Hello Readers? How is your summer challenge going?
If you’ve forgotten, my last post (in June- eeek!) was asking you to have two goals for the summer regarding your yoga practice. My two were to 1) try to get into full monkey pose and 2) focus my attention to my core during yoga asanas and breathing.
So let’s take a peek at how mine are going. Do you have any tips for me? I’d love to hear it! All the pics are taken in my excuse for not blogging in-between then and now: my garden. I have been landscaping our backyard on my own, which involves a lot of digging, scraping, muddy shoes, mosquito bites and avoiding/picking up dog poop piles. I am hoping that if I plant perennials, I will be able to let them do their thang next year. I know that won’t be totally true, but I dislike the idea of spending the $$ on annuals, only to have them die and then, buy them again next year. The only exception are my pumpkin plants (back left corner). I hope to have all of my friends with children over before Halloween for a pumpkin patch carving party! They take lots of attention in hot-hot-full-sunny backyard Texas and have become my new obsession. I haven’t murdered the plants yet, which is a feat in itself! Usually, if it doesn’t tell me it is hungry (like my jumpy doggies do), I won’t feed it. As always, puppy dogs are an ever present helper in yoga poses at my house.
Okey Dokey, the pics involve a lot of Monkey focus, but a couple CORE builders as well.
Once again, I fully anticipate NOT being able to get Hanumanasana done by August, when school starts and I have to work full time during the day. I am also not jumping in, like a crazy person, and forcing myself to poses to hurt myself. So, before jumping into monkey-esque postures, I have been focusing on my favorite monkey pose predecessors.
I love Pyramid Pose, never miss it when I teach, and I usually sneak one into a flow when we haven’t hit one when I’m the student. However, like most yogis, I could align my hips better in all poses involving squared hips (Warrior 3, Warrior 1, 3-legged Dog). So, I’ve been dedicating time and effort to bringing the front leg’s hip back, while moving the back leg’s hip forward, so the sacrum is aligned towards the ceiling, and the hamstring stretch is deepened. As you can see, when my hips are aligned the way they should be, my hands don’t reach the floor. I only have 1 yoga block, and so used my handy-dandy invisible blocks for this pic. Unfortunately, so many yogis focus on having their hands on the floor or nose to their knees, as opposed to alignment (myself included). However, the benefits of getting over that are worth the sting to your ego. You’ll get to the floor eventually with proper alignment- don’t worry!
Half Monkey Pose is where I can lift my toes off the floor to get my calves involved, in addition to my hammies. I engage my core by lifting my arms and gazing toward the horizon. As you can see, I can definitely get more parallel to the ground, but my core can’t quite yet handle that comfortably.
So, trying to be a good yogi, I realize that although I believe it is my hamstrings that keep me from getting into deeper poses, I acknowledge that there are plenty of other muscles in the legs that can have an effect on the “main” ones that we know the names of. Therefore, I have been increasing my attention on those muscles, ligaments and tendons by trying to deepen other poses that will one day maybe assist me in getting into my monkey. First, to the IT band.
The IT Band is the connective tissue that connects your hip to your knee along the outside of your leg. Lots of people who suffer from knee problems on the ACL or LCL might have needed to stretch the fibrous IT band a tad more. The top pic is revolved triangle, a deep twist that I often use a block for, to assist. Engaging the core without touching the floor changes the dynamic a bit, whereas relaxing the core might allow your focus to be on your leg. The second picture is a sort of seating half frog. While windshield wiper(ing) my legs after pigeons, I often pause to enjoy the stretch. If you put a sandbag (or your top foot) atop the knee to help anchor the leg into the ground with some gravity, you will feel a gentle (or maybe not so gentle, so be careful!) tug on the outward side of your upper leg. Repeat on both sides. The below pic is a modification of hand to big toe twist balance. I struggle with the balance because I can’t quite reach well yet. However, my glorious kitchen breakfast bar provides a nice shelf for my heel to rest on, as I twist the torso and get into the IT band while standing. Have only a couple in a class? Take this pose to the wall!!
Up next: hip flexor stretchies to get into the front muscles of the legs, which, despite not looking like it, are used in Monkey.
The first picture is an open twisted lizard. My forearm is on the ground for the twist, as opposed to being up on my hand. This intensifies the stretch on the hips, back, as well as backside, and definitely involves engaging the core to protect the lumbar spine and to keep from wobbling. Full lizard (ahhhh) involves various modifications of the below picture. Maybe one day, but holy moly. Can you say quad stretch!?
The second hip release is dragon, which is the Yin yoga version of lizard. Deeper, longer hold that I usually shift out of because my knee starts whining at me. Therefore, grab a bolster, or Novi the grumpy poop below me, to help rest your front leg on so you aren’t holding yourself up on your wrists. This also helps you practice having your trunk upright in Monkey, which can compress your lower spine if done incorrectly. Taking your spine in multiple movements as you attempt to deepen any pose, allows you to have some safety and keeps you from tweaking it uncomfortably due to inexperience in a certain alignment.
Speaking of the spine- you can’t get into any deep hip and hamstring stretch, nor can you correctly engage your core, without involving the powerful and often neglected back muscles. With every chaturanga we strengthen our chest, and that is great. However, our back (the muscles literally in the same spot, just facing the other direction) gets forgotten in certain poses because it doesn’t feel like it is in use. Couldn’t be further from the truth. That is why yoga is so awesome! If you utilize every posture to its potential, every muscle is in use for a specific and healthy purpose.
The first picture was simply me making fun of my bubba boy, who rolled to his side requesting a tummy rub. I followed suit out of pigeon and when I lifted my arm to reach for him, my obliques when “ahhhhh- keep doing that!”. So here you go, side body stretch that pulls the hip and psoas muscle. The psoas begin at your lumbar spine and wrap around to the top of your thigh. BIG muscles and they need some opening torso stretches. The below pic is a traditional Staff forward fold. If I reach toward my feet with my hands, my hamstrings get attention. However, if I bring my elbows and forearms to the floor (strappy strap is usually used by me, especially while doing Yin, but I cannot find it at the moment!!) your lower back releases. Because of a neck injury, plow pose, a go-to favorite for me, is out of my practice for a while, sadly, maybe forever. However, this is plow just flipped over! Put a blanket under your elbows, or, as I do below, under the heels for comfort.
And finally, inner thighs. Tough to strengthen, tough to stretch. My hip bones dislike forward straddle, so I take 1/2 straddle, atop a bolster, or a pooch, after many kisses and false alarms. (Novi boy was wanting to show me his shakes and downs tonight, pestering for another rawhide). The inner thighs connect to the hamstrings, so if they are tight, they won’t allow the hamstring to extend comfortably.
Oh boy, have I got to work on my core in stretchy balances. I fall over a lot. If my knee is bent, foot in hand, my core has my attention. If I am attempting to stretch in my balance, my focus gets diverted and I wobble. As you can see, my counter top-of-awesomeness is again in use. So, below you see me engaging my core and just standing. Gotta move my left foot right below my hipbone, I see. Ah well. Anyways, if you open side body stretch to grasp your foot, you are in a sort of standing triangle, and I think of ballerina movies, where they are stretching on the bar before getting into their bar work.
Alrighty readers, one more month to go on our challenge. Remember, any progress is success! Know that I wish you well in your success and want to hear from you! I am creating an Instagram Hashtag, #notyogaporn, to celebrate your yoga poses with your body exactly how it is. No perfect postures with airbrush, straps, blocks (or interim dog props) welcome, no filters, just being YOU, moving your body healthily to aid in clearing your mind. Join the movement! Our journey to the divine comes from growth, not from comparing ourself to Internet images of professionals who have been trained to look like that. One size does not fit all. Even those models, however, had to be beginners in basic and non-circus like poses and we are just documenting our journey. So many people avoid going to yoga because of these pics they see. There are not enough pics of poses that are beneficial, for beginners. Help to get more yogis in the door!