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5 Tips to Move Into Forearm Stand

Forearm Stand can be an ideal solution for those scared of the pressure headstand might put on the neck. However, it is quite a challenging pose, and requires more strength and coordination than headstand.

Try these five tips to master your technique and get further toward inverting!

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Turn Up the Power in Downward Facing Dog

Perhaps the most iconic of all asana, downward facing dog is often the first pose people think of in association with yoga. It is common to move through downward facing dog multiple times throughout the practice. Downward facing dog acts as an inversion, arm balance, and forward fold all in one! Fine-tune this powerful pose with these head to toe alignment cues.

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5 Dancer's Pose Variations for Different Levels

Dancer’s Pose can seem daunting in its traditional form alone. With these Dancer Pose variations, we shift the view of the pose to one of play and creativity.

Find the variation that feels comfortable to you, or try one each practice to keep it fresh and fun!

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 Safe Forward Bending: Protect the Spine!

Forward bends offer a vast amount of benefits and healing qualities, yet can also be dangerous if done incorrectly; most evident, injury to the low back. People tend to consider back bends more of a threat. However, back bends and twists are actually very therapeutic for the spine, presuming that they are again practiced properly. Those with low back injuries should be very wary of forward folds, and be sure to be under the care of a knowledgable instructor. 

Standing Forward Fold ( Ragdoll ) : Key Points

  1. Stand with feet hips width or wider - a wider stance can make it more accessible for the hamstrings
  2. The outer edges of the feet should be parallel to the mat, even airing on the side of pigeon toe - even if the feet are exactly parallel isometrically press the heels away from each other, widening the sits bones, and opening up the low back 
  3. Grab opposite elbows and let your upper body hang heavy, draping over the lower body
  4. Belly Thigh Connection! This is one of the most crucial concepts for protection of the low back that I'll go into more detail below. 
  5. Shift the weight forward to the roots of the toes: what this means is about three quarters of your body weight is shifting forward but your toes remain light
  6. In fact, it's great to lift the toes not only for even distribution of weight in this pose but also to activate the legs. You want to lightly draw up on the knee caps to engage the quads which will in turn facilitate the opening of the hamstrings. Similarly, keeping a subtle drawing in of the low belly will further the opening in the low back
  7. Let your neck and head fully relax, maybe even shake the head yes and no

When we look at the final product, we should see the hips stacking over the heels, a long straight spine, a belly thigh connection( so there is no gap between upper and lower body ), active legs, light toes, and a relaxed upper body. 

Belly Thigh Connection

Low back injuries are one of the most common and they usually go hand in hand with tight hamstrings. In an effort to keep the legs straight while forward folding, students will end up with extreme flexion in their backs, straining to fold. In a forward fold the weight of the upper body and sacrum are going in a forward and downward motion. When the hamstrings are tight, they pull back in the opposite direction, pulling the pelvis away in the opposite direction of the sacrum and stressing the low back tissue. That is why the belly thigh connection is such a crucial concept. If your stomach is on your legs, your spine maintains length and an unbroken line of energy. To further the safety of the spine ( especially if you have tight hamstrings) bend your knees. Bending your knees enough to get the belly thigh connection allows the low back tissue to open and lengthen by taking the hamstrings out of the equation. 

Stretch the Hamstrings Safely 

Although our primary focus in forward folds is to stretch and protect the low back, there are ways to stretch the hamstrings without as much stress on the low back.

For our standing forward fold, we can straighten our legs, but a straight back is crucial to maintain. We can achieve this by taking more of a halfway lift approach:

  • step the feet are hip width distance and parallel to the outer edges of the mat
  • bring your hands to the shins or thighs to encourage the spine to lengthen
  • feel the energy drawing out through the crown of the head while keeping the back of the neck long by gazing to the top of the mat
  • engage the quads by drawing up through the knee caps, again lifting the toes for activation and proper weight placement
  • In this way, we can stretch the hamstring safely by maintaining a straight spine, rather than having the weight of gravity straining on a rounded back.
  • Ultimately the key is to differentiate and distinguish what muscle group is your focus so that you can safely practice forward folds.


 Accommodating Injury: Learn to Modify Poses for You

Injuries can be frustrating and physically limiting. You might find that a lot of yoga poses or the entirety of your usual sequence is no longer accessible. Since learning that I have stress fractures in both of my shins, I have had to use my creativity to maintain my asana practice without any weight bearing for my legs (standing postures). There were a lot of restorative postures that would be suitable, but it was hard for me to find any strengthening poses, particularly for my legs, that I was able to do. Chair yoga is one great option to modify( See my full page dedicated to chair yoga), but with a little creativity you can maintain strength with supine and seated poses as well. 
Muscular Focus
The first thing to consider when modifying poses is to analyze the main muscle groups that are being strengthened or stretched in the original pose. Although the whole body is always working in every pose, there is usually key players that stand out in each pose. The goal of modifying poses effectively, is to achieve the same benefit as the full expression. Another thing to consider is that if you do a lot of seated poses as modifications, your hip flexors will be in constant flexion and can get really tight. You will want to make sure to focus on lengthening the hip flexors adequately to counter balance. It's pretty hard to find seated hip flexor stretches, as lunges really are the easiest way to lengthen the muscle. Front splits, also called monkey pose, are my go to hip flexor stretch when lunges aren't an option. The back leg is getting the stretch, so if you need to bend the front knee and make it more like a pigeon pose feel free! For more intensity, and increase in stretch to the hip flexor, curl the back toes( See picture below). 
Visual Replication 
The second point to consider is of lesser importance, but can be nice to think about. Especially in a group class, it may seem daunting and embarrassing to take modifications that may draw attention to the fact that you can't do certain poses. Of course, everyone should be focusing on their own practice with no judgement and non reaction, but still people are going to stare.  I think it is nice to also think about what a pose looks like and emulate the pose as best you can while seated or supine. The easiest thing to incorporate is usually the arm and hand position. Also the orientation is something to think about so that you are flowing with the rest of the class and don't end up awkwardly facing the rest of the class. Thinking about the visual will also help spark your creativity to what a variation might look like. If everyone is in crescent lunge with prayer twist, take some form of prayer twist, maybe in fire log or cow face pose( See pictures below). 
Focus on You
Although we did talk about visuals having some play in your decision, ultimately it is what feels good in your body. The whole point of the practice is taking the time to nourish yourself. That being said, it is nice to have modifications that look somewhat like the rest of the class so that others can see that you aren't just trying to ignore the teacher. It is always good too, to notify the instructor of your injuries so they know that you aren't just disregarding their instruction and they can try to help you out. Most importantly, don't force your body into positions that are not befitting you at that moment. Safety and healing is the priority! 

 Seated Warrior Series: Find Strength

Now as we talked about above, we can take a muscular or visual approach to modifications; here, I tried to find a balance of pose. Mainly, I focused on the muscular aspect, as the warrior poses are some of the most powerful and energetic postures I can think of. Now lunges offer a great hip flexor stretch to the back leg, but in these modifications, I was focusing on the power in the front leg. 

1. Supine Warrior: The first pose isn't actually seated but I like to incorporate this supine pose to cultivate subtle strength and stabilization. Really here, you are the one who is going to make the pose strengthening or not. By actively reaching through the legs and arms, pressing the low back into the earth to engage the core, as you hover the arms and legs, this pose can become quite challenging. The key here is to really go internally and imagine how your muscles are working; even close your eyes for deep introspection, withdraw from the senses and explore within. Hold for 5-10 breaths, and then you'll start to feel it! 

2. High Lunge: I went kind of visual with this one, mimicking the bend in the front knee for high lunge. By drawing the knee into the chest and fighting to maintain a flat back, the core and hip flexor are really challenged here. Keeping the knee lifted, also really calls for the leg muscles to fire. Reach energetically through the fingertips to maintain the lifted quality. Take 3-7 long breaths. 

3. Warrior I: Now this is essentially the same as high lunge with an extended leg, so they can be used interchangeably. I actually find the extended leg a little easier, as the whole leg can engage more to support the hip flexor. Work on internally rotating both legs to release the hip flexors and straighten the legs as much as possible. You can take prayer overhead and shift your gaze up. Take 3-7 breaths. ( your leg will be shaking now :P )

4. Warrior II: From Warrior I, open up to face away from the leg. This again is definitely more visually influenced; I wanted to replicate the openness and expansion of Warrior II. This really incorporates more core by adding the twisting action, challenging the obliques even as you keep the body lifted tall. You can face the palms down and look to the front hand to mirror a Warrior II even more, but I find looking to my back hand more comfortable in my body. Take 3-7 deep breaths.

5. Extended Side Angle: Now you can give your leg a break and bend both knees in a comfortable way that allows you to feel grounded. It doesn't necessarily have to be the position I did, I just found that one leg forward and one back, gave me a wider base to work with. Reaching both arms by the ears in a side bend, replicates a strengthening variation of extended side angle that focuses more on upper body  and core to give the legs a little break. The more you reach your arms away from the body, the more your obliques have to work to hold you up. Take 5-7 slow breaths, as it can be easy to develop quick and shallow breathing in this posture. Try not to strain.

6. Reverse Warrior: This is essentially the flip side of the pose we just did, except I find this one a little easier with the stronger foundation of the back leg. Just as reverse warrior has variations done as a side stretch, or back bend, you can do the same here. I wouldn't recommend a full backbend, but you can revolve your torso more to the sky and get a front body stretch along with the side. 

7. Chair Boat: Now this really is just boat pose, but I like to use it as a substitute for chair and imagine as if the air in front of me was the floor. By flexing the feet and bending the knees, it imitates the general leg position of chair. You can reach arms forward or even up above in prayer. You can really just treat this as boat, but I like using my imagination and feeling as if I did incorporate chair pose into my practice. 

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