Tag Archives: foundational poses

Foundational Pose #5: Knees to Chest

Introduction

Like Down Dog, Mountain, Staff Pose,  and Child’s Pose , Knees to Chest is another foundational pose that is used to easily transition to other poses. This pose is typically used in a supine (lying down)  warm up and toward the end of a yoga session.  This pose utilizes gravity to stretch your glutes and lower back. There are a few options of Knees to Chest for you depending on what sensation you are looking for. Most options are restful, relaxing and a way to become more aware of your body. Knees to Chest is the “go-to” pose anytime you need to take a moment and breathe toward the end of your yoga practice, especially following back bends. This allows you to release your lower back and neutralize your spine.

As always, no pose should hurt – if it hurts, or just doesn’t feel right for any reason, stop!

Enough already… How?

Start in a supine position with your back on the floor, bring your knees into your chest. Hold the back of your thighs. Keep drawing your knees into your chest while keeping your tailbone on the floor.

Options:

  1. Use a towel or a strap to reach around your thighs if there is limited hip flexion.
  2. Alternating knees into the chest one at a time for abdominal work. This is also a great way to gently warm the body up before exercise.
  3. If you have lower back discomfort or limited movement gently try this pose with one leg only. If you can do this without pain for several days in a row, advance to lifting both legs (if you can’t do it without pain, don’t do it).
  4. If you have trouble getting that lift in the lower pelvis, you might consider placing a small towel or folded blanket under your sacrum to get you started in the right direction.
  5. For a gentle back massage, rock side to side. This is especially nice if you’ve been targeting those back and core muscles throughout your workout.

You want to avoid grabbing your shins or the tops of your knees. This could place added pressure on the knee. Also remember to keep your tailbone and shoulders on the floor. Your lower back should follow its natural curve and lift slightly off the floor.

But…Why?

Benefits of Knee to Chest

The following are some benefits of the Knee to Chest if done on a regular basis:

Conclusion

Similar to what I said about Child’s pose, because this pose is typically only done at the beginning or end of class it can get neglected. But honestly, who doesn’t want a free back massage?

Leave a comment below or email me if you’d like to join the conversation.

Other Links

Knees to Chest Exercise

 

Foundational Pose #4: Child’s Pose

Introduction

Like Down Dog, Mountain, and Staff Pose, Child’s Pose is another foundational pose that is used to easily transition to other poses. This pose is great with props such as bolsters, blocks and blankets or as a standalone pose.

The name is derived from the fact that the form emulates an unborn child’s natural position in the womb.

There are many options of Child’s Pose for you depending on what sensation you are looking for. All are restful, relaxing and a way to become more aware of your body. Child’s Pose is the “go-to pose” anytime you need to take a moment and breathe during your yoga practice, especially following a particularly intense sequence.

As always, no pose should hurt – if it hurts, or just doesn’t feel right for any reason, stop!

Enough already… How?

From all fours (neutral horse) with your toes pointed straight behind you (it’s ok if you want to bring your big toes together), sink your hips back toward your heels. Lower your body toward your thighs. Bring your arms alongside your body. Your forehead is on the mat.

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For Extended Child’s Pose reach your arms out in front of your body.

extended childs pose

Another option is to rest your forehead on stacked fists or a block. For clarity, in the picture below I have my head up so you can more clearly see the stacking of my fists. To complete the pose, your forehead would actually be resting on your fists rather than in the air like mine is in the picture. If you use a block, your hands would be positioned like either of the first two pictures above and your head would simply rest on the block. Whether on your fists or a block, this option is great for leveling the heart with the head and can take pressure off the sinuses.

stacked fist

Wide Knee Child’s pose is great for anyone who is expecting or anyone who wants a great hip opener. This option allows more room for your midsection.

wide kneejpg

One of my favorite options is Restorative Child’s Pose. This is done with a bolster or blocks and blankets. It restores your body with a restful position (and you may need somebody to wake you up).

restore

But… Why?

This list isn’t exhaustive, but Child’s pose is great because it:

  • Restores balance to the body and rests the mind
  • Offers a wonderful opportunity for us to explore our breath. As you inhale, feel the back of the torso widen and soften outwards – all the way down the spine to the sacrum.
  • Gently stretches the hips, thighs and ankles. For a deeper hip stretch, widen the legs so your knees touch the mat, big toes together.
  • Can be a good stretch for the shoulders, if the arms are stretched out in front the body, palms facing down.
  • Can be a good back and neck pain reliever; at the same time, the head and torso are supported.

Conclusion

Because this pose is typically only done at the beginning or end of class it can get neglected and overlooked. But, trust me, you can audibly hear sighs of relief when the instructor says, “Let’s head back to child’s pose” after a really challenging flow series. After reading about all of the active foundational poses, this one should seem fun to try.

I would love to hear about your favorite option in child’s pose. Leave a comment below or email me.

Other Links

Balasana

5 Health Benefits of Child’s Pose

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

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!

Foundational Pose #1: Downward Facing Dog

Introduction

Whether you are new to yoga or a master yogi, you have to start somewhere! Let’s begin with one of the foundational poses of yoga.

Downward facing dog (down dog) can be intimidating for many reasons (for one thing, your hips are shamelessly high and pointing to the sky), BUT part of yoga is learning to let go of judgment and competition so that you can strengthen your mind and body.

As always, the remainder of this post is for informational purposes only, and you should consult a physician before starting any exercise program. No pose should ever hurt – if it does, stop! If it doesn’t feel right for any reason – stop!

Enough already… How?

The first question to ask of any pose is “how do I get in the pose?” You can get into down dog in a few different ways, but they all have the same basics.

Start on ‘all fours’ with your knees on the ground directly under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders (arms straight but with a micro bend in the elbows – never hyper-extend your joints). Spread your fingers wide with weight spread equally into each palm. Incidentally, this pose is called Neutral Horse, but that’s for another post.

From here, plant your toes into the ground and lift your hips toward the sky (remember… shamelessly) while pressing your heels toward the ground and letting your head fall naturally between your arms. You should be looking between your knees/shins toward the back of the room (or whatever is behind you). Draw your bellybutton toward your spine. At this point, you should look like an inverted ‘V’ with no stress in your neck. Especially if this is your first down dog of the day, it’s alright to bend your knees to your comfort level or to “walk your dog” (slowly alternate between straightening and bending each leg one at a time). If you can’t completely straighten your leg or get your heel completely on the ground, that’s ok! Just keep practicing.

There are a variety of ways to exit the pose, but the best thing for beginners is to just (slowly) reverse everything and come back to Neutral Horse until you feel you are stable enough to stand up (or try it again as many times as you like).

But… Why?

  • Practically speaking, it would be hard to do yoga without down dog because it’s used to smoothly transition between a variety of poses.
  • Physically, it strengthens your upper body while acting as a great stretch for the hamstrings, calf muscles and Achilles’ tendons.
  • Mentally, because your head is below your heart, it promotes blood circulation throughout the body and provides a rush of blood to the brain. All of this is quite refreshing once you are used to the sensation.

These reasons  are enough to motivate me!

Conclusion

The most important thing to remember is this is your workout at your pace and comfort level. While you certainly don’t have to be comfortable with every pose to practice yoga, down dog is an important one to master because you are likely to be doing it alot. Practice it until you feel comfortable doing it, and then move on to the next one (coming soon).

Did I do down dog before writing this?

You bet I did.