Yoga Blocks can help you feel both more support and provide an opportunity for you to open more deeply depending on how you use them. I love that my “style” of yoga focuses on both the therapeutic and challenging aspects of Hatha/Vinyasa Yoga. The slides here demonstrate how to use the blocks to:
Rest your lower back & help to lengthen your spine in a fairly neutral position. Use this for low back injury or strain as long as it doesn’t cause more pain. It is also an excellent way to lengthen your Psoas muscle without strain. This is a great pose for people who spend a lot of time in a sitting position throughout the day. It is a nice Restorative Yoga Pose.
Use the block behind your shoulder blades to help open your upper back & chest. Use this if you slouch much or are just wanting to open up deeper in backbends.
Use the block for stability to help open your shoulders for backbends & inversions.
*See the slide captions for a little commentary;-)
*Better is a loaded word – in this case – longer spine aids backbending / heart opening with less strain for your back & shoulders. Play nice – be kind to your body – it’s the only one you’ve got. xo Kate
I began the week with a nod to the Mala for my #MeditationMonday blog at ShineYoga.com. A Mala is the strand of meditation and prayer beads that you will often see adorning a modern yogin’s wrist or neck. Malasana or “garland pose” is a deep yoga squat that helps you to begin to open your hips, lengthen your spine, strengthen your core, and improve flexibility and balance for your legs. Deep squatting is an essential component in my PreNatal Yoga classes for it’s myriad benefits during pregnancy and it is generally a great pose to use to aid digestion. Malasana can also help you develop the the strength, flexibility, and coordination necessary for many of the fun yogic arm balance poses. Malasana can be challenging if you have knee issues or tight muscles in your legs. While many of the yoga poses will cause sensation in your body as stretch and strengthen, joint pain or sharp shooting pain should always be observed and responded to with loving modifications.
Watch the slideshow for both therapeutic modifications/variations – and to see how Malasana can be a launchpad for some adventure in your yoga asana practice.
Use this short exercise to help open your heart center…. chest, shoulders, lungs. Directions are down below the slideshow.
Interlace your fingers, and then unlock the pinkies – make a little temple with the little fingers to alleviate any knuckle pressure during the pose. Important – keep your elbows close to keep your shoulders safe and to receive the full benefit of the pose. Place your elbows against the wall at shoulder height. Keeping your elbows shoulder distance, walk your feet back until you feel you are in a comfortable position to lean your chest in towards the wall. With your heart and head reaching to the wall, stretch your hips back away from the wall to stretch your spine and open your heart center. As your flexibility increases, slide the elbows lower down the wall. Again, keeping the elbows close, begin to press your chest towards the floor. Remember that the purpose of the pose is to open your upper body, keep your low-belly toned so that you don’t overarch your lower back. In this deeper variation, you will be creating a sense of open-ness and integration that will aid you in some of the more advanced postures like full wheel and forearm balance. Be kind ~ breathe deep ~ Namaste.
Often when you strain or injure your back, the back muscles and muscles that support the back, seize up in an attempt to brace your back and prevent further injury. This natural reaction is a good thing. But… sometimes the muscles have a hard time letting go of the tension. When you add chronic tension to a low back strain or injury, a chain reaction is enacted where stiffness, tension, and pain get caught in a feedback loop that limits mobility and slows healing. This short exercise or sequence allows the back to rest supported in it’s natural alignment without strain. It also allows the muscles to rest in their contracted state. Once the tension begins to dissolve in their protective contracted state you can begin to encourage greater movement and length in the muscles that is necessary for everyday comfort and ease. As is in all things, nothing works for everyone 100% of the time. Use your intelligence, pain as a guide, and your doctors recommendations to promote your fullest healing/recovery.
To perform this therapeutic Yoga exercise…. Lay on the floor with about the thickness of one or two yoga blankets long against your spine – so your hips are on the floor but your low back curve, spine, and head are supported on the floor. Best to let your head rest back onto the blanket without additional height. Keep your knees bent and try to get your body to trust you as you hold steady and make space for any chronic tension or spasming to release. Once you feel yourself relax and as long as you are 100% pain free – start to stretch one leg very slowly towards straight – it might only be 2 inches to start. This will help your psoas to relax and lengthen so you don’t have unnecessary tension in your low back.
To begin the leg extensions, gently engage the muscles of your leg and begin to stretch it towards straight. Use pain & tension as a guide. If either arise go back to the start position and practice resting easy before you move again.
If you are able to extend the leg straight, keep your muscles gently engaged and ground the back of you leg into the floor to extend it fully straight at the knee. This will gently lengthen the muscles on both the front and back of the leg and help them release their grip on your back.
Only if you can extend your leg fully (with no pain!) allow the leg to relax and rest for a few minutes. Repeat the sequence on the other leg and then give it a try with both legs. It may be helpful to use a rolled up towel under your knee if full leg extension is not comfortable.
Back pain is tough – I hope you feel better soon! Namaste
I’ve been working through a series on meditation techniques for my yoga studio blog @ shineyoga.com. I’ve been working through a few mudras (hand gestures) that add significance to meditation practices. This week I decided to showcase Sankalpa Mudra. This was the first mudra to really pique my interest in that I felt the hand placement create a dramatic shift in my awareness. I first practiced this mudra with my teacher, Sianna Sherman, in my second level teacher training more than 15 years ago. I believe that it was passed on to her by our philosophy teacher, Douglas Brooks, and may have it’s roots in Tantric Philosophy. As usual, I am not too particular about the physical roots of things because I believe they all come from the same spiritual space. I believe it’s up to us to explore the unique practices of yoga, honor to the best of our ability the teachers who practiced and evolved the techniques, and ultimately to fine tune the practices to meet our individual needs.
Sankalpa means resolve. It’s an amped up version of intention setting. When practicing sankalpa the idea is to connect to your most essential self in order to realize what it is you most need and want to manifest in your experience of life. This practice asks you to sit quietly in order to connect deep within. With awareness of your highest aim, you cross your right arm over your heart, bringing the right hand to rest in the left. Sankalpa is a gesture of remembrance and of resolve. It is a seal of intent. An empowering aspect of a life in alignment, is that we each get to decide how we will show up to greet each day.
With kids & pets at home – meditation always has some surprises.
If you feel disconnected from your heart’s deepest intentions, you might choose to do this heart clearing meditation/mudra practice before setting a clear intention with the Sankalpa Mudra. Today’s heart clearing practice uses a non-traditional kriya (repetitive body/energy flow). Hold your hands in front of your heart with Ganesha Mudra (click here for more details). Take a moment to hold in your mind all (or some;-) of the blocks that prevent you from feeling free and clear in your inner vision. Maybe you are angry, or afraid. Maybe you’ve been hurt or feel stuck. Allow yourself a moment to hold your blocks with as much acceptance and even love and you can. Take a deep breath in and then with your exhale stretch your arms out wide. Envision letting go of all the energy that blocks your heart and mind at this time. Imagine a great internal clearing. While we can not change all of our outer circumstances we can release the energy that shuts us down. Breathe in with courage to stand true in your life at this time. As you begin to feel more calm and clear, set the seal for the energy that you want to hold and give back to life with Sankalpa Mudra. Namaste ~ Kate
It’s time! Road trips, vacations, and retreats are on our radar. As many of my students and clients are already on the road and in the air, I thought I would share this series. I consider these three moves, used regularly in my yoga classes, travel essentials that will help to help you unfold yourself after a long drive, flight, or even unwind the kinks that work their way in from sleeping in an unfamiliar place.
Click on the photos for a little description of each pose and how it helps.
A daily essential to counter to much sitting at home or away. Keeping your hips back over your heels, hold one foot, ankle, or a pants cuff if you are very tight and stretch your bent knee to the floor as you reach your chest and head up to take a nice breath.
An arts-i-fied version of the daily essential thigh stretch shown previously in the gallery. You really can do yoga anywhere!
This is another pose I encourage for every day body balancing. Cross one ankle over the opposite knee and squat back while you keep your chest up. If balance is an issue this can easily be done sitting on the edge of a chair — great to do in the office too.
The smirk on my face is how I really feel about modeling —- but —- it’s a way I can share both yoga practice and arts practice —- so I do. See the description of the pose in the previous photo.
This is a great pose to stretch — well — almost everything. Step your feet wide and place them so they for a T (one foot rotated out – the other aiming straight forward). Lean in to a wall or tall stationary object for a nice side body stretch that allows you to breathe deeper while you stretch your legs too.
While our vacation is still a bit aways, I am looking ahead to our summer trip. Every two years we meet up with some dear friends at our favorite beach spot. Each morning I wake up as the sun rises so I can catch some quiet time for a daily practice in a space that matches the expansiveness and freedom that I feel inside when I practice yoga.
I’m so very excited to introduce my new class creation. InFinitY is an Integrated Fitness and Yoga Class that infuses the use of the most modern fitness equipment with the ancient philosophy of yogic mindfulness to promote complete health and fitness. If you like a little core work in your yoga class and if you wish your fitness class had a little more heart and soul, you are going to love this class. Because most of the exercises use your own body weight this, class can be adaptable to any fitness level. It’s up to you to decide how hard to challenge yourself and I will be there to guide and support you and your goals. Come join us at Shine Yoga (www.shineyoga.com) on Wednesday mornings from 9:30 – 10:45 for this uplifting and empowering class.