Padangusthasana or Big Toe Pose is a beginner yoga asana (pose) that is a very good stretching pose for all muscles of the body – from head to toe. In Sanskrit Padangusthasana translates as Pada meaning foot, angustha meaning thumb, hasta meaning hand, so the pose literally translates to thumb to foot pose and hand to foot pose.
Practicing this pose increases blood circulation to the brain and stretches the thigh muscles, hamstrings, calf muscles and the back, lower back and both the arms. This is one of the very few poses that increase muscle density and burn fat accumulated in them. Padangusthasana massages the liver and spleen and gives strength to the knees.
This pose is said to balance the body and mind is ideal for women who are trying to conceive due to its stretching quality. Big Toe Pose improves concentration, memory and focus and can help prevent osteoporosis to a great extent. It calms down the practitioner and cures headache and insomnia, making the body more flexible at the same time. The Big Toe Pose helps relieve wind and rejuvenates tired muscles.
How to do Padangusthasana:
Caution: In all forward bending poses, be to fold from the hips, not the waist. As you fold from the hips it will require a little more effort as you are moving more of your body than when folding at the waist. Performing hip flexion instead of spinal flexion in this pose will protect your intervertebral discs.
Ashtanga yoga poses are practiced in a sequential and fluid manner and in parallel with controlled breathing. Speed is not important when first beginning this style of yoga. The synchronization of the breath with movement is more significant. Why? When proper breathing is combined with movement, the body releases energy that eases tension. As an effect, one feels more relaxed. The energy used by the body is transformed to intense heat and is released through sweating. Toxins and other impurities present in the blood stream are expelled from the body through this process.
Ashtanga yoga consist of three main parts: the opening sequence, one of the six main series, and the finishing sequence. These parts have been patterned such that the preceding movements prepare the mind and body for more difficult, strength developing poses. Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation) is the traditional opening sequence which is followed by the standing series.
This is then followed by one of the six fundamental series of the poses: The primary series known in Sanskrit as Yoga Chikitsa (translated as Yoga Therapy); the intermediate series called Nāḍī Shodhana (translated as Nerve Cleansing); and finally the advanced series A, B, C, D known collectively as Sthira Bhagah (translated as Steady Strength).
The Sun Salutation is like the preface of a book. This fundamental series is performed five times at the beginning of the Ashtanga yoga practice. The aim is to condition the mind for the session as well as to warm-up and strengthen the back and hamstrings.
There are two sets of sun salutation sequences. The first sequence has nine asanas (postures or positions) while the second sequence has seventeen asanas. The second sequence is just an extension of the first sequence. The sun salutation is then followed by a series of six standing postures that aim to strengthen the core. Mastering the opening sequence will provide a good base for anyone who would like to be a practitioner.
After the opening sequence, begins one of the six fundamental series of Ashtanga yoga poses. The primary series is called Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy. This series is composed of movements that aim to purify and restore physical health. It is practiced only after warm-up to prevent injuries. The overall effect of this series is the progressive strengthening of the body.
In the primary series, the movements are arranged in such a manner that each asana (posture or position) builds on the previous one. Postures in this series are primarily twists and forward folds that prepare the spine for back bending poses performed in the finishing sequence and intermediate series. Practicing the opening sequence is strongly advised before proceeding with the primary series. Doing so will ensure that one is protected from injuries and that the flexibility needed to smoothly transition to the next pose, has been developed.
The intermediate series of Ashtanga yoga poses is called Nāḍī Shodhana or Nerve Cleansing. The purpose of executing this sequence is to open and clear the subtle energy channels in the body. Proper execution of the poses in this series requires a higher level of strength and a sufficiently cleansed body. Therefore, mastery of the first series should be obtained to maximize the benefits of nerve cleansing.
The advanced series of Ashtanga yoga poses is called the Sthira Bhagah or Steady Strength. This sequence of postures aims to strengthen the inner spirit of the yogi. Hence, advanced ashtanga yoga practitioners have a more intense focus and are also able to have a steadiness of the body and mind.
The finishing sequence is the final series of Ashtanga. If the sun salutation prepares the body and mind for practice, the finishing sequence prepares the person for rest. This sequence consists of sixteen asanas specifically designed to cool the body. Ashtanga yoga poses in the closing set give practitioners the opportunity to reflect on the practice. Aside from developing strength, patience and humility are qualities that are cultivated as yogis go through the different postures. More difficult poses require patience in order to achieve proper execution safely and fluidly. More importantly, it's the finishing postures that allow us to reflect upon the concept of UNION and how our action contribute to the evolution of the entire world.
Revolved Side Angle pose or Parivritta Parsvakonasana comes from the Sanskrit word, Parivritta meaning to turn around, Parsva meaning side and asana meaning pose. Parivritta Parsvakonasana is a side angle twist pose that has many variations. One of the classic variations for Revolved Side Angle Pose is to practice this pose with Anjali Mudra(hands in prayer position near your sternum).
All twisting asanas stimulate detoxification, improve blood circulation and rejuvenate the spine. When you twist your torso you compress your internal organs, cutting off all blood supply. When you release the twist you allow fresh blood to flow to your internal organs. This process cleanses your organs and improves their ability to function.
How to perform Revolved Side Angle Pose
Begin standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms at your sides. Breathe deeply and evenly, calming your mind and focusing on the present moment.
Turn to the right and step your feet wide apart, about 4 to 5 feet. Turn your left foot out 90 degrees. Align your front heel with the arch of your back foot. Your pelvis and torso should face the same direction as your toes.
Parivrtta Parsvakonasana is a powerful pose that can shift your yoga practice to a deeper level. It will build focus, detoxify your organs, and develop inner and outer strength. When practicing this pose, remember that the "goal" is not to achieve the full expression the pose, but to be aware of the pose you are currently in; staying focused in the present moment.
Purvottanasana or Upward Plank pose (as many people refer to it), comes from the Sanskrit word Purva meaning east side (anterior portion of the body) and Uttana meaning intense. The direct translation is intense stretching of the east or anterior portion of the body. Although not usually practiced in typical Vinyasa style yoga classes, Purvottanasana is the eighth pose of the Ashtanga primary series, and the third seated pose. It is one of the best postures in the seated primary series for developing hamstring and back bending strength.
This pose is unique in a couple of ways; first, it lengthens the front of your body, from head to toe by lifting your front body away from the floor into a gradual back-bend strengthening your back for other back bends, such as Ustrasana (Camel Pose). Second, it is one of the few poses that takes your arms into deep extension, a movement that is useful preparation for Shoulderstand; another pose that requires similar action at the shoulder joint.
Tips for Beginners
If you cannot get in the full position, do not worry! At first this position can be difficult, but do not become discouraged. You can practice this pose by leaving your knees bent (as seen in the picture), as if your body was a table with four legs. Once you are in this “table-top” position, slowly begin to lift your hips and pelvis off the floor using the strength of your quadriceps. Remember to keep your feet planted firmly on the floor.
Gradually practice. Hold for a few seconds at a time in Purvottanasana and practice the position in short sessions that will lengthen progressively over time. Remember to breathe in and out through your nose (don’t hold your breath).
Because you bear your body weight on your wrists and hands in the extended position, people with wrist problems, including wrist pains, sprains, strains, and carpel tunnel syndrome, should use caution when practicing this pose. You may should modify your hand position, use a wedge, or lower onto your elbows to do the pose safely. As with any pose that drops your head back into a back-bend (extension), people with neck issues, especially degenerative discs and facet joint arthritis, should consider keeping the chin tucked to your chest when practicing this pose.
If you suffer from any medical condition, seek the advice from your healthcare professional prior to beginning any exercise regimen, including yoga.
Ashtanga yoga can be a challenging and disciplined practice consisting of a series of asanas linked with the breath and performed in a sequence to build a flow between movements during the 60 to 90 minutes it takes from start to finish. The regular practice of Ashtanga yoga builds strength and flexibility and improves posture. Although Ashtanga is a challenging yoga style, beginners must remember it is a slow process. The focus of Ashtanga yoga is internal cleansing, not a workout.
Ashtanga yoga, meaning "eight-limbed yoga," it incorporates the eight paths to spiritual purification that include moral codes, self-purification and study, asanas, breath and sense control, concentration, meditation and mind control. Traditional Ashtanga practice opens and closes with a meditative chant intended for inner healing, prosperity or praise.
At its foundation, Ashtanga yoga focuses on Pranayama breathing, or “victorious breath in Sanskrit, which requires the student to narrow the air passage in the throat in order to control inhalations and exhalations more precisely throughout each move. The premise of controlled breathing is that it expands the lungs to create heat within the body, inspiring a meditative state of mind.
Practicing Ashtanga yoga at home is possible because the primary series of poses do not require a lot of space or special equipment. Each pose is repeated on both sides of the body to promote whole body balance. To begin, start with 5 rounds of Sun Salutation A; the muscles start to warm-up thus avoiding injury and bringing heat to the body. Once you’ve warmed the muscles, continue your Ashtanga home practice with 3 rounds of Sun Salutation B. Always practice according to your fitness level. Work through the posture but don’t force yourself into a position that is painful.
Opening the Hamstrings, Release the Low Back
When you begin moving into your standing poses, pay close attention to stretching the hamstrings , or the muscles that run behind your legs, and opening the low back. Standing Forward Bend calms the nervous system and stimulates blood flow to the brain. Practice Ashtanga yoga primary series gently and often, without strain or forcing yourself into poses you’re not quite ready for. It's okay to bend the knees slightly in the beginning, especially if your hamstrings are tight. Remember, it’s okay to modify when needed.
Ashtanga yoga doesn’t vary in the sequence; the asanas are always the same (Some people think that doing the same sequence of postures every day is too repetitive and they lose interest. Of course everyone is different but, I have found that performing the same sequence everyday enables you to become familiar with the physical movements that you can solely focus on the breathing throughout the practice). For a beginner, teachers advise to gradually build proficiency in each pose, given the physicality involved in the series. As a beginner, it’s best to practice Ashtanga yoga 4-5 days a week before trying the 6 day a week practice. The challenge of Ashtanga yoga is cumulative – as you practice, you will find that your ability to move into more difficult asanas comes from the previous foundation work.
Are you ready to start your Ashtanga yoga journey? Getting started is easy; here's a great video for beginners ranging from 10 minutes to 60 minutes with my teacher, R. Sharath Jois (practitioner and lineage holder of Ashtanga Yoga, in the tradition of K. Pattabhi Jois).
Marichyasana is named after the sage Marichi. The word Marichi literally means a ray of light. In Hindu mythology, Marichi was the son of Brahma and chief of the Maruts (also called vayu or wind-gods). He’s one of the seven (sometimes 10 or 12) sages (rishis) or lords of creation (prajapatis), who intuitively "see" and determine the divine law of the universe (dharma).
Benefits: Twists are important asanas for spinal health; they keep the spine flexible and bring fresh blood supply to the spinal nerves. Twisting also has an effect on the abdominals, alternately stretching and contracting as you twist one way and then the other. Spinal twisting enhances prana flow all around the abdomen, nourishing the pancreas, kidneys, stomach, small intestines, liver, and gall bladder while compressing and squeezing out excess flatulence that becomes trapped and uncomfortable in the body. Twisting should take place in the thoracic spine (where the ribs attach to the spine).
How to: Starting with your legs straight in front of you, bend your right knee so it’s flat on the floor close to your body. Sitting tall, place your right hand behind you to support you. As you exhale, twist to bring your left elbow across your body so it hooks on the outside of your right knee. If your elbow doesn’t reach, you can bring your arm across your shin and grasp your thigh with your left hand. Remember to keep pressing your right foot down into the earth, and sit tall with your spine straight and shoulders down. Stay here for five deep breaths then repeat other side (Sometimes breathing is difficult in twisting postures because the abdomen is compressed, as your flexibility increases and your abdomen twists clear of your thigh the breath will come easier).
Twists are a great way to wring out the internal organs, however, if you feel any pain in your knees, sit on a yoga block or bolster or move out of the pose. Also, pregnant women should always use caution or avoid twists altogether
With so many different types of yoga to choose from it can be a little bit confusing for beginners. Before deciding on which type of yoga is best for you it's a good idea to consider the different types of yoga, your level of fitness, physical and spiritual goals, as well as, your overall health condition.
Below are the most common types of yoga to help you determine which type will work best for your lifestyle.
Iyengar yoga is considered one of the most common types of yoga focuses on alignment, breathing and performing precise poses. This type of yoga often incorporates props such as straps or blocks to help beginners. Props help new students relax and become more comfortable while holding various positions.
Ashtanga yoga is known for its powerful movements which focus on building stamina and strength, as well as, coordinating the breath with movement. This challenging form of yoga builds better balance and concentration.
Bhakti Yoga is a more spiritual form of yoga that teaches its practitioners respect for life nature and creation as well as the importance of treating others with kindness and generosity.
Hatha Yoga, another common form of yoga especially in the United States emphasizes physical postures or exercises, known as asanas, with the goal of creating balance in one's life.
Jnana Yoga, involves the practice of deep contemplation and a quest for wisdom through meditation. With the goal of being one with God.
Karma Yoga, is based on the philosophy that "yesterday's actions determine today's circumstances." Practitioners of Karma yoga make a conscious decision to perform selfless acts of kindness. By making today's actions positive, they hope they can improve tomorrow's circumstances for both themselves and others.
Raja Yoga, known in India as road to reintegration, blends the four layers of self; the body, individual consciousness, individual sub consciousness, and the universal infinite consciousness. The focus of this type of yoga is on the mind and spirit with emphasis on meditation.
Tantra Yoga, like Hatha yoga involves practitioners to seek balance in their lives and to break free from the six enemies; physical longing, anger, greed, vanity, obsession, jealousy as well as the eight fetters; hatred, apprehension, fear, shyness, hypocrisy, pride of ancestry, vanity of culture, egotism, by using discipline, training, and
Bikram yoga, often referred to as hot yoga, involves practicing yoga postures in rooms heated to over 100° Fahrenheit (37.8° Celsius). The belief behind this type of yoga is that postures are easier to attain and hold. Another benefit is that warm muscles help reduce the risk of injury. If you have a health condition, be sure to check with your health-care provider before attempting this form of yoga.
Kundalini yoga, the premise behind this type of yoga is that becoming aware of your breath is a key. Practitioners learn to use their breathing abilities in different ways, along with chants, meditation, and postures designed to awaken energy at your spine’s base and drawing it upward through the seven chakras.
Viniyoga, this is perhaps the most individualized form of yoga, and involves working closely with an instructor, who will customize your yoga practice based upon your needs.
Regardless of what type of yoga you decide to practice, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider first to see if there are any special considerations or restrictions you should follow. For example, people who suffer from hypertension may need to avoid certain poses, while women who are pregnant may have other limitations.
Tomorrow, I will be talking about the practice of good yoga posture.
With over 84,000 poses in yoga to choose from for practice, yoga enthusiasts and practitioners might be left confused on just which ones are the most important. With our daily demands and commitments, most of us might not have the time to perform so many poses, for that reason it’s a good idea to focus on the one that is considered most beneficial for daily practice and that is Savangasana (Shoulderstand). It is one of my favorite inverted poses.
Inverted yoga poses reverse the action of gravity on the body. Instead of everything being pulled towards the feet, the orientation shifts towards the head. On emotional a level Shoulderstand turns everything upside down throwing a new light on old habit patterns of behavior. Shoulderstand improves health, reduces stress and anxiety, increases mental power and also increases self-confidence. In addition, the abdominal organs; liver, spleen, stomach, kidneys and pancreas receive a powerful massage helping them work better.
In Sanskrit, Sarvanga means all parts so as the name suggests, it affects all the bodily organs. It stimulates the thyroid gland, balancing the circulatory, digestive, nervous, reproductive and endocrine systems. It is indeed a panacea, a cure all. Obesity and corpulence are alleviated by this pose as well as constipation and enlargement of the liver and the spleen.
It is best practiced with its counter poses in specific durations for maximal efficiency and when planned correctly, the whole sequence takes less than 6 minutes to practice, depending on your schedule. Personally, I practice this pose daily as part of the Ashtanga primary series placing the most emphasis on this pose for all the benefits stated above.
So next time when you are unsure of which pose you should include in your yoga practice when you are short on time, make it a point to go for the Shoulder-Stand. Your body will thank you for it.
Modifications & Variations
Shoulderstand can bring many benefits to your mind, body, and spirit when practiced regularly and with correct alignment. Be sure to make whatever changes you need to reduce discomfort when practicing it. Here are a few suggestions:
For extra shoulder support, place a folded, firm blanket beneath your shoulders before coming into the pose. Your head and neck should be off the blanket. This extra support can also help prevent neck injury.
Only lift both legs at the same time if your abdominal muscles are strong enough. Do not struggle to lift both legs together. If it is too difficult, lift one leg at a time.
Practice Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani) as a modification for those with neck injuries and for women who are menstruating. *See above picture*
As with all inversions, it’s crucial to ensure you are performing the pose with correct alignment; otherwise, it’s very easy to injure your neck. Be sure to take it slowly and make whatever adjustments you need to reduce discomfort.
Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient system of Yoga that was taught by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta. This text was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927. This method of yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures—a process producing intense internal heat and a purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, a strong body, and a calm mind. This theory of eight different limbs, or components, is also known as “Eight-Limb Yoga”. It doesn’t imply that the practitioner has a double set of limbs, but Sri K. Pattabhi Jois showed that the optimum path of purification is made up of eight spiritual practices.
The basic idea is that these limbs only can be kept in balance by the appropriate application of the Ashtanga Yoga method.
The first four limbs that symbolize Ashtanga Yoga, and are considered externally correctable are (original names within double quotes):
– Moral codes or “yama”
– Self-purification or “niyama”
– Posture or “asana”
– Breath control or “pranayama”
Followed by the other set of limbs which are the internal practices:
– Sense control or “pratyahara”
– Meditation or “dhyana”
– Concentration or “dharana”
– Contemplation or “samadhi”
K. Pattabhi Jois stated that practicing these Eight Limbs, the body will become strong so that it can perform these methods well. If the body is weak, and the sense organs are not functioning well, practicing will not be productive. This is a primary philosophy that K. Pattabhi Jois applied and it is important that the Asthanga practitioner understand this.
Vinsaya and Tristhana in Ashtanga Yoga
Vinsaya is a style that makes Ashtanga and its fundamental principles different from other styles of yoga. Vinsaya basically means the movement and breathing is used effectively together in order to cleanse the body. Each movement is accompanied by only one breath. Sweat is an important product of Vinsaya. When you produce sweat, it indicates that you are successfully applying the method. When you perform the Asanas, or postures, the body produces heat which causes your blood to “boil” and excrete toxins from the body. These toxins are found in your sweat. So the more sweat you produce, the more toxins are released. This is the natural way for the body to rid unwanted substances.
The poses are used to fully develop the physical strength and health of the body. It is the sequence of practice that make this possible. There are three postures used in Ashtanga Yoga.
The three are grouped on different levels:
– The first is the Primary Series which aims on aligning the body and also detoxifying it.
– The second is the Intermediate Series opening and cleansing the energy channels which comes to the process of purifying the Nervous System.
– The last series would be the Advanced Series from A to D. In this set, the grace and strength are assessed.
Tristhana is another yoga principle which symbolizes the close union of the three places of action and attention. First is the posture, second is the breathing technique, and last is the Dristhi (view or gaze/focal point). All these three should work together to perform a function.
The breathing is always controlled and synchronized with the movements in such a way that each movement is accompanied by breath. Ujjayi breathing, a yoga breathing technique; is used in the implementation of Ashtanga Yoga. Applying this ancient technique is something that one must work on gradually in daily practice. This is an amazing breathing exercise that will intensify the internal fire and help the nervous system.
Both Ashtanga and Tristhana deal with the series of Dristhi. This allows your mind to be purified and stabilized clearly. Clearing your mind (sometimes compared to an active monkey) and cleansing it is the ultimate goal in the Eight-Limb Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga.
Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose or Low Plank) is one of the most challenging yoga poses done in every vinyasa and Sun Salutation often rushed through and done incorrectly. When done correctly, this challenging yoga pose has several benefits, including arm, wrist and abdomen strengthening. When practiced without proper alignment, Chaturanga can lead to shoulder, elbow, wrist and even lower back injuries.
Because Chaturanga Dandasana is a weight-bearing pose, wrist injuries are among the most common. Sometimes in yoga, we tend to use our strongest muscles to achieve difficult poses, instead of using the appropriate muscles. While in Chaturanga, many yoga students flatten their carpal tunnel, the narrow, tunnel-like structure in the wrist where several tendons and the median nerve pass, causing compression on the median nerve. Repetitive practice of this incorrect motion can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Chaturanga is a pose that uses all of the muscles in the body. To keep your body safe from injury, use your core for stabilization and activate your legs for support. While learning proper alignment and building strength,modify this pose by dropping to your knees (This decreases the weight on your back and shoulders, therefore you don’t need as much strength to do the pose as with your legs straight).
Here are some tips for a safe Chaturanga Dandasana:
Hopefully, this information will help you with your Chaturanga and keep you injury free. Remember that you can always modify the pose or skip it altogether.
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