Breaking Down the Pose

Forward folds are underrated. They often are woven into the beginning of a yoga class as a warm-up to gently, gradually relieve tension in the body, specifically the shoulders, neck, lower back, hamstrings, hips and calf muscles. Forward folds are also great for mindfully strengthening the thighs, knees, lower back and abdominal muscles.

My favorite forward fold variation is Padangusthasana, a deeper variation of Uttanasana, (forward fold). To get into it, start in mountain pose (feet parallel, facing forward and hips distance apart, arms resting by your sides, palms facing outward and fingers spread apart, core hugging in, hips tucked under slightly, top of head reaching towards the sky, and stacking shoulders over hips over knees over heels). From mountain pose, imagine the top half of your body is a lever, and slowly hinge forward at the hips, keeping your head, neck and spine in one long line, moving together as one. For my visual peeps, imagine you are E.T. when he gets super anxious and his head extends out of his neck – this is exactly what you want to do from your head all the way down to your tailbone. I actually picture E.T. a lot when I move in a yoga class and it helps. I am going to have a difficult time teaching this in class without laughing now that I just shared one of my awkward yoga visualizations.

Now you’re ready to take a bind: Peace sign fingers (index and middle fingers) clasp around the big toes. Your thumbs meet the two fingers on the other side. Holding the bind in place, halfway lift (hinge at the tops again, slight or subtle bend in the knees to keep your spine protected like you are going to attempt to stand all the way back up), and use the bind to help draw your spine out a little longer as you keep your belly button pulling towards the spine. When you halfway lift, the top of your head is pointing straight ahead and your chest should be parallel to the floor, your spine and neck are in one straight, extending line, and your torso creates a 90 degree angle with your legs. Again, you are a lever.

To coordinate this with breath, take a deep INHALE through the nose as you halfway lift to lengthen the spine. Then, as you use the peace sign fingers bind to slowly, mindfully pull yourself back towards the ground while keeping a long spine, EXHALE. You want to pull the top of your head closer to the floor while keeping your spine and legs lengthening simultaneously. Hold the bind for five deep, slow rounds of inhaling and exhaling and you pull yourself closer to the ground on each EXHALE. This is when you can begin to take the bend out of your knees as long as it feels natural and comfortable on your spine and body. If you have straight legs and a bend in the elbows, then pull the elbows out to each side. Really engage your quadriceps here (and your core), pulling kneecaps up and make sure your toes are spread wide on the ground, but not gripping the floor. The less tension you can manifest in each pose, the more benefit you will receive.

A few things to note

Your spine is the priority in pretty much every pose; therefore, if you do not keep that in the front of your mind and take care of it throughout your practice and movements, you need to back up, reset priorities and allow your body to open up. If you lose the integrity of your spine, it will not matter that your legs are able to straighten or your head can reach the ground. If you have super tight hamstrings, keep a gentle bend in your knees for the entirety of this pose with a long spine.

With that being said, while it’s perfectly fine to keep a bend in the knees, make sure you are also getting something out of the pose. There is a fine balance in everything we do…hence, Planks & Pizza.  We need to acknowledge when we reach a point where we are doing too much and pushing too hard, and on the flip side, we must recognize if we are at a place of complacency where should push ourselves a little harder to make a little progress. The goal with Padangusthasana is to work on the tightness in your hamstrings while moving safely, so if you aren’t feeling a stretch on the upper back side of your legs, you may need to go back through the steps and find what option works best for you.

Lastly, regardless of where you are in your practice, please remember that just because you may have to bend your knees today, doesn’t mean you will next week. Part of yoga is learning to love and accept yourself and your body where they are in their current state. Let everything else go, work on the mind as you work on opening up your body and trust the process one-hundred percent.

Making Shifts

Yoga allows us to make shifts in the way we think and how we talk to ourselves.

Challenging the body and cultivating a slower, steady breath in our yoga practice gives us the chance to not only strengthen our bodies, but also clear out the clutter for our minds and our emotional well-being. And while I am a huge believer in the practice of yoga, you don’t have to find these shifts on your yoga mat. It’s more about spending time away from distractions and intentionally working on the way you think, the stories you tell yourself, and your perceptions of what happens around you. We often cannot control our surroundings, but we can control our thoughts – even though sometimes this seems impossible or too difficult.

We are all guilty of sometimes neglecting the importance of taking breaks from our busy lives to slow down. We feel like we simply do not have the time. However, by giving ourselves permission to slow down, we achieve a healthier life balance by allowing our mind to process and prioritize what really matters and let go of the rest.

How often do you take time to slow down and check in with yourself?

Take this non-yoga scenario: You go to the grocery store without a list, and you buy everything you need. You return home to put your groceries away and realize you forgot eggs. Suddenly, the errand you thought you checked off your list isn’t actually checked off.  You have to make a second trip, and the second trip is super annoying because now you are just wasting time.  You feel flustered because had you slowed down to make a list, you would not have forgotten the eggs. Instead you are spending time racing back to the grocery store and playing chicken in the parking lot.

Situations like these are completely unnecessary and avoidable…if we have the right approach. When we commit to making tiny changes over time instead of all at once, it is less overwhelming. When we pause every now and then to think instead of rushing through life, we are actually freeing up more time by determining how to accomplish tasks more efficiently, not just quickly. Our minds can wrap around this way of thinking much easier because it is more realistic. The more we do it, the easier it becomes because we are cultivating new patterns that eventually make their way into the habit category. We want to make tiny shifts in our thinking and our behaviors so that they ultimately become newer, better habits!

In yoga, we turn inward to focus on the breath and often set an intention for the practice. One of my favorite intentions is “breathe through it” or “keep breathing” because when I get overwhelmed, my natural tendency (habit) is to hold my breath. The more I can focus on my breathing when I am overwhelmed, overworked or flustered in my yoga practice, the easier this becomes. Practice makes progress, and consistent practice turns into habit.

We have to find faith in the process and trust that everything unfolds as it should. We are our own teachers – our best, truest teachers. The more we take time to pause and check in – whether it is on or off the mat – the more we learn from ourselves. We listen more to our own voices, and less to the distraction of outside chatter and pressures that sometimes can do more harm than good.

If you are interested in developing your yoga practice, or have never tried yoga before and want to see what it is all about, go to my Yoga page here or Contact me here. I would love to set up some time to chat with you about your personal goals and how we can work together to help you reach them.