We often use and abuse our shoulders a lot more than we realize. Whether it’s sitting at a computer, lifting weights, or even doing a few too many Chatarungas, it’s important to balance all of that strengthening or lack of movement with opening postures. Try these shoulder-openers when your shoulders are feeling tight or especially overworked.
Forward fold with chest expansion
Begin in a forward fold with your feet at least hip-width apart. Allow your head and neck to relax. Interlace your hands at your lower back. If your shoulders are tight, keep a soft bend in your elbows. Slowly draw your palms forward, over your head, to open through the chest and shoulders. Take the shoulder opening to your limit, and breathe here for as long as it feels good.
Begin in chair pose, or Utkatasana. On an exhale, swing your right arm under your left, and bring your right palm to meet your left in front of your face. Lift your right leg over your left leg and compress your inner thighs, finding a tight wrap. Find a bind with the right foot behind the left calf, or use your right foot as a kickstand. Breathe here with a strong core, and draw your elbows away from your chest, and your palms away from your face. Switch sides when you’re ready.
Begin on your belly with your chin facing forward. Bend your knees, drawing your heels up to your gluts, and reach back and capture your feet or ankles from the outside. Exhale, and as you inhale, kick your feet into your palms, lifting your chest away from your mat. Gaze straight forward, and try to rock your weight into your belly. Draw your knees toward one another and breathe.
Kneel and walk your knees toward the front of your mat. Lift your hips over your knees, and bring your palms to your lower back, fingertips facing down for a deeper shoulder opening. Squeeze your elbows toward one another and lift your gaze while you open through your chest. Keep your hips stacked over your knees, and arch your spine while you lift through your heart. Find five breaths in your fullest expression, and keep pressing your elbows toward one another to open through your shoulders.
Begin in a seated position. Bend both knees, and swing your left leg underneath your right. Nestle your left heel next to your right hip. Stack your right knee over your left, and let your right foot rest on the mat beside your left hip. Extend your left arm high, bend at your elbow, and reach your left palm in between your shoulder blades. Bring your right arm behind your back, bending at your elbow and reach up to grasp your left fingertips with your right. If you can’t grasp opposite fingertips, you can use a towel or a strap. This is a very intense shoulder opener – either stay here, or fold forward from your hips. Switch sides after 5 or 7 breaths.
Balasana (Child’s Pose) comes from the Sanskrit words bala meaning child and asana meaning pose. Child’s pose is practiced in almost every style of yoga and class. This pose is usually practiced as a way to rest after an intense pose or sequence. However, it has numerous benefits of its own. Balasana is a great pose that allows you to turn inward; providing the opportunity to calm the mind and restore energy. Child’s pose is a basic beginner pose that nearly anyone can do.
Child’s pose is one of the most common postures that you will see when using yoga for back pain due to the versatility that it offers. Child’s Pose relieves tension in your back and hips while increasing flexibility and circulation to the muscles and joints in your low back. When practiced in the full expression of the posture, Child’s Pose can produce immediate back pain relief. Above are more great benefits of Child’s pose.
Getting into the pose:
To come into this pose, kneel onto the floor, and sit back onto your ankles. Keep your knees and big toes touching one another as you sit back. Lean forward at the waist and place your forehead on the floor. If your hips pop up, don't worry about it. As you stay in the pose, keep inviting your hips to meet your heels.
Your arms can take several positions:
To open your body farther, begin the pose in the same manner as described above. Instead of keeping your knees together, spread them as wide apart as is comfortable for you. Still keeping your big toes together.
Caution: If you have a groin injury, back or hip problems, consult with your physician prior to doing this pose. Please, carefully check in with your body before doing this pose, and do NOT do anything in which your body feels unsafe!
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.
Garland Pose is a hip-opening yoga pose that helps to lengthen and open the hips, helping to create more mobility. The Sanskrit name for Malasana comes from two words: mala meaning garland and asana meaning pose. Malasana offers numerous benefits especially for those who sit all day at work. Sitting leads to a higher percentage of stress on the back and lower spine. When we sit at a 90-degree angle in a chair, we shorten our hip flexors (the psoas). As the psoas shorten, our lumbar spine is pushed forward and pulled out of alignment. Prolonged sitting can lead many people to experience a back injury or pain.
Our hips are one of the largest joints in our bodies, an energetic area where we tend to store anger, tension and rigidity. Our hips allow us to move forward in life with grace and ease, therefore, it’s important to keep this part of our body limber, open and lubricated. When aligned properly, practicing this pose can feel great, opening up the hip flexors and offering a deep stretch to the groin muscles and a complimentary release for the sacral chakra (second chakra) which oversees the flow of creative, sexual and reproductive energy. It can also help strengthen and relax the lower back, calves, and glutes. It also helps boost metabolism, stoke the digestive fire, and alleviate constipation.
Modifications & Variations
Yoga is all about freeing the mind, enriching the soul, and working the body. But wearing the wrong clothing to your yoga practice can make you off balance, prone to injury, and downright clumsy. Even though there isn't any 'official dress code' for stepping onto the yoga mat, when you wear the wrong outfit you will not be able to get the proper form out of your poses – and trust me when it comes to yoga, your form matters.
If you are new to yoga, here are some simple tips to make you “yoga ready” :
We all like to look our best, it's only natural. But when you are on a yoga mat, your beauty comes from inside. Sure you might look great wearing that stylish toe ring, but if it gets snagged on your yoga mat whenever you prep for a downward dog then you might wind up toppling over in the middle of your class. The same thing goes for bracelets, necklaces, and big rings.
Same goes for you guys out there as well. Watches can tear into a yoga mat when you are flowing through your poses and they can also limit the flexibility of your wrists. So you may want to take them off before your practice.
Basically if it will dangle when you're upside down or if it can get snagged on your mat while you are working out then it should come off. The good news is that wedding rings usually don't cause a problem.
If you know anything about yoga you probably know that jeans are not acceptable. After all they limit your mobility and make it nearly impossible to get into a nice deep stretch. But what you might not know is that it isn't just tight fitting pants that can get you into trouble on a yoga mat, when your pants are too lose they can also be a hazard.
Think about the different poses that you do in yoga, even a simple plank pose can get aggravating when your pants legs are hanging down onto the floor. And if you are taking a flow class, those baggy pants will be nothing short of a disaster, (every time you try to flow in those floor poses your pants legs will be extremely uncooperative).
They make yoga pants because these are the best pants for your yoga practice. But depending on how often you practice yoga, yoga pants can get a little pricey. If you are looking for some pants you can wear regularly, remember that you want pants that feel comfortable but don't feel tight. You also want pants that are snug enough that they hug your body but they should also be loose enough that you love being in them.
Quick Tip: When you find the pants that fit right for you, you also want to check the length of the pants – the last thing you want is to have your feet tripped up by pants that are too long.
The good news is that your yoga shirt is not as big of a deal as the yoga pants. In fact, you can use almost any shirt to practice yoga in as long as it meets a few simple rules.
A good rule of thumb when picking out a shirt for your yoga practice is to try the shirt on and get into a downward dog position while you are at home. Since this is a popular yoga pose and it also forces your body upside down, it is a great gauge to how your shirt will do during your yoga class.
-Will others be able to see your stomach?
-Is the neckline so low that others can see your chest area?
-Are you comfortable in this shirt while you are in this pose?
These might seem like silly questions, but it is better to figure this stuff out while you are at home than when you are in a crowded yoga studio exposing everyone to your private parts..
Tip: If you choose to wear long sleeves you might want to make sure that the sleeves don't come down past your wrists – wrestling with the sleeves of your shirt will take you out of your yoga workout meditation and may even cause you to lose proper form during certain poses.
One of the greatest things about yoga is that you can come as you are. There is no dress code, there is no fitness level that you have to be at, and there is no one to compete with except yourself. Your yoga routine is all about meeting yourself where you are and taking yourself to the next level. When you dress for your yoga success, you will be unstoppable.
When we explore the layers of the wisdom that comprise the yoga poses we hold, breathe and release, we start to discover symbolism and meaning in every movement. If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, your instructor has most likely guided you into poses such as Warrior II (or in Sanskrit Virabhadrasana II). The Sanskrit words vira means “hero”, bhadra means “friend”, and asana meaning “seat or posture”. Not only does this pose offer many amazing benefits, there’s also an interesting story behind the pose.
According to Hindi mythology, Virabhadra, was a fierce warrior who was at the command of Shiva. In the myth, a powerful priest named Daksha refused to accept Shiva, even when Shiva and Sati (Daksha’s youngest daughter) were married. This dislike between Sati’s father and Shiva upset her so greatly that she killed herself. Upset by his wife’s death, myth says that Shiva created the fiercest warrior from a bead of sweat on his forehead. This warrior’s name was Virabhadra, and Shiva set him out to destroy those who had caused the death of his beloved Sati.
This mythical story shows our human responses to emotions. We often overlook emotions like anger, jealousy, and bitterness in spiritual pursuits like yoga. Being a yogi isn’t about being blissful or “Zen” every single day. Practicing yoga means being able to deal with life’s ups and downs. Along with the extraordinary range of emotions we exhibit, we also have the capacity for reflection. So when our life battles seem beyond our control, we possess the most important tools of the “spiritual warrior”, compassion and forgiveness.
Caution: Do not practice Warrior II if you have hip, knee, or shoulder injury, or if you are experiencing diarrhea or high blood pressure. Those with neck injuries should not turn their head to face the front hand (modify the pose as seen in the picture). Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
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.
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).
Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages in the world. The oldest form of Sanskrit is Vedic Sanskrit that dates back to the 2nd millennium BCE. Known as “the mother of all languages,” Sanskrit is a classical language of the Indian subcontinent and one of the 22 official languages in India. Sanskrit can also be therapeutic. Pronouncing Sanskrit words involve the hard and soft palate, and the reverberating sounds create inner vibrations that are said to affect the central nervous system and the flow of prana. There are several ways to learn the names of yoga poses in Sanskrit. Here are a few ways to learn:
How to learn Sanskrit
Learn some of the basics before coming to class. There are several words repeated throughout the yoga class that you can easily understand. The word "asana" means yoga pose, so you'll hear the word asana placed after every pose. The beginning of a pose name usually relates to a natural feature, animal or person. For example, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana translates to Upward Facing Dog Pose. Other popular Sanskrit words that are used often are "adho" for downward, "hasta" for hand, "pada" for foot and "supta" for lying down or supine. Learning these Sanskrit words you'll know what poses you’re doing next.
Attend yoga classes where the classes are taught using Sanskrit pose names. It's very rare that a yoga class would be taught completely in Sanskrit, so you'll still have alignment cues in your native language. Ashtanga yoga for example, is a style of yoga that traditionally uses Sanskrit pose names. Talk to a yoga teacher prior to class to ask about whether you can expect to hear Sanskrit in the class.
Enroll in a class to learn Sanskrit or speak with a yoga teacher who can help with correct pronunciation. Each traditional yoga pose has a mythical story attached to it that explains the name of the pose and the spiritual connections. Learning the stories behind the poses helps to give background on the Sanskrit names.
Consciously think of or even say the Sanskrit name aloud when you transition into that pose. For example, every time you are in Mountain Pose, think or say to yourself “Tadasana.”
Take advantage of numerous websites and apps that offer quizzes to test your knowledge of Sanskrit. If you don’t want to use the internet or apps, you could make yourself a set of flashcards to help you memorize the poses.
In yoga, the word inversion is used to describe any asana (pose) where the head is below the heart. Most of us think of headstand, handstand or one of these more advanced asanas when we hear “inversions,” but there are many approachable inversions that can be practiced even for a beginner.
There are numerous benefits to inversions: bringing the head below the heart reverses blood flow and improves circulation, builds core strength and confidence, promotes diaphragmatic breathing, stimulates the lymphatic system, and soothes the nervous system. Seniors especially can benefit from inversion poses, but everyone can enjoy improved circulation, reduced foot and leg swelling and of course, rush of oxygen to the brain by including regular inversions in their yoga practice.
While you can practice inverted yoga poses at any time during the day, practicing them early in the morning will help keep you energized and refreshed throughout the day. All inverted yoga poses for beginners can act as elixirs of life, provided they are practiced regularly (and safely). Remember, yoga is a lifelong journey. You don’t need to practice any fancy arm balances to reap the benefits of inversions. Starting with these beginner-friendly inversions is a great way to turn your world upside down. 😊
Caution: Before attempting any inversions, be sure to check with your doctor, particularly if you have elevated blood pressure. Ladies will also want to refrain from inversions during their menstrual cycles.
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