Tadasana – Mountain pose tada – mountain asana – pose
1. Stand with the feet together and straight forward. 2. Have the head of the femur directly above the ankle bones. 3. Let the shoulders rest towards the back body with the face forward. Tadasana is the primary standing asana. Tadasana teaches all of the primary aspects of alignment that will be used in virtually every other asana you will perform. The challenge of tadasana is not of strength or flexibility, but of intelligence and subtle awareness. Tadasana teaches not only structural alignment, but also the subtle internal actions that will be expressed in almost every other asana. It is a neutral asana. It has no particular bias. In other words, it is not energizing or relaxing, nor is it heating or cooling. No aspect of the hips, spine, or shoulders is in variation. So spend time to learn tadasana well. Not only can it be practiced as part of your routine, but it will be the reference model for the rest of your practice.
The centerlines of the feet typically extend from between the second and third toes to the center of the heels. Bring these lines parallel, as if you were on skis. Typically, this will join the big toes and leave some space between the heels. The exact space will vary with the shape of your feet. If balance is an issue, the feet can be separated. The outer edges of the feet can be hip-width apart, if needed. See that the weight rests equally on all four points of each foot: the ball mounts of the big toes and little toes, and the inner and outer edges of the heels. Another way of describing the distribution of weight on the feet in tadasana is by using the ball mount of the big toes, the outer edge of the feet, and the centers of the heels.
Once the feet are well placed, the actions of the legs need to be addressed. To educate the proper action in the legs, press the ball mounts of the big toes into the floor and lift the toes. This action will move the weight of the body back onto the heels by moving the femurs into the hamstrings. This action will also motivate the leg muscles to lift and hug the bones. Sustain these leg actions while you spread the toes and return them to the floor. These actions will also help to create groin depth and arch in the feet.
Many people have some degree of structural misalignment in the hips and legs. These can often be seen in the patellae. So look at the patellae and determine if one or both are facing straight forward, or turning in or out. If a patella is turning in, keep the inner heel grounded, and externally rotate the thigh to bring all of the leg joints facing the same direction. Conversely, if a patella is turning out, keep the outer heel grounded and deepen the groin by internal rotation. Occasionally, each leg will require different work to achieve neutrality. It is rare that no additional work is required to keep the leg joints neutral.
Once the work is done in the feet and legs, many adults feel as though they have hyper lumbar lordosis. This is usually not the case, but it can feel this way because most adults have lost some degree of inner body length. Described below are two methods for minimizing this effect. Though either of these methods may be employed to restore the natural lumbar lordosis, lengthening the inner body is preferred, as it restores the natural inner body length and cultivates the most beneficial and balanced flow of prana.
To bring the upper chest and shoulders into balance in tadasana, the following actions may be performed. From the shoulders, externally rotate the upper arms. It will feel as though the back of the armpit is moving towards the front of the armpit. Th chest will broaden and the space between the scapula will narrow. Keep the width of the chest, and internally rotate the forearms so that the palms face the thighs. This action should broaden the back and side ribs without disturbing the width of the chest. As you do this, you may feel the inner edges of the scapula release down. Notice how the bottoms of the scapula broaden a bit more than the tops do. Now that you have opened the ribs and broadened the collarbones, check to see that the kidney area still has length and the breath can still move there.
See that the front and back of the neck are of equal length and that the head can face effortlessly forward. The eyes and the gaze should be relaxed, as should the throat, mouth and soft palate. Breathe deeply as you hold the pose.
Techniques For Minimizing the Feeling of Hyper Lumbar Lordosis.
Method 1: The preferred method for minimaizing hyper lumbar lordosis is creating inner body length. This may be accomplished with the breath. Reference the tape on the complete breath in this month’s lesson for details, but in short, use the inhalation to lift the circumference of the inner ribs versus the outer wall of the ribs. Notice how lengthening from the inside is a viscerally softening action. We are typically front body oriented, so it is often advisable to pay a little extra attention to the side and back ribs. If the front ribs lift too much, there may be a gripping of the breath at the kidney area. To the best of your ability, keep the length of the inner body without stress or agitation, even with the exhalation. As you lengthen the inner body, you may notice that the feeling of hyper lordosis diminishes.
Method 2: You can also minimize the feeling of hyper lumbar lordosis by changing the position of the pelvis. This is not the preferred method, as it usually disturbs the neutrality of the femurs. As you do this, you should notice that the coccyx releases towards the pubic bone and the buttock flesh releases down without dropping the sitting bones or losing groin depth created by the legwork. This can also be done muscularly by moving the coccyx towards the pubic bone.
Urdva hastasana – Upward hand pose urdva – upward hasta – hand asana – pose
1. Stand with feet parallel. 2. Raise arms over head, joining palms.
While standing, bring the centerlines of the feet parallel. The centerlines of the feet generally extend from between the second and third toes to the center of the heels. Draw the quadriceps up and close to the bones. This action can be initiated by pressing the ball mounts of the big toes into the floor and momentarily lifting the toes. Keep the quadriceps hugging the bones and the femurs towards the hamstrings while you spread the toes and return them to the floor.
Inhaling, externally rotate the upper arms as you lift the arms out to the sides and overhead. Keep the inner scapula descending and moving into the back to cultivate lift in the sternum. As the sternum lifts, the head may tend to go back. If the sternum does not lift, let the head remain facing forward. If the head does go back, there should still be the feeling of lift from the base of the skull and the root of the jaw.
If the hands do not join without bending the elbows, keep them separated. If the hands almost touch, try bending the elbows and interlacing the fingers while keeping the thumbs and first fingers extended; then, see if you can straighten the arms. Although this is not the traditional grip, it can provide some extra leverage to assist in straightening the arms. Traditionally, the palms are joined with only the thumbs hooked.
When the arms are over the head, the front of the body will likely be longer than the back. Check to see if the bottom front ribs are protruding. If this is the case, move them back by lengthening the kidney area with the inhalation and releasing the buttocks down with the exhalation. At the same time you may feel the coccyx releasing towards the pubic bone. The groins should sustain their depth with these actions. When the asana can no longer be held with quality, exhale the arms back to the sides while sustaining inner body length.
Utkatasana – Powerful, fierce pose utkata - powerful, fierce asana – pose 1. Stand with the legs joined. 2. Extend the arms out to the side, then straight above the head and bend the knees.
Standing, bring the centerlines of the feet parallel. Then with an inhalation, begin lifting the arms out to the sides with the arms in external rotation. Feel how the external rotation moves the inner edges of the scapula down the back. Sustain this action as you bring the arms as close together over your head as possible without bending the elbows. The traditional grip is with the palms joined and the thumbs overlapping.
If the hands do not quite join, you may bend the elbows slightly and interlace the fingers with the first fingers and thumbs extended and then straighten the arms. This is not the traditional hand position, but it may offer enough leverage to help in straightening the arms.
Whether the palms are joined or not, the arms should be straight. As the inner edges of the scapula are drawn down the back, see if you can move them into the back to assist a lift in the sternum. As the sternum lifts, the head may tend to go back. However, the head going back should not compress the back of the neck. There should still be the feeling of lift from the base of the skull and the root of the jaw.
Keep the legs together as you bend the knees. Press through the ball mounts of the big toes to bring the shins as vertical as possible. The shins will probably not actually be vertical, but keep them as vertical as possible. The torso should also be as vertical as possible, though it will not be literally vertical.
Bring the thighs as close to parallel with the floor as possible -- though it is possible to do this, it does not often occur. This is due not only to the flexibility of the body, but also its proportions.
Observe the spine. Any time the arms are above the head, the front body will likely be longer than the back body. In utkatasana, if there is tightness in the shoulders, it is possible that the kidney area may compress. Breathe into the kidney area to help neutralize any compression that may have occurred. As you do this, you may also feel the buttock flesh release down and the coccyx release towards the pubic bone. If it is difficult to do this with the breath, muscularly lower the sacrum to neutralize the back body, if necessary. The front body should remain lengthened and open.
Remain in the asana and breathe normally. Hold it only as long as it can be well articulated.
1. From a standing position, separate the feet 3-4 ft. apart. 2. Turn the left leg out 90 degrees and the right foot in about 60 degrees, squaring the hips to the left foot. 3. Sweep the arms over the head and bend the left knee so the shin is vertical to the floor.
From this standing position, separate the feet 3-4 feet apart, lift the front of the left foot and shift its weight onto the back of the heel. Then from the left hip socket, rotate the whole leg out 90 degrees. Spread the toes and replace the foot onto the floor. Then, pivoting on the ball mount of the right big toe, bring the right heel back approximately 60 degrees. Adjust this stance so that the centerline of the asana base runs from the inner edge of the left foot to the inner edge of the right heel. The right heel should be able to remain firmly on the ground -- the stance may be narrowed slightly to achieve this, as needed. The hips should end up facing as close to the same direction as the left foot as possible. Due to the asymmetrical nature of the asana, the hips will not actually be completely squared, but this is the direction of the action.
Internally rotate the right femur in the hip socket to begin the squaring of the pelvis to the left foot. Keep pressing the outer left heel as you do this. This internal rotation of the right femur should assist in bringing the inner and outer edges of the left leg and the left foot into parallel.
Lift the arms out to the sides so that they are parallel to the floor. Externally rotate the shoulders moving the inner edges of the scapula down the back and turning the palms towards the ceiling. Move the scapula into the back to lift the sternum. This lift of the sternum allows the head to look up without compressing the back of the neck. In other words, the movement of the head looking up should originate from the scapula and middle of the thoracic spine, not only from the neck. If the sternum does not lift enough to lift the head without compressing the back of the neck, let the face rest forward.
Once you are comfortable with the shoulder work, the arms may be lifted from the sides of the torso to full upright position in one inhalation. Keeping the shoulders stable, lift the arms above the head. The arms should remain straight. The feeling is that the upper arms are initiating this action and the lower arms and hands are following. The palms should join if the arms can remain straight.
As the arms lift, with the inhalation, lift the circumference of the inner walls of the ribs away from the belly. Any time the arms are over the head, the front body will tend to be longer than the back body, so give a little extra lift to the side and back ribs to minimize any bias.
Keeping the inner body length and the parallel alignment of the left leg joints, bend the left knee. At full lunge, the knee should be above the ankle. Check to see that the pelvis is still reasonably square with the left leg. If the pelvis has wandered out of square, try to reestablish this by reaffirming the internal rotation of the right femur. If this does not work, the stance may be narrowed. (If your full lunge brings the left knee beyond the ankle without disturbing the square of the pelvis or the straightness of the back leg, you may need to widen your stance.)
Check the quality of the right groin. When moving into the lunge, the right femur may possibly drop into the right quadriceps, hardening the groin. If this happens, rotate the sitting bones in towards the scapula to deepen the right groin and move the femur towards the hamstrings. This may create a bit of hyper lumbar lordosis. To neutralize any excessive lordosis, use the inhalation to lift the kidney area away from the lower back and the exhalation to release the coccyx towards the pubic bone and release the buttocks down.
Virabhadrasana I Warrior pose
Adho mukha svanasana – Downward facing dog pose adho – downward mukha – facing svana – dog asana – pose
1. Lie face down, with the toes tucked under. 2. Place the palms on the floor with the wrists at the sides, in line with the bottom of the ribs, with the fingers facing the shoulders. 3. Lift the hips to the ceiling, folding at the hips, bringing the torso, head, and arms into a straight line.
Lying face down, with the toes tucked under and the wrists in line with the bottom of the ribs, is generally a good starting place for the hands and feet of most people in adho mukha svanasana. Though you may lift directly into the asana from here, many people find it helpful to come to their hands and knees first.
If you start on the hands and knees, you need to refine the setup for this posture. The hands should be shoulder width apart. If the shoulders are tight, the arms may not straighten when the asana is performed. If this turns out to be the case, the hands should be separated more.
The centerline of the hand is the extended line of the middle finger. This line typically faces the same direction as the rest of the arm. The focus of the muscular work in the arm and shoulder is directed through the ball mount of the first finger. You should be able to feel how this action minimizes the weight on the wrist. This action in the arm and shoulder should be sustained throughout the duration of the asana.
Still on hands and knees, without lowering the chest, bend the elbows slightly out to the sides. This is a very small isometric action to broaden the collarbones. Then, keeping the width of the collarbones, press through the ball mounts of the first fingers to again straighten the arms.
You can now perform a similar action to broaden the sacrum before moving fully into the asana. To do this, try to stretch the floor between your knees by pressing the inner legs towards the outer legs. Again, this is a very small isometric action. As you do this, feel the sacrum broaden and sink into the pelvis. Often, as the sacrum releases into the pelvis, there will be a collapse at the kidney area. Keeping the release of the sacrum and the resulting soft lower lumbar lordosis, breathe into the kidney area. Together, these actions should bring the spine into a neutral position.
Now sustain the width of the sacrum and collarbones as you lift the knees from the floor. Continue lifting the pelvis as though you are drawing the pubic bone back between the legs. Continue this lift and bring the torso, head and arms into a single line. Make sure that the spine is still in a neutral position before you think about straightening the legs.
As soon as you begin to straighten your legs, your hamstrings become an issue. Adho mukha svanasana is mostly about lengthening the spine and is not an asana that will easily assist in lengthening the hamstrings. If the hamstrings already have length, straightening the legs will enhance this asana. If you try to straighten the legs prematurely, it will pull the sitting bones towards the heels and disturb the neutrality of the spine.
Salamba supta baddhakonasana – With support resting bound angle pose sa – with lamba – support supta – dormant or resting baddha – bound kona – angle asana – pose
1. Sit on the floor with the soles of the feet joined. 2. Recline with the knees, spine and head supported. 3. Let the arms rest a few inches from the torso.
This is a restorative asana. It is completely supported so that no muscular effort is required. To perform the asana, you will need three to four firm blankets. One blanket should be neatly folded so that it is about six to seven inches wide and long enough to support the spine from just below the ribs to the head. The thickness of the blanket should be at least two to three inches. More height may be used if desired.
Some additional elevation should be used beneath the neck and head. Most often a second blanket is used to support the neck and head, but occasionally the top of the first blanket can be folded over itself providing a “pillow,” if it is long enough and not too thick (see photo). The head should receive enough support so that the forehead is slightly higher than the chin, but not so much that it tightens the back of the neck or inhibits the natural cervical lordosis. This position of the head will be most quieting for the mind.
While lying back on the blanket support that you have created for the spine, join the soles of the feet so that they create mirror images of each other. The heels should be drawn as close to the perineum as is comfortable. Perform a “trial run” to determine the amount of support required for the knees. You will need blankets to support them slightly higher than their distance from the floor (see photo).
In this asana, we are not seeking to create stretch in the groins, but a release in the hip joints. Take care that the blanket supports are as close to the knees as possible. If the blanket supports are near the middle of the femur or closer to the hip joint, the weight of the leg will cause the head of the femur to move away from the joint, rather than into the joint as is desired.
Once the blankets are set up and you are resting comfortably in the asana, let the arms rest just far enough from the torso to permit air circulation into the armpits. Begin the asana with the palms face down towards the floor and press through the ball mounts of the first fingers to release the scapula down and broaden the back. Keeping the open- ness of the back, turn the palms up to let the chest rest in its most open position. Relax the roots of the tongue and jaw and let the soft palate hollow towards the top of the head. Then use the exhalations to release the kidney area towards the floor and to release the belly to the inside of the sacrum. This asana may be held for ten to twenty minutes or longer as desired. It may even be used as a savasana. It can be deeply relaxing to the entire nervous system.