Child's Pose or Balasana is a simple resting posture yet some people have difficulties with it. Here are some helpful tips:
How to do it:
Kneeling on your mat, bring your bottom back towards your heals. Extend your arms forward and let your forehead rest on the mat.
If you find your forehead does not reach the floor, use a block or stack your fists one on top of the other to rest on them instead.
If your have pain in your knees, use a blanket or double stack your mat for an extra cushion.
If you are uncomfortable constricting the abdomen, widen your knees to create more space.
If you do not like extending your arms forward, bring them back towards the heals instead.
Take the time to breathe fully and relax. It is a good time to reconnect with your practice intention or set a new one.
Child's Pose is used in between other strenuous poses or on its own. This pose helps to calm the brain, relieve stress, and reduce fatigue. It also helps to stretch your back, hips, and thighs. Talk to your yoga teacher before doing it while pregnant or if you have knee problems.
- Start in Dandasana or another seated position. Be sure you can feel your sit bones making contact with your mat or floor.
- Keep your knees bent toward the ceiling and the feet on the floor.
- Lean back slightly until until can feel your sacrum.
- Lift your right leg, keeping the knee bent at a 90 degree angle. Extend your arms, keeping them in line with your shoulders to aid in balance. Engage the core to protect the lower back.
- Balance with the knee bent, gradually starting to straighten the leg. Hold for 4-8 counts.
- Bend the right knee and lower back to starting position. Repeat on the other side.
ADVANCED VERSION (pictured):
1. From a seated position, extend your right leg forward. Bend your left knee so that the left foot is pointed towards the right thigh.
2. Inhale as you lift the right leg a few inches off the mat. Bring the toes back and extend through the heel. Keep your arms extended with the palms facing each other.
3. Lift your chest and bring the shoulders away from the ears. Your gaze should be on the big right toe.
4. Breathe and hold 4-6 breaths. Release to the mat and repeat with the other leg.
Benefits: This pose helps to strengthen the core abdominal area, flexibility, and balance.
Surrender? Yes, we have to surrender in our yoga practice. We have to let go of misconceptions and limitations. We have to stay on our own mat, and not let what everyone else is doing infiltrate our practice. We need to surrender to the fact that our bodies change and with change comes adaptation. We always have to have the beginner's mind because every time you come to the mat, you will be different.
This is not an easy concept, especially when we let our ego rule. It is not easy to be on a mat next to someone we think is doing better than us. We have to surrender to the fact that yoga is not a competitive sport, it is an individual accomplishment. Taking time to breathe and relax, stretch and renew is not easy in our lives. We sometimes resist giving ourselves this gift, purposely putting others needs in front of ours. Surrender. Yes, be responsible to others but also be responsible to yourself. Be open to the fact that yoga will change you.
When you attend an instructor led asana, you do not have to think about the sequence of your poses. An experienced instructor will guide you through a set of postures in a specific order, so that you can flow from one to the next without unnecessary and sudden movements that might upset your balance. You are free to move into your poses unencumbered by over thinking. When you are trying to do a home practice, however, sometimes it doesn't feel so easy. You might start to question whether you are doing it correctly, or be concerned about what comes next. If you are trying to follow a video, you might have to stop, rewind, and do it again. Even experienced yogis can get distracted. For some, this leads to practicing only when there is someone to guide you.
As a yogi, you must be mindful that you are your best teacher. Even in a group, instructor-led class, you are still in charge of your body, your breath, your movements, and the intensity of your practice. Bringing this mindset to your home practice, you give yourself permission to create your own yoga based on what you are feeling in the moment.For instance, say you spent your day sitting longer than usual without sufficient breaks. Add to that perhaps you have been on the phone and/or did extra keyboarding. You drive home in stop and go traffic and your mind is on what you are going to whip together for supper based on what you think is in the refrigerator, plus your list of home chores, errands and activities as you move into your second job of the day. In this scenario, instead of rushing into your home and immediately starting your activities, perhaps you can take a few moments in your car, or in your bedroom to sit quietly, breathe, add the intention to dedicate these few minutes to yourself, while you decompress, and relax. Then make a suggestion to yourself, such as "Direct my breath to the area of my body that needs it the most. Use my breath to release blockages, relax the muscles and tension, and bring oxygen and healing to those areas." As you do this, you will find that you will naturally start to comfort yourself with movement. In the case of a sore neck, you might start moving your head slowly side to side. In the case of swollen fingers from too much keyboard, you might start stretching and flexing. After you have given yourself the minutes you need to relax, de-stress, and renew, end with a huge cleansing breath. You have just done your yoga created for your needs created by you!
Group classes are wonderful experiences not only for your body but for your soul. The camaraderie and socialization in a group is all part of of the yoga experience. But you must also give yourself permission to become your own expert as well. Practice your yoga and feel the satisfaction of really doing something meaningful for yourself!
Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it-Maya Angelou
September is our month of transition. In Week I we reviewed balancing both sides of our brain with Alternate Nostril Breathing. Once we have our bodies in balance, it is time to set your intention. Some people have no problem with this and others are baffled, confused, or maybe a little embarrassed. What does setting a intention mean?
In yoga we believe that everything is connected and our actions are connected. Einstein explained it in his Theory of Relativity for the physical world around us; yogis explain it for the spiritual world around us. When we set an intention we are planting the seeds for action. The universe will respond. It might not respond in the way we expect or want, but it will respond. So setting an intention should be a clear thought, unencumbered by what ifs or parameters. You create your thought, you verbalize your thought, you set it in motion.
What are some examples of intentions? The possibilities are endless, but if you are new to this, you can first try something simple, such as, "I am grateful for being here" or "I will remain present in my practice today", in other words, setting time for yourself to really enjoy your practice without worrying about what happened before you started or what will happen when you finish. This is also know as "being in the moment". Once you feel comfortable setting intentions, you can expand your thoughts to include such things as , "I seek wisdom in.." or "I seek guidance in.." You can also set intentions for other people for healing, enlightenment, or strength.
Why is it that some people seem to have all the luck? Is it because they have some super power or ability? Are they smarter? Have a rich relative? I would put forth that some people have learned how to be clear about what they want and then take the steps to manifest it in their lives. You can too! Practice setting an intention and see what comes your way. You can create your own happiness, fulfillment, and purpose.
I think September is the month of significant change. Some of you will have children entering school for the first time. Some of you will have children leaving for college. Some of you will start or end jobs. All around us nature is preparing for the onset of fall.
Transition is our keyword for September. In our yoga practice we will be just a bit more attentive to how our breath flows and how our bodies respond to change. We will practice holding postures longer and paying attention to the transition of one posture to another. We will challenge ourselves to go a little deeper and let the teacher inside all of us shine forth.
Our practice for Week I is Alternate Nostril Breathing or Anuloma Viloma. Read more about it in a previous post. You will help to balance both sides of your brain and ease some breathing difficulties getting you ready for the transititions ahead!
Two of the most recognizable poses in yoga are Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) and Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). As part of the Sun Salutation, many students rush through these poses, and don't really enjoy them. Not so for children! They love hanging out in both, often adding sound effects for good measure! Add these to the practice poses you do with your children (see Post on 3 Yoga Poses with Kids) to get you through those August dog days of summer!
Upward Facing Dog
- Lie on your stomach with your hands on either side of your rib cage, your palms resting on your mat.
- Stretch your legs back with the tops of your feet touching the mat. Engage your core as you push into your hands, straightening your arms and lifting the torso up. The bends in your elbows are facing each other.
- Press your tailbone down and feel your hip markers on the mat. Relax the buttocks. Keep the head stable and reaching towards the ceiling, lengthening the neck as well. If you want a challenge, create a little back bend by tipping the head back a little bit. Breathe and hold for 4-6 breaths.
- Release your body back to the mat.
Downward Facing Dog
1. Lying on your stomach, curl your toes under and start to lift the hips towards the ceiling.
2. Stretch your arms forward and keep your head down. Make sure the weight is in your palms and not your wrists. Keep lifting the hips towards the ceiling as you come up on your toes.
3. Now you should look like an upside down letter “A”. The hips are stretched up towards the ceiling and your head is down. Try opening up the armpits and continue to make micro adjustments until you feel strong and lengthened.
4. You should still be on the toes. Slowly start to lower the heel to the floor as much or as little as you can, maintaining the length in the spine.
5. Downward Dog is a relaxation pose. Take at least 5 deep breaths while you are in this pose. With every breath, let the head come closer to the mat as your hips stretch further toward the ceiling.
6. When you are ready to release, let your knees come to the floor first and then go back into Table.
The benefits of these poses include:
- Calms the brain and helps relieve stress
- Energizes the body
- Stretches and strengthens the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
- Improves digestion
- Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
PARIGHASANA (Gate) pose stretches the side of the body from the hips to the fingers, increases flexibility of the spine, builds core strength and stimulates digestion, circulation and respiration. Here's how to do it:
- From a kneeling position, with the knees hip width apart, step the right leg straight out to the side with the foot flat on the floor, toes facing the side wall.
- Inhale the left arm up to the ceiling, with the right hand resting palm down on the right leg.
- Exhale the left arm to the right, dropping over the ear, and slide the right palm down towards the toes, keeping the arms straight.
- Press out through the left hip, press down into the foot and knee, and reach out through the fingers and crown of the head. Keep the chin off the chest, looking straight ahead. Press the top shoulder to the back wall, keeping the chest open.
- Breathe and hold for 3-8 breaths.
- To release: inhale the left arm up and bring the right knee next to the left.
- Repeat on the other side
PASCHIMOTTANASANA (Seated Forward Bend with strap)
In a previous post, we talked about how to do a seated forward bend. Today I'd like to add the benefits of using a strap. A strap is beneficial if you have very tight hamstrings, lower back pain, or just want to get deeper into the stretch. Here's how to do it:
- From a seated position on your mat, wrap a strap around your insteps and loosely hold onto the ends. Then be sure to sit as tall as you can, with the crown of the head extended towards the ceiling, your feet flexed and your legs extended towards the end of your mat.
- Inhale as your lengthen the spine, exhale as you start to walk your hands down the strap, folding over from the waist.
- When you reach your full bend, use your breath to see if you can deepen the stretch and come closer to your legs.
- When you are ready the release the stretch, start to walk your hands back up the strap.
Seated forward fold provides a deep stretch for entire back side of body from the heels to the neck. Forward fold calms the nervous system and emotions and stimulates the reproductive and urinary systems.
Seated Twist variation
I love simple poses with maximum benefits. Even using the strap as a modification, you'll feel your body working in this pose.
- Start in a seated position. Wrap a strap around the instep of the right foot. Be sure to feel the sitting bones as you make contact with the mat. Lengthen the spine by extending the crown of the head towards the ceiling.
- Extend the right leg forward on the mat with pressing out through the heel. Bend the left leg with the instep of the left foot resting against the right thigh.
- Extend the right hand forward with the thumb pointing up towards the ceiling. The strap should be in the left hand. Engage the abdomimal muscles by bringing the bellybutton back towards the spine. Extend through the fingertips for added stretches in the biceps and triceps.
- Follow your thumb as you turn towards the right. Use your breath to get deeper into the pose as you turn.
- Do about 3-5 rotations, challenging yourself to turn a little bit more each time.
- Repeat on the left side.
Benefits-This pose helps to:
- Strengthen the thighs, hips, and knees
- Activate the core, biceps and triceps
- Detoxify and aid in digestion
- Stretch the hamstrings