A new DVD and a new practice this week. And what I found was essentially a new pose. It was shocking that over the almost 20 years of on and off yoga practice, I had a pose that was new to me.
Sunbird (Chakravakasana) is a core strengthening pose that starts on the hands and knees and transitions into a balancing pose on hands and one foot. The one leg is extended back (with the hip extended) as the torso arches (like in cow pose) and the chest lifts. It is really a beautiful pose!
Interestingly, it was hard to find much online about this pose. What resonated was there is some confusion with this pose and two other poses - tiger pose (Vyaghrasana) and dog bird pose (opposite arm, opposite leg). All three poses start on the hands and knees but it is the appendages that do different things. Tiger pose is also an hip extending pose but the essential difference is that the knee is bent not straight. Bird Dog pose, on the other hand, incorporates the arms as well as the legs. Think table top with alternating arm and leg lifts. All excellent back and core strengthening poses but all slightly different.
Now back to my new posture, sunbird and what else I did this week!
Not only did I practice sunbird but also sunbird bow. The pose is transitioned into a harder posture whereby the upper body drops towards the mat kind of like in a push up position. See how the sun bird is bowing!? It intensifies the pose but it is a perfect progression without trying to do anything fancy.
And fancy I did do! After the sunbird bow, I was instructed to come onto the toes of my support leg and press up into a downward facing dog while maintaining my initial leg up in the air. Fancy? Yes! But also added more intensity and challenge (good thing I was up for that this week!)
Here is an outline of the actual sequence I did this week!
What an exciting week of practice! A new posture with some unique progressions and transitions.
I'm singing a happy tune,
It surprises me that I have yet to write about cat-cow pose (Marjaiasana-Bitilasana). It has been in my practice since starting yoga and it is frequently in my practice.
What has always got me about this pose is it's name! Cat and Cow together at last...well, maybe only in yoga. As a self-proclaimed non-cat lover and a city girl with rural roots (yes, I've been close to cattle but never milked one or done anything with them other than moo at them), if based solely on the pose name, I'm sure I'd never do it!
Nonetheless, with a history of back injury, this pose has been fundamental to my back health. It helps with mobility but also flexibility through the pelvis as it tilts the pelvis anteriorly in cow pose and posteriorly in cat pose. Completing multiple cycles of cat-cow can also massage the gastrointestinal and reproductive organs. Bonus!
The other quite profound role of cat-cow pose is it spontaneously synchronizes breath with movement. As the chest collapses forward in cat, the lungs are compressed which naturally forces an exhalation. Alternatively, as the chest opens into cow pose, the lungs expand and inhalation occurs. The breath flows seamlessly with the compressing and opening of the abdominal cavity. And in my books, nothing beats breathing well. What an benefit!
Cat-cow pose can be a tricky pose if one has a neck injury, wrist or knee pain so I like to do a seated cat-cow as an option with hands supported (like on a table top). The range of motion is not as great but it is still effective in moving the spine through a range of motion. I use it frequently as an exercise physiologist and very often patients wonder about the name too. I usually speak of the angry cat and they get the cat part but trying to explain why the extension is cow, is another story (refer to the video above). I usually just moo myself into cow pose and hope that is enough for them to remember how to do it!
Never to late to write about the classic poses,
Owning multiple yoga mats and straps is very useful as I've placed my props on both the main floor of our home and basement to allow "spontaneous" yoga as time permits. Well, in this week's case, having to share the house with my husband (what - I have to share!?! :) ), I practiced on the main floor. The only catch is that I don't have many blocks so they reside in the basement where most of my practice occurs.
So, instead of using blocks this week, when prompted by the new teacher and DVD, Yoga for Stress Relief, I used throw pillows instead. I was pleasantly surprised on how well they worked to assist in the poses. I might even have to go as far as saying they may have been more suitable for this practice as they were a welcomed soft place to land my "needed to be supported" body parts!
Moving from mountain pose into a forward fold was the first time I was prompted to grab my "block". I opted to three stacked pillows (two firm and one soft) and slowly folded toward them. With flexible hamstrings, I typically can fold pretty far but once my head hit the pillows, it was an interesting sensation. The support of the pillows completely released my head and neck. There was no strain or pull that can sometimes occur when I just do an unsupported forward fold.
As the sequence of forward folds continued, I moved into a wide stance forward fold and there too, allowed my head to rest on the pillows. Instantly, my head and neck relaxed again and I was able to focus on my low back and leg stretch than worrying about the "pain in the neck".
The most, what I'd say, advanced forward fold that I did with support was a downward facing dog. This was a new adventure for me as I'd never thought to use a block in this pose. The pillows were placed just at brow line and my forehead rested on the pillow. This position was heavenly. The soft pillow allowed my face to sink down and soften whereas if it was a block I'm not sure I would have experienced that sensation. What felt like a second, I was instructed to move on whereas I could have stayed in that position for many minutes! It will be on my hit list to do again soon!
The final pose that I did with the pillows was the bridge. The posterior pelvis rests on the block once it is lifted off the ground. I've done this pose in the past in more of a restorative practice and do find the pillows were not firm enough to get the intended stretch and restoration. Out of all the poses, this one would have probably been better with a block. Oh well, you never know until you try.
So, lessons learned. Props rock! Pillows can act as a good, if not better prop than a block. And I continually need to be flexible (no pun intended) with my ever expanded and growing practice and journey as a teacher. Oh - and I guess sharing space with my husband should be listed too!
How can you use your average throw pillows in your yoga practice?
I have really enjoyed the DVD, Yoga Journal 21 Day Challenge, I've been doing for the past couple weeks. It is so diverse with the poses, intensity and breathing techniques that I might just need to buy it for myself! I suppose I'm not super surprised as it is a product of Yoga Journal.
This week, the DVD player lead me to a hip opening sequence to reduce tension. Whenever I would hear my teacher, usually Judy, talk about hip opening, I was ready to get started! This was because if you were to ask me about my hip tightness in general, I would say, "oh, it's okay. No complaints of pain or tension." But it would be only after an intense hip opening sequence of poses that I would say, "holy cow, I had no idea that my hips were THAT jammed up!"
Speaking of cows, the pose I'd like to focus on this week is cow face pose (Gomukhasana). I was nicely transitioned into this pose and I was so happy that I was. It has been so long since I have done it. The leg positioning was the focus and since it had been so long since I'd done the pose, I couldn't recall the arm position! It is a bind with the hands clasped behind the torso. Time to focus on the arms in another practice session as it was about the hips this week anyway!
Cow face pose is an asymmetrical seated pose that is a hip and shoulder opener. As I said, I only did the lower body portion and found extra tightness in the right hip than the left. Apparently, it is normal to find one side easier than the other in this pose.
As memory serves from previous classes on hip opening, there can be intense emotion when stretching out the tension in the hips. According to Yoga in my Pocket.com, "[t]he hips are thought to represent how we feel about moving forward." I'll explore this in greater detail in another post as I don't totally have a grasp of how that all works. Interesting, nonetheless.
I enjoyed the stretch so much that I wanted to sit in the position all afternoon and I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed when we moved on. I guess thats a signal to practice cow face pose more often (do I say that about all yoga asanas?!?)
Tension begone, at least this week,
Toddler asleep, tip toe downstairs, shut the basement door.
Drop your mat, find your blocks/strap/eye pillow.
Adjust the 17 year old TV so the DVD player will work.
You might have two hours or less to get things done you just CAN'T do with a toddler around.
And yoga is one of them.
That pretty much sums up most of my yoga practice these days.
Hurry, rush...Breathe? Can I?
Now, don't get me wrong. The major life change of having a child is well worth it but over this time, I think to myself, how does my breath (and the associated human physiology) get affected?
This week's practice had me ponder my breath again. I started my practice with the same DVD set as last week, which was nice because it was already in the DVD player and it was still new to me. I didn't know what was coming and what did show up was exactly what I needed.
The new teacher focused solely on moving through each pose with the breath. If the breath was slow, the pose took time and I did it less times through; yet, if the breath was fast (which it was in the beginning), I rushed through the poses and finished many repetitions. It is so fascinating that the breath truly dictated how fast or slow I would move. Apparently, breathing is the only autonomic system of the body that can be controlled. This definitely is the merging of the mind, body and spirit of yoga.
With the rushing life of a toddler, it is in my yoga practice that I slow down and breathe (and maybe why I need to not just want to practice at least once every week). As a future teacher, I hope to provide the guidance and gift of breath work (as many teachers have done for me in the past).
My next big question this week is: how can I breathe better in every day activities?
It is a bit of a loaded question, but I think, as with everything, we must practice.
So, when prompting my son to pee in the toilet for the umpteenth time, chasing him around the house to take off his shoes and cleaning up the mess which is every meal, I will breath. It will need to be conscious, likely, to start and maybe always will need to be. But one of the reasons to do yoga, is to learn and grow and be better so this will be my breathing challenge off the mat.
Take a big, long, slow breath, and go,
Oh - and this song has always helped with my breathing. Love the chorus.
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.