Sunday, June 28, 2015

Strong Arms For Mayurasana

It has taken me a long time to get to a full mayurasana like this one.  Scroll down to the end of the post to see a cool video of how to transition out of gomukhasana via mayurasana, which we practice in my current sequence.

The funny thing is less than six months ago I was trying this pose in the park and I could not extend my legs fully.

The only way I could do the pose was to have bent knees or put them into a bind like padmasana.  Below is a photo taken of me earlier in the year that shows my best effort.

On that day in February it seemed to me unlikely, perhaps even impossible, that I would manage a fuller variation of the posture.

So what changed?

Did I start practicing mayruasana every day?

Actually, no.  I don't remember doing mayurasana very much or at all since then.

The main difference, and what I perceive has made the most difference, is in my last sequence (just finished) I mixed up my surya namaskar slightly.

I like to introduce a little change each sequence--not so much in the poses themselves but the transitions between them or how long we hold them for.

The last sequence I worked with holding my high planks for longer, then incorporated a double push-up with good technique (on my knees most of the time) before lowering to the ground for a shalabhasana variation (prone extension with hands by side).

There were no mayurasanas in my last sequence so there is no doubt that my improved mayruasana was not due to practicing mayurasana.

I am reminded of the time I stopped practicing padmasana because I could not come into it without using my hands.

Instead I worked with good technique in standing postures and one day I decided to try padmasana without hands again and to my surprise I was able to do it.

So it happened today that I tried mayurasana and realised, hey, my legs are straight here!

Mayruasana is a challenge for a lot of women, who tend to be bottom heavy.

In my understanding that is why it is easier for women (but not easy) to come into the pose with knees wide and bent.

The variation I show in my video might work for those who can come into gomukhasana and then perhaps transition to the other side using a gomukhu-mayurasana pose.

This posture is strong on the wrists and you need to have developed a good ability to hold your body weight on your hands without straining the wrists before you try.

I will run through this in class and at my upcoming retreats in Sri Lanka and Bali (, but, for now, watch the video and note the placement of elbows somewhere just below the navel, the distance of the knees from the hands, that I am pressing strongly with my fingertips, and that I am maintaining a sense of ease and comfort within a challenging posture.

Look forward to seeing you somewhere soon!

Happy and safe practicing.

Much metta,

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Strengthen Your Butt With Trikonasana!

Trikonasana is one of the basic standing postures in yoga.

Cultivating good activation in the muscles around the hip of the front thigh will help you move gracefully into some other fun poses that have their foundations in the triangle posture.

In this post I show a fun transition out of trikonasana that will help develop some balance and focus skills.

Watch the video then take a look at the individual positions in the photographs below.

Lifting not sinking
It is hard to tell from watching (which is why I do a lot of demonstration and adjustment in class) but I work strongly in these transitions to cultivate a 'lifting' not sinking feeling out of the standing (front) hip/leg.

There is a strong action of external rotation of the thigh in the front leg.

External rotation of the front thigh in trikonasana is when you sense the inner thigh rolling up towards the sky/ceiling so the kneecap looks more like it is pointing more straight up or even slightly more towards the outer front foot (rather than dropping in over the inner foot).

You should feel a corresponding activation around your side/outer hip/butt area.

This can be easier to sense for many people if you bend the knee slightly, generate the action, then slowly start to straighten the knee.

If you can make sure you cultivate this external rotation in trikonasana then the transition to the balance will be easier.

If you move slowly you will notice there is a slight tendency for the standing leg thigh to want to roll in and the side of your hip move out slightly.  This leads to a feeling of 'dip' in the hip.

As you transition, counter this by bringing your awareness to the outer/side hip and try to either:

  • roll the front thigh out
  • move the front hip more to the centreline of the body
  • push down strongly through the heel of the standing foot (while lengthening and gripping the toes)

The back thigh, throughout, is rolling in.

Start in trikonasana.

Ardha Badha Trikonasana
Go for an arm bind if comfortable.  Mine easily wraps around my back to catch my thigh but yours might just be behind your back.  Don't worry where it goes, it is more important there is no discomfort.

Niralamba Ardha Chandrasana (with arm bind)
Niralamba means unsupported.  In this case it means you do not have hands on ground.

I try to maintain the external rotation in the standing hip as I lean forward.  I press strongly through my heel.  I keep leaning forward until my toes naturally start to grip--a good sign that the balance is coming!  My back leg comes up easily due to the shift of balance.  To get it higher I have to use active movement.

Raise elbow
I bring fingertips to shoulder.  Stay steady!

Raise body
Ok, starting to get tough here!  Raise the body!  This is the trickiest transition in my opinion.  You have to keep absolutely stable in that standing hip.

Release bind and straighten arm
Once you are here it is now relatively easy just to release the arm from the bind and extend it out.

You did it!
As Dora (the explorer) would say: You did it!

Of course, you can always keep that back toe tip down as lightly as possible and do the spinal/arm actions with toe tip just touching.  You still need to maintain that lift out of the hip though.

Have fun practicing.  Try your best but without an attachment to the outcome.  Without strain.  Without stress.

Oh, probably you will feel something deep in your butt after this sequence.  Yeah!  It's working.

I don't recommend learning from the internet.  Come to class if you can!

This is a mini-sequence we will be working with in our current 9 week sequence.  It is such a good training tool I will likely be teaching it in our retreat in Sri Lanka and in Bali as well (

This sequence is part of a Yoga Synergy style sequence taught by Simon Borg Olivier and Bianca Machliss.

Much metta,

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Practicing Calm

Practicing Calm: Four Benefits of The Silent Yoga Class

Every 9 weeks I teach a silent (physical) class.  My retreats always finish with a silent practice.  And in workshops I will usually have a ‘silent’ break somewhere in the middle.

Verbal silence that is for, as those who have ever tried some sort of silent practice will know, just because you stop talking does not mean things go quiet. 

In fact, the opposite can be true.  You start to hear other sounds more intently.  Other voices, the water trickling, the wind swishing, the sound of clothes rustling. 

It is why many teachers discourage people from leaving a class while others are meditating or relaxing; you might think you are being quiet but when the teacher stops talking all other sounds can be amplified.  

And even if we could be alone in a room, we still would not be in silence.  You start to hear the sounds of your breath, the sounds of the inner workings of your body—stomach gurgling, pulse throbbing.  And, unless you are a seasoned meditator, you will likely find your internal voice can take on a noise all of its own!

That said, a silent (physical) yoga class can help you in many ways.  Since I teach one every 9 weeks you will get to one eventually.  Below are some of the benefits you can expect. 

Letting go
First, it is a practice of letting go.  Without a teacher’s verbal instructions you need to ‘be’ where you are at that present moment in time.  Indeed, you cannot ‘be’ anywhere else.  When no one is telling you how to do bakasana or a handstand (or even something less complex), if you cannot figure it out, you need to let that pose go. 

That means you also get a snapshot of where you ‘are’ at that moment in time and what your level of readiness for particular postures is.  It gives you some insight into what you might need to cultivate further.

Going inside
Second, you gain an appreciation of just how much mental energy it takes to listen. 

Listening is a great skill.  It helps you to be a kinder, more socially able person. 

But language processing, even when people are saying helpful or kind things, takes up a lot of your brain’s capacity.

When you do not need to listen anymore you are free to follow your own internal voice and intuition.  Again, you become more in tune with what is going on with you at that moment in time. 

Many religious orders and spiritual retreats harness the insightful power of this type of silence.

Greater connection
But being in silence does mean being alone.  A third benefit is the amazing capacity of the verbal silence to enhance a feeling of connectedness. 

In a silent class you are not just doing your own thing entirely.  You are still following the basic movements and timing of the class.

And the silence combined with shared movement, helps you feel more connected to others in the group.  You sort of become a bit like a school of fish who move collectively—communicating via something other than spoken language.

The connection is not just to the group, however, because the silence of the group also helps you become more in tune with the environment.  You attain a keener sense of the ground beneath you, breeze and sun on your skin, wildlife around you, and the people passing by. 

Thinking less
A fourth benefit is that this type of practice can help you out of ‘over-thinking’. 

With no verbal instructions you have less to question—what does that mean?  What is she talking about? Am I doing it right? 

Over-thinking is one of things that can block movement of energy through our body and, as such, block feelings of overall wellbeing.  It can make us stiff, rigid, anxious, and prevent us from seeing clearly.

When we cannot ‘see clearly’ we do not feel at our best.  We tend not to make the best decisions. 

Practicing calm
These four things—letting go, going inside, a sense of greater connection to the group and environment, and thinking less—all help you to practice bringing about a sense of calm. 

Most people, at the end of the silent practice, find it easier to meditate and find the quality of their meditation much enhanced. 

We will be sharing some beautiful silent practices with you at our retreats and in the classes we teach around the world.  Looking forward to seeing you somewhere soon!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Active Kurmasana

Kurmasana is an intense spinal forward bend and I recommend should only be practiced with a teacher and not by learning from the internet.

This post is mainly to show how long my spine is when I practice this posture rather than as a 'how to'.  I have pictures and a video at the end.

Many people can do a version of this where they straighten their legs but their spine remains very humped up--like a tortoise shell I suppose.

It will indeed remain a little 'humpy' but my effort here is in trying to lengthen.

I do active variations first to firm the tummy (in a way I can breathe and move the spine).  A more active variation would be to lie down and do what I show here.

First, a sort of navasana where knees bend and I make efforts to draw them into my chest.

Then, I try to keep my legs as close to my chest as possible and straighten them.  This will be beyond a lot of people.  Don't let your legs come out too far from your chest.
Next I take my heels and help myself into the posture assisting with the hands.  I try to push my heels into my hands and make efforts to bend my elbows.  I keep chest and thighs close.  I try to keep shoulders and knees together with firm tummy.  The danger when you use your hands here is that your tummy goes soft so make sure tummy stays firm.
Lengthen the legs as much as possible while maintaining previous actions.  In the video you can see me wriggling to lengthen my spine further--while trying to keep my balance. It's a bit tricky.
I keep tummy firm and legs come down.  Knees are bent, spine is long. I recommend you keep spine long and legs bent rather than go for straight legs.  Far better to stay here than strain or force.
Tummy firm, spine long and shoulders go under knees.
Arms straighten out beside me, shoulders under knees, tummy firm, spine long.  I can breathe comfortably.
Slowly I go, keeping tummy firm and spine long.
The video below shows the posture in action. I make particular efforts to also ensure my neck is in a comfortable position and you can see me moving it around. 

Following an intense forward bend like this I do a less intense forward bend like paschimottansasana and then a strong tummy firming posture like bakasana or a high plank.  If you do postures well counterpose is not necessary but I have just made it a practice.

Using active movements and doing the posture 'mid-air' without hands as much as possible ensures I combine strength and flexibility.

I teach something like the 'wowee active hip opening' sequence I just posted prior to this before I do a posture like kurmasana.

This is the approach I take in my classes, workshops and retreats.  Join me if you like--in Canberra, Bali (for our yoga and raw food retreat September 2015) or in Sri Lanka (yoga retreat).  Details of my class and retreat schedule are on the home page of my blog.

Happy and safe practicing.