Friday, 26 February 2016

Key actions for a great plank to down dog

This shape of spine is key throughout the sequence

Here I give you some key instructions that can support a beautiful transition from kneeling plank to down dog to bakasana.

Watch the video first.  You can see the a side view and the front view in the same video.  I have sped this video up so this whole sequence actually took 2 minutes in real life.  I am really trying to emphasis some good slow mindful movement. 

The instructions below should help firm the tummy and armpits while giving a sense of length in the spine (neither stretching nor tightening).  

The key instructions here are to push front of groins to armpits and armpits to front of groins.  Then, if you can add something else, press your hands forward and your knees back.  You should start with feeling relaxed in your tummy.  You should be able to breathe naturally into your belly throughout although it will become firm through the instructions (but not by sucking it in). 

Kneeling plank
 In this kneeling plank make sure knees are behind hips, shoulders over wrists.

Sitting bones move down towards backs of knees, front of pelvis lifts to the lower back to lengthen the lower back.

Lift lower ribs towards the back of chest to lengthen around the middle and upper back.

Press front of groins towards the armpits and armpits towards the front of groins without moving the body forward.  This should bring a postural firmness to your tummy.

If you can manage, press hands forward and knees back while you maintain groins and armpits moving towards one another.

Half child pose
Quite honestly I did not know what to call this position.  It is halfway between kneeling plank and balasna (child's pose).

I move very slowly back into this position.  I am not trying to get my bottom onto my heels.  I am thinking about maintaining the key actions I established in the previous position.  As I move back my challenge is to keep feeling as though I am moving my groins forwards.

See the spine stays the same shape.

Partial lift
Here I focus on keeping the groin-armpit connection then go back again to pressing hands forward but toes and heels backwards.  This combined effort causes my knees to become light.  They start to lift of their own accord.

Downward dog
I keep with those four actions:
  • armpits to groins
  • groins to armpits
  • hands pressing forward
  • feet pressing backward

Walk forward
Maintaining those actions (you might need to let up on pushing feet back because they start to be less on the ground), bend your knees and walk your feet forward.  I tip-toe forwards trying to stay as light on my feet as possible. 

If I keep pressing armpits to groins and vice versa, press hands forwards, lift knees up to chest, rest them lightly on the back of my arms, press elbows back and towards one another and just keep breathing and leaning forward then you might find yourself floating.  Maybe you stay on tip toes.  Wherever you are be happy wherever that is.  Keep working on being where you are and staying for a little bit longer until you feel comfortable moving to the next stage.  

Remember, nothing should hurt.  If you have not developed the correct strength and actions around the wrists then you need to work on clawing with your fingertips and pressing the wrists into one another and just have less weight on the wrists until you are ready to shift more weight there.

Have fun.

Remember, these videos are primarily intended for my own students so I can give adjustments and comments and personal feedback.  It is always best to go to an actual teacher rather than learn off the internet.

Oh, and don't forget about my retreat in Sri Lanka this April 2016.  Come along if you can!

Much metta,

Saturday, 13 February 2016

A Big Little Hip Sequence That Looks Easy But Is Very Challenging

Wow, what a title.  I must try and make it live up to its name.

Here I share with you a short sequence we are practicing at the moment in class.  It involves two basic postures although you transition through other positions to get there.

Most people will experience some sensation around their outer hip (outer or side butt area), which will be working and lengthening at the same time.  That can help you get stronger and more agile.

The standing leg is working strongly very deeply on the inside and outside of the thigh to help keep the pelvis stable as well.  This type of stability is essential for standing postures and especially one legged standing postures.

Remember, there is lots of goodness to be had here.  Just don't overdo it.

I will sequence the postures, layering additional movements.  Try not to 'lose' what you cultivated in a previous action by striving too hard to get to the next.  Do not be attached to a particular outcome. Be content wherever you happen to be.  Enjoy, sense, and experience.

I have sped up the video below but you can play it at half speed to get the sense of the very slow movement I am doing.  It took 2 minutes for me to cycle through these two postures in real time while this video takes about 54 seconds.

Below are step by step instructions.  Two key things I am focusing on throughout (they are not the only things you could focus on) are: 1) rolling front thigh out and back thigh in; 2) lengthening the back of the spine (doing a little back bend in my middle upper back) while keeping lower ribs hugged in.  This is not about a straight front leg.  If that straightens then so be it.  It is not about getting the back leg raised as high as you can either.  If it comes up then so be it.  Pay more attention to the two key things I just listed.

Standing to folding forward
Basics throughout include trying to unsquash front of groin and lengthen lower back.  Also, to roll the front thigh out (back thigh in).  To support these two ideas start in standing.  Sitting bones to heels, top of pelvis back (opens groins and lengthens lower back).  Roll both thighs out (you can start with big toes touching, heels apart and try to squash heels together if you like).

As you fold forward try to keep those actions.  It is not important that the legs straighten.  Push your front of groins forward as you lower.

 Stepping back, lengthening, rotating
Step a foot back.  As you step back be sure you do not drop or sink into the standing leg.  Try to feel you are pressing your outer hips towards one another.  The standing leg tends to swing out to the side so try your best to avoid that. The standing leg also tends to roll in.  That means your knee tends to drop towards the big toe side of your foot.  Roll the thigh out so it is pointing more to the baby toe side of your foot.  Firm your inner thigh.

 Straighten the back leg and roll the thigh in.  Lengthen in the middle back (try to do a backbend there) while keeping the lower ribs in.

Press your front of groins forward and lean forward.

If your back foot is feeling light, if your front hip feels strong and stable, then perhaps raise the straight back leg.  It is not important how high it comes.  It is not even important that it comes off the ground.  Just keep it straight and rolled in wherever it is.

From there, maybe you turn your navel, ribs, and chest.  Possibly take the arm up.  You could put that top arm on your hip.  The top arm is in a flat plane level with your upper back.

Two feet on the ground, lengthen, rotate
You basically repeat those same steps but this time with both legs on the ground, back heel grounded.  Some people will be able to reach the ground with their hands and front leg straight.  However, in this variation the front leg does not need to straighten, nor do you need to touch the ground.  For many people this will not be possible unless they compromise some other part of the posture.

Here I step back, raising my body and bringing hands to thighs.  You might raise higher.  See my front knee is bent.  I have my back leg a little bent here too until I sort my hips out.

Front thigh is rolling out, back thigh is rolling in.
 I keep my ribs into my spine but try a little back arch in my middle back to lengthen the spine.  It is not an arched spine but a lengthened one.  In fact, I am sort of doing a forward bending manoeuvre in my lower torso (a sit up in my tummy) while I try to do a little lengthening in the middle part. The net effect is a softening lengthened feeling of the back body.  I stretch the mat with my feet and straighten the back leg (I have somehow kept my own a little bent here).

I stay or turn.  In the video you see I turn first and then put the arms in place.  That is important.  I turn with my spine NOT by yanking myself into position with my hands.

I possibly take my hands lower, without losing any preceding actions.
From there I maybe straighten the leg.  
And finally, I possibly take that hand over to the inside of my foot.  

I am calm and happy.  My neck is in a comfortable position throughout.

The end
This is not the only way to come into these postures.  It is one way.  You should feel challenged while doing this without strain.  If there is strain then do something else.  Remember, it is best to work with an experienced teacher rather than learn from the internet.  We all have out little niggles and differences.  Also, learning about movement is something best done with a living person in front of you.

Hey!  If you are free in April 2016 and able to join me then come to my Sri Lanka yoga retreat!  I would love to see you there.