• Yoga Pose Tips: Upward Facing Dog

    Upward facing dog is the first posture where you start to establish the patterns for back bending.  It’s the patterns that are going to eventually help you get into the deeper and more advanced back bends.

    When I’m stuck in an advanced posture I always go back to its building blocks in basic postures, which are conveniently placed at the beginning of every Ashtanga yoga sequence. I imagine this will be a lifelong process of going back to the foundations and finding more subtler experiences of them. Which is why I think an intro class can serve any level. It’s intended for beginners but there’s something to learn for any level practitioner when slowing things down and allowing ourselves the space to rediscover the inner workings of a basic posture.

    Establish the patterns for back bending.

    It’s important to create the right foundation right from the beginning with upward facing dog. In order to do that, we’re going to come into a sphinx position, to start to understand some of the movement mechanics involved in upward facing dog. Where your forearms are on the ground, and your elbows are underneath your shoulders.  First thing, you’re going to point the toes, and press the tops of the feet into the mat.  Engaging the legs, and lifting the knee caps. And then you’re going to pull the lower belly in, towards the spine.

     

    Create space in the front side of the body, a main objective of back bending.

    And this part is really important. You’re going to press the elbows down. Shoulders down.  You are going to sort of like drag the elbows back towards your ribs.  You’re pushing the elbows back towards the ribs.  That gives you the leverage to push the ribcage forward, and up, away from the hips. This helps to create space in the front side of the body, which is one of the main objectives in back bending.  Pressing the tops of the feet into the mat, engaging through the legs, and then moving the elbows back.  Ribcage forward, stretching the front side of the body.

    Translate the principles of Sphinx into Upward Facing Dog.

    Translating these same principles into upward facing dog, you bring your hands underneath the shoulders.  Straighten the arms. Press the shoulders down.  Tops of the feet on the mat.  Press into the tops of the feet.  Engage through the legs.  Drag the hands back.  Ribcage forward, as you pull the lower belly in towards the ribs. Shoulders down, and breathe.

    Practice with Monica Arellano

    By Monica Arellano

    Monica Arellano is a Level 2 Authorized teacher in the Ashtanga Yoga Method; a formal blessing received by her teacher R. Sharath Jois in Mysore, India. She first connected with the practice of yoga in 2010, looking for a more peaceful way of being. When she found her way to Miami Life Center in 2014 she began a regular Ashtanga Yoga practice and soon after completed a 2 year apprenticeship program under Tim Feldmann. Today she continues to practice, teach and travel regularly to Mysore, India to learn yoga directly from the source. 

    Monica’s teachings are informed by the knowledge carried on from her teachers and the first-hand experience from her daily asana and meditation practice. Her classes emphasize the breath, alignment, proper foundations and methods of concentration; in hopes of exploring the deeper intention of Asana and the resulting expression in each student’s unique body and mind. In this space, she believes we can deconstruct unhealthy patterns, facilitate healing on many levels, and find our way back to the most honest version of ourselves.

  • Yoga Pose Tips: Virabhadrasana III – Warrior Three

    Do what feels best in your body. Modify as needed
    to make this practice your own.

    Warrior Three Pose Tips

    • Square the hips toward the earth
    • Soften the shoulders away from the ears
    • Lengthen the arms forward or out like airplane arms
    • Ground down through the standing foot
    • It’s always okay to have the lifted leg just an inch off the mat to practice with the balance.

    Practice with Ajay Tokas on Omstars

    Learn More about Warrior III on Omstars with Kino MacGregor

  • Encyclopedia of Yoga: Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

    Yoga comes from India, and especially India’s historic past.  If you have ever made the trip to India, one thing that is definitely ubiquitous on the streets of India are, cows. This is a pose that always brings me right back to the spiritual heart of the practice and the trips that I have made to study with my teacher in Mysore.

    It is traditionally translated as the “cow facing pose” or “the cow pose.” Another way to think about this posture is what the cow–the Go–actually symbolizes. The cow is the sacred symbol of the being, like the Earth, which is willing to give more than she receives.

    The Lesson of Patience and Kindness

    We could think about Gomukhasana as teaching us the lesson of patience and kindness, of respect and, really, sustainability. In the easy version of the pose, if you start off from a comfortable seated position, you will pick your knees up, and then layer your right knee over the left. Drawing the left knee in.

    First, the knees are elevated. Then, come forward until the knees kind of stack on top of each other. You can let the feet open as much as necessary, as to be comfortable for you.  If it is easier for you, you can grab your feet and bring them in.  This will increase the demand of the internal rotation of the hips.

    Even though your knees kind of point to the side, they are actually rolling towards each other in the ball and socket of the hip joint to create a foundation. It may feel like you want to tilt back, but to move into Gomukhasana, you want to lift your sacrum up and forward so you almost feel like you are about to lift your sitting bones off the ground. Don’t lift them off the ground, but feel as though you are about to lift them off of the ground.

    Then, place your left hand on top of the right knee.  Your right hand on top, and just a nice, easy chin down. Keep a little activation in the legs, and draw the belly in. Moving into this version of Gomukhasana is almost a meditative pose. There is a softness in the body. A softness. A calm, inner awareness. If you notice there is any tension in the front of your hip, see if you can soften a little bit, keeping the activation in the pelvic bowl.

    Creating Length and Space

    Work on challenging Gomukhasana. Take your right hand up, reaching it back behind you.  holding onto your right elbow with the left hand, and then just, layer it back. Then, drop the left arm down, and see if it is possible to reach your hands for each other, behind your back. It may not be possible, so you could just leave the hands in position, and we will hold here for just a moment. Nice breath in, soften through the shoulders, and create length and space through the center line. Let it go down. You are noticing an internal rotation of the left shoulder, and an external rotation of the right shoulder.

    Openness in the Shoulders

    If that was impossible for you, another option to create some openness in the shoulders, is to sort of do the Eagle arm position.  Your right hand, and the left hand layers, raising the arms up. In this version, you are going to look up at the thumbs, finding the center line.  This is that not-stressful version. Do not hit it too hard, just let your body kind of ease its way into the pose. If the easy Gomukhasana is not really comfortable for you, just work on whatever level is appropriate for where you are at.

    Work on the Balance

    The cow facing pose, Gomukhasana, from Ashtanga Yoga, comes at the end of the second series, which is a challenging series. We will start off in the relaxed cow position. The knees cross over each other, using that internal rotation. To get yourself into that full, kind of, elevated, lifted Gomukhasana position, you want to come all the way forward.  Your knees almost layer on top of each other.

    Cross at the top of the thighs. Instead of the feet apart, just bring the feet towards each other. Drawing the belly in, settle the hips gently down. As you settle the hips gently down, you will feel like there is nothing to sit on. You are actively squeezing the legs into each other, and you are squeezing the knees down. Settling your hips back onto your feet, avoid rounding your back, and then, perch yourself forward in the same way.  Keep your hips close to your feet. Take your hands down onto your thighs, work on the balance.

    Interlock the Fingers

    Only if you work on the balance, then, lean forward, and interlock your fingers under you knees. You can round your back to get the grip, but then, pop your chest forward. This balance is very precarious. Gaze down the bridge of the nose, holding it there for a moment.

    The Full Posture

    Then, you can layer yourself forward by squeezing the knees slightly forward, keeping your sternum oriented in line with the pubic bone. Pubic bone, forward.  Your legs should feel a little active. Your pelvic floor should be on. Avoid rounding the back, but pop the chest forward.  Like that easy version of Gomukhasana, right hand reaches back, left one around, and find that center line. Lift the chest up, and forward.  Now, the gaze up, here, is real precarious, because you feel like you do not have that stable foundation of your hips down.  You are really actively squeezing yourself into the pose. I always seem to almost lose the balance when I look up. You want to find a small spot and gaze at that spot. Then gently release it, taking your hands down. Come on down to that easy version of Gomukhasana.

    Gomukhasana, the cow facing pose, will help you find a calm and even center. When you have that tightness in your shoulders, what can happen is that, your shoulders kind of cave in and collapse the heart. As you practice Gomukhasana, your heart center opens. Your heart expands. The shoulders relax and you can find the happy freedom, the trusting heart of the spiritual center, really, of the sacred. Remember that when you are practicing a deceptively simple pose, like Gomukhasana, there are hidden benefits along the spirit that will start to shine through as you begin to practice. I hope you keep the seed of peace in your heart, and the inspiration to practice everyday. Namaste.

    By Kino MacGregor

    Why do you practice yoga? Kino Macgregor Ashtanga Yoga teacher, OMstars

    Learn More from Kino on Omstars.com

    Kino MacGregor is a world renowned Ashtanga Yoga teacher, the author of several yoga inspired books, including The Yogi Assignment, and founder of OmStars.com. Practice the Ashtanga Yoga Full Primary Series online with Kino to get started on your journey today.

  • Dolphin Pose: Ardha Pincha Mayurasana

    Dolphin pose is a pose which I think is often overlooked, but it packs so many great benefits that I think it’s more than worth taking a closer look at. Dolphin Pose, or Ardha Pincha Mayurasana, strengthens, and stretches the shoulders, upper back and legs.  It’s also a pretty awesome core strengthener. The combination of strength and flexibility that Dolphin pose builds can help with so many areas of your practice. Particularly when working towards Pincha Mayurasana or Forearm Stand, and other inversions.

    Check out more pose tutorials on Omstars

    Here are some things to focus on when practicing Dolphin Pose:

    Set up with the forearms parallel to each other, with the elbows shoulder width apart, and the palms flat on the mat. Those elbows are going to want to splay out to the side, so keep hugging them in towards the mid-line to prevent that from happening. Think about wrapping the shoulder blades outwards, away from the spine and broaden through the collar bones.

    As you walk your feet in towards your torso aim to stack the shoulders over the elbows. Focus on reaching your hips towards the ceiling and keeping the spine long. If your hamstrings are tight, feel free to come up on your tiptoes, or if you have the flexibility then press your heels down into the mat. Keep your legs engaged by pulling your kneecaps and strongly engage your core to stabilize and support the whole pose. Relax your neck and gaze towards your shins or toes.

    By Laura Large

    I am an Ashtanga Yoga Practitioner and Teacher based near Marlborough, Wiltshire with a real love and passion for the practice. I also own and manage a Wellbeing Centre where I work as a licensed Acupuncturist, which really helps me to understand the energetics of the asanas and how they affect the physical, mental and emotional bodies. My classes are strong, energetic and fun.  Ashtanga Yoga is an amazing practice for developing some serious strength and flexibility in body and mind. Outside of my daily Ashtanga Vinyasa practice I love playing creatively with poses and exploring hybrid postures and different variations – Arm balances are a real favorite of mine! You can find me on Instagram where I host yoga challenges and share tips and tutorials at @omniyogagirl

    Plank Pose Breakdown with Laura Large

  • Tiriang Mukha Ekapada Paschimotanasana Pose Breakdown

    This seated position of Ashtanga Primary Series works with the internal rotation of the hip and knee as well as deep plantar flexion of the foot. Many sensitivities can arise here as we rarely put ourselves into this type of alignment in daily life, but it is important as a counter to the many positions of external rotation we do in our yoga practice.

    To identify your body’s particular resistances, access one movement at a time. You will feel it most intensely wherever you are tightest. From a seated position, begin by flexing the knee in the parallel, closing the joint as much as possible, heel to sit bone. Then rock yourself towards your extended leg, lifting the pelvis on the bent knee side to allow space to drop the thigh across the midline of the body, finding adduction and internal rotation, and tuck the foot back along side the hip, toes pointed behind you.

    You may feel strain in the ankle here if you have reached the limit of your plantar flexion. If this is the case, you an put a rolled towel under the ankle to lessen the pressure and stretch. Draw the bent, internally rotated leg in to touch the extended leg, knees together. There is a tendency here to have scooted the lifted side of the pelvis back in space, so check to see that the pelvis is squared off, knees aligned with each other. If you are already feeling resistance in the hip or knee, you may want to stay here, keeping the hand to the floor for support. If not, begin to send the lifted sit bone back down into the floor to ground. This will deepen the rotation at the hip and the knee so go slowly and honor your limit. If you are able to anchor through both sit bones, fold forward.

    Tippyness is the point here! The tipsiness of the posture directs your awareness to where you need to work. Internally rotate the extended leg to help send energy towards the center. Hug the inner thighs together, draw the femur bones into the hip sockets. In the fold, draw the bent leg and the same side ribcage towards each other. The urge might be to push the knee into the floor, but play with this lifting energy allowing the thigh and torso to hug together. Then, finally, let go of what you don’t need (shoulders tense up, anyone?) and relax as much as possible, without falling over!

    If you struggle with this posture, be patient. For some, it can take many years to find ease and comfort in Tiriang Mukha Ekapada Paschimotanasana. The key to to identify your resistances as they arise and address them mindfully and thoroughly. This is an iceberg posture – most of the effort and exploration is happening below the surface, with subtle changes. Stay present, do the work.

    By Angelique Sandas

    Try it Now on Omstars

     

  • Cultivating Strength in Warrior I

    Warrior I, otherwise known as Virabhadrasana A, is one of the most basic poses in the practice. It is also, however, deceptively simple. When performed correctly, Warrior I should cause the thighs to burn, the heart rate to accelerate, and the breath to become heavy. You should feel a sense of heat rising throughout the entire body as you cultivate both mental and physical strength. When practiced mindfully with proper alignment and adequate effort, the whole lesson of the journey of yoga can be found right there in Warrior I.

    In Indian mythology, Virabhadra is a spiritual warrior created from a lock of Shivas hair. Shiva sends Virabhadra down to Earth to act as a warrior of peace in the world. When Shiva releases this lock of hair, dropping our warrior down to Earth, Virabhadra lands, at the ready in Warrior I. This posture and the story behind it represents the brave heart of the Yogi. As you begin to practice, you gain access to the energy of Virabhadra, and as such, gain the spiritual strength to go out into the world as a force of healing energy and strength.

    To practice your strongest Warrior I, begin in mountain pose – Samasthiti. Hug the belly in toward the spine and begin to lift your energy up along the midline. Cultivate strength in your mountain pose and then step back with the left foot. You want about the distance of one of your own legs between your feet.

    Place the heal of your back foot down onto the mat so that the toes come out to a 45-degree angle. Check to be sure that the heal of your front foot is in line with the arch of your back foot, then press down with the back leg to seal the outside edge of the foot against the mat.

    Be sure to keep your pelvis in a neutral position, oriented forward toward the top of your mat. From here, pull femur-head of your front leg into your hip socket as you bend the front knee. Be sure that you keep the belly hugging in toward the spine, and then reach the fingertips up toward the ceiling, palms touching. At the same time, lift your gaze. The whole body strong, every muscle working. Hold here for several rounds of deep, continuous breath, then step back to Samasthiti. When you’re ready, mode to the other side.

    By Alex Wilson

    Note: The alignment cues and expertise offered in this blog post come straight from Kino’s breakdown of this pose on OMstars series, The Encyclopedia of Yoga.

    Check Out More Pose Breakdowns on OMstars

    Alex Wilson is a writer, yoga teacher, and the content manager at OMstars – The Yoga Network.