Misunderstood Yoga Postures

Until I took my 200 hr teacher training, I believed that the Upward Facing Dog was really called “Chaturanga Upward Facing Dog.”  I had always thought that the push up portion was just the (typically rushed) transition from Plank to Up Dog.  In that training, I learned I also wasn’t alone in that belief.

There are other postures that I didn’t truly like because I didn’t really understand them.  This isn’t a reflection the various yoga teachers, it is more a statement on how I floated from class to class and never really stayed with a teacher consistently.  Without them knowing me and knowing where I was in my practice, it was difficult for them to queue me through a set at the level of detail and assistance I needed.  I understand this challenge first hand as both a martial arts instructor and yoga teacher.

The burden of exploration then falls to the student to deepen their own practice.  I believe this is a good thing, but it is something that needs to be done carefully.  In reviewing my own practice, I’ve come up with a list of postures that, like Chaturanga Up Dog, I learned much more about through my own exploration.  Here are my four most avoided turned favorite postures.

Chaturanga

By Kennguru (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Kennguru (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Why it’s good

  • Strengthens legs, abs, arms, wrists, shoulders.
  • Improves concentration and focus.
  • Stimulates circulation and digestion.
  • Energizes the whole body
  • Done properly, my students leave both loving and hating me.

When to avoid or modify it

  • If you have weak wrists.
  • If you have high blood pressure.
  • If you have other joint issues.

Things to pay attention to

  • Keeping the abs engaged.
  • Good form is everything.
  • Pay special to any pain in the wrists, back and shoulders.

Camel

By lululemon athletica (Flickr: Yoga Journal Conference) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By lululemon athletica (Flickr: Yoga Journal Conference) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Why it’s good

  • Strengthens and stretches the abs and legs.
  • Increases flexibility of the spine.
  • Increases capacity of the lungs
  • Stimulates circulatory system and lungs

When to avoid or modify it

  • If you have knee, shoulder, neck or back issues.
  • If you have weak shoulders, neck or back.
  • If it hurts your knees.

Things to pay attention to

  • Keeping the back elongated and not collapsing it as you move into and out of the posture.
  • Keep the abs engaged the WHOLE time to protect the spine.
  • Don’t rush into/out of this posture.

Pigeon

By Kennguru (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Kennguru (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Why it’s good

  • Strengthens legs, abs, hips and back.
  • Stretches the legs and hips.
  • Relieves stress and induces relaxation.

When to avoid or modify it

  • Recent knee, hip or back surgery.
  • Knee, hip or back injury.
  • Very tight hips and knees.

Things to pay attention to

  • Protect the knees, ankles and hips.
  • Use props, especially to start or when not warmed up enough.

 

Bow

By Joseph RENGER (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Joseph RENGER (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Why it’s good

  • Strengthens and stretches the complimentary muscles compared to Camel; working against gravity here instead of with.
  • Energizes the mind and relieves stress.
  • Helps relieve constipation (one of the 9 Side Effects of Yoga).

When to avoid or modify it

  • Weak or injured back, legs, shoulders or abs.
  • Pain in the knees or other joints

Things to pay attention to

  • Don’t just use your arms to pull you up.  The arms are actually the anchors and the legs should be doing the work, not the other way around.
  • Listen to your joints and back off if you have pain, especially in the lower back, shoulders and hips.
  • Don’t forget to breathe.  I see lots of students hold their breath during this posture.

If you have any you would like to share, or suggestions for other postures to be explored here, feel free to leave them in the comments section on this page.

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The 9 Side Effects of Yoga No One Tells You About

Getting fit has side effects.  You feel better, think clearer, look better.  But what about the hidden gems no one talks about?  Running, yoga, martial arts all have knock on effects.  But what are they and will they happen to you?

I read a post on MindBodyGreen (http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5081/Constipation-Nation-What-You-Need-to-Know-About-Pooping.html) and I laughed and I cringed.  But it got me thinking and inspired this post.

The things no one tells you about until it’s too late.

1.      As the post that inspired this shows, pooping better and more often.

I’ve read at least four articles lately that defined constipation as being pooping less than once every three days.  I can’t imagine that.  There is no reason that we should be holding onto what our bodies don’t need that long.  My garbage pick-up is twice a week, but that means that I am collecting trash either in my house or in a container outside for up to four days.  No way I want to hold onto something that long in my intestines.

2.      Your willingness to talk about poop increases (no, I still haven’t figured out why).

My first experience with this was through running.  If I’m running with someone for three plus hours, I do eventually start running low on things to talk about.  Bodily functions of all sorts come up.  I did a three and a half hour run with five women once.  Let me just say, I’m scarred; and I know more about the female reproductive and birth experience than anyone outside of an OBGYN ever should.

3.      Your favorite indulgence foods become distasteful.

This one took me by surprise the first (few) times it happened.  You can fight like I did, or just go with it.  This is actually two changes.  First, you are becoming aware of your body and what it’s trying to tell you.  Second, your body is telling you to stop eating garbage.

4.      You walk by healthy foods you would never have considered before and think YUM!

See number three above.  The strangest cravings overtake you at the oddest times.  My advice is just roll with it.

5.      You start thinking differently.

This is a little trickier than the food.  Little thoughts sneak into your head.  Being helpful at times you might have ignored, news stories having a different impact or even encounters with friends, family or coworkers start feeling differently.  Self-awareness feels weird at first, but it’s worth it.

6.      You laugh more.

I like this one because of an opinion I’ve made over the years.  People who are truly enlightened (for lack of a better word) are funny.  They have a good sense of humor.  The Dalai Lama is my favorite example.  He’s funny.  He cracks jokes.  He’s one of the people I look up to.  People who pretend to be more than they are, have no sense of humor.  They have too much to fear.

7.      You make new friends.

You start making friends that are way outside your normal circles.  Not only do they become your friends, you find that you make a deeper connection with these people.

8.      Your old friends think you are crazy.

Not to say you’ll lose these old friends, but some of them will think you’re out of your mind.  Some will be jealous.  Most of them will secretly (or overtly) think you’re courageous and marvel at how you do it.

9.      You like the new you.

My favorite thing to say to my wife when any of the above show up in my life; “I have become the people I used to make fun of.”  And that is true, I have.  It’s also true that I like me more now than I did then.  I’m happier, I have less stress and more tools to deal with life and the stuff it throws at me.

I mention these things not to scare anyone off, but to forewarn you.  Getting into any sort of physical regimen will do you a world of good.  Some changes may not be expected.  Hang on and enjoy the ride.

Image courtesy of blogs.wickedlocal.com.

Image courtesy of blogs.wickedlocal.com.

Yoga Postures – Why Modifying Isn’t Cheating

Some postures come easy, some feel almost impossible.  We all must live within our bodies and their inherent limits.  Sure we can do things to improve skill and coordination, we can train to get stronger and build endurance and we can stretch to become more flexible.

cartoonbigguyyoga

 

One thing I haven’t found an exercise to help me with; lengthening my arms.  I am a fully grown man.  The likelihood of my arms getting any longer is pretty slim.  Why is that important?  I have T-Rex arms.  In proportion to the length of my body, my arms are short.

 

This gives me a few challenges both on the mat and off.  Off the mat, dress shirts; if I get one that fits my arms, it’s too short to tuck in properly.  If I get one to fit my body, the cuffs end at about my fingertips.

 

On the mat it means that certain postures are impossible without a little help.  To demonstrate, sit with your legs extended in front of you.  Lengthen your spine by reaching the crown of your head up.  Next place your arms alongside your body.  Notice what part of your hand touches the ground next to your hip.  Are your arms straight or a little bent?  Most people will have their palms flat on the ground and a little bend at the elbows.  Me, I have my arms completely straight and my palms are about a quarter inch above the ground.

 

With that in mind, let’s look at a posture such as the low lunge.  Because of the ratio of my arm to body length, I have a great deal of difficulty with this posture.  I am unable to fully touch the ground when I in the proper alignment and I end up resting my weight on my front leg.  As a result, my breathing is greatly restricted and it is difficult to engage my core for stability.  So how do I deal with that?

 

I modify and I use props.  By placing a block on either side of my front leg, I get the extra length in my arms to support myself and keep a proper alignment moving into, out of and sustaining this posture.  As a result this posture has moved from one that I either collapsed into or cheated through to one that is challenging and engaging.

yoga_props3

In addition to postures that would otherwise not be physically possible, props and posture modifications are great ways to build strength in new areas, or rebuild after an injury.  Being self-aware and knowing your own limits, as well as your strengths, is one of the goals of yoga.  Putting props and modifications into use during your practice allows you to challenge yourself with new postures.

 

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be dissecting a number of postures to highlight some of my favorite modifications and props.  The first one I’ll tackle; Chatarunga.

A New Year, Perhaps a New Choice

I have found that there are certain things, poems, sayings, friends, whatever that stick with me and keep me on right track for who and how I want to be.  With the new year kicking off, and the habit of New Year’s Resolutions is in high gear, I wanted to share one of those things that’s made such an impact that I keep it around to remind me that it is my choices that determine my actions, my actions that determine my habits and my habits that show the world who I am.noncompete

 

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

I first read this as a freshman in high school.  At the time I blew it off completely and missed the point entirely; I wasn’t always so good at symbolism.  I didn’t realize it then, but this stuck with me and has surfaced in some of the strangest places at some of the strangest times.  And to date, it hasn’t failed in reminding me to take the risk, the road less traveled.  And to date, it has always been good for me.

Image courtesy of www.naturerocks.org.

Image courtesy of http://www.naturerocks.org.

 

As you move into this new year, I encourage you to look back at what has been successful, safe and a total wreck.  Then look at what your goals are and how you want to live in your life.  If you have the opportunity to step off the same, safe path, even for a few steps in your life, I hope you take advantage of it.

 

May this new year bring you the best of luck, life and the most interesting challenges.  Look for more about yoga and life from a guy’s point of view.  And don’t forget to breathe.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.