YogaPaws Blog for Beginner Poses and Postures

Topsy-Turvy: Yoga Inversions for a Fresh Perspective

Posted on Fri, May 03, 2013

yoga paws, yoga glove, yoga socks, toesoxs, toesoxThere are few yoga poses that students either love or hate as much as inversions. You might be clamoring to get to that part of class or you might dread even thinking about trying to kick your legs over your head. Whatever camp you fall into, though, looking at the world from a 180-degree rotation is a great learning opportunity, not just in your practice but in your life.

The biggest fear factor many students have about inversions is worrying about falling (not surprisingly). But, just like life sometimes does, yoga asks you to conquer your fears to experience the biggest rewards. And, the benefits of inversions are huge. By reorienting yourself in relation to gravity, your body has the chance to work your cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous, and endocrine systems in ways that you normally don’t, according to Yoga Journal. That stimulates your body into becoming more efficient, research suggests.

yoga inversion, yoga pose inversion, handstand, yoga handstandSo, if flipping your head to where your feet usually belong is not comfortable for you, remember that you can benefit from inversions with or without modifications. Just lying with your feet up the wall is as much an inversion as a headstand. Every time you fold forward , your brain and circulation receive the benefits of reversing your blood flow. Yoga is not an extreme sport that demands that you leave discernment behind and forget there is a difference between your “edge” and a cliff. You need to silence your ego and look inside to see whether fear is stopping you or whether there is a realistic mental, physical or spiritual reason a variation on pose simply does not work for you at this time.

And, don’t think that using props or supports means you’re “not strong.” All of the tools that complement your yoga practice are simply extensions of your body. They work in unison with your physical body to enable you to achieve poses your body alone can’t access. Think of them as friends.  Starting into the more difficult poses with the support of a wall might help you feel more secure. Or ask if your studio has a headstand bench—a heavy stand with padding for the neck and shoulders which enables some students to rise into headstand more comfortably. Keep in mind that you don’t have to hold these poses for long. A few breath cycles when you are starting out is fine.

Here are some poses to turn your world upside down:

Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward-Facing Dog

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Benefits: This simple inversion helps you get comfortable with having some of your weight on your hands and your head below your heart.  How to do it: Begin on your hands and knees. Make sure your knees are hip-width apart and that your hands are under your shoulders. Spread your fingers and press them into the mat. On an exhale, turn your toes under and lift your knees. Don’t lock your knees straight. Instead, keep your heels slightly lifted for now. On another exhale, straighten your knees gently and stretch your heels to or toward the floor. Keep your head between your arms. Stay in the pose for one to three minutes.


inversion, shoulder stand, modified shoulder stand Salamba Sarvagasana (Supported Shoulderstand)

Benefits: This pose helps you find a balance point on your upper back so it’s easier to feel the alignment through your spine.  How to do it: Take a couple of blankets and fold them firmly into rectangles that are about one by two feet. Lay down with your back on the blankets and your shoulders resting at one of the long edges. Bend your knees and put your heels on the floor near your hips. Exhale and press your feet into the ground to push your legs up and toward your chest. Spread your arms by your shoulders and bring them in toward each other with bent elbows. Pressing your upper arms into the mat, place your hands on your lower back, supporting it. Then, inhale and stretch your legs up to the ceiling. Remain in this pose for 30 seconds if you are new to it, gradually adding on five to 10 seconds until you can stay comfortably for up to three minutes.


Halasana (Plough Pose)

Halasana (Plow Pose)

Benefits: Bringing your legs up over your head in this pose helps you engage your core and stretch your hamstrings, which both help you feel more confident in inversions.  How to do it: Begin in Salamba Sarvangasana. Keeping your core engaged, lower your legs to or toward the floor behind your head. Try to keep your torso at a right angle to the floor. Keep your throat long and lengthen your chin away from your shoulders. You can keep your hands on your back, or you can clasp them on the floor. Remain in the pose anywhere from one to five minutes, then release. This pose may be contra-indicated for those with chronic neck, back or shoulder problems, those with unmedicated high pressure and pregnant women (past the first trimester).


describe the image Adho Mukha Vrkasana (Handstand)

Benefits: Using the wall as a support in this pose allows you to experience the feeling of being fully inverted without worrying about falling backward.  How to do it: Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana with your finger a few inches away from the wall. Firm your shoulder blades and pull them down toward your pelvis. Then, bend your right leg and bring it closer to the wall. Continue to lengthen your left leg. Then, push your right foot off the floor while sweeping your left leg up. If this is as far as you can go, that’s fine. If you feel like trying for the full pose, kick up and bring your heels to the wall. Stay there for 10 to 15 seconds, slowly working your way up to one minute, then release.








Salamba Sirsasana,  Supported Headstand

Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand)

Benefits: Using your arms to support your head in this pose helps you feel more secure.  How to do it: Fold blankets or a sticky mat firmly. Kneel on the floor. Place your elbows shoulder width on the mat or blanket and clasp your fingers together. Push your inner wrists toward the floor. Place the crown of your head on the floor and press the back of your head into your hands. Inhale and straighten your knees so that you are in a V shape. On an exhale, push both feet off the floor (you can bend or stretch your knees). As they come up, your knees and feet should align over your hips. Stretch your legs if they are bent. Remain in the pose for 10 seconds if you are new to it, adding on five to 10 seconds every time you practice until you can stay for three minutes.

yoga, yoga travel, yoga inversion, yoga shoulder standAs you practice, listen to your body. Some of these poses are challenging and if you feel a sense of unusual pressure in your head or your eyes are bloodshot, come out of the pose and scale back your inversion practice. Even if you have a regular home practice, try to get a teacher’s guidance when you start practicing more advanced inversions to ensure that you are working correctly and safely. Don’t feel pressured about trying the most advanced inversions. Listen to your inner wisdom. You don’t have to do a perfect handstand to have a beautiful practice that serves you best. In fact, that kind of striving for something that doesn’t feel good or authentic to you is the opposite of the liberation yoga makes possible. So go and have fun in your body and seek out some new points of view.


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Tags: how to do arm balances, yoga for stress relief, arm balances, inversions, advanced yoga

Go Off the Grid: Side Bends to Open Your Practice

Posted on Fri, Apr 12, 2013

yoga paws, side stretch, side angle yogaSome parts of your body have a way of telling you when they are tight. Your hamstrings, for example, feel stiff and achy when they’re in need of a relaxing stretch. But, with muscle groups that you work less often in daily life, it can be hard to even notice there’s a lot of room for expansion.  The muscles that lie on the side of your torso are especially easy to ignore. Unless you’re doing a core move that specifically targets them, you probably aren’t thinking about how those muscles (mainly your obliques) are functioning. But, like a lot of other body parts that it can be difficult to focus on, this muscle group affects far more than you might think.

Your obliques are a crucial component of both your core strength and flexibility. Whenever you move out of a rigid plane of motion, you’re calling on them to support you, whether that’s slipping and sliding on an icy sidewalk or dancing. In yoga, too, a strong side body is integral for opening up your body to fully explore twists and to lifting up from your underside to extend fully into poses such as side plank and Trikonasana (Triangle Pose).

When you are trying to balance in any standing pose, especially on with one leg raised, your obliques are responsible for much of your stability. 

Vasisthasana, Side Plank Pose

In twists, they have to have enough flexibility to allow your torso to rotate. A core that is strong throughout the front, back and side bodies is a vital complement to arm strength in poses that challenge the whole body—as in Plank Pose or Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). This encircling girdle of well-developed muscles pays dividends off the mat as well, making for an easier gait when walking, sitting up straighter and, for many, easing back pain.

On a deeper level, this sideways thinking invites students to investigate some off-the-grid thinking. Twisting, bending and balancing requires intense focus and a lot of momentary readjustment to hold these positions. It’s harder just to “phone in” the movements that place your body off-kilter. But, the more you call on your side body to knit together your core and back, the more you find yourself able to confidently tap into the fresh thinking that makes challenges into opportunities.


Here are some poses and tips for stretching and strengthening your side body:

Utthita Parsvakonasana, Extended Side Angle Pose

Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)

Benefits: This standing side bend encourages you to stretch your sides while keeping your center engaged. How to do it: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Step or hop your feet three to four feet apart. Lift your arms out to the sides until they are parallel to the floor. Focus on reaching out through your fingers, palms down. Turn your left foot in slightly and turn your right foot out 90 degrees. Anchor the outside of your left foot into the mat and bend your right knee. Bring your left arm up toward the ceiling and turn your palm toward your head. Look to your left. Exhale and bend to your right, trying to put the right side of your torso on your right thigh. Place your right fingertips or hand on the floor or a block just outside of your right foot. If that stretch is too deep, place your right elbow on your right knee with the palm up. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.


Ardha Chandrasana, Half Moon Pose

Ardha Chandrasana I (Half Moon Pose)

Benefits: This pose provides a deep stretch for your sides. How to do it: Start in Tadasana. Bring your left arm up toward your ear. Turn your palm so that it faces your head. Keep your hipbones parallel. Engaging your center and bend to the right on an exhale. To deepen, inhale both arms overhead and interlace all except the index fingers. Remain there for three to five breaths, then return to center and switch sides for the same amount of time.


Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)

Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)

Benefits: This pose allows you to deepen the stretch along your entire side body.  How to do it: Start in Tadasana. Step or hop your feet three to four feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor, palms down. Turn your left in and your right foot out, aligning your heels. Exhale and bend to your right, letting your right hand come to a comfortable point on your shin, ankle, a block or the floor. Work toward rolling your lower shoulder forward to avoid curling back toward your leg. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.


twist yoga poseStretch Both Sides. Whenever you do a side-bending pose, concentrate on keeping length in the side you are bending toward as well as the side you are stretching.

Stay Square. In a lot of side bends, it’s tempting to bring the top shoulder forward. Think of rolling it back to counteract that impulse.

As you practice side bends, remember that there is no prize for how far you can bend. Find a place where you feel a stretch, but don’t compromise your alignment to get there. And, as always, keep the focus on your breath. If it feels constrained or shallow, back out of the pose a bit. Side bending can help wring out tension and free your muscles. Take advantage of that to free your mind as well.


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Tags: advanced yoga poses, arm balances, being present, Energy Systems, Side stretch Yoga

Spring Forward: Freshening up Your Yoga Lifestyle

Posted on Fri, Apr 05, 2013

yoga and spring, spring yoga, The concept of “spring cleaning” is a centuries-old way of recognizing the primal shift in the world as you move through the seasons. In Ayurveda, each season has a dominant dosha-- from the Vata dryness of winter to the Kapha calm of early spring.  As the time of year changes, you respond to these shifts by changing your habits and environment. That’s especially true in spring. As you open your windows and literally let the sunshine in, you feel freer, lighter. It’s only natural to want to bring that lightness to all aspects of your practice and your lifestyle.  Getting rid of things you don’t need is a wonderful tool for balancing the Kaphic energy that’s abundant at this time of year.

The other tendency of a Kaphic time is the lack of motivation to try new things. Kapha’s nature is habitual and when it’s in excess, you might find you tend to stay in less-than-optimal situations longer than you need to. That applies to major life issues like jobs, relationships or houses, but it also can creep into your practice, diet and home. That makes this a great time to throw caution to the wind and introduce some fresh ideas. They don’t have to be huge changes, but shaking up the routine on and off the mat can help you take full advantage of the opportunities that the season affords.

crane pose, crow pose, Before you take class or start your personal practice, house-clean your mind. Toss out the stories about  what you’re “bad” at and open the way for new opportunities. This is the perfect time to take advantage of the warmer days and the comfort they bring to your body to try one new pose. Maybe Bakasana (Crow or Crane Pose) has a fear factor for you. Grab some blankets, put them in front of you, and give it a go the next time you’re in class. Whether you make it or not, you’ll gain so much from not letting the pose intimidate you. Try reaching for that bind you’ve never seen before when the teacher gives it, or pick a pose you’ve always wanted to learn and ask your teacher to help you work on it. Think about connecting with other students and taking the yogic lifestyle into life off the mat.

yoga and food, yoga for weight loss, yoga to trim belly fatSpring is also a great time to experiment with what you eat. Finding lighter foods to balance Kapha is a good reason to look at other shelves in the grocery store. Even though a lot of locally grown produce isn’t in season yet, there’s plenty of variety to add spice and color to your plate. If, for example, you always eat quinoa, check out some other grains. Whole grains like barley and buckwheat might be fun to try. Adding more fruits and vegetables into your diet is also good this time of year and offers a chance to experiment. It’s a great way to make you sure you maintain your electrolyte balance—especially if you like hot yoga or a fast flow that makes you perspire freely. If you don’t have a body brush, check out the offerings at your local health food store. Exfolitation is a great way to slough off dry skin and bring a glow to the outer you that reflects the you within.

spring cleaning, yoga springFinally, literal spring cleaning is a vital tool to help open your mind. Think about what physical stuff makes you feel “stuck” or “trapped.” Is that lamp from your college days still “you”? Could someone else use the piano that’s collecting dust or serving as storage? Decide to take on one or two of those places now.

Maybe finally getting the clutter out of your garage will make you feel like you breathe more easily, or maybe it’s the pantry shelf of expired spices that isn’t leaving room for you to move forward. Whatever that area is, use freeing that space as a meditation. Think about what thoughts feel like that physical clutter. As you remove the physical things, visualize yourself throwing away those ideas, cues or litanies in your mind.

yoga pawsAnd, definitely, add some “green” to your spring. Get your Yoga-Paws and take your practice outside, looking for areas without the emissions from cars or the toxins of city streets. Bring some houseplants and some potted herbs into your spring-cleaned home. Replace you pillow with organic ones or use organic towels and face cloths.

Enjoy the space you’re creating in your body, your practice and your life.


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Tags: food and yoga, arm balances, advanced yoga, being present

Off The Grid: Yoga For a New Direction

Posted on Wed, Feb 20, 2013
yoga pose, Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana(extended hand-to-big-toe pose)-Variation

Your body spends most of the time “on the grid.”  And, it’s good at doing that. Walking, moving forward and back or side to side all seem pretty effortless.  So, when you first attempt to find your balance in yoga whether flying along in arm balances or anchored on one leg, it can come as a surprise to all of the muscles and ligaments that are used to gliding along. It’s a big challenge to re-orient yourself around a different axis. From bending into your knee in a standing pose to mastering off-kilter inversions, yoga is constantly inviting you to redefine how your body connects to the mat—and how your mind and spirit create balance in your life. It’s an invitation you’ll want to accept.

Natarajasana(Lord of the Dance Pose)In everyday life, you might not use many rotational movements, particularly ones that require you to hold your balance as you do them. So, when you are called on to find that ability in yoga, it can seem like your body is learning a foreign language. Many yoga poses take you out of that comfort zone by not only shaping your body into angles, but adding curves, like the beautiful arc of the back leg makes in Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose).

As you approach the poses in your practice, the key is not to be apprehensive. Trust your body to understand or come to understand the axis on which you are balancing.  Think about the movement as allowing your body to fill the pose. Also, don’t stiffen or tighten your body, which is a common temptation when you feel off balance. Instead, think about engaging your muscles and being aware what each part of your body is doing. Engaging
Pinned Imagethe core body by thinking about bringing it back toward the spine gives you a centered place from which to flow into balances. Drawing in the side waist further strengthens that

Don’t be afraid to build your confidence and your balancing ability by working at the wall. The wall isn’t a crutch; it’s a guide. Often, even experienced students incorporate the wall into balancing asanas to check their alignment and make sure their shoulders and hips are rolling forward or back. More than support, balancing against a wall helps to ensure that your back is straight and your pelvis is tucked under—giving the proper foundation for moving that asana onto the mat. For twisted poses, working at the wall can help you understand how to stretch your arms and torso rather than curling your upper body toward your leg. It can also take away the fear that prevents you from fully exploring new asanas. integration. Even subtle movements such as relaxing the shoulders away from the ears or drawing the heels toward the floor can help knit the body parts into a more stable whole.


Here are some new ways to play in your body:


vasisthasana, side plank poseVasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)

Benefits: This variation challenges you to find equilibrium in a complex side and back bend.  How to do it: Begin in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Shift your weight onto your left hand and the outside of your left foot. Open your right arm to the ceiling. Bring your right foot behind your left, placing the ball of your foot on the floor. Raise your right arm over your head. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then return to Adho Mukha Svanasana and repeat on the other side.





parighasanaParighasana (Gate Pose)

Benefits: This pose allows you to explore balance off-center with the security of your legs on the floor.  How to do it: Kneel on the floor. Stretch your right leg out to the side. Turn your right knee to face the ceiling, allowing your right hip to come forward slightly. Bring your arms out away from you, palms down. Reach your right arm to your right leg or the floor. On an inhale, bring your left arm up by your left ear. Remain in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side. (photo credit Ranjani Powers & Leon Lim)




Salamba Sarvangasana, Supported ShoulderstandSalamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand)

Benefits: This inversion allows you to find your balance with the support of your shoulders rather than your head.  How to do it: Fold two or more blankets into rectangles. Lie down with your head on the floor and your shoulders on the edge of the blankets. Place your arms by your sides. On an exhale, curl your pelvis toward your head and lift your feet off the floor. Bring your knees toward your face. Turn your hands palm up and walk them up your back to support your body. Inhale and lift your legs to the ceiling. With your torso relatively straight up and down, extend your legs.  Remain in the pose for 30 seconds.




Find Your Fulcrum. As you practice, think about what part of your body the movement comes from. Focus on stabilizing that in these poses.



dristi, gazing pointDon’t forget to look. Unless your teacher has asked you to close your eyes, they are a powerful tool for helping you find your balance. Find your drishti (gazing point) about two to three feet away in standing poses. Keep your gaze on that spot as you do the pose.

Another key to this practice is, as always, your breath. You can think of it as the thread that links you to the poses. Keep your breathing deep and even as you practice. Think of breathing into whatever part of your body feels strained or tight. 

Relax. Just like balance doesn’t come into your life all at once, it takes time to come into your practice. Fortunately, there are a lot of moments of discovery along the way, and each opens an exciting door to new variations and new successes.


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Tags: home yoga, yoga for balance, advanced yoga poses, arm balances, inversions

Sacred Balance: Yoga Poses for Strength and Flexibility

Posted on Tue, Nov 06, 2012

yoga wizard

Sometimes, yoga feels like being in The Wizard of Oz. Every student thinks she or he lacks something vital to gaining mastery in her or his practice. If you’re bendy, you probably wish you were stronger. If you can hold Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) for 90 seconds without even flinching, you might look around and lament your tight hamstrings.  The beauty of yoga is that every physical ability is needed at some point in your practice. It really is “all good.”

As yoga teacher Shiva Rea puts it, “Yoga is a constant dance between strength and flexibility.” One might be more natural for you than the other, but your practice has already started to address that imbalance, even if you don’t realize it. For example, each Sun Salutation strengthens your arms, legs, back and core while stretching your back, hamstrings and wrists. Simply straightening your legs as you fold in standing or seated poses moves you closer to your flexibility goals. Expansion and compression of your muscles as you flow through asanas leaves you stronger, longer and more open at the end of every class.

When you’re heading into challenging poses like the ones below, shedding your fears has to be the first step. The physical reaction to thoughts like “my arms are weak” is a self-fulfilling prophecy since you’re more likely to tense up or enter into poses without discernment. The next step is letting go of the pressure you might feel to get there right now. Yoga is not the Olympics. There are no judges and no “10s.”  Think of your practice as an opportunity to play in your body. As you try these poses, let your inner child have some fun. If you get into some extreme poses, enjoy this new territory. But, like a child learning to do a cartwheel, enjoy the sensation of being where your body wants to be.

Here are some poses to try: 

Eka Pada Bakasana, Advanced Crane Pose)



Eka Pada Bakasana  (Advanced Crane Pose)

Benefits: This twisted inversion challenges your stability off the grid. How to do it: Start in a short Adho Muka Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Lift your right leg up and place your right thigh on your right upper arm. Bend into your arms. Hop your left foot off the floor. If you feel secure doing that, slide your left foot back and engage your lower core to lift your left leg. Remain in the balance for a few breaths, then release and repeat on the other side.






Kapotasana, King Pigeon Pose)Kapotasana (King Pigeon Pose)

Benefits: This deep backbend opens your whole front body. How to do it: Kneel with your feet slightly closer together than your hips. Hinge back from your waist without pushing your hips forward. When you’re reached your maximum, gently release your head toward the floor and your hands to your ankles or calves. Lift your hips to the ceiling and bend your arms, deepening the arch of your back. Stay in the pose for up to 30 seconds, then release and rest in Balasana.



Eka Pada Galavasana, Flying Crow Pose




Eka Pada Galavasana (Flying Crow Pose) 

Benefits: This arm balance lets you play with your center of gravity to “fly.” How to do it:Begin by crossing your right ankle on your left thigh. Bend over your leg and let your hands touch the ground. Wrap your right toes around the outside of your left arm and bend your left knee more.  Slowly bend your arms, keeping your elbows tucked into your sides. Snug your right foot onto your arms and shift your weight into your hands. If you can, release your left foot and push out through the ball of your foot. Hold for a few breaths if you can, then come into Balasana (Child’s Pose) to release before trying the other side.

This is a challenging practice, so don’t let yourself be overwhelmed. Focus on each of the building blocks—each body part—then, step in the pose and breath. Don’t stress yourself by expecting to reach the full pose on the first attempt. Learning to do poses like these is a powerful reminder of how exciting it is to challenge yourself and try something new. So go play!


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Tags: yoga for strength, yoga for balance, arm balances, advanced yoga, yoga back bends

Look Ma, No Feet: Arm Balances to Uplift Your Yoga Practice

Posted on Tue, Oct 09, 2012

crow pose, crane poseIt happens to all students—of yoga or anything else. You fight your way through feeling absolutely incompetent at something you’ve just begun to feeling like you understand what you don’t understand and, gradually, to feeling like you have developed a solid base of skills. Then you see whatever you think is the next “pinnacle” of your discipline and all that progress seems to evaporate like mist. Suddenly, you’re a beginner again and success seems a long, long way away.

Eka Pada Sirsasana C (One foot to Head Posture)

For many yogis, arm balances are that peak.  You stand at the base camp of your mat and taking flight balanced on just your hands seems like a long, uphill trek.  But, like most things you perceive as really far away, remember that, if you can see the goal, you know where you’re headed.

Before you start that metaphorical climb, it’s time to demystify what it takes to balance on your hands. The three main components—being able to keep your abdominals working through a pose, finding your balance point and old-fashioned arm strength—are skills you’ve been practicing as long as you’ve done yoga. If you’ve been doing a vinyasa sequence in class, you’ve learned to keep your body engaged head to toe as you lower from Plank Pose to Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). That control will give you the building blocks to progress to the most challenging arm balances out there.

Warm up with comfortable poses that ground you and let you tap into your upper body. The feeling of strength in your arms in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) is the same sense of muscular activity you’ll want to create in Bakasana (Crane or Crow Pose). The asymmetrical balance of Ardha Chandra Chapasana (Half-Moon Pose) helps prepare your body for the shifted center of gravity in many arm balances. In that respect, your body is like math: two and two will always equal four. As you explore these poses, bring your attention back to what you know. Keep your center engaged, firm your shoulder blades and fire up the energy in your arms and legs.  Here are some poses to try:

Pincha Mayurasana (Feathered Peacock Pose) Pincha Mayurasana
(Feathered Peacock Pose)

Benefits: This inversion challenges you to keep your shoulder blades engaged, which stabilizes you in arm balances. How to do it: Begin in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) against a wall. Place your fingertips against the wall and bend your arms until your forearms are on the floor and parallel to each other. Step your left leg in and leave your right leg extended. Push with your feet to push off the floor on an exhale and bring your heels to the wall. Remain in the pose for 10-15 seconds at first, working your way up to one minute, then release. Try kicking up with the other leg as your practice this pose.










Bhujapidasana, Shoulder-Pressing PoseBhujapidasana
(Shoulder-Pressing Pose)

Benefits: This pose allows you to experiment with arm balance without the fear factor of an inversion, so it’s a good “safe place” to find your alignment. How to do it: Squat with your knees wide. Then, tilt your torso forward and put your hands on the ground. Place your left shoulder and upper arm under your left thigh, keeping your knee bent. Do the same on the right. Press your hands into your mat, and raise your feet by shifting your weight backward. Press your legs into your arms. If you are new to the pose, Once your legs are under your shoulders, try walking your toes toward each other. Work up to crossing the legs at the ankles, engaging your core and lifting your feet off the floor.  Hold for 30 seconds, the release.


Tittibhasana, Firefly PoseTittibhasana (Firefly Pose)

Benefits: Extending your legs in this pose helps you feel the opposition in your body needed for more complex arm balances. How to do it: Begin with your knees slightly less than shoulder-width apart. Squat down and bend forward to place your hands on the ground. Raise your pelvis slightly. Snug your right thigh onto your right upper arm and do the same with your left leg. Focus on pulling your navel toward your spine. Find your center of gravity by pulling your weight back. Once you’re on balance, extend both legs on an inhale. Hold for 15 seconds, then release.

The most important thing to keep in mind while you practice these poses is, “Don’t panic.” Even if you can’t hold them at first, try to figure out what’s going on. Too far forward? Lean back. Too far back? Bring your weight more into your fingers. You can troubleshoot your own body more than you think and before you know it you’ll be soaring on your hands.


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Tags: yoga for upper body strength, arm balances, advanced yoga

Five Arm Balances to Help You Raise Your Own Yoga Bar

Posted on Wed, May 30, 2012

yoga paws, arm balanceHow much does fear hold you back from becoming all that you want to be? For many people, concerns about failing—or, sometimes, succeeding—keep them inside a comfort zone they’ve outgrown. They repeat the same routine, the same job, even the same yoga poses because they’re afraid of how well they’d cope with a new situation. Somewhere along the line, people have lost the idea of what learning is all about. If they don’t think they can “get” something the first time or make a huge success of new relationship, a new job, even a new restaurant experience, they feel they’ve failed.

Learning and trying are the true opposites of failure. In the process of facing down your fears and exploring new things, you open up new ways of looking at yourself.  Just taking the first step toward mastering a new pose or breaking out of your own box is a vote of confidence in yourself. By just committing to trying, you’re telling yourself that you think you can get where you’re going. And the best part is that, without fear clouding your vision, you’ll probably see more possibilities as you progress toward your goals

yoga paws, arm balanceQuieting your fears is essential to enjoying your life and living your own truth. The sixth Yama, Dhriti (Steadfastness) focuses on the importance of overcoming fear and inconstancy. If you’re always fearful, you’ll be tense, reactive and “small.” Yoga, which is a metaphor for living, gives you a powerful foundation for battling your fears. Arm balances could be a good starting part for launching into your fearless life. Yes, they’re challenging. But, they’re also fun. They require time, patience and an understanding of your body. They also require that you put down your preconceptions and go with the flow.


 For many students, it comes as a surprise that arm balances aren’t just about having a strong body. For many of them, you also need flexibility and balance. Achieving the more difficult arm balances is more about relaxing and softening into the poses than just gritting down and holding.


So the next time you go to class and the instructor is moving the class toward Bakasana (Crow or Crane), don’t panic. Let yourself enjoy the idea of learning something new, of playing in your own body. Here’s a sampler of poses that are all about reinforcing a “go for it” approach to today and tomorrow.


Plank Pose

Plank Pose

Benefits: This pose forces you to engage your arms and your core, which are crucial for succeeding in more advanced arm balances.

How to do it: Start in Adho Muka Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Gradually roll your torso forward until your shoulders are over your wrists and your body forms a straight line from heat to toe. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute.  For a challange raise one leg in the air for 30 seconds each. 


AstavakrasanaAstavakrasana (Eight Angle Pose)

Benefits: This challenging pose helps you to find your strength and learn to feel in control without your body in symmetry.

How to do it: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with your feet slightly wider than normal. Fold forward. With your knees slightly bend, place your right hand on the ground slightly outside of your right foot. Slide your right leg across your arm until your knee rests on the back of your shoulder. Bracing your shoulder against your leg, shift your leg to the right, eventually crossing your ankles.  Then bend your arms, lean your torso forward and keep your gaze down. If you can, straighten your legs, hugging your right arm. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then uncross your ankles and release to a forward fold before repeating on the other side.


tolasanaTolasana (Scale Pose)

Benefits: Unlike many arm balances, this pose doesn’t have an inversion component, allowing you to feel your balance from a more natural perspective.

How to do it: Start in Padmasana (Lotus Pose). You may want to place blocks under your hands. Press into your palms to lift your hips off the ground.  Remain in the pose for 15 to 20 seconds, then release and repeat with your legs crossed the opposite way.








Parsva Bakasana

Parsva Bakasana (Side Crane Pose)

Benefits: The backbending required in this pose helps to counteract the tightness you might feel in your shoulders after working on arm balances.

How to do it: Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Place the outside of your left leg on top of your right arm. With a slight backbend, slide your arm as far under your legs as possible. Continue the pattern of twisting and releasing until you reach your most complete rotation. Move your left arm toward your right knee, focusing on keeping the skin of your arm rotated outward. Bend your knees into a full squat. Place your left hand on the floor. Begin to transfer your weight until you can also place your right hand on the ground. Pull your body to the right until the center of your body is between your hands. This might not be the perfect balance point for you, but it should put you close enough that you can feel your way toward it. On an exhale, lift your feet, stretching your left arm as much as possible. Hold for at least 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side.



Camatkarasana (Wild Thing)

Benefits: This pose lets you start to feel the strength in your arms while still having your feet connected to the ground.

How to do it: Begin in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Come onto your left arm and the outside of your left foot. On an inhale, lift your hips, opening through your back as you place your right foot and left hand on the ground with your knee bent. Arch into a backbend. Remain in the pose for five to 10 breaths, then release and repeat on the other side.


The best part of yoga is that there’s no scorekeeper, not points for getting a pose first time or even over your lifetime. Yoga is all about the journey, so start on your path with confidence. Each time you take a mental, physical or spiritual step, you’re moving closer to full self-awareness. Enjoy the trip!


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Tags: how to do arm balances, how to overcome fear with yoga, arm balances

Five Yoga Poses to Take Outside

Posted on Tue, May 08, 2012

yoga spring, yoga paws, yoga posture, outdoors yogaIt’s spring and the sun is shining in through your window. It’s time for your yoga practice, but you really aren’t feeling like being shut up in another building—even your favorite yoga studio or home practice space. But, rather than giving up your practice today (not that there is anything wrong with a walk in the sunshine), change the setting. Grab your sunblock and your Yoga Paws and head out the door.

yoga spring, yoga paws, yoga posture, outdoors yogaYou don’t have to be in a national park or a flower garden to use the outdoors to enrich your practice. Just being outside of the place you usually practice in gives you a new perspective on asana. The feeling of grass or pavement under your feet or the sounds of animals or people adds a new dimension to your experience of a pose.

It’s also good for you sometimes to be out of your regular setting because it shakes up your view of your limitations. Poses that seem impossible in a class setting might lose some of their fear when you are practicing on your own and enjoying your surroundings.

The challenge of practicing in this environment is distraction. Your senses are stimulated more when you are in an unfamiliar environment, so use this as an opportunity to focus on the inner feelings of your practice. Think about your body’s alignment if you are on an uneven surface. Feel the sensation of warmth on your head or back. Be conscious of the breeze as you control your body against its force.


Here are some poses to try anywhere. Be creative!


Ardha Adho Mukha SvanasanaArdha Adho Mukha Svanasana (Half Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Benefits: This a great pose to do outside with a support, such as a tree or wall, since you’re connected with your whole body to the world around you.

 How to do it: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) about three feet away from your support. Hinge forward from your hips to form a 90-degree angle with your body, firming the abdominals to keep your torso straight. Hold for 30 seconds, then release.


Virabhadrasana IIIVirabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose)

Benefits: Because this is a balancing pose, it’s a great opportunity to focus on aligning your body on an uneven surface.

How to do it: Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Bend into Uttanasana (Forward Bend). Step your left leg back into a high lunge. Lay your torso on your right thigh. Bring your arms forward, parallel to the ground and to each other. Lengthen your left leg through your heel and lift it off the ground until your leg is at a 90-degree angle. Feel your hands and feet stretching in opposite directions. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to a minute, then release back to a lunge. Bring your left foot forward to meet your right, then repeat on the other side.




Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II

Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Koundinya II)

Benefits: This is a “challenge pose” for many yoga students. Trying it out on the sand or in the grass can help you feel more stable.

How to do it: Begin in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose).Bring your left foot far out ahead of your left arm. Bend your left elbow, bringing your left arm as far under your thigh as possible. Walk your left foot forward, allowing more weight to come onto your left arm until you have to straighten and lift your leg off the ground. Then push your body forward over your hands to lift your right leg. Bring your gaze forward. Hold the pose for 20 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.


Eka Pada Koundiyanasana II (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Koundinya II)Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)

Benefits: Trying this pose on a soft surface eases the fear that many students experience about falling out of it.

How to do it: Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) with your hands about two inches from a tree, wall or other smooth, stable vertical surface. Bend your left leg in, leaving your right leg extended. Kick up with your left leg. This might be as far into this pose as you can go right now. If you can, bring your right leg along with your left as you kick up. If it’s available to you, engage your core muscles and kick your legs up against your support. Remain in the pose 10 to 15 seconds. As you progress, you can lengthen your stay to one minute, then release.








(Photo of yoga teacher Jewels Ziff Sint )

Malasana (Garland Pose)

Benefits: Doing this pose outside let you feel the strength of the earth reenergizing your body.

How to do it: Squat down with your feet as close together as possible. Place your arms next to your sides and press your upper arms and thighs against each other. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and come into Uttanasana (Forward Bend).


Being outside will make some of the more challenging poses easier. Having a soft surface under your hands adds to your comfort level in arm balances and inversions. Focus on the sense of strength and security you feel coming up from the ground. Enjoy the freedom you feel.


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Tags: office yoga, advanced yoga poses, yoga outside, balancing poses, arm balances, inversions

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