The first warrior pose seems simple at first glance. If done with strength and extension, Warrior I is an excellent pose to find rooting in the lower body, while lifting the ribcage and torso away toward the ceiling. Warrior I can be surprisingly difficult to someone with hip or psoas issues. The “old” cue (that some teachers still use) is to the square your hips to the front of the mat. While the hips are meant to be more forward than not, I find it unnecessary to over torque the hip and put too big a strain on the psoas to get a benefit in the pose. Work where you feel a stretch, pull back if it is too much.
Modifications include keeping your hands at heart center instead of raising them overhead, going deeper or less deeper into your lunge and adding a bit of a back bend. Don't forget to breathe!
The third warrior pose is great for working on balance and core strength. It can be done with arms on a chair or table to start, then next level with arms against a wall or. After these are mastered try arms on blocks in front of you, then move hands to heart center, perhaps next flying arms at your sides, then ultimately extending your arms long in front of you. Lengthen, pushing your heel behind you as you strongly pull in the abdominal muscles.
I love doing Warrior III first with palms on the wall and extending the leg out, practicing the leg extension, leveling the pelvis and engaging the core; then try with your leg against the wall extending the arms out (much more demanding!). Don't forget to breathe!
Virabhadra= the name of a fierce warrior, an incarnation of Shiva, described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, wielding a thousand clubs, and wearing a tiger's skin. Yikes!
One of my favorite poses, Warrior II is accessible to everyone. Regulate how deeply you go in this pose by how deep your lunge is. Be strong in the lower part of the body and rise up in the torso at the same time. Extend the arms, reaching from finger tips to finger tips. Try a variation with arms on a bow, with one arm drawn back, elbow bent, as if you are going to shoot an arrow. Use this pose to balance weight in both legs, strong in the bent leg through the heel and strong in the back leg on the pinky toe side of the foot. Warrior II can easily be done supported in a chair by coming to the front edge of the seat and turning to one side, bending one knee and extending the other. Don't forget to breathe!
Starting in forward fold or downward facing dog, step to lunge. Press into the front foot, especially rooting into the heel as you rise up. Hands can stay in prayer hands or extend your arms overhead. Keep the back heel lifted, letting the lower body sink as the torso and arms rise. Bend as deep into the lunge as your knee stability and quadricep strength allow. A supported version of this pose is to drop the back knee to the ground. I love this pose for the stretch in my ribs and obliques. Don't forget to breathe
Start in a lunge with left knee bent. Drop your right knee to the mat. Extend your arms at shoulder height out to the your side. Open into a twist toward your left knee, keeping your left arm extending behind you at shoulder height and placing your right hand on your left outer knee. Press your knee against your hand and your hand against your knee You can lessen or deepen the twist depending on your body.
This is an excellent stretch in the obliques and the pectorals. Don't forget to breathe!
The intense part of uttanasana (uttāna= "intense stretch") says it all for someone with tight hamstrings. Taking a bit of the stress out of the hamstrings can help you ease into forward bends.
Deeply bending the knees is highly recommended. You can also try Uttanansa with hands on blocks to bring the floor closer. I also like the variation of walking hands forward about 12-15 inches so that you hang as if rounded over a barrel more than a deep forward fold. After several breaths as your muscles relax a bit, walk your hands closer to your feet and come deeper into the fold. Keep a softness in the knees so that they do not lock. Just as in child's pose you want a long back with it's natural curves and arches. Clasp your elbows if it feels good for your body. You can also try stepping feet wider apart. It can take years to get into a deep forward fold. It did for me.
Be patient, be easeful and don't forget to breathe!
To recover from anxiety or grief, take some simple self-care. I like many others feel helpless after mass tragedies. Taking a few minutes of self-care can restore clarity and balance. Share with others. Give hugs.
To set up for this pose simply lie on your back and bend your knees open to the sides. Let the souls of your feet touch. Arms rest at your side, palms up. Variations include using props. Bound angle pose can be hard on the knees so my first recommendation is to put blocks under each knee or add more padding with two bolsters. It is nice to make a recliner under the back with a bolster on a block and a blanket for a pillow. Try any additional propping that feels good until you are fully supported. Hold for 3-5 minutes. Don't forget to breathe.
I made a goal for myself to do a pose a day with variations that you can try, too.
Let's start with something easy: Child's Pose, Balasana. I find people either love or hate this pose. Those with tight hips, psoas or hamstrings and even back issues can find this pose really challenging. Child's pose is intended as a resting pose. Finding something that works for your body can make your practice more easeful. Another area not often addressed in child's pose is shoulders.
Here are some variations I love:
Wide-leg child's pose: Keep your feet close together and let your knees be as wide or wider than your mat, letting your belly sink to the ground. I feel more grounded and supported in this variation. You may find more ease in the shoulder blades and shoulder girdle. You may find more ease in the hips, as I do, or if your hamstrings are tight this might not be the variation for you.
Puppy dog pose: Though some might argue this is another pose, a lot of people that have tight hamstrings find much more ease in puppy pose than child's pose. I always offer puppy pose as an alternative to child's pose during a class. By keeping the hips stacked over the knees, the hamstrings stay more lengthened and the hips find more room. More length may be found in the back. My caution on this variation is the that shoulders float more so if you have shoulder issues, try doing puppy pose over a bolster. You can also so a hybrid of child's and puppy by placing a bolster beneath the hips and thighs.
Elbows bent: Bend the elbows and bring the palms of the hands together behind your head. For me, this brings great ease to my shoulder area.
Props: Experiment with both hands on blocks, a block under your hip or hugging a bolster. Props are a way to help us get even more grounded and more ease in a pose. My favorite version of a restorative child's pose is teddy bear pose. Place a bolster longways on your mat propped up on two blocks, one on each end. Sit at the short end of the mat, folding over the bolster and hugging underneath with your head to one side on the bolster. Hold for 1-3 minutes, then turn your head to the other side and hold.
Remember to breathe!
Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, the archetype to call upon when you are about to embark on new beginnings.
I have Ganesha on my mind a lot these days. I recently sold my house, packed up my belongings and moved to a new state. All my choice and for a good reason: to be near family. Yet the fear, anguish and anxiety all these changes provoke will challenge any yogi.
All the things you are supposed to do to take care of yourself and more so in times of stress become challenging: drinking lots of water, eating well, getting enough sleep, daily yoga practice--even deep breathing can go out the window. Hand mudras became an easy practice: prana, lotus, gyan, anjali and most important Ganesha.
I do not have a job, my new residence is half the size of the house I left and my rent is higher than my house payment. I do not know any friends in the area. Yet when I removed those obstacles, there was nothing standing in my way. I see the importance of living close to those I love. I let belongings go. I am confident that I will find enough yoga teaching to make a decent living. I can pursue an endeavor to open a business combining my passions: a creative space for yoga and art. I could not conceive of doing these things had I not made such extensive changes, not stepped out of the way of obstacles blocking my path.
Just two weeks before I left, I did a photo shoot for the Yoga4allages project. The photographer asked that I bring some small object of importance. I chose a small brass Ganesha figure that my daughter placed above the entrance door of our house. I figured it would be immortalized in some of the photos at a time of change and then I would take it with me to my new home. At the end of the photo shoot I could not find Ganesha. I had at some point set him in the grass. Even though three people combed the area, the pocket Ganesha was lost to me. I decided he must have served his purpose and would later be found to remove someone else's obstacles.
Ganesha shows us pathways to happiness, inner peace, and success if we can get out of the way.
To practice Ganesha Mudra:
Svadhyaya may be translated from Sanskrit as “one’s own reading” or “self-study.”
I interpret svadhyaya as two-fold, self-study of the physical and self-study of the metaphysical: thoughts, feelings, emotions.
If there is one thing that meditation and yoga has taught me, it is a very deep listening, a deep turning inward to know what my body wants, what it really needs, not a superficial craving, but a profound need.
I often read articles that talk of svadhyaya in the sense of exploring what is wrong: asking questions such as, “ Where do you hold tension?” “Why am I doing this?” While this is a valid study, why not try an exploration of asking, “What feels good?” “What does my body need at this moment?” When I have a cold, I instinctively know to get rest, drink tea and sleep. In a yoga class, I often ask students to “check in,” do a body scan. I invite students during class to move in a way that feels good. If I cue a “vinyasa” (plank, four-limbed staff, cobra, downward dog) and you want to do a child's pose, then by all means, do what your body suggests. Nothing delights me more than when I see someone wiggle and stretch in a way their body needs it. It often informs me as students set the pulse of what pose might come next. When I see a student skip child's pose and take a malasana (squat pose) to stretch out their back, I take a cue and offer that option to other students.
How about off the mat? Do you listen to your body tell you when you are sitting at a desk, habitually crossing your legs and your body says, “hey, our circulation is a little comprised here.” Do you roll your neck, sit up tall, let your shoulders slide down your back? Can you challenge yourself to listen deeply, especially when you are busy, taking a moment every 15 minutes to reset, reground?
It only takes a few breaths to reconnect with our bodies, calm our nervous system and recenter. Take your yoga home with you, to work and at play and listen to your body.
Theresa McLaren co-owns Art of Yoga. She has been practicing yoga for about 20 years and practicing life for many more.