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My 5 Favorite Yoga Postures (And Why I Love Them)

Jason Crandell in Pigeon Pose

Common wisdom tells you to work on the postures that bring up resistance and challenge you. Personally, I’m okay with this sentiment—after all, there’s plenty of value in exploring the edges of your comfort zone. As a practitioner and teacher, though, I tend to emphasize the opposite—I choose to indulge the postures that I love with egregious frequency. I encourage the teachers that I train to do the exact same thing. We love the poses that we love for good reasons: they awaken us, they ground us, they soothe us, they challenge us, and they nurture our mind’s ability to focus and settle down.

These five postures come up time and time again in my classes because I’m shamelessly enthusiastic about them.

Urdhva Dhanurasana — It Soothes Me

Yep, that’s right, I find Urdhva Dhanurasana deeply soothing. Yes, I’m aware that everyone and their cousin goes on and on about how uplifting and energizing backbends are. But, honestly, my experience is the opposite. A nice, strong Urdhva Dhanurasana (or 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6) actually cuts through whatever narrative my mind is engaged with, focuses my attention, and burns off whatever anxiety I may be experiencing. Urdhva Dhanurasana is never easy for me, but it’s always settling.

Paschimottanasana — It Humbles Me

Paschimottanasana bums me out. I’m always prattling on about integrity of movement being more important than range of movement. Even though I firmly believe this, the first thought that runs through my head when I practice Paschimottanasana is, “Ugh. Is this really as far as I can go today?” This pose continues to reveal how judgmental I can be toward myself and provides me with the opportunity to let go.

Pigeon Pose — It Grounds Me

The bittersweet release of Pigeon is undeniable. While the big, tension-busting stretch in the outer hips steals the show, the posture has another component that helps produce a grounding effect: The vast majority of your body is laying on the floor when you do the posture. Sure, it’s intense for many, but the intensity is always local. The majority of the body has the opportunity to drop, release, and let go into the floor.

Handstand — It Balances Me

There’s a saying in England that black tea wakes you up if you’re tired and quiets you if you’re unsettled. My experience of Handstand is the exact same. If I need an uplifting boost of energy, practicing Handstand does the trick. If, on the other hand, I’m overstimulated, a minute or two in Handstand grounds my energy and rebalances my mood.

Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana – It Unwinds Me

Oh, the poor side body. It can be challenging to access and rarely gets treated to elongation in day-to-day life. Even in asana practice the side-body rarely gets the TLC that the hips, shoulders, core and spine receive. Thankfully, Parivrtta Janu sirsasana digs deeply into the side-body and wrings out tension. When I do this pose I literally have to will myself to get out of it. I want to stay there, nestle in, and take a nap.

I’d love to hear from you. What postures are keeping you calm, grounded, and sane these days?

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The Mother of All Backbends: Urdhva Dhanurasana

Urdhva Dhanurasana

HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
There are 3 ways to use this blog:
1. You can simply practice Urdhva Dhanurasana 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 URDHVA DHANURASANA

Urdvha Dhanurasana is such an iconic pose, teachers around the world simply call it “backbend.” There’s no other posture like this. If your teacher said “OK everyone: arm balance,” would you have any idea which pose to do? No. What if they said, “OK everyone: twist,” or, “standing pose,” “forward bend,?” Nope.

Upward Bow represents an entire posture group—and is so ubiquitous in all current traditions of yoga—because it’s so thorough. It stretches the quads, hip-flexors, abdominals, and shoulders while strengthening the entire back body. The postures also engenders a debate about whether or not students should engage the gluteals. Here’s my take on the discussion:

Continue reading Read More > >

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Essential Sequence: Ease into Urdhva Dhanurasana

Urdhva Dhanurasana, aka Upward-Bow or Wheel Pose or simply “Backbend,” is an iconic pose in the yoga canon. Visually it represents the acrobatic flexibility that so many of us long for when we first begin the yoga practice. But too often the feeling of the pose doesn’t match that open, soaring look.

My first piece of advice when practicing Urdhva Dhanurasana is to focus on creating even sensations throughout your whole body when you do the pose. Instead of focusing on going deep, focus on creating evenness. When you practice this way, not only will the pose feel a whole lot better, you’ll be more apt to open the places that need it and derive the overall benefits of backbending! (An added benefit is that you potentially head off injuries because you’re not pushing past your edge).

This month’s sequence prepares you for Wheel Pose by opening the shoulders and upper back as well as the front sheath of the body — specifically the quadriceps and hip flexors. It also builds heat in the whole body. All of this should help you feel more ease, more space, more joy in your backbend.

There’s so much more to say about sequencing for backbends. If you want to find out more, I encourage you to check out my e-course, The Art of Yoga Sequencing. And, as always, please sign up for my mailing list if you want to get a monthly reminder when new sequences go up. Have fun practicing!

Quick side note: In the interest of keeping the sequence as easy-to-read as possible, we’ve chosen to write the poses out in English instead of Sanskrit this month.
30-Minute Wheel Pose Sequence
Download PDF

{illustrations by MCKIBILLO}

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