The intimacy of Yoga. What does it mean? Yoga becomes sacred when you start to develop a relationship of love and respect with your body. They always refer to yoga as the mind-body connection because your mind is focusing on your body, and through that focus and attention you begin to discover that you are more than just a body. Your breath becomes your spirit, linking body and mind. Yoga is not just the connection between mind and body, it is the connection of mind, body and spirit, or shall we say “self”.
As you quiet the mind and focus inward you uncover the “self”, the presence within that has always been there, and will always be there. A presence that is infinite, boundless and timeless. A “self” which is connected to something bigger, more expansive then just the constructs of the body or mind. If you tune in with non-judgement during your practice, you will begin to feel the self. Its beauty and power cannot be measured, only felt.
That “self” is the essence of you. An essence that is omnipresent like the oxygen we breathe. We do not see oxygen, nevertheless it is always present. It sustains us. It is the same with our spirit, our self. Most of us focus outward, using judgement, material objects, titles and other superficial measures, trying to find our self-worth, when all we need to do is search within. Our self is whole, it is complete, there is nothing missing, there is nothing wrong. All of the issues we create in our head is false. I love that quote don’t believe everything you think.
Yoga is a journey through the self to the self. I have often said “music and dance saved my life, while yoga healed it”. It is true. Yoga help me find my way back to my spirit, to uncover my soul, with every breath, every twist, every warrior, and every tree. It asked me to be presence and accept myself as I am. It is that process of showing up, the discipline of being present and the commitment to care for my “self” with compassion and non-judgement. I AM HERE right now and I am ok just as I am. There are no labels on you mat, no discrimination, you’re not playing one of your many roles, it’s just you.
If you allow it, compassion will evolve and love will replace doubt, that’s when real healing begins. It is a connection through the self, to the self. So when you feel disconnected, lost or at odds with your life…find your way back on your mat. All of the answers are there, within, located in the essence that is the self.
Proper alignment is key in yoga. It keeps you safe, makes your practice stronger and it helps to navigate balance. Every time I teach I am constantly looking around the room. I look to see if there are any corrections I can illustrate, even if you’re pose is correct you can still benefit from checking in to your form. These three poses, Downward Facing Dog, Warrior II and Triangle are beginner poses and practiced in almost every yoga class. Review each pose and the comments below, so next time you find yourself in one of these poses you can be mindful of your alignment.
Downward Facing Dog:
A lot of beginners practice Downdog incorrectly. They stop somewhere between Downdog and a high plank. This puts a lot of undue pressure on the shoulders, and sometimes causes injury. In many pictures you will see the heels on the floor, however if your hamstrings are very tight, which is common, it’s impossible to do. You cannot force it, forcing it is counterproductive. I like the suggestion to add a bend to the knees, even with a slight bend in the knees, the chest should press back towards the thighs. Also I love the way her head is lined up with the ears next to the biceps. She not looking under and she’s not looking forward. This position is ideal. I also like that she mentions to “press the floor away from you”. This is another key factor in doing this pose correctly. Downdog stretches all of the back line muscles, from the feet through the achilles tendon, back of the legs, lower back, shoulders to the wrist and hands. It also becomes a place to rest during a vigorous flow.
Warrior II is a standing hip opener, a leg strengthener and a great pose for practicing balance. I love all of the suggestions here. One thing to keep in mind is the width of the stance. If you draw a vertical line from her left wrist to the outside of her foot you can see they more or less line up, same in front. She is working at her maximum stance. This is what you want to strive for. Many beginners work with a short stance so you don’t get the full benefits, however there’s a balance issue they are still trying to master. Warrior II looks simply, and if you hold the pose for a while you will feel how powerful it is. My instructor would say “practice your warrior…from a place of victory.”
Here are great alignment recommendations for Triangle, another common pose practiced in most classes. In my class we have the front hand in front of the foot or in back. I don’t feel either is wrong. When you’re in triangle, image your whole body against a wall, that will help to line you up properly. This is another challenging pose, if you’re doing it right, in terms of balance and core strength. If you were to draw a horizontal line across her spine, you will see that it is nearly parallel to the floor, that’s where you want to be. Also start with your gaze ahead, and then when you’re feeling steady, turn your gaze up to the ceiling, it will help stabilize your balance.
You can practice these poses hundreds of time and each time is an opportunity to stand stronger, work deeper, and have more balance. The ability to feel strong and steady in each pose is a great goal, that’s why yoga is called a “practice”. 🙂
It’s funny when students who take my yoga classes, see me for the first time teaching Zumba. They are genuinely surprised, if not a bit shocked…LOL. I get all kinds of remarks from “it’s like watching another person” or “one would never think from your yoga class…” It’s true, dance and yoga are my Yin Yang. They balance each other perfectly. They not only provide all of the necessary benefits to help keep your body healthy and fit. They also provide emotional and spiritual health and well-being. They are two-sides of the same coin.
Dance (the Yang), ignites your high energy, enthusiastic side. It is the “language of the soul”. While Yoga (the Yin) inspires beautiful focused movement which flows with breath. It is the “poetry of the body”. There is a lot of synergy between both practices. Both require focus and controlled breathing for stamina. Both develop strength in our bodies. Both help develop rhythm and coordination. Both help us to be present, and most incredibly dance and yoga unites us, as we move as one to the beat and in the flow.
Dance, as a cardio based exercise, helps our body burn calories, however more important than that, it makes our heart pump faster, which helps to strengthens it. The heart is one of the hardest working muscles in our body and perhaps the most important. Cardio from dance also creates “the dancer’s high”, it’s a process in which the body releases endorphins, known as the body’s natural anti-depressant. The natural euphoria helps heal your mind, body and spirit.
Yoga, is typically associated with flexibility, however there are greater benefits. One important benefit which is often overlooked is “breathing”. The focus on breathing throughout the practice is very important. In yoga, attention to breathing is used to helps focus the mind, relax muscles groups and build stamina in order to hold difficult poses. Yoga also builds muscular strength, creates balance and develops coordination. It is a gift to your “self”.
Spiritually both practices inspire me to no end. Both dance and yoga allow me to be a “better version” of myself. They help me connect to a wider world, and they help me heal when I am broken. Both require hard work and discipline, and while I am teaching others, they remind me that I am first and foremost a student. Emotionally, both practices help keep my keel even. It’s a blessing to navigate through life and its storms, feeling centered.
If you’re not doing one or both…..whatcha waitin’ for?
Do you tune-in to your body, during a pose and feel the muscles you are working?
As an instructor I can be a stickler about proper alignment, precision in the geometry of yoga is important. Attention to details is required to correctly engage the strength of your body. It is also important in helping keep the body safe during practice.
The anatomy of yoga refers to the anatomical group of muscles you are working in each pose or asana. Yoga is not a combination of arbitrary poses with no rhyme or reason. There is a system which meticulously works all of the musculature and skeletal parts of your body.
Yoga never ceases to amaze me. I have had students who could barely touch their toes, then with dedicated practice, one day they press-up into a back bend. It is truly miraculous. Yoga works because it is based on your anatomy, working to make it stronger, more flexible, more balanced and it helps keep the body’s range of motion fluid.
There are a few good resources you can use to help you understand each pose and the work you are doing. My favorites are Anatomy of Yoga by Dr. Ellsworth and Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews.
Here are a few known yoga poses with detailed musculature anatomy of targeted muscle groups:
Most times when people think of a strong core, they think of the six-pack abs, otherwise known as the rectus abdominis muscle group. These illustrious group of muscles, denote strength in the fitness world and get all the praise for someone having a strong core. However a strong core is much more than that, a strong core is a group of six muscle groups that comprise what we call the “powerhouse”. It is comprised of the transverse abdominis, multifidus muscle, external obliques, internal obliques, rectus abdominis and the erector spinae.
A strong core is essential to everything you do physically. My Pilates instructor would say “… a strong core is like the trunk of the tree, it supports all of the limbs.” Both in yoga and dance a strong core is essential. Great dancers have incredibly strong cores. Remember all those buff guys in Magic Mike? If you watch closely, all of their fly moves stem from the core. What about all of the intermediate yoga poses like crow, headstand, and forearm stand? You must have a strong core to achieve those poses, it’s what helps you get into to the pose and stay there.
A strong core even helps with certain physical alignments. Ten years ago from a daily two-hour commute to and from Boston, carrying my laptop on one shoulder, I got the worse sciatic pain. It was the first time in my life I had to go to physical therapy. One of the things the therapist told me was that I had to strengthen my core. I was on a mission after that. I built in a fifteen/twenty minute core workout every day as part of my gym workout for the next five years at least. Guess what? It worked. I have long since diversified my workout due to all the classes I teach, however I’ve never had sciatic pain again.
Core strengthening is the most important work you should do. You should include a few core strengthening exercises no matter what your fitness regime is. There is a variety of core strengthening exercises to choose from. There are also many exercise machines designed to target the core area. Variety is good when it comes to strengthening your core. My favorite exercises are the ones where you have to use your own body weight like high planks, low planks, side planks, form arm planks etc. Both yoga, and dance inherently strengthen your core, however if you can build in extra core strengthening to your fitness workout schedule, do it! You can never do too much core work.