Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Six Tips For Standing Poses

My teacher, Paddy McGrath, often says she wants to write a book on yoga but that she can't get past the first page because--she jokes--yoga is really very simple and there are really only a few instructions to give.

Of course she says all of this while floating effortlessly into a drop back and then flipping into a handstand.

But the more you practice the more you realize she is right.   

Many yoga poses have common instructions just with your body in different positions and orientations to gravity.  

For example, you can see from my recent posts that trikonasana and parsvakonasana, which look very different, share many of the same instructions.  

One thing that many of the standing poses have in common is that one foot is forward of the torso and the other is backward (behind the torso).  The tips in this post are for those sorts of poses, including trikonasana, parsvakonasana, virabhadrasana 1 & 2, privrtta trikonasana, parivrtta parsvakonasana, and parsvottanasana.

Rotation At Hips
A general instruction that you can follow in such poses is to try to roll the front thigh out (external rotation of the femur or thigh bone -- it should feel as though the thigh bone is turning to the upward and towardsoutside of the mat) and to roll the back thigh onwards (internal rotation of the femur/thigh bone -- it should feel like the thigh bone is trying to turn downward and towards the centre of the mat).

These actions help ensure that the spine remains long without squashing.
Stretch Mat With Feet
Another general instruction you can follow is to try and stretch the mat with your feet.  

That means try to move the front foot forward and the back foot backward. This action activates hip flexors on the front leg and hip extensors on the back leg, bringing stability to the hip when combine with the previous action, and can cause the opposing muscles to relax through reciprocal relaxation. If you listen carefully to your body you will feel these actions also bring a natural firmness to your belly.

Press Down Through Ball of Front Foot
Another common instruction in such poses is to press down though the ball of the front foot, as though you are trying to push it through the floor. This action will help you balance and will activate the muscles of your calves without you needing to consciously tense them.

Line Up Outer Edge of Front Foot & Squeeze Front Heel In
In these poses the outer edge of the front foot should be parallel to the outer edge of the mat. The inside of your foot will be angled in.  That is ok.  This foot alignment allows you to squeeze the heel of that for in towards the centre of the mat (although it does not actually move). This action can be felt all the way into the hip joint and you will feel that it helps with the external rotation of the front hip.

Lift Outer Edge of Front Foot
With all of the external rotation going on this can cause the weight to all move onto the outside of the front foot. Counter this with pressing down on the mound of the big toe and inner heel while lifting the outer edge of the foot.  This brings firmness to the outer ankle and stability to the posture.

Back Foot Placement
The placement of the back foot in these types postures depends on your hip flexibility.  

For these postures the heel is down with toes angling outward.  The angle depends on how your knee feels.  People with more flexible hips will be able to have the back heel line ip with the front heel.  But a lot of people who have spent most of their lives in chairs, for instance, will need to move the back foot over to the side away from the midline of the body.

SummaryWhile I have mentioned the feet last here, as a general rule you would set your feet first.  So, five general ideas to help your standing poses:
1. Set the feet.  Front foot outer edge parallel to edge of mat and heel squashing in.  Back foot angled and positioned at a comfortable length and width from front foot.
2. Front thigh rolls out. Back thigh rolls in.
3. Stretch the mat with your feet
4. Press the ball of front foot down as though through the. At.
5. Lift outer edge of front foot.
6. Back foot is set at an angle (toes out heel in) in a position that depends on hip flexibility and encourages freedom.

And the sneaky seventh? Of course it is to relax, be firm but calm, and breathe.

The most important thing in these and all yoga poses, from my perspective, is that you feel strong but relaxed and free.  You should be able to breathe and tell me how much you love the pose and want to stay in it without gasping for breath.

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