Monday, October 27, 2014

Taming Chaturanga Dandasana

Chaturanga Dandasana should really have a different name.  Four limb staff pose is kinda dull.  Tricep fire, dragon attack, "diet time" pose, would all describe it in my head.  
There is a relative of chaturanga called Nakrasana, the crocodile.  Crocodile conveys the fierceness I feel is required for chaturanga.  {For those unfamiliar with Nakrasana, it is a "if you have to ask, you probably can't afford it" kind of pose - in other words, crazy hard.}

Anyway, here is my best effort at Chaturanga Dandasana.

It's a difficult pose and many people cannot do it properly.  Many times the shoulders roll forward, or the buttocks stick up, or the floor comes crashing towards you at an unexpected rate.

Today, I'm showing the use of props to make the pose more accessible to all levels.  When the pose is accessible, the body is in better alignment.  When the body is in better alignment, you can work on correct action in the pose as well as keep your body freer from injury.
Many people are familiar with wall pushups.  This is just like that.  I'm on my toes to put more weight onto my hands, but the feet could also be flat.  Increase your time in this pose before moving on to the next one.  If you would like more instruction on how to do chaturanga at the wall, click here.

Lowering the height will make the pose more challenging.  Maybe you'll have friends join you.

Two medium blocks still move the weight toward the legs, but there is considerably more work in the arms at this stage.  This is very close to the classic pose.

Another way to get more weight in the legs is to push the heels into the wall.  This will also help you keep your legs straight.  Here the prop is assisting in an action of the pose (legs firm, pushing back with hands).  I don't find this makes the pose any easier, although some people do. 
My shoulders are tipping a little forward in this one, which is the wrong action.  I'm trying to make up for it by lifting my head.  This doesn't help.

Let's make it a little easier on me.

If you look near my wrists, you'll see I have block support under my lower ribs.  I can still work on the legs in this pose without having too much weight on my arms.

Now, I have two blocks, one under each thigh.  Here I can work my arms with less weight than the full pose, but more weight than the block under the chest.

To truly tame the chaturanga beast, you need a hammock.  You can build a chaturanga hammock with a strap. 
Loop a strap and place it on your elbows.  The placement of the strap in the pose will be at your lower rib cage, similar to the block shown above.

Not so much of a beast here.  The actions of the rest of the body still have to be in place: pressing the floor away, thighs engaged, buttocks toward heels, etc.  You can stay in the pose long enough to do these actions in your very own hammock.
As a side note, I've tried Nakrasana with the hammock and had great success; however, I've never run this method by a senior teacher, so I'm not sure how dangerous it is.

Happy arm strengthening.

Tame the beast.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Supta Baddha Konasana

Every teacher knows that collective sigh of relief and enjoyment when the pose Supta Baddha Konasana is called out.

The most common way I know to set up for SBK is this one:
A looped strap placed low down on the sacrum, then looped around the feet.  Support under the lower ribs and head (usually a bolster and a blanket, but folded blankets work just as well).  This is the one that creates those sighs of relief. 

However, it takes some time to set up, and some people have trouble getting the strap at the right place on their sacrum.  They may feel pinching in the lower back or just suffer through the pose.  So here is an alternative:
Place the feet at the wall with the toes separated and lie down.  The wall holds the feet in place and keeps them from sliding like the strap does.  I'm showing here without support under my back, but support should be added for those that need it.

Here's another one:
This one is more like sitting Baddha Konasana and is great for anyone that doesn't like SBK because of the feeling in the lower back.  It's a great hip opener in its own right.

The pose can also be changed to suit the stretch.

Place a block under the feet.  For some it will make the pose more comfortable, those that feel it more in the lower back; for others, it will be less comfortable, those that feel it in the inner thigh.  The block could be at the wall too, to stop the feet from running away, but it would take some careful measuring.

What about making the pose more uncomfortable for everyone?  Here you go:
Raise the hips and the feet.  This is just supported Setu Bandha with the feet in Baddha Konasana: a SBS/SBK hybrid.  It somehow manages to take any comfort out of either pose.

And now my new favorite way to do SBK - prone.  I learned this from Arun this past summer.  I can't get enough of it.

Place a belt just like regular SBK, but bring the belt as low down as possible on the buttocks.  Please ignore the strap you see going over my leg; it is the tail and has nothing to do with placement of the strap.  Pretty amazing.  If you are a little tight, like my husband, your pose may look more like this:
The feet come up until the hips finally open.

How do you come out of this?  As best you can.

If you leave your set-up unattended, someone might come and take it.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Variations in Virasana

Long time no blog.  Life gets in the way sometimes.

I've been thinking about Virasana variations for the past month.  There are so many; this topic may have a part 2 at some point. 

The first place to start when thinking of a pose is the book.  There are many variations of Virasana in "Light on Yoga", which if you were took Anne Schultz's classes last year, you would have permanently etched on your feet:
Look at plate 85 (upper left).  His feet are going out to opposite sides.  Much like the bottom foot in Ardha Matsyendrasana.  He says this is the starting place! for those that cannot get their buttocks on the floor in Virasana.  Toddlers are very good at this, adults not so much.  By all means try it though.  Then move through the cycle: foot on foot, big toes touching, feet facing in, feet facing back.

This isn't the only way to torture your feet!

Here are some more:
Sit with your feet together, place a block between your feet and your hips.  This will warm your feet up for the next one:
Sit in Virasana with your knees up.  One, two, three folded blankets.  Arun taught this in preparation for Vamadevasana 2 in Dallas this year.  Wowouch!

To get your feet back to normal, turn them the other way:

Try to sit between your heels.  If this is too much, have your feet under your hips.  Tuck your toes under as much as possible.

Here's one for the ankles:

Strap your ankles together and sit down.  Sometimes you feel this one more in the ankles sometimes more in the feet.  You might notice I'm leaning forward.  This is me trying to have less weight on my ankles and make the pose less intense.

If the toes have had enough, time to get the calf smashing tools out.
Here they are arranged from most intense to least: rolling pin, sticky mat around a dowel, rolled sticky mat, skinny dowel, rolled blanket.

Do not use the cat.  He doesn't like to be smashed and is way too sharp.

Place the prop as close to your knee joint as possible and sit as close to your heels as possible.  Here I'm using the rolling pin.  My cats are wondering why I'm whimpering.

You can also move this prop back along the calf.  I didn't get a picture, but the roll has different effects on different parts of the calf.  I like it in the middle of the calf behind the two heads of the gastrocnemius muscle.  It does something nice for my hamstrings.  Someday you may learn to love calf smashing as much as I do.

The next two variations for today are to help the thigh descend. 

This first one I learned from George Purvis:

Rather than using the block under the buttocks, use it under the backs of the thighs.  Make your thighs descend to the block.

The second one I learned from Ramanand Patel:
 Notice the placement of the strap.  It goes on top of the thighs and under the ankles.

 The buckle end is a shorter length, so that when you tighten the strap, the buckle ends up on top of the thighs, not near the ankles.

The final variation for the day is an experiment of mine.  I really like the internal rotation I get when doing Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana with a blanket under the Virasana leg outer buttock bone.  So I'm experimenting with doing that same action in Virasana.  Let me know what you think.

Happy Sitting.