Foundational Pose# 3: Staff Pose

Foundational pose # 3: Staff Pose

Introduction

Like Down Dog and Mountain, Staff Pose is another foundational pose that is used to easily transition to other poses. This pose is great with props such as a block or blanket.

As always, no pose should ever hurt – if it does, stop! If it doesn’t feel right for any reason – stop! For this pose, extra caution should be taken if you have lower back injuries or torn leg muscles.

Enough already… How?

From a seated position with your legs in front of you, lengthen your legs. You want the top of your legs back and under your hips with your glutes as far back as you can get them while maintaining a straight back. Your legs should make a 90 degree angle with your back. Flex your feet. Imagine yourself pressing through your heels toward the wall in front of you (or, if you’re outside, I’m jealous! Enjoy the scenery and press your heels toward whatever is in front of you). Imagine a string pulling straight up through your upper body all the way through the crown of your head stretching from the floor to the ceiling.

Your spine should be in a neutral  position with your core muscles straightening and lengthening your upper body up toward the ceiling. Feet are flexed. Contract your quads. This allows you to draw your knee caps up slightly. Keep a slight bend in your knees to keep from hyperextending your joints (never lock out any joint while doing yoga).

Depending on your personal level of flexibility and your comfort with the pose, it is alright if you bend your knees slightly to help keep your spine neutral. Try to avoid rolling back on your sacrum.  Make sure to press the back of your legs into the ground. This gives a great hamstring stretch. At this point, you should feel grounded.

Place your hands alongside the body. Actively reach your down toward your mat . If your arms are short enough that you can’t reach the ground, stretch them straight down toward the ground. If you can reach the ground, bring your palms forward slightly, still reaching down toward the ground.

Your chest should be opened and your shoulders relaxed.  Draw your chin slightly down toward your chest.  Personally, I like to use a folded blanket to prevent the stiffening of my hips and the rounding of my lower back. In other words, I use the blanket to help maintain a neutral spine. A block can work  for this, too. Any elevated surface can help maintain length within the spine.

If you try this pose against a wall, your sacrum  and shoulder blades should touch the wall, but the wall should not touch your lower back or the back of your head. If your head is touching the wall, you are slouching. We all do it, but stop!

But… Why?

As westerns we spend a lot of time sitting, and we generally sit with terrible posture. This pose teaches us how to sit properly. It improves your posture and alignment by strengthening core muscles, back muscles and hip flexors. This pose also gives a nice stretch to the hamstrings, calves, chest and shoulders. If you focus on each part of your body as you actively engage each muscle group required for the pose, it can encourage a strong sense of awareness of your own body.

Conclusion

This is THE foundational pose to get into other seated poses.

We are actively grounding our bodies, lengthening through our entire spine and lengthening through our legs. Every muscle group is engaged throughout our core and legs. We are in Staff Pose.

Who says yoga is easy? Try holding this one for a minute or two and let me know if you still think it’s easy…

Other Links

I will try to link to more information or more thoroughly explain concepts based on the questions I get (so your emails help me). My husband always says, “I don’t know what a sacrum is!” So, today, we all get to learn what it is.

Here are a couple of other websites I found helpful.

The health benefits of Staff Pose

Staff Pose/Dandasana

Why Yoga?

Recently I had a ct scan. While there the tech asked me, “Why Yoga? What got you started?” All yogis come to the mat for individual and personal reasons. I decided to be vulnerable and honestly answer this question for myself and my readers.

So Why Yoga…?

For me, I have always loved stretching. It is my stress relief – my runner’s high, if you will. In college, I taught myself yoga using a combination of trial and error and exercise videos. As I got stronger, I worked out with several Yoga and Pilates DVDs. Once I started having kids, this became more difficult. Imagine trying to relax with a newborn screaming or doing a plank with a 2 year old jumping on your back!

After having my last child, my husband noticed I was exhibiting symptoms of postpartum depression, and I reluctantly admitted it to myself. Fear controlled my mind, and I would visualize horrific things happening to my children. I was continually exhausted from lack of sleep. For Christmas* that year my husband got me a gym membership, noting that the gym would keep the kids while I exercised (so no more kids jumping, sitting and crying on me while trying to get a workout).

I loved trying all of the group fitness classes, but I was always drawn back to the yoga-style classes. I noticed my sleep was more restful and my mood was improving. With encouragement from the yoga instructors there I decided to get certified to teach yoga. I currently teach a group fitness yoga class at the gym and a yoga class at a studio.

Why should you do it?

That was my experience, but let’s take a broader look at some of the benefits of yoga. There are quite a few, so I will only hit highlights and link you to some pages where you can read more (all links should open in a new tab or window).

  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased muscle strength and tone
  • Improved respiration
  • Improved metabolism
  • Weight reduction
  • Cardio and circulatory health
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Injury prevention
  • Improved digestion
  • Improved brain function
  • Improved physical relations between partners
  • Aids in stress management (my personal favorite)
  • Aids in management of chronic conditions

Here are some links to content that I thought you might enjoy for further reading:

Stress Management

Health Benefits of Yoga

Other Benefits of Yoga

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, Yoga is NOT JUST for women. Yoga is for everyone! Men check this out (or women, make your husbands read it)…

7 things you didn’t know Yoga could do to your body

Bottom Line?

Yoga may be your #1, go-to exercise like it is for me. That’s great – keep it going and enjoy the benefits!

On the other hand, you may be like my husband. He runs 5-6 days per week and uses a mix of Yoga and Pilates once a week to work on specific muscle groups and balance. While he doesn’t have a full appreciation for the relaxation poses, he still gets all the benefits Yoga has to offer.

The point? Whether you do yoga once a week, once a month or every day, there are plenty of benefits to doing it. You will have your own personal reasons for doing it. Now you know my reason – I would love to hear yours. You can email me via the Contact Me page if you want to keep it between you and me, or you can comment below if you want to share it with everybody.

*Note: Guys, be careful buying your wife a gym membership, especially as a birthday or Christmas present. You don’t want them to think, “sheesh, he thinks I need to work out!!” My husband talked to me about it before he did it, and he let me make the decision.

Foundational Pose #2: Mountain Pose

Introduction

Like Down Dog, Mountain is another foundational pose that is used to easily transition to other poses. Despite what it looks like to the non-yogi observers, this is an active pose.

As always, no pose should ever hurt – if it does, stop! If it doesn’t feel right for any reason – stop!

Enough already… How?

Always keep a slight bend in your knees to keep from hyperextending your joints (never lock out any joint while doing yoga). Stand with your feet pressing firmly into the ground under your hips and engage your quads (this should draw your knee caps up slightly). Continue by engaging the glutes & zipping the belly button toward the spine. Actively reach toward the earth with your palms facing forward, and allow your shoulders to naturally relax back and down.

Check your alignment:

Ears

Shoulders

Hips

Ankles

But… Why?

This pose should improve your posture, and, if you keep the pose active by engaging all of those muscles, it should tone and strengthen your legs, core and glutes.

Also, as mentioned earlier, this is a good pose to transition into other poses like sun salutations, warrior one, warrior three, crescent lunges or wherever your imagination takes you.

This is also a good pose to start a new sequence because it grounds the body and resets the mental focus.

Conclusion

You are solid, unshakable, grounded and yet reaching up to the sky. You are a mountain.

Browsing the internet, I ran into another great article on Mountain Pose that I thought you might enjoy.

Send a picture of your mountain. We can make a range!

Hydration

This week, let’s discuss the benefits of hydration.

Although it may seem like this is a topic for other sports, despite what the non-yogis think, we do sweat in yoga! In order to get the most out of any workout, it is important that your body is not fighting with itself. Maintaining proper hydration will help you feel good and complete your workout successfully.

(All links below open in a new window/tab so feel free to browse through them as you read)

First, a word of caution: as important as it is to be well-hydrated, studies show that overhydration can actually be more dangerous than dehydration. Furthermore, being dehydrated while performing rigorous work does not seem to diminish performance in elite athletes and can in fact improve performance in runners because they drop weight as they become dehydrated. According to this Wall Street Journal article, elite American distance runner Meb Keflezighi drinks 28-32 oz. of fluid during marathons and knows runners that drink nothing (think about that next time you are stopping at the water station during your 5k)!

Why start a blog about hydration with a plug for dehydration? To be clear – you should not be dehydrated either, but the point is being over-hydrated can kill you as this article about a local Georgia high school athlete tragically describes, and I want you alive and well.

Now that we have that out of the way, on to the tips for staying properly hydrated.

Water is bland. That obvious fact sometimes tempts us all to reach for the sugary stuff (sports drinks) or the expensive stuff (vitamin infused water), but there are other options.

Each morning, I fill a water bottle with water and the fruit of my choice. Limes are in for me right now, but I often use frozen grapes or blueberries. I’ve even dropped a mango seed with a little bit of mango flesh on it in my water bottle. Sometimes I add a pinch of sea salt. The best part? You don’t have to buy expensive water bottles with infusers in them. Just adding fruit into regular sports bottle gives a small amount of natural sugar & fiber to help replace electrolytes and add flavor (without the caloric intake of those sugary drinks or the cost of the expensive stuff). If you like to infuse essential oils into your water, you probably only want to use glass or stainless steel containers as some essential oils, especially the citrus, can break down plastics, and our bodies definitely do not need more plastic.

The bottom line: as with all things yoga, listen to your body and drink water throughout the day when thirsty. If water is too bland, add the fruit of your choice. Enjoy!