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used - sukasana.jpg

Blog

 

 

MORE SPACIOUS TWISTS

Olivia Marley

I had a question from a student last week about always feeling squashed in twisting postures, which has led on to this week's focus in class. The first thing that's worth saying is that your torso is inevitably going to feel a bit compressed in these types of poses. You can see from the photos above that my abdomen ends up pressed against my thigh. But there are definitely a couple of little adjustments you can make to create a bit more space in your twists! Read on for step by step instructions for the postures above....

Start in a lunge with your right leg forwards and hands in prayer (see picture below left). Hook your right thumb into your right hip crease, just where your thigh joins your torso, with your fingers wrapped around towards your bum. Reach your other arm up towards the ceiling. Push your right thumb down towards the floor and encourage that hip to wrap a little bit in towards the centre line of your mat (see below right). Feel how anchoring that hip down and back allows you to reach your other arm and lengthen your spine upwards a little more.

Keep your thumb pushing down into your hip crease and keep lengthening through your torso as your reach your other arm forwards, then hook your elbow on the outside of your front knee (below left). Keep lengthening your spine as you bring your palms together (below right). Push your front knee out against your elbow and turn your belly and ribs a little further around, aiming your thumbs towards the centre of your chest. This is a brilliant pose in itself - if it feels enough for you, stay here!

If you want to deepen the twist a little further, take your top hand on to your front thigh. See if that helps you slide your other elbow a little more down the outside of your leg (below left). If when you straighten your bottom arm that hand now reaches the floor, put it on the outside of your foot (below right). You don't have to get your palm all the way down - fingertips works too! If your hand doesn't reach the floor bring your hands back into prayer position.

If your bottom hand is on the floor, push your leg out against your arm and turn your chest more towards the ceiling. Then reach your other arm up (see below). After a few breaths here, step back to downward facing dog and repeat on the other side.

Hanumanasana (for people not flexible enough to do the splits)

Olivia Marley

We've been looking at hanumanasana or the splits a bit in class recently. This is one of the few postures where I think using the English name of the pose can sometimes put people at a disadvantage: everyone has seen gymnasts or dancers on the TV doing the splits, so think that's what this posture should look like. And since most people aren't ex-gymnasts, that means for a lot of people:

  • the splits immediately feels unobtainable and they tell themselves they already know they can't do it
  • they focus on the mental picture they have of what the splits should look like, and feel defeated/ disappointed/ annoyed when their body doesn't match it 
  • because of the above, they never actually work on this posture so miss out on all the benefits it brings (loads of hip and lower body opening, plus a feeling of empowerment once you reach your arms up for the full posture)
  • their mental image of the splits is so dominant they don't listen to their body and force it into shapes it's not ready for, even if that's something they'd never dream of doing in other postures.

Basically, this posture can definitely bring up some stuff for people! So instead of working on 'the splits' we've been working on optimal alignment in 'hanumanasana' (aka posture dedicated to Hanuman). And more specifically, 'hanumanasana for people that aren't flexible enough to do the splits'. 

If you had to pick just two postures to warm up for hanumanasana it's got to be the two shown below: anjaneyasana or low lunge, and ardha hanumanasana or half splits. They warm up the back leg and front leg respectively. 

In low lunge (picture 1): as you inhale think upper body tall. As you exhale lift lower belly muscles strongly in and up (that will help you get a more effective stretch in the front of your back leg hip). Notice how your pelvis twists a little towards your back leg. And resist that by bringing your back hip (which in the photo is my left) a little forwards. After a few breaths see if you can lunge deeper on an exhale. 

In ardha hanumanasana (picture 2): rather than rounding through your upper back to get your chest towards your leg, instead push your front heel straight down into the floor. Then isometrically (ie without actually moving it) drag your front heel towards you. Pull your front (here, my right) hip back and move your back hip a little forwards, and stick your tailbone out behind you. 

Then try sliding your front heel forwards until it can't go any further (picture 3). This is often where people stop when working with hanumanasana. Notice if all of the sensation is in the hamstrings of your front leg, with very little feeling in your back leg. If so, know that is completely normal but ideally this posture is about both legs equally. 

So to shift some of the demand into your back leg, try bending your front knee and letting your hips drop a little lower towards the floor (picture 4). Then maybe you will also feel a stretch in the front of your back leg hip. Take a breath or two there then see if that has created space for you to slide your front heel a little further forwards. Keep on cueing yourself to draw your front hip a little bit back and your back hip forwards - don't let your pelvis twist towards your back leg. As with every other yoga posture, don't sacrifice the integrity of the pose (ie keeping your hips square) for range of motion (aka taking your legs further apart). 

Once you've reached your limit, grab some support and place it under the top of your front thigh (so not under your bum, under the top of your hamstrings). I've used a block (in the picture at the top of this blog post) but you can use whatever you have to hand to give you as much height as you need. So maybe a bolster, or a pyramid of 3 bolsters stacked on top of each other; a stack of books, one or many firm pillows. Whatever works! Whatever it is, make sure it's stable. Then walk your arms back in towards you and reach them up to the sky. Take a few breaths here: feel your front leg, feel your back leg, and feel upper body reaching up through centre. Then bring your hands to the floor, wriggle out of the posture, and repeat on the second side. 

And ask if you have any questions! 🙏🏼✌🏼

Simple sequence for a stiff lower back

Olivia Marley

I had a question this week from someone that said they often felt stiff and tight in the muscles on either side of their back. I'll preface this with saying: if you have back pain, go see a doctor/ osteopath/ chiropractor etc. But if you just want to move your spine a bit more and stretch out some of the muscles in the back of your torso this is a great little sequence. It may help improve flexibility in the backs of your legs too, which can also be good for back discomfort. Remember: be gentle. Don't force anything! 😎

1. Sit on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you. Take your hand to your lower back: if you can feel your vertebrae sticking out (instead of your lower back having its natural inward curve) sit up on a block/ couple of books/ folded up towel/ something like that. If you still can't sit up straight bend your knees until you can. 

Leave your right leg where it is. Bend your left knee and step your left foot to the outside of your right thigh. Put your left fingertips on the floor behind you. As you inhale push down into your left hand and sit up tall. As you exhale turn towards your top knee and either cradle it with your right arm or put your right elbow on the outside of that knee. For your next five (slow!) breaths: each time you inhale sit taller. Each time you exhale turn a bit more towards your top knee. 

TIP: notice how it's easy to sit tall through the left side of your torso by pushing down into your back hand. See if you can also create the same amount of lift through the other side of your torso. 

2. As you inhale release the twist and face forward again. Bring your left foot back to its own side of your bottom leg. Keep your left knee bent but this time let your knee fall out to the side. If it doesn't reach the ground support it with a pillow or rolled up towel. Turn your chest to face towards your left knee and place the back of your right hand on top of your right leg. Keep facing towards your bent leg and as you inhale sweep your left arm up alongside your ear; as you exhale bend sideways towards your extended leg. Take five slow breaths here. 

TIP: notice how your top shoulder wants to drop forwards so your chest turns down towards the floor. Try to resist the temptation to do that; instead back out of the posture a little and turn your chest more up to the ceiling. Lean your top shoulder a little bit back. You might not be able to reach your top arm so far but the stretch will be more in the side of your body (which is what we're trying to target here!). 

3. As you inhale, lead with your top arm to come all the way back up. Keep your legs where they are but this time turn your chest to face towards your extended (right) leg. Again, remember that slightly bending that leg may help you sit up taller. Place your finger tips either side of that extended leg. As you inhale sit tall; as you exhale turn more towards that leg and fold (= yoga jargon for lean your chest down towards your leg!). Hold for five slow breaths. As you next inhale sit all the way up again, and repeat the whole sequence on the other side. 

As always, let me know if any comments or questions! 🙏🏼♥️