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:

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:

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!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Chair yoga for Gran, Number 1

Gran, this is for you!

Here, I show some basic shoulder, elbow, and wrist/finger movements to help move blood through your body to warm you up and improve mobility.  There are some moves that will help your brain get co-ordinated too!

Position yourself carefully with ankles under knees.  Sit towards the middle or edge of your chair.

Move slowly.  Nothing should hurt.  Do less than me if you need.  Breathe naturally.  Relax your face.  Be calm.  Enjoy moving.

At the end just close your eyes and see if you can feel that your shoulders are warmer, your upper back is warmer, maybe even your finger tips are warmer.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Actions of Yoga: Technical Classes

Good posture is more than positioning yourself correctly.  To get better movement you need to understand the actions you are trying to create in and between postures.  

This series of outdoor classes will delve into technical aspects of what movement or action you can create throughout your practice for greater stability, mobility, and ease.  

You will get stronger with less effort.  You will move deeper without strain.  

Come to one or come to all.  

Each week will begin with discussion and practice of techniques and actions around the focus joints, followed by a yoga sequence where the actions are applied. 

Taught in a friendly, relaxed environment where enjoyment of movement is always the most important thing.  Suitable for anyone who wants to explore moving.   

Week 1 & 2: Movements around ankles, knees, and hips
In these classes we will learn how to activate the feet so that you get generate activity in the hips.  We will learn how to use the feet in a variety of postures, both standing and seated.  We will learn how to keep our knees safe by creating activity around the knee joint.  We will learn basic actions at the hip joints for poses where a leg is in froth of the body and when the the leg is behind the body.  You will feel how these movements can help turn on tummy muscles.  You will learn how some commonly instructed movements can cause squashing around the spine whereas a minor adjustment in action can bring freedom.  

This class is especially good for those with ankle and knee problems as it will help you create stability around those joints.  Learning how to create specific actions around the hips will help you find greater movement in a way that is safe.

If you have trouble balancing either on one leg or in tricky poses like parvritta trikonasana or parsvottanasana this is a great class for you.  If you have trouble standing from a lunge you will find better stability through key activations.  This class will help you to create a solid foundation in the lower body so your spine can move freely 

Week 3 & 4: Movements around wrists, elbows, and shoulders
If you do not use your hands well, you will experience sinking into the wrists.  Meanwhile, the armpits are generally neglected in many yoga practitioners.   This can inadvertently cause back pain, neck pain, and instability.  

These classes are great for those who want to free up their shoulders, neck, and upper back.  They will cue you into some of the 'hidden' work that goes on in arm balancing postures like downward dog, bakasana, and plank.  

Week 5: Creating a tummy that is firm but calm
This is such a big one.  Learning how to activate tummy muscles in a way that you still feel at ease and able to breathe without tension is tricky.  But it is the key to a practice that is firm but calm.  Many people are not aware that you can firm your belly in different ways and that 'pulling your navel to your spine' is a confusing instruction that can be performed in a way that can inhibit your breathing and cause tension or in a way that can enhance your internal power and help you feel relaxed.  If this is you then come and explore.  This is a key instruction that leads to a stronger practice with greater ease.

Week 6 & 7: Active spinal movements
Actually, the spine is the most important thing to get moving.  It's position here is not to suggest it is least important!  Quite the opposite.  Here, we will learn about to create active movements of the spine for greater freedom.  Importantly, we will differentiate between hip flexion and spinal forward flexion.  Over-reliance on hip flexion can make your practice weak and your lower back tense.  We will look at side bending, forward bending, backward bending, twisting in detail.  

Week 8: Putting it all together
As it says, we will put all our activations together in a flowing sequence that relies on visual instruction rather than talking.  

Classes are on the grass beside the National Library in a patch of shade.  $15 per class or $100 for all if paid upfront.  I recommend a towel rather than a mat if you want to use anything at all.