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Summer Series! Ep 6: A Strategic Approach to Arm Balances and Inversions

A bonus episode for you this week! Jason and I talk about his new online course on yogaglo.com, The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Arm Balances & Inversions.

There’s a lot packed into this episode: Jason shares his system for teaching these poses, how he sees both arm balances and inversions as “clusters of poses” — so that you’re learning a whole family of poses — e.g., the Bakasana Family — instead of just one pose. He also talks about how the course can help teachers feel more confident and skillful teaching these poses.

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The Ultimate Guide to Arm Balances & Inversions

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Yoga 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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Twist into Eka Pada Koundinyasana I

Eka Pada Koundinyasana I

WHY THIS SEQUENCE WORKS

When I practice difficult postures I have to be strategic. Since I don’t have the natural flexibility or raw strength to will myself into advanced postures, I have to emphasize preparation, efficient leverage, and technique. For me, this means breaking down difficult postures into small, accessible components.

I typically ask myself three questions when I look at a demanding posture:

1. What are the legs and hips doing in the pose?
2. What are the core and spine doing in the pose?
3. What are the shoulders and arms doing in the pose?

It’s a simple, straightforward process that helps me — and can help you — take a complex pose and boil it down into manageable parts. One benefit of this process is that it provides you with aspects of every posture that you can work on even if you can’t do a particular pose in its’ entirety.

When I apply these questions to Eka Pada Koundinyasana I, I get simple, straightforward answers. The hips, legs, spine, and core are in Revolved Triangle Pose. The shoulders and arms are in Chaturanga. In other words, Eka Pada Koundinyasana I, is Revolved Triangle Pose on top of Chaturanga. So, this sequence focuses on preparing for a deep Revolved Triangle Pose and a strong Chaturanga.

Let’s break it down a little further:

POSES 1-4

The first three postures will wake up your core. More specifically, the 2nd and 3rd postures in the sequence will fire-up your obliques since they include a demanding twist. These postures set the tone for the sequence by providing you with a preview of the postures and actions that will follow. The 4th posture, Downward Facing Dog, gives you a smooth transition from the reclined postures to the hip-opening lunges.

POSES 5-6

Admittedly, the hamstrings and adductors—which are focused on in pose #5—are not huge components of Eka Pada Koundinyasana. But, those of you with tight hamstrings will benefit from the inclusion of lizard pose, since it will prepare you for Revolved Triangle and Revolved Half Moon. Practicing Pigeon Pose will prepare you for the upcoming twists by creating more mobility in your outer hips and IT bands.

POSES 7-11

Poses 7 through 10 give you a straightforward progression of standing twists. Each twist builds on the previous twist as the progression slowly increases in demand. These postures prepare your outer hips, IT bands, and spine for the demands of Eka Pada Koundinyasana. The 11th pose, Revolved Utkatasana, provides you with a standing twist that closely resembles the next posture in the sequence—Side Crow, or Parsva Bakasana.

POSES 12-13

Parsva Bakasana is the foundation for all arm balances that include a twist. When you develop the strength, flexibility and overall coordination to do this pose proficiently, you’re also setting the stage for other twisting variations. Also, Parsva Bakasana is a great pose for transitioning into Eka Pada Koudinyasana.

Want to practice this sequence at home? When you sign up for our newsletter, we’ll send you 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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Essential Sequence: Pigeon + Chaturanga = Eka Pada Galavasana

flying-pigeon_crop

WHY THIS SEQUENCE WORKS

Eka Pada Galavasana is not an easy posture, but it’s a simple posture. If you take a step back and look at the pose, you’ll see it’s a combination of Pigeon Pose and Chaturanga Dandasana. Even more precisely, it’s Pigeon Pose on top of Chaturanga. This means that there’s no mystery when it comes to sequencing for Eka Pada Galavasana: Your job is to prepare yourself (or your students) for a solid, skillful Chaturanga and a spacious, supple Pigeon Pose. The sequence above does this by focusing on core strength, upper body strength, and outer hip flexibility. Here’s a detailed look at the method behind the sequence:

POSES 1 & 2

If you’ve practiced with me live, on yogaglo, or with these sequencing illustrations, you’ve probably figured out that I start a ton of sequences on my back. This is a reflection of my personal practice which almost invariably commences with me laying on the floor—especially if I know that I’m going to work hard later in the sequence. It’s an incredibly effective, low energy way to create mobility in the hips, hamstrings, and spine. The first two postures provide good bang for your buck. They require very little effort and they produce a fair amount of leverage to start chipping away at hip tension.

POSES 3 – 5

Not everything you practice on your back is effortless. This combination of reclined arm balances will wake up your core, get your blood moving, and heat your body in very little time.

POSES 6 & 7

Now that your body is a little warmer after your reclined arm balances, it’s time to dig into your hips a little deeper. Postures 6 and 7 will help warm up your body for the even deeper outer hip openers that directly precede Eka Pada Galavasana.

POSTURES 8 & 9

I wrote earlier that Eka Pada Galavasana was a combination of Pigeon and Chaturanga. I’m sticking with this assessment, but there’s an important nuance that postures 8 & 9 address. Neither Pigeon nor Chaturanga require significant engagement of your hamstrings or spinal muscles, but, Eka Pada Galavasana does. Your hamstrings and spinal muscles help elevate your back leg in Eka Pada Galavasana–this isn’t required in Pigeon or Chaturanga. Postures 8 & 9 help integrate these muscles into your overall body awareness so that you’re ready to use them in the upcoming arm balance.

POSTURES 10 – 13

This is a straightforward progression of deeper and deeper outer hip openers that culminates in Eka Pada Galavasana. If you struggle to get your shin on top of your elbows and place your hands on the floor, your hips may be too tight for the pose. If this is the case, practice the hip openers in this sequence more consistently. If you can get the position above, but struggle to lift your bottom foot and straighten your bottom leg toward the back of the mat, you may need to work on core, upper-body, and spinal strength. Good luck!

Want to practice this sequence at home? If you sign up for our newsletter, we’ll send you 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.

{illustrations by MCKIBILLO}

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Abs Reboot: Four Creative Core Poses

Lolasana

When you regularly practice poses that strengthen your core, you’ll feel more stable in your practice and more at ease in your everyday life. When I skip my core strengtheners, I notice that it’s hard for me to sit up straight and my back gets tired much more quickly as I’m pecking away at my computer.

I look forward to doing core poses more if I have some creative options in my back pocket – and that’s what this post will give you.

In terms of where to put these in a sequence: Core poses are flexible. You can use the poses below as a way to warm-up at the beginning of a practice. You can place them just after your Sun Salutations, standing poses, and backbends. Or you can sprinkle them throughout the sequence to stay connected to your center during the entire class.

(If you want to a clearer understanding of what we mean by “core” and how it all fits together, be sure to read Jason’s Yoga and Your Core, Parts I & II.)

Below are four of my favorite go-tos:

Core Connector Pose

Core Connector

The Core Connector pose is a great multi-tasker: When you squeeze the block, you engage your inner legs. Engaging your inner-legs (your adductors), will help you fire your pelvic floor muscles and your abdominals—especially our transversus abdominis. Typically the inner thigh muscles are weak and underutilized. This pose tones them and teaches you to move your thighbones out of external rotation and into a more neutral position.

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