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A Balanced Yoga Sequence to Lotus Pose

First, a shameless plug: Registration for my 2018 Teaching Trainings is live! If you want to move your practice and teaching forward, this training is the place to do it!

QUESTION
I struggle with tight hips and I want to learn Lotus Posture (Padmasana). Can you suggest a sequence that will help me open my hips and do Lotus Pose?

ANSWER
There’s a common mistake many of us make when trying to grow a Lotus: We focus too much on stretching the outer hips and forget to open the other muscle groups that make up the hip joint. Don’t get me wrong: the outer hips usually need plenty of help. But, the key to freedom and balance in your hips is working with all the muscle groups that affect the joint, not just your bum. The following sequence will make your hips be happier and healthier — and, if anything is going to help you sit in Lotus, it’s this practice.

THE ESSENTIAL ANATOMY

There are a couple of things to understand about your hips in order to approach them skillfully in your practice. First, your hip joint (coxal joint) is a ball and socket. This is simple enough, but it has big implications. It means that your hip joint is 360 degrees and has muscles around the entire circumference that produce motion in the joint. In order to create a balanced hip opening sequence you need to address all of these muscle groups. Be sure to target each of the following muscular compartments:

Hip Flexors

These muscles cross over the front of your hip joint and flex the hip.

Adductors

These muscles that line the inside of your upper thigh are usually left out hip-opening sequences. If these muscles are tight, your knees will remain far away from the floor when you attempt Lotus. These muscles need to be supple so that the thighs can drop as you fold your legs into Lotus.

Hamstrings

The hamstrings are not a significant factor in Lotus and they’re not usually thought of as hip muscles. However, they originate on the bottom of your pelvis, cross the back of the hip socket, and run down the back of your leg. The primary joint that they work on is the hip joint. This means that a balanced hip opening sequence will include postures that release this group of muscles.

External Rotators and Gluteus Maximus

Describing the Gluteals and their functions in a few words is tough because this family of three muscles does a lot of different work. Suffice it to say that we tend to think of this region when we think of hip openers. This is the bittersweet part of the body that we stretch when we do Pigeon Pose.

Abductors

Targeting this region is another key step in releasing hip tension and developing Lotus. These muscles run from the outside of the hip, cross the outside of the hip joint and attach to the outside of the thigh. Since this region is harder to get good leverage on than the external rotators, it is often short-changed in hip opening sequences.

THE SEQUENCE

It’s a good idea to warm up for this sequence with 5 to 15 minutes of Sun Salutations.

Modified Anjaneyasana

Focus on rooting down through the top of your back foot and lifting up through your hip points to get the most from this hip flexor opener. Maintain mild abodominal engagement while you do this pose.

 

Low Lunge Quad Stretch

This posture continues the hip opening that began in Anjaneyasana and digs deeply into the quadriceps.

 

Prasarita Padottanasana

This wide-legged standing forward bend stretches your hamstrings and adductors. It also prepares you for the more intense squat that follows.

 

Malasana

This is the most effective standing posture for releasing tension in the adductors. Use forearms to press your thighs away from the midline to intensify the stretch.

 

Pigeon Pose with a Twist

This version of Pigeon will help you access part of your adductors and external rotators and lead to more comfort in Lotus. To be effective, lift and turn your torso toward your front leg. Use your hand to pull strongly against your front knee.

 

Ankle-to-Knee with a Sidebend

To make this posture most effective, be sure to place your top ankle on your bottom knee and flex your foot.

 

Padmasana

I don’t think of Padmasana as a “hip-opener.” I think of Padmasana as a posture to sit in once your hips are open. Unlike the previous postures, Padmasana doesn’t use effective leverage to stretch the muscles of you hip-joint. In fact, the leverage induced through your shin bones in this posture is more likely to stress your knees than your hips if your hips are restricted. With this in mind, here is a step by step approach to folding your legs into padmasana:

  1. Start with both legs straight in Staff Pose.
  2.  

  3. Bend your right knee deeply and bring your right heel to your sitting bone. Do NOT simply bend the right knee and drag the foot into Half Lotus. Instead, fully flex the right knee first–without externally rotating it.
  4.  

  5. Now, that your right knee is fully flexed, externally rotate and abduct your right knee. Then, bring your leg into Half Lotus.
  6.  

  7. If your right knee is comfortable in Half Lotus, proceed to Step 5. If not, take your leg out of lotus and work on any of the above postures that felt the most necessary.
  8.  

  9. If your right knee is comfortable in Half Lotus, bring your left leg into Full Lotus.
  10.  

  11. Make sure to place your feet high enough on your thighs to prevent your outer-ankles from over-stretching.
  12.  

  13. Take a few breaths before repeating on the other side.
     

This post was originally featured on yogaglo. Please visit yogaglo.com where I offer online classes as well as e-courses focusing on sequencing and anatomy.

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Essential Sequence: Winning in Warrior III

WHY THIS SEQUENCE WORKS

I spent my first two years of yoga avoiding Warrior III. Then, I spent another year avoiding it. Finally, after avoiding it for an additional 15 years, I’ve made it a mainstay of my practice. What can I say? I guess it takes me a while to warm up to things that expose my weaknesses, knock me off balance, and frustrate my ego. I have to admit, I actually like it now.

Part of the reason I avoided the pose was that I didn’t feel that I should struggle with it nearly as much as I was. The degree of difficultly that I experienced didn’t seem commensurate with the challenge of the pose. After all, standing postures like Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, arm balances like Eka Pada Galavasana, and balancing in inversions like Forearm Balance and Handstand weren’t very difficult for me. But, three seconds into Warrior III and I would topple over.

Now that I’m no longer avoiding the pose, I’ve figured out a few things that make it much more accessible and effective. Go figure, now that I’m not avoiding something, I’m actually learning about it—shocker. What incredible insights yoga teachers have, right?

Here are the things that I’m focusing on in the pose:

1) Strongly rooting down through the base of the big toe.
2) Strongly adducting both thighs toward each other like I’m squeezing a block.
3) Engaging the spinal muscles and hamstrings (of the top leg) like I’m doing Locust Pose.
4) Firmly pressing my hands together in Anjali Mudra for a few breaths to help me feel the midline of my body before reaching my arms forward.
5) Holding my breath, thinking about the future, judging myself, and assigning blame to others.

Here’s a quick sequence to help you build up to Warrior III. I’ve been enjoying this sequence quite a bit lately.

POSES 1-2

Simple, straightforward reclined Hamstring and Adductor lengthening to prepare for the upcoming demands of Warrior III.

POSES 3-4

Paripurna Navasana and Ardha Navasana pair perfectly to strengthen your core. Bringing your attention to your center early in this sequence will help you keep your attention focused on your midline when you get the wobbles in Warrior III later.

POSES 5-6

These two poses help you transition from the reclined and seated postures to the upcoming standing postures.

POSES 7-9

This is a progression of standing balances with the legs abducted and externally rotated. These postures will get you tuned in to standing balances and they’re typically easier than the upcoming standing balances.

POSES 10-12

These three postures shift the orientation of the legs and hips into the same orientation as the upcoming Warrior III.

POSES 13-15

Parsvottanasana gives you one more opportunity to prepare your hamstrings for Warrior III. Many teachers transition into Warrior III from Warrior I. I prefer transitioning into Warrior III from a high lunge. I think it makes more sense for the hips. Check it out and see what you think.

Want to practice this sequence at home? When you sign up for our newsletter we’ll send you a free printer-friendly PDF of the sequence!

AND, if you want to feel more confident and knowledgeable about your sequencing skills, check out my e-course, The Art of Yoga Sequencing. It’s great for yoga teachers and students who want to better understand how the body works and how to stretch and strengthen effectively.

{illustration by MCKIBILLO}

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10 Creative Ways to Inspire Your Yoga Practice This Summer

When summer rolls around, yoga practice can fall by the wayside — the longer days mean we spend more time outdoors, we travel, those of us who have kids deal with changing schedules. So, to keep you inspired, Jason and I are doing a six-episode summer podcast series!

For episode 1, we offer 10 creative ways to inspire your yoga practice this summer. You can listen to the episode by clicking here. And, we took notes for you, which you can find below.

1. KEEP IT SHORT AND SWEET

Most of us are accustomed to a 60-90 minute studio practice, so it’s easy to feel like a 15-30 minute practice isn’t worth it. But Jason makes the point that doing a little bit every day can have a big impact and he uses the slightly gross but still apt metaphor of brushing your teeth. Is it better to brush your teeth for a few minutes each day? Or better to go to a dentist once a week for 90 minutes? Bottom line: Take advantage of and value short practices!

2. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU LOVE

If you have a consistent, longstanding home practice then it makes sense to work on poses that challenge you. But if you’re new to home practice, emphasize poses you love. You want to make doing yoga something you look forward to and something that’s fun, not a chore. Another Jason metaphor: If you’ve never cooked at home, would you teach yourself to cook by starting with your least favorite dishes or your most favorite?

3. BE FLEXIBLE WITH THE TIME OF DAY

There’s a longstanding recommendation to practice yoga in the morning. And for most of us, this makes sense — we start the day off feeling clear and the day doesn’t get away from us. But when your schedule changes, it’s important to be flexible and fit your practice in when you can. Jason almost exclusively practices at night when his schedule is throwing him a curveball. If he’s teaching weekends or trainings, he does light evening practice to stay connected.

4. BE FLEXIBLE WITH INTENSITY

If you typically practice in a studio, you’ll probably normalize a certain degree of physical intensity and a different intensity won’t feel as valuable. But if you want your practice to be “portable” and accessible to you when life throws your curveballs (like when you’re traveling or when you’re sick), then you have to be willing to do a moderate intensity practice from time to time. Remember that a key component that differentiates asana practice from other physical endeavors is that it’s not just about pushing through — it’s about tuning into how you’re feeling and creating an appropriate response.

5. DON’T THINK YOU HAVE TO REPLICATE A STUDIO CLASS IN YOUR HOME PRACTICE

We’ve touched on this in the previous tips, but think of it this way: The difference between going to a yoga studio and practicing yoga at home is like the difference beteween going to a Michelin-star restaurant and eating a home cooked meal. You’re not only going to eat at fancy restaurants and you wouldn’t judge a home-cooked meal on a standards of a well-trained chef.

6. TRY AN ONLINE PROGRAM

YogaGlo has a new series of online programs that are amazing (if we do say so ourselves). You can select a program that you want to do and then schedule the weekly classes into your calendar and it will email you reminders. Jason and several other teachers like Amy Ippoliti, Stephanie Snyder, Claire Missingham, and all have programs on YogaGlo that you can check out.

7. USE YOUR YOGA PRACTICE AS A COMPLEMENT TO YOUR SUMMER ACTIVITIES

Spend more time outside hiking, biking, or swimming in the summer? Then use them as a muse for your practice. Instead of working toward peak poses, do poses that balance out the hunched position of the upper back while you’re on a bike or the tightness in your quads from hiking.

8. PRINT OUT SEQUENCES FROM OUR SITE

Find inspiration around you! Here are sequences from our site that you can download and practice with:

FOUNDATIONAL SEQUENCES

Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar A)
Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar B)
30-Minute Whole Body Sequence
30-Minute Morning Sequence
Evening Wind Down
Immune Booster
Two Core Yoga Routines
Ease into Urdhva Dhanurasana
Open into Hanumanasana

SEATED POSES

Quick Hip Openers
Fold into Lotus Pose
16-Pose Sequence to Help You Progress in Compass Pose
Parivrtta Janu Sirasana

INVERSIONS

The Perfect Shoulderstand Prep
Refine Your Headstand
A Shoulder Opening Sequence to Forearm Balance

ARM BALANCES

Twist into Eka Pada Koundinyasana I
Pigeon + Chaturanga = Eka Pada Galavasana
Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose)
Bakasana (Crow Pose)
Parsva Bakasana (Side Crow)
Build Your Vasisthasana (Side Plank)

9. VALUE CONSISTENCY

The most important component of a physical or fitness regime is consistency. You truly don’t need to do big huge intense practices; you just need a consistent ongoing relationship with your body and breath. You need to come back to it time and time again.

10. TRY SOMETHING NEW!

If you’re practice is feeling stale or stuck, try a new class or a new teacher or a new studio! It can really freshen things up and give you a new perspective and rekindle your interest in the practice.

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Essential Sequence: Learn to Love Camel Pose

Camel Pose Sequence

WHY THIS SEQUENCE WORKS

Students who love Ustrasana praise the pose for the way it opens the shoulders, chest and upper-back. And, they’re right. Ustrasana is hard to beat when it comes to extending the thoracic spine. Students who loathe Ustrasana invariably complain about discomfort in the neck and lower back. They’re also right. It can be tough to do Ustrasana without creating excessive compression in your lower back and neck.

As teachers, we know two things about how our students experience Ustrasana. Some students love the pose because it’s working for them; and, some students don’t love the pose because it’s not working for them. For me, this becomes a puzzle to solve when I’m sequencing a class. My goals are clear: I want to create a sequence that helps students maximize the benefits of Ustrasana while minimizing the challenges of the posture.

To do this, the sequence below emphasizes a flow of postures that methodologically prepares your entire front body for Ustrasana. When the front body—especially the hip flexors, quadriceps, abdominals, pectorals and anterior deltoids—are adequately prepared, it’s more likely that your students will be able to open their shoulders and chest without crunching their lower back and neck.

Here’s a really quick break down of my favorite mini-practice for Ustrasana.

POSES 1-3

The first 3 postures allow you to settle into your body. Mild twisting is a nice preparation for backbends. The following posture flow is going to focus almost exclusively on lengthening the front body in preparation for backbends, so it’s nice to the sequence with a little complementary work.

POSES 4-6

I really love this combination of poses and I use it in a lot of my sequences. It’s definitely a staple in my own practice. In each of these postures your shoulder is in extension and one hip is in extension. This simultaneously lengthens the front of your shoulders, chest, hip-flexors and quads. The top arm is in the same chest-opening position as Ustrasana. These postures also introduce mild spinal extension. This mild backbending segues perfectly into the next combination of postures.

POSES 7-12

This is a straightforward progression of backbends that goes from less demanding to more demanding. One of the reasons that I chose these postures is that they all extend the shoulder joint, except for Cobra Pose. This shoulder extension will help open the front of the shoulders and chest in preparation for Ustrasana.

POSE 13

Lucky number 13—Ustrasana! This is still a tough posture for most students, but here are 3 quick tips for working with the posture. 1) Engage the bottom of your Gluteus Maximus. Yes, engage them. 2) Externally rotate your arms so that your biceps and elbow creases are turning away from each other. This will help lift your chest in the pose. 3) If the pose is still uncomfortable in your neck, tuck your chin and look toward your chest. If the pose is uncomfortable in your lower back, place your hands on the back of your pelvis. Use your thumbs to lengthen the back of your pelvis downward. Take your time and do what you need to do in order to befriend the pose.

POSES 14-15

The word “perfect” is nauseatingly overused. But, I’m going to add to the problem and write that Supta Padangusthasana is the “perfect” follow-up to Ustrasana and other backbends. Unlike Happy Baby Pose, which flexes the spine, Supta Padangusthasana allows you to maintain the natural curves of the spine. This is a mild transition for your back after all the extension you created in your backbends. It also allows you a few moments to feel (and possibly savor) the afterglow of your backbends. Viparita Karani is your just desserts.

Want to practice this sequence at home? When you sign up for our newsletter, we’ll send you a free printer-friendly PDF of the sequence above!

AND, if you want to feel more confident and knowledgeable about your sequencing skills, check out my e-course, The Art of Yoga Sequencing. It’s great for yoga teachers and students who want to better understand how the body works and how to stretch and strengthen effectively.

{illustration by MCKIBILLO}

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Revolved Triangle Sequence: Stretch Your Hamstrings, IT Band, Outer Hips, and Spinal Muscles

Sequence for Revolved Triangle Pose

You know those poses that you once loathed, but now you love? At first, they had the audacity to make you feel awkward, imbalanced, and mortal. Then, somehow, they started scratching an itch that no other posture could. You know the ones. For me, Parivrtta Trikonasana is at the top of this list.

Things changed for me in Parivrtta Trikonasana when I started working with the pose differently. My experience shifted when I started putting it later in my sequences. I remember when I was an Ashtanga practitioner thinking that Parivrtta Trikonasa was too early in the standing sequence for my body. It was the first posture in the sequence to stretch my IT bands, adductors, external rotators and rotational spinal muscles. Even though I was in my early 20s, all of these muscles and connective tissues were pretty tight and Parivrtta Trikonasana was a slog.

The pose was enough of a frustration for me during my Primary Series days that I started to prep for it with a few outer-hip and IT band openers before class. I could accept that Marichyasana D was hard, but I couldn’t quite cope with the fact that I struggled with the fourth posture in the standing series. Eventually, as I moved away Ashtanga Yoga, I started building sequences that were entirely designed to make greater peace with Parivritta Trikonasana and address the tight spots that this posture revealed in my body.

This sequence came about from many years of trying to relocate Parivrtta Trikonasana from my “No thanks, I’d rather not,” list, to my “Yes, please—and I’ll have A few more,” list. Like all of my sequences, it’s accessible, simple, straightforward, and effective. Take a few moments to look at the sequence before you practice it and you’ll quickly see why it makes sense. It includes everything that you’ll need to prepare your body for Parivrtta Trikonasana and presents these components in a straightforward progression. Fingers crossed that it works as well for you as it’s worked for me over the years.

And, hey, while we’re at it, let me know some of the postures that you’re still struggling with in the comments section and how you’re going about managing them. Maybe I’ll create a sequence just for you!

PS: For easier practice at home, you can sign up for our newsletter and we’ll send you a free printer-friendly PDF download. If you are already on our newsletter list, you still have to enter your email to receive the sequence.

AND, if you want to feel more confident and knowledgeable about your sequencing skills, check out my e-course, The Art of Yoga Sequencing. It’s great for yoga teachers and students who want to better understand how the body works and how to stretch and strengthen effectively.

{illustration by MCKIBILLO}

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