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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