Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Handstand At Ease




Here I wanted to share a way of coming into handstand and being in a handstand where I feel at ease in my spine especially.

My teachers always taught that the spine should feel long and free.

What I do in this handstand is try to capture a feeling in my spine that is like I am standing with my arms reaching overhead.  Only instead of the weight being on my feet I put the weight on my hands.

To do this handstand I do a few key things.

First, I lengthen the lower back by moving sitting bones down towards my heels and gently moving top of pelvis back.

Then I do a sit up in my tummy.  This is the type of sit up you do where you get firm in the middle and soft in the sides and where you feel as though you can still breathe in a way that the tummy will move.  I recommend that you read Simon Borg Olivier's blogpost on is it correct to pull navel to spine to understand what I am doing here (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMe1lRpNYi8).

Third, I keep that sit up in my tummy and reach my arms out as far as possible.  If I were in standing it would be like I was reaching for something off a really high shelf.  The arms move forward and upward.

On the ground I really push my hands downwards into the floor.  I feel for my shoulder blades wrapping around the spine.  I try to roll my outer armpits to my face.  I grip with my fingertips as though I am trying to make a fist with my hands.

I try and keep my neck free.

I breathe.  I check that I feel firm but calm.

I lean more into my hands but it does not feel like I am sinking as I keep pushing downwards which makes me feel like I am lifting upwards.

I walk my feet in if I need to see if I can get more of my hips over my shoulders.

I don't sink into my shoulders.  I keep pushing the floor away.

I keep the sit up in my tummy but I can still breathe there.

I bring more weight over my hands and keep my tummy firm and my feet naturally come onto the tip toes.  They are light on the ground.

I take a leg up and do a little tap with the grounded foot.  If I don't come up I try again.

My legs might come up.  Maybe they don't.  If they do and I am up there I keep the fingertips pressing, keep breathing, relax my face, and try to feel for the lightness in the spine.

This is a spinal releasing posture for me.  It feels lovely and free on my back.  

This post is intended for my students who are working on this pose.  It is best not to work on more advanced postures like this without the guidance of a teacher.  You need to make sure your shoulders and wrists and tummy are mobile and strong enough so you do not strain or injure.

We will work on this type of posture in upcoming retreats, classes, and workshops in Canberra, Colombo, and Bali. Looking forward to sharing with you in person.

Happy and safe practicing.

www.yogacafecanberra.blogspot.com
www.artofliferetreats.com

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Padmasana Without Hands



Here I wanted to introduce you to my friend Ramali so that you can see how a more natural bodied person can come into a pose like padmasana (lotus) with ease and without hands.

Ramali can come into padmasana with as much grace and ease as she can fold her arms. 

When Ramali first came to my classes I was able to do padmasana—using my hands though. 

I would go through all of those ‘cradling’ the hip type poses to ‘warm up’ my hips and ‘open’ them and then carefully place the legs into padmasana. 

Actually, I understood this was not the best approach as my own teacher, Paddy McGrath (dancingspineyoga.com), always guided us to work into padmasana without using our hands.

Paddy would tell us to use the intelligence of our legs and move our legs using the muscles of our legs.

I would dutifully try and could always manage to get one leg in but the other leg sort of lay there like a dead fish.  Attached to the notion of padmasana I would use my hand to put the second leg in place. 

Then Ramali came to class one day and it was time for sitting meditation at the end of the class and there I was saying to everyone do your best not to use your arms and showing my one-legged version.  Ramali neatly and quickly and modestly just popped both legs into position without batting an eyelid. 

It was a great moment of realization and humility for me and from that time on I said, well, no more padmasana for me.  I won’t continue along this path of fooling myself padmasana is a pose for me. 

 It did not mean I gave up on the pose altogether, although I abandoned practicing it for many months. 

Instead, I went about my normal practice of active movements with the usual standing hip opening poses (forward bends, lunges, trikonasana variations, warrior variations, gadjastan variations) as well as moving actively (no hands) into sitting poses. 

I made sure to actively externally rotate the hip that should be externally rotated in those postures.   I made sure to remain active in the pose so I did not sink into my hips.  I used principles of activating muscles while in lengthened positions.

This was part of my regular practice. 

And then one day, several months later, I thought I might just try padmasana again. 

Voila.  My legs went into the pose of their own accord. 

Now, my legs still do not go into padmasana with as much ease as Ramali’s do. 

While I can do it first thing in the morning, with no preceding warm ups or movements, as you can see in the video I still have a slight ‘sawing’ action to get there.  

Ramali takes her legs into position in two smooth movements. 

I wrote this post not to dishearten.  But for you to think about the truth and reality of what your body is able to do of it’s own accord. 

Based on ideas of active movements and trying not to force your body into position I encourage students to try to move their legs into postures using just their legs. 

One of the reasons is that there is always the risk of damage to your knees if you are really straining to get into position.

Ramali is one of the few people I have met (Georgie in Australia, you are another one!) who have always been able to perform these movements so smoothly.  I am very fortunate to have come across them and have the good sense to watch and learn from what their bodies had to teach me.  Thanks guys!

Perhaps you can watch and learn as well.  


Happy and safe practicing. 



www.yogacafecanberra.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

3 Ways To Beat Overindulgence I Learned From My Father




One Christmas my uncle was found hiding in the bushes in his underpants Ninja-ing people as they passed by (or so family legend has it).  

He was fitting in with the sort of shenanigans that are, ironically, synonymous with the Christmas-NewYear period.  You will be familiar with them I am sure.  

You know, things like eating too much and getting into awkward situations, typically involving scenarios like getting drunk and kissing someone you shouldn't, having sex with someone you shouldn't, wearing (or taking off) something you shouldn't, saying something you shouldn't and generally just 'letting go' of a lot of 'shoulds' that are probably in situ for the rest of the year for a good reason.

This time of year also calls for a gazillion articles about how to live a better life and be a better person and avoid overindulging etc etc. 

In this spirit I have decided to share some pieces of wisdom from my father, who has a lot of sensible things to say in general.  This does not include any nutritional advice about what to eat, more an approach to how you eat and live.

Number 1 Way To Beat Overindulgence: Take All You Can Eat But Eat All You Take
Back in the day when there were all you can eat buffets at places like Sizzler (not sure they exist anymore), Dad would take us there as a treat.  

Emphasising the fact it was a treat, and allowing general parenting food rules to fly by the wayside, he didn't mind if we decided our dinner was going to be at the dessert buffet. 

Our ventures to buffets were always tempered with this piece of advice, however:

"Take all you can eat but eat all you take."

At first glance, this might seem like a sure-fire way to obesity.  The sort of instruction that tells you to eat everything on your plate and don't even think about leaving the dinner table until you have!  

However, it was not.

Dad was very mindful of waste.  He grew up in a time where you were lucky to have a pair of shoes to walk to school in and, despite limited travel opportunities, knew enough about the world to understand there were plenty of people who were lucky to get one meal a day, let alone three.

So Dad's advice was about being mindful and appreciative of what you had.  He would always tell us we could go back for more if we were really hungry but perhaps put only the amount of food on your plate that you are sure you can eat.  At the same time he would remind us that sometimes your eyes can be bigger than your stomach so perhaps take a little and then wait and see if you need more.  

Having lived in countries like Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka I have seen for myself how some families throw out more food after one meal than other families get to eat in a day and I always think of my Dad's advice when I see food bins overflowing with 'scraps'.

This piece of Dad advice is very much in line with common sense ideas about listening to what your body really needs, which many of us who have always enjoyed plenty, can easily forget.  

Number 2 Way To Beat Overindulgence: Or When it is Ok to haveMars Bars for Breakfast
Dad also gave us Mars Bars for breakfast on weekends before our athletics meets.  To this I think most kids would go hooray and most parents would probably raise their eyebrows.  

But Dad was always about activity.  His approach to eating was very much about balancing input with output.  He knew that after eating that Mars Bar we would spend 3 hours out in the sun running around competing in 1500m runs, sprints, long jumps, shot puts, and all of the handstand competitions that went on in between events. 

You might think Dad was all about junk but that is not true.  He was thinking about nutrients based on the information he had at the time, combined with how much energy we would need and giving us something to eat that would not make us feel full and sluggish.  

Dad was not just handing us rubbish.  You see, Dad also made our sandwiches with multigrain and wholemeal bread back before they were popularised telling us that eating white bread was like eating fresh air (i.e., basically nutrient poor).  

Anyway, his approach to food was that you needed to balance intake with output, consider whether what you ate would give you the energy you needed to do what you wanted.

On days where we weren't doing much you can bet we were not being offered chocolates, although this was a rare day indeed as Dad would always have us engaged in something fun and active. 

Actually, Dad was unknowingly following the only diet ever known to actually work in the long-term, which is to balance what you eat with what you do.  

So, this piece of Dad advice is extremely important:

"Eat to live don't live to eat."

While those are not Dad's words, they are what he modelled and still models to this day.  If you don't do very much, then don't eat very much.  If you are doing a lot, then eat so you can do the things you need to do.  In this regard, our Christmas Day with Dad always started with a family bike ride so that we might feel hungry enough for Christmas lunch rather than eat the food because it was there.  

Number 3 Way To Beat Overindulgence: Don't Pop Your Buckle
This last piece of advice is actually what Dad's Dad used to say.  Or, at least Dad always quotes Grandfather when he says it.  

"Always leave the dinner table feeling that you could eat a little more."

This is excellent advice and stops you feeling like a python when you get up from the Christmas dinner table.  

This is related to both the first and second pieces of advice.  It is about eating what you need, and about ensuring whatever you eat does not prevent you from doing the things you want to or need to do.

The idea of eating so much that you could not go out and play with the kids or fix the car or tinker around in the shed was/is abhorrent to Dad who, to this day, will make sure he gets up to 'unblob' himself (as he puts it) if he has had a big lunch that is putting him to sleep.   

In Sum
Dad's advice comes from a person who was physically active, and who appreciated that your body needs to work and move well so you can participate in a variety of daily activities.

Dad was a runner and did not practice physical yoga.  He does not have much idea of yoga beyond the knowledge that it is something I go and teach and do and which seems to be associated with me spontaneously doing handstands in the driveway or hanging from the beams of his verandah.  However, to me his advice is very much in tune with ideas about respecting the interrelationship between body and mind and community that I have read in yogic texts and have learned from my teachers.  Thanks Dad!  

Merry Christmas to all.  Happy and safe practicing.  Learn from my Dad. 

www.artofliferetreats.com
www.yogacafecanberra.blogspot.com

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Another reason I teach...


Some of the beautiful people I have shared yoga with this year!


Today I had at least 5 people in class who had severe injuries/illnesses.

There was a person with an active foot injury (we are not sure what.  I did suggest she go and see someone as it is not getting better).

There was a person who had experienced a mini-stroke earlier in the year.  He walked into the class with numbness in his hands.

There was a person who'd done something to muscles somewhere around his shoulder blade.

There was a person recovering from severe spinal injuries.

There was a person with cervical spine injuries.

In the mix there were auto-immune diseases, stress and worries about daily life, and just general getting older.

Goodness.  When I write it down I wonder how did I manage?

I taught this class the same way I teach every class.

By giving people basic tips about free movement.  About pain free movement.

About how to move their spines so they lengthen and do not squash.

So that they firm but do not tense.

So they are active and not passive.

And you know what?

I taught this entire class in silence.

Not a single word was uttered.

I know these people.  They were not new to class.  They had come to class before.

They had listened to me talk about transforming their yoga practice to something that was healing.

They listened to me give key instructions about moving.

They applied these basic principles and instructions.

They were of mixed ages and abilities.

They all came out feeling better.

Numb fingers had gone (the numbness, not the fingers!).

Pesky shoulder muscles moved more freely.

Lower backs released a little.

Feet were better off.

Necks were happier.

We were all generally happier.

This is the nature of a great practice.

So pleased to be a part of it.

It is why I teach.

For me, performance is not measured by how many people come to class.

It is measured by how much I can help, even if that is just one person.

And that one person could even just be me.

Because if I help myself, I am also helping you.

Just a word of caution.  Not everyone can teach this way and I do not recommend teaching people with illness or injury unless you have more advanced training.  It is not the 'yoga' that healed but the way the yoga was taught and then integrated and practiced.  Incorrect instructions or practice can make you worse.

Happy and safe practicing!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Silent practice and the art of letting go

This week, at the end of our silent classes, we meditate and 'savasanate' to the sounds of nature!

This has been the week in my sequences were we practice in silence.  For eight weeks we have been 'practicing' and 'learning', and now it is time to just do what we know and are capable of at this moment in time.

I am not the type of teacher who talks throughout class about philosophy.  It does not mean my classes are not infused with philosophy, however.

And the silent class is deeply philosophical.

In the silent class you follow my clicks and movements, as is taught in the Yoga Synergy style.

This gives you the chance to integrate what it is that you know about the movements and postures that we have been learning.  

Because I only give visual instructions (i.e., by exaggerating/miming body movements) your body has to be ready for a pose in order for it to happen.  

And you must accept that if you do not know the posture, if your body is not sure how to move into it, or if on that particular day your body does not want to move into that posture, then you are not ready for that posture.  

It does not mean you will never be ready. 

Just that you are not ready for it at this moment in time. 

You must accept the simpler version of the posture.  The version that you can do right now.  

It means you need to let go of ideas about doing something else.  Something more.  

The silent practice is a practice of non-attachment.  Of letting go.  

Actually, our practice should always be like this but the silent practice sort of forces your hand, so-to-speak, since I am not answering questions or giving minute refinements or telling you how to do things.

It is always a great pleasure for me to lead our silent practices.  From my place up front I see us as a school of fish moving gracefully together.  I see people struggling less, 'reaching' less.  I see people just doing and being.  And that is a joy. 

As those of you have been to these classes will attest, we generally do more in these classes than we ever do in spoken classes.  And when we sit at the end to meditate it is generally much easier.  This is because we have tensed less, stretched less, thought less, and breathed less, which has allowed energy to move more freely.  It helps to calm the mind.

Happy and safe (silent) practicing to you all!

Read more about my yoga and join me for classes and retreats in Bali and Sri Lanka at

www.yogacafecanberra.blogspot.com




Sunday, 30 November 2014

Bali Yoga Retreat April 5-11 2015

So excited to have been invited to teach yoga as a part of this team in Bali next year. Please contact me for more details.  Also, check out our retreat page: artofliferetreats.com

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Sunday Class (16 November) Is On

Photo indicative of location of class but not of weather!!
It is raining here in Tuggeranong.  It is likely raining at the Lake as well.  Look for the class under the eaves of the National Library and wear a few extra layers!

What makes you get out of bed for yoga?

I teach yoga as I love getting outside, I love showing people what they can do to move more freely, to see the joy in people's faces as they learn, to move out of pain and suffering, to be a better and kinder person. 


The other day I was asked a question. What makes you want to get out of bed to do yoga?

The truth is, while I am a teacher of hatha (physical) yoga, I don’t always want to get out of bed to do this yoga. 

I suppose sometimes people think teachers must just be itching to get out of bed to go and do their practice.  But there are days where I just want to sleep or linger or snuggle—especially in winter!

When I was first starting my ‘serious’ yoga I would have thought there was something wrong with thinking like that.  It was because I had a narrow conception of yoga and because I had (?still have) a slight tendency towards rigidity or control in certain areas of my life. 

This was the phase of my practice where I thought I must do my yoga every day and that I must do it for a certain amount of time (anything less than an hour was considered slacker territory). 

What this meant was that I made great improvements in terms of my physical practice (as you surely must when you practice 60-90 minutes a day).  But I also felt guilty or ashamed of myself for lack of discipline if I did not practice (though this was rare).  There was also fear that if I did not practice I might ‘backslide’ or something. 

Throughout this time I was mainly doing self practice due to being in a remote location where a civil war was going on.  I was very fortunate that I had met my teacher by then and her words would echo through my practice.  Words about free spinal movement.  About not feeling tension or strain (thanks Paddy).  This meant I did not injure myself. 

I learned to do the splits and backdrops and all sorts of interesting things upside down.  I was very pleased with myself.  But there was still this controlling and guilt element that crept into my thinking about practice.  I knew I was missing something here. 

Things changed a lot for me when I heard my other teacher, Simon, whisper some words before a group practice.

“The main purpose of this practice,” he said, “is to move circulation and energy through your body.”

The words were a missing piece of the puzzle (there are more and I will keep putting them in place). 

Today I say these words before every class I teach.  I mean them.  I must sound like a robot to my students and sometimes I think they must have heard it a million times maybe today I will say something else or nothing.  But I don’t.  I always say them.  They are just too important.

I stand there and I think to myself.  Right, I have this body and it is designed to move and to be healthy it needs to move in a way that is going to make it feel good.  And I remind myself to distinguish between that which makes my body feel good in and of itself rather than some sort of ‘feel good’ of the ego that comes with flashy poses. 

When I remind myself about this purpose it is a reminder to myself to be honest about whether these movements, whatever I am doing, free up my body so that it feels elegant, light, and warm.  So that any niggly aches and pains dissipate. 

When I practice like this I can generally do ‘stronger things’ but feel more at ease. 

When I practice without force or strain or too much desire then it also helps my mind become much clearer.  By the end of such a practice I feel more connected to my body, any troubling thoughts or life circumstances feel much more manageable, and I am somehow able to be a better and kinder person to others.

And you know, for me that is a driving force.  To practice in a way that helps you move away from pain and suffering so that you can be a more stable person for friends, family, and people you do not even know.

I know it sounds like I am going on a bit of a roundabout way to answer a seemingly simple question but it gets back to the heart of the question for me.  I promise.

You see, aside from teaching around 10 classes a week, along with my own practice, I also work full time as an occupational therapist with children with autism and their families.  I also live with my sister and her family, including my nieces. 

What this means is that some mornings I get up and I want to practice my hatha yoga.  I’ll head out to the balcony and my niece will get up all ready to play.  There I have a decision.  Am I going to tell her to go away or do I use this interaction as an opportunity to practice my yoga.  To enhance my connection to self and others.  So although I have a strong desire to get the kinks out I might make toilet roll fairies or do Willy Wonka puzzles or even show her a few down dogs if she is interested. 

Or I might get up all keen for a practice but I realize I have some kids to see at work who need some extra input.  So I spend that time re-writing my therapy activity plans or researching some new ideas.

The key is I can now do this without resentment, guilt, or a feeling that I am somehow not doing my yoga. 

To me this is a type of karma yoga.  You know, a yoga of service.  And it is delightful. 

I can only do this because of the change in mindset.  Because I changed my ideas about the main purpose of my practice, I know that I can also slip in 5-10 minutes of circulation/energy moving sequences into my day.  Longer if time allows later in the day.  But I do not feel bound to a 60-minute practice just for the sake of it. 

My physical practice is very important to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have twisted vertebrae and without it I would be in a lot of pain.  This means I am very motivated to do some form of physical practice every day, which is perhaps a more obvious answer to the initial question.  That is, I get out of bed to do yoga so I am not in pain.

Now, having taken you on a walk around some of the thought pathways of my practice, some of the other reasons I get out of bed to practice include:
·      The joy of being awake in the early hours where it is just the birds, a few other early risers, the morning stillness, and me.
·      For the love of fresh air.  I practice mainly outside—even in winter where I can.  I really believe in the positive health benefits of fresh air so much so that I stopped teaching some classes in a yoga studio because I found myself wanting to tell everyone they should get out and enjoy the sun!
·      For the love of teaching.  I enjoy teaching people about movement.  I love seeing people make a deep connection to the possibility of free movement, especially in their spine.  I also enjoy being my own teacher.  Working down to the more subtle layers of what is going on inside.  It makes me feel like a small child delighting and in awe of the smallest of discoveries. 


With that said.  All this writing has inspired me to get out and move!  If this has inspired you to move then join me for a class, find a good teacher near you, or join me in Bali in April 2015 where I am pairing up with Art of Life Retreats for a 7 day yoga retreat (more details soon!).  

Happy and safe practicing to you all. 


Friday, 7 November 2014

eka pada galavasana





Here I demonstrate how to come into the tricky arm balance, eka pada galavasana.



As you can see I can talk throughout so you get the idea that I must be at ease.  I firm only the bits that need to be firmed while I can still talk and breathe naturally.  It is important not to stress or strain.



This is best learned in a class and is mainly for the students that are coming regularly to me as we are currently doing this pose in class.



Happy and safe practicing!  Don't do anything that hurts. Move slowly. Tense less.  Stretch less.

eka pada galavasana





Here I demonstrate how to come into the tricky arm balance, eka pada galavasana.



As you can see I can talk throughout so you get the idea that I must be at ease.  I firm only the bits that need to be firmed while I can still talk and breathe naturally.  It is important not to stress or strain.



This is best learned in a class and is mainly for the students that are coming regularly to me as we are currently doing this pose in class.



Happy and safe practicing!  Don't do anything that hurts. Move slowly. Tense less.  Stretch less.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Actions of Yoga Technical Course, Weeks 3 & 4:Wrap Up: Armpits and Shoulders




We had a great time in week 3 and 4 thinking about what our armpits and shoulders were doing!  I hope that now everyone realises how kneeling plank is a difficult pose when you do it well and activate your armpits.

I have written about armpits many times before.  There are more things to talk about with regards to actions at the shoulder joints but the armpits are so key and I have focussed on them in our course.

One of the key things to appreciate is that how you use your armpits, depending on shoulder position, can impact on the spine.  If you take your arms overhead, I take armpits forward and up and NOT down and back.

In an overhead position armpits forward and up will help create length in the spine.

If you take them down and back while arms are overhead, or even down, you get a shortening feeling around your sides and back.

To come into more difficult postures where the arms are overhead you need to free up your armpits so the spine can move freely.

Some backbends happen with the arms below shoulder height, like ustrasana or bhujangasana for instance.  In those types of positions, because arms are not overhead, I take armpits down and back.  The video below shows how I can do backbends with armpits down and back, as I would in backbends like bhujangasana, or forward and up, such as I would in urdhva dhanurasana.

In the video I also show how you can actually come into a pose like urdhva dhanurasana with armpits either towards ears or with armpits towards hips.  I do this to illustrate a point that it can be done, not necessarily that it should be done.

As I show, because I have a fairly fluid spine it does not create difficulty for me to come into an overhead backbend like urdhva dhanurasana with armpits down.  But it does not feel as good as it could either.  

The thing is most people (either coming to yoga or not) tend to be stiff in their spine in general, and move most from their lower back.

Doing urdhva dhanurasana with the armpits to the hips (downs and back) can reinforce the shortening many people already experience.

So, in my classes I encourage armpits to ears to generate the length in the spine.

Again, because I am fairly mobile around my armpit area, especially when I take them overhead, I can easily come up into a full backbend with armpits to ears.

People who are tighter around the armpits will find that they cannot come up so easily and I suggest you only come up to the point where you feel at ease in your spine.  This might mean the shoulders barely come off the floor and you just lift a little, as I also show in the video.

These are not things to practice without the guidance of an experienced practitioner so I encourage you to go to one.  I would encourage you to feel in your own body what is going on and if you come out of a backbend with a sore lower back to question what has gone on to create that as it should not be squashing.

In our classes this week we also looked at some of the basic movements at the shoulder joint--shoulders rolling in and shoulders rolling out.  We looked at how these movements can cause associated movements in the upper back (thoracic spine).  We looked at how these associated movements can be over-ridden if we call attention to them.

For instance, rolling the shoulders in tends to cause the upper spine to round as though bending forward.  We can try to lift the chest softly to help bring the spine back to upright.

When rolling the shoulders out it tends to cause the upper spine to arch as though back bending but that we can also over-ride this if we are conscious of it by softly drawing the lower ribs in.

Understanding these associated movements will help you learn to move your spine independently of shoulders for better and more active spinal movement.  I will post more about this later.  The armpits are a lot to think about already!

I had to laugh at myself when I re-watched the video.  I am not sure how my voice turned into a David Attenbourough-esque commentary.  Perhaps it is because I feel so wonderfully passionate and when that happens and you try to explain something it does something funny to your voice.  Well, to mine anyway,  Also to my eyebrows!

Great work all.  Happy and safe practicing.

Much metta,
Samantha

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Actions of Yoga, Ankles, Knees, and Hips: Week 2 Wrap Up

Sitting bones down, top of pelvis back to lengthen lower back.  Then push hips forward without moving them.  Helps firm the tummy in a way you can still breathe calmly.

It gives me joy to see how small cues can make such a big difference to your yoga practice.

This week we learned how simple cues can bring postural firmness.  We looked at the cue of pushing hips forward, even if they cannot actually go anywhere, to bring firmness to the belly in a way that you can still breathe into it.

We differentiated between hip flexion and spinal forward flexion, using cues for the latter to help keep the front of groin from closing off, keep the lower back long, and to begin to engage our abdominal muscles in a 'postural' way rather than squeezing everything to death to get 'strong abs'.  Last year I wrote a post on this, with a video, here: http://yogacafecanberra.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/bending-forward-hips-or-spine.html

We learned to 'do' something behind our knees to keep them active when the knees are bending in squatting and in bent knee sitting positions.

The key messages from this week are:

  • keep lower back long with sitting bones down, top of pelvis moving back.  This will also help to keep front of groin open, which is generally very tight on most people.
  • we spend enough of our day with hips in flexion because most of us sit all day.  We generally do not need to get better at hip flexion.  What we could be better at is forward spinal bending so when coming into forward bends try sitting bones down, top of pelvis back (to lengthen lower back), lengthen whole spine first by taking arms overhead towards ears (then bring arms down without shortening spine), push hips forward, then fold forward actively from spine, bend knees as much as you need, finally fold forward from hips when you cannot come forward any further but without shoving your bum up and back.  Your but might move up and back but keep the action of trying to move it down and forward. 
  • try to push hips forward (although they might not go anywhere) in your forward bends, kneeling plank, and downward dog.  Once you get the feel for it you will be able to apply the action in other poses, like trikonasana, parsvakonasana and your seated forward bends as well.  Remember, sitting bones down, top of pelvis back to lengthen lower back first. 
  • firm behind the knees whenever they are in a bent position.  If you forget how to firm behind your knees then just remind yourself by bending your knee as much as possible then put your hand behind your knee and try to squeeze your hand.  You should feel the muscles activate.  Take your hand away and see if you can reproduce the action.  
Remember not to firm too much.  Move slowly, tense less, stretch less, think less, and breathe less.  These things will help you move better.  


If you need more inspiration please take a look at this post from one of my teachers, Simon Borg Olivier,  doing part of our opening standing one legged sequence.  This sequence really helps to bring mobility and stability to the hips and helps our ankles and knees.

Appreciate that for him to do what he is doing with such ease we have to learn what we are doing first!

Link to his writings on this here: http://blog.yogasynergy.com/2011/10/spinal-movement-part-10-activating-different-sides-of-the-hip-joint-complex/.



He also gives some great extra details about the anatomical and physiological effects of what we do.

Happy and safe practicing!

Tuesday Class Cancellations

Very sorry to do this.  I have taught through some pretty tough illnesses in the past but over the weekend came down with something.  I will not be having my Tuesday morning classes at the Lake or at Queanbeyan, although the lovely Rachel has organised a substitute for my Queanbeyan class.  I am working my best to be well by Wednesday for classes and will keep you updated here.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Actions of Yoga: Week 1 Wrap Up (ankles, knees, and hips)



What a fabulous morning we had out on the lawn by Lake Burley Griffin learning some of the key actions of yoga.

The main emphasis this week was to figure out the types of movements we can generate in our feet, the basic movements of the hips, to understand some 'positioning basics' of feet and hips, and then to find ways to create action throughout our legs in standing postures.

From my perspective, it looked like everyone could feel the difference between a dull and sinking pose and was able to transform it into an active and lifting pose that generated warmth in the hips especially and lightness in the spine.  Excellent work!

This post is mainly a recap for those who attended the class but some of the tips might help your thinking about your yoga practice even if you did not attend.  I'd recommend practicing and studying with a teacher though.

Some of the main points covered this week:

  1. Gripping the toes to help with balance.  
  2. Lifting outer edge of outer foot towards outer ankle in standing and balancing poses to help activate outer ankle joint (which tends to be weak and overstretched in many).  This was especially helpful (but hard) in the heel raising postures of the opening sequence, helped with balance in pasrvottanasana and reverse triangle, and helped with preventing over stretching when applied in positions on the ground.  
  3. When a leg is in front of us, turn the thigh out.
  4. When a leg is behind us, turn the thigh in.
  5. When positioning the front foot in standing postures, move the heel out slightly so that the outside edge of your foot is either parallel to the edge of your mat or you look slightly pigeon toed.  Then, grip with the toes and try to 'screw' the heel inwards.  You should feel activation up the leg to the outer hip.  This will help turn the front thigh out.
  6. In standing postures where a leg is behind and the foot is flat on the ground, the thigh turns in and you can enhance this by trying to 'screw' the heel outwards and toes inwards.  You should feel activation again up the back of the leg and inner thigh, also helping turn the thigh in.  
  7. In standing postures with one leg forward and one leg backward you can generally try to 'stretch the floor with your feet'.  This means press front foot forwards and back foot backwards.  There are other options at times but we can stick to this for now.  You should feel the front of the front thigh activates and the back of the back thigh and butt activates.  
  8. The combined screwing of the feet and stretching of the mat with the feet will help activate front and back of both hips.  With this activation, you should find lightness in the spine so that it can 'billow around'.
  9. In sitting forward bend (pascimottanasana) we tried moving heels towards sit bones and pushing sit bones towards heels, which helped to create action in the legs and lift in the spine.
  10. In gomukhasana we tried pressing the knees together.  

The video on this blog is me, having returned home, putting some of those actions together.  Yes, there is my niece's rocking horse peeking in from the side. And Humpty Dumpty and Ragedy Doll too.

Next week we continue our work on the lower limbs, with particular attention to actions to relieve tight hips flexors, bending forward, and some more focus on forward bending.

I highly recommend online courses from Yoga Synergy and classes with Paddy McGrath and Simon and Biance (Yoga Synergy).  You can link to their online courses on my home page.

Hope to see some of you next week again!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Actions of Yoga: Week 1 Preview (Ankles, knees, hips)

Because I am cultivating actions in ankles, knees, and hips, I can take my hand away from the floor in this posture without a worry!  Can you?

Tomorrow we will be looking at basic movements around the ankles, knees, and hips and what cues we can apply to cultivate action around the joints.

Cultivating actions around the joints helps create stability.

When applied well, it helps blood flow and circulation through the body--the lower body in particular.

When applied well, your standing postures will feel lighter.

When applied well, you will experience a sensation of lifting rather than sinking.

When applied well, your spine will feel free.

Knowing how to apply these actions and, significantly, how to apply them 'well' will enhance your entire practice.

All too often I have seen people over stretching and/or over tensing, leading to a practice that looks heavy, is collapsing, and can, over time, lead to strain.

Take a look at the photo of me in parsvakonasana, above.  It is a pose where I commonly see people collapse into their hip joint in an effort to reach the floor.  Often, they switch off key muscles and try and sink deeper into their front hip so that hand can go down. One way I can tell when this collapse has occurred is by asking them to take their lower hand away from the floor (or thigh, if that is where it is).  I then watch the effort that is required for them to do so.

There should be no effort.  Whether hands are down or free floating, the legs should be working the same.  If you cannot lift your hand from the thigh or floor, or you suddenly feel things 'switching on', then, from my view, you were not really in the pose.  You had collapsed.

While I am in a posture that appears unmoving, I am 'doing' a lot.  I am 'doing' specific actions in my feet.  What I am 'doing' with my feet creates action in my knees and hips.

Of course, I have positioned my feet correctly in order 'to do' most effectively.  So we will be focusing on positioning as well.  But it is what happens after we position that is just as critical.

We will learn that position is not enough.  It is action once in position that will lead to a safer, more stable practice, and which can enhance the flow of energy effectively and efficiently for greater ease of movement.

Here, I have put 'doing' in inverted commas because it does not look like I am 'doing anything (except to a trained eye).  This is the 'hidden' yoga.  The more you practice, the more you realise it is the internal stuff that makes the most difference.

Through the weeks I also hope that I can help us find the balance between 'doing' and 'being' in practice.

If you want to avoid collapsing, avoid over stressing your joints, improve blood flow and mobility in a way that is safe and effective, then come along!