Monday, 31 August 2015

Learning Energy Moving From Masters

Last weekend I spent the weekend learning from a master's master.

Master Yang is an energy moving expert.  You can find out more about Master Yang and his schedule at  Everyone should learn from this beautiful human.

Here is a video of how he uses his energy moving system that leaves your cells singing!

Master's master was a man who could use his energy to do handstands with one finger.  I found this video of such an amazing feat.

All of this amazing-ness lead me to a lazy trawl of youtube where I found this interesting documentary on the Shaolin.  At around the 13 minute mark you see some active yoga postures, including a monk who moves his legs behind his head without using his hands.  Pretty amazing.

Dedication and focus!

I just popped these videos up as beautiful examples of how masterful teachers practice!

Much metta,

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Better Backbends (Make Them Active Like Hanging On A Trapeze)

By better I mean backbends that will strengthen and mobilise the spine without squashing.  If you feel squashing in any part you are in some other pose and not in the one I am feeling for.

I was inspired to write this post because I started circus classes recently.  Just to try something different.

Me practicing some a
ctive movement on the trapeze
One of the first things they were teaching me was to hang upside down and do a backbend.  To me it was like a version of ustrasana or dhanurasana with my legs hooked around the bar.

It looked a bit like this.

Circus is a lot about performance and so my hands should probably look more elegant, but those who know me will appreciate I am more functional than glamour.  

Turn the trapeze pose sideways and it would look a little like
this active variation of dhanurasana 
But you can see how if I had my tummy on the ground that pose on the trapeze would look a little like this one.
This is active spinal extension.  I am lengthening without squashing.  My butt and hamstrings are very active as well.  To hang onto that trapeze I need good hamstring activation or I will fall off and that would not be a good look (even if I am about function over looks I don't want to face plant!). 

A good yoga practice should include a lot of active movement so you strengthen rather than pull yourself passively into postures.  

When I teach dhanurasana I teach it using active movements that will help you strengthen your entire back body in a way that lengthens rather than squashes.  Watch the video below that will show the active movements where I hold position without my hands and then read the step by step instructions.  

As always, this is intended to help students that practice with me.  It is better to learn from an actual teacher who is beside you rather than the internet.  Do not strain or do anything that hurts.  Move slowly.  

One of the great things about doing this sequence actively is that you still have something to work on if you cannot reach your ankle as it is not essential to hold the leg at all. 

Video Sequence
The sequence below is what I tend to teach towards the end of our practice.  

When practiced without squashing you should not feel the desperate 'need' to do a counterpose in any yoga posture.  

If you have squashed or over-tensed it is definitely beneficial to try active spinal flexion (firm the tummy so you can still breathe in it).  

I show a transition to down dog at the end and then down dog.  I am firming my tummy in those postures and lengthening the back of my spine. 

Step-by-step instructions
I have deconstructed the video sequence below. 

Draw heel to bottom
I start lying down comfortably.  I get a feeling I am doing a sit up in my tummy.  I draw a heel to my bottom.  I am breathing naturally.

Lengthen arm forward and upwards from armpit
Maintaining previous actions I reach forward as far as I can as I come up.  

Reach arm back towards foot
I take the arm towards the back foot.  I can stay here.  I do not need to take the ankle.  

The photo shows clearly that my hand is beside my foot.  That is a good clue that I have enough spinal extension and sufficient strength in my hamstrings to move to the next stage. 

If you cannot have your hand close to your foot then you just skip the next step and do the rest of the sequence without holding your ankle. 

Hold ankle, pressing shin into hand
I will say it again.  If you cannot hold actively in the posture then do not take the foot.  Just stay in the previous posture (where you will be working quite hard).

When two body parts touch I use an action of them pressing into one another.  Here that means once I have the ankle I push the shin into the hand (as though trying to straighten the leg) as I try to bend my elbow.  

I am not trying to passively pull my foot closer to my bottom.  

If there is any strain in the knee at all then let go and do the previous posture. 

Reach forward and upward opposite arm
I reach forward with the opposite arm then up.  At the same time I reach back with the opposite foot and lift.  

For those that can handle a more subtle cue, I try to reach out through that back foot while at the same time feel as though I am drawing the front of that thigh towards my front ribs.  

I am also doing a sit up in my tummy in a way that I can still breathe. 

Out, up and away!
I continue with all previous actions, moving out, up, and away.  Importantly, I try to distribute the curve through my spine so that it is not concentrated around the lower back. 

I work on trying to do a sit up in my tummy.

Release and hold position
Stay in the same position but just real ease your back foot.  

You should not 'spring out' too much.  One of the anatomical purposes of this posture is to be able to hold the position without using your hands!

Do the other side.

Both heels to bottom
You can guess what is coming next!  That's right.  Both legs!

Start by bringing both heels to bottom. 

Both arms reach out and up
Reach out and up through the arms.  The chest needs to lengthen forward and up. 

Both arms reach back
Then reach the hands back towards the shins/ankles.

Hold ankles
You only hold the feet if you can reach there without strain.  Also, I recommend that you know you are ready to reach the feet when you can take them simultaneously rather than having to grab at them.  In class I joke that this you should try not to waddle around like an elephant seal to fiddle your way into the posture.

Press shins into hands
I press shins into hands as though trying to straighten the legs while trying to bend my elbows.

I have my shoulders rolling out.  

Lift feet
I press my feet upwards. 

Lengthen through chest
I try to distribute the curve evenly through my spine, lengthening through the upper back area.  

I am doing a sit-up in my tummy in a way that I can still breathe there. 

Release and hold position
Then try to hold the same position but let your hands go!  Try not to spring away!

Hands beside waist
Take your hands back towards your waist.  Elbows press back and squeeze together.  Sit up in my tummy.  

Press hands down and forward, elbows together and back and come up.   A sit up in my tummy.  Trying to drag my knees forward as though trying to bend my hips.  Allow your pelvis to come away from the floor so there is no squashing. 

Knees to chest
Sit back to your heels then lift your knees into your chest, trying to hug them in as close as possible.  

Down dog
Press the heels back, keep the sit up in your tummy, and come into downward facing dog. 

Once you have all of this in place, you can start to work on more shoulder mobility to come into the fuller dhanurasana but that requires tremendous and careful practice for a long time for most people. 

My yoga teacher has amazing spinal mobility and this type of posture would have her head touching her feet or having her legs straight up to the sky while she hold onto her ankles.  I am still a novice and quite stiff and weak comparatively.  But we all work to our own bodies and best not to compare yourself.  That is why I suggest trying the active version with no need to even hold the ankle at all!

Have fun.  Move slowly.  Tense less.  Stretch less.  Think less.  Breathe less.  

This is the type of practice I encourage in my outdoor classes in Canberra and retreats in Sri Lanka.  Come along if you like!

Happy and safe practicing.  

Much metta!

Friday, 14 August 2015

Best Ever Shoulder Stabilising and Positioning

Well, that is a pretty bold claim I know.  If it is not the best ever it is certainly one of the best I have found that you can practice within a yoga sequence.

This is a little sequence we are practicing in my Canberra outdoor yoga classes.  

It is something new that I inserted in the past few weeks and it has certainly vamped up some people's practice.  

The final pose is not new itself--we have always been practicing some version of pincha mayurasana or horn stand. 

What is new is the way we come into it. 

I am mindful of not always coming into postures the same way.  

This helps me feel things differently and also to keep me learning.  I like to think it helps prevent bad habits from keeping into my practice as well.

Inserting this into my classes has helped to shake up the practice of a lot of students, in a good way!  

It helps you understand a little bit more about the strength, mobility, and stability around the shoulder joint complex.

It is also another nice way to come into downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana) that keeps your spine light and free and I feel it is worth practicing just the transition from balasana to down dog just for that spinal freedom. 

As always, this post is intended for my students.  I believe it is best to learn from a physical teacher not a virtual one through the internet.   I will be teaching these little spinal freeing techniques and some foundational shoulder mobilising and stabilising techniques in my upcoming yoga retreat in Sri Lanka as well.  

Watch the video then check out the step by step sequencing.  Do not do anything that hurts.  Move slowly.  Stretch less, tense less, and see if you can breathe and think less as well.  Be comfortable and feel like you are doing something but without strain. 

Video sequence

The video shows the transition from balasana, then to downward dog. From there I bend my elbows simultaneously to come down onto my forearms.  Then I straighten them simultaneously to come back to downward dog, pull my knees into my chest, and lower my butt back to my heels.

That is a nice little sequence itself and we do it naturally in our practice at a few points and you could try it, for example, within a suriya namaskar if you want to insert it into your own home practice. 

If you are up to that level, you can see I start again but get to my forearms and come into the forearm balance, pincha mayurasana.  That is pretty tough and I do not practice with a wall.  

Below I deconstruct the sequence.

I start in balasana on the balls of my feet.  

I reach my arms as far forward as they will go.  I creep my fingers forward on finger tips first like a spider scurrying away.  Then I put my hands down flat. 

I do not try to get my chest on my thighs.  

In fact, you can see I have a little space between my chest and thighs.  My whole spine feels like it is lengthening.  I am not trying to arch it or straighten it.  Just to reach my arms away and lengthen it as much as possible. 

Knees to chest

I push my hands down and forwards and then lift my knees into my chest as much as I can.

Your tummy will work.  I try not to have forward movement around the shoulder joint complex.

Down dog

I continue my journey to down dog by trying to push my heels down from the previous position.  If you watch the video you can see it is more like my legs unravel beneath my hips.

There is no levering around the shoulders or pressing of the spine at all.  It is what I call a 'secret movement'.  The legs do the moving without disturbing the spine or shoulders.

Lower to forearms
This is much harder than it looks!  Try to lower the elbows at the same time.

Perhaps try to bend the elbows slightly first.  Then try to hug the elbows together as you lower.  Allow your knees to bend if needed and the heels to lift if they lift.

Again, this is trying to be a secret movement so the spine is not disturbed.

Back up again

Aiyo! as my friends in Sri Lanka might say.  This is really tricky again.

Try to get back up to down dog by pushing down and forward through the hands.  Try to get the elbows up at the same time (not one at at time).

If it is too much then bring your knees down and come back up through balasana.

Back down for a rest

You can pull your knees back into your chest on your way back down to balasana. 

Back up if you want!
Head back up to down dog and then back onto forearms if you want.

From there you can walk the feet in a little.  Again, a secret movement so the spine and shoulders are not disturbed. I am looking towards my navel.  This helps keep tummy engaged.

Working your way up
Make sure you build your stability in the preceding poses before trying this next one.  The most common mistake I see in class is people trying to bring their knee to chest while collapsing into one of their shoulders.  

Move slowly if you are going to try this and sense that you are not twisting your spine or dropping into one shoulder more than the other.  If you are doing this then you are not ready to bring knee to chest and you need to keep practicing the preceding poses.

Again, bringing knee to chest is a secret movement that does not disturb your spine or shoulders.  Remember also that this pose, the way I practice, should be spine releasing and neck releasing.  

If your neck and top of shoulders are feeling tense then you are in some other pose and I recommend you get out and go back to basics!

If all is going well you might try to tap or kick up into pincha mayurasana.  It is pretty tricky.  I keep saying that don't I? 

I am trying to practice pincha in a true neck releasing style by looking more towards my navel when I am up rather than looking forward.  I press strongly down and forwards through elbows and wrists to help generate lift.  I push up through the balls of my feet.  I feel light and my spine is lengthening not squashing.  I sort of feel a bit like when I was a kid and my uncles used to pick my up by my feet and hang me upside down (playfully as a game!).  

As always, happy and safe practicing.  There should not be strain or tension.  The shoulders and neck should feel great.  If they don't you are in some other pose and make sure you seek advice from your teacher.

We will take a look at these movements in more detail in my classes in Canberra and Sri Lanka and workshop them at the retreat in Sri Lanka in October.

Much metta,

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Ankle Stability For Better Balance

Ankles together heels apart

Trouble with balance?  Could it be you need to develop more ankle stability? 

The opening sequence I teach is great for improving ankle stability, something most people find a challenge.

In the video below I show a deceptively simple looking heel raising/lowering combined with knee bending/straightening sequence.

When I practice these I am also doing spinal movement along with shoulder and wrist movement.  But, for the sake of 'zeroing in' on what is going on around the feet I just videoed my feet.  

At the end of this post I have posted a link to show what the rest of the body could be doing. 

In the video below there are a few key actions I focus on.  One of the main ones is to lift my outer feet towards my outer ankles.  An instruction you could think of is to keep your ankles together but heels apart. 

I maintain this as I raise the heels.

I also grip with my toes as I raise the heels.

Lastly, I try to be firm behind my knees as I bend and straighten the knees.

This is much harder than it looks, primarily because most people are weak in lifting their outer feet towards their outer ankles and their heels tend to come together as shown below.

Here the heels come together--this is what I try to avoid.
In the video above I showed some variations where you can (1) raise heels, bend knees, straighten knees; (2) raise heels, bend knees, lower heels, straighten knees; (3) bend knees, raise heels, straighten knees, lower heels.

I did all of these while trying to maintain ankles together and heels apart, as reinforced again in the picture below.

Key action of ankles together, heels apart.
I learned these movements from Yoga Synergy teachers and physiotherapists Simon Borg Olivier and Bianca Machliss.  They are integral to the opening of the Yoga Synergy sequences and help you build ankle stability for the standing balances that are so common in the rest of the sequence. 

Here is a link to show these actions in the context of the opening sequence of whole body movements:
Note that in that video I did the same actions in the feet but just with feet apart as I alternate feet together and feet apart when I practice. 

Remember, these posts are intended for my students who come to class.  I do not advocate using from the internet as the main source of learning. 

Happy and safe practicing.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Baby Backbend Without Squashing Lower Back

I have never had a problem with urdhva dhanurasana.

But I have had lots of students who have or do have difficulty with it.  

One thing I always emphasise is the spine should not feel squashed at any part or at any point from ground to lift and down again.  

People can tend to squash in their lower backs. 

I have even had people tell me they thought it was supposed to squash their lower back.

I tell people they are practicing something else but not the pose I am trying to teach if they feel squashing.  

If you are in my class I want you to remember a few things when it comes to this part of the sequence.

Practice without squashing.

Don't be attached to the outcome.

Move slowly.

With this in mind, a part of not being attached to the outcome is realising you don't need to do anything at all if it does not feel right.  

You certainly don't need to come all the way up.

With this in mind, I made a  poster that shows what you could pay attention to if you decide not to push your hands into the floor.  There is still plenty you can do and, in fact, I do these things each time I come up into a fuller posture, as you can see in the video at the end (it's just that I only need to spend about a second getting there whereas some people will need more time).

Please bear in mind this post is intended primarily for my students who can experience what I am teaching in a class situation.  Learning this type of thing from the internet is not suitable. 

Read the poster from the right starting with what to do with the knees.

If you lie on your back and just press your feet into the floor you will feel your pelvis get light without necessarily lifting.  Then press your knees over your toes.  

The pelvis will lift and be carried towards the heels.  I am not trying to push my pelvis up here.  There are many styles that teach this and it is possible and there are benefits to that as well but it is not what I am doing here.  

I then reach my arms as far away from my pelvis as possible.  I try to basically get as long as I can through my body--pelvis moving one way and armpits the other.

Then I try to billow up my chest as though a gust of wind has blown through my feet and hits me in the middle of my upper back causing it to lift.  

This is where I like to get people to stop and think for a while.  Moving this part of the spine is really tough.  It is the stiff part of most people's spines.  

Many people cannot get movement in this part of their spine at all unless I provide a tactile cue (touching the area).  Often people shove their pelvis up and down and their chest moves as a consequence but there is little to no independent movement in the upper spine.  

What I am trying to do for myself when I practice this way is get some independent movement of the chest so that my spine does not move as one chunk.  

It is delightful just to try to raise and lower the chest here without moving the pelvis and just continue reaching the arms in one direction while moving the knees in the other.  

But you decide.  

Don't do anything that hurts or strains.  

Most people will need to do a lot of 'warming up' before they can do the full version of the pose but you can do this modified variation any time.  

Having said that, my teacher Paddy always taught me that they should feel so free you can do the full posture first thing in the morning when you get out of bed.  I do that myself every now and then.  I am not saying I don't feel a bit stiff in the morning but in my experience she is right, when you are able to move freely then this is possible.  Being able to move freely takes a lot of practice though and I still have stiff mornings!

Also, when you practice this way there should have been no squashing so no need to do something to unsquash your back afterwards.  

Below is a video of the full thing, taken on location in Sri Lanka at my last yoga retreat.  I will be heading there, by the way, for my next yoga retreat from 1-4 October 2015.  Get in touch if you'd like to join us!

This post is not intended to cover all of the aspects of back bending.  I wanted to emphasise a pose you can try on the floor without raising to the full posture that helps you lengthen.  There is, of course, much more you can do within that even (did I mention doing a sit up in your tummy?), but that is for class!

Happy and safe practicing.

Much metta,

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Sri Lanka Yoga Retreat 1-4 October 2015

I won't be teaching in Bali this year and have shifted my retreats to Sri Lanka!  The next one is 1-4 October at the beautiful Kahandamodara, also known as Back of Beyond (  

Learn active movement in the Yoga Synergy style in a safe, fun and beautiful environment from an experienced teacher.  

My talent is in deconstructing posture and movement to help you find freedom, stability, and joy in your yoga practice—on and off the mat.   I will combine clear instruction with hands-on-adjustment so that you can find yourself in challenging postures with less effort and greater ease. 

You will get expert instruction with two active classes a day, meditation, delicious food, and great company in the beautiful surrounds of Kahandamodara, about 2 hours from Colombo in Sri Lanka's deep south. 

Rates are $690 single, $570 double, or $525 triple per person, including yoga, food and accommodation.  (SL resident rates: Rs45k single, Rs35k double, Rs32k triple).

Contact Tilak for more details: or +94 773 912 100.