This week I riffle through the old mental files to an Anusara yoga class from many years ago where I learned from Maritza all about the loops and spirals of Anusara's alignment principles. As we continue to refine the upper body positioning that creates ease in weight bearing postures such as Downward Facing Dog, remember to work mindfully so that we are not adding tension to the shoulder area.
Gentle Backbend with Arms Overhead
Lie on the back with a long-folded blanket beneath the bottom tips of the shoulder blades, right beneath the bra line. Rest the upper shoulder and head on the floor and keep the knees bent at first. Use a looped strap that is as wide as the chest and place the wrists inside the strap. Raise the arms in front of the body keeping the palms facing inwards and the arms parallel to each other. Continue to move the arms over the head within a comfortable range of motion. Reach from the underside of the shoulder blade to the pinkie fingers and from the crook between the index finger and thumb draw the inner shoulder blades down the back.
Seated Lateral Bend
Begin seated cross-legged and place the left hand on the floor beside the hip. Inhale and raise the right arm diagonally across the body and reach it overhead to the left. Bend the left elbow towards the body and keep that shoulder released down the back to help support the weight of the body. Keep both sit bones grounded into the floor. Exhale and return to the center. Repeat to both sides 5-10 times with the breath.
Therapeutics: Opens side rib cage and facilitates breath throughout the torso. Gently warms up the low back and shoulders.
From a sitting position, raise the arms out to the sides with the elbows bent and forearms vertical in a cactus position. As you inhale draw the shoulder blades together to open the arms. As you exhale draw the forearms together in front of the face engaging the Serratus Anterior muscles beneath the shoulder blades that help to pin the shoulder blades low and wide on the back.
From all fours extend the legs back one at a time and turn the toes under so that the knees are off the floor. Draw the shoulder blades down the back and reach the sternum forward keeping the frame of the shoulder strong. Engage the belly and lengthen back towards the heels.
Therapeutics: Strengthens the shoulders and core.
Downward Facing Dog with a Chair
Stand in front of the seat of a chair and bend forward holding the sides of the seat with the hands wrapped around underneath. Step the feet back and extend the arms over the head but do not allow the head to drop below the arms. Keep the shoulders wide on the back as you press the hips back, knees can be bent or straight with the weight of the hips over the heels.
Therapeutics: Stretches the shoulders, lengthens hamstrings, provides traction for the spine, and encourages good alignment for Downward Facing Dog.
Viniyoga Warrior I
Viniyoga Virabhadrasana I
Begin standing in Tadasana. Step left leg back about three feet keeping feet hips width apart. Keep right toes turned forward and left foot turned slightly out. Turn hips gently towards front foot and balance weight on both feet. Bring arms up into cactus position and as you inhale bend the front knee over the front ankle and open the elbows wide, then exhale and draw the forearms together and straighten the front knee. Repeat moving in and out of the posture 3-5 times with the breath. Then inhale the arms overhead and exhale and bend right knee and hold Draw belly up and release tail bone towards floor.
Hold 5-10 breaths then release and change sides.
Therapeutics: Opens front body and psoas, strengthens legs, improves balance.
Standing Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Stand with feet wide apart. Bend forward from hips placing hands between feet. Release spine forward with crown of head facing floor. Hold up to 1 minute, then return to standing by drawing hands onto hips and lifting entire torso up as a single unit.
Supported Heart Opener
Salamba Uttana Merudandasana
Set up two bolsters perpendicular to mat with folded blanket on the one toward the back of the mat. Sit on folded blanket or on floor facing away from bolsters. Lie back so that shoulder blades and upper back are supported by shorted bolster and the head and neck are supported by the taller bolster. The upper line of the shoulders and arms should fall in between the bolsters. If the elbows to not readily reach the floor, support with more folded blankets. Either straighten legs out to floor or rest knees over bolster.
Therapeutics: Opens heart and releases tension across chest, shoulders and neck
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.