Introducing A Few of My Favorite Poses
Parsva Bakasana, variation
Side Crane Pose
Why I Love It: Everyone has a nemesis pose, and Bakasana is by far one of the hardest pose for me. However, twist the pose to the side and I can hang out all day in it. By taking the balance point of Bakasana into the side body I find a center of gravity that works better for me than trying to stab my knees into my triceps as is the case in normal crane pose. The open-leg variation makes the pose look very similar to a really awesome Capoeira throw in which you scissor kick your opponents legs to make them fall down. Not that you’d ever do that in yoga.
Why Do It: This is a pretty advanced pose, working the wrists and abdominals and back. It strengthens the belly, forearms, wrists and spine. Anatomically speaking, your deltoids, latissimus dorsi, triceps, external obliques, and wrist flexors benefit the most from this posture. Low back or wrist injuries? Don’t even think about it.
How to Modify It: I am of course cheating a bit in this picture, as my arms are nowhere near straight. Having elbows bent means that I lower my center of gravity closer to the earth (good for preventing face-plants) and can have my hips and outer thigh bones pressed into the 90 degree angle of my triceps. You can also lower your forehead to a block or a bolster as you lift your feet off the floor.
Why I Love It: Hanumanasana is a pose I have been doing since my ballerina days, although back then it was called “the splits.” Monkey pose is a much more interesting moniker, although I don’t think most primates are physiologically capable of extending their femurs quite this much in their hip socket, being non-bipedal and all. But this pose is actually meant to represent the giant leap of the monkey god Hanuman as he jumped all the way from the island of Sri Lanka to the Southern tip of India. How cool is that?
Why Do It: This is probably the most open your gracilis, adductor longus, and pectineus will ever be. That’s a fancy way for saying this is a major hip and groin opening posture. The hamstrings and thighs will also really get some love in this pose. And in the full extension of the pose you get to open the chest, shoulders, and back too. If you have any groin or hamstring injuries, Hanuman will tell you to stay away from his pose. Also be mindful of your kneecaps in this one.
How to Modify It: A common modification is to turn the back hip out (as I am doing just slightly in this picture). This may help alleviate pressure on the back knee. You can also rest your hands on the ground or lean the torso forward. For those not ready to slide into a split, a good precursor pose to this is Anjaneyasana, or a low lunge with the back knee on the ground.
Extended Hand-to-Big Toe pose
Why I Love It: There is just something really fun about the ridiculousness of holding your toe while balancing on one leg. I love the openness of this pose and the challenge of the balance, particularly when you change the drishti, or gaze. The parallel lines formed by arm and leg are aesthetically pleasing.
Why Do It: This really strengthens the stabilizing muscles of the lower limbs, which is pretty much the best reason for anyone to practice one-legged balances. The more strength we build up in the limbs that support us, the more likely we are to remain upright as we age. The ankles, calves, shins, and foot muscles work hard to keep you from tipping over in this posture. You also get some stretch in your upper back. Folks with ankle, foot, and low back issues may wish to avoid this one.
How to Modify It: Take a strap and lasso the arch of your extended foot. Grab the reins in both hands and straighten the leg out to the front or side. Alternatively, bend the knee as much as you need to and hold on underneath the hamstring. For off balance days, find a friendly wall to lean on.
Lord of the Dance Pose
Why I Love It: This is a somewhat schitzophrenic pose for me. On one hand it reminds me of a graceful arabesque that’s only missing a partner to spin you in a delicate circle. On the other hand it could be construed as a rather aggressive posture, like your body is a bow and arrow that someone is about to let loose. Either way, it’s not nearly as scary as the Irish Lord of the Dance.
Why Do It: Besides the previously mentioned ankle, calf, and thigh strengthening you get from standing on one leg, this one is a major chest and groin opener. You also get a nice belly stretch as you engage your abdominals for the arch. In fact, there are few muscle groups that don’t get worked in this pose. If you have low blood pressure you should not be the Lord of the Dance.
How to Modify it: Lean into the wall, or better yet, get a luscious stretch of the quadriceps instead. Standing with one leg bent, reach back and grab your ankle or shin, pointing the knee to the floor. Keep those knees zipped together as you gently press the heel closer to your bum, stretching out the front of your thigh. Aaaaaah.
Upward Bow or Wheel Pose
Why I Love It: Slowly and carefully dropping down into a backbend from a standing position is a little adventure, and this pose is the closest I can get to being a gymnast. This pose makes for a very happy spine, as I tend to get more than enough forward bending while I work at a computer all day. Plus you can make your body a picture frame (look closely, it’s Alcatraz Island!).
Why Do It: Opens those lungs like nothing else. With your chest this open, you get to stretch all those little tiny intercostal muscles between the ribs. Give that spine a major stretch, counteracting all that rounding people tend to do hunched over their computers and cell phones all day. This pose also has the benefit of stretching and strengthening your wrists, arms, abs, and butt. This amount of backbending is not appropriate for folks with shoulder or back injuries, wrist issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome, headache, heart problems, high or low blood pressure.
How to Modify It: Try Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose) instead. This is an intermediary pose that can lead to all kinds of back bendy fun in a much safer and supported way.
Why I Love It: When I look at the world from upside down it changes my perspective temporarily. It invokes a childhood sense perception, like doing cartwheels on the beach or hanging upside down on the monkey bars. It’s just plain silly and fun to point both feet at the sky. And when the headstand is fully supported, I can stay there longer comfortably. This is my favorite inversion.
Why Do It: Unlike tripod headstand, you’re not balancing the entire weight of your body on your poor little neck. Rather, a lot (if not most) of the weight is grounding into your forearms and elbows. This is a great posture to do to bring some blood flow back into the core of the body, and it especially works the deltoids and abdominals. People with neck, back and shoulder injuries should not be upside down. People with low or high blood pressure or heart problems should also not practice inversions.
How to Modify It: Use the wall to balance against. For a gentler inversion, try Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose) instead.