For this year’s summer series, Jason and I are focusing on “Building a Sustainable Yoga Practice.” Over the past year we’ve talked about injuries, fear of injuries, predatory teachers and we thought — LET’S FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE FOR PETE’S SAKE. Let’s empower ourselves to create a yoga practice that serves our needs.
For the first episode, Jason and I talk about which poses are taught as beginner or “easy” poses and are actually torturous for us to execute. And the inverse of that — which poses are thought to be advanced, but have always been pretty accessible to us because of body type. My hope is that this talk will help unravel that sense of competition (either with others or just with ourselves) that we all feel from time to time on the yoga mat. The truth is that certain poses that are easier and more difficult simply because of the body you’re born with.
That means that those awe-inspiring poses you see on Instagram may not be a reflection of skills and years of study, but rather just something that that person is able to do naturally. Of course, that means the flip side is true too: You’re not a bad yogi if you can’t balance in Tree Pose to save your life.
If you’ve ever struggled with any pose (or with feeling bad about yourself because of that struggle), you don’t want to miss this one!
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Transitions in yoga—and life—can be choppy, unstable, and erratic. Below, you’ll find five essential concepts that make all transitions in yoga more smooth and skillful. You’ll also find three yoga transitions to incorporate into your practice and teaching in order to refine your mindfulness in the space between your postures.
Essential Concepts for All Yoga Transitions
1. Slow Down
Slowing the movement between postures will helps you tune into the subtleties involved. In particular, you’ll observe which muscles have to engage in order to maintain your balance as you make your transitions. I encourage you to take an extra 2 or 3 breaths in your transitions on occasion—especially in the more accessible transitions like in between standing postures.
2. Pick Transitions as Your Class Theme
Focusing on transitions may change the pace of your class, which might feel challenging for students who are accustomed to a faster pace. A skillful way to get students on board is to make it the theme of your class on occasion. Let your students know that transitions will be your theme and you’d like them to pay particular attention to the space between postures.
The key to making a skillful yoga transition is to focus on the movement of your weight. This will help you counterbalance your body where its necessary. Essentially, you want to limit the weight of your body from moving too quickly in any one direction. Bringing your attention to your core (specifically your pelvis and lower belly) is usually the most effective way to tune into your weight as it is transitioning.
4. Take Time to Stabilize and Land
One of the challenges with transitions is that they can undermine the quality of the posture that you’re moving into. I always tell my students that they need to land on the note, not bulldoze their way through it. Each pose in a flow—or each pose within a transition—should have its own individual resonance. So, when you transition into a pose, don’t rush. Take your time and land. Stabilize and maintain the pose that you’re transitioning into.
Most transitions are done on the exhalation. Remember, your muscles are usually contracting more strongly between the postures (when moving slowly) than they are in the postures. It’s hard to take a decent inhalation when your body is more tensile. You can, however, take a nice, long exhalation through the course of most transitions. Exhaling during transitions may also help you settle and focus your attention.
Yoga Transitions to Explore and Practice
Warrior II to Half Moon Pose
This is such an important set of transitions because it’s common and accessible—and, even more, it lays the foundations for transitions between all of your standing postures.
The key instruction for moving into Half Moon Pose is to place your bottom hand on the floor or block and step your back foot much closer to your front foot before taking off moving into Half Moon. Once you do this, simply lean weight forward so it is split between your bottom arm and standing leg. The key to transitioning back to Warrior to is to slow your movement down by continuing to lean the weight of your upper body into your standing leg and arm while you very slowly step your top leg back to the mat.
Click Image Below to Enlarge
Transitioning into Handstand
There are a few tips that can make the transition to Handstand more effective. First, practice the transition without trying to get all the way into Handstand. Think about the transition into Handstand as it’s own practice—it’s own set of variables to develop without the stress of trying to make it into the pose. This will free you up to learn the technique of the transition.
Second, imagine that your standing leg—the one that you’re jumping up with—is like a pogo stick. You want this leg to feel like it’s pulling straight up when you jump instead of swinging backward. The motion of pulling the leg straight up will help move your pelvis forward instead of flinging it backward.
Third, press your fingertips very firmly into the floor. You should grip the mat with your fingers in order to give you a larger base to balance on—and, because your fingertips are instrumental in keeping your balance. Yes, there are many more details involved in transitioning to Handstand, but these will get you moving in the right direction.
Click Image Below to Enlarge
Malasana to Bakasana
This transition focuses on transitioning your weight from your feet to your hands. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. Students often make the mistake of trying to lift their feet up in the posture, but the real transition here is forward not up.
From a deep squat with your hands on the floor, focus on shifting your weight from your feet forward into your hands. Instead of having your students do Bakasana only once and stay as long as possible, have them practice moving in and out of the pose 5 or 6 times in a row while focusing on the transitions.
There are 3 ways to use this blog:
1. You can simply practice Tittibhasana using the illustration above.
2. You can learn the steps get into the posture in the “How To” section.
3. Or you can geek out on the sequencing and anatomy details for Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose) by skipping down to Part II.
Don’t forget to pass this along to your students and colleagues!
The key to doing Tittibhasana is being light, strong (everywhere), flexible (everywhere), balanced—and, if possible—young (twenties would be nice). If this sounds like you, stop reading and go do the pose, OK?
If, however, you can’t relate to the above characterisitics—and I certainly can’t—the pose is pretty tough. It’s doable, but skillful preparation is paramount. Also, Tittibhasana is a balancing pose and it works a little bit like an old-fashioned scale. You’ll need to let the weight of your pelvis drop down and back behind your elbows to help you lift your feet off the floor. Let’s take a closer look:
It’s a good idea to open the hamstrings, adductors, and outer hips before launching into Tittibhasana. It’s also wise to do a few core strengthening poses to warm-up your hip flexors and abdominals. (Read Part II if you want specific suggestions, otherwise, I’ll leave the preparations to your choosing.)
HOW TO PRACTICE TITTIBHASANA
1. Take your feet a little wider than your hips and rotate your feet slightly outward.
2. Forward bend and tuck your shoulders behind your knees. With you hands, hold the back of your ankles.
3. Take a couple of breaths, folding more deeply and easing your shoulders behind your knees. Be mindful of your lower back and sacrum. If they’re uncomfortable with the forward bend, come out of the pose and work on your hamstrings, inner legs, and outer hips in more accomodating postures.
4, Place your hands behind your heels with your fingers pointing forward. Look at your thumbs and make sure they’re not in a crazy position (you’ll know what I mean when you do it). If your hands don’t come all the way to the floor, they may in the next step. If they don’t come to floor in the next step, you can put a wedge or folded mat under the heel of your palm. If you need something higher, it means that your hips aren’t quite ready for this pose—stick to leg-opening postures for now.
5. With your fingers facing forward, bend your knees and your elbows, sitting back so the weight of your pelvis is on your arms.
6. Squeeze your legs against your arms, lift your feet, and straighten your legs. Focus on reaching your legs straight forward while you squeeze the inner legs toward the midline to minimize how wide your legs go.
7. Now that you’re in the pose, work on the key teaching points in the infographic above!
8. If you’ve crashed and burned, get up and give it another go. If the pose feels impossible, content yourself with a few more weeks or months of preparations.
IF I CAN’T DO TITTIBHASANA YET, WHAT SHOULD I DO INSTEAD?
If you still need to build strength for the pose, practice a combination of core, shoulder, and arm strengtheners. Be consistent with Paripurna Navasana (Full Boat), Ardha Navasana (Half Boat), Plank, Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose), and Salabhasana (Locust). If you need more flexibility for Tittibhasana my three favorite preparations are Lizard Lunge, Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend) and Upavistha Konasana (Wide-legged Seated Forward Bend). Bakasana (Crane) is also a great pose to practice if you’re unable to do Tittibhasana.
PART II: ANATOMY AND SEQUENCING FOR TITTIBHASANA
WHICH MUSCLES DOES TITTIBHASANA STRENGTHEN?
The short answer is your core, shoulders, and arms. Here’s a more detailed look:
Your abdominals and pelvic floor
All of your abdominal muscles engage to lift your pelvis and support the weight of your center. Most notably, your transverse abdominus draws your navel toward your spine and your rectus abdominus helps to maintain the slight flexion (rounding) of your spine.
Your hip flexors
Your psoas and rectus femoris fire strongly to flex your hips, keep your legs lifted and straighten your legs.
Your inner legs
One of the most challenging components of Tittibhasana is the dynamics of your inner-legs, or adductor muscles: You have to strongly engage the adductors to keep your legs from sliding down your arms. Ath the same time, the pose requires a deep stretch in these muscles.
Tittibhasana works all of your shoulder muscles, specifically:
The rotator cuff muscles which help stabilize your arms.
The anterior deltoids and pectoralis which help you lift your body in the pose.
The scapular muscles (especially the serratus anterior) which help you broaden your upper back in the pose.
Your triceps are working harder than any other muscle group in your arms here. Your forearm muscles also gain strength in this posture.
WHICH MUSCLES DOES TITTIBHASANA STRETCH?
Tittibhasana stretches all three hamstrings—especially the two medial hamstrings, your semitendinosus and semimebranosus.
All of your adductors engage, which enables you to both hug your legs against your arms and straighten your legs. The gracilis and adductor magnus, due to their functional relationship with the hamstrings, get the greatest stretch in this family of muscles.
Your outer hips
You may not feel your outer hips stretching nearly as much as your hamstrings or adductors. However, your gluteus maximus, piriformis, and other external rotators are working eccentrically. This means you engage them and lengthen at the same time! (The way you do when you lower a weight in a biceps curl.)
SEQUENCING FOR TITTIBHASANA (FIREFLY)
You can find a fully-illustrated, 16-pose sequence for Tittibhasana here.
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.):