Bow Pose is considered an intermediate yoga backbend that opens the chest and the front of the body. If you spend your day hunched over a computer you know how good it feels to stretch your arms and lift your chest. Bending backward is a great way to regain balance after hunching forward! Named after an archer's bow, the Sanskrit word Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) comes from two words: "Dhanu" meaning "bow" and "Asana" meaning "pose." Bow pose offers some amazing benefits to the body (as seen in the picture above).
Modifications & Variations
*Remember to always practice yoga within your own means! Poses don't have to "look" perfect; focus more on how it feels in YOUR body.
Yoga classes follow sequences determined by the style of yoga practiced or by the instructor. What many of them have in common is the hands joined together; “Namaste” between instructor and student at the end of class. Those new to yoga may find the closing salutation somewhat “odd” or new to learn and say; others may say the word without thinking about it. But Namaste has a rich meaning and long history and can sum up the work of your entire yoga practice.
Definition of Namaste
Namaste is a conjoined Sanskrit word consisting of “nama” meaning bow, “as” meaning I, and “te” meaning you. Literally, it means “I bow to you.”
What Does Namaste-The Gesture Mean?
The gesture of joining the hands, palms together, over the heart is a yoga pose known as Anjali Mudra. Anjali means “offering.” A mudra is a hand gesture. The Sanskrit meaning of mudra is “seal” or “sign” and the gestures referred to as mudras are sacred symbols for some aspect of the divine or the inspiration for a feeling of reverence. Mudras are found in Indian culture in classical dance, ritual and yoga poses. They may be spontaneous hand movements in experiences of kundalini energy known as “kriyas.” Anjali Mudra connects the “offering” of spoken Namaste to an action that brings both hands together over the heart, joining the right and left hemispheres of the brain, completing the unification of yin and yang and centering the self in the light-filled core of yoga practice.
The Significance of Namaste
The significance of the Namaste is complete surrender or devotion to the divine spark in another. When offered in gratitude or in greeting, Namaste recognizes that all beings are sacred and that, as an equal, the devotee may partake of the merit and knowledge of the teacher. According to Nitin Kumar, a Sanskrit translator, and Vedic scholar, the sound of the Namaste is equivalent to a sacred chant, a mantra that aligns the speaker with the resonance of universal harmony. In Kumar’s interpretation, the spoken and gestured Namaste is a brief meditation, an opening between the individual spirit and the divine.
Alternatives for Namaste
Not every yoga class ends with Namaste. In India, the word can simply mean a casual greeting similar to saying a “hello.” Closing a shared practice with Namaste is a choice, and some teachers choose different ways to honor the connection. Chanting “Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,” calling upon the heart of creation for peace, brings the energy of purpose to the work just completed.
In Iyengar yoga, classes end with an invocation to Patanjali, sage and author of the “Yoga Sutras.” Teachers may prefer to close with a mantra like “Om Namah Shivaya,” which honors Lord Shiva, the master of yoga and the symbol of creative energy. And others, mindful of adaptations to Western sensibilities, simply say- “Thank you,” as often as not accompanied by the Anjali Mudra that silently communicates Namaste.
Whatever way you wish to express respect and gratitude at the end of your yoga class is fine, remember that it is a shared experience offering peaceful energy signifying the light and understanding that can only be found in the heart.
Arm balances seem and look really impressive. They are a great addition to any yoga practice since they build stability and core strength. Arm balances do more than help you build physical strength, they also help you learn to persevere and not take your yoga practice too seriously. You will fall, and probably stumble a few times, but once you master an arm balance, your strength, stability, coordination, and confidence will all improve.
Here are 5 tips for practicing arm balances:
1. Be aware of where you are in your practice
You will have much more success with arm balances if you are realistic about where you are as a yogi. Some arm balances are good for beginners, while others are more advanced. If you’re a beginner, go ahead and try Scorpion, but don’t be surprised if it’s just a bit out of reach. Conversely, if you’re an advanced yogi and have been practicing Mayurasana (Peacock Pose) for a while, consider trying something a bit harder like Dragonfly or Koundinyasana (Sage Kaundinya's) pose. You won’t improve as a yogi if you don’t push more, find your edge and try something new.
2. Find your drishti
Just like finding your gaze (drishti) in balancing standing poses, finding a gaze in arm balances is essential. Find a stationary focal point a comfortable distance out in front of you. If it’s too far away or too close, it will be hard for you to focus.
3. Don’t push too hard too fast
It’s easy to rush into arm balances, even if you’ve been practicing yoga for months; it’s important to make sure you’re moving into the balance slowly and with intention. When you rush, or push yourself too fast and too hard, you end up frustrated, disappointed, or injured. Practicing arm balances regularly you begin to see improvements over time.
4. Warm up
Before you attempt to practice any arm balance, make sure you have warmed up your body beforehand. Practice a few rounds of Sun Salutations. It’s much harder to nail an arm balance if you’re going into it cold.
5. Press Down
In order to lift up, you have to press down through your hands. Make sure to press evenly through your hand, and engage your fingertips. Try to avoid putting all the pressure on the base of your palm as this will lead to wrist injuries.
Yoga tends to get a bad reputation because people think it’s all about stretching and bending your body into a pretzel; and while the later may be true (you’ve seen those Instagram pics) it’s also better than just doing crunches all the time! While many types of traditional yoga practices are based on mindfulness and spiritual mantras, yoga is also a great ab workout. These 5 poses here offer a ton of core strength. I mean, there’s a reason you can’t hold them for long before collapsing onto your mat. Start with these poses to begin to strengthen your core and tone your abs without doing any crunches.
1. Boat Pose
Boat pose is amazing for your entire core because it works the muscles in your upper and lower abs at the same time. Start by sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Then, press your hands on the floor behind your hips and lift your legs off the floor, leaning back slightly and lifting your hands in front of you. Your tailbone should now be on the ground with your legs and arms forward in the same direction. You can either hold it there for maximum time, or hold it for a few breaths, release, and then repeat for reps (10-12).
Bend your knees at first if you’re not able to extend them fully.
2. Warrior III
It might sound weird to do an ab exercise while standing up, but the whole point of the Warrior III is to challenge your balance by standing on one foot, and then stabilize using your core. Start standing up with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms at your sides. Then, turn to your left and step your feet wide, bending your right knee over your right ankle. Press your weight into your right foot and lift your left leg out behind you while your arms extend out in front of you. If it feels wobbly or awkward to be on one foot, that’s the point. Engage your abs and squeeze tight to stabilize yourself for as long as you can—at least 30 seconds before switching legs
Keep your arms in prayer position to help with balance.
3. Side Plank
Side planks may seem basic, but there’s a reason you do them in every yoga, Pilates, and workout: they do the trick. The idea of the side plank is to stack your feet on one side of you while your forearm is on the ground and your hips are lifted. You want to engage your oblique muscles. Hold the pose on each side of your body for 30 seconds and remember to keep your obliques and hips lifted and squared the entire time. The other option is to support yourself with a fully-extended arm, which takes some burn off your abs but adds an additional balance component—still good for your core.
Stacking your feet is standard, but lowering your back leg for stabilization is a modifier.
4. Chair Pose
Chair pose tends to feel like a quad workout (and it is), but if you’re doing it right and taking your time, you can feel this in your core too and it’s great for your abs. Standing hip-distance apart with your arms straight over your head, sit down into a mini squat without moving your arms at all. Bring your hips as low as you can and engage your core muscles so that you don’t lean too far forward. Take deep breaths and hold the pose for a minute if you can.
Keep your weight in your heels, lift your toes off your mat to remind yourself if need be.
5. Elevated Plank
Planks are basic and sound boring, but by elevating your feet onto a higher surface, (like a yoga block, wheel or a bench) you can get a deeper burn in your abs and really engage all your muscles at once. The idea is to have your feet elevated behind you and your body in one straight line. Try to think about pulling your belly button toward your spine and slightly lifting your buttocks; making sure your back stays straight the entire time. The burn will kick in pretty quickly but that just means you’re doing it right. Start with 30 seconds and work up to a minute.
Just like with side planks, dropping to your forearms puts more stress on your abs, but is also more stable.
Uddiyana can be translated as “upward flying” and bandha as “lock”. This lock is located in the lower abdomen about three fingers below your navel; it is a band of muscle between your two hipbones. This space can be engaged in a full range of ways, from slightly firm, or intensely engaged, drawing the belly into such an extreme that it is visibly pulled up and under the rib-cage. For asana, we work towards something in the middle, as a start. For pranayama, we reach towards the more extremely engaged end of the spectrum.
How to practice Uddiyana Bandha:
1. Pull the low belly in and up towards your spine. For most yogis, this may take some time to recognize that it’s there.
2. Lay on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Take your hands to your belly at your hip bones and begin to press the arch of your lower back towards the floor. While you will not actually lose that space between the back and the floor, you likely will feel your belly begin to engage.
3. If the previous option doesn’t work, stay on your back and stretch your legs out on the floor in front of you. Try to lift your heels an inch off the ground. This is an optimal way to notice your lower abdominal lock.
A strong and engaged core is what you want in most of your yoga postures. This lock stabilizes the body by aligning the hips and spine, drawing strength from the center rather than the extremities. This will create a stronger core for the body to draw from, while also decreasing the potential for injury in the hip and shoulder girdles, as well as in the outer limbs. Once the core becomes strong and a part of practice, it makes other poses easier and more accessible.
There are other internal benefits to this lock, such as keeping the digestive organs clear and moving, helping the flow of energy sealed inside the body, building prana (life force) and heat while assisting in the removal of impurities. According to ancient yogis, the solar plexus (Manipura Chakra), is the seat of fire within our physical and psychic systems. The lower chakras are the energy centers of many vital functions and health issues within the physical body. Keeping this part of the body active and working prevents lower back problems and promotes healthy adrenal glands while improving kidney, bladder, and liver function.
By engaging Uddiyana lock the breath above the belly fills the lungs and rib-cage, thus, initiating ujjayi breathing. In addition to building focus and concentration on the breath’s sound, ujjayi is a powerful pranayama that heats the body and stimulates the flow of blood, increasing your circulation as well as your metabolism. Taking in more air also oxygenates the blood, which keeps the blood healthy and more resistant to disease.
While nurturing and providing an outlet for stress, relaxation and stretching, yoga is not easy. If we ignore our core muscles, we will likely have a higher risk of injury. When feel the intensity of our body getting stronger, the heat we’re creating and the sweat forming across the brow; acknowledge that your effort will not go unnoticed or be in vain, but will rather build towards a safer and stronger practice. Keep your energy centered, protect yourself from injury and celebrate your strength, awareness, and diligence.
“So we would say in yoga that the subtle precedes the gross, or spirit precedes matter. But yoga says we must deal with the outer or most manifest first, i.e. legs, arms, spine, eyes, tongue, touch, in order to develop the sensitivity to move inward. This is why asana opens the whole spectrum of yoga’s possibilities. There can be no realization of existential, divine bliss without the support of the soul’s incarnate vehicle, the food-and-water-fed body, from bone to brain. If we can become aware of its limitations and compulsions, we can transcend them. We all possess some awareness of ethical behavior, but in order to pursue yama and niyama at deeper levels, we must cultivate the mind. We need contentment, tranquility, dispassion, and unselfishness, qualities that have to be earned. It is asana that teaches us the physiology of these virtues.”
~B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom
Parsvottanasana comes from the Sanskrit words Parsva meaning side, Ut meaning intense and tan meaning to extend, stretch or lengthen. Hence the name Intense Side Stretch Pose. This pose is also called Pyramid Pose, which emphasizes the powerful foundation and strength created in this pose.
Getting into the pose:
Caution: Do not practice this pose if you have a hamstring injury. If you have a shoulder or wrist injury, do not practice the full version of the pose. Women who are pregnant and those with back injuries or high blood pressure should practice the pose against a wall. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. As with any exercise regimen, including yoga, talk with your doctor before practicing.
We spend a lot of time on our computers and on our cell phones. But since the likelihood of us getting along without our cell phones or laptops is probably not going to change in the near future, we have to take necessary precautions to ensure that our bodies stay strong as we work more and incorporate these tech gadgets into our daily lives.
Just as sitting too long at our office desks makes us more stiff in our shoulders and hips, keeping our hands positioned over the keyboard can have the same effects. Injuries or pains that result from repetitive movements whether it’s typing, texting, playing tennis or knitting are called Repetitive Stress Injuries, or RSI for short. They occur because the repetitious motion pulls on the muscles and tendons that surround the joint. In the case of computers, our wrists become overused and often mild to severe forms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) can manifest. But there is hope for your sore and achy wrists. A study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine showed that a yoga-based routine was more effective at reducing the symptoms associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome than wearing a splint or receiving no treatment at all.
Yoga postures that relieve wrist pain also strengthen and elongate the supporting muscles of the hand making them more flexible and stronger to handle the constant motions of clicking away at the keyboard.
Get in the habit of doing these exercises every day as your computer warms up and even throughout the day when you need to take a break. But if your pain persists for more than a week, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out a more serious injury.
Winter is a time for slowing down and reflection. We naturally have less energy to burn in colder winter months; cancellations and school closings, work, and even our favorite yoga class may leave us feeling more tired and out of balance than usual. The dark, colder days and nights can be unforgiving! Take advantage of these winter days to nourish your body and mind, and give yourself permission to slow down and keep in sync with the earth’s natural cycles.
Here are some tips to practice during the winter (and year round):
Yoga Asana: Get on your mat every day. I know this may seem obvious, but increased movement especially during the winter is a great way to not only increase your energy levels, but it’s also a great way to warm-up your muscles. If a slow paced, Yin, or restorative practice is better for you, then welcome that. Turn on music that is reflective of your mood or energetic state. This creates an opportunity to get fully connected with the body, and move with the music in a very instinctual way without any desired outcome or goal. Often, we may feel pressure to complete a particular series of postures as a yoga practice, turning on some music is a way to let that go.
Just Sit: Literally. Nothing fancy, nothing forced. Just sit and be with what you notice. Thoughts, sounds, body sensations, your breath, the weather outside . . . be with it all. The best thing is there’s no right or wrong way to do this.
Eat and Drink Well: Prepare nourishing, warming foods with fresh, local ingredients. Eat slowly, with awareness. Turn off the computer and put your phone away. Drink a warm cup of tea while reading or watching the snow outside of your window. Focus on each bite or sip of food and all the sensations that accompany the moment. Savor the experience.
Practice Gratitude: Make it a practice to notice and reflect upon the positives, such as having a warm home, food to eat, clean drinking water, the relationships in your life, and the natural beauty of your surroundings. Consider extending the positive effects of this practice outward; show kindness to a stranger by saying “hello” or “good morning”. Let friendliness, compassion, and appreciative joy into your heart and see how it changes your life, as well as the lives of others.
Leave me a comment on how you apply any of these tips.
You want to start a yoga practice, or perhaps you’ve been practicing on your own at home and you don’t know how to pick a Yoga teacher. I understand, I’ve been there myself! This “CALM” check list will help you to find the right Yoga teacher for you.
The following is the “CALM check list.” This checklist is a basic criterion that your Yoga teacher should meet before you continue on to a second Yoga class with them. C.A.L.M gets its name from four main factors: Communication, Assist, Listen, and Modification. For the right Yoga teacher, you should be answering with a “yes” to all questions.
Communication: Does your Yoga teacher talk to you, and other students, in a manner of mutual respect? Can you ask a question during class time? Does your teacher show compassion for you and other students? Does your Yoga teacher take the time to lead you through a guided meditation or relaxation? Meditation and relaxation are major aspects of Yoga practice. There are Yoga teachers who just want to get “their workout” done. Beware of Yoga teachers who are so busy that they don’t have time for you. If you want to learn Yoga, you need an open line of communication with your Yoga teacher.
Assist: Does your teacher care about your form? Will your teacher give you a verbal or physical assist during your Yoga class?
Some students never have major problems with alignment and some do, but if your teacher doesn’t give verbal cues, what does that tell you?
Listen: Does your Yoga teacher take the time to listen to your feedback? Is your teacher “in the moment” with the class?
Once in a while, there is a Yoga instructor who runs, “The-it’s-all-about-me-show.” You are not going to learn anything from this type of teaching. Beginners will be put at risk, trying to keep up with a seasoned Yoga teacher who doesn’t explain anything.
Modification: Does your Yoga teacher allow modifications and props? If your teacher discourages props, you are in the wrong place.
Some students will need props, especially so for some beginners and those who have limited range of motion. Just because a teacher can do a posture without props, doesn’t mean every student can.
Some students crave “the stern, but loving parent” types. They will push you harder, but how much pushing do you really need? You want a Yoga teacher who encourages you out of your comfort zone, without being overly pushy that could cause unnecessary injuries.
Respect is a two way street, and you deserve as much respect as your Yoga teacher does. Let common sense be your guide. You should feel good after a Yoga class, and you maybe even feel muscle soreness days after a vigorous class.
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