Vajrasana – Lightning bolt pose vajra - lightning bolt asana - pose Vajrasana serves as a seated asana for meditation. It also helps to open the hips, ankles, and knees for virasana (hero pose). 1. Kneel with your feet pointed back, sit on your heels. 2. Keep thighs and feet parallel.
Begin by kneeling with the legs and feet together. Bring the hands behind the knees and smooth the calf muscles towards the heels. Then sit back on the heels, keeping the calves broad. To help open the ankles, use the hands to draw the skin of the inner knees forward. Then using the hands, move the sitting bones back and out to the sides along with the buttock flesh. This action will help to deepen the groin and release any gripping in the belly.
As the groin deepens and the belly rests forward, the shoulders will more easily rest towards the back of the body. This will let the chest open most effortlessly.
Find a comfortable place on the thighs to rest the hands so that the elbows hang directly below the shoulders. At this point, the palms may face up or down.
The front and back of the neck are equal, and the gaze is relaxed.
A valuable method of using vajrasana to prepare for numerous other asanas is with the assist of a yoga mat. Take a 3/16" thick rubber mat, fold it in half lengthwise, and roll it firmly. Then while standing, place the mat tightly behind the knees. Keeping the mat behind the knees, roll the calf flesh slightly down, and then squat down. Then gently kneel and sit back in vajrasana. If the calves are uncomfortable, place a blanket under the hips to soften the asana. If you feel discomfort in your ankles, a blanket may be folded and placed under the shins with the feet resting on the floor. This variation helps to reopen the knee joints and soften the calves and hamstrings. This asana should be performed at least 5 minutes a day.
Vajrasana with mat
Salamba Matsyasana – Supported fish pose sa – with lamba – support matsya – fish asana – pose 1. Lie on the back with a blanket roll beneath the bottom of the shoulder blades. 2. Support the head on a block. 3. Extend the arms behind the head to a chair or wall.
This is a modified version of a classical asana. This asana will assist in opening the entire shoulder girdle along with the thoracic spine, in preparation for back bends and certain inversions. Because it is a relatively nonmuscular asana, it can be held for a longer time. This will give the back muscles and spine time to grow accustomed to softening and relaxing into a back arch.
Use a firm blanket rolled 8-10" in diameter. As you recline over the blanket, keep the inner edges of the shoulder blades drawn towards the hips. This action, with the assist of the blanket, will help to reopen the rib cage. If the hands are placed on a wall, let the fingers face towards the floor. This is the most neutral position for the arms. Though all four corners of both palms are pressed to the wall, extra work is done through the ball mounts of the first fingers. This is a shoulder action and not performed only from the hands. As you press the palms to the wall in this fashion, use this work to create a feeling of greater depth in the armpits and move the shoulders towards the floor. If you are using a chair, grip the legs with the palms facing each other and work the shoulders as described above. The arms should be as straight as possible.
The head and neck should be reasonably neutral. In other words, neither the front nor back of the neck should feel compressed. Let the inhalations cultivate inner body length and chest opening and the exhalations create softness in the back and all around the heart and sternum.
Chaturangadandasana – Four limb staff pose (preparatory version) chatur – four anga – limb danda – staff asana – pose
Chaturangadandasana serves to integrate the whole body at a neuromuscular level. It is a rather small asana, requiring no particular degree of flexibility. All it requires is that every part of the body interfaces with every other part in a balanced way. Many people find the full asana to be somewhat challenging at first. But since it is a very important asana, this introductory version is offered at this time.
1. Lie face down with the palms on the floor, wrists at the bottom of the rib cage and the fingers facing the shoulders. 2. Lengthen the side ribs and lift the shoulders to the height of the elbows. 3. Turn the toes under and straighten the legs.
Begin the asana with the forehead on the floor. Use the inhalation to lengthen the side ribs away from the pelvis as you lift the shoulders to the height of the elbows. The head will lift in response to the lift of the chest. Keep the elbows about shoulder-width apart. Lifting from the outer shoulders will broaden the sternum but may narrow the back. So as you lift the outer shoulders, separate the bottoms of the scapulae. The shoulders may need to move somewhat toward the base of the skull to permit both actions to occur simultaneously. Find the strength in the scapulae more than the chest.
With the toes tucked under, straighten the legs. Rotate the inner thighs toward the ceiling [internal rotation] as you resist that action in the heels by keeping them parallel. The internal rotation of the femurs will open the joints between the sacrum and pelvis [sacro illiac joints] while the opposing resistance in the heels will stabilize the legs. Then breathe length in to the kidney area and release the sacrum away from the lower back. This is not a pelvic movement but a subtle action in the sacrum. This action should soften any over-arching in the lower back that may have occurred. Breathe evenly. Stay in the asana as long as the above actions can be sustained.
Phalakasana helps to integrate the musculature of the body. No particular flexibility is required, only the ability to sustain the neutrality of the spine. Whatever part of the body is not developed or aware will show up as a weak link in the chain.
1. Begin on hands and knees. 2. Spread the hands on the floor with the wrists directly below the shoulders and the middle fingers parallel. 3. Keeping the shoulders above the wrists, straighten the legs back with the toes turned under.
To create the most stable base for the arms, broaden the palms and radiate the fingers out from the center of the wrists. To minimize any excess weight on the wrists, press the weight into the ball mount of the first fingers dominantly, while keeping the outer edges of the hands in contact with the floor. The weight felt on the heels of the hands should be lessened with this action.
Without collapsing in the kidney area, or pinching the scapula together, melt the thoracic spine into the body. These actions together should help to open the sternum and stabilize the shoulders.
All of the muscles of the arms and legs should hug the bones.
Lunge Though not classical asanas themselves, lunges can provide a broad spectrum of preparatory work for other asanas. In this particular lunge, the front hip joint is being opened as needed for forward bends, the back leg is being opened for back bends, while the front leg lengthens through the achilles tendon and calf.
1. While on your hands and knees, bring the left foot between the hands. 2. Let the left knee extend as far forward of the toes as possible without the heel coming off the floor. 3. Extend the right leg straight back and point the foot.
If the left hip is tight, the left leg may turn out to the side. Keep this to a minimum. To prevent excess weight on the back knee, pay attention to the muscular work and joint alignment needed. To do this, press the top of the right foot into the floor strongly enough to lift the knee off the floor. As you do this, internally rotate the femur. This will rotate the inner thigh towards the ceiling and deepen the inner groin. Keep this muscular work in the leg and rest the leg back on the floor. Adjusting the back leg in this fashion will minimize the possibility of over-stretching the groin, and bring the maximum length to the belly of the thigh muscles. If the groin has been over-stretched through years of misalignment, you may have developed some hip instability.
Support the arms on the fingertips. This will help to cultivate muscular energy in the arms. This is important in helping the shoulders to remain stabilized. Using the arms this way helps the shoulders to move toward the back of the body, and helps the sternum to broaden. The sternum will then lift toward the chin with the head remaining reasonably neutral.
To minimize any possibility of too much arch in the lumbar spine, move the coccyx toward the pubic bone and lift the rib cage away from the lower back.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Lunge with external rotation Though not a classical pose, this pose opens the front hip in preparation for all cross legged asanas, including padmasana (lotus pose). It is performed with one leg back to extend the length of the front of the body. This front body length helps to maximize the focus of the opening in the front hip joint.
1. From hands and knees, bring the left shin parallel behind the wrists. 2. Extend the right leg back and point the foot. 3. With fingertips on the floor, use the arms for support.
In the beginning of this pose, if the hips do not rest squarely on the floor, some support, such as a folded blanket under the left sitting bone, may be used. If this is still not enough, the knee joint may be closed as necessary, so that the entire length of the shin rests on the floor.
Press the top of the right foot into the floor to briefly lift the knee off the floor. As you do this, rotate the inner thigh towards the ceiling and pull slightly back through the right heel. These actions should deepen the right groin and lengthen the right thigh. The outer right hip will also release towards the floor.
To minimize the possibility of over-arching the lumbar spine, move the coccyx towards the pubic bone and lift the circumference ribs away from the lower back. The shoulders move towards the back of the body while the inner edges of the scapula move down the back. The ribs broaden.
If the hips rest comfortably on the floor with the knee joint open, the pose may be taken as a forward bend. To do this, initiate the movement from the hips as though the navel would rest on the floor first. If at some point the length of the belly is lost or the sternum begins to collapse, back up and go no further. The more the front spine shortens, the more the opening in the hip is defeated. The head and neck should remain neutral throughout.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Horse Though this is not a classical pose, it is very helpful at the beginning to stabilize external rotation in the hips. There is a classical asana called vatayanasana which trans- lates as horse pose but it bears no resemblance to this pose at all and is not covered in this teacher training.
1. From a standing position, separate the feet three to four feet apart and bend the knees. 2. Do not let the knees extend beyond the shins. 3. Keep the feet and all leg joints horizontally parallel.
The exact width of the stance needs to be determined by the tightness or openness of the hips and inner groins. The parallel alignment of the leg joints and the verticality of the shins will serve as the standard to determine the proper placement of the feet for the individual. There may be a tendency for the feet to turn out beyond parallel with the rest of the leg joints. Care should be taken to avoid this, as it will place unnecessary stress on the ankles and knees and tend to collapse the arches of the feet. To help educate the leg work, briefly press the ball mount of the big toes to the floor and lift the toes. This will motivate energy in the legs and lift the arches. Keep the arches and the leg work and relax the toes back down.
As the knees move away from each other there may be a tendency towards excessive lumbar curve. To balance this, release the buttocks down and move the coccyx towards the pubic bone.
The inner edges of the scapula are drawn towards the hips to lift and broaden the sternum and move the shoulders towards the back of the body.
This asana may be difficult to perform free standing at first while sustaining proper alignment. To assist the stability of the asana, you may do the asana with the back leaning on a wall. The knees should be as bent as possible while maintaining parallel alignment of the leg joints. The feet are likely to be a foot or more from the wall.
Bidalasana – Cat pose bidala – cat asana – pose
Bidalasana helps to lengthen the back muscles. It also educates the action of moving the buttocks down and the coccyx towards the pubic bone. It helps to cultivate exhalation, which can be quieting to the nervous system. Consequently, it is not an asana that is held for long periods of time, as inhalation is slightly inhibited. It is often performed as the counter pose to being on hands and knees with the belly dropping and the sitting bones, head, and sternum lifting, which cultivates inhalation.
1. Begin on your hands and knees with the wrists directly below the shoulders. 2. Spread the fingers and press the palms. 3. Exhaling, arch the back towards the ceiling.
Let the breath increase the asana. Feel how the exhalation moves the belly towards the sacrum. Let the back open along the length and width. The head rests heavily down with no muscular work. The throat and tongue remain relaxed.
If you feel too much weight on your knees, press down on the tops of your feet. Spread your fingers and press down on the ball mounts of the first fingers and the outer edges of your hands, to minimize the weight on your wrists.
Dandasana – Staff pose danda – staff asana – pose
1. Sit on the floor with the legs extended straight forward and together. 2. Support the torso with the hands on the floor. 3. Your arms and torso are straight.
This asana helps to educate you to the relationship of the neutral spine with the lengthening of the hamstrings. This work prepares you for the deeper forward bends that will come later.
The spine should be in its most neutral position for dandasana, the legs and spine each creating the feeling of the staff. If the hamstrings are tight, some elevation under the sitting bones may be needed. You can tell if the spine is vertical from where the weight is on the sitting bones. When done properly, it will produce a soft open belly and an effortless feeling of inner body length.
To create the feeling of danda in the legs, extend the legs out through the inner heels without the knees turning in or the heels leaving the floor, as this could hyperextend the knees. If the hamstrings are tight, the knees may turn out, so bring the knees parallel to each other. Keep the length of the achilles tendon and press the ball mounts of the big toes forward. This should help release hardness in the calves and maximize the straightness of the legs to deepen this action. If possible keep the outer four toes back, and press through the big toes themselves.
To place the arms and hands, first lift the shoulders to the ears, then bring the shoul- ders towards the back body. Draw the inner edges of the scapula towards the hips. Use this action to place the palms on the floor and lift the sternum towards the chin. Typically the fingers face the feet but if this places stress on the wrists, the hands may turn back. Where the hands end up will be determined by the relative length of the arms to the torso. The arms should be able to straighten fully without the natural position of the shoulders being disturbed.
Purvottanasana – Intense front body extension (preparatory version) purva – east side, referring to the front of the body uttana –intense extension asana – pose
The preparation for purvotanasana is used here not only as a preparation for the asana itself, but for its ability to focus on a particular shoulder opening relevant to some more difficult asanas to come later on. Internal rotation of the shoulders is difficult to sustain with a lifted and open sternum. This preparatory asana permits this with minimal muscular work.
1. Sit on the floor with the legs straight in front of the body. 2. Arms support from behind the back. 3. Fingers face away from the hips.
With your legs together, extend through the inner heels and flex the feet without the heels leaving the floor. Keeping the length of the achilles tendon, press through the ball mounts of the big toes and big toes themselves while keeping the outer four toes drawn slightly back. These actions should maximize the stability and the length of the legs and hips. The body weight should end up at the inner front edges of the sitting bones.
With the palms on the floor, shoulder width apart, bend the elbows slightly out to the sides without lowering the torso. This action will help broaden the collarbones and the sternum. Keeping the width of the collarbones, use the breath to lift the sternum towards the chin. Keep the sternum broad, as you straighten the arms by pressing through the ball mounts of the first fingers. The head and neck should remain as neutral as possible throughout. To open the shoulders further, repeatedly move the hips and legs forward and repeat the actions which broaden the sternum and collarbones.
Another way of saying this might be: Let every part of the body sink below the floor except the heart. Let the heart float, as the passive breath breathes you.
Savasana – Corpse pose sav - corpse asana - pose
This is the classical asana for relaxation. It is most often performed after an asana practice session, though it may also be practiced any time that deep relaxation is sought. Some people feel that it is one of the most important and difficult asanas - difficult because of its extreme subtlety.
1. Lie on your back. 2. Place your arms just far enough from the torso to permit air circulation in the armpits, with palms face up. 3. Begin with the legs joined, then relax the legs.
You can enter this asana from a seated position on the floor if you prefer. Begin seated, with the knees bent, using the hands on the floor for support behind the back. Bend the arms to slowly unroll the back to the ground. Take care that each side of the buttocks, sacrum, spine, and scapula rest down symmetrically. With the entire back body resting comfortably on the floor, slowly straighten the legs forward across the floor. Begin with the legs joined and internally rotated to broaden the sacrum. Then simply relax the legs.
Briefly press the outer shoulders to the floor. Let this action move the inner edges of the scapula towards the hips and lift the sternum slightly towards the chin. Then release all muscular action in the upper body. With this adjustment, sometimes the kidney area comes off the floor. If this has occurred, press the kidney area back to the floor and relax.
The head should be resting more at the base of the skull than at the back of the head. If the adjustment of the sternum and shoulders did not accomplish this, then use the support of a folded firm blanket. The blanket should support the head and neck without touching the shoulders, as they need to be free to release to the floor.
Lengthen the exhalations with as little effort as possible. Let the exhalations continue to release the kidney area to the floor and the belly toward the inside of the sacrum. Let the exhalations become full enough that the inhalations feel almost like a reflex response to the exhalations.
Release the skin of the neck, the root of the tongue, and the root of the jaw towards the collarbones. As you do this, you may also feel the ear canals broaden and deepen. You may then begin to feel that the ear canals deepen so much that they join the feeling of void created by the release of the throat. Deepen this experience of void by relaxing the soft palate towards the top of the head. Let the eyes and brain sink back into this void.
Progressively relinquish all involvement with the physical body, the thoughts, and the emotions. Eventually the only experience of self remaining will be the subtlest thread of the breath.