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Modify Standing Balancing Poses: Stabilization of the Core

Now it may be hard to practice balancing without the standing aspect, we can work on stabilization which will ultimately help our balance when we recover. Since a muscular approach is not as feasible here, due to the focus of balancing in the standing postures, I went with more visual replication to start off the modifications. However, I did also look to the internal benefits of the poses, namely the thyroid compression we normally receive in standing forehead to knee, and standing separate leg forehead to knee pose. 

  1. Warrior III: Warrior III requires a very strong core in its full version, requiring a powerful abdomen to stabilize the low back. By bringing Warrior III to the floor, we focus more now on back strength and hip stability. The floor beneath really brings awareness to the neutralization of the pelvis, as often one hip is lifted higher when performing the full pose. By feeling the grounding of both hips we can properly activate the hamstring to lift the leg without throwing the body out of alignment. In this prone Warrior III, it is very similar to locust pose, but we take powerful arms overhead. This, and keeping the gaze down, challenges the core to keep you lifted rather than lifting from the chest into a back bend. This variation definitely has more arch than the traditional Warrior III, but the lower you can hover your body off the floor with the gaze down, the more core work you bring into the posture. 
  2. Dancer's Pose: The pose here is really a half floor bow, but as dancer's pose is also referred to as standing bow pulling posture, the elements are transferable. I find this a great pose after our modified Warrior III, as we get to open up our hearts and find the nice backbend we were craving to come into in the previous pose. Again here, we use the floor as a tool for the squaring of our hips. Even more so in dancer's pose, students tend to lift their hip way out of alignment in an urge to tip forward. We can find proper from the grounding of both hips in the floor, even as we kick up into the hand. The goal is to keep hugging the knee toward the midline, and not splay out. This way, we distribute the backbend evenly across the spine, and don't crunch one side of the body. 
  3. Head to Knee Pose: Typically when we hold our thigh bent this way in the standing version, we don't curl in but stand up tall. However, to reap the benefits of the full version we are going to focus on the front body compression, even without the extended leg. Push your knee into the hand to further the rounding, while using your abdominals to draw the forehead to knee, chin to chest. This forehead to knee connection gives a wonderful massage to the thyroid gland which regulates temperature and metabolism. 
  4. Separate Leg Forehead to Knee: This pose is another opportunity to stimulate the thyroid, and compress the internal organs of the front body. This standing posture is very similar to pyramid pose, except for in pyramid pose there is more a focus in lengthening the spine and hamstrings. This variation that we are basing our modification off of is focused on internal benefits. Along with the thyroid this pose stimulates the liver on the right side and pancreas on the left. The liver is an organ of detox and the pancreas regulates insulin and blood sugar.


The Elusive Micro-bend

 "Micro-bend" is a word often heard in yoga classes, but rather a vague and confusing term for students. Practitioners are told to micro-bend their elbows or knees, and they either shrug off the comment or disregard the "micro" part of the word in favor of a full on bend. Despite its ambiguity, this micro-bend is key to finding the strength and stability within the flexibility of the joints. 

Balance is Key

The micro-bend cue is really a call for balance within your body. Students often strive for flexibility and see yoga as mere stretching. However, the physical asana practice is more about balancing strength and flexibility, observing the duality that Hatha yoga suggests. In fact, more inflexible students may find that this cue does not apply to them, as they might already have a tendency to enter poses with bent knees. A micro-bend is, however, crucial for students with looser joints and a tendency for hyper extension. Hyper extension can visibly be seen as the tendency to "lock" the elbows or knees, so that the arm or leg bows past a straight position. Continual practice in a hyperextended position can wear down on the joints and ligaments, leading to injury and weakness. Though the leg or arm may look straight, the muscular engagement is lacking. 

How to do it

Let's take Warrior 3, a very challenging pose that requires quite a bit of strength and can therefore be easy to fall back into hyper extension. As we are balancing on one leg, it is extremely important to find stability in the foundation. 

To come into the pose: 
  1. Inhale the arms overhead, or to prayer for more stabilization, and exhale to step the right foot forward, toes pointing straight in front of you.
  2. Spin onto the back left toes, and begin to kick out through the back inner heel. 
  3. As you start to hinge from your hip into a letter T-shape, keep kicking out through the back heel, flexing the foot to keep the leg active and engaged. 
  4. The back leg should be internally rotated so the left hip is squaring down level to the right. 
  5. Draw up and in through the abdominals while feeling an extension through the crown of the head and out through the back heel. 
  6. All parts of the body should be active so the effort is distributed throughout the body.
Focusing on the bottom leg : 
  1.   If at first you need to bend the front knee a lot to gain stability, it's a nice, safe option. 
  2. The second step would be to lift the front toes, to find the muscular engagement of the leg and find even weight distribution into the four corners of the feet
  3. Play with shifting the weight a little more forward also, as hyperextension tends to bring the weight back into the heel
  4. To incorporate our micro-bend, imagine drawing up on the knee caps as you would to straighten the knees, focusing on using the quadricep to straighten the leg. Now imagine at the same time as if you were going to bend the knee, so your calf muscle is pushing forward towards the shin bone. 
  5. Work with these two forces to bring muscular engagement into any pose, whether you tend to hyperextend or not. 

For the arms

Another place of common hyperextension are the elbows. We tend to not focus on the positioning of the arms as we do with the legs, but especially in weight bearing poses like plank, it is equally important. 

Coming in to plank: 
  1. From downward facing dog, shift the weight forward so that the shoulders stack over the wrists and you come forward to the balls of the feet.
  2. Press out throughout the heels and the crown of the head, drawing the pit of the abdomen to the navel and narrowing the hip points.
  3. Spread the fingertips wide and grip the floor while pressing the knuckles firmly into the earth. 
  4. Air on the side of lifted hips, to avoid dumping into the low back, activating strong legs, inner thighs spiraling up.
Adding the micro-bend: 
  1. Press the hands firmly into the floor so the space between the shoulder blades puffs up, doming the upper back. 
  2. This action alone creates a lifting quality and muscular engagement in the upper half, but can also lead to the locking of the elbows.  
  3. As you continue to press the floor away, soften the elbows slightly.
  4. Feel the biceps active as you wrap the triceps inwards, so that the elbows are hugging in slightly and the hands feel as if they were rotating away from each other. 
  5. Keep working with active hands, and the softening of the elbows, visualizing the muscles wrapping around the bone to stabilize. 

Arms Part II 

Taking it a step further, we can incorporate the strength of the micro-bend into our arm positions outside the realm of weight bearing. Although hyperextension of the joints may not be as detrimental when not applying force, we can still use the elements we have already discussed to cultivate muscular energy in our arms for any pose. 

In utkatasana (awkward pose):
  1. Let's take awkward pose with feet hips width distance, and arms straight out in front, shoulder height for this variation.
  2. Draw the sitting bones back so the weight shifts into the heels, outer edges of feet parallel to the mat.
  3. As you sit your hips back low, start to lean your upper body back to match, drawing in and up through the belly. 
  4. Now if we think about straightening the arms and letting them fall into hyperextension, the elbows might start to turn into face each other to the extreme, so that the bottom part of the forearm starts to face upwards. Here we have little engagement. 
  5. To activate the arms here, think about micro-bending the elbows in such a way that the elbows start to turn away from each other
  6. You should feel the outer tips of the shoulder blades start to spread out like wings, creating lift and space in the armpits. 
  7. To bring it further, energize your hands, by clawing them as if you were gripping the floor, so there is a lift in the palms of your hands like you were holding a ball in each. 
  8. Use this newfound energy in the arms to give you the courage to bring the upper body further back, as you reach forward with strong arms to counter balance.
Use this micro-bend in any poses where the arms are reaching straightforward, such as warrior II, or even child's pose to recall this new found strength. 




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