Adho Mukha Vrksasana - Down face tree (Handstand) adho - downward mukha - facing vrksa - tree asana - pose
1. From a standing position, fold forward and place the palms on the floor shoulder width apart. 2. Lift one leg as high as possible. 3. With the smallest jump possible, push off from the supporting leg and lift it to join the other.
Though not a complicated asana, entering adho mukha vrksasana requires a strong grounding of the humerus and femurs. The humerus and the femurs need to move the body’s weight towards the back body so that entering this asana becomes a matter of shifting the balance of one’s weight and not of momentum.
To begin practicing this pose, it is good to use a wall. The fingertips can be about a foot from the wall, or for a fully wall supported version of this asana (i.e. the entire back resting on the wall) the fingertips can be touching the wall. However, this will necessitate very open shoulders.
From a standing position, bend over and place the palms on the floor, shoulder width apart. If the shoulders are tight you may find it difficult to fully straighten the arms. If the arms do not straighten, this asana will require a great deal more muscular work than if the bones are aligned (which they are when the arms are straightened). If needed, the palms can be placed a bit wider than the shoulders but the farther apart they go, the more it will feel like a muscular pose than a pose of balance. Only if the arms are straight and the torso vertical will the bones effectively support the body’s weight easily.
Spread the fingers and broaden the palms. Work the forearms in internal rotation to firmly ground the ball mounts of the first fingers. This will initiate the action of moving the outer part of the shoulders toward the back body. As you do this, also move the inner edges of the shoulders back. This will feel as if you are deepening the armpits. Because the head will also be lifting slightly, it will feel as though you are moving the shoulders toward the base of the skull. Together, these actions will stabilize the shoulders.
Bring the feet as close to the hands as possible without compressing the belly or losing humeral grounding. If the hips and/or hamstrings are tight, it will be difficult to bring the feet in very close to the hands. If the challenge is tight hamstrings, bending the knees while sustaining the lift of the sitting bones is an option. If the challenge is tight hip joints, a wider stance between the feet and hands will be needed. In either case, it will require more of a jump to get the feet off the floor.
Lift one of your legs as high as possible, keeping the lift at the outer head of the femur of the supporting leg and keeping the humerus grounded. Keep the arms and the lifted leg as straight as possible while you slightly bend the supporting leg and lightly jump up to meet the other one.
There will be a tendency for the armpits to move toward the front body as you lift the legs. Because this will tend to unground the humerus, a little extra effort to keep the shoulders toward the back body is usually needed.
If a wall is being used for support, keep the knees joined with one leg straight and the other slightly bent so one foot is on the wall. Press the palms down deeply and lift through the inner body and legs. If the shoulders are tight, there will be a tendency to project the floating ribs forward. If this happens, draw them towards the kidneys.
To release the pose, lower one leg at a time, keeping the opposite leg lifted as a counter weight. The second leg is then lowered. Rest in uttanasana for a few breaths.
Repeat the pose by lifting the opposite leg first.
To release the pose the second time, reverse the order in which the legs are brought down. Rest in uttanasana for at least three breaths and then come slowly to a standing position, perhaps pausing half-way up to breathe. This will give the blood pressure time to equalize before standing upright.
Elbow Dog (Pinchamayurasana preparation)
This is one of the best asanas you can do to stabilize the shoulders in external rotation. As the name suggests, it is both a preparation for pinchamayurasana and functionally adho mukha svanasana on the forearms. Because the forearms are parallel with each other, shoulder stability is almost guaranteed in this pose.
In standing asanas, a bent leg pose motivates hip stability more readily than a straight leg posture does. The same principle applies to the bent arms of elbow dog versus the straight arms of the traditional dog pose.
1. Starting on hands and knees, place the forearms on the floor shoulder width apart and parallel with one another. 2. Keep the wrists separated and resist the elbows in as you straighten the legs. 3. Keep the shoulders directly above the elbows. Since the length of the stance in this pose will vary with each individual, start on hands and knees with the palms shoulder width apart. Press through the ball mounts of the index fingers as you externally rotate the upper arms and bring the forearms to the floor. Make sure that the elbows end up shoulder width apart. The middle fingers constitute the centerlines of the hands, and like the forearms, they should also be parallel.
Turn the toes under and straighten the legs. If the legs do not straighten in adho mukha svanasana, they will not straighten here. Keep the forearms parallel and work the arms isometricly to bring the elbows in as you resist the wrists apart. If this is a difficult action and the wrists go in, a block may be used between the hands for support. The thumbs should be behind the block and the index fingers alongside of it.
If the shoulders are tight they may wind up forward of the elbows. Try to bring the shoulders directly above the elbows, even if it means that the feet need to be moved back. On the other hand, if the body is more open, the shoulders may wind up behind the elbows. If this is the case, walk the feet toward the elbows until the shoulders are directly above them.
Keep the shoulders moving toward the back body as the upper thoracic spine moves the sternum forward. Typically, the head will simply become an extension of the spine. To work the asana more in the direction of pinchamayurasana, the head may be slightly lifted. Either way, keep the throat and soft palate relaxed.
Remain in this asana as long as possible. With the shoulders directly above the elbows, breathe comfortably. To release, bend the knees and rest in balasana.
Pinchamayurasana, like sirshasana, is a balance pose, but because it affords less room for misalignment, it may feel substantially more challenging and muscular than sirshasana. Because the forearms are parallel and shoulder width apart, the stability of the shoulders cannot be compromised. Although sirshasana should be performed with the same degree of shoulder stability, it does not demand it like pinchamayurasana does.
This asana can also be performed against a wall (Yoga the Iyengar Way, page 97).
1. Starting on hands and knees, place the forearms on the floor, parallel and shoulder width apart. 2. Keep the shoulders directly over the elbows and walk the feet toward the forearms. 3. Lift or lightly jump one leg straight up followed by the other leg and gaze at the floor.
To perform pinchamayurasana, start on your hands and knees and place the fore- arms on the floor. The elbows should be shoulder width apart and the forearms should be parallel. Broaden the palms and spread the fingers wide apart.
Bring the shoulders directly above the elbows and walk the feet in toward the fore- arms. The head is slightly lifted, but the eyes gaze at the floor. Keeping the shoulders above the elbows, lift one leg as high as possible. Then lift the second leg and press it against the other. It may be necessary to jump slightly to get the second leg to lift off the floor, but keep this momentum to a minimum.
Once in this asana, it is important to keep the inner legs joined. If the legs separate, they will tend to wander around, which will make balance unnecessarily difficult. Also, the legs should work to lift the weight out of the torso in the same way that the arms lift the weight out of the torso in urdva hastasana and virabhadrasana I.
If there is tightness in the shoulders, there will be a tendency to project the floating ribs forward. This can create hyper lumbar lordosis, so be sure to resist the floating ribs toward the kidneys as you bring the T-1 and T-2 vertebrae into the back to open the sternum. A good way to assist this is to bring the breath into the back body and release the coccyx toward the pubic bone.
The position of the arms alone will help to keep the humerus grounded, but it will still be helpful to bring the sternum forward as you resist the floating ribs to the back body. If this is difficult and the wrists move in, use a block between the hands with the thumbs behind the block and the index fingers at its sides. Keep the eyes, throat and tongue relaxed even though the head remains slightly lifted.
Come out of the asana one leg at a time. Then rest in balasana for at least three good breaths to give the blood pressure time to equalize from the inversion.
Salamba Sirshasana – With support of the head pose (Headstand - head on floor) sa - with alamba - support sirsha - head asana - pose
Sirshasana is considered the king of the asanas and sarvangasana the queen. This is because of the depth of their inner body benefits. Like all inversions, these asanas help to reverse the degenerative effects of gravity. Unlike most inversions (which are not likely to be held for long periods of time), sirshasana (headstand) and sarvangasana (shoulderstand) can be sustained for longer periods of time and are therefore considered to be among the most important asanas that one can perform. However, they are as complicated to do well, as they are potent, so they need to be treated with respect. Sarvangasana is perhaps the more complicated, and sirshasana the more subtle. Sarvangasana is more quieting to the nervous system, and sirshasana is more balanced and alert—like a meditative state.
All of the other groups of asanas: standing poses, sitting poses, forward bends, and back bends, are preparatory asanas for the inversions.
Included in this program are two versions of the headstand: salamba sirshasana and niralamba sirshasana. The most common is salamba sirshasana in which the weight is born on the head. Niralamba sirshasana and pinchamayurasana could almost be thought of as prerequisites to salamba sirshasana, though they are both more difficult. This is because there is less margin for error in niralamba sirshasana and pinchamayurasana. If there is a lack of strength or misalignment in the body, it will be made very apparent in niralamba sirshasana and pinchamayurasana—whereas it could be easily overlooked in salamba sirshasana. Lack of stability or misalignment in salamba sirshasana, together with weight on the head can result in injury.
When first practicing salamba sirshasana, the majority of the weight should be on the arms and shoulders, with little actual weight on the head. It is only after years of practice that all of the weight can be born on the head, with the arms only stabilizing the balance.
In a supported headstand, all we need to do is align the vertebrae so that they are stacked appropriately, and very little weight will be felt on the head. When inverted in salamba sirshasana, we are symbolically balancing our head on the planet. It is a pose of balance, not strength.
When doing sirshasana, if any compression in the neck is experienced, it is a common practice to perform sarvangasana afterward to release the neck. However, any asana performed in a completely balanced way should not require a counter pose.
1. Starting on hands and knees, bring the forearms to the floor with the elbows shoulder width apart. 2. Interlace the fingers up to the webbing and place the crown of the head on the floor cupped in the hands. 3. Keep the stability of the shoulders as you straighten the legs and walk the feet towards the hands. 4. Let the weight of the hips offset the weight of the legs so that the legs will softly lift to sirshasana.
From your hands and knees, interlace the fingers up to the webbing. Although the fingers are deeply interlaced, the grip should remain soft. The arms and shoulders (not the fingers) should be used for stability in the pose. The elbows should be shoulder width apart. Various methods have been offered to establish this measurement but none really works. Experiment and find the method that works best for you.
For most people the crown of the head will be placed on the floor with the back of the head cupped in the hands. However, due to the varying proportions of individual spines and limbs, this may need to be modified. To find out if any modifications are needed, simulate the pose by standing upright in tadasana and interlacing the fingers behind the head as though you are in sirshasana. Keep the elbows shoulder width apart= and lift the elbows while keeping the rest of the body aligned in tadasana.
Now look at the relationship of the crown of the head to the height of the elbows. If someone has very long limbs and a short neck, the elbows will be higher than the crown of the head. In this case, some elevation may be needed beneath only the head when inverted in the actual pose.
However, if the head is higher than the elbows in tadasana, the palms of the hands can be joined rather than cupped behind the head when inverted. This will bring the elbows closer to the head and shorten the base a little. Keeping the hands cupped with this body type will make it difficult to keep the shoulders grounded and the weight minimized on the head in the actual pose. (In extreme cases, the forearms can be elevated if necessary).
Classically, both legs should be lifted straight up at the same time. This necessitates long hamstrings and open, well-grounded hips and shoulders. Although it is possible to enter this asana with bent knees, or with a slight hop, this increases the possibility for error, and therefore injury. For this reason sirshasana will be described with straight legs only.
Once the positions are established for the head and the hands, move the scapulae into the back to take the sternum toward the front body as you move the shoulders toward the back body. This will stabilize the shoulders and prevent the neck from being compressed while entering this asana.
Straighten the legs and walk the feet toward the head. As you do this, maintain the lift from the outer head of the femurs and the depth of the groins. This will begin to move the weight of the hips slightly behind the back to offset the weight of the legs. As you feel the weight shifting, the legs will easily lift off of the floor. Press the legs together as though they were one big leg. Keep the inner edges of the anklebones, heels, and ball mounts of the big toes touching as much as possible.
When the legs reach a full vertical position, there may be a tendency to collapse the junction of the thoracic and lumbar spine. To alleviate this, keep the legs engaged and separate them slightly. This will open the sacrum. Use the breath in the back body to draw the bottom front ribs toward the kidneys and release the coccyx toward the pubic bone. Then rejoin the legs. It will feel as though the femurs, groins, kidneys, and shoulders are resting in the back body as the sternum moves forward.
When sirshasana is balanced, the weight will not be felt dominantly on the elbows, but evenly distributed along the length of the forearms. The soft palate will also be able to release quite deeply. Experience this release in the ears, down through the soft palate, and all the way to the top of the head.
To release this asana, keep the legs firmly joined, fold at the hip joints, and slowly bring the feet to the floor. When the feet touch down, bend the knees and rest in balasana for at least three long breaths before sitting up.
If you are doing a series of inversions, try to stay at least partially inverted during the transitions. If you go from being inverted to an upright position too quickly or too frequently, it can aggravate the nervous system rather than quiet it. So always make the transition out of an inversion slowly. Give the blood pressure time to equalize by performing a semi-inverted, prone, or supine pose afterwards.
Niralamba Sirshasana - Without support of the head pose (Headstand - head off floor) nir – no alamba - support sirsha - head asana - pose
1. Starting on hands and knees, bring the forearms to the floor with the elbows shoulder width apart. 2. Interlace the fingers up to the webbing and place the crown of the head on the floor cupped in the hands. 3. Keep the stability of the shoulders as you straighten the legs and walk the feet towards the hands. 4. Let the weight of the hips offset the weight of the legs so that the legs will softly lift to sirshasana. 5. Press through the forearmsand lift the head off of the floor.
To perform niralamba sirshasana, begin in salamba sirshasana. Then press through the forearms and lift the head off of the floor. The head should move away from the hands and be able to hang freely in space.
As stated previously, there is a tendency to project the bottom ribs forward from the junction of the thoracic and lumbar spine. To address this, try looking up at the feet. The only way to see them is to draw the ribs in towards the kidneys.
Return the head to the floor and release the asana as you did in the supported version.
Viloma Pranayama - Breath going against the grain viloma - going against the grain pranayama - controlling and directing the life-force.
When beginning a more formal pranayama practice, it is good to start in savasana as it is totally non-muscular. This affords one the ability to place all of one’s attention on the pranayama technique and not on sustaining an asana.
We use supported savasana to assist the passive opening of the chest and motivate femur grounding which will help the belly to release. To perform supported savasana, you will need two blankets. Each blanket should be folded to be about 2” x 12” x 24”. The first blanket should support the back from just below the floating ribs up to and including the head. The second blanket should support just the neck and head. When properly supported, the forehead will be slightly higher than the chin (see photo).
Adjust the scapulae so that they rest flat on the blanket. This action should permit the shoulders to release toward the floor so that the palms face up. For a brief moment, join and internally rotate the legs to broaden the sacrum. Then just relax the legs, allowing them to roll out to the sides.
Release the muscles away from the bones. Rest the belly toward the inside of the sacrum. Let the ear canals broaden and deepen as they relax, also relaxing the root of the jaw. The ear canals will feel as though they are releasing into and through each side of the soft palate and then merging into a single point at the top of the head. The ear canals will also release down to the root of the tongue along with the entire throat.
As the soft palate and tongue release, you will begin to feel a subtle narrowing occurring behind the septum and in the throat around the glottis. This will create a soft aspirated sound to the breath. This is called ujjayi, the victorious breath. Ujjayi can be utilized as a pranayama to assist in breath awareness as well as forming the foundation for viloma pranayama.
Viloma I Viloma will help to extend and gain control of one’s inhalations, thereby increasing lung capacity and improving intercostal tone. It is also an energizing breath. The entire cycle of viloma is performed with the deeply relaxed and aspirated sound of ujjayi. Although the breath should be deep and evenly extended, never force it. If the lungs experience any fatigue, or if there is discomfort of any kind while doing this pranayama, relax and rest the breath in the belly until the feeling subsides.
In viloma I, the inhalation is divided into three sections; the exhalation is not. To perform viloma I, first empty the lungs with an exhalation. Then, breathing through the nose, let the first part of the inhalation be felt in the lower belly from the pubic bone to the navel. Suspend the inhalation for a few seconds. Then continue the inhalation from the navel to the kidneys. Again, suspend the breath for a few seconds. Then resume the inhalation from the kidneys to the collarbones and once again suspend the breath. Then release the breath with a long, slow, full exhalation. At the end of the exhalation, the out breath will rest briefly before repeating the cycle.
Let your comfort level determine how many viloma I breaths you wish to take at one time. Proficiency will be attained with regular daily practice—even if you only practice it for a few minutes. Because of its energizing effects, this pranayama is best performed in the mornings as it will help wake up the lungs and get the prana moving.
BENEFITS OF INVERSIONS
1. Tonifies the vital organs.
2. Stimulates the endocrine glands which promotes balanced and efficient functioning of the entire physiology.
3. Promotes metabolism and regulates weight.
4. Builds strength and elasticity in the superficial and deep musculature, ligaments and connective tissues of the spine, shoulders, and rib cage.
5. Relieves compression on the spinal column.
6. Improves circulation and relieves strain in the legs and feet.
7. Reverses the effects of the gravitational pull on the organs.
8. Strengthens the cardiovascular system.
9. Reduces intestinal sluggishness, improving digestion and elimination.
10. Improves concentration, memory and thinking processes.
11. Clears the mind, creating positivity.
12. Improves sleep by quieting and soothing the nerves. 13. Improves the capacity to concentrate and meditate.