Do you use props in your yoga practice?
Do you use props in your yoga practice?
Come stretch it out and relieve some stress with us!
Come get into the hips with us over at our new blog!
Dragon Pose and Variations
The Dragon poses are the ones in yoga class where everyone moans out loud (almost, but not quite as loud for Frog pose) but you’re all secretly thanking your teacher for placing this in today’s class. It’s also a pose that I almost have to force myself into during my home practice, but my body usually obliges when it realizes just how much sitting/driving/travelling I’ve done that week.
Dragon pose is very simple to come into and out of but -get this- it has eight different variations. While some of them have their own individual benefits, they can help improve the health of the hip flexors and to relieve tension from the quadriceps. Because of the deep stretch on the joint, they may help to improve sciatica.
You can come into the basic Dragon from either Down Dog or a table-top, hands and knees position, whichever is more comfortable for you. From whichever position you chose, step the right foot through to the hands and “help” it forward (this may mean physically picking it up and setting it down) until the knee is directly over the ankle. Now, wiggle the left (back leg) back until it is fully extended. Place hands on either side of the right food, using blocks or other props to lift the hands if this is too intense. This is the first variation on “Dragon Pose” and is also known as “Baby Dragon”.
For the next variation, rest the hands on the “standing thigh” and in this case that would be the right one. Allow your weight to sink into the hips for a deeper stretch. This is called “Dragon Flying High”.
A more intense version of the previous variation is “Dragon Flying Low”. Rest both arms on the inside of the right (standing) leg. Walk the arms away and rest on the forearms for the deepest version.
For “Twisted Dragon”, remain in the previous variation but use the right arm to push the right leg away and rotate the chest towards the sky.
Keeping the forearms on the inside of the right leg, wing the right knee out a few times until you are comfortably resting on the outside edge of that foot. This is “Winged Dragon”.
Starting again in Baby Dragon, shift all of your weight into the front knee, so much so that the heel of the “standing” foot is about to lift off of the ground. This will intensify the sensation in the back hip flexor and also strengthen the front ankle joint. This is called “Overstepping Dragon”.
“Dragon Splits” is the most advanced expression of the pose. Straighten both legs into a splits position. Supporting the front leg with a bolster or other prop allows the muscles to relax for a better experience in this expression.
The final variation, “Fire-Breathing Dragon”, can be done during any of the former variations. Simply tuck the toes of the back foot and lift the resting knee.
My previously-stated love/hate relationship with Dragon Pose means that I enjoy playing with the different variations (except for the splits…I’m not sure I’ll ever get there!). A word of caution…always do the same to both sides. Walking around with one tight hip flexor and one loose is a very strange sensation. And while you’re at it….enjoy it!
Photo credit: http://www.yinyoga.com
So, last week’s pose, was a little on the complex side, right? Let’s go back to something a bit easier this week. This simple pose is great for hunched shoulders and drooping backs, a habit that we can all identify with from time to time. In addition, this pose also opens up the tops of the thighs and hip flexors. It also puts some minor (good) stress on the ankles, which is one of the areas we tend to neglect Those who are elderly or may have spinal injuries are capable of doing this pose, but should consult with a medical professional first (or avoid it altogether, a nice alternative would be Sphinx Pose).
The simplest way to come into this pose is to begin on the knees and sitting on the ankles. Place your hands on the floor behind you and lift the hips forward. This motion will create an arch in your back. If you have neck issues or are feeling any tension in the neck keep the chin tucked. Otherwise, allow the neck to relax and the head to drop back . Bring the hands to rest on top of the heels.
For a more gentle version and less of an arched back, leave the hands on the floor behind you and keep the chin closer to the chest. Whichever version you have chosen, remain here for 2-4 minutes. When you’re ready, slowly lift the chest forward keeping the head back until the shoulders are once again over the hips. Bring the head forward and sit back into Child’s Pose.
Photo credit: http://www.yinyoga.com
Cat Pulling Its Tail
Remember last week how we talked about Yin mainly focusing on the lower half of the body? Well, let’s step out of our comfort zone this week, shall we? While it still mainly focuses in the area of the lower back, Cat Pulling Its Tail pose provides a beautiful stretch across the chest, upper back, and through the shoulders, especially if the “advanced” posture is taken. However, the “advanced” version is much easier to achieve with a teacher or assistant who can make sure you are getting the full benefits of the pose. But don’t worry, it can certainly be done on your own but as always, be aware of any pain, tingling, or other uncomfortable sensations. In addition to providing that lovely stretch across the top half of the torso, this pose also decompresses the lower back and offers an opening in the quadriceps and thighs. As always, our focus is on how the pose works on the joints/connective tissue and these muscular openings are merely icing on the cake.
When I teach, I have a love/hate relationship with how to explain coming into this pose. Seeing someone do it makes the process much easier, but trying to verbalize that process can be difficult. The love part of the relationship comes when I have explained the steps but there are still a few (ok- a lot) yogis flailing about trying to mimic what I’ve instructed. This usually ends up as a little giggle break in class and then -once everyone is settled- we get to have a nice conversation about humility :).
Speaking of humility, I’m going to borrow the words of Yin yoga student , Bernie Clark, to explain this oh-so-delicate process. You can check out his incredibly insightful website here.
Start by sitting with both legs out in front of you. Twist to the right and recline onto your right elbow. Keeping your bottom (right) leg straight, bring your top (left) leg forward and to the side. Bend the bottom leg, bringing that heel toward your buttock. Reach back with your top (left) hand and grab the bottom foot. Pull the foot away from you.
You may begin lying down. From here, roll onto your right side. Keeping your bottom (right) leg straight, bring your top (left) leg to the side. Bend the bottom leg, bringing that heel toward your buttock. Reach back with your top (left) hand and grab the bottom foot. Pull the foot away from you.
Okay, did you get that? It might take you a few tries, but you should end up looking like this picture.
If you feel as though this is enough, stay here for three to five minutes and then repeat on the other side. If you’d like to take it a step further, remove the arm that is supporting you out from underneath so that you are able to recline onto your back. Remain here or go one more step and turn the head so you can look down at the bottom foot. Try to pull the foot away from the glutes, and be warned that this is where an extra set of hands would be useful. Before turning your head you should look like this.
To come out of either pose, let go of that bottom foot and ooh and aah when you feel the tension release. Now straighten the leg of that foot (the bottom one) and roll onto your back. A nice counter-pose is Caterpillar which we covered here. When you’re done, repeat on the other side and again hold for three to five minutes.