Many people suffer from chronic back pain. This video will teach us how to do three yoga poses that will help relieve our pain. The poses are: Reclining Big Toe, Standing Twist, and Legs Up the Wall. If practiced daily, you are sure to see some results.
Hero Pose can be a real challenge for some of us. Especially if you are an athlete with tight quads (like a cyclist). But I’ve found, that if something is a challenging pose for me that it’s probably the one I should practice more to help balance me out physically.
You can click on this image to visit Yoga Journal’s page on how to do Hero Pose if you’d like.
So, if you are challenged in Hero Pose, the idea of reclining or lying back in this pose can be awfully intimidating. This is where yoga props will be your best friend.
Follow the video to see how you can set up bolsters, blankets, blocks and more to get comfortable in this pose and enjoy it’s benefits. This is our fourth, and last, video in our Restorative Yoga session. Well, at least for this month…maybe we’ll add more in the future since props will almost always be used in restorative postures.
Legs up the Wall Pose is also known as Viparita Kirani in Sanskrit. I’ve mentioned this pose before in another blog post, but for some of us, watching a video is easier than reading step-by-step instructions. This actress also incorporates a yoga blanket under the spine, which is nice for someone who wants the softness under their spine, wants to use the blanket to open their heart center more, or someone who wants to reduce the backbend in this pose.
The yoga props used in this video are a Yoga Bolster, a Mexican Yoga Blanket, and a wall (or a chair as a substitute – but most of us should have an open wall in our house that could accommodate us in this pose).
This is our third of four Restorative Yoga videos. Please check last week’s video on how to fold a yoga blanket if you missed it.
On a personal note, this is one of my most delicious poses. If you’re new to yoga, you might be snickering over my choice of words. But try it, and you will find poses that are “delicious” or “yummy” to you. No kidding! The ones you want to turn to to wash away your stress or worries, or ones that leave you rejuvenated.
The prop that you will want for this pose is a round bolster. Some people might prefer a rectangular bolster, or yoga blankets. We offer a variety of bolsters to choose from: a variety of color choices, cotton, organic cotton, or hemp. To see all of our bolster choices, click here.
This pose is a little awkward to get into, but well worth it. I have a different way of getting into this pose, than how YJ describes below. I would rest my left side hip on the left end of the bolster, with my buttocks (sit bones) flat against the wall, knees bent. Then as you roll onto your back, extend your legs straight up the wall. Some other people somersault into this pose, but (to me) that is too energizing to go into a relaxation pose. No matter how you choose to enter this pose, I hope you enjoy it.
Excerpt from Yoga Journal – visit YJ to learn more about this pose, such as the benefits.
viparita = turned around, reversed, inverted
karani = doing, making, action
Step by Step
The pose described here is a passive, supported variation of the Shoulderstand-like Viparita Karani. For your support you’ll need one or two thickly folded blankets or a firm round bolster. You’ll also need to rest your legs vertically (or nearly so) on a wall or other upright support.
Before performing the pose, determine two things about your support: its height and its distance from the wall. If you’re stiffer, the support should be lower and placed farther from the wall; if you’re more flexible, use a higher support that is closer to the wall. Your distance from the wall also depends on your height: if you’re shorter move closer to the wall, if taller move farther from the wall. Experiment with the position of your support until you find the placement that works for you.
Start with your support about 5 to 6 inches away from the wall. Sit sideways on right end of the support, with your right side against the wall (left-handers can substitute “left” for “right” in these instructions). Exhale and, with one smooth movement, swing your legs up onto the wall and your shoulders and head lightly down onto the floor. The first few times you do this, you may ignominiously slide off the support and plop down with your buttocks on the floor. Don’t get discouraged. Try lowering the support and/or moving it slightly further off the wall until you gain some facility with this movement, then move back closer to the wall.
Your sitting bones don’t need to be right against the wall, but they should be “dripping” down into the space between the support and the wall. Check that the front of your torso gently arches from the pubis to the top of the shoulders. If the front of your torso seems flat, then you’ve probably slipped a bit off the support. Bend your knees, press your feet into the wall and lift your pelvis off the support a few inches, tuck the support a little higher up under your pelvis, then lower your pelvis onto the support again.
Lift and release the base of your skull away from the back of your neck and soften your throat. Don’t push your chin against your sternum; instead let your sternum lift toward the chin. Take a small roll (made from a towel for example) under your neck if the cervical spine feels flat. Open your shoulder blades away from the spine and release your hands and arms out to your sides, palms up.
Keep your legs relatively firm, just enough to hold them vertically in place. Release the heads of the thigh bones and the weight of your belly deeply into your torso, toward the back of the pelvis. Soften your eyes and turn them down to look into your heart.
Stay in this pose anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Be sure not to twist off the support when coming out. Instead, slide off the support onto the floor before turning to the side. You can also bend your knees and push your feet against the wall to lift your pelvis off the support. Then slide the support to one side, lower your pelvis to the floor, and turn to the side. Stay on your side for a few breaths, and come up to sitting with an exhalation.
Props can be a major bonus for your practice.
When all you really need for yoga is yourself, props may seem extraneous but they could be a major bonus for your practice. Besides a mat, yoga props include blocks, blankets, and straps. Even the wall, floor, and chairs count as pose-boosters. It’s common to feel like you’re copping out when you use props, but our expert Sam Chase, a certified Professional Level Kripalu Yoga Teacher with a private yoga practice in New York who leads corporate programs for the United Nations and Equinox gym, will convince you that prop-using is yoga-boosting.
Props are not cheating
“It’s easy to get hooked on the idea that a pose is better, and perhaps that we ourselves are better, if we don’t need a prop to help,” says Chase. When you watch an expert yogi, they usually don’t use props to get into a Forearm Balance or stay stable in Half Moon. Don’t feel inferior-they’ve got years of practice (or circus training) so their bodies are primed for peak performance. You, on the other hand, might need a little boost. In fact, Chase says it’s better to think about a yoga pose as an action in time rather than a picture-perfect shape. So use what you see your teacher do as a base–watch where her legs are positioned and how she opens up her chest, but make the pose work for you.
Props make you a better yogi and a better person
“A good use of props allows ANY body to create the sensations associated with almost ANY pose,” says Chase. “However you modify a pose, that is the pose, and what ever shape it takes and whatever tools you use should be whatever supports you.” Think about it, would you rather use a block in Side Angle, get a deep opening, and feel revitalized, or cram your body into a bind and hobble away in agony? Having a strong yoga practice isn’t about doing the poses perfectly by the book; it’s about making the poses perfect for your body. It’s easy to have the same perfection-driven mentality in life. We think we have to cram into size 4 jeans and make six figures, when the reality is that our weight is healthy and we aren’t bound to an office 24/7. The key in both yoga and life is to find that balance and accept your abilities and limitations.
Props will expand your practice
Instead of avoiding Cow Face pose because you can’t reach your fingers, grab a strap in each hand and open those shoulders up. “If your practice is about exploring the range of possibilities in your body, then expect that range to change frequently. You’ll need props in some poses, but not in others,” says Chase. He sees students who use blocks and straps achieve poses they would’ve never tried (see below), and feel self-adjustments they can’t get enough of (like using a strap to keep your elbows aligned in Shoulderstand).
Strap: The Sling
This pose works with gravity so all you have to do is hang out. The weight of your legs allows you to release the tension in your neck (and upper back) while the weight of your head opens your hamstrings.
Create a large loop with your strap (about 3 feet). Sitting with your legs in front of you, place the strap so it’s around the arch of your right foot. The buckle should be on the right side of the strap, halfway between your foot and the opposite end. Loop the opposite end of the strap around the back of your head. It should be in the same position as where you’d wear a baseball hat- above the ears around the back of the head, not at the neck. Slowly lean back so that your body makes a “V.” You can use your arms to support you in any way that’s comfortable. Stay there for at least 2 minutes, for as long as you are comfortable. Repeat for the left leg.
Look for an 8-ft-long strap with a good buckle that does and undoes itself easily.
Block: The Pendulum
This pose feels like no work at all, but you’re opening your hips to help you stand a little taller!
Standing next to a wall, place the block on the floor about a foot from the wall. The block can be positioned at any height. Stand on the block with your right foot and rest your left hand on the wall for support. Slowly and gently swing your left leg back and forth. After a while, you’ll notice your foot begin to brush closer to the floor. If you want, bring the block to the next highest height and continue swinging your leg. Continue for at least 1-2 minutes, for as long as you are comfortable. Repeat for the right foot.
Find a block with a little heft to it that won’t squish under your hand.
Blanket: Mountain Brook
This chest opener will help you relax and improve your breathing. Plus, it’s so comfortable you could even do a Savasana! It requires 3 blankets (or thick towels), but it’s well worth the set up.
Preparing to lay down on your back, roll a blanket into a thick tube and place it under your knees. The second blanket also rolls into a tube placed across the middle of the thoracic spine, above the lower back but below the shoulders. The last blanket is used as a pillow, with a few folds rolled into a very small tube to support the back of the neck. There should be “valleys” between the blankets where your hips and shoulders rest. Stay at least 5 minutes..and enjoy.
Look for a thick, foldable blanket made of wool.
If you practice at a local studio, there’s no need to buy your own, but consider the basics for your home practice. Our recommendations are only suggestions, in a pinch you can use a towel, belt, and phonebook.
The following two poses show two examples using Mexican Yoga Blankets. We sell two different types of Mexican Blankets – Premium and Classic. Both offer lots of color combinations, so hopefully you can find a color scheme you like! We have also created some “packages” to offer some better pricing on buying a group of items. You can find some Yoga Starter Sets with Mexican Blankets in our store — a great way to get everything you need at one time.
salamba = with support (sa = with
alamba = support)
sarva = all
anga = limb. There are variations of Shoulderstand that are “unsupported” = niralamba, pronounced near-ah-LOM-bah)
Step by Step
Fold two or more firm blankets into rectangles measuring about 1 foot by 2 feet, and stack them one on top of the other. You can place a sticky mat over the blankets to help the upper arms stay in place while in the pose. Then lie on the blankets with your shoulders supported (and parallel to one of the longer edges) and your head on the floor. Lay your arms on the floor alongside your torso, then bend your knees and set your feet against the floor with the heels close to the sitting bones. Exhale, press your arms against the floor, and push your feet away from the floor, drawing your thighs into the front torso.
Continue to lift by curling the pelvis and then the back torso away from the floor, so that your knees come toward your face. Stretch your arms out parallel to the edge of the blanket and turn them outward so the fingers press against the floor (and the thumbs point behind you). Bend your elbows and draw them toward each other. Lay the backs of your upper arms on the blanket and spread your palms against the back of your torso. Raise your pelvis over the shoulders, so that the torso is relatively perpendicular to the floor. Walk your hands up your back (toward the floor) without letting the elbows slide too much wider than shoulder width.
Inhale and lift your bent knees toward the ceiling, bringing your thighs in line with your torso and hanging the heels down by your buttocks. Press your tailbone toward your pubis and turn the upper thighs inward slightly. Finally inhale and straighten the knees, pressing the heels up toward the ceiling. When the backs of the legs are fully lengthened, lift through the balls of the big toes so the inner legs are slightly longer than the outer.
Soften the throat and tongue. Firm the shoulder blades against the back, and move the sternum toward the chin. Your forehead should be relatively parallel to the floor, your chin perpendicular. Press the backs of your upper arms and the tops of your shoulders actively into the blanket support, and try to lift the upper spine away from the floor. Gaze softly at your chest.
As a beginning practitioner stay in the pose for about 30 seconds. Gradually add 5 to 10 seconds to your stay every day or so until you can comfortably hold the pose for 3 minutes. Then continue for 3 minutes each day for a week or two, until you feel relatively comfortable in the pose. Again gradually and 5 to 10 seconds onto your stay every day or so until you can comfortably hold the pose for 5 minutes. To come down, exhale, bend your knees into your torso again, and roll your back torso slowly and carefully onto the floor, keeping the back of your head on the floor.
If you would like to read more about how to make modifications for this pose, or the benefits of the pose, visit Yoga Journal. YJ has great detailed information on Yoga poses.
From Shoulderstand, many practioners will then go into Plow Pose or Halasana
hala = plow
For further instructions on properly getting into Plow Pose, you can visit Yoga Journal’s website.
Most men might think that Yoga is for “girls”. Until they try it! Then they learn how much strength and balance is required, and learned, doing these poses. Here are 10 poses that Baron Baptiste believes will benefit men the most for their stretching and strengthening power. Click on the image above to view the slideshow from iYogaLife.
The following video from Yoga Journal teaches you how to properly practice Trikonasana, or Triangle Pose. When first learning how to do this pose, you may need to use a Yoga Block to maintain proper alignment. The goal is not to just touch the floor, but to maintain proper form while doing so. Placing a Yoga Block next to your shin and using that as your support helps. You may need to start with the block on it’s smaller edge first (at it’s tallest height), and then as you progress you can turn it onto it’s long edge or flat side to get closer to the ground. Eventually you’ll use your shin and then the floor. At each stage focus on the proper alignment of you knees, hips and spine. The strength, balance, and flexibility will come with practice.
When performing a Pilates Criss Cross, hold a light pair of toning balls in the hands near the side of the head instead of clasping the hands behind the head. Lie down on the floor, legs bent and lifted above your hips. Tuck in the abdominal muscles and lift the head and shoulders off the floor. Extend one leg out while the other pulls in toward your chest. Switch legs, pushing the opposite leg outward while bringing the other knee toward your chest.
You’ll need some props before being able to follow along with this video: 2 yoga blankets and a yoga mat. A yoga strap is optional to help keep the elbows in proper alignment. This video shows a variation using a wall – which beginners might appreciate!
When watching this video, you’ll notice that the instructor places the yoga mat under the blankets, while one student folds her sticky mat over her blankets. This set up is your choice, but you might find that having the mat wrapped below and on top of the blankets will keep your shoulders from slipping off the blankets.
Now you’re ready to learn how to do a Supported Shoulderstand: