Handstand Tutorial Part 1: Handstand Prep Video with Angela Kukhahn and Marysia Weiss

A very tongue in cheek video explaining the basics of handstands found in every pose with my good friend, yoga teacher and co-author of THEHotandHealthy blog Marysia Weiss. This video is #1 in an ongoing series of videos explaining handstanding and its key component parts found in basic poses! Video is by Sean Trace a local wellness expert. Enjoy!

Flying Upward to Infinity and Beyond – Uddiyana Bandha

Uddiyana-bandha-yogaUddiyana Bandha which means “Flying Upward” is the second of three energetic locks in the body. It is often engaged along with Mula Bandha (read my article here on the “root lock” Mula Bandha)

benefits:

1. Strengthens the core muscles as when breathing this way the transverse abdominals are strongly engaged.

2. Stimulates the organs of digestion and elimination

3. Creates a lightness in yoga practice especially when practicing balancing postures including inversions and arm balances.

Caution:

Not recommended if you are pregnant, are trying to get pregnant, have high blood pressure or experience dizziness. This is considered an advanced breathing technique so if you are new to yoga try it under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.

To practice Uddiyana Bandha

1.Stand with the legs a little wider than hip width apart and knees softly bent.

2. Inhale reach the arms overhead

3. Exhale all of the breath out through the nose, lean forward, press the palms into the knees, and engage the abdominal muscles to strongly pull the belly in and up under the ribcage.

4. Hold the breath as you hold the abdominal lock and take a mock inhale (perform the same action of an inhale without actually pulling any air into the body.) drawing the belly further up and in.

5. Hold for as long as comfortable.

6. Inhale soften the abdominals and let the belly drop.

7. Breath in and out through the nose and let the breath return to normal.

8. Beginners start with 3 rounds eventually working up to as many as 10 rounds for advanced practitioners.

Why We Don’t Squeeze Our Butt In Backbending Yoga Postures

urdhva dhanurasana "wheel" yoga pose

“Stop Squeezing those pumpkins!”

If you ever make it to a class with my teacher and mentor Annie Carpenter she will probably remind you to stop squeezing your butt at least once during backbends. As you probably already guessed, she likes to refer to the buttocks as “pumpkins”. As lovely as a lil’ perky pumpkin shaped butt sounds it is really not all that great for you when you are attempting your backbending poses.

In the above photo you can clearly see the feet turned out indicating there is external rotation in the thighs. If you look closer you can see there is some “pumpkin” misuse and even classic puffing of the groins. As lovely as this photo and practitioner are in this photo this is unfortunately a perfect example of what not to do.

We will get to why in a moment but the feeling you want is more like a baby after a couple of laps in the kiddie pool, oh yes, the “wet diaper” feeling, now we’re talking! Drop your hips two inches at least and then extend your tailbone towards the back of the knees while rolling your inner thighs down and pressing your shins towards your shoulders. No “pyramiding” the groins towards the sky, your crotch should not be the highest point on your body. Let’s face it, leading with the groins is probably never a great idea. (Write that one down, it’s brilliant advice!)

So what does your butt have to do with your back? Glad you asked! When you squeeze your glutes it creates a strong external rotation of your thighs which in turn forces your sacrum (the flat bone that attaches your butt to your back) into compression. Kinda like the 405 freeway at 5pm, major traffic jam, no fun and your backbend is stuck! The way to get things moving again so to speak, is to internally rotate the thighs. This can be done by squeezing a foam block between your upper inner thighs. This will engage your hamstrings and quads (enjoy the burning sensations, that’s your thighs getting stronger, yay!) and save your lower back and sacrum heaps of problems while taking your backbends to the next level! Can you say superstar backbends? Oh, yeah!

The problem with overbending in the lumbar spine (lower back L4-L5 to be more to the point) is that it is much like a credit card that has been bent back and forth about a thousand times, eventually it breaks at the seam. Not too cool if that “seam” happens to be your lower back. As we age we have very little to no cartilage left in that area and with overuse it becomes bone on bone, Ouch! (At that point you may as well lay out a welcome mat for your new friend Mr. Arthritis)

Okay, enough with the bad news, the good news is when you stabilize and neutralize the lower back safely then the body will begin to blossom the backbend into the upper spine! Trust me when I say understanding this is like winning the backbending lottery, the payoff is huge!

Below is yoga teacher and friend Diana Cohanzad in a very full, healthy and beautiful backbend.
Diana Cohanzad backbending urdhva dhanurasana

Yoga for the Athlete: Excellent Tips for the Yogi Runner

running
Here is an excellent article on yoga and running I found over at Daily Cup of Yoga blog.

This article has a complete sequence of yoga poses specifically for runners along with pictures (always helpful) With running yoga is especially helpful as it helps to prevent injury, increase stride length, and loosen the pesky IT band that tends to be particularly troublesome for athletes!

Yoga is the perfect compliment to running as it loosens the hips, hamstrings and lower back muscles which will improve your posture while you run. Improved posture also means improved breathing, which of course means better athletic performance! Yoga is to Running as Yin is to Yang

Lessons In Flying Unlocking the Mysterious Mulha Bandha

 

 

Angela Kukhahn in Handstand. Photo by Leelu Morris

How Does One Unlock The Power of Mula Bhanda?

Bandhas are energy locks that help us to direct Prana within the body. For some they are somewhat of a mystery and are seldom discussed in depth within the yoga classroom. For some discussing Mula Bandha in particular is may be difficult as it deals with the pelvic floor muscles and for some teachers may be embarrassing.
mula_bandha

To engage mula bandha, exhale and contract the muscles between the pubic bone and the tailbone, pulling the perineum up in towards the abdomen. As you pull the pelvic floor up, feel the lower deep abdominal muscles engage and pull towards the spine. This sort of feels like stopping the flow of pee, or for guys stepping into icy cold water I am told. Initially you will need to contract the anus and the genitals, but over time work you will learn to relax the external muscles and solely isolate the perineum deep inside the body to find the lift.(the space between the anus and genitals). You can practice isolating Mula Bhanda with the breath and work on lifting it in and up and either holding it or using rhythmic contractions with the breath. Do not hold the breath or strain. Try to maintain calm and centered breathing throughout your practice of Mula Bandha. Below is a drawing of exactly what you are lifting, the muscles of the pelvic floor form a hammock of sorts that supports the internal organs at the base of the spine.
mula bhanda

My hero Sadie Nardini explains it here in a fantastic YouTube video I highly recommend you watch she calls it The Most important Yoga Pose

Using mula bandha with yoga postures has many benefits. It helps with jumping especially as it integrates your core on the very deepest level. It helps build core body strength, enables you to hold the postures longer, and helps to prevent injuries. Mula bandha also increases your energy and vitality, and provides an overall feeling of well-being. Using mula bandha to support the asana from your core body allows the distal muscles to relax, enabling the body to use less energy to hold the posture. Mula bandha usually begins to happen naturally over time with the practice of arm balancing and inversions.

If you have a hard time finding Mula Bhanda at first don’t worry that is very common and over time breath work in particular will help strengthen it until you can feel a strong contraction and lift.

David Life founder of Jivamukti yoga centers in NYC wrote an excellent article on Mula Bhanda called “To Infinity and Beyond” and says

“Mula bandha is said to cut through brahma granthi, the energetic knot of our resistance to change, which lies in mula-dhara chakra. On the physical level, practicing mula bandha creates attentiveness in the supportive musculature of the pelvis. This increases the stability of the pelvis, and, since the pelvis is the seat of the spine, its stability creates a safe environment for spinal movement. Thus, mula bandha strengthens—and teaches the importance of—the solid foundation that should underlie any movement.”

Another fantastic article is found HERE and is a very practical guide on some exercises meant to guide you into discovering Mula Bhanda in some very basic asanas to get you started!

Yoga For Whiplash: Yoga Sequence For Neck Injuries

chronic-neck-pain-causes-whiplash

Are you suffering from whiplash or a neck injury? Yoga to the rescue! 

I was unfortunately in a car accident last week which got me thinking about yoga and whiplash and how it can help ease some of the discomfort. Here is what I was able to gather on the web.

About 1,000,000 whiplash injuries occur in the United States every year.

Whiplash describes the neck pain which follows a ‘soft tissueinjury to neck, that is an injury where no bones are broken but instead the muscles, ligaments and tendons are injured.

What to avoid….

If you tend to have neck pain, Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) can worsen the problem. As the pose drops your chin toward your chest, it makes it very easy to completely flatten the cervical curve or even curve the neck in the wrong direction. So, if you have a fairly recent, still painful, and acute neck injury like whiplash from an auto accident, avoid Shoulderstand. It would only exacerbate the injury, and practicing it too soon could significantly prolong your healing time.

Besides avoiding alignments and poses that flatten the neck too much, you should also work on strengthening the muscles that help support your cervical curve.

This site was great and completely outlines the exact way to go about healing your whiplash injury Yoga Therapy For Whiplash

Here is a nice ‘lil sequence for those of you easing back into your yoga practice.

My yoga sequence

Supta Badha Konasana
Easy Twist
Childs Pose
Cat Cow
Down Dog
Cobra (note: Do not throw your neck back, no matter how cool it may look when other yogis do it! Keep the back of the neck long, it is very important when healing from whiplash)
Legs Up the Wall Pose
Savasana

What is a SMART Yoga Flow?

Annie Carpenter Smart Flow Lab at Exhale center for sacred movement in venice california

If you do not know the answer to that question don’t feel too bad, neither did I before I met Annie Carpenter.

The body does have a safe and logical way in which it can be opened.

That being said, there is also an unsafe and illogical way in which some people approach the yoga practice.

In fact there are many…

Two words…

It Hurts!

Yoga shouldn’t hurt.

So how do you practice in a safe way?

In the hands of a knowledgeable teacher who cares about your body, and will guide you along your path.

Annie has countless years of training, teaching, and sharing this information in a concise way. She is my mentor and I learn from her daily!

(Yes, I said daily!)

How?

Long after leaving her class (and even years later) stuff will start to reveal itself, like “Ahah, so that’s why she told me to stretch my psoas muscles because it was pulling on my hip,”…I will have these little momments of discovery about what she was able to see in two minutes of looking at my body. (funny how that works when it may take me years!)

I highly recommend you go see Annie at her new home at Exhale Center For Sacred Movement in Venice, CA and see for yourself.

I will be heading over there to visit her at her new yoga studio home tonight at 7:30pm for her evening class so perhaps I will see you there!

Below I cut and pasted her info for you guys. See you in class!

Yoga Teacher Training Group with Master Teacher Annie Carpenter
Assisting Annie Carpenter in Sydney Australia for a Yogaworks 200 Hr Training

Pranayama and Meditation class starts this Sunday!

8-9am may seem early, but breathing and sitting in community every week is a powerful way to move your practice forward.

Also, this Sunday is the second YogaLAB. We’ll be awakening the core and activating mula and uddiyana bandha. From 2-4pm.

This Summer:

July 1-11 and August 1-12

SmartFLOW yoga celebrates the innate intelligence of juicy, flowing movement. This training is for anyone who wants to take their practice to a new level: teachers, future teachers, and lovers of yoga. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions.

For information about registering, click here.

Here’s my permanent Exhale schedule:

monday

10:30am-12:00pm (2/3)

tuesday

9:00-10:30am (2/3)

7:30-9:00pm (2)

thursday

9:00-10:30am (2/3)

7:30-9:00pm (2)

friday

10:30am-12:00pm (2/3)

sunday

8:00-9:00am — pranayama and meditation

9:00-10:30am (2)

Annie’s YogaLAB Series

May 16, 2010 – this Sunday!

2:00-4:00pm – To the Core

May 30, 2010

2:00-4:00pm – Backbending and The Happy Sacrum

exhale.com for more information.

I look forward to seeing you soon.

Love and peace, and joyous spring!

Annie

Upcoming Travel Schedule

June 4-6, 2010

Midwest Yoga Conference

Bloomingdale, IL

http://www.midwestyoga.com

July 30-August 1, 2010

Wanderlust Festival

Lake Tahoe, CA

http://www.wanderlust.com

September 10-12, 2010

Bhakti Fest

Joshua Tree, CA

http://www.bhaktifest.com