In the morning classes this week we focused on standing poses, in particular the action in the feet to create a solid foundation for the standing poses.
We started the class as normal, grounding ourselves in a seated position. Then we practiced a gentle forward bend, and a twist, to limber the spine and hips.
In the Thursday class we then did the cat-cow sequence, with ujjayi breath, to warm up the spine. I really enjoy the cat-cow sequence. Although it isn’t taught in all types of yoga, I think it’s really useful for beginners and more experienced people to combine breath and movement and it gives the spine a nice stretch.
Then we went through Surya Namaskar – Sun Salutation – slowly at first then we built up the speed. It feels like a natural progression from cat-cow and warms up the whole body.
At the Friday class we did a different warm-up. We did Setu Bhanda, but using the breath – inhaling to lift the hips and exhaling to lower the hips. From the same position, lying on the mat with bent knees, soles of the feet on the floor, we did a similar thing with Jathara Parivrtti (abdominal twist). Start with your knees upright, inhale, then exhale and let the knees slowly fall out to the right, turn the head to the left to mobilise along the whole length of the spine. Keep both shoulders on the mat. Inhale to come back to the middle, exhale and let the knees slowly fall out to the left and turn the head to the right. After doing this for a few breaths, hold the stretch for a few breaths on either side.
After warming up we practiced some standing poses, focusing on the feet:
Tadasana – a fundamental standing pose that we often use as a start and end point for other standing poses, so it’s important to get it right. First we practiced by pushing the hips forward to take the weight forward over the toes, which really helps to open the chest and take the shoulders back and down. Next, we moved the weight over the heels to help engage the core muscles and bring the abdomen back towards the spine before finally balancing the weight more evenly between front and back of the foot.
The actions of the inner and outer foot are important as well. By raising the inner leg muscles we can raise the arch of the foot, but at the same time we need to pull up with the muscles of the outer leg as if we’re trying to lift the little toe edge of the foot. Sounds contradictory, but all the actions done together – front and back, inner and outer edges – help the engage all the leg muscles an provide a sound base for Mountain Pose.
Trikonasana – In this pose the action is slightly different in each foot. For the foot that turns out, focus on really connecting the ball of the foot with the ground, but without letting the arch of the foot slump. The back foot needs to have the outer edge firmly connecting with the floor to help stabilise the pose.
To develop the flexibility in the hip abductors – come into trikonasana with the top hand on the hip.Stay for a couple of breaths, then extend both arms away from the body. If you get into a fairly deep trikonasana to start with, your extended arms with be almost horizontal. Stay in this position for 5-6 seconds and then lower you bottom hand to your leg and take your top arm up as normal. Your abductor muscles should relax a little, allowing you to go a bit deeper into the pose.
Prasarita Padottanasana – a chance to rest (!?) and a chance to develop flexibility. To develop flexibility in the hamstrings – Semimembranosus, Semitendonus and Biceps Femoris – you can go into the full pose, or use the same method as used in Trikonasana above. First, come into a comfortable version of the pose, minimal tension on the hamstrings. Stay here for a couple of breaths. Then, maintain the forward bend but take both hands to your hips. Only stay here for 5-6 seconds before putting your hands back on the floor. Go a little deeper when your hamstrings relax and hold for at least 20 seconds.
Virabhadrasana 2 – The action of the feet in this pose are similar to those in trikonasana. The foot of the back leg should have the outer edge firmly pressed down. The foot of the bent leg should have the ball pressed firmly into the mat. Keep the trunk upright and the shoulders relaxed.
Ardha Chandrasana – a challenging pose! The standing leg should be the same as the legs in Tadasana to provide a stable platform for the balance. Easier said than done, and certainly a pose that requires regular practice to be performed well. But then I could say that about every pose.
On Thursday morning we practiced Adho Mukha Svanasana. Although this pose requires a fair bit of effort it does help to calm the mind. Today we practiced with the hands against a wall so that less effort is needed, and so we could focus on the action of the spine and raising the hips.
In the Friday class we did the pose below, before going back to standing to practice Virabhadrasana 1 – warrior 1.
Salabhasana – a final bit of effort before relaxing. A good reminder of what the back muscles need to do in Tadasana.
Virasana – Good for calming the body and a pose I’m focusing on in my own practice at the minute because of this tendency I have of lifting my right sitting bone off the block. It’s important to keep and equal pressure on both sitting bones in Virasana, and to make sure there’s no twist in the spine where one side of the ribcage comes forward. So we practiced that while doing some shoulder stretches.
On Friday morning we practiced some pranayama with some mudras. I’ve been exploring them a bit in my own practice and wanted to give people a chance to experience them for themselves. I think it went down well.
And finally, Savasana.
In the evening class we practiced some poses to fine tune technique before going through Surya Namaskar – we introduced the use of ujjayi breath in Surya Namaskar.
Adho Mukha Svanasana – using the wall to push against so that there’s less effort needed in the arms, which gives us a chance to focus on the action of the hips (going up) and the chest (going back to the thighs). It’s a good stretch for the hamstrings and calves, and brings some extension into the spine which helps to refresh the inter-vertebral discs.
Virabhadrasana 2 – one of the poses in the standing sequence we’re practicing. It’s important to (try to) keep an even distribution of weight in the feet.
Parsvakonasana – a great, but intense, stretch for the muscles at the side of the body – the internal and external obliques, latissimus dorsi, multifidus and more.
Then some more strength work by using plank and some side plank – yes, they are both hard work!.
Finally we practiced the standing pose sequence:
We put the three standing poses together in a sequence. Starting in Trikonasana with a nice wide stance, hold for a couple of breaths then tilt the body back to upright as you bend in the leg that is turned out and come to Virabhadrasana 2. Stay here for a couple of breaths then fold at the hips, take the front hand down to the floor on the outside edge of the front foot for Parsvakonasana, you make things a bit easier by just taking the elbow to the knee. Then come back to upright and repeat on the other side. We added a bit of flexibility work my moving from one side to the other by moving through prasarita padottanasana.
Then Virasana to calm down, align the hips and spine and stretch the shoulders. Rather than rest in Savasana we sat cross-legged, and did some yogic breathing while practicing some mudras – a good way to start to increase the awareness of the subtle body.