Standing Poses to Add to Your Home Practice
Greetings from South Carolina!
After you do your warm-up postures with the previous blog of How to Practice at Home, consider adding the following standing poses:
Virabhadrasana I, II, and III
Let's start with Anjaneyasana or Crescent Lunge pose. Since this is our second part of Home Practice series, I am assuming that you are sufficiently warmed up from our stretching and strengthening series of Sun Salutations.
Step #1: Move back into Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).
Step #2: Lift your right leg up stretching it towards the ceiling and then bending your knee, bring your right foot forwards between your hands at the front of the mat.
Step #3: Keeping your back (left) leg engaged, wiggle your toe in the direction of the back of the mat to increase the stretch.
Step #4: Lower the back knee to the floor, but endeavor to keep the left toes tucked under for more stability.
Step #5: Your right knee should be directly over your right ankle headed between your second and third toe.
Step #6: Take your hands off the mat and stretch your arms up and over your head with the alignment of your shoulders back and together.
Step #7: If your back knee is on the ground, it is safe to lean forward with the right knee in order to stretch out your iliopsoas muscle or hip flexor on your left side. Engage the thighs by scissoring your legs together as you pull your left shoulder and hip forward to increase the strength of the movement.
Step #8: It is always optional to add a variety of arm movements with this lunge pose. You can bend both elbows and draw your shoulder blades even closer together in a "cactus" or "goal post" position. You can also add a twist by bringing your leg arm forward and crossing it where your left hand is on your right knee. Remember movement in a twist is always on the exhalation. Then, to add to the twist bring your right arm behind you. An advanced position would be to drop the left hand back to the left ankle creating more of a backbending posture as you raise the right arm towards the ceiling.
Step #9: Tuck your left toe under, extend the left leg as you lift off the mat, and step your right foot back to Downward Facing Dog.
Step #10: Do the other side. This time lifting the left leg in Downdog and stepping forward with the left foot. Remember if your knee on the floor or mat is uncomfortable slide a blanket thinly folded under it or double a mat's width for the knee. If the stepping forward is difficult, use the blocks under your hands and pull the knee up into the abdominal area as you step forward.
Benefits: The quadriceps (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and the vastus intermedius) and the gluteus maximus are lengthened. Many of the smaller muscles, tendons and ligaments in the knee are also stretched. Hip abductor stabilizers such as the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, the adductors magnus, longus, and brevis, the gracilis, and the pectineus all become toned. Muscles in the arms and shoulders are benefitted as well. These include the deltoid group, triceps, a little biceps the trapezius Muscles (Middle and lower), rhomboids and latissimus dorsi. Shoulder elevation is also helpful; however, remember to release any shrugging of the shoulders and tension there. Keep your breath steady and even despite the efforting of the pose. The therapeutical application here would be beneficial for those people who struggle with tight hip flexors, sciatica, and those who desire a thigh strengthening/toning.
Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose)
Step #1: From your lunging position, turn your back heel down at a 45 degree angle with your knees and toes going in the same direction towards the front of your mat.
In Pyramid Pose, both legs are straightened with your soles flat on the floor. Your feet are approximately 3 and 1/2 to 4 feet apart. Your hips are turned towards the front parallel edge of the mat. However, do not overtwist the back knee to square your hipbones. Line up your heel of the front foot to the arch of the back foot. If this makes balance difficult, you can always widen the space between your heels so that you feel more secure in the pose.
Step #2: Using blocks is optional, but highly recommended. Use two blocks on either side of your front foot to bring your fingertips or hands to as you lengthen through the crown of your head. Pyramid Pose is a flat back posture, therefore, make sure you are lengthening on the inhale forward and not rounding your back as you fold over the front leg.
Step #3: Inhale to lengthen from your tailbone to the crown of your head, and exhale as you fold over your front leg. I recommend a soft micro-bend in your front leg as you need to do so. Do not over extend and lock out the knees.
Step #4: Hold 3 - 5 breath cycles. Then, as you lift the back heel, bend the front knee, please return to a lunge position.
Step #5: Step back into Downward Facing Dog. Repeat by bringing the opposite foot forward into a lunge, rolling the back heel down into the 45 degree angle with your sole flat on the floor, and repeat this yoga posture on the other side.
Step #6: Advanced yogis and yoginis can always opt to jump switch when changing legs. However, I always caution this move for people with knee issues.
Benefits of Parsvottanasana:
This pose strengthens and lengthens the legs. It is especially beneficial for tight hamstrings, but Pyramid Pose should only be practiced after a thorough warm-up. You can repeat this posture several times and add in the arm variations of hands behind the back resting on the sacrum (triangular section at the top of your hips), forearm clasp, or hands in prayer up your back. Parsvottanasana also strengthens and stretches your back, tones your abdomen; improves the digestive system, massages both liver and stomach, and improves complexion, hair, eyes while cooling the brain.
Virabhadrasana I, II, and III
Do you have confidence like a warrior? Unbelievable to some who struggle with being bold and able to go into new situations without fear, Warriors I, II, and III really do build confidence, as well as, strength. I think that practicing yoga regardless of shape, size, or self-esteem has the opportunity to instill new levels of acceptance and courage in you as a person.
Warrior I or Virabhadrasana (in Sanskrit) I is similar to Pyramid Pose. Your front knee is bent in a 90 degree angle to the floor, right over your ankle, and is pointed towards the dividing line of your second and third toes. The back leg is strong and is the main weight bearer of this posture. The back foot is similar to Parsvottanasana in that it is turned at a 45 degree angle towards the front of your mat while your hip bones (ASIS: Anterior Superior Iliac Spine) are facing forwards.
Remember in yoga, we inhale as we lengthen and exhale as we move, contract, or twist. So, inhale as you bring your arms up and over your head. Palms are facing one another and you extend your hands to the ceiling slightly contracting your shoulder blades together in the back to open the chest. Relax the tops of your shoulders away from your ears with a sigh and exhale. Contract your rhomboids, the muscles that pull your scapula towards one another in your back as you reach strongly upward lifting your rib cage away from your pelvis.
The benefits of Warrior I are physical along with the confidence building. They include the following:
1. Warrior I opens stretches the chest, lungs, shoulders and neck, belly, hip flexor and groins (psoas)
2. Warrior I buiids strength in the shoulders, arms, and the muscles of the back
3. Warrior I strengthens and stretches the thighs, calves, and ankles
Warrior II or Virabhadrasana II
While Warrior I has a distinct squaring of the hips to the front, Warrior II opens the back hip to the side and is a hip/shoulder opening yoga posture. So, lengthen the distance in your feet, open the hips, broaden the collar bones as you bring your arms apart and stretch them out in opposite directions!
Even if your alignment is fine when you're standing with straight legs, you may collapse your front knee inward when you come into Virabhadrasana II, or Warrior I.
To correct this tendency in this static holding posture, you need to focus on two actions by stretching your hip adductors (inner thigh muscles). This large muscle group, which fills your inner thighs and pulls your knees toward each other, includes the pectineus, adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, and gracilis. Warrior II incorporates an even wider stance, perhaps as much as 4 to 5 feet between front heel and back arch. Direct your front knee towards the pinkie toe side of the foot as you line up the knee to the outer heel. Your back foot is just barely turned to the front of the mat, and it is like a perpendicular angle with a slight edge of the back heel furthest from you.
Your shoulders naturally open as you enlongate your front arm (palm facing down) forward over your front bent leg and your opposite arm (palm facing down) behind you over your back straightened leg. When you open your shoulders, your hips will follow and vice/versa. However, remember the "sigh" and release any tension holding in your neck and upper arm bones. Your gazing point or "drishti" is over the middle finger of your front arm.
Gazing points, drishtis, in yoga are valuable because by keeping your eyes focused helps you to keep your mind focused. Use this technique with your eyes fully opened or partially closed, creating a softer, diffused gaze. Many of the classical yoga postures have gazing points, and the use of drishti is especially emphasized in the Ashtanga style of hatha yoga. Some yoga teachers encourage specific positioning of the eyes, such as gazing at the "third eye," the point between the eyebrows or at the tip of the nose. By concentrating on your gazing point of the eyes and continual flow of your breath, your mind begins to learn to let go of the "monkey-mindedness" of our American way of exercising where we think about a million different things.
Warriors build confidence and tone the back, legs, arms, and core. Don't lean the torso over either thigh by centering the shoulders over hips. Keep the sides of the torso equally long and press the tailbone slightly toward the pubic bone.
The benefits of Warrior II are somewhat like Warrior I in the strength building of the leg muscles. Virabhadrasana II is therapeutic for osteoporosis, sciatica, carpal tunnel, and builds stamina through holding the pose for 5 - 10 breath cycles.
The standing balancing is accomplished with Warrior III by returning to the Warrior I stance of squaring the hips towards the front of the mat and lifting the back foot even to the floor as you bring your arms and legs into a capital "T" like Tom. The arms, torso, and raised leg should be positioned relatively parallel to the floor. Sometimes our pelvis has a tendency to tilt. Release the hip of the back leg toward the floor until the two hip points are even and parallel to the floor. Energize the back leg and extend it strongly toward the wall behind you as you turn your second toe next to your big toe down towards the mat, then reach just as actively in the opposite direction with the arms. Bring the head up slightly and look forward, but be sure not to overdo it and compress the back of your neck.
Fitness isn't just about jumping around to get the heart rate up, or strength training to increase muscle mass. It is about forging a new relationship with your own body...replacing punishment with pleasure...learning how to love your body and your life. SoundBodyMind by Nancy Hammett