While there are many ways to practice trikonasana, the usual way of transitioning into it is with the front leg already straight. There's nothing inherently wrong with this approach, if a) your students have relatively flexible hamstrings and b) they have the body awareness and physical ability to laterally tilt their pelvis. However, what often seems to happen is that many students have difficulty laterally tilting their pelvis for one of the above reasons and as a result end up laterally flexing their waist in order to get their hand down to their shin bone or a block. So they end up looking more like the student in Figure A than the student in Figure B.
Part 1 of this 2-part post includes a discussion with images illustrating a unique way of transitioning into trikonasana that makes it easier for some students to finesse the perfect amount of hamstring stretch while maintaining strong lines of energy through the axial body and extremities. Part 2 is a 5-minute video that shows these steps, along with a couple of hands-on assists that accompany them. Enjoy!
Do you still practice and teach revolved triangle? I was reading through a thread in one of the Facebook forums that I belong to, and a lot of yoga teachers were saying that they no longer practice or teach this pose for a variety of reasons. Some people stated that they just didn't understand it enough to teach it. Others felt like it caused a bit of stress to their SI joints, or they just felt awkward and uncomfortable in the pose and so were concerned about teaching it to their students. One teacher expressed frustration that students in her classes would often choose not to place their hand on a block, even though she could see that the trunk flexion caused by placing the hand on the floor was clearly inhibiting their ability to rotate their trunk.
When I was a relatively new yoga student I remember expressing my strong dislike of revolved triangle to one of my teachers, and she said to me: "Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to find a way to fall in love with this pose. You can use whatever props you like." I took her up on the challenge, and ended up finding a way to do it with my forearm propped up on the kitchen table that actually felt somewhat enjoyable. And today it's one of my favorite postures.
If you dislike revolved triangle, or find it somewhat difficult to teach, check out the above video that Frances and I created to show a step-by-step progression into the pose that might help you and your students experience a little more ease and joy. One of the key teaching points is to facilitate more spinal rotation by preserving the lift of the chest and extension of the spine throughout the pose by:
Virasana, Hero's pose, is a classic yoga posture that can serve as a stretch for the quadriceps and top of the feet, as a resting position between more active asanas, or as a great alternative to other seated postures for pranayama and meditation. However, there's a bit of controversy over the alignment of the feet. Should they point straight back? Or angle outward a bit, as illustrated in the attached image?
In the following video, which was shot during a recent ASFYT course in NYC, Jason makes the case for the latter by showing with the bones how maintaining a straight line along the anterior tibia through the top of the foot helps prevent rotation of the tibia relative to the femur and preserves a healthy alignment between the femoral and tibial condyles. Please note that the video doesn't really dive into some of the other common concerns in Virasana, such as how much medial rotation is healthy (too much can cause compression in the hip joints and varies from one person to the next), or how to modify for tightness in the quadriceps or top of the feet using blocks and blankets. However, in general we're fans of preventing compression in the joints, being comfortable, and using props... as you'll see in the video. Enjoy, and let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Should we "draw the shoulder blades down the back" when raising the arms overhead? Or "plug the arms into the sockets" when reaching the arms forward? "Melt the heart" in plank? Squeeze the shoulder blades together in eagle pose?
In this fifth and final video in our series on scapulohumeral rhythm we make the case that none of the above are very skillful verbal cues, and explore alternative cues and hands-on assists that support the natural, healthy rhythm between all of the joints within the shoulder joint complex.
If you missed the other videos in this series be sure to check them out! In the first video we explored the anatomy and movements available at the shoulder and scapulocostal joints. In the second video we explored how movements of the shoulder joint should be coupled with movements of the scapulocostal joint to ensure safe, efficient biomechanics at the shoulder joint complex that will help prevent injury. In the third video we explored shoulder impingement syndrome... some of its causes and recommendations for how to prevent it. In the fourth video we reviewed the muscles of the rotator cuff and offered a variety of ways to help strengthen them.
Your comments and observations are welcome. Please share with anyone whom you think might benefit!
In this video, we explore the alignment of the pelvis, spine and knees in parivrtta utkatasana, revolved chair pose. We revisit some of the themes presented in other recent videos that we've posted about rotated postures (e.g., the benefits of maintaining a neutral spine and allowing the pelvis to follow the lumbar spine during twists), but with specific cues that pertain to revolved chair pose. We also discuss the common cue to "keep the knees level" in this pose and present an alternative viewpoint as we feel that the outside knee should move forward a bit to accommodate the rotation of the pelvis.
In order for the thoracolumbar spine to rotate to its full potential (about 35-45 degrees), it is important to maintain spinal extension. If the hamstrings, glutes or other hip extensors are relatively tight they will limit the anterior tilt of the pelvis in seated spinal twists and revolved triangle, which will in turn cause the spine to flex (round). It is also common for students to posteriorly tilt the pelvis and flex the spine during supine twists.
In the following video we explore the importance of preserving spinal extension during rotated postures in order to allow greater range of motion, foster the free flow of the breath, and prevent stress in the shoulders, necks, intervertebral and sacroiliac joints.
In this video we explore the twist potential in the thoracolumbar spine and extol the benefits of encouraging all of the lumbar and thoracic intervertebral joints to do their fair share in all rotated postures.
A cue that we often hear when twisting is to try to twist from the navel up. The navel is located at approximately the level of L3, or perhaps L4 on some people. Most people can rotate approximately 2-3 degrees at each of the thoracic intervertebral joints and about 1-2 degrees at each of the lumbar intervertebral joints, for a combined rotation of somewhere between 29-46 degrees. If we try to isolate our twists "from the navel up" we'll lose the potential 1-2 degrees of rotation between L3-L4, L4-L5 and L5-S1... which adds up to somewhere between 3-6 degrees of rotation. In addition, we'll lose some of the benefits of twisting in the lumbar spine, which include nourishing the intervertebral discs and creating a squeeze and soak effect on the abdominal organs... which are located in the, wait for it, abdomen! During the twist the abdominal organs get a bit of a squeeze when helps to propel the venous blood in these organs back toward the heart (veins have one-way valves that only allow blood to flow toward the heart), and then when we come out of the twist the organs are decompressed which allows fresh arterial blood to flow through the capillaries.
A common instruction in Virabhadrasana 1 is to ground the outer edge of the back foot. However, if this instruction is coupled with the cue to wrap the outer back thigh forward it can create rotational torque at the knee joint and stress the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). The ACL attaches from the underside of the femur (posteriorly) to the topside of the tibia (anteriorly), and has two main functions: 1) to prevent hyperextension of the knee, and 2) to prevent excessive rotation between the femur and tibia when the knee is flexed. It's important for a flexed knee to be able to rotate a little bit, as this is what allows a person to pivot and change direction when walking. However, when the knee is straight the ACL becomes taught to prevent hyperextension. If a rotational force is applied to a straight knee, the already taught ACL will be overly stressed, potentially leading to pain within the knee and over-stretching of the ligament that causes subsequent instability in the joint.
In the above video we offer alternative cues for the back foot, leg and thigh that help prevent rotational torque and keep the knee safe.
Depending upon the way that you practice triangle pose, and for sure there is more than one way to practice it, you may be attempting to laterally tilt your pelvis as you come into the posture in order to keep the top side waist short, the bottom side waist long, and to increase the stretch in the hamstrings. However, if you or your students are turning the pelvis too far to the side it may not be able to laterally tilt very far due to bony compression between the rim of the hip socket and the neck of the femur. In this short video clip, we demonstrate how turning the pelvis toward the front leg before going into the posture allows for significantly more range of motion in the pelvis. Once the pelvis has tilted, you can then place the hand on the leg (or a block or the floor), and use your core abdominal muscles to help rotate the trunk toward the side, allowing the pelvis to follow as much as it might like or need to. Check out the video, experiment and let us know what you think!
There seems to be two schools of thought regarding the position of the pelvis in parivritta trikonasana. Some teachers insist that the pelvis should be held in a level position and that the rotation should primarily occur in the spine, while others hold the view that the pelvis doesn't need to be level and that there are in fact benefits when you allow it to rotate (see a New Take on Twists by Jason Crandell, where he indicates how his view has changed about the position of the pelvis during rotated postures). I hold the latter view, that the pelvis should be allowed or even encouraged to follow the lumbar spine into the rotation, and in the following video present three benefits for doing so.
The three main points that we explore in the video are that letting the pelvis follow the rotation of the lumbar spine will...
As usual, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!
Do the Quadriceps Stretch in Bow Pose?
A posture that frequently gets mentioned in class whenever I ask which postures would be a good stretch for the quadriceps is Dhanurasana, bow pose. While a common misconception, bow pose simply does NOT present much of a stretch for the quadriceps muscles. At least not the vasti group of the quadriceps, which constitutes about 75% of the quadriceps muscle group. Why? Check out this short little video, which is meant as a follow-up to the quadriceps anatomy video we shared last week.
Many years ago I was in a workshop with Rodney Yee, and one of the students asked, "Rodney, can you tell me the right way to do trikonasana? It seems that in every class I take the teacher says something different, and I'm no longer sure of the correct way to practice." I was expecting him to lead us into an exploration of the most skillful way to practice, but instead he asked her to show him one way to practice trikonasana and then to tell him the benefits of practicing it that way. And then he asked for another example, and again asked about the benefits of practicing that way. The point he was making was that there isn't a right or wrong way to practice trikonasana or any other pose for that matter... but different choices within each posture would have pros and cons. This was eye opening for me at the time, because I, like most new yoga students, assumed that yoga postures were handed down from the Yoga Gods and that there was a right way to practice them in order to derive the most benefit on a physical and energetic level. However, what he said made total sense and I loved learning a point of view on the subject that seemed so non-dogmatic. In this post, we'll look at the Iyengar and Satchidananda versions of trikonasana and explore the benefits, challenges and considerations of each.
In Pincha Mayurasana ("feathered peacock", aka forearm stand), it is common for teachers to instruct new students to place a strap around the elbows and a block between the hands in order to keep the elbows from sliding wider than shoulder-width and the hands from sliding toward each other (see image, right). However, this set-up significantly reduces the range of motion of the shoulders and necessarily forces more of a backbend into the posture, even for more advanced students. This is all fine and good provided that the student has developed enough flexibility in their thoracic spine and the ability to stabilize their lumbar spine (by contracting the pelvic floor and the transversus abdominis). However, allowing the arms to turn inward slightly, which is a very natural action from a biomechanical perspective, will decrease stress at the shoulder joints, increase range of motion at the shoulder joints, and enable the posture to be more vertical with less backbend. Check out the video below for more of an explanation, as well as a demonstration from one of the ASFYT-3 classes.
The Inner Spiral of the wrist vs the Outer Spiral of the Shoulder
When students first begin to practice Downward Facing Dog, one of two common misalignments typically occurs in the upper body:
As teachers, most of us probably spend a lot of time telling students to ground the inner heels of their hands and an equal amount of time telling them to work the external rotation of their arms at the shoulder joints, while performing corresponding hands-on assists that encourage these actions. These cues will help for awhile, but over time there is the potential that many students will take the "externally rotate the shoulders" cue too far, causing biomechanical stress/torque at the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints.
In the following video...
Virasana (hero's pose) is a fantastic seated posture for beginners because it fosters a tall, upright spine for pranayama and meditation. However, it requires flexibility in the quadriceps and the ankle dorsiflexors, and if these muscles are tight then a student might experience pain in their knees and/or feet. To accommodate tightness in the quadriceps, all that is really needed is to decrease the amount of knee flexion by sitting on a block or two placed between the feet. However, accommodating tightness in the ankle dorsiflexors requires a bit more finesse.
In this post, we'll review the muscles that plantarflex and dorsiflex the ankles and go over a few modification that will accommodate tight dorsiflexors. We've also included a video from one of the recent ASFYT-3 classes where we offer a strategy that might help prevent cramping when coming into the pose, as well as how to fold the blankets for our favorite modification.
It's a relatively common occurrence for newer yoga students to practice Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (upward-facing dog pose) without effectively mobilizing their scapulae. The result is collapsed shoulders that crowd the ears, inefficient thoracic extension, and shearing forces that create stress at the acromio- and sternoclavicular joints. Engaging the lower and middle trapezius muscles to depress and retract the scapulae will elevate the trunk, broaden the collar bones, extend the thoracic spine, open the heart and create a more skillful line of force through the clavicles into the sternum. Check out these great images from Yoga Functional Anatomy, as well as a short video clip on this subject from one of the ASFYT-3 classes!
Are you practicing Virabhadrasana 2 with your hips "square to the side" and your front hip bone lifted in an effort to "make your pelvis more level"? These two cues seem to be very popular in Warrior 2, and while they might have some benefit early on, as your flexibility increases there is a good chance that they will lead to bony compression in your hip joints, which over time might wear down the cartilage and other soft tissues in and around the hip. This isn't going to benefit you in any way, and could potentially lead to osteoarthritis later in life, so it's good to learn how to recognize compression when it's happening so that you can back off. And if you're teaching asana, it's good to know how to cue the posture to help your students avoid compression.
An expression that I often see written and hear discussed in reference to the physical practice of yoga asana is that it “brings balance to the body.” The suggestion seems to be that if you practice yoga regularly, it will naturally result in a more muscularly balanced body. But is this really true? What is a balanced body, anyway?
Dandasana, staff pose, is a great assessment posture to determine whether or not a student will be able to skillfully practice seated forward bending postures like Janusirshasana and Paschi-mottanasana. The ideal alignment in Dandasana requires that the thighs are flexed 90 degrees at the hip joints with the knees fully extended, while maintaining the natural lordosis of the lumbar spine and the natural kyphosis of the thoracic spine. If a student has tight hip extensors this won’t really be possible, as the pelvis will posteriorly tilt at the hip joints, the lower back will round and the student will either just slump forward or overwork in their thoracic erector spinae muscles to maintain some semblance of sitting up straight. If you notice that a student is having quite a bit of difficulty sitting upright, you could have them transition to a supine position so that you can get a better idea about how tight their hip extensors actually are. In the following video...