Category Archives: Yoga Practices

Posture Clinic: How to do Kapotasana Pose

The inspiration for this week’s postural sequence comes from Alicia Orr and Alessandra Miele who serve as co-founders and directors of the beautiful North End Yoga studio in Boston Ma.   Earlier on today after giving me a tour of their space, we  started talking shop and collectively recognized  how challenging it is to actually grab the toes once you’ve managed to drop back into the full form of kapotasana posture.  Since I’m sure that many of you struggle with this same challenge, I’ve put together an accelerated sequence that should help you make some progress on this amazing variation.

I’ve always found that the best way to approach a posture like this is is to practice logically, systematically and with consistency.  Supporting this theory, Simon Borg Olivier notes that, “If you want to develop a yoga practice that will support a functional activity, you must chose special yoga postures that most resemble the activity of your preference” (Borg-Olivier,350).  In this context, that means that if we are to define the “functional activity” as the practice of kapotasana,  any systematic approach that we undertake must utilize stretches that approximate the range of motion requirements  necessary  to accomplish the full expression of kapotasana itself.

By this reasoning, since the full expression of kapotasana requires a high degree of openness in the hip flexors, rectus abodminus, and pectoral muscles, any sequence that incorporates poses that address tightness or weakness in these areas will be very helpful if  we wish to eventually experience deeper expressions of the full posture.  Then, according to Olivier since “the physical effort or force you exert upon a tissue will stimulate or provoke a change in that tissue which will be directed by your effort… [you will] achieve the results you are working towards.” (Borg-Olivier, 350).

The following sequence of postures is designed to help you systematically develop range of motion gains in kapotasana through a combination of lunging/quadricep opening postures, back strengthening exercises and postural variations such as eka pada raja kapotasana, (king pigeon pose) which very closely resemble the same range of motion requirements that are found in the final form of kapotasana.  Twists are included in the middle in order to give the body time to rest between backbending sets.

To practice this sequence, work from left to right downward through the chart.  For optimal effect, practice this sequence on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the next three weeks.  


Posture Clinic: How to Do the Dancer’s Pose

In PranaVayu Yoga, we believe that intelligent planning is everything.  In my experience, I’ve found that structured practice or class plan that integrates clearly articulated goals with a structured approach to accomplish those outcomes helps to reduce the liklihood of injury, accelerates overall gains in strength and flexibility and makes your practice more enjoyable as you learn how to work smarter rather than harder.

Along those same lines, Periodization Godfather Tudor Bompa once said, “An organized planned training program eliminates the random, aimless approach still used in some sports.  A well-structured plan gives guidance, direction and scope to everything done.  Good planning removes any relevance from those who still proclaim “no pain no gain” and “intensity all the way.”  Replace such rhetorical claims with intelligent training.  Why?  Because planning is the art of using science to structure a training program!  In training, nothing happens by accident, but by design.”

Taking Dr. Bompa’s words to heart, I’ve made it easier for PranaVayu teachers to design effective and well structured classes by organizing  our entire postural curriculum of roughly 300 poses into short training “paradigms” that can be used to assemble highly efficient yoga classes and personalized practice plans.  Each postural paradigm consists of between ten and twenty postural options that can be used to open a given muscle group or particular range of motion.  In assembling a practice, a teacher chooses one or two postures from a short grouping of five or six paradigms to form a practice set.  Once all of the postures are chosen, they are then linked together in a flowing sequence that will gradually strengthen and stretch the muscles groups that inhibit range of motion in a specific posture such as the dancer’s pose or foot behind the head posture.

This system works incredibly well! Because it is highly efficient, I’ve found that many students have been able to accomplish variations that typically take two or three years in a matter of weeks or months.  So that you can check it out for yourself,  I’ve used this paradigm based approach to construct a short sequence of postures that will help you build the strength and flexibility necessary to perform an overhead bind in the dancer’s pose.

Practice note:  Because repetition is essential for learning any new technical element,  you’ll need to practice this sequence two or three times per week for the next three weeks for optimal effect.  If you’re not ready for the overhead bind, practice the more commonly found version of those pose seen in the link below, or make it easier to bind the lifted foot by using a strap.

Practice this short training set to build into Natarajasana:

How to do the Lotus Pose

Easter weekend is here and I’m off to Maine!  I’ll be hopping into the car in little under an hour, so I’ll keep this week’s post short and sweet.

The following sequence can be used to build into the full lotus posture.  It includes a number of stretches for the outer hips, four for the inner thighs and a series of twists in the middle of the set which will help you “reset” your body after all of those forward folds.  For your amusement, I’ve inserted a couple of cool  arm balance postures as well.  These three postures will help you build upper body strength as you build lower body flexibility.  Practice hard, and should you be partaking in Easter festivities you’ll have a couple of cool parlor tricks to keep your friends and relatives entertained if conversation gets stuffy.

Warm up, hold each posture for 10 to 25 full breaths, and feel free to connect postures with chaturanga vinyasa or the belly up vinyasa.  Practice this one every other day and you’ll be able to wrap your legs into a pretzel in no time flat.

Practice the sequence below to build to the full lotus pose:

The Winner of the King Pigeon Challenge is…

The votes have been counted, and the winner of the King Pigeon challenge is Alisa Davidoff!  Her photo, taken by a friend in Israel is a true inspiration! Check it out below.

King Pigeon Champion Alisa Davidoff

The Prize:  Alisa will receive a personalized PVYU accelerated  sequence designed to help her reach new and inspiring levels of bendiness.   This sequence when combined with her obvious dedication to the practice will doubtless give her a leg up in the next challenge, so you’d better get practicing if you plan on keeping up!

Congrats Alisa!

The Wonders of the Central Axis

A plumb line

The term “centering” is often used in yoga classes to describe the mental act of re-establishing a connection to a deeper part of ourselves that isn’t swayed by thought, distraction or destructive emotional states like fear or anxiety.  Centering allows us to remain calm in the midst of challenge and helps us to reconnect to our sense of self when we are knocked off of balance.  Physically speaking, positioning the weight of our body around a theoretical center can be helpful as well.   Doing so helps us to experience balance and equilibrium in our postures, eliminates unnecessary muscle tension in flexibility enhancing poses, and creates a sense of effortless ease is strength enhancing postures.

The Central Axis 

Since understanding how to stack the weight of the body closer to  center can be difficult to understand if we don’t know where our center lies, we expand our definition of  “center” to encompass a vertical line of energy referred to as the Central Axis. The Central Axis is an imaginary line of energy that flows vertically downward through the body’s center of mass in the upright standing position. To visualize the central axis, simply imagine a plumb line hanging from the center of the skull, threading downward through the rib-cage and exiting through the middle of the pelvic floor, and you will have a good idea of where the central axis lies.

The Central Axis

The Central Axis is much like a beacon of light in the middle of a thick fog. It acts as a central reference point that shows us where to shift our focus as we practice, drawing our attention inward to our center and allowing us to radiate gracefully outward from a sense of inner connectedness and strength in our core.  The Central Axis gives us a tangible landmark around which to position our body as we flow through our postures. Creating a solid mental map of the central axis takes a lot of the guesswork out of where the body should be positioned as we practice.

Once we isolate the position of the Central Axis from an upright vertical position, we can carry the image of its location into the rest of our practice, using it as a frame of reference for the large variety of yoga poses that we practice. Standing, supine, sideways and kneeling postural patterns can all be informed and brought into more efficient alignment by positioning the body around the central axis that we discovered in the vertical position.

How to Find Your Central Axis

Find a partner and use the following exercise to find your central axis:

  1. Have your partner come to a standing posture with the inner edges of their feet hip distance apart.
  2. Help your partner find the approximate location of their central axis by pressing one finger into the front and another into the back of the body.  Start below the belly button (near the center of gravity).  Approximate the point that is directly centered between the right and left side of the body and place the tip of your index finger at that point.  Place your other index finger on same spot at the back of the body.  Have your partner think inward to the point your fingers would meet if they could actually touch.
  3. Once this point is located, repeat at the navel, solar plexus, heart, manubrium and at the third eye center.  This line that flows vertically through the body’s center of gravity in the standing position is the central axis.

NB:  When thinking of the Central Axis, it is important to recognize that it is an “imaginary” line of energy.  Since the central axis doesn’t consist of any bony masses, we can’t actually consider it to be a supportive structure.  As the central axis moves through the body, it may or may not encounter sections of the spinal column as the spine curves upward but it should not be considered to actually be the spinal column even if the spine and axis intersect in many places.  Rather, the Central Axis can be considered to be similar to a laser beam directed from the middle of the skull downward through the pelvic floor.  The beam simply flows through any bony junctures that it might encounter.

How to do the King Pigeon Pose

King pigeon pose (Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana) is one of my favorite backbends.  There’s nothing quite as surreal as the feeling of your toes tickling the top of your head as you draw your foot to the crown!  The best part though is the great degree of openness that the pose creates across the entire front  of the body.  If you’ve been hunching over a desk all day, this posture will have you standing tall again in no time flat!

While achieving this posture will take some time and patience, you will find that you will be more likely to have success if you follow a logical and sequential approach.   Any preparations that you take should include strengthening for the back as well as stretches for the the hip-flexors, quadriceps, thoracic spine and shoulders.

Before you try this pose, make sure that you are appropriately warmed up.  Do some some sun-salutations or run a few laps around the block until you start to get a little sweaty.  Once you’re warmed up, focus on holding each pose in the following sequence for twenty full breaths each (except the back strengtheners – 10 breaths in each of those will do just fine).

If you are unable to practice the full expression of the pose, use a strap to bind the foot.

Use these alignment tips while practicing:

Sacral NutationTucking your tail strongly under as you do this pose prevents your pelvis from tipping into correct backbend positioning and can lead to lower back pain.  Instead of tucking the tail, allow the vertebrate behind your belt buckle to press passively forward toward the front of your body as you bend.  This will very gently tip the top of the pelvis forward and even help to increase your range of motion.

Sternum Line – Once you’ve gotten into the full posture, imagine that your breastbone were like a slide-ruler.  Slide it upward and over the top of the heart to increase the opening in the thoracic spine.

Follow the short sequence in the slide-show below to work up to the king pigeon pose:

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The PVYU king pigeon challenge:    Snap a picture of you doing the king pigeon pose by April 15th and send it over.  My highly objective panel of yoga judges and I will choose the top photo and the winner will receive a Pranavayu accelerated practice designed by me.   Take note:  Cool environments and awesome photo angles will be taken into consideration!

Happy practice!

PranaVayu Yoga for Leg Toning

Hello everyone,

Spring is getting started here in New England!  I just saw my first crocus of the season and I couldn’t be happier about it.  This last winter was beautiful, but I won’t complain in the least when I am able to finally stow away the snow shovel for the year.

Recently, I’ve overheard more than one yogini mention the need for some extra toning exercises for the legs, so I’ve decided to put together a sequence that you can practice if you don’t have time to make it in for class at Exhale Spa.

The following practice is short and sweet.  It can be done in under 15 minutes and will tone your legs like nobody’s business if you do it four to five days per week. To warm up, do some sun-salutations or a few laps around your house, and then hold each posture in this sequence for ten to 15 full breath cycles.   If you want an extra cardio boost, you can throw in vinyasas between postures (chaturanga, up-dog and down-dog).

Give it a roll and let me know how it goes!

Happy practice!