Virabhadrasana II, or Warrior II is a classic standing pose from the Hatha yoga tradition. It strengthens the legs, keeps the core strong, tones the upper arms and shoulders. The legs stretch wide and you assume the stance of a proud warrior, like Arjuna read to fight the epic battle in the Bhagavad Gita. Within the widespread arms, a bow and quivered arrow could be held at the ready, or a spear in the back hand ready to be thrown. Fearlessness and courage are cultivated by it's practice as well as the ability to stand strong and firm on your own two feet. This week's practice will prepare the body for this energizing standing pose starting with a reclining, and kneeling version of the pose.
Supta Vrksasana (Reclining Tree Pose)
Lay on the back with the legs extended. Bend one knee and place the foot on the inside of the opposite leg. Use a block to support the knee. Inhale and lift the arms overhead and lengthen into the extended leg.
Ardha Anandabalasana (Half Happy Baby Pose)
Lay on the back with the knees bent and feet on the floor. Draw one leg into the chest and hold back of the knee and draw toward the shoulder with the knee bent at ninety degrees and the sole of the foot facing the ceiling. If it is available to you, extend the other leg to the floor and raise the other arm overhead.
Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)
Stand with feet wide apart. Turn right foot in 30 degrees and left foot out 90 degrees. Inhale arms out from shoulders. Exhale and bend left knee. Keep torso upright and do not lean over bent leg. Gaze towards left hand.
Stiffness and discomfort in the middle back can arise from a variety of problems. Imagine how the spine is shaped, like a repeating S-curve that moves from the curl of the tailbone all the way up to the arch of the neck. There is one point along the middle back, the juncture between the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae that is particularly vulnerable. This week we will focus on creating gentle movement in this part of the body through twists and back bends.
Draw feet to left side of pelvis, knees stay in front of torso. Try to press left hip towards floor as you raise left arm overhead. Exhale and twist belly, ribs, chest and head to right. Release left arm to outside of right thigh, right arm can support behind the back.
Hold for up to 2 minutes, then release and change sides.
Therapeutics: Opens hips, stretches muscles along spine & neck
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)
Sit with left leg cross-legged and that heel beside right hip. Step right foot down on the outside of the left knee. Inhale and wrap left arm around front of right knee. Exhale and twist into right leg, compressing the belly. Twist from belly, through ribs, chest, and then head.
Hold for up to 1 minute, then release and change sides.
Therapeutics: Compresses the belly to increase digestion, wrings out muscles along spine
Pasasana (Noose Pose)
Come into Malasana with left side towards wall. Inhale and lift torso away from knees. Exhale and bring right elbow onto outside of left knee to twist body to left. Place both hands on wall and gently lean torso back.
Therapeutics: Compresses abdominal organs, stretches muscles along spine, opens hips
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Begin on all fours with hands slightly forward of shoulders. Turn toes under and lift knees off floor. Keep shoulders wide and palms flat, press thighs and sit bones back, scooping belly in.
Hold 1-3 minutes, release into Child's Pose.
Therapeutics: Strengthens arms and shoulders, stretches back of torso and legs
Lay on belly with legs together and toes pointed back. Bring forearms to floor with elbows aligned under shoulders and forearms parallel to each other, palms facing down.
Life sternum forward and up through crown of head.
If lower back feels vulnerable, engage belly away from floor. Hold 5-10 breaths and resease chest to floor with hands under forehead.
Therapeutics: Stretches front of body, creates space between vertebrae
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
Lie on belly with arms to sides. Press pubic bone into floor and lengthen legs behind you. Inhale and press palms towards ceiling as you lift legs away from floor.
Hold 5 breaths and release.
Therapeutics: Strengthens lower back and spinal muscles
Supported Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
Sit in front of a bolster with a long folded blanket on the other side. Lay back over bolster and place shoulders on blanket, head on floor as you lift hips away from the floor. Place block under hips and turn toes slightly in. Rest arms in cactus with palms facing upwards. Rest up to 5 minutes.
Therapeutics: Opens front of belly and solar plexus allowing for increased breath in these areas as well as tractioning the lower spine.
Upper back and shoulder pain affect many of us, especially if we sit at a computer for many hours of the day. Proper posture is so important for holding the structure of the thoracic and cervical spine in proper alignment so that the muscles do not have to work so hard to keep the head and shoulders in line. Energetically and emotionally, posture that is rounded forward can deepen feelings of sadness and depression as the breath becomes shallow and stuck around the heart. Here you will find simple yoga techniques to help you align and bring movement into your upper back and shoulders. Namaste!
Take an 8 foot yoga straps or tie two neckties together to create a long strap. Begin with the center of the strap at the lower tips of the shoulder blades across the back (the bra line for ladies), draw it forward under the armpits and straight up in front of the shoulder joints so it begins to look like a back pack strap. Then cross the ends of the strap behind your head and allow the X of the strap to come down on the back between the shoulder blades. Then pull the ends of the strap from behind the armpits forward again so that they can be tied under the chest (or breasts). It should be tight enough to feel that the front of the chest is lifted up and the shoulder blades are drawn down the back. Notice how the breath is more free and the posture of the shoulders is much improved. The head should also easily perch on top of the neck. Sit like this for a few minutes in meditation with the following mudra.
Prajna Prana Kriya
Touch index finger nail to lowest joint of thumb and apply light pressure, extend all other fingers and turn palms up.
Benefits: Slows breath, releases deep stress
Practice Tips: Survival stressors, severe anxiety
Contraindications: low blood pressure
Lie on side with rolled blanket under side ribs, bottom arm under head for support. Begin with both knees bent then try extending top leg in line with the rest of the spine. Raise top arm overhead and support with props or hold with bottom hand. Rest 3-5 minutes per side.
Therapeutics: Opens both sides of thoracic region increasing breath capacity
Begin on all fours. Inhale lift right arm out to side. Exhale press right arm under left armpit lowering right shoulder to floor. Continue to press left hand into floor for balance. Can also raise left knee up pressing left ball of foot into floor. Be careful not to put too much pressure on your head.
Therapeutics: Opens upper back, shoulders and rib cage.
Dharana Virasana (Hero's Concentration Pose)
Sit with legs in Virasana. Cross right arm over left arm intertwining forearms in front of face.
Repeat to both sides for up to 1 minute.
Therapeutics: Opens the upper back and stretches Rhomboids.
Place two blocks on mat, one perpendicular to mat on lowest height, the other parallel to mat on middle height. The blocks should be 4-6 inches away from each other. Sit facing away from blocks and lie back placing shoulder blades on low block, back of head on high block. Place arms on floor with palms facing upwards.
Therapeutics: Opens the heart and relaxes the trapezius muscles of the upper back
Back pain affects most of us at some point in our lives. Sometimes all it takes is an unmindful moment of lifting and twisting or bending forward without good body mechanics and we are out of commission for days or even weeks.
As a sufferer of chronic low and upper back pain myself I know all too well how debilitating it can be. I am so grateful to have found yoga as a practice to keep my back supple and strong. And when my back does "go out" or flares up, I use this series of movements from the yoga medicine cabinet that releases the spasming muscles and the discomfort without relying on anything stronger than a little ibuprofen.
Right Hand: Touch tips of thumb, middle and pinkie fingers together, extend all others.
Left Hand: Touch tips of thumb and ring fingers together, extend all others. Rest with palms up.
Benefits: Directs breath into the spine and back body
Practice Tips: Use with all kinds of back pain
Lie on back with knees drawn into chest. On an inhalation lower knees to the left side. Exhale and engage belly as you bring knees back to the center. Inhale as you lower kees to the right side. Exhale and engage belly as you bring knees back to the center.
Repeat alternately with the breath 5-10 times per side.
Therapeutics: Broadens back of pelvis, stretches outside of legs, gently compresses the abdominal organs
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Lie on the belly with the hands under the shoulders. Press pubic bone into floor and lengthen legs behind you. Inhale and press upper body away from floor keeping shoulders back and chest broad.
Hold 5-10 breaths and release chest to floor.
Restorative: Can support lower abdomen with rolled blanket
Therapeutics: Opens front body, stretches lower back, strengthens arms
Lie on back with knees bent and feet on floor. Lift hips up and place block under back of pelvis. Turn toes slightly in and allow arms to rest out to sides with palm facing upwards. Rest up to 5 minutes.
Therapeutics: Opens front of belly and solar plexus allowing for increased breath in these areas as well as tractioning the lower spine
Home Practice Blog
I attend Cheryl's class regularly and feel that my practice has improved immensely over the past few years due to her expert coaching. Her teaching style is clear and compassionate and her previous experience in teaching adults is evident in her organized approach and easy to understand instructions. I also appreciate that Cheryl not only teaches us about how to correctly position ourselves, but also touches on many aspects of yoga philosophy, which in turn has deepened my personal practice and heightened my awareness of the connection between mind and body, breath and relaxation.