as a prop.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ice cream and dog poses

I was listening to a John Schumacher class the other day.  A person in the live class was using props in a way was less than ideal.  The student said that it felt pretty good.  Schumacher quipped, "Breyers is pretty good too, until you've tried Haagen Dazs."

I think too often in our yoga practice we are satisfied with "pretty good", or perhaps in the Iyengar yoga world with "not bad."   Poses should be delicious, full of nectar and promise.  We should be strive for the Haagen Dazs of asana.

I start this week with a "not bad" version of Adho Mukha Svanasana:
So the basics are there: my legs are straight, my arms are straight(ish), my hands are pressing into the floor.  However, I have an issue with my shoulders being uneven and my forearms dropping a bit.  To see this more clearly, I put my hands to the wall.
While pressing my hands to the wall, gives me more length in my torso, it shows the imbalance in my shoulders more clearly as well as a greater drop in my forearms.  Part of this drop in the forearms is due to the carrying angle; however, a good portion is due lazy arms.  So let's fix that!
Oh, that's better.  Two blocks placed under the forearms gives a lot of nectar to my pose.  The shoulders are even, the forearms are lifted, yet I can still get the length in the torso.  Even those that do not have a pronounced imbalance can feel that one forearm will press more heavily into the block than the other.  This work is good for everyone.

Maybe the difficult part for you in AMS is getting weight in your heels.  Well, who doesn't need more weight in their heels?
By placing my hands on blocks, the angle of my pose changes, and voila, more weight in the heels.  Now, attempt to keep that weight in your heels as you move the blocks out of the way.

Want to work harder?  Here are some ideas:
If hands on blocks gives more weight to the heels, then feet on blocks would give more weight to the hands.  This also helps me get more weight on the thumb side of the hand and more lift in the hips.

As you advance in your practice, there come some more difficult Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand) poses, where the arms are in different positions.  Why not practice them in Adho Mukha Svanasana first and get a taste of that sweetness?

Angle your blocks up the wall.  Then turn your hands all the way out.  This one is great for those with tight shoulders.

Next turn your hands all the way in.  I find this one particularly nice for those that hyperextend their elbows.

This one has a special sweetness, almost an acquired taste.  The fingers are turned to the floor (thumbs out).  There is a strong external rotation of the shoulders.  You can see my toes are trying to help take the weight off my hands.  I think this pose stretches the forearms, which is difficult to do.  Chances are, you will feel the stretch in your wrists.

You need to find the use of props that lead you to Haagen Dazs poses.  Don't be satisfied with Breyers.

This week my regular photographer was out of town, so all of these pictures were taken by Peggy Kelley at her home studio.  Alas, there aren't any cats in her studio.  Many thanks to her all the same.

Monday, June 9, 2014

New uses for your couch

 I love couches.  They are so comfortable, welcoming, and accommodating to my relatively short legs.  I even love Anantasana, which is sometimes translated to "Vishnu's couch".  So, it only makes sense that I would use my couches for yoga props.  In fact, even before I owned a single blanket, I was backbending over my couch.

When you are staying with a friend, and you've foolishly left all your yoga props at home,  you can still get many poses in by using their couch.

A nice way to start your couch practice is with some standing poses.  Here the couch arm is keeping my thigh back and the pillows are giving me support.

Next a supported Sirsasana.  I really needed another cushion under my thighs for the length of my torso to fully hang.  While this version of Sirsasana is really enjoyable, the disadvantage is you can see how dirty your floor is underneath your couch. 

Side note: do not do this off the back of the couch, couches are not stable that way.

The backbends really are great on the couch.  Some couches have nice rounded arms that give wonderful support for the back, somewhat similar to a backbender (a very expensive but enjoyable yoga prop).

If you can't do padmasana, not to worry, this pose is lovely with the legs straight as well.

Couches are reassuringly soft and are great props to use when you attempt dropbacks.

To round off your practice, it's nice to end with a supported shoulderstand / viparita karani hybrid.  Take one cushion off the couch and place it under your shoulders.  My couches were just high enough off the ground to wedge the cushion under - perfect support and I could move the cushion in or out.

Backbender is behind this squishy sarvangasana set up.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Gettin' down with Uttanasana

 How many times in a practice do you do Uttanasana?  If you are doing Surya Namaskar, you might do Uttanasana 20 times? 40 times? 216 times?  Does it feel like it gets better when you do it that many times?  When was the last time you focused just on Uttanasana?  Today is a great day to do that.

So, lets check in and see how Uttanasana is going:
 Ok, there's some things to work on.  I'm leaning back a bit.  I could use some more length in my torso and hamstrings.
So what could I do?  Well, first I could stretch my calves and Achilles tendons.

 Take a blanket and roll it up tight (you could also use your sticky mat).  Place the ball of your feet on the roll, but do not let your heels come up off the floor.  It really is a lovely stretch.

Now lets get some length in the torso.  When you cannot pull with your hands,  you can feel stuck.  Well, let's fix that.

Place two blocks on the floor on top of a strap.

Stand on the blocks and pull yourself further down.

The next fun thing I learned from Anne Schultz, who learned it from Carrie Owerko.  Yoga sometimes works like that.

Take a blanket and roll it up tightly.  Unlike the one under the feet, you have to roll this one up the right amount for you.  For me, it's about half way.  If I roll it up too much, it gets in my way.  If I roll it up too little, it doesn't do much of anything.  Place the roll at the top of the thighs, so it pushes your thighs back.  For me, it also softens my hip flexors.

Now fold deeply, smashing the rolled blanket against your thighs.

Keep yourself folded tight as you remove the blanket.  It's like magic! 

Compare this picture to the first picture.  The camera angle isn't the same, but there is definitely more contact between my torso and my legs.

Here are two more fun things to try in Uttanasana.

Stand about 12-18 inches from the wall.  Lean back to rest  your buttocks on the wall, then fold forward.

Then, turn that around.  Usually, this one has to be entered sideways, so you can get your back stuck against the wall.  It's super relaxing for those that are a bit flexible.  You could always add a block or a cat to rest your head on.

Keep your props well guarded.