Saturday, May 30, 2015

Wowee Active Hip Opening Sequence!

In the second part of our standing phase of the current series we do this warming, lengthening, strengthening (not to mention challenging) sequence of five linked postures.

This will really connect you to your outer/side thigh/butt area of the front leg.  Remember to stretch less, tense less so if it is too intense then back off.

I did this sequence five times in 36 hours while teaching classes (not sure why I have scheduled five classes in that time frame!) and by the fifth time it was as though I had new hips.  It made me think  I should see if you can get a medicare rebate or something back from your health fund for coming to class as it should feel as though you have a whole new pelvis.

Runners and cyclists, I think you will particularly enjoy it!

Be mindful that you stay lifted out of the front hip so you feel tall rather than sinking.

Also, remain mindful that the front thigh rolls out and back thigh rolls in.

No squashing in the lower back.  It should feel free.

I hope you enjoy this!

I have put the main postures below, with a few optional extras, which is why there are more than 5 steps.

1. From standing, step back...

2. To parsvakonasana...

3. Optional bind only if you can get it in the first second.  Otherwise, let it go...

4. Turn this into a standing balance...

5. Then back to a lunge and turn it into a standing balance the other way (active spinal twist towards the thigh)...

6. To parivrttta parsvakonasana...
7. With an optional bind if it comes in the first second.  Otherwise, let it go...
8. It is almost finished!  Turn back to front and turn it into a standing split without arms ...

9. Ta da!  You did it.  Wowee.  Walk around and see if you can sense a difference between your two sides before trying the second side.

Remember, these posts are mainly for people who practice with me and come to classes or who have an experienced teacher whom they can ask questions of and get feedback from.  Learning from the internet is not recommended.

Might have to think about hip mindfulness workshop soon.  Remind me to help you with this at our upcoming Sri Lanka retreat (16-19 July 2015) and in Bali in September!

Happy and safe practicing!

Much metta


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tips to get you free balancing in forearm balances

Forearm balancing, when done well, is a great way to release tension in the spine, which includes the neck since it is part of the spine.  It also includes the shoulders.  That means you are in the wrong pose if you practice this posture and have a sense of tension or strain anywhere but especially around the neck or shoulders.

This is the pose I recommend you be able to complete before making efforts to do a headstand.

In this posture, which we call horn stand (your hands are clasped except for your baby finger which is sticking out to form a horn) there is no weight on the head at all.

To do it you must have adequate strength and mobility around the shoulder joint complex while your feet are both on and off the ground.

As in many postures, the preparation is more difficult than the final posture.

In this post I share a few tips about preparing to come into this balance.  This includes my thoughts on the use of the wall and how I use it in a limited fashion, along with common errors and how to use a block to help you prepare.

First, here is a video of me free balancing so you get an idea of the final posture.

I practiced on the grass today since I was matless and sleeveless and the concrete was too scratchy on my elbows.

Now, to get there I recommend a few stages of specific preparation (as distinguished from the non-specific just general stability and strengthening and movement you do through my classes).

Base preparation
Number one is to get the horn.  See the picture below.

The 2-4 digits are interlaced.  The palms are pressed together.  The thumb and baby finger are free.  The baby fingers point out like a horn.  The horn is going to help you balance in the final posture, with the weight shifting between horn and elbows.

The elbows are about shoulder width apart but I prefer to try a bit narrower since the tendency is for them to splay out on tight shouldered people.

Then get the lower ribs high up away from the ground and get your head and neck so you are looking to your navel.  The upper and middle back will feel rounded.  The lower back is lengthened, not arched.

When you get your lower ribs far away from the ground your head will come away from the ground.  You cannot see it in the photos because there is so much hair tumbling down.  In the first video I kept my head forward so you could see it is not on the ground.

In the wall video I kept it looking to navel and then moved it back and forth a bit so you can see it there as well.

I am firming my tummy in a way that I can still breathe.  If you don't know how to do this you need to look back at previous posts or come to class.  It is important.

I push my horn and wrist downward and feel as though I am pushing my elbows forward.  I can't show a picture of those things.  They are 'secret' internal actions.

Beware the sinking shoulders
Sinking the chest and into the shoulders is one of the common errors in this posture.  See the example of sinking shoulders from the side and front views, below.

Compare this with the lower ribs lifted into lower back in the next picture.  You can see that the wrinkles in my t-shirt have ironed themselves out. 

And sinking with the knees raised...

Versus lifting with the knees raised...

Again, you see how many wrinkles in the shirt appear around the lower back in the sinking version.

Get strong!
With the base set, I start some strengthening and mobility practice.

I take my knees just a tad from the floor.  Enough so an ant or grasshopper could go underneath without being squished.

Move slowly and do not sink into your shoulders or drop the ribs.

This should create postural firmness in the tummy in a way you can breathe if it was not there already (and if you had not sucked it all in).

You can go a bit higher so a little puppy could run under your knees.

I go slowly up and down.  I make sure I do not drop in my shoulders.  I keep horn pushing down, elbows pushing forward, neck free, tummy can breathe (but firm).

I can come higher and perch on the very tips of my toes.  I try to get off the balls of my feet.  If you have weight going through the balls of your feet you won't get enough weight through the arms.

You just stay there and breathe. Make a few jokes to passersby.  Be firm but relaxed and calm.

If you can, you take a knee into chest, heel to bottom.  But you go slowly and make sure you do not collapse into one shoulder or drop the chest.

Take note.  If this feels tough it is because THIS IS REALLY HARD!

It is really hard to go through these stages without sinking into your shoulders and feel comfortable.

Stay here and keep practicing at this level until you can at least feel comfortable for more than 30 seconds I say.  That's not science but hopefully you get the picture.

Block practice
The video below shows my block practice.

I go to the blocks in class sometimes to help people get an idea of what it can feel like to be upside down.

You don't need to kick up to do this so as long as you have some good strength around shoulders and core it should be accessible.

If you are not strong enough you will find it difficult to get a leg off the ground so go back to the first (ground) practice.

I push the ball of one foot into the block and then the other foot starts to come up.  Alas, most of the important parts to see are in shadow in the photo below!

You can just hover a little away from the ground or start to bring knee to chest.

And finally take the leg directly up.

The head is down and looking towards the navel.  It feels really great if you are in the correct position.

A word of caution about block practice is that it can feel so good you might like to take both feet off.  I don't advise trying.  Mainly because if you crash down you are going to smash your feet into the block.  Ouch.

Wall practice
Ok, so I really don't use the wall for any of the inversions.  All of my students will know how I sort of begrudgingly take us over there only on very rare occasions!  The video below shows how I use the wall if I use it.

You can see I missed the first two times because I was trying to lightly kick up.

One of the reasons I have developed a no wall practice is because I think people go to it too early.  They try to build strength at the wall when you need to build strength on the ground.  It is actually much harder to do the first position that I described (ground version) than it is to do either the block or wall variation.  Perhaps that is why people go to the wall!!

Anyway, if you are going to a wall, psychologically you will know it is there.  Most people will therefore just over-kick or not worry about refining their kick because we know the wall is there to catch us.  People who spend too much time at the wall seem to take longer to learn to free balance.

Thus, if you use it do so sparingly I say!  And, if you must, then perhaps try this way.

I show using the wall with just a toe tip touching.  I try and take one leg straight up and be on the other toe tip.  I then figure out where that up leg needs to be to help me find my centre of gravity.  I can also learn to 'play' with the weight between horn and elbows.  You should find that if you are on a toe tip and you press through the horn that the toe tip starts to float away from the wall.

So for me the lesson of the wall is to learn about how to play with and find your centre of gravity upside down.  But this is a refining technique to try once you have built the strength!

Look for lifting not sinking.  Firmness but calmness.  Lightness not heaviness.  This is a great way to practice all postures, but especially for these inversions.

This is the same approach I take to handstand so you can apply these ideas on ground, block and wall but just with the arms straight!

Happy and safe practicing!  Remember, these videos and posts are intended for students who come to my classes and who can ask questions and interact with a real person about their own bodies.  Learning from the internet is not recommended.

This is the type of thing I teach in my classes and which we regularly workshop in retreats. Join us if you like!

Much metta,

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Trikonasana with active spinal movements

Here is Trikonasana with active spinal movements.  You can see the movement has been initiated from core stabilising muscles as you can see the tummy muscles in action.  This is not a 'sucking it in tightly' type of tummy firmness.

Trikonasana comes in many forms.  

In this post I share some tips on using active spinal movements to come into one variation.  I make a particular point of not sinking into the front hip. 

You will see that my active spinal movements create postural firmness in the tummy.  

Perhaps watch the video first, then take a look at the step-by-step instructions.

We all have different bodies.  This is the way I teach in class and is mainly intended for my yoga students so I can talk about the posture and discuss how these actions fit their bodies.  

When practicing move slowly and don't do anything that hurts.  Feel like you are doing something but without stress or strain.  

Video Sequence
The video shows me coming into the posture dynamically from a hypothetical top of mat (if I used a mat but who needs one for a pose like trikonasana especially!).

Step-By-Step Instructions
Below I have broken down some of the main actions.  They are not all of the actions.  I do quite a bit more subtle movement in my own practice.  I look for freedom, lift, and length.  I move away from squashing, pain, and strain.  

1. Lengthen lower back and open front of groin
I give the instruction to move the sitting bones down, top of pelvis back.  I look for a feeling of length in the lower back (subtle) as well as opening of the front of groin.  

2. Spinal forward bend
Here I maintain action 1.  Then I try to move forward from my spine around the level of my navel without letting my hips move back.  I am basically trying to do a sit up in my tummy in a way that I can still feel the movement of the breath there.  It is something I have posted about previously. 

3. Lean forward and step back
Maintaining all previous actions, I lean forward so my front toes start to naturally grip then take the other leg back. I am careful not to drop into my front hip, stick my butt out, or arch in my lower back. 

4. Open front of groin, lengthen lower back
Once I take toe and heel down I make sure I have maintained the length in my lower back and opening across front of groin (sitting bones down, top of pelvis back). 

5. Front thigh rolls out
I check the action of the front thigh.  It is rolling out.  

I could also make sure my front heel is out and the outer edge of my front foot is pointing straight ahead.  From there, I try to move my heel inwards without it moving.  This will help activate outer hip muscles to assist in rolling the thigh out. 

6. Back thigh rolls in
Allow the back pelvis to also come around to the front slightly so the lower back feels comfortable.

Roll your back thigh in.  Feel the inner thigh working. 

7. Stretch the ground with your feet
Push your front foot down and forward and your back foot down and backwards, as though you are stretching the ground with your feet.

You should feel the legs become very firm.

When the legs become firm, the spine should start to feel light.  I am always looking for lightness in my spine.

8. Lower ribs move subtly back
I move the lower ribs subtly back into my middle back so the middle back feels light and long. 

9. Navel turns towards top pelvis
I turn my navel towards my top pelvis.  Importantly, I keep my back thigh rolling in.  

10. Lower ribs and chest turn to sky
Keeping lower ribs in, I start to turn the rest of my spine up towards the sky. 

11. Arms reach
I take an arm up and and arm down.  

My arms are in line with the front of my chest.  

12. If going deeper, keep front groin open
It is possible to go lower to the ground.  However, I move slowly so that I do not sink into my front groin. 

I need to keep strong actions of rolling that front thigh out and the sitting bones down and top of pelvis back. 

If you start to sink or your butt starts to mutt out or your lower back starts becoming archy then these are signs you might be collapsing in the posture. 

13. Neck in a comfortable position
Once I have the rest of the spine in place, I decide where my head and neck will be most comfortable and move them there.  This could be looking down.  

Happy and safe spinal moving!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

How to Use Active Spinal Movements For Parsvakonasana

Parsvakonasna: A forward bending, side bending, twisting, backbend

If I could only give one instruction in class it would be something like, find lift in your postures.  Find lightness.

Okay, that's two, but that's what guides me through my self-practice reflection whenever I encounter and practice moving and postures.

That said, I encourage students to be mindful that they are not collapsing in their postures.

People who are very flexible often collapse out of habit, especially if they have not developed strength to balance their flexibility.

People who are stiffer might do it to try and get deeper into an image of a pose they think they should be in, often with some strain.

I have little slips and sinks and collapses that I still need to think of myself!  It is an ongoing work.

In standing poses there is always the possibility of sinking into the hips.  In arm balancing poses there is the possibility of sinking into the shoulders.  In backbends it tends to be sinking into the lower back.

In this post I look at a way to try parsvakonasana without sinking into the front hip.

I describe the key actions that give strength and stability to this pose and which help develop mobility.

I pay particular attention to some key spinal actions that will help you develop a strong and mobile core.

I have included two videos.  One has more slow and detailed visual instructions.  The other highlights the difference between lifting and sinking in the front hip.

I have also included step-by-step visual and written instructions, breaking down the pose into key leg, spinal, and upper body actions.

As with all my posts, I really write these for my students to practice outside of class.  If you are not a student of mine I encourage you to come to class or find a suitably qualified teacher who can help you better understand the feeling of these actions in your body!

Perhaps watch the key actions video first.  Then review the step-by-step instructions.  Then watch the difference between sinking and lifting.

Key actions video
This video shows me using my mime skills to show you how to come into the posture.

Perhaps the highlight of this video comes around 1 minute 50 seconds when a little boy (not in the screen shot) says 'I need to do a poo'.  A conversation ensues between the family members and the boy, discussing where he can do a poo, and culminates with dad's joking comment, 'well, you can't do a poo in the lake'.  As you can see, that brought a big smile to my face!

Key actions step-by-step instructions
Parsvakonasana, spinally speaking, is essentially a forward bending, side bending, twisting, backbend.  Is that what you are doing when you practice?  I deconstruct it below.

1. Sitting bones down, top of pelvis back, lengthens lower back and unsquashes front of groin.
2. Spinal forward bend.  This means firming the tummy in a way you can still breathe into it.  I do this by keeping top of pelvis back, leaning forward, and trying to move my hips forward without them actually moving.  I lean forward without letting my butt stick up and start to take my leg back.

3. Toe down then heel down.

4. Check sitting bones down and top of pelvis back.

5. Check front thigh is rolling out.  You could do this by thinking of how to roll it out.  You could do it by turning your front heel out slightly so outer foot points straight ahead then try gripping the heel back in without moving it. 

6. Check back thigh is rolling in.  You can allow your back pelvis to also come in if that helps.  In fact, these actions should help unsquash your lower back.  I have outer back foot lifting towards outer ankle.  
7. Stretch the ground with your feet.  That means pushing the front foot down and forward and the back foot down and backward. 

8. Lower ribs move back to middle back to help bring softness to your middle and upper back.  

9.  Spinal side bending.  That means you try and move the front of bottom pelvis forward and up towards bottom side front rib. In the picture you see me drawing those two points together.  Make sure the lower ribs stay back and don't pop out. 

10. Take top arm overhead.  Push armpits forward and up as though trying to bring your underarms towards your nose.  Outer armpit is rolling towards your face.  This enhances the side bend.
11. Turn from your navel level of spine towards the top pelvis.  Try not to move your top pelvis or move anything else.  This is just a spinal twist. Many people move the whole pelvis here but you want to make this a spinal movement. 
12.  Keep turning your spine progressively towards the sky.  In the photo I show turning the chest.  Again, try to keep this a spinal movement.  Also, watch that the lower ribs do not jut out. 
13. You can put your bottom arm wherever it goes without changing the preceding actions.  Here is the point where many people might just collapse in their front hip in an effort to reach the ground.  But in this photo you can see that I have kept the front hip exactly as it was in the preceding photo.  I come to the ground with my arm because I enhance the spinal side bend.  Wherever that bottom arm ends up, you don't sink into it either.  I am just lightly pressing my hand into the ground and mainly doing an action of moving that armpit towards the hips to enhance the spinal side bend. 

14. From there I add the last action.  This is a lengthening of the front of the spine.  I touched my upper chest in the photo (although the action comes from the navel).  I get a little lift which sort of feels like a little back bend in my upper back.  From there my head comes into place.  Many people will not feel comfortable with their head in this position.  It is better that you find your own comfortable position for your head and neck.  My head position is throat forward, chin up, combined with a little twist where move the top ear away from the top shoulder slightly.  I cannot show or explain this well here so I just suggest you move your head and neck gently and find your own comfortable spot. 
15. Here I stay firm but calm.  My tummy is firm but I can feel the movement of the breath there.  I am content and at peace.  I feel like I am doing something and I am getting warm from this posture.  It is about 10 degrees celcius in this photo yet I don't feel cold even in this crop top because I had been practicing for a little while and using active movements in such a way that I tensed less, stretched less and just enjoyed moving.  This is self-evident when you can see me laugh and smile as I hear the jokes of the people around me.  

Difference between sinking and lifting
In this video you can see me first coming into the posture so that I do not sink into the front hip.  In the second version I just sink into the front hip.

In the second way I do not do spinal side bending.  It is more just hip flexion.  Because of this I feel very passive.  I am not getting warmth and I am not moving energy through my spine effectively.

Ultimately how you come into postures is your choice.

Be happy and content.  Practice safely, mindfully, and peacefully.  When you practice like this people want to be around you.  You inspire movement in others.  As I was filming these sequences today I had at least 4 strangers come up to me, including two children who just wanted to do tricks with me (handstands and arm balances), all wanting to talk about what I was doing and how it just made them feel good.  I am certainly not the most elegant, strongest, most flexible person.  But I really enjoy doing what I do.   Happy with where I am.  When that happens I do believe you can have a powerful influence on helping others towards finding their own inner happiness too.

This is the type of thing I teach in classes, workshops, and retreats in Canberra, Sri Lanka, and Bali.  Hope to see you somewhere soon!