A Life of Yoga

I have been happily teaching this past week.  My students inspire me to lead them into creative yoga sessions where we explore movement, breathing, meditation, and life in the moment.  My past week was filled with yoga classes, private yoga sessions, and a Yoga for Golf workshop I taught in Eastern Washington.  What I present in today’s blog are six yoga poses from a yoga sequence I taught in a private session with and for MaryAnn last Wednesday.  I have pulled/borrowed photos of various poses from the internet demonstrating the poses described below, plus I have peppered in some of my own photos from a recent trip to Berkeley, California.

The focus for MaryAnn’s session was specifically for  hip stretches, being gentle on the knees, spinal rotations, inversions, and  building core strength.

1) Sit in hero pose with your back at least two feet away from the wall.   Place a bolster under your knees. The closer you are to the wall, the less stretch you will get.  Move further away from the wall to get the optimal stretch.  Inhale: Reach your arms up to the ceiling and flex wrists so palms face the ceiling.  Then reach back towards the wall.  If you have lots of flexibility, your fingers will point down towards the floor as you reach for the wall. Lift chest and arch! Keep buttocks in contact with the bolster as you arch towards the wall.  It will look like a blend of reclining hero pose and camel.    Exhale: From the arched position, fold forward to child’s pose with the bolster still under knees.   Repeat back and forth 4-6x.

Virasana (place bolster under knees)

Virasana (place bolster under knees). In the version I taught, the arms came up overhead, spine was arched,  and arms reached back for a nearby wall.

Moving into child's pose. ..place bolster under knees

Moving into child’s pose. ..place bolster under knees

Bamboo from the University of California Berkeley Botanical Gardens.

Bamboo forest from the University of California Berkeley Botanical Gardens.

2) Sit in Wide Angle and do a forward bend.  This can also be done with partners.  In this case, you face your partner, place feet to feet (as shown in the second photo), hold hands, and start to circle your torso to stretch the inner thighs.  Circles provide a more effective inner thigh stretch as opposed to having someone pull you toward them.  This second option is more intense and partner should pull gently.

forward bend

forward bend

Pair work in forward bend

Pair work in forward bend

Matilija Poppy

Matilija Poppy (Berkeley Botanical Gardens)

3)  Variation on Bharadvajasana:  Sit with legs as wide as your yoga mat, bend knees, feet on mat, and begin to move knees from left to right.  The movement resembles the “windshield wiper” movement which is done while lying on your back.   As you warm up going from right to left, begin to add a twist.  (see photo below) Then gradually come to the first side twist (twist to your right) and walk your hands towards the right until they face the wall behind you.  To get there, the left buttock will leave the floor.  Repeat on side two.  Come to side one again, and this time, walk your hands to face the wall behind you, then drop down onto your elbows.  It’s a great twist!  Repeat on second side.

Variation on Bharadvajasana.

Variation on Bharadvajasana.

Berkeley Botanical Gardens: Ferns up close

Berkeley Botanical Gardens: Ferns up close

4) Downward Facing Dog: Sure, if you do yoga, you do this all the time, right?  Well, be inspired by your dog or your cat and really get your sitting bones up in the air!  Use your breath.  Inhale and breathe into your arm pits and into your belly.  Exhale and draw your navel inward and lengthen your hamstrings and your entire spine.  Have a partner nearby?  Have him or her grab a strap and pull you from behind so that your spine lengthens to the maximum and you will feel like you are flying!

Downward facing dog muses: doggies stretching

Downward facing dog muses: doggies stretching

Have a friend give you a pull using a yoga strap...or use a sling (if you have one).

Have a friend give you a pull using a yoga strap…or use a sling as shown in this photo (if you have one).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lilies

lilies

5) Pigeon Pose:  This is one of the best hip stretches ever.  The variation we did was similar to the one in the photo below except that MaryAnn was reaching for a bar (and a strap was looped around the bar for easier reach).

Pigeon Pose.  Right were the model's hands are, we had a bar and a strap looped around the bar.  MaryAnn caught hold of the strap (attached to the bar for easier reach) and from there she arched her back.

Pigeon Pose. Right where the model’s hands are, we had a bar plus a strap looped around the bar. MaryAnn caught hold of the strap (attached to the bar for easier reach) and from there she arched her back.

6) Core Strengthening with Plank:  Hands down, Plank Pose is THE winner for building strong abdominal muscles, legs, and arms!  Recently, there has been a flurry of news articles praising the efficacy of practicing plank pose for strength building! Explore the many ways to practice plank:  plank on your hands, plank on your elbows, side plank facing right while using only the left arm and legs to hold you up, or, more challenging, side plank on your elbow, plank looking at the mat (using both hands) and lifting one leg…the list goes on and on.  Here is the variation MaryAnn and I worked on:  come to a wall and walk your feet up the wall. Bring your body parallel to the floor and hold while working on doing a pelvic tilt so you don’t sink into your lower back.  Photo below demonstrates the variation I just described.  If this is too difficult, modify slightly by trying this with feet on the seat of a chair.

Plank at the wall!  Master this and you will instantly feel Herculean!

Plank at the wall! Master this and you will instantly feel Herculean!

Mural  from People's Park in Berkeley

Mural from People’s Park in Berkeley

Mural from People's Park in Berkeley near Telegraph Avenue

Mural from People’s Park in Berkeley near Telegraph Avenue

All of the electric boxes in Berkeley are painted with beautiful artwork.  I love this one!

The city power boxes in Berkeley are painted with beautiful artwork. I love this one!

7) And finally it is time to put your strength to the test by doing a variation on headstand.  MaryAnn and I set up two chairs.  I always make sure the two chairs are on a sticky mat so there is no chance of the chairs moving.  If you are using folding chairs, make sure the chairs are opened up fully before doing your headstand.  And always place the chairs against a wall, even if you don’t need the wall for balance.  If this terrifies you or if you have never done this before, I strongly suggest having a skilled yoga instructor guide you up safely!  It takes a lot of strength to get up, mostly abdominal strength.  Make sure the chairs are close enough so that your shoulders will be fully supported by the seat of the chairs.  You can hold for  a few breaths or work your way up to holding one full minute:

Headstand using two chairs facing each other.  Your neck is entirely free and can relax fully while in this version of headstand!

Headstand using two chairs facing each other. Your neck is entirely free and can relax fully while in this version of headstand!

And that concludes the highlights of the yoga practice I taught MaryAnn!  Enjoy the rest of the photos from my short trip to Berkeley and San Francisco.  The purpose of the trip was for Rick to do some research on his paternal grandfather, Morris Clark.  His is a very intriguing story which I hope Rick will write about one day.

Oh yeah!  Can't go to Berkeley and not skip on over to spend one day in San Fran!

Oh yeah! Can’t go to Berkeley and not skip on over to spend one day in San Francisco!

And I can't even imagine a trip to San Fran without a stop at City Lights Bookstore!  I could have spent all day there.

And I can’t even imagine a trip to San Fran without a stop at City Lights’ Bookstore! I could have spent all day there.  By the way, the City Lights mural was in honor of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas, Mexico (I recently did  a fundraiser for them!)

Of course, had to leave the bookstore to have a canolli in San Fran's Little Italy.

Sweet endings: Of course, I had to leave the bookstore to have a cannoli in San Fran’s Little Italy.

 

 

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