Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Posture of the Week: Crescent Lunge/High Lunge/Alanasana

Crescent lunge/high lunge is a nice way to build strength and stability in the legs, and it is also a nice opening for the hip flexors - try it as a break from your workday if you have a sedentary job.  Even though two feet are on the floor, the large distance between them can make this a challenging posture for balance.  Feel free to stand close to a wall or chair to hold on to if you need help with balance.  If you'd like a warmup posture, check out last week's posture of the week: Boxy Lunge!

Crescent Lunge/High Lunge/Alanasana

Crescent lunge.
To get into the posture:

Stand with your feet hip bone width (about 2 fist widths) apart at the front of your mat.  Step your left foot straight back a little more than one of your leg lengths, making sure the feet stay hip bone width apart side to side.  You can adjust the lunge to shallower or deeper front to back, depending on your strength and flexibility.  Make sure whatever depth you choose, your right knee is directly on top of your right ankle rather than in front of it.

Stand with feet hip bone width apart. You can measure hip bone width by two
of your own fist widths as pictured above.

Refining the posture:

Adjust your spacing front to back so that your right knee is directly on top of your right ankle.  If the knee presses forward of the ankle joint, the knee isn't happy.  Also make sure your lunge isn't so wide that you are unable to bring your knee on top of your ankle!  You can have as shallow or deep a lunge as you like, provided the right knee is on top of the ankle, AND the right hip doesn't go lower than the right knee.  In other words, the right thighbone doesn't want to go farther down than parallel to the floor.

Make sure your front knee isn't forward of the ankle joint as pictured above...

...and also make sure your lunge isn't so wide you are unable to put your
front knee on top of your ankle joint, as above.

You can have a shallow lunge as pictured above, depending on your strength
and flexibility.  A shallow lunge (with knee still directly on top of ankle) is
easier on both strength and flexibility.

Make sure you don't sink your hips lower than your front knee as above.

Make sure your belly isn't pressing forward and your low back collapsing.  Try to draw your belly in and up and lengthen the low back.  If this is difficult to feel, place one hand on belly and one hand on your sacrum (like we did last week in the Boxy Lunge post!), straighten your front knee and press the tailbone down and the belly in and up with the help of your hands, then return your arms to your chosen position.

Here I am collapsed in my low back, causing it to overarch.

To help adjust out of a low back collapse, straighten the front knee a bit,
place 1 hand on low back and 1 hand on sacrum, and draw the belly in and
up while sending the tailbone down toward the floor, with the assistance of
your hands.

After adjusting the position, sink back down into your lunge without
losing the position of the pelvis.

Adjust the back foot so the heel is stacked right on top of the ball of the foot, rather than pressing behind the ball of the foot.  This helps you to balance your weight between your two feet, provides even more length through the front of your hip left hip, and strengthens the back leg.

Make sure your back heel isn't falling back behind the ball of the foot.

Try to place the back heel directly on top of the ball of the foot and energize
the whole back leg.

Make sure your feet remain hip bone width apart side to side, rather than wider or closer together.

Viewed from the front, you can see my feet aren't hip bone width apart;
they are too close together, creating a "tightrope" effect.

And here my feet are farther apart than hip bone width.

Try to place the feet at hip bone width apart as above.

Make sure your shoulders are stacked right on top of your hips, rather than leaning forward or back.

Torso leaned too far forward, shoulders are forward of hips.

Torso leaning too far back.

Neutral - shoulders on top of hips.

Arm options for crescent lunge include pressing your hands to heart center as in the above picture, lifting the arms high toward the sky, or temple clasp (folding your hands, but pointing the pointer fingers toward the sky). 

Arms high.

Temple clasp.

Hold the posture for 3-5 breaths, then switch sides so your left leg is forward!

For a precursor and warmup pose for this posture, or if this posture seems inaccessible for your body, check out last week's posture of the week: Boxy Lunge!


I had kitties walking under my legs the whole time I was taking these photos.  :)

Riddick tickles my foot with his whiskers, and I am getting irritated that
my camera remote isn't working.  :)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Posture of the Week: Boxy Lunge/Anjaneyasana variation

Many of us (I definitely include myself in this!) have tight hip flexors.  We sit in chairs frequently, or even all day in many cases, which puts the hips joints in a flexed position for a large portion of time.  With all that sitting, the hip flexors get shortened and tight, which can create many issues for the body, and is one possible culprit of low back pain.  Try boxy lunge after a period of sitting, or to break up a period of sitting, to lengthen and release the front of the hips.

Boxy lunge is one of the most accessible low lunges, and it allows us to find the optimum position of the pelvis for other lunges; it is a nice preparation for deeper lunges like Low Lunge, or strength building lunges Crescent Lunge, both of which will be the subject of later posts!  :)  Boxy lunge is essentially making a square with the legs, hence "boxy."

Boxy Lunge

To get into the posture: Stand on your knees with your hips directly on top of your knees, thigh bones perpendicular to the floor, with a blanket or rolled mat under the knees if you have sensitive knees.  Bring your right foot forward to a lunge position, but keep your left hip on top of your left knee - so only your right leg moved, not your left.  Place your right ankle directly below your right knee, so you should now have a square shape with your legs.

Start by standing on your knees. Pad your knees with
a blanket if you have sensitive knees.

Bring your right foot forward to a lunge position, placing
your right ankle directly below your right knee and keeping
your left knee directly below your left hip.

Now, adjust your pelvis to a neutral position by bringing one hand to your lower belly and one hand to your sacrum.  As you engage the front core muscles drawing the belly in and up, use your hands for support to point the sacrum down toward the floor (pulling up with the belly hand, pressing down with the sacrum hand), and you will start to feel a bit of length in the front of your left hip.  If this is already enough stretch, stay here.

Adjust the position of the pelvis so your sacrum points
straight down, using one hand on belly and one hand
on sacrum.

Better view of the hand on the sacrum.
Avoid collapsing the spine and belly forward - you can
see that the front of my hip is not lengthened at all in
this position, but I am taking it in my low back instead.
The hands to sacrum and belly help you avoid this position.
But don't overdo it - in this position you can see my pelvis
is actually tucked, not neutral, which puts pressure on the
low back.
If you can hold your pelvis stable without your hands, you can press your hands down into your thigh without leaning back to help lift your chest and lengthen your spine more.

Hands to thigh, press down onto the thigh for leverage to
further lengthen the spine and the front of the hip.
You can also reach your arms skyward to increase the lengthening sensation in the front of the hips.

Reaching skyward. Roll the pinkies in toward one another
to allow the shoulder to come toward in line with the ears.
A more intense option for boxy lunge is to grab your back foot and pull the foot toward your bum, adding a deep stretch to the quadriceps.  If you can't reach, use a strap to get a hold of your foot. Make sure you have padding under the knee for this one, even if you weren't using padding before.

Pulling foot toward your bum for a deep quad stretch.
Make sure you maintain the position of the pelvis!
If you are unable to reach the foot with your hand, use a
strap to hold the foot! Here I have subbed in a resistance
band since I seem to have misplaced my strap... :)

Hold the posture for 5-10 breaths on each side.


My cats think yoga props are impromptu kitty beds. :)

Am I disturbing your slumber?  :)

Zen kitty.  :)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Posture of the week - Ankle to Knee/Firelog Pose/Agnistambhasana

I am going to be completely "human" here and admit that despite years of practice, I still have pretty tight hips.  This is partially genetics, and partially because as a little kid I sat like the pic below all the time because crossed legged position was not comfortable to me.  In sitting that way, I exacerbated the tightness or my hips by never stretching or releasing them even when I had a child's malleable body.  And my hip tightness is also not helped by my sitting in front of a computer a lot, nor by my strong leg weight workouts.  :) So I have a lot working "against" my hips getting more open.

How I used to sit as a child. Seriously bad for the knees
and encouraged me to be really knock-kneed and tight hipped
in adulthood.

I have been in many yoga classes where the instructor called out Ankle to Knee pose and said something along the lines of "just stack your shins in front of you..." leaving me and my tight hips to find something else to do.  I think I was not alone in the feeling that ankle to knee is "impossible" for my hips, or that if I managed to wriggle my way into it, it left me feeling pain in my knees or rounded in my low back.  So after years of figuring it out in my own body, I have some ways to modify and work up to it that I would love to share with you!  We'll start from softest on the hips and progress on to harder variations.  NONE of these variations should cause pain or discomfort in your knee joints!  If you feel pain in your knees, back off from whatever variation you are doing.

Single leg modification, elevated:

1 leg at a time is much easier than both! Try this as a modification/replacement for ankle to knee, or use it as a warm up to help prepare your hips for the full posture.

To get into the posture: Sit on a block or a blanket, and extend your left leg straight forward from your hip.  Place a rolled up blanket under your left knee to keep the knee from hyperextending, since you are sitting on the block. Make sure left knee and foot face straight up, and flex your left foot.  Cross your right ankle just past your left knee, and flex the foot strongly to help protect the knee.  Stay upright if you are already feeling enough sensation, or fold forward without rounding the spine to make the release of the right hip a little more intense.  Stay for 5-10 breaths, then repeat on the other side.

For more intensity, fold forward, and possibly grab the foot.
Make sure not to round the spine to fold forward... )
...instead, fold from the hip creases and keep the spine long.

Single leg modification on the floor:

A slightly more intense modification - no props allows the hip to open a bit deeper.

To get into the posture: Set up as the above variation, but sitting on the floor instead of a prop.  If you feel your spine is rounded, go back to the previous variation.  As in the first variation, you can stay upright or fold forward.

Fold forward for more intensity in the posture possibly grabbing your foot.
As in the previous variation, be sure to not round the spine to fold forward...

...instead, keep the spine long.

Two block modification:

Ankle to knee, sitting on one block on the low level, second block under the bottom knee at medium level.

This is my favorite modification/variation, and I made it up myself!  (that's not to say somebody didn't already make it up and "copyright" it before me, but I was excited that I discovered it in my own body.  :)  )

To get into the posture: sit on one of your blocks on its lowest level (or medium level if your hips have a lot of resistance). Bring your left shin parallel to the short side of your mat, and then stack your right shin on top, lining up the heels with the edges of your knees.  Make sure both shins are parallel to the short edge of your mat, and the bottom closer to your hips than your top.  Make sure your ankle isn't sickled; there should be no wrinkling in the skin on the inside of your right ankle, and the ankle should be in a neutral position.  If your left knee is floating off the floor (and it probably is if you are sitting on a block), then place your block diagonally across the knee joint to support it.  It is balanced on the edge so it is a flat surface to rest the knee on rather than an uncomfortable edge.  Make sure the block supports both the shin and the thigh, rather than just one or the other.  Lengthen the spine and sit up tall, or feel free to fold forward without rounding the spine.  Stay for 5-10 breaths, then repeat on the other side.  If you are not able to lengthen the spine and sit up tall, then lean back on your hands.

For more intensity, fold forward any amount, resting hands on the floor.
Make sure not to round the spine to fold forward.  Or if your spine is rounded when trying to sit upright, try the below:

Leaning back on the hands relieves some of the intensity from the hips, and allows the spine to be long instead of rounded.
The block under your knee can be at the high height to make it easier on your hips.
The block under your knee can be on the lowest level for more intensity.

Make sure the block supports both the shin and the thigh, unlike the pic above where only the shin is supported...

...or this pic above where only the thigh is supported.

Make sure your heel is all the way to the edge of the knee, unlike above where my heel is farther down my shin.
Also make sure the heel isn't past the knee as above.
Make sure both shins are parallel to the front of your mat, rather than the bottom shin tucked in like above.
Make sure the ankle isn't "sickled" as above.  The ankle should be in a neutral flexed position with the toes the same level as the ankle instead of above the ankle.

Ankle to knee, "cheater variation"

I call it cheater variation because it is one of the ways I "trick" my hips into getting into the full ankle to knee posture. The pressure of the elbow on the arch of the foot seems to get my top hip out of its own way, then when I come forward the hips do not resist as much.

To get into the posture: Sitting on the floor, stack your left shin on top of your right as before in the two block variation.  Rock onto your right sits bone, then twist and fold forward to your right bringing your left elbow into the inside arch of your left foot.  It is okay if your left sits bone lifts, but keep reaching it toward the floor or keep it on the floor if flexibility allows.  If your elbow won't reach the arch of your foot, then use forearm or grab the foot with your left hand.  If you have the flexibility to go deeper place both elbows on the floor as though you are doing forearm plank.  Press the left elbow back into the left knee, and feel how this creates more space in the left hip.  Stay for a few  breaths here.

If the elbow won't come all the way do the arch of your foot, you can put your forearm in the arch of your foot as above...

...or simply press your hand back into your foot as above.

If you have more flexibility, you can fold all the way down until your elbows rest on the floor.

Next, simultaneously bring your left sits bone back down onto the floor and swing the torso around to the front of your mat, so you end up in ankle to knee folding forward! If your right knee lifts off the floor at this point, support it with a blanket or block.  Or if folding forward is still too much, sit upright instead.

If your bottom knee floats off the ground in ankle to knee as above, make sure to support it with a block or blanket.

Ankle to knee with a blanket supporting the bottom knee.

Feel free to support the head or forearms with a block or blanket if you are folding forward.

Ankle to knee leaning forearms on a block.

Ankle to knee with the head supported with a block.

Take 5-10 breaths once you are folded forward, then repeat on the other side.

Ankle to knee: foot press variation (pic pressing on feet)

Ankle to knee, pressing the balls of the feet into the palms of the hands and vice versa, creating resistance to facilitate the release of the hips!

This variation "gets the hips out of their own way" and is a nice way to get deeper into the posture than you would by just stacking the shins.  The foot press can be done in ankle to knee on the floor, or also in the two block variation.

To get into the posture: Stack the shins for ankle to knee either with blocks or without.  Fold forward a bit, then place the palms of your hands onto the balls of your feet.  Press the balls of the feet into the hands as though you are trying to point your toes, but resist with the hands so the feel do not actually move.  Note the space being created in the hips, perhaps allowing you to fold a bit farther forward.  After holding for a few breaths, release the hands from the feet and settle into ankle to knee.  Hold for 5-10 breaths, then repeat on the other side.

Ankle to knee: foot press variation 2

In this variation, only the top foot is touched by the hand.  Hand is under the pinkie toe side of the foot, and press the pinkie toe side of the foot down toward the ground while resisting with the hand.  Do the same press with the bottom foot down into the ground.

This variation is another way to engage the lower legs to get more out of the hips.

To get into the posture: Stack the shins for ankle to knee with the right shin on top, then bring your left hand to the outside edge of your left foot.  Press the outside of the foot down into the hand while resisting with the hand so the foot doesn't actually move.  Do the same motion with the left foot, but pressing into the floor.  Hold for a few breaths, then release the press of the feet and settle in to ankle to knee for 5-10 breaths.


As always, my friendly kitties were around to "help" with the photos.  :)

What are you lookin' at?

Nala judges my form.  :)

Hey Merteuil, down in front!

Riddick says "stop sickling your ankle."

Not a flattering angle.  :)