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Episode 97: Q&A — Jason Addresses Feeling Like the Odd Man Out

yoga for men | Jason Crandell quote | yoga podcast

It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this that sometimes male yogis can feel like the odd man out in yoga classes that are mostly filled with women. (Even Jason, who’s been teaching yoga for 20 years, admits to feeling more comfortable in a gym setting than the yoga studio.) Perhaps, that’s why yoga for men has become a recent phenomenon.

So, we decided to give male listeners some TLC this week by answering their questions. While we focus on yoga for men in this episode, it has tons of insights for women who want to relate to the men in their classes and for teachers who want to help their male students.

Besides, whatever your gender, we’ve all struggled with feeling like the only person in class who can’t do something, right?

We talk about:

* What it’s like to be a male in a majority female yoga class and some good news for men who feel uncomfortable — there are more and more men finding their way into yoga studios

* Yoga for Men: How to handle the awkwardness and frustration associated with being the tightest person in a yoga class (which is something that is not just relevant to men, by the way!)

* Modifications for tight shoulders in poses where you interlace the fingers behind the back

* How to apply lessons from strength training to the yoga practice

* Tips for yoga teachers who want to help people who are really struggling with poses

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RECOMMENDED AND RELATED LINKS

Summer Series! Understanding Your Super-Awesome (and Complex) Shoulders

Essential Sequence: Neck, Shoulders, and Upper Back

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Summer Series! Ep 3: Understanding Your Super-Awesome (& Complex) Shoulders

Did you know that your shoulder complex has four joints on each side? This dynamic engineering allows us to do all of the things we do with our arms and hands. But it can leave the shoulder joints vulnerable if we don’t balance them with strength. In vinyasa yoga we ask the shoulders to do a lot early on in the practice (because Chaturanga). So, on this episode Jason talks ideas for offsetting this, the best ways to create balanced shoulder strength, plus proper alignment while lifting your arms overhead.

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RELATED AND RECOMMENDED LINKS
I’m Not One of Those Gals Afraid to Tell Her Real Age
Essential Sequence: Neck, Shoulders, and Upper Back
The Expert’s Guide to Chaturanga
Episode 23 with Jason: Fun with Shoulder Anatomy!

WRITE A REVIEW
If you like the podcast, please leave a review or rating on iTunes! It makes it easier for others to find the podcast. If you don’t know how to leave a review, here are some step by step instructions. Woohoo! So easy!

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Episode 23: Q & A with Jason – Fun with Shoulder Anatomy!

Hi everyone!

On this episode Jason answers three of our listener questions and it just so happens that they all focus on some aspect of shoulder anatomy. We also talk about cats a lot. Here are the questions:

* Why do we flex the ankle in poses like Reclined Pigeon?
* Is “pull the shoulder blades down” a “bad” alignment cue?
* In Plank Pose, do you push strongly through the arms and upper back? Or soften the shoulders?

We recognize that it can be difficult to listen to a conversation about anatomy without visuals. To help you out, I put links to some of the shoulder-oriented posts and sequences we have on the blog.

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RECOMMENDED & RELATED LINKS
Essential Sequence: Neck, Shoulders, and Upper Back
The Expert’s Guide to Chaturanga:
Part I, A Shoulder Surgeon’s Guide to Keeping Your Shoulders Safe
Part II, 5 Poses to Make Your Chaturanga Strong and Steady
Part III, Best and Worst Modifications and Alternatives
Part IV, Best Tips for Transitioning Into Chaturanga
Part V, Why Chaturanga is Tough to Teach & What to Do About It
A Shoulder Opening Sequence to Forearm Balance
The Perfect Shoulderstand Prep

MUSIC
Poddington Bear — 60s Quiz Show

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If you like the podcast, please leave a review or rating on iTunes! I’m learning that it really does help others find it and it helps me to know which episodes resonate with you! You can also follow me on Twitter @yogalandpodcast.

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The Expert’s Guide To Chaturanga, Part IV

How to Do Chaturanga Transitions Safely

Before we get to the post, a quick, shameless plug for my upcoming trainings. You can join me live at my 500-Hour Yoga Teacher Training in San Francisco, London, or Hong Kong. I also have three separate online teacher trainings, focusing on arm balances & inversions, sequencing, or anatomy.

OK, now onto the regularly scheduled program.

Since writing the Expert’s Guide to Chaturanga Parts I, II & III, I’ve gotten tons of questions from readers about transitioning to Chaturanga. This makes sense. After all, Chaturanga is always sandwiched between Plank and Up Dog. So, it stands to reason that Plank is going to affect Chaturanga and Chaturanga is going to affect Up Dog. Students and teachers also need advice about coming into Chaturanga—or lowering all the way to the floor—when they’re dealing with a shoulder issue.

The two most common transitions to Chaturanga are lowering down from Plank and jumping back from Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). So, let’s look at the best practices for these scenarios.

Lowering to Chaturanga from Plank

Lowering to Chaturanga from Plank is a foundational transition in vinyasa yoga. Moving slowly and precisely will strengthen your entire body, especially your core and upper-body. Transitioning with control also lengthens your breath and builds postural awareness. When students transition too quickly, they miss the opportunity to build strengthen and control. Even more, transitioning too quickly often results in a sloppy Chaturanga. So, if you’re moving quickly from Plank to Chaturanga, practice slowing the transition down in order to reap the benefits. If you’re not strong enough to slow down, bring one (or both of your knees to the floor).

QUICK TIP
The most important tip for making this transition skillfully is to move your body forward as you’re lowering down. Think about an airplane landing compared to an elevator lowering. The airplane is moving forward as it descends, while the elevator is moving straight down. You’re the airplane, not the elevator.

The key to doing this tip correctly is your feet. When you’re in Plank, you’re on the ball of your feet. When you transition to Chaturanga, you should rock forward to the tips of your toes.

Chaturanga Dandasana Transition | How to Do Chaturanga Transitions Safely | Jason Crandell Yoga Method

HOW TO DO CHATURANGA TRANSITION FROM PLANK
Come into Plank Pose and notice that you’re on the ball of your feet. Simultaneously rock forward to the tips of your toes and bend your elbows. Feel your chest and shoulders moving forward while you’re bending your elbows and lowering half way to the floor. Engage your thighs, engage your core, and land in Chaturanga. Notice that you’re on the tip of your toes, not the balls of your feet. Although it’s beyond the scope of this article, you might also notice that being on the tip of your toes in Chaturanga makes the transition to up dog much more fluid and accessible.

Jumping from Uttanasana to Chaturanga

Jumping from Uttanasana to Chaturanga is strong, dynamic transition. In all of the modern schools of vinyasa yoga, this is another staple transition. The reason that this transition requires more strength than lowering from Plank to Chaturanga is simple: when you jump back from Uttanasana you have to deal with the momentum of jumping. More specifically, you have to slow down the momentum of springing into Chaturanga without dropping your upper-body too low and compromising your shoulders. But, when you can make this transition skillfully, few things in vinyasa yoga feel as smooth, integrated, and fluid.

QUICK TIP
There are two keys to jumping back with better control and, they’re related. First, you need to bend your knees more deeply and get closer to floor before you jump back. Second, you need to focus on pulling your chest forward as you jump your legs back. The first step brings your body weight closer to the floor so that you can control it better. The second helps you counterbalance the weight and momentum of your lower body moving back by bringing the weight and momentum of your upper-body moving forward.

Jumping from Uttanasana to Chaturanga | How to Do Chaturanga Transitions Safely | Jason Crandell Yoga Method

HOW TO DO CHATURANGA TRANSITION – JUMP BACK
While you’re in Uttanasana prior to jumping back, bend your knees deeply. Place your hands on the floor in front of your shoulders. Get nice and low — almost like you’re going to do Bakasana. Look forward. Bend your elbows and lean your weight forward into your hands. Simultaneously, jump your feet back and pull your chest forward. You want these two motions to help counterbalance each other. Land lightly Chaturanga. Take this slowly and repeat it several times to help you integrate this new, more effective pattern.

Lowering to the Floor When You’re Managing a Shoulder Issue

If you’re nursing a shoulder issue and lowering into Chaturanga irritates it, the first step is to bring your knees to the floor. The second step is to focus on the front of your shoulders and your shoulder blades when you descend. You need to control both regions in order to keep your shoulders aligned and stable. Specifically, you want to pull the front of your shoulders (the head of your humerus bones) away from the floor and engage your scapular muscles and draw your shoulder blades toward each other.

QUICK TIP
If you try this approach and it still irritates your shoulder, my advice is to take a breath, back off, and avoid this transition for a while. People will still love you. It’s OK.

Lowering to the Floor When You Have a Shoulder Strain | How to Do Chaturanga Transitions Safely | Jason Crandell Yoga Method

HOW TO DO CHATURANGA WITH A SHOULDER ISSUE
From Plank Pose, bring your knees to the floor. Slowly roll down while keeping the front of your shoulders elevated. Meaning, don’t lead with your shoulders by dipping them forward and down toward the floor. Instead, keep drawing the front of your shoulders away from the floor and slowly lower your thighs, hips, navel, and front ribs to the ground. Again, keep the front of your shoulders lifted and your scapular muscles engaged while you do this.

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The Expert’s Guide to Chaturanga, Part II

Before we get to the post, a quick, shameless plug for my upcoming trainings. You can join me live at my 500-Hour Yoga Teacher Training in San Francisco, London, or Hong Kong. I also have three separate online teacher trainings, focusing on arm balances & inversions, sequencing, or anatomy.

Chaturanga Pose for Beginners: 5 Poses to Make Your Chaturanga Strong and Steady

Chaturanga is an inextricable component of vinyasa yoga –but it’s an exceptionally difficult pose to pull off with skill and precision, especially for beginning students.

Understanding how to do the pose well and keep your shoulders safe should be the first step to learning Chaturanga Pose for beginners. This is the topic of part one of this series, The Expert’s Guide To Practicing and Teaching Chaturanga: A Shoulder Surgeon’s Perspective on Keeping Your Shoulders Safe in Chaturanga. If you haven’t read this article, definitely check it out.

In Part Two of this series, we’ll focus on the importance of building strength to do the pose. Most of the alignment mistakes that we make in Chaturanga Dandasana happen because we don’t have enough strength to do the posture. So, here are five accessible, strengthening postures that will make your Chaturanga more stable, healthy, and effective – not to mention, easier to execute whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro.

1. Forearm Plank

Forearm Plank Pose | Chaturanga Pose for Beginners: How to Build Strength for Chaturanga Dandasana
WHY THIS WORKS
There are plenty of yoga core strengtheners—and all of them are good preparations for Chaturanga. What makes Forearm Plank so special is that it strengthens the exact combination of core muscles that you use in Chaturanga.

HOW TO
From Plank Pose, lower all the way to the floor. Bring your elbows forward so that they’re directly under your shoulders—as though you were doing Sphinx Pose. As you exhale, straighten your legs, press down into your forearms and lift your torso, pelvis, and thighs off the floor. Take 5-7 breaths before you lower back down. Repeat this a few times.

HOW TO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE
By regularly including Forearm Plank into my practice over the last couple of years, my Chaturanga has become much more solid. Sometimes in my first few Sun Salutations, I’ll substitute Forearm Plank for a Chaturanga to Up Dog. If I want to work a little harder during the middle of my practice, I’ll sneak in a few more Forearm Planks and hold them for 30 seconds.

2. Mini Push-Ups

Mini Push-Up | Chaturanga Pose for Beginners: How to Build Strength for Chaturanga Dandasana
WHY THIS WORKS
Mini push-ups are a simple, straightforward way to strengthen your chest, your arms, and the front of your shoulders. It’s easy to modify the intensity of these strengtheners by bringing your knees to the ground and doing as many repetitions as possible. When you do these, you’ll be in a very similar shape to Chaturanga, so you’ll be developing the coordination of Chaturanga in addition to the shoulder strength.

HOW TO
From Plank Pose, lower your knees to the floor so that you’re on all fours. Slide your hands forward a couple of inches. Bend your elbows and your lower your torso forward and down. At maximum, lower your torso so that your upper-arms are parallel to the floor. Hug your elbows against your ribs as you lower down. To complete the push-up, press your hands into the floor and straighten your arms. Do 3 to 4 push-ups in a row.

HOW TO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE
Just like Forearm Plank, I slip these strengtheners into Sun Salutations. I like to do them early in my sequences in order to warm up my upper-body.

3. Lat Pull Downs

Warrior II Pose with Lat Pulldown | Chaturanga Pose for Beginners: How to Build Strength for Chaturanga Dandasana
WHY THIS WORKS
Strong Latissimus Dorsi muscles are essential for a healthy Chaturanga. These are the muscles that help you squeeze your elbows into the sides of your torso. They also help you draw your shoulders away from your ears in Chaturanga. Doing “lat pull-downs” in standing postures is an effective way to strengthen your lats and bring more awareness to the shoulder actions that your lats generate.

HOW TO
From Warrior II, reach your back arm toward the ceiling. Imagine that you’re going to do a one-armed pull-up with your back arm. Bend your elbow against imaginary resistance and pull it down until it is in line with your shoulder. Imagine someone is pushing your elbow up and you are strongly holding it in place. Stay here for a couple breaths, then do the pose on the other side.

HOW TO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE
Although it’s unconventional–and you might look a little bit like He-Man (or She-Ra) flexing your muscles–incorporating lat pull-downs into your standing poses is hugely effective. I incorporate this work in standing postures, especially Warrior I and II, every time I do shoulder-focused classes or workshops.

4. Locust Pose

Locust Pose | Chaturanga Pose for Beginners: How to Build Strength for Chaturanga Dandasana
WHY THIS WORKS
Locust Pose is in my top three most valuable yoga postures because it does such an exceptional job strengthening the entire back body. Specifically for Chaturanga Dandasana, the posture strengthens the spinal muscles, rhomboids, lats, and lower and middle trapezius. When you turn your palms down, you also strengthen the external rotators of your shoulder that will help you keep your humerus bone in the desired position for Chaturanga.

HOW TO
Lie face down with your arms straight by your sides and your palms facing down. Inhaling, lift your upper body, arms, and legs off the floor. Keep your palms facing down as you raise your arms. Draw your shoulders away from your ears and feel the entire length of your back body working. Take 3-4 breaths before lowering to the floor. Repeat this 2-4 times.

HOW TO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE
I incorporate Locust during two phases of my practice: I substitute Locust for Chaturanga and Upward Dog during my Sun Salutations and I put them at the beginning of backbending progressions. Locust is a great pose to warm up your back body prior to doing deeper backbends like Camel Pose and Urdhva Dhanurasana, Upward Bow.

5. Low Cobra

Low Cobra Pose Bjuganasana | Chaturanga Pose for Beginners: How to Build Strength for Chaturanga Dandasana
WHY THIS WORKS
Similar to Locust, Low Cobra strengthens your spinal muscles, rhomboids, lats, and lower and middle trapezius. Low Cobra also reinforces the actions of Chaturanga in your entire shoulder girdle. It’s truly the perfect strengthener and preparatory pose for Chaturanga.

HOW TO
Lie face down and place your palms on the floor next to your shoulders. Align your fingers with the bottom of your armpits. Squeeze your elbows against your sides and lift the front of your shoulders away from the floor. Press your hands in to the floor and slightly raise your chest and frontal ribs away from the ground. Remember, you’re focusing on strength, not flexibility, so don’t try to go very deep into Cobra. Keep pulling your shoulder blades down your back and hugging your elbows into the side of your body. Take 3-4 breaths before lowering down. Repeat this process a few times.

HOW TO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE
You can include Low Cobra in the exact same places that you included Locust.

Sign up for our newsletter and you’ll be the first to know when these posts go live! We’ll also send you Jason’s Guide to Mastering Arm Balances and 5 free peak pose sequences. Why? Because we love you.

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