Favorite Pose Friday: Sukhasana

sukhasana easy seated pose

Sometimes the best pose for us is no yoga pose — or more accurately an easeful, passive existence.  Sukhasana (easy seated pose), allows us to ground and center ourselves at any time.  There’s no wrong time, place or circumstance to sit and settle into stillness.

Come to a comfortable cross-legged position on a folded blanked or two to allow your pelvis to be slightly higher than your knees. Play around until you find  a pose that you can comfortably sit in for 10 minutes.

Bring your hands to your lap, or palms face up on your knees or thighs to receive energy (palms face down to send energy).

Close your eyes.

Unfurl your brow.

Unclench your jaw.

Notice your breath, without control, without judgement. Just witness yourself being.

Allow yourself to blend in with the space around you for 10 minutes, and come out gradually by blinking your eyes open and pausing before you begin to move.

Sometimes sitting with our ‘self’ is the hardest thing to do. Understand that, allow it, and find freedom in accepting it.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Smiling Dog Blog)

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Favorite Pose Friday: Camatkarasana (Wild Thing)

wild thing yoga pose camatkarasana

I love the freedom and openness that Camatkarasana or ‘wild thing’ brings to a yoga practice.  Talk about a pose that allows you to find your edge, and build trust in yourself.

A balancing pose, back bend, strength builder, core strengthener, chest opener, and heart opening pose all one, wild thing is one of my favorite poses.

As always, begin with some sun salutations to warm up the body, and build up to Camatkarasana with poses to stretch and strengthen key muscle groups used in this pose such as: low lunge, standing forward fold (Uttanasana), extended side angle pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana), cobra pose, (Bhujangasana), bow pose (Dhanurasana), and side plank pose (Vasisthasana). Continue reading

Favorite Pose Friday: Savasana (7 variations)

Savasana quote

Aaah, the pose of all poses, Savasana.  It’s truly perfect for any occasion, and your Savasana can be whatever you want it to be.  Also know as ‘corpse pose’ (not a fan of that nomenclature), it’s the final resting pose we come into at the end of our yoga practice, and there’s more to it than lying flat on your back.

For many people, lying still – even for five minutes, is very difficult.  So, it’s important to find the perfect position for you, so you’re not thinking about discomfort in the body; allowing you to let go.

Traditionally, we’re taught to lie flat on our backs with our arms by our sides palms face up to receive our practice and allow our nervous system to settle.  And this is a wonderful way to teach it, and I often cue students to take Savasana this way.  However, most of the time in my classes, I’ll cue students to make their way into whatever version of the pose allows them to surrender.

Every body is different.  We all have our own issues or pain points (physically and emotionally).  For someone with a breathing disorder (like me) lying flat on my back makes it difficult to breathe.  If you’re late in your pregnancy (third trimester especially), you should avoid lying flat on your back for an extended period of time in order to avoid uterine pressure on the vena cava vein (which carries blood back to the heart for oxygen from your legs and feet).  Side sleeping is generally recommended in this trimester as a result.

If you have low back pain, it helps to have a bolster or blankets under your knees during Savasana.  So, knowing that everyone may have different needs physically so that they can let go emotionally, here are 7 different variations of our favorite final resting pose.  I love the graphic images courtesy of Nina at Yoga for Healthy Aging blog.

The first variation involves adding a folded blanket to support your head.  This is great if you have tight shoulders or chest, or just like to have a little cushion under your coconut. Be sure the support under your head is firm (not soft) and that your shoulders are touching the ground (not the support). Ideally in Savasana, your chin should be pointing slighting down toward your chest (not tipping back away from it).

Savasana with Head Support

Savasana with Head Support

This second variation (I mentioned above) provides support behind your knees, and it’s great if  you have lower back problems or find it more comfortable to rest your back flatter on the mat. You can use a bolster (as shown below) or a couple of folded blankets.

Savasana with Knee Support

Savasana with Knee Support

The third variation of Savasana is great for a home practice when you have access to a chair to support your calves.  This too provides relief for low back pain, and because it’s an inversion, it improves circulation and helps you relax.  Place a blanket or two on the chair so you can be comfortable, and you may choose to make a T-shape out of a couple other blankets for a nice supported chest opener, and head cushion.
Savasana with Chair Support

Savasana with Chair Support

The fourth and fifth variations are restorative versions of Savasana, that use blankets and bolsters to support your torso and head. One version uses a bolster under your torso, and the other a stack of two folded blankets. These versions can help open the chest and lungs for better breathing and they just feel amazing.   Before lying back onto the bolster, make sure you’re seated on the floor with the edge of the bolster at your low back.  You may need to play with the position a bit if the curve in your back is too much.

Restorative Savasana (Bolster Supporting Torso)

Restorative Savasana (Bolster Supporting Torso)

Restorative Savasana (Blankets Supporting Torso)

Restorative Savasana (Blankets Supporting Torso)

The sixth version of Savasana is my favorite.  Whether I start there or not, I usually end up here lying on my side.  This is great for when I’m having trouble breathing, and it’s also a good option for for pregnant women. It’s best if you can have support both under your head and between your legs.  If you can have an extra blanket or pillow to hug, even better.

Side-Lying Savasana

Side-Lying Savasana

The  last version is Crocodile pose (Makrasana) is great if you tend to feel anxious or vulnerable lying on your back and feel more comfortable if your front body is protected. If this pose is hard on your lower back, you can also grab a bolster and come into supported child’s pose.

Crocodile Pose (Makrasana)

Crocodile Pose (Makrasana)

Whether or not you find Savasana easeful, you may want to try one of these variations to see how your body responds and if you’re allowed to surrender further into final relaxation.

And if none of these work, make your own variation.  Do what’s right for you so that you can give yourself at least 5 minutes to receive your practice and let go of what doesn’t serve you.

Do you have a version of Savasana that you’d like to share?  Let me know here!

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Featured image: Quizio)

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Favorite Pose Friday: Supported Supta Baddha Konasana

supported reclined bound angle pose supta baddha konasana

One of my all-time favorite poses to soothe any number of physical or mental ills, is supported Supta Baddha Konasana or reclined bound angle pose. I incorporate this pose in every restorative class I teach, and sometimes as a treat at the end of a regular mat class. I learned the pose during teacher training, and it’s absolutely ‘delicious’ to quote one of my students.

This restorative pose is especially beneficial for people with breathing problems as it opens the chest and relaxes the intercostal muscles between the ribs. It also helps to alleviate menstrual pain, and calms the mind. New Day Yoga did a great job of explaining how to set up for this relaxing pose.

Setting Up:
  • Sit in front of short end of bolster with it touching tailbone.
  • Bend knees, place feet on floor.
  • Place soles of feet together, let knees fall to sides.
  • Place a block under each outer thigh even if you don’t “need” to. (You want to completely support weight of legs so that you experience no traction in the sacral ligaments, which are extremely vulnerable in this position.)
  • Use strap to hold feet in position.  Place strap around sacrum, between knees, and over the outsides of feet.
  • Use arms for support as you gently lie down.
    • Alt. A:  Increase height by adding a blanket .
    • Alt. B:  Decrease height by using a blanket instead of bolster.
    • Alt. C:  Position a long-rolled blanket under each arm to relieve stretch in neck and arms.
  • Place a blanket under neck and head.
  • Relax abdomen, open chest.
  • Place an eye pillow over eyes.
Practice the Centering Breath while in the pose.

Coming Back:
  • Let the outside world come slowly into your awareness.
  • Take in the sounds around you; pay attention to the sensations of your body.
  • Remove eye pillow.  Slowly open eyes.
  • Undo strap, and slide down one foot, then the other, to straighten legs.
  • Roll to one side.  Rest a few breaths.  Then sit up.
Benefits:
  • Helps those with high blood pressure and breathing problems
  • Helpful for women during menstruation and menopause
Caution:
  • For disc disease in low back or chronic sacroiliac dysfunction, lower the height of props.
  • For pinched nerve or disc disease in neck, carefully support head and neck.
  • For knee injury, use props under thighs and don’t hold pose too long.

Sink into this pose for as long as 10-30 minutes if you’re comfortable, come out slowly, and transition into meditation for the ultimate blissful experience.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Yoga Poses Online)

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Favorite Pose Friday: Flowing cobra pose

cobra pose bhujangasana

In honor of Chinese New Year, which takes place Sunday, February 10th, I thought I’d focus on this year’s Chinese zodiac sign — the serpent — specifically, the water snake. Bhujangasana also known as cobra, serpent or snake pose, is said to awaken Kundalini or feminine energy.  Kundalini, sanksrit for ‘coiled snake’  is believed to reside at the base of the spine. Kundalini can be “awakened” or “aroused” from its “slumber” by intense meditation, breath control and yoga practices designed to activate the flow of prana.

This is also a heart and throat opening pose, as well as a pose that stimulates the root & sacral chakras.  The physical benefits of cobra pose include strengthening the spine, soothing sciatica, opening the chest & lungs, and relieve stress.  If you have had a back injury, suffer from headaches or are pregnant, you should avoid cobra pose or check with your doctor.

A water sign, the snake embodies intuition and introspection. One of my favorite popular yoga sequences, is Shiva Rea’s moon shine flow.  A watery, fluid sequence that links breath with movement; each movement flowing into the next as one.  In minute 2:44 of this video, you’ll see Shiva’s trademark prana flow expression of cobra.

If you prefer traditional cobra pose or are new to yoga, here are steps for getting into the pose from Yoga Journal:

Lie prone on the floor. Stretch your legs back, tops of the feet on the floor. Spread your hands on the floor under your shoulders. Hug the elbows back into your body.

Press the tops of the feet and thighs and the pubis firmly into the floor.

On an inhalation, begin to straighten the arms to lift the chest off the floor, going only to the height at which you can maintain a connection through your pubis to your legs. Press the tailbone toward the pubis and lift the pubis toward the navel. Narrow the hip points. Firm but don’t harden the buttocks.

Firm the shoulder blades against the back, puffing the side ribs forward. Lift through the top of the sternum but avoid pushing the front ribs forward, which only hardens the lower back. Distribute the backbend evenly throughout the entire spine.

Hold the pose anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds, breathing easily. Release back to the floor with an exhalation.

Activate your intuition, relieve stress and embrace your Kundalini with Bhujangasana.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Browse Yoga)

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Favorite Pose Friday: Bridge Pose (4 variations)

bridge pose setu bandha sarvangasana

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose) is a go to pose that can help solve any number of problems.  From developing strength in your core and glutes (which helps alleviate low back pain) to opening the chest, bridge pose is a must if you don’t already incorporate it into your practice. There are so many variations, it’s accessible by nearly everyone.

What’s in a name?

If we break down the Sanskrit name for bridge pose, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana;  Setu means bridge or dam, Bandha meaning lock. And the meaning of Sarvanga is support. The Bandha or ‘lock’ in this pose is at the throat, is Jalandhara, the throat energy valve. Bridge pose involves bringing the chest up to the chin and extending the upper thoracic at the same time. In addition to the physical benefits of this lock including stimulating the thyroid, Jalandhara connects the head with the heart by opening the throat chakra, helping us establish balance between body and mind, and enabling us to live our truth.

What are the benefits of bridge pose?

  • There are a number of ways bridge pose can help us develop strength or alleviate ailments including:
  •  Toning the butt (when glutes are active)
  • Teaches inactive glutes to fire
  • Strengthens spinal muscles
  • Strengthens hamstrings
  • Enhances digestive system and stimulates abdominal organs.
  • Provides relief for menopausal symptoms.
  • Builds pelvic floor strength
  • Improves circulation
  • Strengthens low back by developing core stability
  • Stimulates thyroideka pada setu bandha sarvangasana one legged bridge pose
  • Opens lungs for better breathing
  • Opens heart & throat chakras

Who should not do bridge pose?

Anyone with neck or knee injuries or issues should avoid bridge pose.  However, if you have issues with your knees, you may be able to do supported bridge with.  Also, women who are menstruating should avoid inversions, of which bridge pose is one, although supported bridge will help alleviate menstrual discomfort. Pregnant women should avoid inversions or lying on their back for too long. Once you hit the second trimester, the increased weight of your uterus while lying on your back interferes with the flow of blood and nutrients to your developing baby.

Getting into bridge pose

From lying on your back (supine), bend your knees at ninety degrees and place your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart and parallel. You may choose to have a folded blanked under your shoulders to support your neck.  I start with the knees at a ninety degree angle to see if there are any sensitivities. Eventually you’ll want to move your heals closer to your buttocks.

Arms are by your sides with your palms facing down. As you exhale, press your inner feet and arms actively into the floor, and your pelvis up toward the ceiling. Firm and lift the buttocks off the floor.  Be sure to keep your legs parallel and not let your knees splay apart.

To take the pose deeper, you can roll your shoulders and chest open, and clasp your hands under your pelvis and extend through the arms to help you stay on the tops of your shoulders.

Lift your buttocks until the thighs are about parallel to the floor. Keep your knees directly over the heels, but push them forward, away from the hips, and lengthen the tailbone toward the backs of the knees. Lift the pubis toward the navel.
Don’t move your head from side to side, but gently lift your chin way from the sternum slightly and open your chest by pressing the shoulder blades into the floor. This will allow you to press the top of the sternum toward the chin. Keep firming the outer arms, broadening the shoulder blades, and lifting the chest.

Hold the pose for 30 seconds or a minute if you can, and release with an exhale, rolling the spine one vertebrae at a time onto the floor.

Bridge pose variations

supported bridge poseIf you want to take your bridge pose to the next level, you can try Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana one one-legged bridge pose.

Supported bridge pose using a block and a strap allows you to relax in the pose for an extended period of time.  For supported bridge, place a strap around your thighs to keep the knees from falling open, and a block under your sacrum to rest your weight on. One of my students has called this version of the pose, “delicious.”

In what I call an ‘alignment variation’ you can use blocks to become familiar with proper alignment for your legs and feet.

To prevent your legs from turning out when you come into the pose, place a block flat on the floor between your feet (in whichever position keeps them hip-distance apart) and keep the inner edges of your feet alongside the block as you come into the pose.

Place a second block between your inner thighs (in whatever position keeps your knees hip-distance apart) and squeeze the block with your legs enough to keep the block in place as you exhale into the pose.

In a coming post, I’ll talk about what it means when your glutes aren’t firing, and bridge pose is critical to helping your body relearn what it’s forgotten.

Happy bridging!

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photos: Yoga iSportPreventionDo Restorative Yoga)

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