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Support Yourself in Eka Pada Rajakapotasana I

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana aka Pigeon Pose
{illustrations by MCKIBILLO}

If you want to learn more, join me live at my 500-hour Certification Program or join me online for my Sequencing and Anatomy E-Courses.

One Quick Tip for Practicing Pigeon Pose

Hands down, Pigeon Pose is my favorite backbend. I love the combination of opening my hip flexors, external rotators, chest, spine, and shoulders at the same time. I also love the feeling of doing a big, demanding backbend. But, I’m not going to lie — I need a belt to hold my foot in the pose. And, when my body is being stubborn I put a bolster under my front leg. The drawing in this infographic isn’t from a photo of me. It’s from a photo I took of Charles, my student. A lot of these pose breakdowns are illustrations of me, but we needed Charles to make this one look pretty.

So, my one quick tip is to embrace whatever help your body needs in order to get the benefits of this pose. Some postures are so demanding that you can’t do them unless you’re a freak of nature or you started gymnastics at age 3. Even with props, you just can’t get a feel for certain postures. But, Pigeon is incredibly easy to prop. And, when you’re humble — and smart — enough to take the support that you need, you can get all the benefits of this posture. Although the props aren’t illustrated above, I’ll tell you how to use them in the “How To” section below.

WARM UP
It’s important to prepare your entire body for Pigeon Pose. More specifically, you need to stretch your hip flexors, external rotators (of your hip), spine, and shoulders. The best way to do this is to do a full backbending sequence that includes Pigeon Pose toward the end. A good option would be to use my sequence for Urdhva Dhanurasana, adding Pigeon after Urdhva Dhanurasana. If you want to create your own sequence, include several lunges to open the quadriceps and hip-flexors; a progression of backbends that include Cobra, Bow, and Upward Bow; and shoulder openers such as Gomukhasana and Dolphin. You might also want to use my 5 Tips for Better Backbends article to get started.

HOW-TO DO PIGEON POSE
1. It’s important that you’re already familiar with the simple forward bending version of Pigeon Pose before you start practicing the backbend. The forward bending version is much more accessible and teaches you how to align your legs and hips for the pose. So, I’m going to assume that you’re already familiar with the basic alignment of forward bending Pigeon before we proceed.

2. Come into Pigeon Pose with your right leg forward. If you anticipate that you’re going to need some help in the pose, grab a bolster (or two blocks) and a strap.

3. The first thing to do if you’re using a prop is to elevate your front hip and thigh. (In this case, your right hip and thigh.) Putting a bolster or a block under you hip alone won’t help. In fact, this might even tilt your pelvis the forward — which is the wrong direction for a backbend. Instead, put a bolster under your right hip, thigh, and knee so that they’re all elevated. If you’re using blocks, put one block under your right sitting bone and one block under your thigh close to your knee. Raising your hip and thigh will decrease the amount of flexibility that is required in your hip-flexors and external rotators to do the pose. It will give you a little boost.

3. The second thing to do if you’re using a prop is to make a loop in your strap, wrap it around the arch of your foot, and tighten the strap snugly. The long tail of the belt will give you something to hold onto if you’re not able to hold your foot.

4. Whether you’re using props or not, walk your hands toward your hips and press your finger tips into the floor. Press your front shin and the top of your back foot into the floor. Lengthen your spine and lift your chest. Take a deep breath as you prepare to connect your hands with your back foot.

5. Bend your back knee, reach back with your right arm and take hold of your inner arch (or your strap). If you’re flexible enough to forego the belt, bend your elbow and rotate it toward the ceiling. Also, change the grip on your foot so you’re holding your big toe or the outside of your foot. If you’re using a belt, bend your elbow and allow some of the strap to slide through your hand. Allow enough of the belt to slide through your hand so that you can bend your elbow and rotate it toward the ceiling.

6. Reach your left arm overhead, bend your elbow, and take hold of your foot (or the strap). Now, that you’ve connected both hands to your right foot (or strap), you’re there. Take a few breaths and refine the posture by having a friend read the instructions in the infographic.

7. Take a moment or two after the pose to appreciate what you’ve done. Even if you needed some help, the pose is worth trying — and, worth savoring.

WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT ANATOMY, SEQUENCING, AND TEACHER TRAINING?
I offer both online trainings and live, in-the-flesh ones around the world. Here are a few of the courses that are currently open. (For a full schedule, go to my Schedule page.):

Essential Anatomy E-Course
The Art of Yoga Sequencing E-Course
500-Hour Training in San Francisco (2016)
3-Day Teacher Renewal Program

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Pose Notebook: Visvamitrasana

visvamitrasana
{illustrations by MCKIBILLO}

If you want to learn more, join me live at my 500-hour Certification Program or join me online for my Sequencing and Anatomy E-Courses.

GETTING INTO VISVAMITRASANA
Visvamitrasana is a big, bold arm-balance that requires equal parts hamstring flexibility, core strength, and core stabilization. We all know that yoga goes much deeper than looks, but, damn, this pose is as beautiful as they come. Here’s my guide to helping you and your students develop this posture.

One Quick Tip for Practicing Visvamitrasana

When transitioning into Visvamitrasana you’ll shift your weight onto your bottom arm. There’s a moment or two during this transition when your bottom shoulder is vulnerable. It’s vulnerable because your bottom arm will internally rotate and abduct. In other words, your bottom elbow will flare slightly when you tuck your arm under your thigh while you’re setting up for the pose. This is a relatively unstable position for your shoulder, especially when it’s bearing weight.

There’s no way to completely avoid this position when you’re setting up for Visvamitrasana. But, you can remedy the situation before you transfer weight onto your shoulder. This requires two steps. First, strongly hug your elbow toward your body as soon as you start to lean weight onto your arm. This will minimize the flaring of your elbow and help stabilize your shoulder. As you lean more and more of your weight onto your arm — and prepare to lift your front foot — straighten and externally rotate your bottom arm. This means you’ll be gently rotating your bottom elbow crease toward the front of the mat.

Second, pull your bottom shoulder blade away from your ear and firm it against your back. Readjusting your bottom arm so that your elbow is no longer flaring and your scapular muscles are engaged will give you more depth and safety in the posture.

WARM UP
I love preparing my students for Visvamitrasana because the posture has so many layers. It’s an arm balance, a side bend, a core strengthener, a hamstring opener, and an adductor opener. It also requires a technical understanding of how to keep your shoulders stable. Consider all of these points when you’re warming up. Obviously, several Sun Salutations of any variety will get your whole body warmed up. Feel free to do as many as you like. Standing postures such as Triangle Pose, Half Moon Pose, and Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend will help prepare your hamstrings. Squats like Malasana and Horse Stance will help stretch your adductors. And, side bends like Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana and Parighasana will prepare your side body for the demands of Visvamitrasana

HOW-TO DO VISVAMITRASANA
1. Start in Warrior II with your right foot forward.

2. Learn forward and tuck your right elbow behind your front knee. Snuggle it as deeply as it will go. Those of you that have seriously flexible hamstrings and adductors—and the right proportions for the job—may be able to sneak your shoulder all the way behind your knee. Place your right hand on the floor several inches to the right of your foot. Make sure your fingers are facing the front of your mat. Don’t worry about your top hand yet. We’ll get to it soon.

3. Now, you’re in the phase of the posture that I discussed in the “one quick tip.” You have to flare your elbow to get it into position, but you won’t keep it this way. Begin leaning your weight onto your hand and hug your elbow toward your body.

4. As you transfer more weight onto your bottom arm, straighten your elbow. To stabilize your shoulder, externally rotate your arm and draw your shoulder blade down your back. Now, take hold of your front foot with your left (top) hand.

5. You’re ready for take off. Press your front hand strongly into the floor and lift your front foot. Straighten your front leg as much as possible. Lift your hips and thoroughly engage your back leg. You’re there! Now, refine the pose with infographic above. Get a selfie of the pose and use at as a banner ad on your homepage.

6. Stay in the pose for a few breaths before lowering down and transitioning to the second side.

WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT ANATOMY, SEQUENCING, AND TEACHER TRAINING?
I offer both online trainings and live, in-the-flesh ones around the world. Here are a few of the courses that are currently open. (For a full schedule, go to my Schedule page.):

Essential Anatomy E-Course
The Art of Yoga Sequencing E-Course
500-Hour Training in San Francisco (2016)
3-Day Teacher Renewal Program

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Pose Notebook: Avoid the Banana in Forearm Balance

Forearm Balance
{illustrations by MCKIBILLO}

HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
There are 3 ways to use this blog:

1. You can simply practice Foream Balance using the illustration above.
2. You can learn how to get into the posture by reading the “How To” Section below.
3. Or you can geek out on the sequencing and anatomy related to the pose, by skipping down to Part II of this column.

Don’t forget to pass this along to your students and colleagues!

If you want to learn more, join me live at my 500-hr Certification Program or join me for my Sequencing and Anatomy E-Courses.

KEYS TO FOREARM BALANCE (PINCHA MAYURASANA)
Forearm Balance’s similarities to Handstand are striking, In fact, the two postures are identical from the feet all the way through the elbows. The point of differentiation between the postures is that you bend your elbows and place them on the floor in forearm balance and you keep them straight in Handstand. This is obvious to even the most casual observer. What is not obvious is the chain reaction that bending the elbows creates in the shoulders, core, spine, pelvis, and legs. Let’s look at this chain reaction and learn how to work with it.

One quick tip about Forearm Balance (Pincha Mayurasana)

When you bend your elbows in and place them on the floor, it becomes much harder to flex your shoulder joints. This means that most students feel tighter and more restricted in their shoulders in Forearm Balance compared to Handstand. Yes, Forearm Balance has certain advantages that Handstand doesn’t. However, for many students it can be very challenging to get the upper-arms, shoulders, and ribs verticaly stacked in Forearm Balance. When the shoulders don’t flex easily, the core and spine compensate by moving too far into extension. Here’s another way of saying the same thing: when the shoulders don’t flex enough, the spine and core compensate by moving too far into a backbend – so your body is in a banana shape.

So, instead of just focusing on strengthening your core, my tip for this pose is to focus on creating more shoulder flexion by doing three things:
1. Stretch your triceps and lats

2. Stretching your rhomboids and traps

3. Stretching your pecs and anterior deltoids

This sounds like a lot, but it’s not rocket science. The warm-up below lists the postures that work best.

WARM UP
It’s a good idea to warm up your entire body with a few Sun Salutations before you focus on preparing your shoulders. Any kind of salutation will do the trick. Once you’ve done a few rounds, sit on the floor in Sukhasana or Vajrasana. Do the following four shoulder openers:
1) Half-Down Dog (hands on a wall or on a chair), Dolphin Pose, and Gomukhasana to stretch your triceps and lats
2) Cat Pose and Garudasana to stretch your rhomboids and traps
3) Fingers interlaced and arms straight behind your back to stretch your chest and the front of your shoulders.

Handstand is also great all around preparation if it’s part of your repertoire.

HOW TO DO FOREARM BALANCE (PINCHA MAYURASANA)
As with other inversions, it’s helpful to learn this pose at the wall and with the help of a skilled teacher. If you’re more experienced and able to work on balancing in the posture, you’re welcome to follow the same instructions while in the milddle of the room.

1. Set up facing a wall.

2. Place your forearms on the floor with your elbows shoulder-width apart. Your forearms should be parallel to each other and your palms should face down. Adjust your distance from the wall so that the wall is just barely beyond the reach of your fingertips.

3. There are many different ways to use a block in this pose and I’m an advocate for all of them! For the purpose of this blog, I’m simply going to suggest that you place a block between your hands.

More specifically, look at your fingers and place the block so that your index fingers touch the sides of the block and your thumbs touch the bottom of the block.

4. Bring your shoulders forward so that they’re direclty above your elbows. Step one foot half way to your elbow and bend your knee. Choose whichever leg feels the most natural.

5. Root down through the base of each finger and thumb.

6. Look at the floor in between your hands. Take a slow, deep breath. Don’t freak out.

7. As you exhale, bend the knee that you brought forward more deeply and strongly push the floor away. As this leg jumps, simultaneously swing the back leg toward the wall. Keep the knee of your “swinging” leg straight.

8. As one leg swings toward the wall and the other leg jumps, draw your navel toward your spine to recruit your core muscles and create greater lift.

9. You need to use enough strength and momentum to get your hips over your shoulders. Once your hips are above your shoulders, your “swinging” leg will make it to the wall and stay there. At this point, you can bring your second leg (your “jumping” leg to the wall).

10. Now that you’re in the pose, you can refine it by using the infographic above!

11. Hold the pose for a few seconds before slowly lowering one of your feet toward the floor. As you lower one leg, the second will follow shortly thereafter.

12. Spend a few moments in Child’s Pose or Standing Forward Bend.

IF I CAN’T DO FOREARM BALANCE YET, WHAT SHOULD I DO INSTEAD?
Forearm Balance is not an easy posture. If you struggle with it, you’re in good company. Don’t beat yourself up. Respect yourself and remember that this is a practice. The following tips will help you make progress:

1. Focus on building shoulder strength and confidence by doing Half Dolphin Pose and Half-Handstand. You do this by standing about a legs’ distance away from the wall, placing your arms into position and walking your feet up the wall to hip height. (The first time you do it, recruit the help of a friend or a teacher.)

2. Focus on building core strength by practicing Forearm Plank, Navasana, and Ardha Navasana.

3. It’s easy to forget that it takes practice to coordinate the action of your legs and core as you jump into Handstand. So, one option is to simply focus on the action of juming into Handstand without actually getting all the way there. Repeat the process of swinging and jumping several times to build your understanding and coordination of this process.

PART II: ANATOMY AND SEQUENCING FOR FOREARM BALANCE (PINCHA MAYURASANA)

WHICH MUSCLES DOES FOREARM BALANCE STRENGTHEN?

Your Legs
All the leg muscles are active in Forearm Balance. That said, the most notable exertion comes from the muscles that line your inner-legs, the adductors. Engaging these muscles not only engages the legs, it recruits your core, which creates better control in the pose. Your quadriceps are working to keep your knees straight. You’re also engaging your hamstrings to help your hips stay extended.

Your Core
Your core’s primary job in Forearm Balance is to keep your pelvis, ribs, and lower spine aligned and prevent hyperextension in your lower back. Remember, this is more difficult if your core and spine are forced to compensate for limited shoulder mobility. In particular, you’re engaging your iliopsoas to help your legs stay vertically aligned and firing your transversus abdominus and obliques help keep your lower back from hyperextending.

Your Spinal Muscles
Your erector spinae are working to help maintain the vertical position of your spine and balance the muscular forces of your core.

Your Shoulders and Arms
While your legs, core, and spine work to maintain the position of your entire body, your shoulders and arms have the greatest amount of work in Forearm Balance. The four muscles of your rotator cuff are externally rotating and stabilizing your upper arm. Your deltoids and pecs are helping to flex your shoulders and keep your elbows from splaying. Your biceps and triceps are working to hold the position of your arms and support the weight of your body.

WHICH MUSCLES DOES FOREARM BALANCE STRETCH?
Your Latissimus Dorsi
The lats are getting the most significant stretch of the entire body in this posture. If the lats are tight it’s much more likely that your elbows will splay. Some students may also feel a stretch in their rhomboids and middle fibers of their trapezius.

SEQUENCING FOR FOREARM BALANCE
For a fully-illustrated, 16-pose sequence for Forearm Balance click here.

WHERE DO I LEARN MORE ABOUT ANATOMY, SEQUENCING, AND TEACHER TRAINING?
My Live and Online Trainings.

Essential Anatomy E-Course
The Art of Yoga Sequencing E-Course
500-Hour Training in San Francisco (2016)
100-Hour Training in London (2016)

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Gifts for Your Minimalist Yoga Friend

A little note from Andrea about the gift guides: I had so much fun putting these together this year. These are all gifts I’d love to give or receive — you’ll find a mix of handmade, non-toxic, eco-friendly, and just plain old fun items.

This one is inspired by a yoga friend who always looks pulled together. She knows who she is and knows what she loves: Simplicity, luxury, and function.

minimalist-yoga-gift-guide

1. She’s been deemed the “First Lady of Yoga,” by the New York Times, but in her beautiful book, Saidman proves that she’s her own person with an important, powerful story to tell. Available on Amazon.

2. Gypsy Souls Unite Sweater Knit Savasana Pullover by Spiritual Gangster. $72.00.

3. Beautiful notecards by Seattle-based designer, Allie Seidel. Both strong & soft card, $4.50.

4. This Levels print by Onzie is classic enough but fun, modern, and flattering, $74.00.

5. The most intoxicating, delicious body oil that exists. Aesop Geranium Leaf Hydrating Body Treatment, $35.00.

6. Rose Gold ring handmade by German designer, Lebenslutiger. $66.00.

7. Yoginis, designers, and twin sisters, Zoe and Kaja Foat create eco-friendly yoga to street clothes you want to wear all day. Gypsy Jumpsuit, $158.00.

8. According to their web site, S’well keeps drinks cold for 24 hours and drinks hot for 12. But really, they had me at their gorgeous designs. Choose from a variety of price points and colors. Rose Gold, $42.00

PS: Check out the guides for your free-spirited friend, your urban hipster friend, and your foodie friend.

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Gifts for Your Urban Hipster Yoga Friend

A little note from Andrea about the gift guides: I had so much fun putting these together this year. These are all gifts I’d love to give or receive — you’ll find a mix of handmade, non-toxic, eco-friendly, and just plain old fun items.

This one is inspired by my young, hipster yoga friends who are always on the go–from school to teaching classes to a late night drink with friends — they can pull off yoga clothes as streetwear, because they have to!

urban-hipster-yoga-friend

1. For when she wants to sneaky away and practice yoga at her in-laws house and she doesn’t have her mat: A totally hygienic, grippy-on-the-bottom pair of holiday sox by Toe Sox, $40.00.

2. Half Moon Crop Top by Joah Brown. Soft and drapey and made in the USA. Available at Drishti Yoga, $37.00.

3. You’re Such a Super Lady pencils — because she is. Made by Rabbit Foot Fern for Brika, $14.00.

4. We love the Yogo Mat. So convenient, made from biodegradable rubber, and you can hang it by its straps after you wash it, $88.00

5. Moto Legging in Deep Plum by alo — simply because they are super-cool. $110.00.

6. A classic red lipstick without the toxins by Ilia Beauty, $26.00.

7. A nail color she can wear everyday — formulated without DBP, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, and Camphor. Smoke on the Nail by Floss Gloss, $8.00.

8. Thistle leggings by Thief and Bandit. Printed on organic jersey with nontoxic ink. $85.00.

9. Vinyasa Scarf by Lululemon — the snaps mean she can wear it as a scarf, a wrap, a shrug or a hood, $48.00.

PS: Check out the guides for your free-spirited friend, your minimalist friend, and your foodie friend.

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