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YogaPaws Blog for Beginner Poses and Postures

Square Your Shoulders: Yoga Tips for Pain-Free Upper Body

Posted on Mon, Oct 01, 2012

rabbitYour lower body is used to getting a lot of attention. It’s hard not to be aware of your hips and legs as you go through the day. Whether you’re walking, running, driving or just standing, everything below your waist is engaged and working. Even in yoga, poses like Virabhadrasana (Warrior I Pose) sometimes feel as if the focus is primarily on your lower half. It’s time to give your upper half some time in the spotlight.

Your upper body does far more than help you into arm balances. Bad posture or a tight upper body can cause pain and stiffness or lead to injuries. Consider that your shoulders are among  yoga shoulderthe most vulnerable joints in your body. Like your hips, your shoulders are composed of a ball-and-socket joint. Instead of involving only two bones, each shoulder joint is the intersection of your collarbone, shoulder blade and upper arm bone. You ask more of your shoulders than you realize. What other body part has to be strong enough to pick up heavy objects and also flexible enough to stretch well over your head to grab something out of a cupboard?

To begin to open and strengthen your shoulders, check the alignment across the entire shoulder girdle.  Do you round your shoulders as you type on your computer or when drive? Do you tend to slouch when you walk? When you lie down on your back, are your shoulders on the floor or curving toward each other? When you sit, are your shoulders touching the back of the chair or rounding in? Stand at the wall. Can you keep both shoulders in contact with the wall?

Yoga offers a great opportunity to concentrate on keeping your shoulders from “caving in” as you move. If you are suffering from a shoulder injury like a torn rotator cuff or “frozen shoulder,” talk to your doctor before you come back to class and make sure your teacher knows about your injury so he or she can help you rebuild strength and range of motion safely. In class, think of lengthening your collarbones and pulling your shoulder blades together as you inhale. As you exhale, try to maintain that same amount of space. Focus on not allowing the fronts of the shoulders to move toward each other in forward bending positions or poses such as Bhujanasana (Cobra Pose) or Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose).

Here are some poses to work your shoulders on the mat or in your office:

 

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

Benefits: This pose strengthens your arms and back, and it’s a great place to learn to feel your alignment. How to do it: Begin on your hands and knees. On an inhale, straighten your arms and your legs, pushing your heels toward or onto the floor. Focus on keeping your head between your arms and engaging your outer arms. Pull your shoulder blades together and toward your pelvis. Stay in this pose for one to three minutes, then release.

 

 

 

 

 

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)  Benefits: This stretch releases tension in your shoulders and helps you create space across your collarbones. How to do it: Begin sitting in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bring your left foot to the outside of your right knee and bend it into your right hip. Cross your left knee on top of your right. Reach your right arm up and bend it back behind your head. Then, bend your left arm toward the ground and reach for your right hand (you can use a strap if your hands don’t meet). Remain in the pose for one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.

 

 

Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose)Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose)—Variation

Benefits: This variation from yoga teacher Sadie Nardini lets you work through the full range of motion in your shoulders without strain. How to do it: Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Step or jump your feet three to four feet apart. Turn your right foot out and your left foot in. Square your hips as much as possible with the short edge of your mat. Bring your arms out to the sides and lift them to the ceiling, slightly behind your ears if possible. Bend forward over your leg, wrapping your arms around your thigh and feeling the stretch across your back. Come back up the same way. Repeat two to three times, then switch sides.

 

 

 

Shoulder RollShoulder Roll

Benefits: This is a great stretch to do at your desk and remind yourself not to slump. How to do it: Bring your shoulders forward, up, back and down eight times, then reverse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal)Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal)

Benefits: This do-anywhere pose helps you feel your shoulders and back engaging. How to do it: Press your palms and fingers together at your heart center. Pull your shoulder blades together as you push your palms evenly into each other. Hold for up to five minutes.

 

Even when you aren’t practicing, try to keep the same feeling of space in your upper body. It will be tempting to let your shoulders collapse when you are tired or stressed, so it’s especially important to be aware of keeping your shoulders aligned at those times. A stronger core helps too—so think of engaging your center and your shoulder blades at the same time.

 

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Tags: Yoga tips, yoga for shoulder injuries, yoga for upper body, office yoga, yoga to open shoulders

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: office yoga, inversions, yoga for flexibility, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malasana

(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, arm balances, advanced yoga poses, inversions, yoga outside, balancing poses

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