Sunday, August 23, 2015

Can You Look Like These Things?

One of the fun aspects of yoga is that many poses are named after animals.  Anyone with a dog has seen their canine friend strike a Downward or Upward Facing Dog.  Fish Pose brings to mind a fish, and Cobra pose definitely feels like a snake lifting its head.  In yoga, you can use your body and your imagination to mimic different animals.

But it’s not just animals that can stoke your creative fire in yoga.  There are lots of poses named after things too - objects, plants and even celestial bodies.   Here is a selection of Yoga Teddy Bear’s four favorite “thing poses” from the coloring book “Things & Stuff.”

1.  Chair Pose (Utkatasana) Begin with your feet firmly planted. Breathe in and raise your arms up.  Breathe out and bend your knees as if you are sitting down on a chair.  Keep your back straight, but lean forward a little so you can see your toes sticking out from below your knees. Do you feel like a chair?  How long can you hold Chair Pose?  Flex your muscles.

2.  Plank Pose (Adho Mukha Dandasana)  Begin on all fours.  Place your hands on the floor under your shoulders.  Stretch your legs out behind you tucking your toes.  Flex your tummy and make your whole back straight and long like a plank of wood.  Keep on breathing.  How long can you hold Plank Pose? 

3.  Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)  Start from a standing position.  Take a big step forward.  Turn your back foot so you’re facing to one side.  Reach your arms out like a capital “T”.  Breathe in and slide forward over your straight front leg, then breathe out while you slowly teeter totter your arms until your hand touches your leg or the floor.  Reach your other fingertips toward the sky and look upward.  How many triangles do you see?  Next, try the pose with your other foot in front so you are facing the opposite way.  Hold it for the same amount of time.

4.  Airplane Pose (Dekasana) Stand with your feet rooted in the earth like a mountain.  Tuck your tail a little and pull in your belly button.  Bring your arms out to your sides like an airplane.  Balance on one foot and lean forward with your leg stretched out behind you.  Breathe deeply while you imagine all the places you will fly!  Fly high above the clouds.  When you’re done balancing on one foot, try the other foot.

These four poses are not only fun, they’re beneficial.  Chair Pose strengthens your legs.  Practice Plank Pose regularly and you’ll develop awesome belly muscles.  Triangle pose releases tension in your hips.  Airplane pose is the perfect pose to practice your balance.  And all of them have one thing in common – they’re things!  And good things at that.

So the next time you’re in the mood to have fun and treat your body to something different, give these three poses a try.  Make yourself look like these things, and when you're done, color the pictures.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Balance & Bend

Yoga Teddy Bear’s brand new coloring book is named Balance& Bend, because it’s packed full of arm stands, balancing postures and back bends.  Most people can do at least one of the poses in this mostly advanced book.  The interesting thing is that everyone’s body is different, so a pose that seems impossible for one person may seem extremely easy for another.  The important thing in yoga is to simply try your best.  That’s how you learn more about your body today and improve yourself every time you practice.

Here are 4 fun poses from the new book.  They range in difficulty level, but all are worth a try!  Remember to breathe deeply and flex your muscles a lot.  By doing that, you’ll protect your joints and ligaments. 

1.  Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

Just looking at this pose should help you cool down on a hot summer day!  Upward Facing Dog is a classic pose that just about everyone can participate in.  As an integral part of what many teachers call a “Vinyasa” flow (which essentially consists of “Plank, Upward Dog and Downward Dog”), it’s one of those poses that most classes include. 

Lay on your tummy with your toenails pressing down.  Place your hands under your shoulders, inhale and push into your hands to lift your chin, chest, and knees off the ground.  Only your hands and feet touch the floor.  Your body should be curved like a ski jump. Look up and breathe deeply.  Exhale and press back into Downward Facing Dog.

2.  Scorpion Pose (Vrschikasana)

OK, here is where it starts to get a little harder.  This is an arm balancing pose that many consider to be easier than a handstand but harder than a headstand.   If you want to test your arm strength first, try a Plank pose with your forearms on the ground.  If you feel stable doing that, give this one a shot.  You might surprise yourself!

Begin on your hands and knees facing a wall.  Drop down to your elbows keeping your forearms in line with each other, or clasp your hands together.  Straighten your legs and walk your feet in toward your elbows.  Lift one leg, then use the other as a springboard to kick your legs into the air.  Bend your knees and try to touch your head with your toes.  If you can balance come away from the wall a little more.  Your legs look like a scorpion’s tail.  Breathe.

3.  Bird of Paradise (Svarga Dvidasana)

This is a pose that many people believe looks harder than it really is.  The key is to work your way into it in steps.   If you have a solid tree pose and a good sense of balance, you’re more than halfway there.  The other piece is an under-the-leg bind, which is most easily accomplished correctly when you follow these steps. 

Start in Warrior 2.  Reach inside and under your bent leg with your front arm, then reach the other arm behind you and clasp hands.  Get comfortable here for a few breaths.  Next, step your back foot forward into a squat and shift your weight to it.  Breathe in and focus on one point.  Breathe out and slowly stand up.  Once you feel balanced, straighten your bound leg slowly like an opening flower.  Balance & breathe.

4.  Heron Pose (Krounchasana)

While not exactly a balancing posture, armstand or backbend, Heron pose is an intense hamstring stretch that also requires a sense of balance.   Remember, it’s not about how high you lift your leg, it’s about tuning into your body, using your breath to lengthen your muscles, and taking your time. 

Start by sitting on the ground.  Fold one leg back so your heel is outside of your hip with your toes pointing straight back. Sit tall and step the other foot onto the floor with your knee bent. Using both hands hold your standing foot or ankle, then lift and lengthen your leg like the neck of a heron.  Keep your spine straight.  Flex your leg muscles and breathe.

These four fun poses are just a small sample of the hundreds of yoga poses that challenge us to stretch, balance and breathe.   You can learn even difficult poses at any age if you undertake a regular practice.  Go to yoga classes when you can and find teachers that you like.  A teacher can help you identify how to make the proper adjustments so that you can find each pose at the deepest level for your own body.

Yoga mirrors life in that the most important aspect of your practice is to be kind to yourself.  Forgive yourself.  Simply do your best.  You’re here to enjoy your body and discover where you resist, where you surrender, and where you want to go next on your incredible journey.  Smile!