yogijen

Blog about my thoughts, feelings, interests and my life

Triangle Pose

True or False? There are three points and three sides of a triangle?

True.

Keep that in mind as you practice the triangle pose.

For me, as I practice yoga, I try to think about how many triangles my body can make as I hold this pose. Sometimes I focus on one triangle (both feet and hips), and other times I feel ready to take on more than one triangle from the two hands and back foot and so on.

Triangle Pose

First, let me explain that the Triangle pose (Utthita Trikonasana, pronounced oo-TEE-tah trik-cone-AHS-anna) is a standing, TWISTING pose which means one will engage the core area. Any twisting poses in yoga will require the use of your abdominals. Beginning from a Warrior II position, I straighten my front knee, pushing the front foot’s weight into the back hip. Both feet are still planted firmly into the ground, pressing through all four corners of each foot (Four corners being big toe, pinky toe, and back two corners of the heel).

Next I reach out through my front hand and arm to the wall in front of me as well as the back hand reaching back leaving an open chest. As I press off my front foot towards the back hip, I reach with my front hand whileI fold sideways toward the front leg. My arm continues to reach out while my feet are very strong and grounded. I land where the pose takes me…meaning my reaching hand (supporting or grounding hand) places itself in the most comfortable, free position. For me personally, my reach takes me to the floor (as shown in the pic above) or sometimes it takes me to my front shin. Do not force yourself to go beyond what your body tells you. You still want to keep proper, healthy alignment throughout your transitions and in the pose itself.

Not only are you moving into your feet and hips in this pose, but you will remember I mentioned this pose is a “twisting pose”. That is true. I want to build my pose from the ground up. Once I get good positioning and a strong stance for me, I can focus on the core (the “twisting”). To do this I simply want to twist my torso using my abdominals. I like to use my two lower ribs to help me open the twist more. In order to twist, I pull my belly button towards my lower spine as to protect my lower back. Keeping the belly pulled in, I take my bottom two ribs and twist open my waist so I can allow my shoulders to stack over one another. If my top shoulder wants to fall outward or inward from the pose, then I listen to my body and it tells me my supporting hand is too far down. If that is the case all I simply need to do is walk my hand up my front leg (shin area) until my shoulders become stacked one right over the other.

When building my pose from the ground up and I get to the section of the arms, I like to think of the wings of an airplane. When a jet or airplane is flying in the sky, the wings of the aircraft are side by side; one cannot move lower or higher than the other. They both are stationary. My arms should be the same. If my arms are not stacked or straight, the problem likes lies more in my forward fold and I have to walk my supporting hand up the leg until I know I am straight and strong in the arms.

Once I build the arms portion of my pose I am ready to continue building the pose upward from the ground. First it was feet, then hips, then waist, shoulders then arms. Next it is the neck and head. As my shoulders and arms align correctly I am ready to press the shoulder blades down my spine towards my hips and away from my ears keeping the spine very long. The crown of the head begins to reach out away from the shoulders.

Finally, breathe deep for 6-12 breathes. Inhaling and exhaling only through my nasal passage. Standing full in the triangle pose, I take the time to reach into all 3 corners of whichever triangle the mind leads me to. It could be what I call the “base” triangle of both my feet and the hips, or it could be my head, hips and front leg, or it could be a right triangle of both hands and my back leg. No matter which triangle I focus on, I want to generate power in those three points creating strength.

As I begin to be full into the pose I can then open my heart and let go of judgment, competition and expectation. Awww. Peace.

Note: As I practice and become ready, I can lift my torso weight from the supporting or grounding hand and simply balance using the power and strength in my base triangle found within my feet and hips.

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Pigeon Pose…Your Hips Don’t Lie

Hips.

Hips.

Hips.

So no one really likes to address their hips, but in yoga and even everyday life, hips need attention. The Pigeon Pose (sanskrit Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) is a perfect pose to help in opening and stretching the hips. As I have mentioned before, one of the reasons I love yoga and I love to practice yoga is it offers so many variations that build and strengthen the body, preparing you for the next level of your practice. 

If a big part of your day, whether it is at work or home, consists of sitting in a chair, then a pigeon pose is right for you. Sitting all day or night, does not allow your hips to stretch…even running or jogging is no help to the hips where stretching and gaining flexibility is concerned.  Your hips can become very tight, and this pose is an intense hip opener. You have to let the pose work, and do its job for you. Do not resist…resistance only creates stress, and in yoga we want to release stress, not create it.

Below are a few pigeon pose variations I like to offer in class, as well as practice them myself:

  1. Cradle the Baby while in Staff
  2. Cradle the Baby Supine
  3. Pigeon
  4. One Legged Pigeon
  5. Split
  6. Standing Half Lotus
  7. Swan (a little different than a Pigeon, but similar)

When practicing at first, your hips may actually feel uncomfortable. This is likely due to the tightness of the hip muscles, and the pigeon is an intense hip opener. All the more reason to practice; remember, yoga is practice.  I remember practicing this pose for the first time, and how I wanted to scream out during the class.  But if you can, pull yourself together and focus your breathe right into the tense hip area. While you sit in this pose for about 10-12 breathes, you will feel a big difference in your hip region.

The way I prefer to get into this pose is from a lunge or downward facing dog.

So from Downward Facing Dog, I lift my right leg into the air. Bend the knee and bring it towards the chest. Gently place the foot between the hands, like a lunge. Complete the stretch here before going to the next phase. Next, I slowly bend the left knee until it has lowered to the matt. Feel the stretch. When finished stretching, I place some of the weight to the left leg and both hands. Begin to walk the right foot towards the left hand and let the knee lay down on the mat. I know I can adjust the poses anytime during my practice. In pigeon, the idea (or goal) is to get the foreleg parallel to the front edge of your matt. If you are a new beginner to yoga, you might find this difficult. No problem if you do! I am still working towards this myself. Just simply adjust the front leg by sliding its heel back towards the sitting bones until you reach a more suitable stretch for your body. You do not want to pull it all the way back though. You want a little challenge, right?

A common mistake some people might make when practicing the pigeon pose is they will sit back onto the right hip, exposing the left hip. This is not an accurate hip opener; this just puts weight and aggrivated pressure on your outside hip. Not a good idea. To make sure I am centered (or squared) in the pigeon, I know where my hip bones are. If they are aligned evenly with the top edge of my matt, then I am correct. If my hip bones face to the corners of the matt, or even the long side of the matt, my positioning is incorrect. I simply rotate those hips to center over the matt, keeping the hips side by side. This may mean I have to adjust the front leg, but stability over flexibility.

I also want to flex my right foot to protect the knee. Then, I extend my left leg back keeping the toes aligned with the ankle while working to roll the inner thigh towards the sky.

Once I am in the pigeon pose, and the alignment is correct, I can begin deepen the pose through my breathe. Begin to pull the sitting bones through to look at the matt below. Open the heart and chest, lifting the spine. When I am ready to move into a variation, I go for it, no holding back. I let go of resistance and I breath into the space behind the heart. Most times, I choose to move into a forward fold as my belly slowly falls over the front leg. I hold the pose for 8-12 breathes.

Pigeon with no variation

Pigeon with Forward Fold

More Variations: One Legged Pigeon, Splits

Photo Source: Woman’s Day

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Upward Facing Dog

Upward Facing Dog

I love a good, open-hearted Upward Facing Dog pose (UFD).  Sanskrit is Urdhva Mukha Svanasana; Urdhva Mukha meaning face upward and svana for dog. 

The UFD is also known as a form of the backbend.  It is also a part of the Sun Salutations sequence, which is something I always do in my classes.  We never skip our Sun Salutations…they really get the blood pumping and bodies sweating, which is exactly what we want to achieve as yogis.  Students are always amazed at how much they sweat when doing the salutations, since we are slow moving and flowing in our practice.  The answer is all in the breath…breathing in and out the nose is the key.  Inhalation and the exhalation only through the nose is your body’s quickest way of heating up.  The heat produces sweat which releases toxins in the body allowing stress and sickness to travel out of the body (through sweat).

 

 Photo via Yoga Journal, taken by David Martinez

 Photo by Costa Rica Yoga

 Photo by Mandy Ingbar

Not only does the breath heat our insides, but it also clears our minds to be open to what is around us, as well as experiencing the present.  Have you ever been driving down the road with the windows down to feel the wind and warm sun touching your skin while you think about how everything around you came to be?  For me, that is what being in the present means to me…just living at that moment and taking it all in. 

When I practice in UFD, here is what I tell myself:

1)      Lie down comfortably on my stomach placing my hands flat onto my mat (hands open wide) even with my shoulders, and my feet pressing into the mat.  My finger tips look straight ahead.

2)      With my elbows sitting closely to my ribs, I begin to press through the hands lifting up my torso.  I continue to press the top of my feet towards the mat.

3)      As my torso lifts, I begin to press the sitting bones towards the mat pulling the pubic bone through lifting it towards the belly button.

4)      Begin to straighten the arms feeling their strength as they begin to lift the lower part of my body (thighs and hips) off of the floor.

5)      Pressing the shoulder blades down the spine and open the chest lifting through the top of the sternum.  Remember to keep your ribs from pressing out too far. 

6)      Once in a fully stretched position, lift the chin to towards the sky being careful not to just allow the head to fall back.  Be sure and keep shoulders down and ribs in place.  Do not overstretch the chin and head.

This open position will stretch my back, core, shoulders, chest while strengthening my arms and lower core.

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Crane pose…a progression in yoga

Anyone who practices yoga knows their individual yoga practice is a work in progress.  Think about it…aren’t we works in progress?  Isnt life a work in progress?  As I grow older I go through changes physically, emotionally and mentally.  However, they have become changes I learn to love.  I think yoga helps me embrace the time I dedicate to my inner self, and even helps me embrace the changes in my body. 

When I thought about which pose is my next favorite pose, the crane pose immediately popped to the front of my brain.  I instantly thought about a pose I struggled with the most when I first started my yoga practice.  This was the one pose I was so determined to accomplish.  I researched it as much as I could as well as watching “You Tube” tutorials before trying it.  I tried so many, many times, but I was determined and there was no way I was going to give up. 

Then, it happened…I was in a yoga class one Saturday morning, and the instructor began to cue us for the crane pose.  I focused on my breath along with her cues, and as I did, I progressed right up into my crane, holding it for about 10 seconds.  When I came down, I was elated.  As my mind took me back to the first time I tried the crane, I could not help but remember all the nights I practiced. 

The sanskrit word for the crane pose is bakasana (bahk-AHS-anna) with “baka” meaning crane.  Here are a few points I try to remember when take flight into the crane pose.

1. First, I come into the squatter’s pose, and I place my hands in front of me on the mat directly under my shoulders so to stack the joints.  My knees bow out to the side just behind my shoulders. 

2. Next, I lift my hips and sitting bones upward finding my weight centered on my hands, arms and toe tips.  Here the elbows will bend looking straight back to the wall behind me.  Refrain from allowing the elbows to bend out to the side.  As they bend, myupper body will want to move forward a little.  So I go with this.  I set my gaze, or drishti, about 6 inches or so above the fingertips. 

3. Once in a comfortable position, I arch the lower back pointing my sitting bones toward the mat.  This position can also be described as the cat position in yoga.  Before I lift off removing my feet from the floor, I take a deep breath. 

4. A very important step is engaging my core, so before I lift off into crane, I pull my belly button as far back into my spine as I can.  I continue this engagement the entire time I am balanced in crane.  Using the core is very important in any yoga practice.

5. Engaging my knees before lift off is important as well.  Along with my core, I continue to pull the knees towards my shoulders squeezing my inner thighs alongside my ribs, lifting, lifting, lifting. 

5. When my body is ready, I inhale and slowly lift my big toes off the mat centering my weight throughout my body, distributing the weight as evenly as possible into my hands, shoulders, core (or center), hips, thighs and toes.  As I balance, I am squeezing or engaging all these areas, as well as lifting my knees as stated in the previous step.  It also helps me to point my toes towards each other while balancing.

6. Breathing deep as I match the length of the inhalation with my exhalation.  I strive to work towards a 4-6 count breath.

In the crane pose, I feel my entire body is engaged, and that is exactly what I am trying to do.  Yoga is not about isolation, and only having your arms do all the work.  As for me, it is about listening to my body and not forcing one area of my body to be responsible for all my weight.  I feel this is how injuries occur.  Listening to my body is an important part of my practice…this could also be considered a progression of self-trust.

I think the solid point of my entry today is to be open to progression no matter how hard it may be or how foreign it might feel.  Continuing to practice yoga is a steady and right progression for me, my mind and my spirit.  Practicing is progression.  Setting my intentions into action is progression.

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My favorite Yoga pose?

Yoga is a personal, physical practice.  Importance being on the word “practice”.  As I look back to when I first started practicing yoga in my home with a dvd narrated by Nicki Doane, I realize the dreaded pose then is now my favorite pose.  The beloved downward facing dog!  I can be achy and stiff, but when I drop to my knees and press back slowly into a down dog, my body is miraculously healed!  In the beginning, I struggled just to be able to hold myself up for 10 breathes.  Now, it is my “go-to” pose.

Although I do have several favorite poses, the down dog will be the first pose I share with you on this blog.

Downward Facing Dog

When doing the downward dog, I try to visit these key points of being in the pose:

a. Press the heels towards the floor.
b. Press the knuckles of each finger into the floor, thumb included, especially the “L” shape of each hand, which is the index and thumb pressing actively into the floor.
c. Lift the sitting bones into the sky.
d. Elongate the spine creating space between each vertebrae. Breathe into those spaces.
e. Placing the ears even with the arms.
f. Press the thighs back into the hamstrings.
h. Hands are shoulder-width apart and the feet are hip-width apart. 
i. Hands press back into the feet and the feet press into the hands.
j. Hands are open wide.  Feel the power and strength in the hands and wrists.
k. The navel/core draw into the lower spine and help control the breath. 
l. Shoulders press away from the ears as the shoulder blades draw down towards the sitting bones.
m. Hold pose for 6-10 breathes. 
 The sanskrit for Downward Facing Dog is Adho Mukha Svanasana (AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna). Adho meaning downward, mukha meaning face, and svana meaning dog. 
 
Yoga Journal is a very helpful and insightful tool if you are interested in pursuing a yoga practice.  You can find the YJ magazine in your local grocery store, or you can even receive it through an annual subscription. 
 If you are interested in trying yoga, pace yourself, master the breathing before trying to master the poses.  Breathing will only help you move deeper into your poses allowing you to fully reap the benefits of your yoga practice. 
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Why do I practice Yoga?

Why do I practice yoga?

I practice yoga for me.  I want to be….better.  I do not want to be the best, or the most, just better than I am now. 

To me, yoga consists of three things:

1)      Physical Practice – I began practicing yoga as a form of physical exercise.  I had recently retired from teaching dance, and I still wanted move and maintain some of my flexibility.  I was at the public library when I came upon some yoga dvd’s so I checked them out and took them home. I began practicing with Nicki Doane’s dvd several times a week until I became familiar with the poses and breathing.  A year later I received my teacher certification through Yoga Fit, and now I teach yoga in my community.

2)      Mental Practice – Breathing in yoga is a calming tool I use to help me relax and clear the fog out of my head.  So many times in my life I have allowed my thoughts to taint what I do and say.  I never liked that about myself.  Clearing the mind, staying in the breath, in the moment.  This is all mental.  My good intentions begin as a mental thought, or feeling from the heart.  Practicing yoga sets those intentions into action.

3)      Spiritual Practice – So many times I hear people ask if Yoga is a religion.  To me, it is not, it is merely a practice, a step perhaps.  I do not worship other gods when I practice yoga.  I have one God.  I will admit that I sometimes use a yoga practice to become closer to Him when I meditate or pray.  Usually, I am praying for a special friend, or family member who might weigh heavily on my heart and mind.  Praying or becoming focused on God during a yoga session was a natural stage and progression for me, and it felt right to me so I did not fight it. I refuse to fight it. 

Yoga allows me to test the waters physically when my body, mind and breath are on the same wavelength, or I can pace myself slow if my body needs to play it safe.  Practicing yoga allows me to feel comfortable in my own skin, and it helps me listen to my body.  “Having the body we want begins with loving the body we have” is a quote by Mandy Ingbor, a yoga instructor.  This quote opened my eyes to the way I looked at myself, so I jotted it down in my infamous daily prayer book where I keep lots of quotes that speak to me.  I refer to it often.

Also, through my practice, I am able to “let go” of competition, expectations and judgment, which are areas in life that create stress and negativity. 

Competition.  I am not of the age where I compete physically like I did when I played high school basketball, danced, or even when playing sports with my two brothers, Chris and Joey.  For me personally, this form of competition refers to the competition with society…the urge to conform to its ideas instead of my own ideas, beliefs and path. 

Expectation.  Whether it is being a mother, wife, daughter, Christian, employee, taxi-mom, dance teacher, yoga instructor, or other small roles a person might accept throughout the different phases of life.  There are expectations placed on us by outside individuals or forces as well.  Yoga allows me to prioritize those expectations into which are important and necessary, and which are worth letting go. 

There are also expectations we place on ourselves.  It may be at home, work, church, or even within one’s family.  This self-created expectation bears stress and toxins, which slowly poisons our body and mind creating sickness and tension.  Now, I am not saying letting go of expectations is the same as ignoring our responsibilities, because it is nowhere close.  Following through on our responsibilities is a necessity to a healthy and happy life. 

Judgment.  In my own practice, this particular area of focus has opened itself up to me more than the others, or I opened myself up to it.  I never realized how much I judge someone else until I began practicing yoga.  And boy, how quick I am to judge, too.  I do not want to be that kind of person.  I don’t want to judge and I don’t want to be judged.  However, once you look towards yourself and your own actions, your eyes and heart begin to open.  Amazing is what it is.

I fall short so many times giving in to the people and the world around me, even giving in to myself.  It is everywhere I turn.  But, I continue to practice yoga, and I keep breathing, I keep practicing for me.

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