YogaPaws Blog for Beginner Poses and Postures

Release, Repeat: Yoga Poses to Reduce Anxiety

Posted on Sat, Oct 12, 2013

Yoga for beginners, yoga for advanced students, yoga for anxiety, yoga poses for anxiety, yoga to release, yoga for stress, yoga for stretching, yoga and anxiety, stress-reducing yoga, yoga to reduce anxiety, yoga to lower anxiety Your mind and body work together in all areas of your life. That’s pretty clear when you think about the motor control that sends nerve impulses from your brain to your feet when you walk or makes your fingers type on a computer. But, that holistic connection runs much deeper. Think about the last time you felt anxious. Your shoulders got stiff, your legs felt heavy, and your whole body was tense. You may have felt like you couldn’t breathe. Your heart was pounding. Your palms were sweaty. Your emotions aren’t just written “all over your face;” they tell their story with your entire body.

While it’s obvious that your mind can change your body, consider how much your body can change your mind. Sometimes, tackling the physical symptoms of a mental state can help you find a more positive way of looking at things.  If you suffer from anxiety (as many people do at one point or another), developing a yoga practice that dissolves the tension and helps you calm down can be a great step in feeling like you can let those feelings go.

Yoga for beginners, yoga for advanced students, yoga for anxiety, yoga poses for anxiety, yoga to release, yoga for stress, yoga for stretching, yoga and anxiety, stress-reducing yoga, yoga to reduce anxiety, yoga to lower anxiety The mere decision to put on your YogaPaws at home or go to a yoga class demonstrates just how much you believe you’re capable of taking on challenges. Yoga is always an open door. It invites you to explore, to go deeper into poses and/or deeper into your mind and spirit. Your practice offers you continual validation that you have everything you need to handle new poses, new situations, new teachers and, by extension, what else comes your way.

Overall, yoga helps you calm down, lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate, so any practice you do will help to relieve the feeling of being out of control that often comes with feeling anxious. And, you can tailor your practice to include poses that help you the most. For some people, heart opening poses are good for releasing anxiety, while other might prefer a more vigorous practice to burn off stress. Yin can also be an effective solution for learning to focus rather than fret.

Yoga for beginners, yoga for advanced students, yoga for anxiety, yoga poses for anxiety, yoga to release, yoga for stress, yoga for stretching, yoga and anxiety, stress-reducing yoga, yoga to reduce anxiety, yoga to lower anxiety Whatever sequences work for you, you’ll probably find that they help you find a more useful perspective on the issues at hand. As you calm down, your minds clears and you have more time to think productively about what is making you anxious. That, in turn, allows you might feel more empowered to take positive action to address the cause of your anxious feelings.

It’s important to recognize when your anxiety has valid causes (like a big move or a major life event) or if you are stressing out over something that you don’t have to (worrying about something you can’t control or something you have no reason to be tense about). If you have issues that you need to work through, it’s good to create a practice that helps you focus. If you are worrying unnecessarily, it’s better to find a practice that also includes poses that make you feel confident.

Keep in mind that those anxious feelings have an upside. They mean that you’re welcoming new opportunities and making changes in your life. Taking a driver’s exam may not feel life-affirming when you’re doing it, but think about that road trip you can take to celebrate or how much fun it will be to pick up a friend and check out a new restaurant. There’s no reason to feel anxious if you’re just doing the same things all the time. So, if your feel your body tensing up, embrace it and congratulate yourself for being willing to grow beyond your comfort zone.


Here are some poses to make you feel less anxious:

Uttana Shishosana, Extended Puppy Pose

Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose)

Benefits: This restorative pose increases blood flow to your head, helping your body’s calming responses kick in. How to do it: Start on your hands and knees. Your knees should be hip width and your hands should be under your shoulders. On an exhale, move your hips back toward your feet. You should end with your hips angled back toward your feet, but not resting on them. Let your forehead rest on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release.


Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, Bridge Pose

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Benefits: This backbend helps you feel more open across your chest. How to do it: Begin lying face up on your mat. Bend your knees up and place your feet close to your hips, feet flat on the mat. On an exhale, lift your hips until your thighs are about parallel with the floor. Keep your center strong. Keep your neck long and breathe evenly. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release gently to the ground, lowering one vertebrae at a time.


Adho Mukha Vrksasana, Handstand

Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)

Benefits: This inversion helps you feel strong and in control, which helps counteract anxious feelings. How to do it:  Perform Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) a few inches from a wall. Place your hands shoulder width, with your fingers pointing to the wall and about four inches away from it.  Move your feet slightly closer to your hands. Kick your right leg up toward the ceiling. While it’s raised, bend your left knee and kick it up toward the wall.  Your heels should come to rest lightly on the wall. If you can’t make it up to the wall, work on kicking up. Either way, spend one minute in the pose or working on it, then release. Try kicking up with a different leg occasionally—most people find one leg easier than the other. Move into Balasana (Child’s Pose) when you’re finished and stay for a minute or more so that you don’t get dizzy when you stand up.

yoga paws, yoga poseFace it. Yoga teacher Maria Apt says in Yoga Journal that many anxious people carry tension in their faces. Try to relax not only your mouth and jaw when your practice, but let go of all muscular tightness in your face. You may not realize it, but the tension you carry (even in the muscles around your eyes) in your face can exacerbate feelings of stress or nervousness.

Let stress go. When you’re on the mat, don’t dwell on stress that may come from the poses or the practice. Instead, observe it, work out where it came from, and let it go. Imagine that it’s water in a river that is flowing by you as you watch. 

It’s also a good idea to set an intention if you are practicing yoga to help with anxiety. It doesn’t need to be about the things you’re trying to cope with. Instead, try a simple one like “I will feel calmer, more open and more in control at the end of this practice.” Use that to inform how you approach the poses. As you inhale, breathe in the word “calm;”  as you exhale, let go of the word “stress.” Keep in mind, it’s all good.


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Tags: yoga for beginners, yoga for stress, yoga for advanced students, yoga for anxiety, yoga poses for anxiety, yoga to release, yoga for stretching, yoga and anxiety, stress-reducing yoga, yoga to reduce anxiety, yoga to lower anxiety

Break Down the Walls: Yoga to Help You Dissolve That Trapped Feeling

Posted on Fri, Oct 04, 2013

yoga for feeling trappedEverybody catches themselves thinking “I would love to…” or “I want to have…” and then checking themselves with, “But I don’t have enough money/time/drive” or “I’m not good enough.” That can start a long cycle of feeling like you don’t have any options to go after that thing you want so much, or try to solve problems in your life.  It’s also sometimes overwhelming to try to think around one more apparent brick wall. You just don’t see the door.

When you’re in those situations, take a step back. Be prepared to do some deep digging. So often, that feeling of being trapped in a job, a relationship or a lifestyle starts with a lack of belief in yourself. It’s downright scary to think about leaving your day job to open a yoga studio or break off a relationship with a person who no longer enhances your life. It takes a lot of courage to finally indulge a wish-list goal like moving to a place you love or going back to school—with all of the attendant expense and uncertainty. But, if you’re strong enough to dream about things like these, to want something richer and deeper in your life, you’re also strong enough to make that happen.  

describe the imageFocus on silencing that inner voice that keeps telling you that you can’t achieve something, that you need to “settle” for what’s within easy reach. Make a contract with yourself (sign it if you need to) and map out one step you can take each day or each week to breaking out of the box. Okay, so maybe you can’t move to Spain. But you can enroll in a Spanish class, join a local cultural society or whip up some gazpacho soup for lunch. By incorporating steps toward your goal into your everyday life, you make the “box” bigger until you knock down the walls and step out into a brighter future.

Use your yoga practice to help you change your thinking and teach you how to look for ways to get out of physical and mental traps. You already know how much your yoga mat can be a place for you to go inside and find serenity under stress, or optimism in a bad time. You can also apply that to feeling trapped. At a basic level, many students trap themselves in their practice—thinking that poses always need to be entered into a certain way, or that they “can’t” do more the more challenging asanas. So it’s a good place to try to shed that baggage, whether it pertains to your body or your mind.

self exceptance yogaYour practice is also a prime opportunity to consider what acceptance really means. The yogic idea of acceptance doesn’t mean just shrugging your shoulders and feeling you’re destined to be limited or unfulfilled. Instead, it encourages you to embrace each moment, to learn and to explore. As you come to the mat, you fully expect that the experience will be different from the last time. By committing to the practice, you’re also saying that you believe you’re up to the challenge and that you’re ready to move beyond previous boundaries into new territory.

Within the physical confines of your yoga mat, you can direct your attention to just how many choices you do have. Even within a single pose, you can focus on a different body part, try a modification, or allow yourself to start mastering a more advanced version. Armed with this strength, balance and flexibility, you can reinforce thought patterns that tell you just how free you are to choose your life.

This sequence of variations on a single pose can help you see outside the box.


Virabhadrasana III, Warrior III PoseVirabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose)

Benefits: This standing balance pose asks you to redefine what you think you can do. How to do it: Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Hinge your body forward from your hips into a forward bend with your palms or fingertips on the floor just under your shoulders. On an exhale, bring your left leg back until your right knee forms a 90-degree angle. Engage your center. Bring your hands to your right knee, one on the outside and one on the inside. Reach your arms out to the wall ahead of you. On an exhale, stretch your right knee as you push your left foot off the floor. Be careful not to let your body go too far forward. Lock your right thigh muscles to keep yourself aligned. Check that your inner right thigh is not rolling out. Find a gazing point beneath your eyes and stay in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.


Virabhadrasana III—Variation resized 600Virabhadrasana III—Variation One

Benefits: This variation helps you feel more stable. How to do it: From Virabhadrasana III, bring your arms out to the sides. Your palms should be facing the floor. Think about your arms as an invisible string anchoring your body to the walls. Stay there for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.


Virabhadrasana III—Variation

Virabhadrasana III—Variation Two

Benefits: This pose helps you change the idea of balance from a static pose to a dynamic movement. How to do it: Start in Virabhadrasana III. Bring your fingertips or palms back to the floor under your shoulders. As you exhale, bend your supporting leg until you feel a comfortable stretch in your right calf. Straighten your leg as you inhale. Do this three to five times, then release and repeat on the other side.


Virabhadrasana III—VariationVirabhadrasana III—Variation

Virabhadrasana III—Variation Three

Benefits: Yoga teacher Sadie Nardini uses this version to help you feel more energized and empowered. How to do it: Begin in Virabhadrasana III, with your arms stretched forward alongside your ears.  Slowly bring your left knee in toward your navel. At the same time, bend your right elbow back toward your left hip. If you need to, you can place your left hand on the ground for balance. Do this five to 10 times, then switch sides.


Virabhadrasana III—Variation

Virabhadrasana III—Variation







Virabhadrasana III—Variation Four

Benefits: This version helps you feel like you can be strong and decisive. How to do it: Start in Virabhadrasana III with a block in front of your right foot. Reach down and grasp the block with both hands. Exhale and lift the block until your arms are parallel to the floor. Inhale and lower it to the mat.  Repeat five to 10 times, then do the other side. 

yoga for stress, yoga for weight lossAfter you do this practice, remember the feeling of being able to endlessly shift your body into different shapes and how that affects your balance, comfort level and focus. Try to apply the same principle in your life. When you feel like you have explored all the options, challenge yourself to release your prejudices about what those options are and take a broader perspective. Meditate on being in a darkened room. See yourself standing up in the middle of the room, at first just feeling what the volume of the space might be. Then, visualize yourself moving toward a wall, touching the surface with your fingertips. Continue working around the room until you feel the outline of a door. See yourself walking through into a brilliant sunny day or a starry night. Note how you feel—from the elation of finding the door to the satisfaction or moving beyond those four walls. Chances are, you will see that when you stop holding yourself back, that trapped feeling will vanish.


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Tags: yoga for beginners, yoga for change, yoga for advanced students, yoga for freedom, yoga against feeling trapped, yoga for choice, yoga choices, yoga poses against feeling trapped

Steady On: Yoga Poses to Fight Nervousness

Posted on Fri, Sep 13, 2013

yoga paws, yoga, yoga sox, toesox, yogitoesYou’ve just found a new hot yoga studio you can’t wait to try. Or maybe you’ve finally crossed the bridge from wanting to try yoga or doing a home practice to taking your first class. You can’t wait to dive into that new experience. Then comes that moment when you open the studio door, see all of the other mats and walk to your place. Suddenly, your monkey mind is chattering about whether you’ll be able to take the heat, whether you can “keep up” with the class or whether your sweaty palms will be able to grip the mat. (YogaPaws!! :) Being nervous before a new experience, a test, a presentation or even a difficult conversation is just part of being human. Still, it’s not one of the more fun parts.

yoga class, yoga loveBefore you begin to use yogic tools for addressing nervousness, it’s important to accept that you’re going to feel nervous in certain situations. Where yoga comes in is in helping you find ways to calm your nerves, stop being reactive and embrace the challenge at hand with clear thinking.

When you can keep things in proportion, a small amount of stressing over performance-based tasks (think a presentation at work or school, or a long race) can actually help you do better. What’s not helpful is when that need to do well becomes a loop in your mind that makes you feel like you can’t possibly succeed. Renowned yoga teacher Dr. Timothy McCall points out in Yoga Journal that most of the things that make you nervous aren’t as dire as you think. As a reality check, think about how many times you feel you’ve fallen short of the mark only to have friends or colleagues come up to after the event or class and tell you that you rocked it!

yoga for stress, yoga for nervusnessAs McCall points out, as soon as a stressful thought becomes a negative habit, it’s not helping you. If you keep worrying at the same ideas and you aren’t getting anywhere, let go of them. Write them down and then visualize them leaving your head.

Get to the root of the issue. If your nervousness tends to be triggered by specific sets of circumstances—a particular activity, place or people—it might help to create a list of five to 10 mantras for yourself. Try ones like, “I can handle this situation calmly” or “I am capable of doing this well.” Repeating those sayings can help break the cycle of nervousness. Stand in front a mirror and repeat your mantras. Adjust your body language to reflect your words. When you say “calm,” relax your shoulders, for example. Or, as you say “capable,” square your shoulders, exhale and bring your core back to your spine and stand tall.

yoga paws, yoga love, yoga for nervousness If you tend to get nervous about things in general, you may benefit from a combination of mantras and meditation. Create a visualization of yourself successfully navigating a day, a goal or a year in your life. Explore the idea of Sankalpa (resolve). Try to virtually live in the body, the job, the future you want. So, think about how you feel as you shut off the alarm and get out of bed. See yourself reaching for the clothing you’ve always wanted to wear. Picture yourself doing your dream job. Enjoy the feeling of lifting off into an arm balance or stretching into an inversion. The next time you feel nervous, remind yourself that you are that person. 

Hitting your mat also helps you find a confident, stable place. Besides yoga’s general calming effects and the benefits of any kind of exercise for your mental state, you will likely find that the empowerment of a yoga practice helps you refocus on your abilities, not your fears. In a class, you have the added the connection of the people around you—who are sharing both your nervousness and your joy!


Here are some poses to try.

pm legs up the wall 300x261 resized 600Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose)

Benefits: This supported inversion helps you let go of tension. How to do it: You need a support for this pose. Either grab a bolster or roll a blanket into a thick, firm cylinder. Set it five to six inches away from a wall or other vertical surface (you may need to experiment with exactly how far away works for you). Sit down with your dominant side against the wall and your hips on one end of your bolster or blanket. On an exhale, turn to the wall and rotate your legs up the wall at the same time you put your head and shoulders on the floor. This might take some practice. Once you are lying in the pose, make sure your hips are dropping toward the floor between your support and the wall. Relax your body. Hold the pose for five to 15 minutes, then remove your support and turn onto your side to release.


fish pose

Matsyasana (Fish Pose)

Benefits: The opening of your front body in this pose serves as a physical reminder to open up and calm down.  How to do it: Start by lying on your back. Bend your knees. Raise your pelvis slightly and place your hands, palms on the floor, under your hips. Keep your arms close to your sides and don’t lift your body off your hands. On an inhale, press into your arms to lift your head and chest off the floor. Exhale and lower the crown of your head back to the floor, leaving your chest lifted. Press your backs of your arms into the floor to keep weight off your neck. Stay for 15 to 30 seconds, then release and hug your knees into your chest.


Garudasana, Eagle PoseGarudasana (Eagle Pose)

Benefits: This balancing pose helps you to defeat nervousness by letting go of worries about the future.  How to do it: Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). With a slight bend in your knees, lift your right foot and cross your right leg over your left. If possible, place your right toes around the back of your left lower leg (if not, leave your right toes outside of our left leg near the chin or on the floor). Extend your arms forward, then place your left arm on top of the right. Bend your arms so that they form a 90-degree angle. Turn your hands so that your palms face each other and press them into each as much as you can. Reach your fingers toward the ceiling. Hold the pose for 15 to 30 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.

Take charge. There’ s a tendency to put off things that make you nervous, or to create chaos around them. Try to resist that urge. If you have a big assignment in your work pile, tackle it first. If you’re nervous about a meeting, get there early. As you start to work on the task at hand, you will find your anxiety lessening.

Let go. As counterintuitive as it seems, sometimes it helps to envision what would happen if the thing you are nervous about doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped. How would you cope? Then, remind yourself how unlikely that worst-case scenario really is. And, also focus on what even that negative outcome would really mean.

Oftentimes, not getting the result you want can point to a need to assess your situation. Do you really want that promotion? Are you making a speech about something you really believe in? Every “performance” or new experience brings a benefit, whether new thinking or additional skills. In yogic terms, there are no mistakes—just steps in learning. Everything you do is simply part of your success in self-realization.


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Tags: yoga for beginners, yoga for stress, yoga for advanced students, yoga to fight nervousness, yoga for nervousness, yoga for anxiety, yoga for calming, yoga to relax, yoga to calm your nerves

Taking Charge: Setting Your Intentions

Posted on Tue, Jun 25, 2013

yoga intention, yoga class, setting your intention

When you start a class or a home practice, you probably begin with some kind of intention, even if you don’t verbalize it. Maybe you are trying to improve your balance. Maybe you need to decompress after a hectic day. You might be using this time to work through an injury. Whatever it is, you use that thought as you practice and it will affect the choices you make in the poses, as well as your focus.

 intention, yoga, the present, here and nowBut, there is more to intention than that. While that’s a great place to start, making your intentions more mindful can deepen both your physical and mental yoga practice. According to Yoga Journal, the Buddhist teaching of intent is very specific. It means “volition,” or the conscious choices you make. It does mean setting goals, although that is also a healthy part of your yoga practice. When you set an intention, you are not committing to achieving a certain thing. What you are committing to is your experience of the present moment.

yoga poses, yoga pose, travel yoga posesAt their deepest, intentions are a tool for you to move closer to a right-thinking, right-doing lifestyle. If that is how you want to use your practice, you might want to try setting an intention of exploring one thing you feel you need to work on. Maybe you tend to get impatient in traffic or with coworkers who need more detailed instructions than most. So, you might set your intention as experiencing each moment fully. As you move through the class, try to keep your mind from moving ahead—to the next pose, to whatever you have to do after class or to the next day. If you are trying to be more understanding, start with yourself. Commit to only thinking more positive thoughts about yourself for the duration of the class. If you wobble in Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose), think of how much stronger you are becoming, for example. Maybe you are trying to be less materialistic and orient yourself more toward inward things. You might want to try using the time in class to try not to push yourself toward the most “advanced” outward expression of a pose. Instead, let yourself find contentment where your body can go comfortably.

yoga intentionMaybe you’re not ready to go that deep today, or maybe you have a physical injury that needs attention. Even so, you can set an intention for your practice. If you have, say, a tight hamstring, your intention could be simply to breathe into the soreness throughout the practice, and maybe visualize space being created in the back of your leg. Or maybe your goal is to build strength in your core. Use the class to be aware of those muscles as you work.

Whether your intention is physical or metaphysical, it’s a great tool to help clear your mind during your practice. And, intention can come off the mat too. Try taking your intention from class out into your life. Use the time you spent in class committing to experiencing the moment in line with that affirmation to help you. And remember, there is no grade on intention. You won’t be able to make each day perfect, but as long as you are trying to express your intentions, you are moving in the right direction.


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Tags: yoga for beginners, yoga for advanced students, yoga poses, yoga intentions, yoga and concentration

Finding Focus: Guiding Your Own Meditation

Posted on Fri, Jun 14, 2013

You’ve probably been in a class where the teacher invites you to empty your mind and let your thoughts fall away in Savasana (Corpse Pose). As you lay on your mat, you let the chaos of the day remove itself from your mind. It’s so easy to do in the surroundings of the studio with the darkened room, with your body relaxed and your thoughts already quieted.


You may not have that kind of time to devote to meditation every day. Or you may find you can commit to five minutes a day during the work week and longer, deeper sessions on the weekends. The point is, just do it. A meditation practice—however long or short—can become an island of calm in your day. It’s a place you know you can go regardless of what’s going on in your life to get grounded, to stop the noise and to just enjoy “being.”

meditationMeditating can seem daunting. Trying not to think isn’t as easy as it seems. But, there are a lot of ways to start. You can meditate on a mantra. You can picture an object or image. Or, if it does work for you, you can try to drain your mind of any extraneous thoughts, letting you mind rest on one concept. The metaphor teachers often use is to think of your mind as the surface of a placid lake. If a thought comes along, think of it as a ripple. Observe it, but let it go. Whenever there is a distraction—and there will be—just note it and return to that calm place.

yoga and meditationIf you feel like it’s easiest for you to use words to set your intentions, there are many chants and mantras to try, both in Sanskrit and in translation. You can try saying them out loud or silently. You might also, if you’re a music or literature buff, try meditating on lines from your favorite song or book to help create a centered place in your mind.


If you’re more attracted to visual focus points, trying to create a devotional atmosphere. You can visualize the image of a deity, especially if you feel you need empowerment. Meditating on an image of Shiva, for example, may be a useful tool to help you feel stronger and more able to clear the clutter in your own life. Or maybe you need the back-up of Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity who helps remove obstacles.

Maybe you’re looking for a less metaphysical approach. Remember, it’s all good. Only you know your objectives. So, if you are working toward a specific goal, see yourself in the process of doing what you’re just dreaming of. Say you are looking to change jobs. Picture yourself getting up and getting dress for that job, doing the work, feeling satisfied at the end of the day. Or maybe you are in the middle of making over your physical self. Focus on a vision of yourself running or playing with your kids or grandkids. Then, as you meditate, engage your senses in that image—what does it feel like, what do you see, what do you hear? And, finally, release all sensory perception and just float. Yes, it’s fine to want to achieve something but you need to remember that life isn’t about metrics and numbers; it’s about doing/being what makes you happy and whole.


meditationIf you want to meditate without a fixed image or words in your mind, start by trying to bring yourself to a place of stillness. You don’t have to empty you mind of all thoughts, but do try to get rid of ones that stop you from relaxing or focusing on deeper issues. Worrying about the groceries won’t help you meditate. Maybe try visualizing ripping up your to-do list. Whatever method you choose, walk your mind down that corridor that leads away from stress, anxiety and striving toward a place you want for nothing—where just “being” becomes the ultimate pleasure. When you return from meditation to awareness of your surroundings, it’s almost like coming out of a theater. You’ve lost sense of time and place—maybe the room is cold now or a storm has come and gone. But you feel energized, stimulated, totally alive. 

How you meditate can be different every day. Your needs will set your meditation practice. Feel free to experiment with different ways of finding your mental center. There is no right or wrong here. Just do it.



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Tags: meditation, yoga for beginners, yoga and meditation, yoga for advanced students, guided meditation, yoga mantra. yoga for mind

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