Wednesday, June 27, 2012

the challenge of it

I am really into this idea of choosing a peak pose to work on for an entire month in my advanced group practice. My students are super dedicated and interested, which makes this process so much fun.  I am inspired by each participant's eagerness to learn and work hard.  I've gotten several emails and facebook messages from people asking more questions from their home practice.  That is what inspires me to keep investigating.  Its pretty amazing to see the fire being stoked in everyone's practice.  

The thing I love about advanced yoga is the challenge of it.  Recently, I've done some exploring in my own identity as a yoga teacher and practitioner, searching for the "whys" related to my yoga.  It has become pretty clear to me that its the challenge of the process.  When something gets too easy I tend to lose interest.  When something is hard, I am more likely to commit and make it my mission to get to the other side.  The good news about yoga is that it never gets old and never runs out.  There is always something new to explore.  When (and if) I ever do all the poses out there, then I can work on refinements or transitions or putting combinations of poses together.  The challenge is never over. I've thought a lot about this lately.  Its not that I am never satisfied.  Its more that I always want to get better.  I always want to improve.  These hard poses teach me a lot about how to approach life's challenges.  Most of the time, I link a challenge on my mat to a challenge in my life.   For example, if there is a certain aspect I am working on off the mat (i.e. speaking my truth, loving unconditionally, compassion, etc.), I dedicate my efforts on the mat to that topic.  Then, when I finally get the pose I am working on it somehow proves to me that with enough effort, anything is possible.  

I don't really count on luck or chance.  I do count on making things happen for myself, when and if that is possible.  There are so many things in life we can't control.  But we can control our level of effort and commitment to the practice.  And by "to the practice"  I mean the practice of it all.  The practice of life.  As my teacher Christina Sell always says, "Yoga is practice for life."  I love that.  

Below are my notes from our last scorpian practice.  In this sequence, we went for a really deep backbend that has a similar shape in the upper body, before attempting scorpion.  The goal with that approach was to add in a pose that gets the feet level with the head while we still have the floor to push our feet into.  Then, when we got to scorpion, we were more prepared.  This week, I've shared more of the meat of my process of preparing for this pose, in hopes that it will help others break down their own challenge poses.  If you have any questions, please post comments below.  I would love to hear from you.  Thanks for playing!



Excerpt from Light on Yoga:
"The head which is the seat of knowledge and power is also the seat of pride, anger, hatred, jealousy, intolerance, and malice. These emotions are more deadly than the poison which the scorpion carries in its sting.  The yogi, by stamping on his head with his feet, attempts to eradicate these self-destroying emotions and passions. By kicking his head he seeks to develop humility, calmness and tolerance and the be free of ego. The subjugation of the ego leads to harmony and happiness."

Vrischikasana I – Scorpion (on forearms)

Need to open – quads, upper back, triceps, front of chest
Common misalignments – foundation slips, loss of midline, loss of muscle engagement
Key actions – root tailbone, squeeze midline, strong shoulder work

Similar shapes –
1) pincha mayurasana + full rajakapotasana
2) kapotasana - hands to floor overhead
3) eka pada viparita dandasana II
4) bandha chakrasana

Modified Surya A – skip chaturangas and just lower to floor, replace cobra with salabasana variations
No hands lunge
Cobra on fingertips
Standing Crescent
Vira I – back knee bent, hovering off floor, crescent to side
Ardha bhekasana
Twisted monkey thigh stretch
EPRK II prep (w/thigh stretch)
EPRK I prep 
Virasana w/block between shoulder blades – 1 min, 2X
Pincha at wall – legs parallel to floor, feet at wall
Eka hasta laghuvajrasana
Kapotasana – arms straight
5 Drop backs (or 5 urdhva dhanurasanas from floor)
Dwi pada viparita dandasana
Bandha chakrasana - hands to ankles
Vrischikasana I – at least 10X
Uttanasana - standing on mat roll
Calf smashing - 3 different locations on legs
Mud flap girl (seated figure 4 with bottom leg bent)
Agni stambasana
Agni stambasana w/twist

Saturday, June 23, 2012

bakasana from sirsasana II

Some folks requested this sequence on Facebook, so here it is. We worked through this in my 90 minute long intermediate class this morning.We focused on two distinct shoulder actions, a Bakasana upper back (expansive shape) and Sirsasana II upper back (contracted shape). Once that action is super clear the transition from Sirsasana II to Bakasana is less confusing. This sequence also leads you through a variety of hip openers to prep you for a super deep Bakasana so you can get your legs up high on your arms before lifting your head from sirsasana II. Enjoy!

surya A - work shoulder actions in plank to chaturanga
sirsasana II
sirsasana II drills - knees to chest, knees to sky, legs straight (repeat 3X)
lunge forearms down
twisted monkey
ardha malasana prep
ardha bhekasana
pigeon forward fold
pigeon thigh stretch
supta bakasana
bakasana - 3X
bakasana to sirsasana II - 3X (or move into sets of 3 bakasanas in a row)
setu bhanda sarvangasana
supta tadasana
ardha matseyendrasana
eka pada gomukha paschimottonasana

Friday, June 15, 2012

Project Vrschikasana - part II

Here is the sequence from last week's 2-hour advanced group practice.  As you know, for the month of June, we are projecting scorpian (forearm version).  In the sequence below, we focused more on prepping the lower body for the pose.  In an ideal world, you would take nuggets of what works for your body/practice from each sequence and by the end of the month, have a practice that preps you for scorpian on your own.  I really like focusing on the legs more, but I have a pretty open upper back.  For those who need more upper back work, check out last week's sequence.

This sequence focuses on opening the legs and hips to be able to touch the feet to the head.  Getting one foot to the the head like in EPRK I & II is more accessible than both feet at the same time.  Weaving those in as prep poses got lots of folks closer to the full form.  Plus they are great front body openers, which help a ton for scorpian.  Once you get your feet to your head push them into your head to give resistance.  That connection helps bring relief to the low back and creates a deeper, more stable backbend.  If you are working on touching the tip of your toe to your head, make your hair extra fluffy to give yourself a few more inches.  It helps!  

Good luck, have fun and let me know how it goes!  

Childs pose
Surya A 3x
Surya B 5x
Pincha - middle of room
Lunge forearms down
Ardha bhekasana
Baddha hasta parsvakonasana
Ardha Chandra chapasana
Twisted monkey
EPRK II prep
EPRK I prep
Supta virasana
Eka pada supta virasana
Urdhva Dhanurasana 5x
EPRK I - at wall
EPRK II - at wall
Vrischikasana I (10-20x)
Hindolasana (baby cradle)
Agni stambasana
Ardha matseyendrasana I
Eka pada Gomuka Paschimottonasana
Savasana (10 min)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Project Vrschikasana

Photo: Master teacher, B.K.S Iyengar, in Vrschikasana

Over the past year or so, I have been intrigued by the way rock climbers approach progress.  Being that my fiance is a climber, I get insight on this topic on a fairly regular basis.  Right away, I started noticing the similarities between climbing and yoga in regard to getting stronger and training your body/mind to do something new and play the edge.  One of the methods climbers use is "projecting" a route.  Which means they pick a route that they want to be able to climb clean (without falling or weighting the rope) and they do it over and over until they get it.  Sometimes they work solely on a specific section or crux of the route.  Other times they work on routes with similar technique to prepare them for whats needed to climb their project route.  Now, I know I am making this sound pretty simple and straight forward, but (like yoga) there are many ways to approach advancing as a climber.  This is just one way.  I should probably put a disclaimer in here... I am not claiming to fully understand how climbers train.  I am just relating the little bit I do know to a yoga practice.  This is my interpretation only. My point is that we can do the same thing with yoga poses.  Sure, this is not how I recommend practicing daily, but lately I've had huge success learning advanced poses by applying this method to my practice.  Sometimes it takes a climber a short time to nail their project.  Other times it can take months or even years.  Depends on the circumstances.  Just like yoga.  

With all of that being said, I have decided to structure my Sunday 2 hr advanced group practice like this.  For an entire month, we work on the same peak pose.  This means, we usually get at least 4 classes to practice working toward something new or refining a pose we can already do.  This month our project is Scorpian, or Vrschikasna.  I chose this pose because many folks associate advanced yoga with this pose, due to marketing and/or high volume of use in photography, etc.  Many people have seen this pose, but don't know how to work it without a wall or a friend to spot. Its a hard pose that requires both strength and flexibility. This is the perfect pose to project in this class.  Each week, I lead the group through a new sequence designed to target a specific action or shape within this pose.  By the end of the month, my hope is that we all have the tools needed to project this pose.  Some will nail the pose within 4 classes, some will need months or even years.  The point is, we all roll out our mats every Sunday and practice working hard and staying focused.  Its a different way to practice. 

I will do my best to post our sequences every week, so if you miss a class you can have the sequence to work with at home.  Also for those who aren't in St. Louis who would like play along.  If you have questions/feedback/suggestions please don't hesitate to comment on my blog or email me.  I would love to hear how this is going for you.


Week one: shoulder emphasis

Surya A – slow 3X
Surya B – slow 3X w/shoulder alignment drills
Down Dog (AMS) refinement – arm bones lift up, chest toward chin, extend spine
AMS - one leg up, shoulders square
Trikonasana - hand on back of head
Plank hold - shoulder blades together, tailbone down 
Shalabasana - hands bound 1X, hands/arms out in front 1X
Ardha Bhekasana 
Ardha Chandrachapasana
AMS – work one foot to head like scorpian
Pincha - legs at wall, curl chest toward floor
Pincha - soles of feet on wall, knees bent, look at floor 
Pigeon prep – thigh stretch
Urdvha Dhanurasana – 3-5X ONE HOUR MARK!
Eka Pada Bhekasana in Ustrasana (work this as a huge quad stretch, not as a peak pose)
Rajakapotasana – hands in front (fingertips option) 2x
Scorpian solo, middle of room (attempt at least 10-20X)
Down Dog
Janu sirsasana 2X
Supta balasana