The hips are the center of the body, connecting the upper body and the legs. Ancient yogis name this location in our bodies as the resting place of kundalini-shakti energy. When our hips are strong, balanced and flexible, they are the foundation for a yoga practice and a life that hold those same qualities.
Lizard Pose or Utthan Pristhasana in Sanskrit, comes from the words Utthan meaning “stretching out” and Pristha meaning “back of the body.” An alternate translation of Pristha is “page of a book,” an appropriate description as we hold many of our emotions in our hips. Lizard pose opens the hips and hamstrings while strengthening the inner thigh muscles of the front leg. The hips store an abundance of emotions so this stretch not only helps the muscles but also helps to release that stored energy allowing for healing and strength. Tight hamstrings are an indication of feeling stuck in our lives so this pose also helps us take on new strides and abound to new wonderful moments in our yoga journey.
How to do Lizard Pose
Begin in Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana), step your right foot forward between your hands. Heel-toe your foot towards the edge of your mat, so that your foot is slightly wider than your shoulders.
Let your hips grow heavy, so that they settle forward and down. Begin to walk your hands forwards until you are able to come down on to your forearms (You may place your forearms on the ground, or on a block). Either rest your hands palms facing down on the mat (as seen in the picture), or bring your hands together in prayer position.
Extend your heart forward, lengthening the spine. Try to soften the heart and draw the shoulder blades together, taking heed not to round your back.
Keep your right knee hugging towards your midline to get into the inner hip and thigh area of your right leg. You can keep your left knee lifted with your leg active, or for a more restorative version, you can lower your left knee (as seen in the picture).
Don’t worry if the forearms can’t come down onto the mat just yet. Work on softening into the hips as much as possible, and try placing a block underneath the elbows as you begin to find more openness in your hips. For those with sensitive knees, place some padding underneath the knee such as a rolled up yoga towel or fold your yoga mat over for extra cushion for the knee. Repeat other side (if needed).
There’s a tendency to drop the head and collapse through the chest in Lizard Pose. Keeping the head and neck aligned with the spine by lifting the chin slightly and sending the gaze forward allows for more extension along the body (rather than contraction).
Caution: Those suffering from hip, groin or knee injuries should avoid this pose. Also, those who have had any recent surgery of the abdomen, thorax, hips or legs should not attempt this pose.
Feathered Peacock Pose or Pincha Mayurasana as its named in Sanskrit, represents the beautiful feathers of the peacock that lift its tail upright. This represents the peacock in all its grandeur. The fierceness that is described in the peacock should be imbibed in our day to day lives.
You can also call it as the elbow stand or the forearm stand pose too. As the entire weight falls on your shoulders, it has tremendous strength to withhold that balance for a specific period of time. As the shoulders are not joined together but kept at a distance distributing your weight on both the shoulders.
Similar to Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) this pose also tests our fear of falling. It is different from Tree pose(Vrksasana) as the arms are not bent and in this asana it is the bending giving you the extra support. Feathered Peacock is NOT an easy pose to do on your own. You can however use the wall as a support (as seen in the picture) when first trying this pose. The help of an experienced yoga teacher may also provide extra support when first learning/practicing this pose. Even though it may look like a simple asana, doing it can be a different ball game all together.
It is a stress buster that aids you to relax due to the position of the asana. The tension that would be in the shoulder area is easily removed.
It opens your chest, the pose also helps the shoulders including your upper arms and upper back. As your rib area and stomach area keeps the body straight they get toned too.
The legs and buttocks are also strengthened because of the need, to keep your body in a straight line. This position lets you strengthen your thighs as it has to be kept straight without bending over. Thigh muscles benefit greatly by doing this inverted pose.
In this pose too the blood from the legs rushes down to the head, supplying it with fresh blood, which rejuvenates you as well as refreshes your mind and body to the highest proximity.
Note: Be careful while doing this pose if you have high blood pressure, spinal injuries, shoulder, elbow or neck injuries. Consult a doctor before beginning an exercise regime.
Marjaryasana/Bitilasana (Cat/Cow pose) is a combination of two yoga poses that gently stretch and warm up your spine. The Sankrit name for cat cow pose is Marjaiasana. Marjay meaning cat and Bitil meaning cow (asana meaning pose). Cat/Cow pose consists of moving the spine from a rounded position to an arched position. Hence Cat/Cow pose is good for the spine. It’s a basic motions but it is enormously beneficial in preventing back pain and maintaining a healthy spine. Bringing movement and flexibility to your spine helps your body to become more coordinated. Try a few slow rounds of Cat-Cow when you wake in the morning, before bed, or after sitting for a long period. You may notice yourself walking taller throughout the day! 😊
How To Perform Cat-Cow Pose:
1. Start on the ground with a neutral spine in table-top position with your knees and hands on the floor. Your knees should be hip distance apart in line with your hips and your arms should be straightened and in line with your shoulders. Keep your head in line with your body and either close your eyes or gaze towards the ground.
2. Take an inhale while in this neutral spine position and then slowly exhale your breath while rounding your spine towards the sky, keeping your hands and knees where they are.
3. As you round your spine you will gently release your head towards the ground while making sure not to tense your neck. Engage your lower core muscles and really try to bring your tailbone towards the center of your body while rounding your back as high as you can.
4. Once you have released your entire breath in Cat Pose start to inhale deeply while dropping your belly towards the ground.
5. Begin to arch your back and lift your chest towards the sky keeping your neck in line with your spine. Release your lower belly to the ground while actively lifting your tailbone to the sky.
6. After a full inhale while in Cow Pose, start to slowly exhale your breath and move through to Cat Pose once again. Continue through the Cat-Cow sequence as many times as you need, maintaining a slow and steady breath the entire time.
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
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.
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.
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