YogaPaws Blog for Beginner Poses and Postures

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

Be the Change: Yoga for Inspiration

Posted on Fri, Sep 27, 2013

inspirational yoga, yoga You don’t have to attend many yoga classes before you hear the word samskara. Yoga Journal defines it as a blend of two Sanskrit terms: sam (complete or joined together) and kara (action, cause, or doing). A samskara can be a repeated pattern of thinking or acting. The more you repeat those thoughts and deeds, the more ingrained they become. The end result? You find yourself in a rut. 

It’s probably a lot easier to understand how you got into these patterns than how to break them. That’s where inspiration comes in. And, inspiration starts with clarity. Before you can look up and over the rut to find a better path, you have to clear away the circular thinking that got you into these negative routines. 

yoga poses, yoga pose, travel yoga posesAs you ready yourself for practice, set an intention of practicing with a clear, focused mind. Turn your eyes inward and concentrate on seeing new possibilities for each aspect of your breath work and for each asana. Rather than directing your breath or your body, allow your physical form to “fill out” each pose—using your breath to stretch on the inhale, strengthen on the exhale. Take advantage of your teacher’s suggestions for ways to vary poses you know well and let that inspire you to try different approaches to reaching your goals.

Being creative doesn’t require a set of paints or a pen. Asking your body to do things that are unexpected, from standing on your hands to balancing sideways in Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), changes your physical perspective. This can be a great way to break out of the “I can’t” mentality that comes with the frustration of feeling stuck or not finding an immediate solution to a problem.

yoga poses, yoga pose, yoga paws, travel yoga posesMany yoga poses require you to challenge your ideas of what you can and can’t do and find out just how much more capable you are than you think. When you were starting out, every pose was exciting because it was new. With each class, you built on that foundation, using the sequences as inspiration to try more, to expand and to grow. All those poses you looked at once and thought were impossible are becoming (or are) now part of your practice. Who says you can’t balance upside down? Can’t twist into Garudasana (Eagle Pose)? At some point, either within yourself or based on a suggestion from someone else, you were inspired to attempt to fly or flip your heels over your head. Recognizing and acting on that inspiration probably flipped a lot more than heels. It flipped a switch that ignited the engine of change in your thoughts and actions.

So, when you’re looking for a way to get creative or to be the change you’d like to see in the world, try these poses to help you find inspiration:


Camatkarasana, Wild Thing Pose

Camatkarasana (Wild Thing Pose)

Benefits: The unusual axis your body finds in this pose helps you adapt to new possibilities.  How to do it: Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Shift your weight into your right hand and the outside of your right foot. Open up into a side plank. Lift your left hip toward the ceiling. On an exhale, bend your left leg and place the ball of your left foot on the mat behind you. This will pull you into a backbend. Continue reaching with your left arm toward the ground. Stay there for five to 10 breaths, then return to Adho Mukha Svanasana and repeat on the other side.


Dhanurasana, Bow Pose

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)

Benefits: This pose opens your chest, helping you open your heart.  How to do it: Begin lying on your stomach on your mat. Bend your knees in toward your hips, keeping them hip-width apart. Bring your hands back to grasp your ankles (you can grab them one at a time if you need to or use a strap).  On an inhale, lift your feet toward the ceiling to bring your thighs and upper body off the floor. Keep your breath even. Stay for 20 to 30 seconds, then release. You can do up to three repetitions of this pose. As a variation, you can pull lightly on your ankles to start a rocking motion synchronized with your breath.


Parighasana, Gate Pose

Parighasana (Gate Pose)

Benefits: This pose places your whole body off a linear grid, which can help your mind to do the same. How to do it: Start on your knees. Stretch your right leg out to the side and turn your leg out. Place your foot on the floor. Keep your left shoulder back. Bring your arms out to the side. Slide your right hand down to a comfortable place on your right leg. Inhale and bring your left arm over your head in a wide arc. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.

describe the imagePlay Around. In your home practice, shake up the sequence of poses or try a different pose. Think about how that makes you feel. Take your Yoga Paws and find a group of like-minded yogis who’d like to practice in the park or along the river. Go deep into the woods and inhale the sweet earthy smells as you practice. On your next walk, look around as if you had never seen or smelled anything on that before.  Observe the shapes of the leaves, the contrast of the foliage with the blue sky, the fragrances around you.

Use a mantra. As you practice yoga, remind yourself that there are more options than you think. A mantra like “I can see choices” or “I am inspired” might be good ones.

As with so much in yoga, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how you can get insired. But, taking a different approach, even to a familiar practice, can help you find your muse. You are the artist of your own life and your canvas is yours to paint as you will.


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Tags: yoga for change, yoga for transformation, yoga for inspiration, yoga for motivation, yoga for creativity, yoga poses for inspiration, yoga for creative people, yoga to change your life

Time for a Change: Using Your Yoga Minutes

Posted on Fri, Dec 28, 2012

Paws for studentsIn these last few days of the year, it can feel like a reckoning. You might look at what you have—and haven’t—done and feel like you came up short. Or, you might just be run off your feet in the middle of holiday madness and feel like you don’t have enough time to recoup your energy. Or, maybe it was a great year. You changed jobs, started or deepened a relationship, took that dream vacation or got your yoga teacher certification. But you still feel stressed to do more.  It’s great to have a plan, to want to accomplish things in your life. What’s not so great is to get so pressured by  stress that you stop living in the moment. To have time, you have to make time.

 Plank Pose While it’s tempting to tell yourself, “I only have 15 minutes—I can’t do anything,” try this “in the moment” exercise. The next time you slap on your YogaPaws, bring a stopwatch or clock. Come into Plank Pose and hold for 30 seconds. As you release the pose, register how many thoughts and sensations you experienced as you held your body in that position. Chances are, your mind was able to process some very intense thoughts about your physical and mental state. It’s doubtful you “looked away,” mentally, physically or spiritually during that half-minute. Now, think about how many half-minutes you have in your day.

Keeping that intent should help you realize just how much time you really do have in your life. Remember, that session on your mat was a matter of seconds—and when do you  not have 30 seconds in a day, even when you’re rushed? Every second, you make thousands of choices—sit or stand, talk or listen, act or react. Every second, you have the opportunity to write a new story about your life experience. Think about a life lived as intensely as those 30 seconds in being groundedPlank Pose! And consider how profoundly you can change your life minute to minute, day by day. That is the real power of the warrior—becoming a person of action within each breath—moving, growing, fully engaging in life. Time takes on a different meaning when you open up all of your senses and drink in the present.

As you plan our your goals for 2013, think about how you want this year’s seconds to play out. Don’t lose sight of the now, even when you feel like time is going by at warp speed. Slow down, focus and celebrate this treasure trove of experiences. And, welcome in a happy new year!


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Tags: being present, yoga for change, yoga and goals, yoga for being present

Five Yoga Poses to Renew and Refresh for the New Year

Posted on Tue, Jan 17, 2012

 Gregorian calendarIf you follow the Gregorian calendar or if you live in a culture that does, this time of year is all about new life and fresh starts. For yogis, it has a deeper meaning than the usual to-do list of resolutions (which less than a quarter of “resolvers” keep). The turn of the page from December 31 to January 1 provides an opportunity to de-clutter and detoxify, to rid yourself of the societal expectations that draw you away from your authentic self and to explore the treasury of resources that are uniquely yours.


Before you promise yourself that 2012 will be the year you lose weight, stop smoking, get your Registered Yoga Teacher certification or visit India, set aside a few hours during this last week of December to turn your eyes inside and take a trip through the inner landscape or your mind, body and spirit. new year resolutionsHow’s the topography? Where are the high points and the valleys, the places that are open and positive or the places that still have a lot of debris and dead wood? You tell yourself you want to lose five pounds. Instead, look inside and outside. As yourself why? Do you want to shrink your body to gain acceptance from others or do you really feel you could function better in a contracted physical container? If you want to stop smoking, look at your heart and lungs from the inside. Then consider what unmet needs you have that make this habit worth endangering vital, dynamic parts of yourself.



With your eyes still closed, see yourself living the life you want—not as if this  were a goal in the future, but right now. Watch yourself go through a day in this way. Think about what the visualizeessential factors are in being fully yourself. Then, start looking for the keys to open the doors to your own possibilities.

So often, the first key is just to get out of your own way. To begin your yoga practice or during a meditative walk, consciously inhale one or two adjectives that describe the optimal you. Exhale one or two adjectives that block you from living in that optimal experience. Don’t think “conditionally.” Assume you are living as your best self. Carry that intention through your practice and your day.


Yoga poses like the following one reinforce the notion that you can refresh and renew yourself. By suggesting poses that encourage you to twist out what’s unnecessary, you see your way to your authentic self more clearly. Inversions literally force you to experience life upside down. So push “play” for something like MC Yogi’s Ganesh Is Fresh album focus on the “elephant power” that you have within and the empowerment that comes from the love around you and intensify your journey toward moskha (liberation).



fish poseMatsyasana (fish pose). Sit in Dandasana (staff pose). Place a bolster, two blankets or a thin, folded mat where the bottom of your shoulder blades will be when you lie down on the floor. Return to Dandasana. Keep your legs straight out in front of you or bring the soles of your feet together. Press your palms into your thighs and slowly lie back or place your elbows on the floor and lie back. Gently arch your back over the support. Allow the crown of the head to relax on the floor or onto a blanket. To come out of the pose, roll your head up by dropping your chin toward your chest and push into your elbows.   Benefits: This pose not only strengthens and tones the body, but opens up the heart, lungs, back and abdomen.



lunge twistLunge Twist. Begin in Tadasana (mountain pose) at the top of your mat. Inhale, raising your arms alongside your ears. As you exhale, step your right leg to the back of the mat. You can windmill your right foot down at a 45-degree angle or stay on the ball or your right foot. Bend your left knee and sink, aligning your left knee over your left ankle and toes. Inhale, then on the next exhale, twist toward your left hip. Lower your arms and open them so that your left arm is back and your right arm is forward. Look at the fingers of your left hand if you have no neck pain. Inhale and lengthen, exhale and sink. Unwind, step your right foot back to the front of your mat to return to Tadasana. Reverse.   Benefits: This pose helps to detoxify, as all twists do. It also increases flexibility and, if you stay on the ball of your right foot, improves balance.



hanumanasanaHanumanasana (monkey pose). To prepare for this pose, Yoga Journal recommends: Supta Padangusthasana (reclining hand-to-big-toe pose) to open up the hamstrings of your front leg; Eka Pada Supta Virasana (one-legged reclining hero pose) opens the hip flexors of your back leg; and Lunge to lift the pelvic root toward your heart center, creating Mula Bandha (root lock). Listen to your body at each phase, putting your ego aside and controlling the stretch to a comfortable edge. If you are just starting to work toward splits, kneel behind a bolster. Extend your right leg over the bolster to the front, extend your left leg straight out of your hip and directly behind you, keeping a bend in your left knee or straightening it. Place your hands on either side of your torso as you allow your pelvic floor to sink into the bolster. Breathe there for about 20 seconds. Then, if you feel comfortable, bring your hands into prayer at the center of your chest. Allow yourself to sink further and breathe for 20 seconds. If you want to deepen the pose, slide the bolster out. Place your hands on the floor on either side of your torso and begin to sink your pelvic floor toward the floor.  As a variation, when you achieve a full split, raise your arms up alongside your ears. Be careful not to push this pose or overstretch. Remember, it’s the journey.   Benefits: A pose that invites you to push your boundaries, this split increases flexibility, stretches the hamstrings, thighs and groin and stimulates the abdominal organs, which detoxifies and helps increase metabolism.



Marichyasana IIIMarichyasana III
(Marichi’s pose III). Sit in Dandasana (staff pose). Bend your right leg and draw your right heel as close to your sitting bones as possible. Keep your left leg straight and your foot flexed. Turn your torso toward right leg and wrap your left arm around your right thigh. Keep your right fingers on the floor slightly behind your pelvis. Breathe into the pose for 30 second, inhaling as your grow taller, exhaling to deepen the twist. Unwind, take a few breaths in Dandasana and reverse.  Benefits: A nice pose for addressing hip and back pain, this asana also helps to massage your abdominal organs, including your kidneys and liver and stimulate your brain.



Supported Setu Bandha SarvangasanaSupported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (supported bridge pose). Have a bolster, block or extra blankets near your mat. Lie on your back with your hands by your sides. Bend your knees and draw both heels close to your buttocks. Gently roll your back up on vertebra at a time into Setu Bandha Sarvangasana. Place your support against the bony back of your pelvis. Explore the feeling of using the high, low and medium sides of the blocks or of stacking one more blankets beneath you. Sense the difference of aligning the bolster or blankets along your spine vertically. Hold the position for a minute or more, then slide the support to the side and lower your back one vertebra at a time to the mat.   Benefits: This hard-working pose calms your brain but also reduces anxiety, improves digestion and energizes your legs.


Yoga poses like these invite you to open up to new possibilities. But they also require discernment. A full split isn’t achieved overnight, but a supported bridge can be sweet from the instant your back touches the support. The aim here is to use mind, body and spirit to dismantle the unnecessary boundaries that limit you and keep ever moment from being a celebration.


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Tags: yoga for change, yoga to remove obstacles, Yoga poses for the New Year, yoga for renewal

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