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Pose Notebook: Lizard Pose

Lizard Pose Tips

{illustration by MCKIBILLO}

Before we break down Lizard Pose: a quick, shameless plug for my upcoming trainings. You can join me live at my 500-hour Certification Program. Or I have three separate, focused teacher trainings available online. Learn more about my Arm Balances, Sequencing, and Anatomy E-Courses here.

One Thing to Learn About Lizard Pose

I’ve been easier, softer and lighter on my hips for the last couple of years. I used to bludgeon them with intense leverage and long holds, thinking that I was creating more flexibility. I finally came to terms with the reality that this approach usually left my hips feeling achy, sore, and stiff for a couple of days. After nearly two decades, I’ve changed my tactics.

I still stretch my hips and I still hold postures for a reasonable duration. I still practice lunges like Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge), Crescent (High Lunge), Pigeon Pose, and Lizard—the topic of this instructional. I still love “hip-openers,” and I teach them regularly. Of course, I balance this approach more skillfully than I have in the past by including more strengthening work for my hips. But, also, I treat my hips like the dynamic joint they are when I do “opening” postures. Instead of staying for long periods in the same pose, I do several repetitions of the same posture. For example, instead of staying in Pigeon for 3 minutes, I might do 3 or 4 versions of Pigeon for approximately 1 minute each. Instead of loading all my weight onto my hips during deep lunges, I often use my arms actively so they take some of my weight instead of letting it all go into my hips.

See also Essential Sequence: Quick Hip Openers

Lizard Pose is perfect for this approach. When you look at the illustration of me in Lizard above, you’ll see two important details that will keep you lighter: My elbows are on the floor directly under the shoulders and my front shin is vertical. Try it this way—instead of sinking all of your weight into your hips, press your forearms and front foot down into the floor to lighten the load on your hips.

If you’re a little less flexible, put a block or two under your elbows. You’ll still get plenty of stretch in your hips, but these actions will slighty lessen the intensity. I’ve come to believe this is a good thing. If you want more intensity, add a few more repetitions.

Experiment with this approach to stretching your hips and see if having a lighter touch is helpful to you. Let me know how it goes in the comments section. Enjoy.

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 (2018)

100-Hour Training in London (2018)

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Pose Notebook: Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose)

 Parivrrta Janu Sirsaasana | Revolved Head to Knee Pose
{illustrations by MCKIBILLO}

Before we break down Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana, here’s a quick, shameless plug for my upcoming trainings. 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 Thing to Learn About Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana

You don’t have to press the sitting bone that you’re leaning away from in Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana into the floor. In fact, you may have a better all-around experience posture if you allow that sitting bone to lift up. Yes, you read that correctly. Here’s why:

The pelvis and spine work best when they work together. In fact, the pelvis and spine are so functionally integrated that I think of them as two parts of the same system when it comes to movement. When you do a forward bend with your spine, you do a forward bend with your pelvis (anterior tilt). When you do a backward bend with your spine, you do a backward bend with your pelvis (posterior tilt). There are a few minor exceptions and complications to this rule of thumb, but the logic is sound. In fact, if you take your pelvis and spine and move them in opposite directions you will typically produce excess compression and tension somewhere in the spine. And, while this may look fancy on Instagram, excess tension and compression at spinal junctions is not in anyone’s best interest, nor does it fall under the scope of teachings that we can fairly describe as “yoga.”

Since the spine and pelvis work best when they’re both sharing the same set of motions, I want you to experiment with lifting the sitting bone that you’re moving away from when you do Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana. You read that correctly. Experiment with lifting the opposite buttock slightly instead of pressing it down so that your pelvis can rotate laterally over your thigh bones slightly. You’ll still receive a big ‘ole side-stretch, you’ll produce more length in your spine, and chances are that you’ll reduce excess compression in the lower back and sacroilliac region on the side that you’re moving toward. In short, you’ll probably like it. A lot. If not, feel free to press both sitting bones down and keep it old school.

Use the illustration above to hone your pose and experiment with changing the alignment of your base. Enjoy.

SEQUENCING FOR PARIVRTTA JANU SIRSASANA

You can find a fully-illustrated, 16-pose sequence for Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana 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):

Essential Anatomy E-Course

The Art of Yoga Sequencing E-Course

500-Hour Training in San Francisco (2018)

100-Hour Training in London (2018)

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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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Strengthen Your Patience and Humility Muscles in Eka Pada Bakasana I

Eka Pada Bakasana I

HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
There are 3 ways to use this blog:
1. You can simply practice Eka Pada Bakasana I 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 by skipping down to Part II.

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

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 EKA PADA BAKASANA I
If I had the choice of doing 108 Sun Salutations, doing 20 Upward Bows, spending 90 seconds in Handstand, or holding Eka Pada Bakasana on each side for 5 seconds, I’m not sure what decision I would make. Honestly. I pride myself on using leverage and technique to outwit difficult postures. I pride myself on my ability to break down advanced postures and make them more accessible for my students. But, aside from a few essential keys that I’ll share in a moment, Eka Pada Bakasana I is just a seriously difficult posture that requires a ton of strength—and a photographer that can work very, very fast. Nonetheless, the tenacity and humility that the pose builds, make practicing this posture a worthy endeavor.

Before tackling this pose, there are three things to keep in mind. Continue reading Read More > >

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