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

Vital Force: Yogic Tips To Rev Up Your Inner Energy

Posted on Fri, Mar 29, 2013

yoga, yoga pose, cosmic dancerAs the world wakes up to life and color, spring offers a great opportunity to feel freer and more open in your body. It feels natural to want to put yourself in harmony with what’s around you. All the stress of hunkering down against winter winds and the tension of driving through ice and snow melts away with the first warm, sunny days. Yoga can help you take that feeling deeper. As you move into your practice, think about how each pose can help clear the energy lines within the body—coordinating your breath with movement to renew and rejuvenate from the inside out.

handstand, yogapaws, yoga handstandJust as with traditional Chinese medicine, yoga considers the energy lines (Nadis) that carry vital forces (prana in Sanskrit) through you. Stress, injury or illness can block the path of that energy.  So can environmental factors like weather and pollution as well as physical ones like poor diet and overwork. Fortunately, your yoga practice not only provides a calm place to meditate on the things that fatigue you and cause “dis-ease”, it’s also a physical way to open that energy flow again.

Prana is thought to flow through your body via the Nadis, which have a specific physical pathway. Chakras are located where Nadis meet and can also be balanced through your practice. So, yoga poses can help stimulate various points along those lines. For example, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose) opens the meridian that affects your skin and your immune system.

All of these physical balances combine to have a tremendous effect on your mental state. When your energy is flowing, you will feel more aligned mentally and physically. Here are some poses to try:


Salabhasana, Locust Pose

Salabhasana (Locust Pose)

Benefits: This gentle backbend detoxifies and calms by strengthening your back body and stretching your shoulders, chest and thighs.  How to do it: As Yoga Journal suggests, you may want to use extra padding beneath your pelvis and ribs before beginning this pose. Lie down on your stomach, with your forehead on the mat and arms along your sides. Bring your toe mounds together and rotate your inner thighs toward each other. On an exhale, lift your head, shoulders, arms and legs off the floor. Keep the arms parallel to the floor and palms up toward the ceiling. Gaze straight ahead or slightly upward (without compressing the neck). Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. As a variation, move your hands and arms underneath your front body. Place your hands palms down inside your hip cradle with pinky fingers touching or place your fists underneath you. With toes touching and thighs internally rotated, exhale and lift your head, shoulders and legs. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.


Supta Padangushtasana, Reclining Big Toe PoseSupta Padangushtasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose)

Benefits: By activating the hips, thighs, hamstrings, groins and calves, this stretch opens the energy flow of the lower body and may help to address high blood pressure. How to do it: Lie on your back with your head resting comfortably on the mat (or supported on a blanket) and legs extended straight. Exhale, bend your left leg and draw your knee down toward your torso. Hug it tightly to your body as you push into the floor with the back of your right leg. On an inhale, loop a strap around your left instep (or encircle your left big toe with your first two fingers and thumb). If using a strap, walk your hands up the strap as you extend your left leg. Starting with your foot parallel to the ceiling, move your hands down the strap slightly (or lightly pull your foot with fingers) and draw your leg closer to your body. Your leg should align with your left shoulder. Hold 30 seconds. Repeat with your right leg.


Eka Pada Adho Mukha SvanasanaEka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana (One Foot Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Benefits: This accessible, full-body stretch can energize and rejuvenate your nervous system and boost circulation. How to do it: From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), fold forward into Uttanasana (Forward-Bending Pose). Step your right foot to the back of the mat, then the left foot into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Feet should be hip-width apart, arms straight and head between the upper arms. On an inhale, step your left leg toward the mid-line and raise your right leg toward the ceiling, keeping your foot flexed and reaching back through your heel. Rotate your right thigh inward so that your hips stay aligned. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute. Repeat with your left leg.


Seated Flow  (video is a different version)

Benefits: This dance-like motion inspired by Shiva Rea works with the spiraling energy within the body to improve circulation and release tension. How to it: Come to a comfortable seated position. Rest your cupped  hands on your knees. Lower your torso over your legs. Drop your left should under as you take your torso to the left, then circle it back up. Stay low as move through center. Drop your right shoulder as you move back to the right, allowing your upper body to “draw” a figure eight as your torso flows from side to side. Continue for five to 10 breath cycles. Stop. Focus your eyes on a gazing point or close your eyes for three to five breath cycles. Repeat starting to the right.


yoga food, yoga balance, yoga and mindEnergize from the Inside

Benefits: Keeping your body’s ph in balance may help fend off fatigue and illness. How to do it: Eat more alkaline foods such as: figs and raisins; root vegetables, including radishes and horseradish; leafy greens; soybeans; garlic, lemons and cayenne peppers. A number of websites offer rankings of alkaline and acidic foods to help—or just take a trip to your favorite smoothie bar and order up a “green’ shake!


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Tags: Eating before yoga, food and yoga, yoga for relaxation, advanced yoga poses, benifits of yoga, inversions, being present, Energy Systems

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

Energize Your Day with these Five Yoga Poses

Posted on Tue, May 15, 2012

yoga breaks, energizing yoga, yoga at workSometimes, you need your yoga before class time, or even before you can get back to your own mat. Think about how you feel after another pointless meeting, or when your body gets 

yoga breaks, energizing yoga, yoga at work, yoga at your desk

too tight in the middle of a run in the warm weather. Your yoga practice doesn’t have to be a full series of Sun Salutations or an Ashtanga Primary Series to help you enjoy its full benefits. Just one or two poses can give you the mental and physical release you need.

The hardest part about these brief sessions is that you have to tune your mind into your yoga breaks, energizing yoga, yoga at work
yoga with more focus and dedication than in a traditional class or practice format. You might not have the easy segue of a seated meditation or the sweet wrap-up of Savasana(Corpse Pose), but you can still immerse yourself into the world of yogic sensation by paying careful attention to your body and mind as you breathe with each pose.

If you’re using your short practice as a warm-up, cool-down or break during high-intensity workouts like cycling, running or swimming, make sure you focus on the stretch in the poses. Releasing overworked muscles not only prevents injury, it speeds recovery and can help you perform better.

If you are doing yoga to refresh your mind, think more about strengthening in each pose. That will help counteract the feelings of being overwhelmed that you might feel if you’re under stress. Think about power flowing up from the ground into your body and radiating out your feet, hands and head.

With a handy set of YogaPaws (The Yoga Mat You Wear) in your desk drawer, purse, or pocket... you can literally take your yoga break anytime, anywhere.  Click here for more info.

Here are some poses to take a break with:

UtkatasanaUtkatasana (Chair Pose)

Benefits: Sometimes translated as Fierce Pose, this pose strengthens your legs while stretching your calf muscles, making it a great choice for a short practice.

How to do it: Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Bring your arms up straight to reach to the ceiling and turn your palms in toward each other. Exhale and bend your knees, trying to get your thighs parallel to the floor. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release.










Adho Mukha SvanasanaAdho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Benefits: This pose stretches and strengthens major muscle groups throughout your body, so it’s ideal to use as a warm-up or cool down around a workout like running or cycling.

How to do it: Start on all fours on the floor. Exhale and press into your hands and feet, lengthening your tailbone toward the ceiling. On your next exhalation, stretch your knees, letting your heels fall toward or onto the floor. Firm your shoulder blades and keep your head between your arms. Remain in this pose for one to three minutes.


Utthita Hasta PadangustasanaUtthita Hasta Padangustasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)

Benefits: This balancing pose also releases your hamstrings, where you tend to store tension from stress or from repetitive exercise.

How to do it: Stand in Tadasana. Draw your left knee in toward your belly. Reach your left arm along the inside of your left thigh and grasp the outside of your left foot. If you need to, you can loop a strap around your foot. Extend your leg as much as possible. If you are stable, pull your leg open to the side. Hold this pose for 30 seconds, then bring your leg back to the front, release and repeat on the other side.














NatarajasanaNatarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose)

Benefits: This backbend is also a deep quad stretch, opening your body after the tightness of working out or a long day at your desk.

How to do it: Begin in Tadasana. Shift your weight into your right foot, bending your left knee off the ground. Reach back with your left hand to grasp your left foot, or loop a strap around your foot.  If you want to deepen your experience of the pose, you can reach back with your right arm and hold the inner edge of your left foot, then reach back with your left hand to the outside of your left foot. Whichever option you choose with your arms, reach your left thigh toward the ceiling. Stay in the pose for 20 to 30 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.


BakasanaBakasana (Crow Pose)

Benefits: This pose works the core of your body as well as the alignment required to hold you up on your hands. Its intensity makes it a good choice for a short practice because is forces concentration in the moment.

How to do it: Begin in Tadasana. Squat down with your inner feet a few inches apart. Place your hands on the floor slightly in front of you, with your shins pressing into the insides of your arms. Hug your torso with the insides of your thighs. Shift your weight forward. If you can, pick your feet up off the ground and balance. Remain in this pose for 20 seconds to one minute, then release.


When you’re practicing yoga during a workout or as a break from the day, try to always bring the practice back to your breath. It’s tempting to rush through our breathing, but keeping it calm and centered will not only relax your mind, but your body will be more refreshed and better able to release tension.


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Tags: yoga for flexibility, office yoga, inversions, Yoga for Energy

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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