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Revolved Triangle Sequence: Stretch Your Hamstrings, IT Band, Outer Hips, and Spinal Muscles

Sequence for Revolved Triangle Pose

You know those poses that you once loathed, but now you love? At first, they had the audacity to make you feel awkward, imbalanced, and mortal. Then, somehow, they started scratching an itch that no other posture could. You know the ones. For me, Parivrtta Trikonasana is at the top of this list.

Things changed for me in Parivrtta Trikonasana when I started working with the pose differently. My experience shifted when I started putting it later in my sequences. I remember when I was an Ashtanga practitioner thinking that Parivrtta Trikonasa was too early in the standing sequence for my body. It was the first posture in the sequence to stretch my IT bands, adductors, external rotators and rotational spinal muscles. Even though I was in my early 20s, all of these muscles and connective tissues were pretty tight and Parivrtta Trikonasana was a slog.

The pose was enough of a frustration for me during my Primary Series days that I started to prep for it with a few outer-hip and IT band openers before class. I could accept that Marichyasana D was hard, but I couldn’t quite cope with the fact that I struggled with the fourth posture in the standing series. Eventually, as I moved away Ashtanga Yoga, I started building sequences that were entirely designed to make greater peace with Parivritta Trikonasana and address the tight spots that this posture revealed in my body.

This sequence came about from many years of trying to relocate Parivrtta Trikonasana from my “No thanks, I’d rather not,” list, to my “Yes, please—and I’ll have A few more,” list. Like all of my sequences, it’s accessible, simple, straightforward, and effective. Take a few moments to look at the sequence before you practice it and you’ll quickly see why it makes sense. It includes everything that you’ll need to prepare your body for Parivrtta Trikonasana and presents these components in a straightforward progression. Fingers crossed that it works as well for you as it’s worked for me over the years.

And, hey, while we’re at it, let me know some of the postures that you’re still struggling with in the comments section and how you’re going about managing them. Maybe I’ll create a sequence just for you!

PS: For easier practice at home, you can sign up for our newsletter and we’ll send you a free printer-friendly PDF download. If you are already on our newsletter list, you still have to enter your email to receive the sequence.

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 for Lower Back Pain

Yoga Sequence for Lower Back Pain

I know back pain. I’ve dealt with varying degrees of back pain—from mild to severe—for more than 20 years. I’ve also worked with hundreds of students that have similar challenges. In fact, many students turn to yoga when they’re facing lower-back problems.

My yoga practice has provided me with an exceptional tool for managing my back and minimizing flare-ups. At the same time, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for using yoga to manage back discomfort. Postures that soothe some students, agitate others. Yoga is for everybody, but not all postures are for everybody. With this in mind, the goal of this sequence is to provide you with some general principles and a simple sequence that may help you with general, overall lower-back maintenance. I’m hopeful that many of these postures–if not the entire sequence–will help you keep back discomfort at bay if you practice them regularly.

Of course, this sequence is not for acute pain, nor does it account for (or provide) specific diagnoses. If you’re in acute pain, please find a medical provider. Also, please omit all postures that are contrary to your medical provider’s suggestions.

One more thought: A detailed examination of yoga for back health is beyond the scope of this blog post. But, before you launch into this sequence, there are a few important principles to pay attention to:

1. Focus on maintaining the natural curves of your spine, especially the lordotic curve of your lower back.
2. Focus on hip and leg flexibility. Yes, some students need more stability in these regions. But, generally speaking, excessive tension in the hips and legs needs to be addressed so that the pelvis can be in it’s proper position in daily life and in yoga postures.
3. Breathe slowly, smoothly, and deeply. Breathing settles the inclination for the nervous system to overreact and helps facilitate spinal motion.
4. Remember that there’s going to be a little trial and error. Some things will work for you and some things won’t.
5. Back off when something hurts. Period.
6. Lastly, all hygiene requires consistency. Consider this sequence good hygiene for your lower back. Got it?

WHY THIS SEQUENCE WORKS

POSES 1-5

Reclined hip, hamstring, and inner leg (adductor) openers should be the bread and butter of lower back maintenance strategies. Yes, a strong and stable core is essential for lower back comfort. But, if excessive hip, hamstring, or adductor tension is keeping your pelvis out of proper alignment, no amount of core strength is going to protect your lower back.

These first three poses are so valuable that you can practice them on their own — especially if you’re not comfortable with the following postures. The first four postures of this sequence don’t require your lower back or pelvis to move. Instead, you keep your lower back and pelvis stationary and move your leg. Most of you will need to hold a yoga strap instead of holding your foot. The 5th posture introduces a mild reclined twist in order to help you create more mobility in your thoracic spine (the part of your spine that your ribs connect to).

POSES 6-8

In addition to mobilizing your hips, hamstrings, and adductors, strengthening your core is essential for lower back comfort. Two of the most effective core strengtheners in yoga are what I call “Core Connector” (pose 6) and Forearm Plank (pose 8). These poses require very little spinal flexion (anterior spinal rounding) to execute correctly. If the minor rounding of your spine in the “Core Connector” is uncomfortable, do a few rounds of Forearm Plank instead. In this sequence, I threw in Down Dog between the two core postures to help you focus on lengthening your spine, which can help alleviate back discomfort.

POSES 9-10

Most people love to alternate between Cat Pose and Cow Pose. I don’t. Honestly, I just don’t find Cow Pose to be comfortable or effective in my body. Cat, I like. Cow, I can live without. So, I selected Sphinx Pose to pair with Cat Pose instead. Sphinx is the first pose in these sequence where you’re taking your back into extension. As you do this pose, don’t let your belly sink heavily into the floor since this may arch your lower back too intensely. Instead, gently press your pubic bone into the floor and draw your lower belly toward your spine. Notice how this pose feels in your lower back. Some of you will crave more, some of you will want to get out sooner rather than later.

POSES 11-14

Hip openers should be a staple in your back care routine. Pigeon Pose is most notable for the stretch it delivers to the outer and posterior hips — especially gluteus maximus and the six external rotators that live under glute max. But, Pigeon Pose — like the two postures that follow it in this sequence — also lengthens the hip flexors that lay on the front of the pelvis. This is particularly true for those you with exceptionally tight hip flexors. Posture 13 adds the hip flexor lengthening by also stretching the quadriceps. This group is rounded out with a lunging twist since mild twists feel so good for many people with muscular tension in their back.

POSES 15-16

Closing a sequence with a mild twist and a mild forward bend like Child’s Pose is soothing for nearly everyone who struggles with lower back discomfort. You can make Child’s Pose even more effective by directing your inhalations toward your lower back.

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: Neck, Shoulders, and Upper Back

12 Yoga Poses to Release Tension in the Shoulders, Neck, & Upper Back

WHY THIS SEQUENCE WORKS

Your shoulders have a lot of moving parts. Each shoulder has 4 joints (GH, AC, SC, ST), plus layers and layers of soft tissues that include muscles, tendons, and ligaments. When you add the physical demands that the shoulders undergo on a daily basis to the complexity of the region, you wind up with an unavoidable truth: Your shoulders need regular—if not daily maintenance—if you want your upper-body to be functional and comfortable.

ONE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT YOUR SHOULDERS, NECK, AND UPPER-BACK

We frequently take our body for granted. Even as yoga practitioners, we often forget the intricate subtlety and profound majesty of the body. When we take our body for granted, we forget that it needs our attention and care. We forget that our body needs regular—if not daily maintenance—especially as our body ages. I’ve watched my body through my yoga practice for 20 years and it’s finally become clear that my shoulders, neck, and upper-back need a simple, quick, daily practice if I want them to work optimally. I created the following sequence for myself a few months ago and I’ve been extremely consistent with it. It’s usually not the entirety of my practice or training on any given day. Rather, it’s a supplement. It’s simple, basic, and hugely effective. Think about it as the equivalent of brushing your teeth or taking a shower. It’s just basic hygiene that helps you feel better.

My recommendation is to do this sequence several days a week. It’s only going to take 10-15 minutes and it will be worth every moment. If you have a regular yoga practice, sneak this in at the end of your sequence. If you train, run, workout, or ride a desk all-day long, do this sequence in the evening before you go to bed. Just figure out a way to put this into your routine.

POSES 1-3

Child’s Pose and Cat Pose gently round the upper-back and release tension in the muscles that lay between the shoulder-blades. Since the head hangs freely in these postures, the muscles in the neck don’t have to work to support the weight of the head. This creates a nice, much needed rest for these often over-worked muscles.

POSES 3-6

If you practice with me live, online or with these illustrated sequences, you’ll recognize this straightforward, 4-pose shoulder-opening combination. I use this mini-sequence all the time. In fact, you can think about these 4 poses as a “mini shoulder-opening sequence” within a sequence. If you don’t have time to do this entire practice, these 4 poses will knock plenty of the rust off of your shoulders by themselves. These postures will help create mobility in your shoulders by taking them through a significant range of motion. If sitting in virasana is difficult for you—or, you want a little more movement in your practice—you can do this combination of shoulder openers in Tadasana, Warrior 1 or Warrior 2.

POSES 7-10

Poses 7 – 10 are included to get you moving a little bit more. Even though this sequence mellow, it’s nice to have a few poses where you can feel your body work. If you externally rotate your upper-arms and broaden your shoulder-blades properly, you will release the weight of your head and neck in down dog. This will help stretch the space between your shoulder-blades. Low lunge with your fingers interlaced behind your back will stretch your the front of your shoulders and chest. The two wide-legged standing forward bends will stretch your entire back-body and release tension in your upper-body by letting the weight of your head and neck to drop.

POSES 11

Down Dog with the elbows on the floor and the hands on the wall is one of my favorite shoulder openers. It creates the same effect as Down Dog, but it increases the amount of leverage that you can stretch your shoulders with. To do this posture effectively, place your hands on the wall with your fingers pointing away from each other (your thumbs will face the ceiling). Keep your elbows shoulder-width apart. The most common mistake that people make when they’re practicing this pose is to lean their shoulders toward the wall. Instead—just like you do in Down Dog—press your shoulders toward your legs.

POSES 12

Legs Up The Wall. Need I say more?

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}

4 comments Add Your Own