In a yoga asana practice, vinyasa often connotes the linking of poses in a flow. Sun salutations are a perfect example of vinyasa, though sequences can and do vary.
A few weeks ago, my energy stagnated and I was compelled to integrate dynamic movement into my practice as a means of shifting it. Often, in Iyengar yoga, each pose is worked independently. Focus on certain elements of the pose are offered as a means to work dynamically within a posture. I love this work and it is why I’m drawn to Iyengar yoga -- all the delicious details! That said -- sometimes I just need to move.
So here are two variations of a simple vinyasa that lengthens and tones the spine, opens the hips and engages the core. The chair variation is for anyone suffering from arthritis, tight shoulders and even exceptionally tight hamstrings. This cycle can be done in five or ten minutes and is perfect for those who never seem to have enough time!
Downward Dog: chair variation
Downward Dog: Floor Variation
In the chair:
Grip the sides of the chair with your hands. Step the feet back away from the chair, lift the buttocks up toward the ceiling. Widen your shoulder blades away from the spine by wrapping the back-armpit area toward your chest. Lengthen both sides of your body away from the chair. Pull your kneecaps up toward the tops of your thighs and send your thighbones back.
Explore the lift of the sitting bones here. If you take your heels to the floor, do the sits-bones/buttocks drop toward the floor? If they do, bend your knees and lift them again. Stay on the balls of your feet to engage the thigh muscles. Then lower your heels as much as you can without losing that lift.
On the floor:
Start on the hands and knees. Place your hands one hand-length in front of your shoulders. Tuck your toes, press into your hands and lift the buttocks up toward the ceiling. Widen your shoulder blades away from the spine by wrapping the back-armpit area toward your chest. Lengthen both sides of your body away from the chair. Pull your kneecaps up toward the tops of your thighs and send your thighbones back.
One-legged Downward Dog: Chair Variation
One-legged Downward Dog: Floor Variation
Dog with Lifted Leg
For both chair and floor:
Keep the weight even over the palms of both hands. Lengthen through the sides of your body and lift your right leg up, stretching the heel back toward the space behind you. Notice your pelvis. Has it tipped? Keep both pelvic rims facing the floor by rolling the inner right thigh toward the ceiling. Notice your hands. Is the weight evenly distributed over your palms? Or are you tipping to one side? Keep the back armpit chest moving toward the legs. Lengthen.
modified plank with engaged core
Modified Plank with Engaged Core
For both chair and floor:
From the lifted leg position, bend your right knee into your chest and start to move so that your shoulders come over-top your wrists. Holding this position, push away from the chair with the arms and keep the shoulder-blades moving toward your waist. Draw the knee closer into the body and you should feel the abdominal muscles engage. Keep the straight leg firm.
You can repeat this action several times. Reaching the leg back into Dog with Lifted Leg and into Modified Plank. Or you can just do it once on the way to your lunge. You decide what you need today.
modified plank: floor variation
In the chair position, it is easier to step the front foot forward. After you’ve pulled the knee into the chest, set the right foot between the legs of the chair. Descend the buttocks toward the floor and draw the right hip back away from the chair to keep both sides of the waist long.
Roll the shoulders away from the ears and lengthen the breastbone toward the chair-back. Stretch through the left heel, pull that left kneecap up. Observe the back leg, roll the inner thigh up toward the ceiling to keep the sacrum broad and the hips level.
Lunge with Chair
For the floor:
The step forward into lunge can be tricky on the floor. You may want to stretch back into one-legged dog so that you can use the momentum to swing the leg right through. Once the knee is drawn into the chest, place the foot between the hands. If it doesn’t make it all the way, drop the back knee onto the floor, take hold of your right ankle and lift the foot to the space between your hands.
With the foot forward, descend the buttocks toward the floor to bring the right thigh parallel to the floor. Move the right outer hip away from the knee. Roll the shoulder-blades down the back and lengthen the front of the body toward the space in front of you. Stretch through the left heel, pulling that left kneecap up. Observe the back leg, roll the inner thigh up toward the ceiling to keep the sacrum broad and the hips level.
For both variations:
Hold for two or three or four breaths, then step back into downward dog.
Lunge on the floor
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
After you’ve stepped back into your variation of downward dog, repeat the sequence with the left leg. Then back to the right. And on and on until you feel successfully moved!
Okay, okay. I have a little more for you about lengthening the inner thigh and opening the pelvic bowl. So much activity happens around the pelvis and hips both, muscularly and organically, that the more we can open there the more space we offer the bones, the joints and even the organs. Standing poses, particularly the lateral standing poses, allow our bodies to access the areas we tend to tighten and close. Think about the belly, the groins, even the heart. These are all sensitive, vulnerable organs and when we operate in our daily lives we tend to tighten forward to protect (usually unconsciously) ourselves. I was amazed to learn that when I had a fear response, I hardened my front groins as though wanting to pull my knees into my chest and wait until the perceived danger passed. Standing poses can help to unwind some of these habits of holding, soften muscles that tend to grip and offer us awareness of areas we tend to close.
Let's take Virabhadrasana II. (Warrior Two). Usually, I have students use the back foot at the wall to connect with the stabilizing action of the back leg. This is good and important work. If you were in class a while back, you'll recall the work we did with the front thigh and the brick. In class, we had the advantage of working with a partner, strap around the back thigh to support the back leg -- a true wishbone effect -- but, at home, you can work this way:
Stand with your right leg facing the wall. Make sure when you bend your front knee there is room to wedge your block between wall and knee, then come back to the position where your feet are wide, left foot turned in, slightly, and right foot facing the wall. Now, establish the back leg. Press the foot into the floor, particularly aware of the outer edge. Turn the inner left thigh out, keeping the left hip moving away from the wall. (It's important to note that the pelvis is not completely square, if it were our knee would be very strained).
Keep those actions and bend the knee toward the wall, placing the block between wall and top shin. Lengthen your inner thigh toward the block to keep the block from falling on your toes! Did you lose the action of the back leg? Find it again. Now that your thighs open away from each other make sure you lift the pelvic rims (hip bones) up toward the waist and lengthen the trunk.
Take your hands onto your hips and explore the leg action. What does keeping the block there do for your inner thigh? Can you stay connected to the back leg? What does the pelvis feel like to you? Your back?
Make sure you retrieve the block before straightening your front leg. Then, turn your feet and change sides.
Try the pose again without the block. Notice the difference in the ways of working.
Enjoy exploring your inner warrior and let me know how it works for you!
The adductor muscles run the length of your inner thigh. We made the connection to them in the abdominal poses I posted last month. Now, in this basic seated pose, we'll aim to lengthen these muscles.
Sometimes the adductors grip, contributing to a pulling of the pelvis or even troubles in the back and/or spine. In class, a few weeks ago, I had you work the Baddha Konasana before working standing poses, not only to create length in the muscles, but to open up space in the pelvis. This allows for increase blood-flow to the pelvic and abdominal organs, offering them true organic health.
When we first sit in Baddha Konasana**, we may come to the alarming realization that our knees hover well above our hips and our backs round and the abdomen collapses. Often, I see students pushing on their thighs, or worse, their knees, to get those knees to the floor. But if we go back to our objective, we want to create length along the inner thigh and space in the pelvis, we may need to lift up on some height.
Take what height you need. A block or two, a blanket or three, or even a bolster. Bring the bottoms of your feet together, your knees apart. Now, take the marble test: if you placed a marble on the inner knee, would it roll to the groin? If yes, you need more height. If marginally, then you can experiment. If no, then, you may find you get more release through the inner leg.
If you feel the gripping or strain in the inner thighs, be sure to support them by placing rolled up blankets, blocks etc., beneath hem This support offers the muscles an opportunity to actually let go. If they don't have the support, they may actually tighten.
Now sit with the hands beside your hips, or place a strap around the outer feet and hold it with your hands to lengthen the body. Lift the sides of your body evenly up. Draw your shoulder-blades down your back and into your chest. Sit here for several minutes. First, observe your breath and allow the abdomen to soften. Then, bring your awareness to your inner thighs. Keep the corners of your feet pressing together as you consciously lengthen from inner groins to inner knees.
Now, lean to your left and with your right hand lengthen the right thighbone toward the knee (don't push the knee down!). As you slide the thigh further away from the pelvis, draw the pelvic rim (hip bone) up toward the waist. Feel how it creates a sense of space and traction in the joint, freeing up congestion there.
Do the same on the other side.
When you've completed both sides, come back to Baddha Konasana with the hands behind or holding the strap. Observe the inner thighs. Do they feel longer? Softer? How about the pelvis? Can you feel the breath in the pelvic cavity?
You can start your practice this way, or place it near the end of your practice. Or, if you only have a short time, practice it on its own. Even while watching a movie!
** Note: If you find it difficult to hold the back of the waist into the body and the spine lifted, practice with the back against the wall.