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

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

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

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