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Instructing

Hatha Yoga
A Guide
for Teachers
and Students
Second Edition
Diane M. Ambrosini

Human
Kinetics

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Ambrosini, Diane M., 1962Instructing hatha yoga : a guide for teachers and students / Diane M. Ambrosini. -- Second edition.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references.
1. Hatha yoga--Study and teaching. I. Kappmeier, Kathy Lee, 1964- Instructing hatha yoga. II. Title.
RA781.7.K36 2016
613.7'046076--dc23
2015000918
ISBN: 978-1-4504-8465-7 (print)
Copyright 2016by Diane Ambrosini
Copyright 2006 by Kathy Lee Kappmeier and Diane Ambrosini
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E6251

This edition is dedicated to the memory of Kathy Lee Kappmeier. Without


KLees original vision and inspiration, Instructing Hatha Yoga would never
have made it to press. Her love for the discipline and art of yoga cannot be
overstated. Were it not for her devotion and passion for teaching, many people
in San Diego and abroad might never have experienced yoga in any form.
Even when she became ill, she was always at her finest when she was practicing yoga, and most especially when she was teaching her beloved students.
While her physical presence is no longer with us, the bright light of her
soul still illuminates the yoga paths of students and teachers alike through
this edition. And although I missed out on a whole lot of chai and chat this
time around, her energy was with me throughout every aspect of this revision. I am eternally grateful for the guidance and seemingly serendipitous
epiphanies I received from my dear friend and teacher along the way! I am
honored to continue on with our collective vision of this book.
Profound thanks also to the following:
All of my students throughout all of the years. You are my teachersand
a constant source of joy and inspiration as I teach and continue to learn.
All of those with whom Ive had the honor to study, whether in person
or via other seemingly disconnected sources. You are my teachers and
guiding lights; I bow to your wisdom, generosity, and illuminating energy.
All of my family and the friends whom I also consider family. You are my
teachersalso my role models, confidantes, and steadfast foundation.
My deepest Universal Self. You are my eternal teacherwhether I am
aware or not, you connect all of me to the Divine Everything.
Dave and Ben Massey. Im overwhelmed by your continuous love and
support! Thank you for sharing the journey and shining your light my
way. I love you both with every timeless atom of my being!

Contents
Posesvi
Prefacexv
Acknowledgmentsxxi

Part I The Practice of Yoga


Chapter 1

Understanding Yoga

Types of Yoga 4 Types of Hatha Yoga 5 Yoga Lexicon 14 Standards for Yoga
Teachers 14 Liability Insurance and Employment Classification 18

Chapter 2

Basics of Teaching Yoga

19

Qualities of a Yoga Teacher 20 Becoming a Yoga Teacher 24 Recognizing Your


Students Needs 27 Class Management 30 Summary 35

Chapter 3

Creating a Class Environment

37

Equipment Selection 38 Safety and Comfort Concerns 40 Class Atmosphere 43


Summary 46

Chapter 4

Breathing and Beyond

47

Pranayama 48 Instructing the Breathing Process 52 Linking Pranayama With


Asanas 53 Summary 54

Chapter 5

Energy and Anatomy

55

Yoga Postures and Major Body Systems 56 Energetic Anatomy 60 Human


Movement Systems 63 Mechanics of Asanas 66 Summary 72

Part II Asanas and Adjustments


Chapter 6

Sun Salutations

75

Classical Surya Namaskara 77 Surya Namaskara A 78 Surya Namaskara B 79

Chapter 7

Standing Postures
Tadasana or Samasthiti (Mountain Pose) 83 Vrkshasana (Tree Pose) 86 Utkata
Konasana (Fire Angle Pose) 90 Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle) 93 Parivrtta
Trikonasana (Revolving Triangle Pose) 98 Uttanasana (Intense Forward Bend) 102
Prasarita Padottanasana (Extended-Leg Forward Bend) 105 Garudasana (Eagle
Pose) 108 Utthita Parshvakonasana (Extended Side-Angle Stretch) 112 Ardha
Chandrasana (Half-Moon Pose) 116 Parivrtta Parshvakonasana (Revolving Extended
Side-Angle Stretch) 120 Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana (Revolving Half-Moon Pose) 124
Utkatasana (Fierce, or Chair Pose) 128 Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) 131
Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) 135 Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III) 139
Parshvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch) 143 Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
(Extended Hand-to-Toe Pose) 147 Natarajasana (King Dancer) 151

iv

81

Contents

Chapter 8

Seated Postures

155

Malasana (Basic Squat, or Bead Pose) 157 Dandasana (Staff Pose) 160 Janu
Shirshasana (Head-to-Knee Pose) 163 Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the
Fishes Pose) 167 Marichyasana A (Marichis Pose, Variation A) 171 Marichyasana B
(Marichis Pose, Variation B) 174 Marichyasana C (Marichis Pose, Variation C) 177
Marichyasana D (Marichis Pose, Variation D) 180 Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward
Bend, or Intense West-Side Stretch) 183 Gomukhasana(Cows Face Pose) 187
Paripurna Navasana (Full Boat Pose) 190 Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) 193
Upavishtha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend) 196 Parighasana (Kneeling
Triangle, or Gate Pose) 199 Virasana (Hero Pose) 202 Bharadvajasana (Bharadvajas
Pose) 205 Padmasana (Lotus Pose) 208 Tolasana (Scale Pose) 212 Hanumanasana
(Forward-Split Pose) 215 Bakasana (Crane Pose) 218

Chapter 9

Supine and Prone Postures

221

Durga-Go (Cat and Cow Pose) 223 Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank Pose) 226
Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbs Staff Pose) 229 Zen Asana (Transitional Pose)
232 Vasishthasana (Side Plank Pose) 235 Purvottanasana (Reverse Plank, or Intense
East-Side Stretch) 238 Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) 241 Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana
(Upward-Facing Dog) 244 Shalabhasana (Locust Pose) 247 Dhanurasana (Bow
Pose) 250 Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose) 253 Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow
Pose) 256 Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged Royal Pigeon Pose) 260 Ushtrasana
(Camel Pose) 264 Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose) 268 Matsyasana (Fish Pose)
271 Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Toe Pose) 274

Chapter 10

Inverted Postures

277

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) 279 Salamba Sarvangasana


(Supported Shoulderstand) 283 Pincha Mayurasana (Peacock Feather Pose) 286
Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Downward-Facing Tree, or Handstand) 289 Salamba
Shirshasana (Supported Headstand) 292 Halasana (Plow Pose) 296

Chapter 11

Restorative Postures

299

Balasana (Childs Pose) 301 Pavanamuktasana (Purifying, or Wind Relieving Pose) 304
Supta Urdhva Dhanurasana (Restorative Backbend) 307 Jathara Parivartanasana
(Belly Twist) 310 Viparita Karani (Restorative Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose) 313 Shavasana
(Corpse Pose) 315

Part III Structuring a Class


Chapter 12

Class Framework

321

Class Outline 323 Lesson Plans and Class Descriptions 325 Summary 328

Chapter 13

Sample Classes

329

Sample 30-Minute Class 330 Sample 60-Minute Class 332 Sample 90-Minute Class
335 Sample Prenatal Yoga Class 338 Sample Childrens Yoga Class 340 Sample
Six-Week Course 342 Putting It All Together 344

Appendix A Sample Relaxation Scripts 349 Appendix B Yoga Resources 352 Appendix C Self-Inquiry
Questionnaire 355 Appendix D Yoga Class Evaluation Form 357 Appendix E Sample Classical-Eclectic
Hatha Course Syllabus 358 Appendix F Chapter Review Answers 360 Appendix G Anatomical
Illustrations 364 Glossary 367 About the Author 370

Poses

vi

Adho Mukha Shvanasana [uhd-HOE moo-KUHSH-vuhn-AAH-suh-nuh]


(Downward-Facing Dog)This inverted posture is practiced on the mat lengthwise
with the feet and hands pushing against the ground and the hips lifted high in the air.
It is practiced most often as part of the Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskaras) series.

279

Adho Mukha Vrkshasana [uhd-HOE moo-KUH vrick-SHAAH-suh-nuh]


(Downward-Facing Tree, or Handstand)This inverted posture involves the basic
handstand, an arm balance in which the hands are placed on the ground and the
rest of the body is upside down with the feet in the air.

289

Ardha Chandrasana [AR-dhuh chuhn-DRAAH-suh-nuh] (Half-Moon Pose)This


standing posture starts from Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle). The body
weight is balanced on the forward leg as the trailing leg lifts off the ground in an
arcing motion. As an extension of Utthita Trikonasana, Ardha Chandrasana provides
similar benefits, most notably by opening the chest, hips, and pelvis.

116

Ardha Matsyendrasana [AR-dhuh muht-see-yen-DRAAH-suh-nuh] (Half Lord of


the Fishes Pose)In this seated twist, one leg is straight out in front of the body
and the other leg is bent and usually crossed over the straight leg near the opposite
hip. The upper torso is rotated in the direction of the bent leg.

167

Baddha Konasana [BUD-dhuh kohn-AAH-suh-nuh] (Bound Angle Pose)In this


seated asana, the knees are bent, the thighs are rotated externally to the sides, and
the soles of the feet are pressed together or held together with the hands to make
a seal or lock.

193

Bakasana [buhk-AAH-suh-nuh] (Crane Pose)In this squatting arm balance, the


arms support the weight of the body as the bent knees rest on the backs of the upper
arms. When balance is achieved on the hands, the feet are lifted off the ground.

218

Poses

Balasana [buhl-AAH-suh-nuh] (Childs Pose)In this restorative kneeling and


prone position, the lower legs are tucked under the torso and the chest rests on the
thighs. The arms may be extended over the head (Ancient Prayer Pose), resting on
the ground, or wrapped around the outside of the body with the hands resting beside
the ankles. This pose is refreshing when practiced after backbends and inversions.

301

Bharadvajasana [bhuh-RUHD-vaah-JAAH-suh-nuh] (Bharadvajas Pose)This


gentle, seated twist can be practiced with the legs in Virasana (Hero Pose) or with
one leg in Virasana and the other in Ardha Padmasana (Half-Lotus Pose).

205

Bhujangasana [bhoo-juhn-GAAH-suh-nuh] (Cobra Pose)This prone backbending


posture has numerous variations. In its simplest form, the chest is lifted off the
ground with the arms resting at the sides. A deeper variation brings the head and
feet closer together.

241

Chaturanga Dandasana [chuh-tour-RUHN-guh duhn-DAAH-suh-nuh] (FourLimbs Staff Pose)This pose is similar to the downward phase of a push-up. The
elbows are bent, and the body hovers a few inches (centimeters) above the ground.

229

Dandasana [duhn-DAAH-suh-nuh] (Staff Pose)In this seated pose, the spine and
lower body are straight and strong and the hips are flexed to 90 degrees.

160

Dhanurasana [dhuh-noor-AAH-suh-nuh] (Bow Pose)In this moderate to deep


prone backbend, the knees are bent and abducted slightly wider than the hips and
the hands reach back to grasp the feet or ankles.

250

Durga-Go [DUR-guh-go] (Cat and Cow Pose)This pose is practiced on the hands
and knees to move the spine through a gentle range of flexion and hyperextension
in the sagittal plane. The rounded, flexed spine of the cat portion of the posture
resembles a cat with its back arched. The hyperextension in the spine is reminiscent
of the sway in a cows back.

223

vii

viii

Poses

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana [eka-PAAH-duh-RAAH-juh kuh-poht-AAH-suh-nuh]


(One-Legged Royal Pigeon Pose)This pose is generally accessed from a low lunge
where the flexed front knee is externally rotated and placed on the ground. The
extended back leg rests on the ground so that the psoas receives a strong stretch.
The chest remains lifted and open, and those with adequate flexibility and balance
may flex the back knee and reach for the foot.

260

Garudasana [guh-rood-AAH-suh-nuh] (Eagle Pose)This one-legged balancing


posture involves crossing the non-weight-bearing leg over the standing leg. The
thighs and hips are engaged by the slight crouch. The mid back and shoulders are
stretched as the arms are crossed in front of the chest.

108

Gomukhasana [go-mook-AHH-suh-nuh] (Cows Face Pose)In this seated posture,


the legs are on the ground, stacked in front of the hips with the knees bent. One
knee is folded on top of the other and aligned with the middle of the body. The
spine is upright, and the arms are bent with one elbow pointed up and the other
pointed down and reaching behind the back.

187

Halasana [huhl-AAH-suh-nuh] (Plow Pose)In this pose, the neck and the tops
of the shoulders rest on the ground with the spine as vertical as possible. The hips
are flexed with the legs outstretched as the feet rest on the ground behind the head.

296

Hanumanasana [huh-noo-maahn-AAH-suh-nuh] (Forward-Split Pose)This


forward split lengthens both the hamstrings and the hip flexors.

215

Janu Shirshasana [JAAH-noo sheer-SHAAH-suh-nuh] (Head-to-Knee Pose)In


this seated forward bend, one leg is extended forward and the opposite leg is flexed
at the knee and rotated externally so that the outer knee lowers laterally toward
the ground.

163

Jathara Parivartanasana [juht-HAR-uh par-ee-VAR-tuhn-AAH-suh-nuh] (Belly


Twist)In this restorative posture, the hips are flexed at 90 degrees and the legs
are rotated to one side of the body. The knees can be bent or straight. The torso
remains as flat on the ground as possible.

310

Poses

Malasana [maahl-AAH-suh-nuh] (Basic Squat, or Bead Pose)This squatting


position is a good transitional posture when moving from a standing posture to a
seated one or when moving in a vinyasa practice from one seated posture to the next.

157

Marichyasana A [mar-EE-chee-YAHH-suh-nuh kuh] (Marichis Pose, Variation


A)In this seated pose, one leg is extended forward and the opposite knee is bent
and pressed close to the chest. The same-side arm wraps around the bent knee, and
the hands are clasped together behind the back to create a deeper stretch in the
shoulder joints. The pose can be intensified through a forward bend from the hips.

171

Marichyasana B [mar-EE-chee-YAHH-suh-nuh k-huh] (Marichis Pose, Variation


B)This pose is similar to Marichyasana A, except that instead of the leg being
extended in front of the body, the knee is now flexed and the ankle is placed in
Half-Lotus (Ardha Padmasana) or tucked under the opposite hip.

174

Marichyasana C [mar-EE-chee-YAHH-suh-nuh guh] (Marichis Pose, Variation


C)This pose is similar to Marichyasana A, except that the foot of the bent leg is
now crossed over the opposite thigh. The arms are bound behind the back, but the
torso twists in the direction of the bent leg.

177

Marichyasana D [mar-EE-chee-YAHH-suh-nuh g-huh] (Marichis Pose, Variation


D)This pose is a combination of the Half-Lotus element of Marichyasana B
and the twisting direction of Marichyasana C. It is by far the most challenging
Marichyasana variation because it combines Half-Lotus, a spinal twist, and the
binding of the arms in one posture.

180

Matsyasana [muht-see-YAHH-suh-nuh] (Fish Pose)In this supine backbending


posture, the hips and crown of the head remain on the ground and the chest and
ribs are lifted. Traditionally, Matsyasana is practiced with the legs in Padmasana
(Lotus).

271

Natarajasana [nut-tuh-raahj-AHH-suh-nuh] (King Dancer)This is a one-legged


standing posture with a backbend. The non-weight-bearing leg is drawn behind
the back with the arms reaching toward the foot of the lifted leg. Persons with
adequate flexibility reach overhead to the foot; alternatively, one can simply reach
the hands behind the back to clasp the foot.

151

Padmasana [puhd-MAAH-suh-nuh] (Lotus Pose)This is generally an upright,


seated position in which the legs are crossed in front and each ankle rests comfortably on the opposite thigh, near the crease of the opposite hip. This pose is the
quintessential seated posture in yoga and East Indian meditation.

208

ix

Poses

Parighasana [par-eegh-AAH-suh-nuh] (Kneeling Triangle, or Gate Pose)This


intense side stretch is generally practiced in a kneeling position with one leg
abducted and rotated externally.

199

Paripurna Navasana [par-ee-POUR-nuh naah-VAAH-suh-nuh] (Boat Pose)In this


seated jackknife balancing position, the legs are together and straight with the toes
at eye level. The spine is straight, and the arms are extended parallel to the ground.

190

Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana [par-ee-VRT-tuh AR-dhuh chuhn-DRAAH-suh-nuh]


(Revolving Half-Moon Pose)In this half-moon posture, the upper torso turns
toward the standing leg.

124

Parivrtta Parshvakonasana [par-ee-VRT-tuh paarsh-vuh-kohn-AAH-suh-nuh]


(Revolving Extended Side-Angle Stretch)This is a twisted or revolving flank
stretch. Starting from Utthita Parshvakonasana, the torso rotates so the chest turns
to the bent leg side and the lower hand reaches toward the ground.

120

Parivrtta Trikonasana [par-ee-VRT-tuh tree-kohn-AAH-suh-nuh] (Revolving Triangle Pose)In this standing pose, the legs are positioned in an orientation similar
to that of Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle), but this pose rotates the torso
so the chest faces the opposite direction. The twist through the mid-thoracic spine
makes this posture more challenging than Utthita Trikonasana for most students
because it requires greater strength, flexibility, and balance.

98

Parshvottanasana [paarsh-voht-taahn-AHH-suh-nuh] (Intense Side Stretch)This


standing pose is similar to Uttanasana (Intense Forward Bend), but here one leg is
forward and one leg is back. This placement of the legs requires more balance and
creates a deeper stretch through the hips and sides. The arms are typically held
in Anjali Mudra, or Prayer Pose, behind the back. The stretch extends from the
backs of the heels all the way up into the neck, thus releasing tension throughout
the entire back of the body.

143

Paschimottanasana [puhsh-chee-moht-tuhn-AHH-suh-nuh] (Seated Forward


Bend, or Intense West-Side Stretch)In this seated, full forward bend, the legs
are outstretched in front of the body and the pelvis tilts forward as the torso folds
over the thighs. The belly and chest rest on the fronts of the legs to the best of the
students ability.

183

Pavanamuktasana [puh-VAH-nuh-mookt-AAH-suh-nuh] (Purifying, or Wind


Relieving Pose)In this restorative, supine pose, one or both legs are drawn
toward the chest.

304

Poses

Pincha Mayurasana [PIN-chuh may-oohr-AAH-suh-nuh] (Peacock Feather


Pose)This arm balance works the shoulder-stabilizing muscles as in Salamba
Shirshasana (Supported Headstand), but here the head and neck do not support
any body weight.

286

Prasarita Padottanasana [pruh-SAAH-ree-tuh paah-doht-taahn-AAH-suh-nuh]


(Extended-Leg Forward Bend)This standing pose is a variation of a forward
bend with the legs abducted.

105

Purvottanasana [poohr-VOHT-taahn-AAH-suh-nuh] (Reverse Plank, or Intense


East-Side Stretch)This is a reverse plank pose in which the hands press into the
ground behind the back as the front of the body is lifted.

238

Salamba Sarvangasana [saah-LUM-buh sahr-vaahng-AAH-suh-nuh] (Supported


Shoulderstand)In this inverted pose, the shoulders, back of the upper arms, and
back of the head rest on the ground. The elbows are pointed directly behind, and the
hands press against the back or rest on the ground to provide greater lift to the body.

283

Salamba Shirshasana [saah-LUM-buh sheer-SHAAH-suh-nuh] (Supported Headstand)This inverted, supportive version of a headstand puts less stress on the
neck because the forearms and shoulders support the majority of the body weight.
The crown of the head is cradled between the hands, and the back of the head rests
against the fingers while the spine and legs are vertical.

292

Setu Bandhasana [sey-TOO buhn-DHAAH-suh-nuh] (Bridge Pose)In this relatively easy supine backbending posture, the back of the head, lower neck, and top
edges of the shoulders remain on the ground while the hips are lifted. The knees
are flexed, and the feet are flat on the ground for support.

253

Shalabhasana [shuh-luhb-HAAH-suh-nuh] (Locust Pose)This prone pose, in


which the legs and chest are lifted off the ground, strengthens the posterior musculature.

247

Shavasana [shuh-VAAH-suh-nuh] (Corpse Pose)This restorative pose is the


quintessential finishing, resting, and restorative posture. The body reclines on
the ground with the arms and legs stretched in a relaxed manner out to the sides.

315

xi

xii

Poses

Supta Padangusthasana [SOOP-tuh paah-daahng-oost-AHH-suh-nuh] (Reclining


Hand-to-Toe Pose)In this supine position, one leg is flexed at the hip and the
big toe or foot is usually grasped by the same-side hand, either with or without a
strap. This pose releases hip and lower back musculature.

274

Supta Urdhva Dhanurasana [SOOP-tuh oohr-dhuh-vuh dhuh-noor-AAH-suh-nuh]


(Restorative Backbend)This posture modifies the more strenuous backbends by
using a supportive prop, such as a fitness ball, chair, or set of folded blankets, to
support the spine.

307

Supta Virasana [SOOP-tuh veer-AAH-suh-nuh] (Reclining Hero Pose)In this


supine posture, the knees are bent and the lower legs are tucked under or to the
outsides of the thighs. This posture provides an excellent stretch for the quadriceps.

268

Tadasana [taahd-AAH-suh-nuh] or Samasthiti [suhm-uhst-HEE-tuh-hee] (Mountain Pose)This posture serves as the foundation for all standing postures. It is
generally performed at the beginning of a practice to direct the students focus
inward and to begin warming the muscles for further practice.

83

Tolasana [tohl-AHH-suh-nuh] (Scale Pose)This arm-balance pose is often used


as a transition from one posture to another. Ideally, it is practiced with the legs in
Padmasana (Full Lotus) and the body lifted off the ground and balanced between
the hands.

212

Upavishtha Konasana [oo-puh-VISH-tuh kohn-AAH-suh-nuh] (Wide-Angle Seated


Forward Bend)In this seated straddle position, the legs are outstretched from
the center and the pelvis tilts forward as the torso moves toward the ground from
the hips.

196

Urdhva Dhanurasana [oohr-dhuh-vuh dhuh-noor-AAH-suh-nuh] (Upward Bow


Pose)This is a full backbend in which the hands and feet support the body and
the abdomen faces toward the sky.

256

Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana [oohr-dhuh-vuh moo-KUHSH-vuhn-AAH-suh-nuh]


(Upward-Facing Dog)In this pose, the body is lifted off the ground and supported
on the hands and the tops of the feet. The spinal extension is deep, and strength is
needed to maintain the openness in the chest and shoulders.

244

Poses

Ushtrasana [oosh-TRAAH-suh-nuh] (Camel Pose)This is a kneeling backbend in


which the hands reach behind the body and rest on the heels. The chest remains
lifted to retain length in the low back.

264

Utkata Konasana [OOT-kuh-tuh kohn-AAH-suh-nuh] (Fire Angle Pose)This


wide-legged standing squat, sometimes called Goddess Pose, is a fairly intense hip
and thigh strengthener; it also affects balance, since the legs are externally rotated.

90

Utkatasana [OOT-kuht-AAH-suh-nuh] (Fierce, or Chair Pose)This is a semi-


standing squat in which the arms are lifted overhead. It strengthens the hips and
thighs and warms the body.

128

Uttanasana [oot-taahn-AAH-suh-nuh] (Intense Forward Bend)This basic standing forward bend should be done by folding at the hips like a hinge while maintaining length in the low back. It can be practiced with the legs at any distance
apart that feels comfortable yet challenging. Uttanasana is usually performed as
a resting, rejuvenating posture between other standing postures or as part of the
Sun Salutations. It intensely stretches and lengthens the spine and hamstrings.

102

Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana [oot-T-HEE-tuh chuh-tour-RUHN-guh duhnDAAH-suh-nuh] (Plank Pose)This prone pose uses the extended arm positioning of a push-up and is a transitional movement in the Surya Namaskaras (Sun
Salutations).

226

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana [oot-T-HEE-tuh HAAS-tuh paah-daahng-oostAHH-suh-nuh] (Extended Hand-to-Toe Pose)In this one-legged standing pose, the
non-weight-bearing leg is extended parallel to the ground with one hand holding
onto the big toe of the lifted foot.

147

Utthita Parshvakonasana [oot-T-HEE-tuh paarsh-vuh-kohn-AAH-suh-nuh]


(Extended Side-Angle Stretch)This side-stretching lunge is performed with one
hand on the ground of the lunging side or with the forearm resting on the thigh.
The opposite arm extends overhead so that the upper arm is close to the ear.

112

Utthita Trikonasana [oot-T-HEE-tuh tree-kohn-AAH-suh-nuh] (Extended Triangle)Beginning from Tadasana, the legs are abducted as far as is comfortable, then
one leg externally rotates 90 degrees. The arms are abducted and extended out to
the sides. Then the torso bends out over the straight leg, with the arms kept in the
frontal plane but now perpendicular to the ground.

93

xiii

xiv

Poses

Vasishthasana [vuhs-eesht-AAH-suh-nuh] (Side Plank Pose)This strengthening


side-plank pose is most often practiced with the body balanced on the side of one
foot and on the palm of the hand on the same side.

235

Viparita Karani [veep-uh-REE-tuh kuh-ruh-nee] (Restorative Legs-Up-the-Wall


Pose)In this supine position, the torso rests on the ground while the legs are
outstretched up a wall. A bolster or set of blankets is often placed under the hips
to lift them slightly higher than the heart, which helps loosen a tight low back and
create relaxation.

313

Virabhadrasana I [veer-uhb-huh-DRAAH-suh-nuh kuh] (Warrior I)In this standing forward lunge, the arms are extended overhead and the hips face forward with
the legs in the sagittal plane. One leg is placed forward and the other leg back.
Virabhadrasana I works deep into the hip muscles.

131

Virabhadrasana II [veer-uhb-huh-DRAAH-suh-nuh k-huh] (Warrior II)This


lunge is similar to Virabhadrasana I, but here the lunge is to the side in the frontal
plane with the arms extended out to the sides instead of overhead. The bent knee
is slightly rotated externally, directly out to the side. The spine is perpendicular to
the ground instead of arching back.

135

Virabhadrasana III [veer-uhb-huh-DRAAH-suh-nuh guh] (Warrior III)In this


variation of Tadasana, the arms are extended overhead and the body is balanced
over one leg. The upper body and opposite leg are parallel to the ground. This pose
works deep hip muscles in the standing leg to create stability.

139

Virasana [veer-AAH-suh-nuh] (Hero Pose)In this kneeling posture, the hips


reach for the ground between the feet. Variations of this posture are used to sit in
certain styles of meditation.

202

Vrkshasana [vrick-SHAAH-suh-nuh] (Tree Pose)In this one-legged balance


posture, the trunk, spine, and rib cage reach upward and the arms are stretched
overhead like branches reaching for the sun. The bent knee is rotated externally,
and the foot presses against the standing leg.

86

Zen Asana [zehn AAH-suh-nuh] (Transitional Pose)In this prone pose, the toes,
knees, hands, chest, and chin touch the ground. The hips are flexed and raised,
stretching away from the waist. The hands are placed under the fronts of the
shoulders, the elbows are bent, and the shoulders are relaxed.

232

Preface

The discipline of yoga is thousands of years old,


yet even today many of the original tenets are
followed by yoga enthusiasts across the world.
At the same time, yoga is a dynamic and evolving realm, and it has grown and changed considerably even in the relatively short time since
the first edition of Instructing Hatha Yoga was
published in 2006. For one thing, the number of
new yoga practitioners has steadily increased.
The most recent data comes from the Yoga in
America market survey conducted by Yoga Journal, which found an increase of more than four
million devotees between 2006 and 2012. Based
on even more recent trends, that number will no
doubt continue to increase. Today, yoga continues
to establish itself solidly in the mind-set of the
Western world. Indeed, on any given day, one
is likely to come into contact with someone or
something related to yoga.
This mainstream expansion of all things yoga
includes, on a more specific level, an increase in
the diversity of hatha yoga styles and the individuals who receive the benefits of this ancient
field of mindbody awareness. No longer is yoga
the territory solely of East Indian monks. For
example, many fitness enthusiasts now tout yoga
practice as a way to add mindful focus to ones
physical training. Numerous professional sports
teams use yoga to minimize injuries and enhance
conditioning; indeed, some say the Seattle Seahawks use of yoga was their secret weapon in
winning the 2014 NFL Super Bowl! Yoga is also
used for stress relief in various groups, including children and military personnel affected by
post-traumatic stress disorder. More broadly, yoga
serves as a way of life for a growing number of
mindfully compassionate individuals who use it
as a way to promote the holistic idea that healthy
lifestyles lead to healthy communities.
Strangely enough, despite all the positives
associated with yoga, the discipline has also had

its controversies. Fairly recently, for example, a


number of publicized lawsuits have been brought
against well-regarded yoga teachers based on
ethics charges. These indictments have changed
the face of two popular styles of hatha yoga,
Anusara and Bikram. The repercussions of these
allegations and indictments are still being felt by
devotees, many of whom felt betrayed by these
leaders and are still seeking out other sources for
employment and yoga instruction for themselves.
In another example, in 2013, a family in Encinitas, California, sued their local school district
in an attempt to end its teaching of yoga. The
suit asserted that yoga is a religion and therefore
cannot be taught legally in a public school. The
court ruled against the family, stating that yoga is
a secular practice, and the plaintiffs appealed. In
July 2015, the court once again ruled in favor of
allowing yoga into the school system. The plaintiffs had an opportunity to petition the California
State Supreme Court, but chose to forgo further
litigation. However, it is likely that other such
disputes will arise.
Even among yoga practitioners, there have
been some dustups. In 2012, New York Times
science reporter William Broad wrote a gut-
wrenching expos titled How Yoga Can Wreck
Your Body. This article, along with Broads book
The Science of Yoga (2012), reported on numerous
injuries sustained by hatha yoga practitioners and
assigned some of the blame to underqualified
and undereducated instructors. Although these
pieces stirred up much of the yoga community,
many longtime teachers and students were
already acutely aware of how important it is to
work with a well-rounded and knowledgeable
yoga instructor. Well-trained instructors teach
properly executed yoga sequences and cues; in
addition, with adequate understanding of the
human body, they reduce the risk of injury, both
for their students and for themselves.

xv

xvi

J. Kat Photo, Inc.

Preface

A stand up paddle board (SUP) yoga class in San Diego Bay illustrates the diversity of hatha yoga styles available today.

These caveats lead us to the purpose of this


book. The first edition of Instructing Hatha
Yoga was the brainchild of the late Kathy Lee
Kappmeier, a dedicated San Diegobased yoga
instructor and yoga teacher trainer, who left
this world far too early. After years of personal
study and teaching, she had a vision to create a
comprehensive yet practical reference guide for
hatha yoga teachers in trainingand for anyone
interested in deepening her or his understanding
of the practices of yoga. Her idea was to formulate
a manual that would meld the traditional spirit
of yoga with both ancient and modern medical
sciences, as well as contemporary mental and
physical stress reduction techniques. The text was
made particularly necessary by the fact that many
new yoga instructors lacked adequate training in
human anatomy and physiology as related to yoga
and therefore were inadvertently placing students
in injurious positions.
Kathy Lee invited me to collaborate with her
in writing the book due to my extensive background in biomechanics and human movement
sciences. She asked me to infuse the book with

information about these subjects in a manner


easily understood both by yoga neophytes and
by experts. Even as a novice yoga teacher, I recognized the extreme importance of providing
sound mechanical cueing and adjustments for
the wide variety of students who attended my
classes. For this reason, I gladly accepted Kathy
Lees offer to work together and create a one-ofa-kind teaching manual.
At the time of the first edition, very few if any
books were dedicated to the how to of teaching
yoga, and none provided information about how
to properly make safe hands-on adjustments.
Kathy Lee and I recognized that yoga students
would continue to experience injuries unless
a comprehensive teaching resource was made
available to help both instructors and students
alike develop a deeper understanding and proper
awareness of how to safely move the body when
practicing hatha yoga. With this end in mind,
our book was the first to break down the biomechanics of many of the foundational asanas
(poses) practiced in hatha yoga classes. It was
also the first to present a variety of techniques for

Preface
adjusting and modifying a pose to meet a variety
of students needs throughout the practice. These
skills and instructions were blended with the
time-honored wisdom of long-established yoga
traditions.
Our intention while writing the first edition
was to include information with timeless appeal
to the wide variety of people who are drawn to
yoga and want to learn how to successfully and
safely teach it to a wide range of students. We
hoped to design a guide and reference that was
easily understandable and intriguing for anyone
interested in building the qualities and knowledge base to become a confident, well-qualified
yoga teacher. As it turns out, we were successful!
Instructing Hatha Yoga has had consistent sales
from the moment it became available, both
nationally and internationally.
Since our original publication date, a number
of other texts have addressed many aspects of
contemporary yoga teaching, and a few have
included comprehensive anatomical information.
Some authors have also attempted to cover a wide
spectrum of hatha yoga and its teachings, and
they have addressed many deeper esoteric aspects
of the subject. This is no small undertaking; yoga
is a vast field of study, and no single book can
hope to encompass every facet of the discipline.
As a result, such texts may be challenging or even
overwhelming for a novice. In contrast, this books
comprehensive yet straightforward approach
allows anyone interested in the field to teach a
safe, compelling, and profound hatha practice
to a wide range of students with varying abilities
and interests. The manner in which the book is
written also appeals to yoga students interested
in independently furthering their understanding
of the discipline.

Updates for the


Second Edition
Because much of the information presented in the
first edition of Instructing Hatha Yoga is timeless
and has been greeted with acclaim, the books
foundation remains as it was. However, much
of the cueing language has been given a softer
tone, and some of the descriptive cues have been
updated to reflect more appropriate mechanical
alignment. For example, the older cues meant to
bring a student into anatomically sound standing

alignment such as tuck the tailbone and draw


the navel up and in toward the chest place the low
back in an unnatural alignment that may strain the
lumbar vertebrae and hip joints over time. These
phrases have been replaced with more anatomically sound language such as Draw the front of the
ribcage and chest slightly back toward the spine.
Other changes include the following:
The addition of anatomical charts for reference in appendix G
New asana photos
Updated registration information for Yoga
Alliance, a U.S. nonprofit association for
yoga teachers, schools, and studios
The addition of prenatal and childrens yoga
standards
Updated information about contemporary
yoga styles
An accompanying web resource, which
includes 75 video clips and illustrates
hands-on adjustments for all asanas presented in the book

Key Features and Benefits


The response to Instructing Hatha Yoga from yoga
teachers and students alikehas proven the books
appeal to a variety of audiences: novice instructors (regardless of personal yoga experience),
seasoned teachers, and inquisitive yoga students.
Among other topics relevant to all of these groups,
the text highlights concerns of personal awareness
and safety. It also presents information that even
many experienced teachers have been searching
for, such as detailed hands-on adjustments, biomechanics information, and cautionary details
about asanas. One of the books most important
features is the inclusion of illustrated, step-bystep guidelines that help instructors understand
how to execute the deeper nuances of teaching
and how to safely and effectively give students
hands-on adjustments in each posture.
Instructing Hatha Yoga is a user-friendly guide
accepted by many physical education teachers in
grades K through 12. Indeed, the book has been
reviewed favorably and used effectively not only
by a variety of yoga teachers but also by physical
therapists, physicians, psychologists, and recreation directors. Here is a more detailed listing of
what the book addresses:

xvii

xviii

Preface
The impact of yoga today and its potential
evolution and further growth
Valued and effective qualities that students
expect in a teacher
The importance of the basic forms of pranayama [praah-naah-YAAH-muh] (breath
work)
Updated definitions of the most popular
styles of yoga and how they evolved
68 asanas (postures) with variations
Verbal and visual cueing examples, with
the addition of energetic focus and physical
points of stability
Adjustments and modifications for each
posture
Physical and energetic anatomy applied in
asanas and related chakra (energy) centers
Examples of how to work with many people
with different capacities in one class
Class overview, outlines, lesson plans, and
sample syllabi
Sample relaxation scripts for guiding
students into a relaxed, meditative state
(appendix A)
Information about a variety of yoga
resources
The unique features of this book include
simple yet comprehensive verbal instructions to
help you guide each student into her or his most
comfortable and appropriate physical alignment,
as well as detailed directions for making safe,
effective, hands-on physical adjustments and
modifications. For each asana, basic kinematics and muscle recruitment are presented in
table form. In addition, appendix C provides a
self-inquiry questionnaire that complements the
discussion in chapter 2 of provocative concerns
regarding personal integrity and ethics in teaching yoga. The self-inquiry can help you integrate
the information you gain from reading this book
with your own experience; it can also help you
assess your readiness, willingness, and ability to
teach hatha yoga.
Part I of Instructing Hatha Yoga consists
ofchapters 1 through 5, each of which includes a
review in the form of study questions (for which
the answers are provided in appendix F). These
self-tests give you an opportunity to answer many
of the questions that a yoga instructor is expected
to address. The questions highlight important

information about practicing and teaching yoga,


and grasping this information aids both your
personal yoga practice and your understanding
of an instructors role.
The web resource, located at www.Human
Kinetics.com/InstructingHathaYoga, allows you
to view video clips of each pose and offers opinions on how best to physically assist and adjust
students when the need arises. For each pose that
has a video clip, youll see a play button icon
near the pose title. The asanas are presented with
descriptions of how to guide each student toward
his or her most appropriate alignment for each
pose. You can use this material to deepen your
understanding of your students abilities and
your awareness of the best ways to direct them
toward comfort in each pose. The online resource
also includes the chapter review questions and
appendixes.
While reading the book, teachers, prospective
teachers, and students alike are invited to remain
mindful that the job of a truly qualified yoga
instructor is not merely to teach poses and hope
for the best but to direct students toward their
own internal awareness. An instructor cannot give
students awareness; rather, each student must be
offered opportunities to find this self-awareness
on her or his own. A successful teacher facilitates
the students path to discover his or her own internal teacherthe all-knowing presence that each
of us was born with but has forgotten.
Those of us who are teachers can open up the
opportunity for these connections to be made in
each student by providing a suitable atmosphere
for personal development. If you are a hatha yoga
teacher, then, your task is to empower each student to adapt the poses to her or his body with
comfort, ease, and awareness while attaining
deeper self-understanding. Use the information
in this book as a guide to support your students
as they open fully to themselves.

Sanskrit Pronunciation
To some, it may seem unnecessary to learn the
Sanskrit names and pronunciations of the poses.
In practice, however, it is important to establish a
standard way of referring to the asanas in order
to enable continuity between classes and teachers. This task is made more challenging by the
fact that a particular pose may be given different English names in different translations and

Preface
schools of thought; fortunately, however, most
poses have a common Sanskrit term. In addition,
the ancient yogis, and many contemporary yoga
practitioners, believe that the Sanskrit sounds
themselves have a specific divine vibration, or bija
(BEE-jhuh), and that when spoken they stimulate
energy balance in the human body and spirit.
With these considerations in mind, this book
presents Sanskrit words and their pronunciations
in a user-friendly format. For certain words, the
letter h has been added after an s when the pronunciation of the Sanskrit calls for such (many
publications leave out the h in transliterations,
even though the sound is pronounced sh).
Often, publishers lack the capacity to include
diacritical markings, and many people do not
know how to properly read them in any case.
For a more complete introduction to Sanskrit
pronunciation and the alphabet, please see the
resource list in appendix B.

Asana Text
The asanas presented in part II of this book are
addressed in an easy-to-follow format that provides key information about each pose, including
its physical and energetic benefits, a script to
help each student move into and out of it in a
manner appropriate to individual ability, and
the muscular recruitment patterns used in each
phase of the pose.
The asana discussions include the following
elements:
Descriptionquick-reference summary of
the pose
Energetic focusmain energy center
(chakra) affected by the pose
Foundational focuspoints of physical
stability that students should focus on to
increase steadiness in the pose
Benefitskey positive effects of the pose for
both mind and body
Cautionsany aspects of the pose requiring
extra care for certain students
Verbal cuesbasic, point-by-point examples
of how to guide your class through the pose
(updated to enable the soundest mechanical
alignment)
Adjustmentswhat to watch for while students move into and maintain their poses,

along with ways to guide them into more


comfortable alignment
Modificationschanges you can use for
students who need assistance from a prop or
are unable to comfortably or safely perform
the full posture, including examples to help
you modify the pose to best fit each students
individual body
Kinematicsreference charts that describe
positioning and movement patterns of body
segments, indicate muscle recruitment, and
specify the type of muscular contraction
used throughout the asana (muscles active)
and times when muscles are stretched or not
active during the posture (muscles released)
Each asana section includes a photo of the
main posture, and many photos are also provided of adjustments and modifications. These
elements help you see the ideal body alignment
for each pose.

Disclaimer: It is a teachers responsibility to caution anyone with a preexisting


medical condition not to practice certain
poses presented in this book. Please
note that the book presents a variety of
possible variations and modifications
that teachers can adapt for students with
a medical condition. Always ask new
students to inform you if they have any
known medical ailment or injury; also
check in regularly with continuing students regarding their physical well-being.
As with any physical activity, if a student
has an existing or recurring condition,
advise him or her to check with a healthcare professional before beginning a
hatha yoga program.

Summary
You are encouraged to study and absorb the
information presented in this book and to use it
as both a foundation and a reference as you find
your authentic and self-assured voice as a yoga
instructor. With experience, you will add your
own perspective and creativity to both polish

xix

xx

Preface
and expand your skills and your overall teaching
repertoire. The practical, easy-to-understand
instruction provided in these pages highlights the
knowledge, expertise, and credibility needed by
anyone who is seriously interested in practicing
and teaching yoga at any level.
As a yoga teacher, you enable your students to
experience a euphoric release simply by guiding
the body to move in a compassionate, mindful,
and self-controlled manner. With this end in
mind, use the information presented here to provide safe, engaging classes. Teach each student
according to her or his individual learning style
while adapting each pose to each students body
and overall ability. At the same time, develop a
solid sense of yogas controversies and ethical
considerations so that you are able to rise above
such unnecessary distractions.
As a yoga teacher, you must be fully prepared
to acknowledge and experience your students
on a physical, mental, and emotional level in
the short span of time in which you are called
to teach a session. Some students will see you as
the end-all authority on Life, the Universe, and
Everything,whereas others may recognize you
simply as the person who unlocks the studio door.
In any scenario, you can use the foundational

information communicated in this book as a tool


for deftly guiding any student toward a meaningful relationship with his or her truest Self via the
time-honored wisdom of hatha yoga.
My hope is that even as you instruct others, you
also continue to be an eternal student yourself.
Learn from your students and from all of your
personal experiences. By teaching in a way that
resonates with your own heartas you would
appreciate being taughtyou will succeed in
opening the hearts of others as well. Being a yoga
teacher is a timeless calling, and if you choose it
you may have the opportunity to positively affect
the lives of students for many years to come.
At the time of this writing, the spectrum of
known yoga teachers ranges from 13-year-old
Jaysea DeVoe of Encinitas, California, who
earned her certification at age 12, to 97-year-old
Tao Porchon-Lynch of New York state. Since
you probably fit comfortably within that 84-year
range, I wish you many happy years of teaching.
As stated by Olympian Mary Lou Retton, Each
of us has a fire in our heart for something. Its our
goal in life to find it and keep it lit.May your light
shine brilliantly as you illuminate the path of yoga
for yourself and so many other wonderful souls.
Namaste, Om Shanti.*

Sometimes translated as follows: The divine light within me acknowledges and sees the divine light within you, and together
we are that one divine light. Be the Eternal Peace.

Acknowledgments

At face value this revision may appear to be a


solo endeavor. Nothing could be further from the
truth! This body of work could not possibly have
come to fruition without the combined efforts of
so many. I am eternally grateful to the following
supportive people whose guidance and hard work
were essential to the success of this edition:
Carolyn Wheat, Lanita Varshell, Celeste
Schwartz, and Dave Massey for editing
advice, professional suggestions, and muchneeded feedback along the way.
Eternally patient and supportive acquisitions editor Gayle Kassing for being, in so
many ways, a positive influence in my life
and someone I hope to meet face to face.
Thank you for your kindness and guidance
in navigating this ship on my own.
Extreme gratitude to Kristin Akerele for the
wonderful children's yoga sequence and for
permission to photograph your kids.
Developmental editor Bethany Bentley,
thank you for injecting your creativity and
conscientiousness into this project and for
making sure I stayed top of things with both
the text and the photos. I believe HK still
owes you a trip to San Diego!
Managing editor extraordinaire Carly
OConnor, your gentle persistence and
calming responses have made the final edits
much less painful for me . . . although Im
not sure if the reverse is true! Your attention
to detail has elevated the professionalism of
this book significantly. Also, the fact that you
answered so many of my questions when it
was well beyond your quitting time amazed
me. Much gratitude!
Copyeditor Tom Tiller, thank you for
smoothing out all the rough edges and for
the seemingly endless follow-up questions,
which help to clarify so many points.

The incredibly unflappable videographer


Gregg Henness miraculously filmed all the
video we needed on time, even with a fivehour delay, hardly any food, and not much
sleep. Gratitude!
Neil Bernstein is the most eagle-eyed,
entertaining, considerate, and multitalented
photographer Ive ever met. You found the
yoga in each of the poses!
Without Michelle Blanchards top-notch
organizational skills, calming sense of
humor, and behind-the-scenes actions
before, during, and after the video and photo
shoots, those crucial days would not have
run as smoothly as they did!
Permissions manager Dalene Reeder, thanks
for managing the contacts for the various
permissions needed for the book.
Marketing specialist Alexis Koontz, thank
you for accepting the idea of the subtitle.
And thank you in advance to getting word
out that we now have an updated version of
an exceptional yoga resource.
The video, arts, and graphics teams, Doug
Fink, Keith Blomberg, Dawn Sills, Jason
Allen, Joyce Brumfield, Laura Fitch, Kelly
Hendren, Al Wilborn (and I'm sure others),
showed exceptional creativity and skills in
enhancing the aesthetics of this project.
Thanks to the wonderful original models
whose photographs still adorn these pages:
Tara Bogota, Mary Brown, Dr. Beau Casey,
Lauren Derstine, Ann Keenan, Vivienne Kennedy (we miss your beautiful spirit!), Eiko
Keyser, Nadge Margaria, Jon Pobst, Brandy
Proppe, Brian Ruiz, Jennifer Schilder, and
Jim Walther. Thank you for sharing your time.
And a wholehearted bow and thank-you to
the second-edition photo and video models
Leng Caloh, Veronica Cruz, Bridgette

xxi

xxii

Acknowledgments
Garcia, Elka Haeckel Almeida, Patty Justo
Ober, Joe Lewis, Nori Nolan, Jennifer Oh,
Adrian Oritz, Jan Penhall, Cheryl Reiff,
Carol Ryan, Sean Ryan, Sheila Shaw, Scott
Truel, and Lanita Varshell; mothers-to-be
Kacey Holsman Valla and Merrin Muxlow;
and superkids Ade Akerele, Ikela Akerele,
Jackson McCartney, and Lily McCartney. As

with those before you, the beauty of your


practice will inspire so many others.
Thanks to all the lovely yogis,teachers
and students alikeat A Gentle Way Yoga.
Whether you have shared classes with me or
we have passed in the hallway, your constant
encouragement is so uplifting and empowering. Namaste, Om Shanti!

Part I

Hongqi Zhang/Dreamstime

The Practice
of Yoga

This page intentionally left blank.

1
Understanding
Yoga

Thomas_EyeDesign/istock.com

f you traveled back in


time to the point when
yoga was introduced
to the United States, you
would likely be surprised
by the varied nature of the
discipline as compared
with what we consider
yoga to be today. In 1893,
the Indian Hindu monk
Swami Vivekanandaset sail
from Kolkata (Calcutta) for
Chicago to participate as
a delegate in the Worlds
Parliament of Religions. Sri
Vivekananda captured the
attention of many attendees with his message of the
divinity of existence and the
Universal Oneness of the
soul; as a result, he gained
many devoted followers.
There was no discussion,
however, of matters such as
the merits of one pose over

Instructing Hatha Yoga


another, whether a headstand should be used at
the beginning of a session or near the end, or what
style of music (if any) should be played during a
yoga class. In fact, there was no mention whatsoever of the physical practices of yoga. Instead, at
that time, the practice was much more centered
on the heart and mind, and the physical postures
of hatha yoga did not become particularly popular
until the late 1960s.
Today, of course, yoga is practiced in the West
in many forms. However, the past four decades
have seen a decided shift in emphasis away from
a mainly quiet and meditative discipline to one
that is more fully movement oriented. The fact
that yoga now provides a vehicle for people to
stretch and strengthen their bodies, minds, and
spirits makes it attractive to a widely diverse set
of enthusiasts. As a result, yoga can be found
in gyms and spas, professional sport training
rooms, corporate wellness programs, prison cells,
hospitals, and even classrooms ranging from
kindergarten through high school.
This popularity has brought yoga to a point
where it is now a worldwide multimillion-dollar
industry. In the United States alone, a 2012
market survey conducted by Yoga Journal found
that more than 20 million people practice yoga
and that U.S. residents spend well over $10
million annually on yoga-related products and
services.
To some, the current influence of yoga is mind
boggling in light of the fact that yoga is believed
to have originated five or six thousand years
ago. It developed on the Indian subcontinent as
a nonreligious yet spiritual discipline meant to
unite an individual with his or her divine nature.
The revered teachings of yoga derived from the
worlds oldest hallowed textsthe Vedasand, in
some way or another, the wisdom and teachings
of these foundational texts likely influences most
modern-day yoga scholars and instructors.
Within that sweeping context, this chapter
briefly defines and demystifies the discipline of
yoga, particularly the types of yoga that you are
most likely to practice and teach. What does it
mean when people say they practice yoga? Is it
a mystic spiritual practice? Is it a religion? Or
is it simply a program of physical postures and
meditation techniques? As yoga continues to
evolve from its ancient roots, the answers to such
questions can sometimes be unclear.
In Sanskrit, the wordyoga means to yoke or
unite; it can also mean discipline. The second
tenet expressed in the Yoga Sutras, a cardinal text

defining yoga, states, Yoga chittavrittinirodha,


which is often translated as, Yoga is the cessation of fluctuations or distractions to enable
movement toward evolved consciousness and
being. In another translation: Yoga is the pure
connection with Universal consciousness within
our heart. As such, yoga can refer to any method
by which we can become balanced and united
with our own higher nature (self) and obtain
supreme bliss.
Thus, yoga is a journey of contemplation and
self-discovery on the path to personal enlightenment. For this reason, Mother Teresa and Socrates can both be considered as yogis (people who
practiced yoga). Moreover, yoga is not a religion;
rather, it is a discipline without dogma. Therefore, a person of any faith or fellowship can be
considered a yogi.

When referring to a female yoga


practitioner, the term is yogini [yoeGEE-nee], whereas when speaking of
a man, or of a mixed-sex group, the
term yogi, yogis, or yogin is applied.

Types of Yoga
There are as many ways to practice yoga as
there are to unite with bliss and enlightenment.
Essentially, however, current practice involves
four primary types of yoga: karma, bhakti, jnana,
and raja.
Karma [KAR-muh] yoga is the path of
service through selfless action for the good of
othersfor example, Mother Teresas works to
serve poor people as a way to connect the compassion of God with humanity. Unconditional service
is a tradition in Hindu monasteries or ashrams
[AAHSH-ruhms], and many yoga teacher training
programs require candidates to practice karma
yoga by cooking and cleaning or providing other
voluntary service for others.
Bhakti [b-HUHK-tee] yoga cultivates the
expression and love of the Divine through devotional rituals. Forms of this path include regular
prayer, chanting, singing, dancing, ceremony, and
celebration. For example, bhakti yoga is practiced
and shared in the uplifting music of renowned

Understanding Yoga
kirtan (devotional chant) vocalist and spiritual
leader Krishna Das.
Jnana[YAAH-nuh]yoga isthe path of intellect and wisdom, and its components include
study of sacred texts, intellectual debates, philosophical discussion, and introspection. Socrates
was a jnana yogi, as are modern-day yoga scholars
such as David Frawley and Ravi Ravindra.
Raja [RAAH-juh] yoga, also known as the
royal path, refers to the journey toward personal
enlightenment. This path consists of balancing
the three main yoga types just describedkarma,
bhakti, and jnanawhile integrating the eight
limbs, or stages, of yoga (for further discussion,
see the sidebar titled The Eight Limbs of the Royal
Path). Hatha [HUH-tuh] yoga is represented as a
combination of the third and fourth limbs of the
royal paththat is, asana [AAH-suh-nuh] and
pranayama [praah-naah-YAAH-muh] (see figure
1.1 and the sidebar about the eight limbs).
Hatha yoga is the type generally practiced in
modern (and especially Western) society. The
word hatha is usually translated from Sanskrit as
sun and moon, with ha signifying sun energy
and tha signifying moon energy. Balancing the
active ha energy and the more calming tha energy
is the ultimate aim of hatha yoga practice.Hatha
is also translated as forceful (see figure 1.2),
and this translation is included in the Hatha
Yoga Pradipika [praah-DEE-PEE-kuh]a classic
text used by those who study hatha yoga. Some
practitioners have expounded that this translation is appropriate because hatha yoga requires
great physical effort. On a symbolic as well as a
physical level, then, hatha refers to a balancing
of energies or forces.

Types of Hatha Yoga


Hatha yoga focuses on the path toward personal
wellness and enlightenment through physical,
mental, and spiritual means. The category of
hatha yoga encompasses a number of popular
styles of practice. Most hatha classes are generic
in style, which means that they blend popular
elements of various styles that stand alone as specific forms. Two of the best-known styles of hatha
are Iyengar and Ashtanga, and classical-eclectic
hatha classes often include traits of either or
both of these styles. As a result, many students
are confused into thinking that hatha yoga is a

style in and of itself, apart from any other named


style, when in fact it is the umbrella under which
all hatha styles fall.
Although approaches to hatha yoga differ
from each other, all of these methods are meant
to help practitioners achieve the goals of greater
health and general well-being through deeper self-
awareness. With this end in mind, this text presents an overall picture of the physical discipline
while also bridging the gaps between East and
West, ancient and progressive, physical and spiritual, science and art, flexibility and strength, and
student and teacher. Yoga is not associated with
rebellion or revolution; instead, it is a practical
response to the hectic nature of our modern lives,
which likely provides the impetus for the tidal
wave of interest in yoga throughout the world.
The general practice of hatha yoga strives to
be progressive while maintaining a basic connection to traditional teachings. Over the millennia,
considerable changes have occurredin practice venues, students, and teachersand such
changes are likely to continue. Yet even as forms
and styles branch out and evolve, they continue
to derive from the same basic roots. In fact, the
founders of two of the most popular styles of
modern hatha yoga, Iyengar and Ashtanga, had
the same teacherSri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya(see figure 1.3).

Iyengar Yoga
In the early twentieth century, world-renowned
yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar created a style of
hatha yoga focused primarily on achieving precise
physical alignment during the execution of poses.
At times, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, Mr.
Iyengar was likened to a drill sergeant because his
teaching style was somewhat strict in its extreme
attention to physical positioning. To assist in this
positioning, Iyengar yoga students use many
types of props, which enable people at all levels of
proficiency to go deeper or stay longer in postures
with more accurate physical alignment.
Props are becoming more common in classical-
eclecticclasses as well, but Mr. Iyengar was an
innovator in hatha practice because of his insistence on precision with props and his demand
that his yoga students be consciously focused in
the mind and obediently energetic in the body. As
a result, Iyengar teacher trainings can take three
or more years to complete, depending upon which
level of certification a candidate is interested in

The Eight Limbs of the Royal Path


Think of the eight limbs of yoga as parts of the great tree of yoga. Each limb connects to the trunk, and
yoga is grounded and nurtured by its deep, ancient roots. Each limb has leaves that express the life of the
limb; these leaves are the techniques of the yogic limbs. The eight limbs, or stages, of yoga are outlined in
the text of the Yoga Sutras, which was compiled and writtenaround 300 to 200 BCE by the sage Patanjali
[pa-TAHN-jah-lee].

Limb 1
Yamas [YAAH-muhs]guidelines for ethical standards and moral conduct
Ahimsa [uh-HEEM-saah]nonviolence
Satya [SUHT-yuh]truthfulness
Asteya [uh-STAY-uh]nonstealing
Brahmacharya [bruh-muh-CAHR-yuh]moderation
Aparigraha [uh-PUH-reeg-ruh-huh]nonattachment

Limb 2
Niyamas[nee-YUH-muhs]observances and disciplines
Saucha [SHOWH-chuh]cleanliness
Santosha [suhn-TOH-shuh]contentment
Tapas [TUH-puhs]austerities (translated as heat or purifying practices)
Svadhyaya [svaahd-HYAAH-yuh]study of spiritual scriptures
Ishvarapranidhana [EEHSH-vuh-ruh pruh-need-HAAH-nuh]practice of awareness and surrender
to the presence and divine will of God

Limb 3
Asana [AAH-suh-nuh]practice of physical postures
Pranayama [praah-naah-YAAH-muh]special breathing
techniques used to control the life force, or energy, in
the body

Limb 5
Pratyahara [pruht-yaah-HAAH-ruh]withdrawal of the senses as part of the transcendence of constant nervous stimuli; practice
of sensory detachment through deep relaxation
techniques

Limb 6
Dharana [dhaahr-UHN-aah]concentration and focus

Limb 7
Dhyana [dhahy-AAH-nuh]meditation

Limb 8
Samadhi [suh-MAAHD-hee]state of
ecstasy, bliss, and enlightenment that
transcends the Self and merges with the
Divine
6

Figure 1.1 The tree of yoga.

E6251/Ambrosini/fig01.01/518456/pulled/r1-alw

Understanding Yoga

Raja

Ashtanga

Yamas

Niyamas
Iyengar

Asanas
Pattabhi Jois
Ashtanga

Hatha
Jnana

Pranayama

Hatha

Krishnamacharyra

Desikachar
Vinyasas

Pratyahara

Yoga

Bhakti

Dharana

Dhyana

Karma

Samadhi

Figure 1.2 Yoga lineage.

Figure 1.3 Hatha yoga lineage. The blank lines represent other lineages.
E6251/Ambrosini/fig01.03/518458/pulled/r1-alw

E6251/Ambrosini/fig01.02/518457/pulled/r1-alw

reaching with their training; Iyengar has three


basic levels of training.
Iyengar yoga places so much emphasis on
physical alignment, as Mr. Iyengar believed that
it takes most people most of their lives to get the
body into its most appropriate physical alignment,
that Surya Namaskaras (Sun Salutations) are
not performed and pranayama (breath work) is
abandoned in the asana classes until students are
proficient in their alignment practices. However,
certain pranayamas are taught in workshops or as
a separate practice altogether. Iyengar yoga also
prohibits music and partner work because they
are thought to be distractions. Although some find
this hatha style to be intimidating, it is generally
the safest form of physical practice because of its
diligent attention to body alignment.
Even so, many people are uncomfortable with
this style because instructors generally do not
allow students to go as deeply into a posture as
they might like. Instead, instructors insist that
students use props and move only as far into a
posture as they are able to manage while maintaining the most optimal alignment possible.
Given this focus, Iyengar classes disallow baggy
clothes because they hide so much of a students
body that the instructor might miss a detail needing adjustment. Of course, each teacher conducts

class in her or his own way, but true-blue Iyengar


instructors tend to be strict in their teaching styles
in order to adhere to Iyengars exacting guidelines.

Ashtanga Yoga and Power Yoga


Ashtanga means eight limbs; in contemporary
hatha circles, it also refers to a style of yoga practice introduced by Pattabhi Jois. This dynamic
form of hatha yoga involves vigorous flow from
posture to posture. More specifically, Ashtanga
practice today involves six series, or set combinations of postures, in which practitioners move
from one posture to the next without stopping.
Generally, however, only the primary (yoga
chikitsa) series and the second (intermediate,
or nadishodhana) series are taught in class settings because the remaining four series are quite
physically demanding. In fact, those four can be
practiced only by persons who have spent considerable time learning and accomplishing them.
Ashtanga yoga was rediscovered in the twentieth century when Pattabhi Jois and his teacher,
Sri Krishnamacharya, translated a practice they
found outlined in an ancient text called the Yoga
Korunta. Krishnamacharya found the manuscript
written on leaves in a form of Sanskrit used 5,000

Instructing Hatha Yoga


years ago; according to interpreters, the estimated
date of its transcription is at least 1,500 years ago.
Pattabhi Jois named the practice Ashtanga, based
on the second Pada (or chapter) of Patanjalis
Yoga Sutras. In the pada, the term ashta-anga
(eight limbs) are outlined and the Pattabhi Jois
believed the integration of the eight limbs were
steps to gradually awaken to Samadhi (Divine
Consciousness).
Because many people either did not recognize
the term Ashtanga or misunderstood it as referring
to raja yoga, the practice was referred to for some
time by the term power yoga. In the 1990s, Beryl
Bender Birch wrote a book called Power Yoga that
demystified the practice of Ashtanga for many,
and the book still serves as a great reference on
the benefits of this style. Unfortunately, however,
some confusion persists about Ashtanga and
power yoga. Ashtanga is the practice of a set series
of postures. In contrast, power yoga classes are
generally hybrids that use some of the postures and
flow of Ashtanga but are often not true to Ashtanga
sequencing. The practice of power yoga continues
to be brought alive by innovative modern yoga
teachers, such as Baron Baptiste and Bryan Kest.
In this book, the term Ashtanga refers to
the dynamic series of postures rediscovered by
Pattabhi Jois and Sri Krishnamacharya. Many
Ashtanga classes use abridged versions of these

original series because a hatha class is often


only one hour long and the students are often of
mixed ability.
In practicing either Ashtanga or Iyengar yoga,
one sees (and feels!) both the physical and the
mental distinctiveness of the chosen style. At the
same time, the two approaches share common
ground since their foundersPattabhi Jois and
B.K.S. Iyengar, respectivelyare contemporaries
who had the same mentor in Sri Krishnamacharya. In fact, at first glance, it may seem surprising
that two such different styles could be traced back
only one generation to the same root. However,
Sri Krishnamacharya was known to teach each
student according to his or her personal needs.
Table 1.1 illustrates the differences between these
two styles of hatha yoga in mental focus and
physical components.

Vinyasa Yoga
Another style of hatha yoga involves the practice
of linking Surya Namaskaras (Sun Salutations)
or similar postures between poses. Practitioners
repeat each pose in the sequence before going
on to the next one; after adding each new pose,
they do a vinyasa [vin-YAAH-suh]a flowing
movement linked with the breath. Most vinyasa

Table 1.1 Physical and Mental Comparison of Iyengar and Ashtanga Styles of Hatha
Yoga
Iyengar

Ashtanga

Pace

Postures generally held for 30 to 90 seconds

Postures typically held for four breaths

Routine

No set routine; postures often repeated with


resting postures between

Set routine; continuous flow between postures

Mental focus
Pranayama
(breathing style)
Physical focus
Name of
opening posture
Props
Sun Salutations
Partner work

The mind is focused on the physical form. The The mind and body are focused on surrendering to
surrender comes from staying in the posture
the flow of the movement. Less attention is paid to
with great effort and attention to alignment.
details of alignment.
Quiet, natural

Deep, audible ujjayi breath. Ujjayi means victorious


breath and refers to an audible diaphragmatic breath
achieved by slightly closing the back of the throat.

Using and opposing the force of gravity in the


postures expands energy throughout the body
and mind.

The increase in body heat, attained by continuous


movement between postures, allows the student to
move deeper into each posture.

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Samasthiti (Mountain Pose)

Mats, straps, blocks, blankets, bolsters

Mats, rugs

No

Sun Salutations provide the foundation for staying


warm and flowing.

No

Partner work is used to aid placement in some positions.

Understanding Yoga
teachers use variations of poses and sequencing
to create a smooth flow from pose to pose rather
than simply stopping one posture and starting
again. The word vinyasa refers to the flowing
or linking of poses in synchronization with the
breath.
Variations of Sun Salutations are the vinyasas
that link other poses together in Ashtanga yoga.
However, vinyasas do not have to be vigorous; in
fact, they can be slow and gentle as one pose flows
easily and softly into another, similar pose. The
key is to connect poses with the breath.

Viniyoga
Not to be confused with vinyasa yoga, viniyoga
is another method of hatha yoga linked to Sri
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. His son, T.K.V.
Desikachar, used a style of classical-eclectic hatha
that directly applies the physical practices of yoga
as a purely therapeutic modality based on an
individuals specific needs. The style is referred to
as viniyoga,meaning applied yoga, by Western
students of Desikachar, including Mark Whitwell
and American Viniyoga Institute founder Gary
Kraftsow.
Viniyoga emphasizes using the breath as a
means to achieve specific outcomes, either with
or without accompanying movement. When
asanas are practiced as part of therapy, they are
often repeated and are linked directly to functionality. This style uses the ancient practices
of yoga for physical, emotional, and spiritual
healing. Classes are often taught one on one or
in small groups so that the teacher can address
each students individual needs.

Bikram and Hot Yoga


Once known mainly as the yoga of the stars,
the Bikram style of hatha has spread from Beverly Hills throughout the United States since the
late 1970s. The Bikram style is the original hot
yoga style, and its classes are taught in a room
kept at approximately 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41
degrees Celsius). Bikram yoga is based on one
series consisting of 26 poses, which are practiced
twice in a class session.
Though this style of yoga is purported to have
originated with its namesake, Bikram Choudhury, it can be traced back to Bishnu Ghosh,
the brother of Paramahansa Yogananda, who
founded the Self-Realization Fellowship in 1925.

Mr. Choudhury insists that, barring any physical


limitations, newcomers participate in class every
day for two months before easing into the regimen. He believes that this intensity serves as an
incentive and as an initiation into the style, which
promises a better body and new life through a
detoxifying practice that some liken to a yoga
boot camp. Many Bikram-trained teachers have
migrated away from teaching Mr. Choudhurys
particular style of hatha yoga due to trademark
and copyright disputes as well as allegations of
his misconduct. Instead, they teach their own
version of heated yoga.
Many Bikram yoga studios are now built
from the ground up and include state-of-the-art
heating systems to maintain the desired room
temperature for classes. Scores of students revel
in the feeling of looseness that they attain in the
penetrating heat; at the same time, many people
are leery about the intense temperature used in
these styles. Indeed, the rooms high temperature
is enhanced by the mass of body heat exuding
relentlessly from class participants as they practice one posture after another. In contrast, in
Ashtanga hatha, the heat is created solely by the
practitioners own body moving through linked
poses via vigorous vinyasas.
For some people, the high temperature is
overwhelming; for many others, however, the
effect of performing the asanas in a sauna-like
environment is what gets them hooked. Indeed,
sweating can be therapeutic and cleansing. Still,
these yoga styles are not for everyone.

People with potentially complicating


conditions should be very mindful when considering whether to
practice in the heatfor example,
deconditioned students who have a
tendency toward high blood pressure or whose core body temperature
tends to run high. In addition, some
people simply do not tolerate heat
as well as others, and these people
need to allow themselves rest periods
and water breaks when they attend
a class, especially when the heat is
extreme.

Instructing Hatha Yoga

Christopher Futcher/istock.com

10

Students should choose the type of hatha yoga that will be most beneficial to their emotional and physical needs. Consider both the types of class available and the environment in which each class is taught.

Kundalini Hatha
In 1968, Yogi Bhajan introduced a form of Sikhism to the West, and with it came a form of hatha
that, to many, resembles calisthenics. He founded
the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO), a
teaching institution that offers guidance through
yogic practices to awaken the dormant Kundalini
Shaktidivine spiritual energydescribed metaphorically as a coiled snake residing at the base of
the spine and believed to be housed in each of us.
The purpose of Kundalini yoga is to prepare the
bodymind and awaken the dormant Universal
energy within the practitioner.
Those who follow Yogi Bhajans teachings
in their entirety wear white cotton outfits with
turbans or head scarves. The white clothing is
thought to enhance the radiance of a persons
aura, and covering the head is said to aid in
meditation. Doing so is not required, however,
in order to partake of this form of hatha, which
is known simply as Kundalini [KOOHN-duh-leenee]. People practicing Kundalini hatha often
chant syllables and perform segments of rapid
deep breathing, or breath of fire, while holding
poses. It is common to practice the poses at a
fast pace for as many as 108 repetitions per class
and to hold certain hand gestures (mudras) for

prolonged periodsall to allow the Kundalini


energy to rise through the body and integrate
the energy of the chakras (energy centers) for
personal enlightenment.

Classical-Eclectic Hatha
Together, the words classical and eclectic are used
to describethe mixed form of hatha yoga that is
generally taught today. The term hatha indicates
that this type of yoga involves asana practice,
classical indicates that the poses practiced are
time honored, typical poses taught in more
than one hatha style, and eclectic indicates that
the style is blendedin other words, that it does
not follow one strict method or consistent routine
of postures. This category includes the integral
yoga series taught by Swami Sivananda and the
Himalayan tradition brought to the United States
by Swami Rama, as well as the practices of many
yoga teachers who combine elements from various traditions and styles.
Most yoga teachers choose to teach a classical-
eclectic, or mixed, style of hatha without naming
it as such. This method combines elements from
many styles and generally appeals to the broadest population. For example, an instructor may

Understanding Yoga
use a combination of deep breathing and background music, along with attention to alignment
and physical adjustments. In contrast, another
schoolfor example, Iyengar hatha yogamay
focus on alignment yet oppose allowing music
in class because it might be distracting. Furthermore, the expression of a style is often colored
by a teachers personality; therefore, two classes
taught by different teachers might share a lineage
yet feel very different.
Given these variables, the label classical-eclectic
hathacan create confusion since it encompasses a
number of styles that range from gentle to vigorous. As a result, the term can make it difficult to
know what to expect if one is not familiar with the
instructor. In addition, yoga offerings often lack
a true class description; instead, many advertising brochures include a list of goals and benefits
but avoid describing the style and method of the
class. For example, a class pamphlet might read
something like this: Experience the bliss of your
muscles and your mind at once or Connect with
your heart and soul for better well-being.
These promises sound great, and they may
offer a true invitation to a class; however, they
offer no hint as to how the promised results are
achieved. Indeed, they could just as easily refer
to a class in which students lie on their backs
and rest under blankets in a nearly meditative
state as to a class that poses great physical challenge in a room heated to more than 100 degrees
Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius)! Both of these
styles existand both offer great boons to their
practitionersbut without understanding a style
from its name and reputation, or from a precise
description, you would not know what to expect.
Classical-eclectic hatha can be found at various levels of intensity, and it usually involves
elements of the methods described earlier in
this chapter. For example, a Sivananda [Sheevuhn-AAHN-duh] or integral hatha yoga class as
taught by Swami Sivananda has a nice sense of
flow similar to that of Ashtanga classes. However,
integral yoga classes hold postures longer and
use more rest between poses (as Iyengar classes
might do); they also approach the emphasis on
alignment in a different manner, focusing more
on joint flexibility and overall stability.

Anusara
In 1997, U.S.-born yoga teacher John Friend created a hatha style that he labeled Anusara, which
is generally translated as flowing with grace,

although the more literal Sanskrit definition is


following. Mr. Friend had begun studying and
practicing yoga at a relatively early age, and over
the years he had explored numerous hatha styles,
including Sivananda, Kundalini, Ashtanga, and
Iyengar, as well as several Eastern philosophical
belief systems.
Friend was a dedicated student of both Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar and based much
of the physical nature of Anusara yoga on Mr.
Iyengars alignment systems. In Anusara, these
elements are organized into what are described as
the Five Universal Principles of Alignment, which
encompass opening the heart to grace, as well as
awareness and integration of energetic pathways
(loops) and biomechanical geometry. Anusara
yoga also follows physical and philosophical
ideals referred to as the Three Asattitude, alignment, and actionwhich, when followed both on
and off the yoga mat, are believed to enhance a
persons entire life.
In early 2012, Anusara was rocked by allegations against Mr. Friend of ethical, financial,
and sexual misconduct, all of which he admitted before stepping away from his leadership
of Anusara Inc. Because of the scandal, many
Anusara-certified teachers relinquished their
titles. However, due to the popularity and deep
love of the practice in the worldwide Anusara
community, a group of dedicated independent
teachers formed the Anusara School of Hatha
Yoga in October 2012 and continue to certify
teachers in the style.

Restorative and
Meditation in Movement
Style Yoga (MIMSY)
In 1995, Judith Hanson Lasater, a renowned yoga
teacher and longtime Iyengar student, introduced
the world to restorative yoga in her comprehensive book Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times. Lasater pointed out that it is essential
to slow the nervous system and quiet the mind in
order to heal from the negative effects of stress.
Toward this end, her work addresses specific
asanas and other yogic techniques as therapeutic
tools. Restorative yoga is generally described as
a relaxing, modified, traditional hatha style. It
tends to be relatively slow moving and generally
involves seated, supine, and prone poses. It also
uses numerous props that allow students to hold

11

12

Instructing Hatha Yoga


poses longer while focusing on more passive
stretching and deeper relaxation.
Students new to yoga often mistakenly think
of restorative yoga as simply beginners yoga.
At the same time, many yoga teachers advertise
their classes as restorative when, more often than
not, they are simply slowed-down versions of
classical-eclectic poses that use few if any props
or modifications. For this reason, in 1996, Lanita
Varshell, a longtime yoga teacher and student of
Ms. Lasater, developed Meditation in Movement
Style Yoga (MIMSY)to help would-be yoga practitioners for whom nonmodified yoga was not a
good fit.
Diagnosed with fibromyalgia, Ms. Varshell
found that yoga practices relieved her symptoms
and brought comfort and peace to her mind
and body. She also noticed, however, that many
traditional poseseven in their slowed and
supported versionswere too challenging for
many people. At the same time, she recognized
that practitioners can move more easily into a
relaxed, restorative state when the body shifts
fully from the sympathetic nervous system to the
parasympathetic nervous system, thus cultivating
the relaxation response.
MIMSY classes begin with the practitioner in
a supine position with props. They use focused
breathing and gentle, easy movements to release
tension in the spine, hips, internal organs, and
mind. From this point of relaxation, many classes
remain on the ground and focus on energetic
healing and slow, simple movements. Other
classes progress from the ground to seated or
even standing poses; depending on the students,
they may also move into more traditional asana
practice. By design, all of the classes are nurturing and begin with modified versions of poses so
that less physically able students feel comfortable
and safe. More physically active students are
invited to take the poses to a level that is more
challenging to them yet still comfortable. In Ms.
Varshells studio, these MIMSYclasses are considered Aalamba, which means with support
in Sanskrit.

tors Sarah Powers and Paul Grilley. The aim of


yin yoga is to apply moderate force on the fascia,
ligaments, and tendons in order to increase
flexibility, circulation, and subtle, or life-force
energy, throughout the joints. Many yin poses
are traditional hatha poses modified slightly to
safely stretch the overlying muscles and keep a
joint within its natural range of motion.
Though this style of hatha is slower than other
styles, some students find the deep stretch and
extended time in the pose to be uncomfortable at
best, and deleterious at worst. On the other hand,
the style can be very beneficial for students with
nohistory of injury and for those who are in touch
with the limits of their bodies and know when to
leave a pose. For these students, yin yoga often
helps them sit more comfortably in meditation.

Yin Yoga

Childrens hatha classes are designed specifically


for younger children, who should not be treated
simply as small adults. Children have specific
developmental needs that can be addressed
through specialized training. The classes are fun
and sometimes involve game playing; in addition,
both the classes and the individual postures are

Yin yoga is a slower-paced hatha style in which


each pose is held for five minutes or longer. This
style was first taught in the United States in the
1970s by Paulie Zink, a martial artist and yoga
teacher, and it has been popularized by instruc-

Other Contemporary Variations


of Hatha Yoga
Classical-eclectic hatha includes a growing list
of specializations that serve specific populations
with unique needs and approaches to the practice. Some popular, specifically adaptedstyles of
classical-eclectic hatha yoga are described in the
following subsections.

Prenatal Hatha
Prenatal hatha is a practice of modified asanas
for women during or after pregnancy. Prenatal
classes, which have grown in popularity, offer
multifaceted approaches that address both the
womans changing body and the safe and healthy
development of her child. As you might imagine, modifying hatha yoga poses for pregnancy
involves certain inherent risk factors. For this
reason, anyone interested in teaching this special
population should enroll in additional training
courses. An outline of a prenatal class can be
found in chapter 13.

Childrens Hatha

Understanding Yoga
usually shorter in order to cater to childrens typically shorter attention span. In 2008, Galantino et
al. published a literature review in Pediatric Physical Therapy addressing the therapeutic effects
of yoga on children.These studies showed that,
as with adults, yoga benefits kids by increasing
overall fitness; expanding attention and memory;
and decreasing anxiety, stress, and aggression. An
outline of a childrens yoga class can be found in
chapter 13.

Chair Hatha
Chair hatha can be designed either as a corporate
yoga program or as a set of asanas adapted for
physically challenged people who are unable to
move into standing or ground postures. Chair
sequences are incorporated into many classes
for seniors or for people with special needs.
Workshops on teaching chair hatha can be found
throughout the country.

Senior Hatha
Senior hatha classes are designed specifically to
address the psychological and physiological needs
of people as they age. Senior-oriented classes also
serve an important role as a community connection for many individuals who are underserved or
otherwise socially separated. One source of such
classes is the Silver Age Yoga organization, which
has its own teacher training program. The groups
founders, Frank and Serpil Iszak, have certified
more than 300 teachers on five continents since
the program began in 2003. This type of class
seems likely to grow as the life span of the overall
population increases.

Partner Hatha
Partner hatha yoga is usually done for light enjoyment, although many teachers use this practice
as a means to bring people closer together in a
trusting fashion. Partners can hold poses together,
or one person can assist the other. Partner yoga
can also be used to practice many moves of Thai
massage. In fact, one relatively new form of partner yoga is acroyoga, which blends asanas with
Thai massage techniques and acrobatics for a fun
and balanced practice. This particular style also
offers certification programs.

Water Hatha
Water hatha yoga is like other forms of water exercise in that movements performed in the water
take away much of the gravitational forces in the
joints and alleviate any discomfort some students
may feel when exercising on land. Because of the
buoyant nature of water or aqua yoga classes, students generally achieve more profound increases
in joint range of motion with less strain than in
traditional land-based yoga classes. Many water
yoga classes are held in warmer water, which
increases the therapeutic nature of the sessions.
Each type of hatha can be broken down further, and overlap can be identified among various
styles. For example, a prenatal yoga class might
consist of an Iyengar-like practice with a number
of props; alternatively, it might be done in the
water. Similarly, a chair class might use partner
work or begin as a restorative class and move up
to a chair. The possibilities are as vast as ones
imagination.

Adjunct Practices of Hatha Yoga


Practitioners of hatha yoga often strive to engage in lifestyle regimens of physical and mental cleanliness
both on and off the mat. Although many teachers in public yoga classes do not regularly discuss or teach
much about topics such as meditation, philosophy, or diet specified for body type, yoga teachers should
have an awareness of such subjects.
For example, yoga is a sister science of Ayurveda, the medicine of ancient India. One Ayurvedic or
yoga lifestyle practice is the use of a neti [NEH-tee] pota device used to wash the nasal passagesas a
daily ritual akin to brushing ones teeth. Another level of yoga lifestyle practice involves discovering ways
to incorporate principles of the Yoga Sutras (whether all or part of the eight limbs) or insights from asana
sessions into the rest of ones daily life. Because yoga is a discipline without dogma, each person finds his
or her own ways to incorporate aspects of yoga practice into daily life. One way to do so is simply to be
more flexible in both mind and body; another way is to strengthen both the muscles and the willpower.

13

14

Instructing Hatha Yoga

Yoga Lexicon
Like any widely practiced discipline, yoga uses
its own particular jargon to describe its philosophy and physical actions. In addition, each
instructor, based on personality, devises her or
his own phrases to express feelings and motions
to students. Appropriately worded direction
sets the stage for a students ego to relax more
completely while his or her body is engaged in
an asana. Therefore, your words should create a
warm, nurturing environment for your students.
Allow each student to feel comforted and safe in
both a physical and psychological way, and select
your words with care.
Your words set the tone of a class and affect
its progress. With that in mind, avoid words that
imply judgment or classificationfor example,
advanced students and correct or perfect
postureas well as all negative-sounding words.
Appropriate descriptive terms include ideal
posture, more aware, deeper, and explore.
In addition, the following phrases are ways to
descriptively guide students through a class.
Open space in your lower back. The idea
here is to encourage students to lengthen and
expand the low-back area without overly tightening the buttocks or moving the pelvis out of
neutral; as a result, the top of the pelvis remains
relatively level. Open space indicates a gentle
expansion of the lower back region and a slight
lengthening of the lumbar spine. In contrast, the
phrase tuck your pelvis is interpreted by many
students as curling the tailbone forward or under
to create as much length as possible in the lower
spine. Unfortunately, this action moves the lower
back in the opposite direction of its natural curve
and takes the pelvis out of a neutral orientation.
The phrase edge of balance refers to the
delicate balance point that one reaches just before
falling. Being at the edge of balance tests the
range of motion and stability of both the body
and the mind.
Bend at the hips like a hinge. This phrase
means simply to fold forward not from the waist
or low-back area but from the hip joints. Bending
at the hips keeps the spine long and extended and
keeps stress off of the spine.
Breathe into your __________ (any place
other than your lungs). The mechanisms of
breathing are introduced in chapter 4, and this
phrasing is mentioned here because the impor-

tance of continuous focus on breathing cannot be


overemphasized. When a teacher tells a student
to breathe into her or his knees, the teacher is
really asking the student to bring awareness to
and feel the breath and all the associated healing
energy in the knees.
Stay centered. This directive helps students keep their awareness as internally focused
as possible. By honing attention to their breathing
and movements, they can eliminate a number of
external distractions, thus aiding in stress relief
and relaxation.
Inhale as you expand, and exhale when you
release. This directive indicates how the breath
should be used when moving into or out of a
posture. Typically, one inhales when moving into
a posture that lengthens and extends the body.
On the other hand, when relaxing into a folding
posture, such as a forward bend, one exhales.
Although this list could continue, these phases
were chosen because they are used widely in yoga
classes. It is not necessary to use these phrases
constantly to express concepts; however, they
offer effective ways to relay directions when one
is just starting out as a teacher.

Standards for Yoga


Teachers
As hatha yoga classes gained in popularity, it
became apparent that some form of oversight was
necessary in order both to preserve the integrity of
this ancient practice and to protect yoga students
from underqualified or unethical teachers. In
1997, to meet this need, a grassroots group of U.S.
yoga teachers began formulating guiding principles for yoga teachers and training schools. The
group formed a not-for-profit organization called
Yoga Alliance (YA), which in 1999 developed a set
of generalized requirements for yoga teachers.
The requirements are sufficiently generic to
include all hatha styles, and they meld yogas
diverse demands with awareness of safety and
ethical concerns, as well as mindfulness of yogas
ancient philosophical heritage. The standards
outline mandatory minimum levels of training
hours in five categories (see table 1.2 for a more
comprehensive overview of the training standards
categories required for registration):

Understanding Yoga
1. Teaching techniques and practice (asana,
pranayama, and other traditional practices)
2. Teaching methodologies (class management, overall teaching principles)
3. Anatomy and physiology (both gross and
energetic or esoteric)
4. Philosophy, lifestyle, and ethics
5. Teaching practice and study
Though some disagree with the move to standardize a discipline that has been taught and
studied for thousands of years, Yoga Alliance
enhances both the public perception and the
genuine professionalism of yoga teacher-training
programsand, by extension, of yoga teachers
themselves. In 2004, the alliance counted approximately 300 approved yoga schools and 8,000
registered instructors. Just 10 years later, these
numbers had skyrocketed to 3,000 schools and

45,000 teachers. As a result, anyone seeking a


qualified yoga teacher need look no farther than
the YA website.
To remain registered with YA, teachers pay
yearly dues, participate in at least 30 hours of
documented continuing education, and teach
a minimum of 45 hours every three years. At
least 10 of the 30 hours of this training must be
performed in the presence of a lead teacher, and
all hours must relate directly to one of YAs five
main educational categories. As incentives, Yoga
Alliance offers numerous professional benefits,
including inclusion in YAs comprehensive online
directory, discounted yoga supplies, business services, health and liability insurance, and outreach
and occupational development conferences. Also,
as part of a restructuring effort between 2007
and 2010, the organization hired yoga teachers
to provide customer service and credentialing
advice to both new and veteran teachers and
training schools.

Table 1.2 Yoga Alliance Standards


Standards category

Definition

Techniques, training, and


practice

Includes but is not limited to asanas, pranayamas, kriyas (specialized practices intended for
specific outcomes), chanting, mantras, meditation, and other traditional yoga techniques.
These hours must include a mix of (1) analytical training in how to teach and practice the
techniques and (2) guided practice of the techniques themselves; both areas must receive
substantial emphasis.

Teaching methodology

Includes but is not limited to communication skills, group dynamics, assessment of individual and special population needs, principles of demonstration, observation, assisting and
correcting, teaching styles, teacher qualities, the student learning process, and business
aspects of teaching yoga (the business component can account for a maximum of 5 hours).

Anatomy and physiology

Includes but is not limited to human physical anatomy and physiology (e.g., organs and
systems) and may also include energy anatomy and physiology (e.g., chakras, nadis,
koshas). Involves both study of the subject and application of its principles to yoga practice
(e.g., benefits, contraindications, healthy movement patterns).

Yoga philosophy, lifestyle, and ethics

Includes but is not limited to study of yoga philosophies and traditional yogic texts, yoga
lifestyle, ethics for yoga teachers (e.g., those involving the teacherstudent relationship),
and the value of teaching yoga as a service to others. At least 2 hours must be spent on
ethics for yoga teachers.

Practicum

Includes practice in teaching as a lead instructor (not including hours spent assisting,
observing, or giving feedback), receiving and giving feedback, observing others teaching,
and assisting students while someone else is teaching. Each trainee must spend at least ten
contact hours in practice teaching as the lead instructor. A maximum of 2 practicum hours
can consist of noncontact activity, which includes evaluating or observing yoga classes
outside of the teacher training program.

Remaining contact hours


and elective hours

Remaining contact and elective hours are distributed among all five categories according
to the registered yoga schools discretion based on its chosen emphasis.

Yoga Alliance

15

Instructing Hatha Yoga

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16

A teachers personality can greatly influence their students yoga experience.

Table 1.3 Yoga Alliance Minimum Requirements for 200-Hour and 500-Hour
Programs
200-hour1 program
Category

Total
hours

Total
hours

Contact hours

Techniques, training, and practice 100

75; 50 with lead trainer(s)

150

100; 100 with lead trainer(s)

Teaching methodology

15; 10 with lead trainer(s)

30

20; 20 with lead trainer(s)

25

Anatomy and physiology

20

10

35

20; 0 with lead trainer(s)

Yoga philosophy, lifestyle, and


ethics

30

20

60

45; 0 with lead trainer(s)

Practicum

10

5; 5 with lead trainer(s)

40

20; 10 with lead trainer(s)

Electives

15

Total hours

185
55

Remaining contact and elective


hours (combination of contact
and noncontact hours allocated
by a registered yoga school)

Contact hours
with lead teacher

500-hour2 program

200

245

180 including 65 with lead


trainer(s)

500

450 including 200 with lead


trainer(s)

Standards effective as of 2005.

Effective for all established and new registrants as of January 1, 2008. A 500-hour program consists of the total cumulative hours from a
200-hour program and 300 hours of additional (nonrepetitive) advanced training.

Yoga Alliance

In addition to the originally established 200and 500-hour registry levels (see table 1.3), YA
now also offers standards for 300-hour, prenatal,
and childrens yoga categories (see tables 1.4, 1.5,
and 1.6). The 300-hour category was added in
2013 to eliminate confusion about how to achieve
the registered yoga teacher (RYT)500-hour desig-

nation, which, for many instructors, is a second


tier of training, similar to earning a masters
degree after first earning a bachelors degree.
The importance of womens health concerns
during and after pregnancy was recognized
early on by many yoga teachers. The YA prenatal
standards address the physical and physiological

Table 1.4 Yoga Alliance Minimum Requirements for 300-Hour Program


Category*
Techniques, training, and practice

Total hours
50

Contact hours
25; 25 with lead trainer(s)

Teaching methodology

5; 5 with lead trainer(s)

Anatomy and physiology

15

10; 0 with lead trainer(s)

Yoga philosophy, lifestyle, and ethics

30

25; 0 with lead trainer(s)


15; 5 with lead trainer(s)

Practicum

30

Electives and remaining contact hours

170

Total hours

390

270 including 135 with lead trainer(s)

The 300-hour standards refer to advanced training that deepens the participants understanding of fundamental material taught in the
200-hour training.
*

Yoga Alliance

Table 1.5 Yoga Alliance Minimum Requirements for Prenatal Yoga


Category*
General background in the specialty area

Total hours
5

Contact hours
5

Techniques, training, and practice

25

25; 18 with lead trainer(s)

Teaching methodology

10

10; 6 with lead trainer(s)

Anatomy and physiology

10

10

Yoga philosophy, lifestyle, and ethics

Practicum

20

10 observing; 6 with lead trainer(s)


10 teaching; 6 with lead trainer(s)

Electives

10

10

Total hours

85

85; 36 with lead trainer(s)

*
After earning a certification with a registered prenatal yoga school (RPYS), an instructor must teach 30 hours of prenatal yoga before they
are eligible to register with Yoga Alliance as a registered prenatal yoga instructor.

Yoga Alliance

Table 1.6 Yoga Alliance Minimum Requirements for Childrens Yoga


Category*

Total

Minimum contact hours

General background in the specialty area

12

12

Techniques, training, and practice

20

20; 15 with lead trainer(s)

Teaching methodology

15

15; 12 with lead trainer(s)

Anatomy and physiology

10

10

Yoga philosophy, lifestyle, and ethics

12

12

Practicum

18

6 observing; 4 with lead trainer(s)


12 teaching; 6 with lead trainer(s)

Electives

Total hours

95

95; 37 with lead trainer(s)

After earning a certification with a registered childrens yoga school (RCYS), an instructor must teach 30 hours of childrens yoga before
they are eligible to register with Yoga Alliance as a registered childrens yoga instructor.
*

Yoga Alliance

17

18

Instructing Hatha Yoga


changes that a woman goes through during pregnancy; they also focus on safe ways to modify
poses and sequences in order to ease physical
and emotional discomfort before and even during
the birthing process, as well as the postpartum
period.
YA childrens yoga requirements address the
fact that although kids benefit greatly from practicing yoga, they are not little adults. Rather, they
form a population that is both diverse in itself
and, at the same time, marked by specific developmental needs. As a result, the standards focus
on understanding the developmental stages of
childhood and how best to design age-appropriate
classes for a range of age groups.
If you graduate and receive a certification from
a school approved by the Yoga Alliance, you can
choose to register with the alliance and place
the letters RYT after your name. The process
is akin to getting a diploma from an accredited
school and then applying for registration as a
nurse. However, it is not against the law to teach
without being registered; association with YA
is completely voluntary. Perhaps in the future,
education standards for yoga teachers will be
expanded to parallel those for chiropractors and
acupuncturists, in which case getting registered
would become an essential aspect of the profession.
As of this writing, numerous states require
specific licensure for yoga teaching schools, and
many more are considering such requirements.
As a result, people interested in teaching yoga are
advised to understand their states laws regarding
yoga licensing and certification requirements. As
the demand for hatha yoga continues to evolve, so
must teacher qualifications in order to maintain
the integrity of the practice and all that it may
encompass.

Liability Insurance and


Employment Classification
No matter where you teachand regardless of
whether you are paid or volunteering your time
it is vital that you acquire professional liability
insurance for yourself. Even if you teach in a
yoga studio, gym, spa, or educational facility that
is required to have a business insurance policy,
an individual policy can help guard against legal
action against you. Moreover, many teaching
facilities hire teachers as independent contractors
(rather than as employees) and require them to
provide their own individual insurance policy.
Even if a business maintains an umbrella
policy that includes workers, the coverage it provides could be less than needed if damages are
brought against you as an individual instructor.
Fortunately, most insurance companies that cater
to fitness and wellness professionals provide coverage of an individual even if she or he teaches
in various locationsobviously a good thing for
independent contractors. Liability insurance policies are offered by many yoga and fitness-related
organizations, including Yoga Alliance.
Most small, noncorporate yoga facilities hire
instructors as independent contractors because
these businesses often have a relatively small profit
margin and teachers generally do not work full-time.
In addition, by hiring independent contractors, U.S.
businesses eliminate the responsibility imposed by
many state and federal tax laws. At the same time,
as independent contractors, yoga teachers qualify
for certain tax benefits for operating as their own
yoga business. Depending on your desired teaching
locale, you may be required to obtain a business
license along with your teaching certificate.

Review Questions
1. Approximately how old is yoga?
2. Define yoga in a few sentences.
3. What four types of yoga are typically practiced, and of which type is hatha yoga?
4. What is Ashtangayoga?
5. How did Patanjali codify yoga practice?
6. What well-known type of hatha yoga
focuses on alignment, form, and the use
of props?

7. Identify some popular styles of hatha yoga


practiced today.
8. Describe some concerns facing modern
yoga practitioners and some of the ways
in which the needs of todays yoga students
and teachers are being met.
9. What are the five categories of yoga teacher
training by Yoga Alliance?
10. Explain the meanings of the terms yamas
and niyamas.

2
Basics of
Teaching Yoga
I

t can be a challenge
to teach any subject.
Beyond this basic reality, yoga instructors must
be particularly mindful of
the bodies, minds, and emotions of their studentsnot
only as an overall group
but also as individuals who
come to class with various
abilities and needs. On
some days, it may seem
easier to teach yoga to
a dog than to a group of
highly diverse people! A
dog doesnt care whether
you have charisma, what
you wear, whether you are
in good physical condition,
or whether you practice
what you teach. People,
however, generally expect
all of this and more.

19

20

Instructing Hatha Yoga


Yoga teaching today continues an ancient tradition of master and pupil even as it engages the
complex expectations, agendas, and reactions of
a modern, materialistic, and often competitive
society. In this challenging environment, one of
the keys to success is to develop awareness both
of your own teaching inclinations and of your
students learning styles. To help your students
expand their skills, you first need to examine
your perceptions of yourself as an example and
mentor. If you explore your own moral compass
and motives, you gain understanding, tolerance,
and compassion for your students. If, on the other
hand, you do not balance your personal needs and
desires with the demands of providing service to
others, you will likely experience teacher burnout.
This chapter highlights several aspects of
teaching yoga, including ways to build trust and
rapport with your students, ways to optimize
your students yoga experience based on their
learning styles, and instructor traits often cited
by students as preferable or not preferable. This
information will help you recognize and expand
your own capabilities and those of your students.
The chapter also presents guidelines for applying
hands-on adjustments as well as questions to ask
yourself before doing so.
Yoga teacher training programs often require
a solid background in yoga practice for at least
one year and generally more. This is a wise
approach, because your teaching style should
form as an extension of your personal practice. A
practice of your own not only gives you tremendous insight into the asanas but also provides
you with residual calm and confidence for times
when you are too busy teaching to enjoy a yoga
class for yourself.
The process of learning to teach yoga can take
years, but you can accelerate it by reading and
applying the information provided in this book.
Even if you are relatively new to the practice of
yoga, you can use this material to evaluate your
readiness, willingness, and ability to begin teaching. Toward this end, appendix C offers a selfinquiry questionnaire to help you introspect while
studying the information provided in this book.

Qualities of a Yoga Teacher


First, you may be relieved to know that you do not
have to be able to put your foot behind your head
in order to be a good yoga teacher. You do need to

look deep within yourself to find the qualities that


you can use to build trust and instill confidence
in your students. These qualities allow you to
demonstrate both to yourself and to your students
that you have the knowledge and experience to
guide them authoritatively through a class. This
is true for both veteran and novice instructors.
A yoga teachers main responsibility is to help
people remember themselves as they travel the
path of self-awarenessto help them become
whole again. As young children, we explored
our bodies and tested our boundaries; unfortunately, as adults we generally forget the joys and
challenges of that exploration. People often pay
no attention to their bodies, other than in superficial critiques, unless they are feeling intense
pain or displeasure. Even athletes tend to focus
on the performance of their bodies rather than
the associated sensations. In fact, they often play
through pain in an effort to win, believing that the
no pain, no gain mentality is a virtuous model
of behavior.
After years of disassociation from bodily
awareness, it may be difficult for people to perceive sensations that are not painful enough to
grab their attention. It is as if their mental muscles have atrophied; that is, people who are used
to paying attention to their bodies only when they
can no longer ignore the pain have experienced
atrophy of awareness. Your job is to open their
minds and hearts through yoga in order to guide
them back to that integral awareness. Do not
expect, however, to stand up in front of a group
of complete strangers and miraculously send
them on a path to bliss. You first need to open
your own heart to them and allow their hearts
to open to you.

To gain or enhance your ability to


guide your students to their own
awareness, remember the four Cs of
teaching yoga: connection, compassion, confidence, and commitment.

Connection
Think back on the most joyous learning you
have experienced with the help of a mentor.
Most likely, your joy derived in part from the
strong connection you felt with your instructor

Basics of Teaching Yoga

Find Your Purpose


Kathy Lee Kappmeier, coauthor of the first edition of Instructing Hatha Yoga, once served as a delegate
at the International Yoga Conference in Rishikesh, India. While there, she asked Swami Veda Bharati
for his opinions on requirements of yoga teachers in todays world. He spoke about connection and the
importance of each teachers ability to facilitate a change in consciousness in students. He explained
that a good yoga teacher is someone who, simply by presence and manner, can soothe another person.
The renowned scholar and spiritual master also said that he worries about the hours of training focused
on the exercise and fitness aspects of asanas and wonders if this concentration truly perpetuates the art of
yoga teaching. He questioned whether the essence of yoga itself might be lost. He said that he felt some
yoga schools have lost sight of yogas vast lineage. He wants the legacy of yoga to be protected, and he
fears that the greatest benefits of yoga will be buried if teachers do not pay attention to its roots as they
endeavor to become leaf sprouts on the living tree of yoga.

and your realization that she or he understood


you and knew just the right way to guide you to
your own new understanding. The two of you
established a meaningful connectiona link of
understandingthat created a bond of trust. As
an instructor, your job is to create the same kind
of connection with your students so that they are
active participants in learning.
One of the simplest ways to connect with your
students is to ask and remember their names.
Knowing students names builds rapport and lets
them know that you care about them as people. As
you get to know how a students body moves, and
as she feels more comfortable around you, you
increase her sense of well-being. This connection
builds trust and understanding. Over time, the
more a student trusts you, the more he follows
your instructions to listen to his body instead of
listening to his mental chatter.
A skilled yoga teacher directs students to take
as much responsibility as possible for themselves
during class. For example, by instructing students
to avoid going into a posture or to come out of a
posture if they feel pain, you empower them and
invite them to explore their bodies and minds
on a deeper level. By asking students how they
feel in their postureswhere they feel strength,
weakness, tightness, or fatigueyou help them
connect with their inner teachers. This inner
knowledge allows them to find and expand the
edge of their awareness.
Always remember that your personal yoga
practice is one of your most important resources
and assets. Regardless of how many teachers you
study under, or how many yoga texts you read,

your personal practice is how you authentically


connect with yourself time after time. With
practice, the wisdom and skill of yoga science
flow through you into your students. At times,
you may hear words coming out of your mouth
and not know consciously where they came from
or how you knew what to say. This experience
derives from your reconnecting to the vast source
of yoga knowledge.

Compassion
It is essential when teaching to express the compassion you have for yourself and for your students. Compassion resides in your heart center
the Anahata chakra [uh-nuh-HUT-uh CHUK-ruh].
It is an expression of your passion to nurture and
provide care to others. In a book that he wrote
about his father, renowned master yoga teacher
Krishnamacharya, T.K.V. Desikachar (2005)
emphasized the importance of caring:
The qualities we seek in a teacher are
a life devoted to practice; evidence
that he or she, too, is ever a student of
yoga; a nature that is always truthful;
a commitment to the students own
awareness and possibilities, each in
his own terms. And caringabove all,
caring. When people arrive . . . and ask
us, Can you help me? the only answer
we can give is I can care.
Show your students that you care about them
by choosing your words and actions thoughtfully.

21

Instructing Hatha Yoga

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22

To show students that you care about their efforts to reach their individual potential, avoid emphasizing that their alignment is wrong when applying physical adjustments.

Be sure you really know what you are saying and


what exactly your words mean. For example,
some yoga teachers seem to go around correcting their students with adjustments, as if the
students body movements are inappropriate,
thus making them feel inferior. If you use the
word correct, then you imply to some students
that they are doing something wrong. If, however,
you apply adjustments with the attitude that you
have been given the opportunity to assist students
as they experience deeper, more relaxed postures,
you provide them with an act of kindness and
coaching.
There is no such thing as perfection, and there
should be no competition anywhere in your class.
It is thoughtful to explain to your students that if
you physically adjust them, it does not mean they
are doing anything wrong; conversely, if you do
not touch them, it does not mean that they have
reached perfection. Providing adjustments and
modifications lovingly allows students to find and

experience the truth of their bodies and minds in


any given pose.
In addition to caring for your students, you
must also have compassion for yourself and realize that you will not know all the answers to all
the questions that your students will ask. Yoga is
too vast a field to master quickly or completely.
Recognize that your teaching style will not appeal
to everyone, and do not take it personally if a student finds another instructor or offers criticism,
whether constructive or not.
Have compassion for yourself and recognize
that though it may not always feel like it, you
and your circumstances are ideal just as they are.
Believing this will help you relate to and help students who experience many of the same struggles
you do. Some of the best teachers have worked
through physical or emotional difficulties, and
their understanding of their own concerns gives
them deeper insight into their students struggles. If, on the other hand, asanas come easily

Basics of Teaching Yoga


to you, then it may be difficult for you to work
with others who have trouble understanding the
postures in the beginning. However, when you
can empathize with and nurture your students,
you become a source of connection, caring, and
compassion.

Confidence
It is normal to feel nervous when you are teaching, especially in a new setting or style. However,
if you do not exude some semblance of confidence, your students will have difficulty trusting
or believing in you or, perhaps, in the benefits
of practicing yoga. Even new teachers can seem
extraordinary if they stick to what they know and
have confidence in the ability to do so. Tap into
the well of knowledge that you have created for
yourself, and your passion will shine through.
One example of how confidence can lead you
through new situations is illustrated by Judith
Hanson Lasater, an accomplished yoga leader
in the United States and abroad. When she first
taught yoga, she did so because the teacher she
had been studying with needed a substitute.
Although she was not sure what to do, she did not
want to let the class down, so she led the students
through some poses and kept saying, If it hurts,
dont do it. Theoretically, you can lead a nice,
relaxing yoga class simply by saying, Breathe.
If it hurts, dont do it. Relax. Breathe. Thus it is
possible for a humble beginning to unfold into
a calling and a new career. No matter what, it is
crucial to maintain your humility and teach what
you truly know.
Real confidence is not arrogance, nor is it
rooted in ignorance. Confidence is part of your
personal power or ego strength and might be felt
in your third chakrathe Manipura [muhn-EEpoor-uh] chakra, or solar plexus center. Being
confident also does not mean having a closed
mind. In fact, the more confident you are in your
teaching, the less you are threatened by others
who may criticize, teach differently, or appear to
be more commercially successful. Moreover, you
need to be confident in order to speak clearly and
compellingly in front of a group. Assert yourself
without being overly aggressive. Believing in
yourself and your abilities gives you the confidence you need.

Sometimes self-doubt can creep into your


psyche. Do not worry or allow yourself to think
that students are coming to your class only
because it is inexpensive, is close to their homes,
or takes place during a convenient time. Rest
assured that people will not come to your class
if they do not think you are good, even if you live
right next door! Be the person you would like to
take a class from. For your students, be the yoga
teacher they need at any given time by being genuine. Also, continually help build up your students.
Encourage them throughout class and let them
know when you see changes in them over time.
These interactions build their confidence and give
them a feeling of self-satisfaction.

Commitment
Always take time to reflect on the scope of your
knowledge and ability as an instructor. Doing so
strengthens your integrity not only as an instructor but also as a caring, compassionate human
being. Regardless of your innate teaching ability,
you must know well the information that you are
teaching. For some people, acquiring the information is the easy part, whereas learning how to
impart it is more challenging. You can enhance
your ability to share information effectively by
exploring your own body and its physical and
mental boundaries; this experience helps you
better understand the bodies and psyches of your
students. All of this is possible if you are sincere
and honest, regardless of where you begin on
your teaching path.
If you commit yourself to being the best
teacher you can be, you will consistently look for
and find ways to improve yourself. Remain open
to learning new ways of teaching and finding
new ideas. Be the proverbial student so that you
can share your newfound knowledge with your
students. As you travel the path of a yoga instructor, keep your mind open to learning, even as
you pass knowledge along to your students. The
late Georg Feuerstein, renowned yoga scholar,
stated, Even when, after due preparation, we
are called to teach others, we would be wise
to remain learnersor, in traditional terms, to
cultivate beginners mind. . . . [W]e stop growing
when we think there is nothing more to learn
(2002, p. 37).

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Becoming a Yoga Teacher


Some people begin teaching yoga because they
have practiced the discipline for some time, feel
that yoga has changed their lives in a meaningful
way, and wish to share this gift with others. They
want to serve as a link in the lineage of ancient
wisdom and dispense the knowledge to their
students. Others, including many in the fitness
industry, have discovered that yoga is kind to
the body and that teaching yoga has a far gentler
impact on the joints, muscles, voice, and feet
than teaching aerobics, Spinning, kickboxing,
or water exercise. For many, then, teaching yoga
keeps them connected to students and allows
them to give their own bodies a respite from
high-intensity work.
Although you should not use teaching yoga as
a way to get more workouts in, you may be happy
to find your stress suspended as you focus fully on
your classes. The work of your heart, head, and
hands gets stronger through teaching. Indeed, a
well-taught yoga class can be a peak experience
not only for your students but also for you.
Long ago in India, yoga teachers never charged
a fee for their services. Indeed, doing so was
considered sacrilegious because teaching was
believed to be not a job but a calling. In contrast,
in todays world economy, there is no escaping
the fact that yoga has become a fitness and
wellness commodity. Unless you are officially
volunteering your teaching hours, you do need to
be fairly compensated. However, if money is your
primary motivation for teaching yoga, then you
either have the unusual circumstance of serving a
wealthy and generous benefactor or you are sadly
mistaken. Fortunately, most teachers of yoga
find that the satisfaction of teaching generally
outweighs financial concerns.
By attending continually to your reasons
and motivations for teaching, you allow yourself the space to change and grow. It cannot be
emphasized enough that your greatest assets as a
teacher are your own personal practice and your
experiences with your students. Neglecting your
personal practice creates an energetic imbalance
in you and often produces a profound disconnect
between you and your students. Keeping these
connections at the forefront of your mind brings
the meaning and purpose of yoga to life in yourself. To guide your exploration of your personal
yoga practice and teaching, make regular use of

the self-inquiry questionnaire (appendix C) and


the yoga class evaluation form (appendix D).

Regardless of why you want to teach


yoga, the most important things
are that you teach well and help
your students relax their minds and
expand their spiritsall while protecting their bodies from physical
injury.

Education
No matter how long you have studied and practiced yoga, you can always gain deeper knowledge and insight. Retain a beginners mind-set
and stay open to new experiences. Take classes
and workshops to open yourself up to new ways
of thinking and to keep yourself energized. It is
rejuvenating to interact with other instructors as
a peer and as a student. Use the comprehensive
yoga class evaluation form presented in appendix
D to evaluate your class or that of another teacher.
Depending on your schedule, it may seem
impossible for you to find the time to attend
other yoga classes. However, especially as a new
teacher, the more you attend classes taught by
others, the better off both you and your students
will be. Find a good teacher who motivates you
and whose classes enable you to feel comfortably challenged on all levels. Try to attend these
classes for an average of 8 hours a month; this
time investment benefits you and sets a solid
example for your students of practicing what
you preach. In addition, students enjoy seeing
their own instructors in other classes that they
attend. If you have been teaching yoga for some
time, then you might try taking a 1-hour class for
every 10 to 20 hours that you teach.
If you are a novice instructor and cannot find
the time to physically attend other classes, the
next best thing is to access outside instruction via
video, whether online or in the form of a DVD.
This approach can give you a taste of classes
conducted by well-known instructors. Although it
cannot give you the tailored feedback and teaching provided by a live instructor, a good recorded
class can be replayed and studied or simply
enjoyed as a mini retreat from your daily grind.

Basics of Teaching Yoga

Your Personal Practice

DuxX/istock.com

You can also benefit from the excitement and


energy of a conference or workshop, which can
both inspire you and expose you to the latest
developments in yoga. The more you remain
abreast of trends, research, and news that you
can share with your students, the better you
serve both their needs and your own. In addition,
attending a conference or workshop is a good
way to avoid falling into a rut or getting burned
out. If you go to a workshop, ask yourself how
the information and experience will contribute to
both your teaching and your personal practice.
Usually, if your personal practice is uplifted, so
is your teaching.
One last caveat on education: If you have not
yet studied how to provide hands-on adjustments
safely, it is best not to attempt them until you
have. Seek out the education and experience you
need, and in the meantime be mindful of your
students needs and make it your top priority to
do no harm (ahimsa [uh-HEEM-saah]).

Regardless of how you teach your classes, your personal


practice should always reflect your own particular needs
and intentions.

In addition to continuing to gain knowledge


through classes and workshops, it is important
for you to maintain a regular personal yoga practice so that you gain firsthand experience of the
benefits of yoga. You serve as an example for your
students when you practice what you preach and
can honestly share with them how yoga positively
influences your own life. For example, students
feel reassured when you tell them that you once
struggled with meditation or with a specific posture and that you discoveredas they will with
consistent practicethat it does get easier. When
students look at you as a work in progress, they
have more faith that they will advance in their
practice as well.
Nothing can replace the wisdom you gain from
the consistency of applied awareness over time.
As you teach, you may see yourself in some of
your students, which can make it easier to explain
certain aspects of an asana to them. At the same
time, as you answer their questions, you increase
your own understanding of the mechanics and
benefits of a given asana. In addition, when you
practice an asana at home, you gain insight into
how to instruct others regarding aspects of that
position. For example, if you have tight hips and
are practicing yoga sincerely, then you become an
expert on tight hips and how to work with them.
Reflect on your personal motives for practicing yoga so that when you teach you can relate
honestly to your students. Learning about yourself gives you insight into the struggles and joys
that your students experience as you guide them
through a class. Sharing deep philosophical
truths that you learn through study and reflection can help you shape your classes and give
the entire experience a more profound meaning.
You may also find yourself teaching asanas
very differently from the way in which you
practice them. This is fine. For example, it is
absolutely okay to teach a vigorous yoga class
and enjoy a much gentler practice at home. You
practice what you crave during your own time
and give your students what they need during
theirs. Similarly, no doubt, many music teachers
help their students with pop music yet prefer jazz
when they play at home.
One thing that a new instructor may not realize
is that teaching yoga often does take time away
from ones own practice. As in teaching any subject

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or activity, it takes a great deal of time and energy
to gain the necessary knowledge and competence
for yoga teaching and to prepare for and facilitate
classes. For this reason, you must decide what
teaching yoga is worth to you and balance that
value with what you believe your personal time
is worth. Unless you are a famous teacher or own
a very popular yoga center, yoga instruction is
generally a part-time job that does not provide
great monetary benefits. It does, however, bestow
great karmic boons, such as the satisfaction of
watching others heal and grow through yoga.

Ethics
As with any occupation in which one deals
directly with the public, yoga instructors must
follow certain moral guidelines to protect the
rights, safety, and well-being of both the students and the instructor. Indeed, the Yoga Sutras
list ahimsa (no harm) as the first yama [YUHmuh](social restraint) in the foundational limb
of all of yoga. As a yoga instructor, then, your
primary duty is to do no harm to any student
through action, thought, or word.
As of yet, no laws have been passed in the
U.S.regarding behavioral interactions between
yoga teachers and their students. However, many
schools of hatha yoga have established specific
standards that generally follow the basic code of
professional ethics created by the California Yoga
Teachers Association in 1995, which states, All
forms of sexual behavior or harassment with students are unethical, even when a student invites
or consents to such behavior and involvement
(http://www.anandainfo.com/ethics_code.html).
In addition, in 2013, Yoga Alliance updated its
Code of Conduct, which emphasizes the importance of following the traditional tenets of yoga,
adhering to local governmental laws, practicing
within the scope of ones knowledge, and protecting the well-being and respecting the diversity
of students (www.yogaalliance.org/AboutYA/
OurPolicies/CodeofConduct).
Having tea with a student after class can be
harmless, even healthy, but dating a student
borders on being unethical. It can be tough to
know where to draw the line in extending yourself socially or even professionally with your
students outside of class. In no case should you
jeopardize the studentteacher relationship, and
it is very risky to blindly agree to spend time with
a student alone in a non-yoga-related activity.

Even best friends have been known to part ways


after taking a trip together or lending money to
one another, and it is in no ones best interest to
risk the studentteacher relationship. However, if
someone in your class is destined to be your best
friend, then surely it will unfold in time.
One risk in having a close personal relationship
with a student lies in the fact that if a student
is aware of your personal concerns, she might
have a hard time just being your student during
class. Indeed, she might begin to see you in a different light, and instead of being totally present
for herself during class she might think of her
interactions with you as a friend and guide. The
student might also disagree with your handling
of a personal concern and wonder if perhaps you
do not know what you are doing in any area of
your life, including teaching yoga. It can be a very
fine linebetween being a person with faults (like
everybody else) and being a perceived authority
figure who helps others. Therefore, you must
strike a balance between your private and professional life.
If you feel sincerely drawn to become more
intimately involved with a student, then it is best
that you not continue to be that students teacher.
If, after some months, the personal relationship is
moving along well, then you both may feel comfortable with the person taking part in your class
again. Remember that yoga is not about taking a
black-and-white approach to concerns or guidelines, and there are exceptions to rules. Always
be mindful, however, of the very real and serious
risks that you as a yoga teacher are open to if you
see students on a basis that is more than casual.

Discovering Your Teaching Style


When you stand in front of a roomful of yoga
students, you may feel like a performer. You
may even get into a character, and your public
teaching persona may appear to be much different from the person you are when you are not
teaching. There is nothing wrong with acting
as you teach; all teachers need to find the most
comfortable way to express themselves. The
most important part of teaching is to serve as a
channel through which knowledge flows as you
connect with receptive students. You may slip in
a little humor or storytelling to get and keep the
students tuned in. Just remember that teaching
is your top priority, and your purpose is not to
entertain but to guide.

Basics of Teaching Yoga


If you do find that you can mix in a little
entertainment in order to facilitate enlightenment, then by all means do sobut only as a
way to enhance students yoga education, not
to overshadow it. The lessons of practicing yoga
should be in the figurative spotlight. Even if you
have a physical stage from which to teach, with
the students on the floor below you, you yourself
should never be in the spotlight. Rather, you shine
the light on yoga, which, as much as possible, is
illuminated from within each student.
As you engage your various students and their
diverse intelligences and ways of learning, remain
aware that at any given moment a student may
get distracted and allow his or her mind to focus
elsewhere. If you pay close attention, you can
gently reel a students awareness back to your
instruction by facilitating what is called a state
change. When students appear not to listen or fail
to respond, it may occur because their attention
span is short, because your voice is monotone,
or because they are distracted or bored. You can
usually lure their wandering minds back to the
activity at hand if you suddenly, yet subtly, raise or
lower your voice, change the pace of your words,
or walk around the room.
Not only must you appeal to a broad range of
learning styles and abilities, but also you must
sufficiently charm your class with the qualities

that students believe you should have in order to


keep their interest. From years of experience in
teaching yoga in many different settings, I have
composed a summary of what students typically
like and dislike about their yoga instructors (see
table 2.1). Keep these tendencies in mind as you
settle into your teaching style, but always remember to be as genuine as possible.

Recognizing Your Students


Needs
People come to yoga class for many different
reasons. If your class includes 25 students, they
probably have, at the very least, 25 different
reasons for being there. To name but a few,
these motivations may include stress reduction,
increased flexibility, relaxation, improved fitness,
and weight loss. Whatever a given students goal
is, it may change from one class session to the
next.
Some people even have a hidden agenda for
practicing yoga, and this is not necessarily a
bad thing; not all reasons need to be noble ones.
For example, if a person is motivated to practice
yoga simply to look better, doing so is far better

Table 2.1 Students Likes and Dislikes About Instructor Characteristics


Likes

Dislikes

Is outgoing and charismatic; has a magnetic personality.


Uses good music.
Cues clearly; uses cues that motivate people to work
harder.
Is personable without sharing too much.
Has an unshakable positive attitude.
Uses a routine that flows well.
Is consistent.
Builds good rapport with students.
Is funny or witty.
Gives an intense, yet conscientious class; challenges without losing people.
Genuinely seems to care about students.
Has a motivating physique.
Is prepared and organized.
Has unstoppable high energy.
Is professional.
Moves around while teaching.
Has star quality; is someone to emulate.
Takes notice of each person.
Facilitates a sense of family in the class.

Uses the same music for too long.


Uses poor cues.
Shares too much about personal life.
Is too loud or has a high-pitched voice.
Teaches with the microphone too close to the face.
Uses any negative comments.
Stops too often during the session.
Is tardy too often.
Gets subs too often.
Brags, is self-absorbed, or seems distant from students.
Picks on students, even if its meant to be tongue in cheek.
Sticks with an advanced combination when it is clear that
people are not following.
Makes political or religious comments.
Has low or inconsistent energy.
Wears clothing that is too revealing or ill fitting.
Complainsfor example, about the sound equipment or
the previous instructor.
Has an outdated appearance or style.
Seems to be uninterested in getting to know students.

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than not practicing yoga at all. If another person
hopes to meet like-minded people or find the
one, what better place to make connections than
a yoga class?
Many times, some people come to yoga class
who wouldnt dare show up for a CrossFit, spinning, or kickboxing session. Your class might
include, for example, an older woman with severe
osteoporosis, a middle-aged man with a low-back
injury, a young pregnant woman, or a stressedout college student. You may not be able to teach
more than a few simple postures and a breathing
technique, but if you do so with a soothing voice
or an inspiring quote, your students usually leave
feeling more serene and relaxed than when they
arrived.
It is a teachers job to ask students to express
their goals. Why have they come to class? For
stress reduction, to gain strength or flexibility, to
get away from the everyday aspects of life? What
do they expect to gain from their time with you?
In addition, many instructors ask their students
if they have particular areas of the body that need
attention and then structure the class to accommodate these requests.
People usually feel euphoric after a yoga class,
but occasionally emotions other than bliss surface during a class, especially during Shavasana
(Corpse Pose)the resting portion of a practice
session.Many people, in their attempt to escape
pain and discomfort, keep themselves busy in
order to avoid feeling distress. As a result, when
the mind gets a chance to truly relax, suppressed
emotions may surface. Your job as the yoga
teacher is to offer a safe and peaceful space for
all of your students.
You can empathize with your students without
even saying a word. Once students begin Shavasana, they should rarely be disturbed because
this is their personal, private time. However, if
a student needs your assistance, you need to be
there when she or he asks. You can reassure the
student that feeling emotional is not an abnormal
response when practicing yoga. The purpose of
yoga is to connect with what is real. Let the student know that sometimes part of the mental and
emotional balancing process releases stored-up
energy, such as sadness or even pain.
In terms of physical responses, reassure students that crying is a normal process, like passing
gas or sneezing, by which the body relieves itself.
If something needs to be released, it needs to be
released! Suppressing it is unhealthy. If a student

passes gas during class, you would not call attention to it. Recognize that tears, sighing, and even
seemingly excessive yawning are other kinds of
gentle physical releases that can be induced by
yoga practice.
The only caveat about dealing with an emotional student is to be careful not to take on the
role of counselor. Your time with your students
should not extend more than 10 minutes beyond
the end of class, if that. Boundaries are important.
If students want to ask you a quick question, then,
if you are so inclined, spend a few minutes before
or after class to answer it. But if the same student
keeps asking you numerous questions about how
he should be practicing at home, which poses are
best for him and his condition, or other concerns,
tell the student what your hourly rate is for private
sessions or refer him to someone else. And if a
student asks for advice about personal concerns,
direct her elsewhere unless you are a professional
counselor.
As a yoga teacher, you are like a parent to your
students, standing up for them and supporting
their efforts. You are a sponsor, an advocate, and
a coachmaybe part friend and part drill sergeantand someone who can guide others to the
next level of their personal awareness. Because
you took the journey yourself, you understand
how to guide your students along their path.

Learning Styles You Will


Encounter
Just as each student has her or his own reasons
for attending yoga class, each person also has an
individual way of learning. A given person may
use multiple learning styles in varying degrees.
Your objective is to develop your teaching intelligence as much as possible while using your
students learning styles for their edification.
There are three fundamental learning styles:
visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (Barbe 1979).
Visual learners need to see what they are being
taught, auditory learners conceptualize learning
through hearing, and kinesthetic learners absorb
information best through touch and movement.
Remember, however, that few if any people
learn solely through one approach. Fortunately,
many cues you use will overlap words, images,
and touch so that your instruction can be more
universal. You can use visual and verbal cues by

Basics of Teaching Yoga


explaining a pose while demonstrating for students,in addition to directing her or his awareness to where they might generally feel a given
posture in their bodies. When you engage all three
basic learning styles, you allow each student to
receive instruction in the way that he or she can
most easily understand in that moment.

Visual Learners
Students who are visual learners prefer that the
instructor demonstrate poses. They also respond
well to verbal cues that create imagery in their
minds. For example, an appropriate cue for a
visual learner might be Imagine that there is a
wall behind you as you are standing in Triangle
Pose and that you are becoming more flush with
that wall as you press your shoulder blades back.
Visual learners also appreciate photographs and
illustrations of poses. One disadvantage for visual
learners is that they tend not to feel their own
bodies in the asana. Instead, they have an organic
need to see how to be in the pose; therefore, these
learners sometimes experience a gap in feedback
if you do not provide them with a visual reference.
For example, when instructing them to lower
their shoulders from their ears, it is a good idea
to have them peek in a mirror, if available, to
see their raised shoulders first. Similarly, invite
them to look down at their thighs as they rotate
externally to open the hips more deeply. Otherwise, they may have trouble grasping what you
mean. Visual learners may be able to imagine and
respond to such an instruction, but they must
usually overcome a steep learning curve if they
cannot see their own bodies. If you find yourself
teaching without the aid of mirrors, you can use
a work-around by duplicating the students body
position and then moving your body into the
more appropriate position. Partner work can
also help these students grasp the mechanics of
many poses.

Auditory Learners
Auditory learners pick up information by listening. For example, whereas visual learners read
musical notes in order to play a song, people who
can play a tune after simply hearing it are good
auditory learners. These students are receptive
to skillfully offered verbal cues. They learn from
your words and may be able to practice at home
by hearing your words in their heads, especially
if you have a soothing teaching voice.

Invite auditory learners to close their eyes and


figuratively listen to what their bodies say to
them as you instruct them to move deeper into an
asana. As you direct students through class, tell
them which specific areas of the body to focus on
and what types of sensation they might expect to
feel. Throughout your cueing, use many different
descriptive words.

Kinesthetic Learners
As compared with visual and auditory learners,
kinesthetic learners can more easily feel places in
their bodies that cannot be seen from the outside.
They may be unsure, however, of what or where
they are supposed to feel in an asana. To reach these
learners, indicate which places in their bodies
they should attend to and invite them to notice
specifically what they feel there. For example,
in Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing
Dog), direct students to note the weight of the
head helping to stretch the necks and elongate the
spine while opening space between the vertebrae.
Kinesthetic learners benefit less from demonstration and verbal cues and more from experiencing a posture in their own bodiesthat is,
from feeling the sensations of their bodies as
they move through space. Because they readily
feel changes in their bodies, they can directly
understand how to adjust an asana. Such learners
also typically enjoy hands-on adjustment because
they can more properly align themselves based
on their sensations. For example, kinesthetic
learners may initially have trouble with the verbal
instruction Breathe into your lower back. But if
you lightly place your hand on a students lower
back and say, Breathe into my hands, he will
usually connect to the cue. As a result, you will
feel the students lower back relax and gently
expand with the inhalation.

Ayurvedic Humors
Another factor in how a person learns has to do
with basic disposition, or humor, as it is called
in the ancient practice of Ayurveda [AAH-yoorveh-duh]. This sister science to yoga is a holistic medical system that has been practiced in
India for many centuries. It posits three basic
humors, called doshas [DOH-shuhs], each of
which emphasizes a particular way of learning
and processing information. The three doshas
arevata [VAAH-tuh], pitta [PIT-tuh], and kapha

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[KUP-huh]. Everyone has all three doshas but
in various proportions, and in most people one
dosha is primary.
The doshas are made up of the five elements:
earth, water, fire, air, and ether (sometimes
referred to as space). Vata individuals relate to the
air and ether elements. These individuals tend to
have an airy or spacy (sometimes frenetic) quality about them and may be described as having
their heads in the clouds. A student with a mostly
vata constitution may be easily distracted. For
example, he or she may seem to immediately
grasp a concept, such as lifting the kneecaps, but
moments later seem to have forgotten all about
it. You can help such students by repeating your
directions numerous times.
Pitta people have the fire energy or element
in their humor. They tend to heat up faster than
individuals with a vata or kapha constitution.
Pitta students tend to stay present and focused on
their tasks; therefore, whereas vata learners tend
to ask questions just for the sake of exploring,
pitta students gather facts with a particular goal
in mind. They also appreciate direct and specific
instructions.
The kapha dosha is made up of earth and water.
Kapha students may be slower to grasp information, but once they understand lessons they
tend to remember them well. The earth element
of the kapha dosha is practically the opposite of
the air energy of the vata dosha. Whereas vata
people can be seen fluttering around nonstop,
perhaps socializing with other students before

and after class, kapha students are content to


lie down on the mat until the teacher gives the
command to begin class. Kapha students respond
well to slow, descriptive cues that enable them to
completely absorb the meaning and intention of
an instruction.
There is more to the doshas than these basic
behaviors and learning styles, but this introduction is sufficient for the purpose of teaching yoga.
While everyone has a combination of each dosha,
most peoples primary dosha is readily apparent.
This is true of the three basic styles of learning
as well. For example, a student may learn well
both visually and by auditory means while having
plenty of pitta and kapha energy. The main point
here is that people are combinations of many
variables that affect their learning; therefore, you
need to employ teaching techniques that appeal
to multiple styles of learning and to the various
doshas. Use table 2.2 as a guide in matching
learning styles with specific teaching methods.

Class Management
When you teach yoga, you are a channel of
ancient knowledge, imparting what you know
to each of your students on a level to which they
can relate. In this process, you are an authority,
and it is important to maintain control over your
class. It is also crucial, however, to temper that
authority with humility and a realization that

Table 2.2 Learning Styles and Teaching Methods


Learning style or
Ayurvedic humor

Learning tendencies

How best to teach

Visual

Look up often, which frequently takes them


off task and out of position

Physically demonstrate poses; provide verbal


imagery.

Auditory

Often feel lost when no verbal instructions


are given

Give many and varied verbal cues; use nondistracting background music.

Kinesthetic

Need to become familiar with the movement Provide hands-on adjustments and remind
and flow of a posture in order to feel the
them to breathe.
effects

Vata

Fast, conceptual learners but quick to forget


and easily distracted

Provide structure to keep their attention


focused.

Pitta

Intensely focused and perhaps intolerant of


high temperature or of a teacher who lacks
confidence

Provide detailed descriptions and answer


questions accurately and authoritatively.

Kapha

Slow, patient learners with good retention


but can lack drive

Provide frequent motivational feedback.

Basics of Teaching Yoga


not every student in your class is able to connect
with you. Still, if students start talking, or if
people who are not students come in, it is up to
you to serve as a peace officer by asking them to
be quiet. Whatever rules you have should always
be applied equally.
Some teachers lock the door once class begins
so that a tardy student does not disturb a class
in progress. However, this practice is not always
acceptable or even possible to enforce in todays
hectic world. Still, instructors cannot simply
stop the class and make everyone else wait while
attending to a new or late-arriving student. Nevertheless, you may need to take action in order
to avoid a bigger concern, such as incurring
liability for injury. For instance, a new student
who arrives late may not know enough to warm
up on his or her own and may therefore jump
into whatever posture the class is practicing at
the moment, which could put that student in a
potentially injurious position. In this situation,
many teachers direct the rest of the students to
hold a pose while they attend to latecomers long
enough for them to integrate with the rest of the
group. If instances like these happen occasionally,
most of the on-time students will be accepting.
However, if situations like this occur often, students will definitely complain.
Part of what a yoga class involves is not letting
others distract you; another part is not contributing to the distraction of others. With these
concerns in mind, when you are faced with a
perpetually tardy student, take time to explain
that coming in late is disrespectful to the class.
This explanation is best done at the end of a class.
Deliver it in a nonjudgmental but firm manner
so that the student understands the detrimental
effect of being late not only on the class as a
whole but also on the quality of her or his own
experience.
In addition, because the warm-up and resting
periods are vital to the class, explain to students
that if they come in late they need to do a physical and mental warm-up on their own. Good
warm-up options include Surya Namaskara (Sun
Salutation) and most standing poses. By the same
token, if students must leave early, they need to
spend time in Shavasana on their own before
they leave.
You may also wish to establish a policy about
being tardy and leaving early. The details of such
a policy depend on where you work and on the
population you teach. Ideally, everyone should be

present for the start and end of class; however,


life does happen, and sometimes a person cannot
avoid being late or must leave early. Therefore,
it is prudent to establish a general plan or policy
regarding how to deal with tardy and even intrusive people. In a studio setting, it is typically the
management's responsibility to create policies
regarding how best to operate, based on their
resources; for example, are front-desk personnel
available to monitor students arrivals and departures, or are teachers on their own once class
begins? In independent settings, instructors must
decide what they feel is acceptable behavior for
their students and present their policies directly
to the students.
At one time or another, you may have a student in your class who in some way adversely
affects other members of the class. If it is a
simple matter of, for instance, a student wearing
copious amounts of perfume (or cologne), then
the solution is to ask the student to refrain from
wearing scents because some students are highly
sensitive to them. Finding a resolution may not be
so easy if a student makes inappropriate remarks,
harasses another student, or constantly talks
during class. In any case, your responsibility is to
communicate with compassion but in a way that
indicates clearly what behaviors are unacceptable
and need to change.
You cannot always prevent hurt feelings,
because you cannot control someone elses emotions. To minimize the chances of offending or
upsetting a student, speak in terms of facts, not
judgments. Just as a parent must sometimes say
no to a child, you have to enforce certain boundaries with students. As someone in a position of
authority, you must be consistent so that your
students know what to expect from you and from
the class as a whole. How strictly you control your
class depends both on the style of yoga you teach
and on the people you are teaching. Although
yoga has a long history steeped in tradition, it also
is a living art, which means that it is adaptable
and constantly evolvingand you are part of that
ongoing history.

Relating Information
Your students learning depends on how you
deliver and relate information to them. If you
are not a good conduit of yoga information,
students will have difficulty learning from you.

31

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Instructing Hatha Yoga

ASANA: Methods of a Good Instructor


Ahimsa
(and ask)
Suggest

Align

Nurture

Assess

Cause no harm to your students or yourself. Take requests, get permission to touch, and inquire
about your students conditions and goals.
Be direct and confident with your instructions but let students know that they should modify
poses or rest at any time as needed. Constantly direct your students attention back to the breath.
Advocate good physical and mental alignment to prevent injury and promote balance. Become
an ally who helps students overcome distractions and disharmony. Be sincere and professional.
Give specific positive reinforcement. Provide a safe and soothing space that allows students to
be comfortably challenged throughout their practice.
Constantly monitor the energy of the practice session. Be aware of the overall group, as well
as each students learning style and needs, and progress accordingly.

To help you succeed in relating information,


the accompanying sidebar provides a checklist
of keys to remember. Specifically, it uses the
letters of the word asana as a mnemonic device
for remembering good teaching methods: a for
ahimsa (and ask), s for suggest, a for align, n for
nurture, and a for assess.

Ahimsa (and Ask)


Ahimsa is the practice of nonharming. Your first
duty as an instructor and a human being is to
avoid physical or emotional injury of others at
all times. Protect your students well-being by
adhering to ethical standards of honesty and good
conduct. Be trustworthy as you build rapport.
Ask permission before you touch your students;
inquire about what they need from you. In addition, show compassion to yourself. Be mindful
of your own body mechanics when you adjust a
student, and be aware of your workload in order
to prevent teacher burnout. Take care of yourself
by setting boundaries and making time to practice
yoga on your own every day.

Suggest
Encourage students to take your instructions as
suggestions. Invite students to explore how your
suggestions affect them as they also listen to their
bodies to see if they need a rest or modification.
Deliver each instruction with humble authority,
compassion, and confidence. At the same time,
when you are teaching a diverse group of people
with varying physical conditions and levels of
training, you must give relative instructions.

Even if you have only one student, or if you


are practicing yourself, be open to the possibility that at any time a modification may be in
order. Sometimes, for example, a student cannot
muster the strength or focus to be in a posture
that everyone else seems to engage in easily. In
addition, because some people do not give themselves permission to be noncompetitive, you need
to remind them that everything but breathing
is optional in yoga class. Remind them that the
class is all about them as individuals, and that
advancement in yoga occurs when one listens
to his or her inner teachereven if that means
backing away from a pose.

Align
Alignment applies both to the physical adjustments that you provide for your students and to
your own connection with your various teaching
qualities. One way to examine how much you are
aligned with your path as a yoga practitioner and
teacher is to practice self-inquiry. Keep coming
back to your ideals as you progress in your
personal practice and in your teaching. Doing
so helps you connect authentically with your
students and impart information in the manner
that is best suited for them.

Nurture
Nurture the evolution of your students practice.
If you find gaps in your compassion for your students, start with the principle of ahimsa. Notice
any empathy you have for your students and
whenever possible cultivate a true understanding

Basics of Teaching Yoga


of their needs. This idea may sound simplistic,
but there are times when it is difficult not to
take it personally if you have difficulty getting
along with a student. For instance, a student
might complain about the class in front of others,
perhaps even saying negative things about you,
challenging you, or mocking you. If something
like this occurs, remember that your job is to
nurture without hurting yourself or anyone else.
However, in an instance like this, you will need
to firmly establish boundaries that express your
authority as the teacher, while also showing
empathy toward your students negativity.
Conversely, if a student strokes your ego, do
your best not to give in to the temptation of
encouraging such behavior. In addition, when
you give feedback to your students, include concrete detailsfor example, your knees are much
straighter nowso that students develop the
ability to notice such things in themselves when
you are not around. A good yoga teacher is far
from being a cult leader. If you enable a student
to be dependent on you, you are simply nurturing
your own egowhich benefits no one. Instead, a
good teacher guides students to find new places
of connection within themselves.

Assess
As an instructor, you must continually assess and
reassess your effectiveness in transmitting the
essence of yoga to your students. Be constantly
aware of each students progress throughout
class. By carefully watching your students, you
become aware of changes in the receptivity of
their bodies and minds. In addition, when you
quiet your own mind, you can more easily tap
into the energy of your surroundings and channel
it to your students.

Some of your students may be


unable to do certain poses, in which
case they will need suggestions for
modification.

in a students mind may or may not match the


sensation of her or his body. Ideally, however, the
words you choose to cue a postural adjustment
should facilitate a merger of mind and body in
each student. By encouraging students to go
deeper within themselves, you help them discover
an image that moves beyond any preconceived
picture and allows them to experience the posture
from the inside out. This integration can take
place only when students tap into their innate
awareness and locate their personal edge instead
of imitating the actions of an instructor.

Imagery
As mentioned earlier, some students cannot
learn simply by watching a visual demonstration. Among these students, some may be able
to attain proper alignment if you provide clear
verbal instructions. However, do not be surprised
if a number of your students still do not understand your directions unless you verbally express
a concept in a variety of ways. Even when giving
verbal directions for adjustment, it is necessary
to engage the various learning styles discussed
earlier in the chapter.
For example, if your students lack even a
vague understanding of anatomical terminology,
they simply will not know what to do if you say,
Extend your cranium toward the ceiling. Its
fine to give anatomical cues as long as you also
provide a variety of other prompts for students. In
this case, you might say the following: Feel the
top of your head lift away from your shoulders. If
you need more detail, you might use the following
imagery: Imagine that the top of your head is a
magnet, and the beam above your head is metal.
Notice the spaces you open in your neck as the
magnet draws up toward the beam.
These are just a few simple examples of how
you can use different cueing methods to achieve
the same adjustment by addressing the individual
learning capabilities of your students. The most
important aspect of auditory cueing for adjustment is that you observe your students and use
compassion and creativity to reach every one of
them.

Adjustment Guidelines

Physical Adjustments

An instructors words paint a picture in students


minds, illustrating how they can best move their
bodies into any given asana. The image created

A significant portion of this text is devoted to


giving you guidelines for providing your students
with safe and appropriate verbal and physical

33

Instructing Hatha Yoga

Copyright, The Patriot Ledger

34

Instructors must decide whether and when to approach students for manual adjustments. Always
ask permission.

adjustments. Always remember that a teachers


main responsibility in any class is to guide each
students attention inward, where the student can
connect with his or her ideal physical, energetic,
and emotional harmony. Because hatha yoga is
a means to self-transformation and awareness
of mindbody wholeness, the importance of
intention on the teachers part cannot be overemphasized.
Again, when trying to modify a students posture, it is generally best to begin by giving verbal
cues. One reason for taking this approach is that
continual physical adjustments may lead a student to depend on them and therefore be unable
to find her or his own inner instructorthe one
who actually feels the appropriate place to be in
the posture. When verbal cues are ineffective in
realigning a student, the next possible course of
action is to adjust the student physically. When
providing hands-on adjustments, it is imperative
that you first ask forand receivepermission
to touch the student.
Renowned yoga teacher Donna Farhi (2006)
notes that the simple act of asking a students
permission to touch him or her provides a slight
pause in which the student can either prepare
for the adjustment or request that the teacher

pass. This pause allows the student to more fully


control her or his practice and reinforces the
fact that you, the instructor, respect the students
boundaries. In contrast, an adjustment made
without invitation constitutes an intrusion and
can break down the trust that students feel in
the instructor. By always asking a students permission to touch, you show that you honor the
students confidence in you. When you are given
permission, always move the students body as
you would want another instructor to move your
own: with invitation, compassion, firm support,
nurturing, and receptivity to feedback.
There will be times when a student denies
you permission to touch him or her. Respect
this decision without judgment or negative feelings. Approach the situation as an opportunity
to practice your verbal cueing skills on another
level. If the person is truly in a position where
he or she may incur an injury, invite the person
to exit the pose and then move back into it more
slowly and with added awareness. This approach
proves to your students that you value them and
encourage their right to make decisions regarding
their practice.
Any time that you do touch a student, remain
mindful that the two of you are conveying

Basics of Teaching Yoga


information to each other on an energetic level.
This transfer of energies can be transformative
when you as the teacher proceed from a place
of understanding, compassion, and knowledge.
When using your hands, remember never to
tightly grab a student. Whenever possible, use
the palm of your hand as an alignment guide;
touching with the fingers often implies a deeper
intimacy, since the fingertips are exceptionally
sensitive. Using a gentle yet firm touch, you
can help the student find the best expression of
the pose with grounded sensitivity. If you apply
your adjustments with receptive hands, you will
notice it when the student discovers a personal
comfort level, because the muscles will soften,
the breathing will be steadier, and you will feel
the students energy relax.
Finally, before you approach a student with
the intention of providing a physical adjustment
or modification, understand your personal reasoning for doing so. As you decide whether to
approach a student or allow the student to continue exploring on her or his own, consider the
following questions.

Are you honestly connecting with your student?


Once you place your hands on a student,
your attention must be fully focused on
that students well-being. It is very easy
to become distracted by the rest of your
charges; however, it is possible to remain
completely present with a single student
simply by touch. This personal interchange
allows you to perceive any physical resistance or other subtle cues that the student
may display and to alter your adjustment
accordingly.
Is it still teaching?
It is very easy to form a mental picture of
how you think a particular student should
look in any particular asana. However, it is
not your responsibility to mold a student to
a preconceived notion of a pose. Rather, a
teachers responsibility is to adapt the pose
to the student and guide the student into a
deeper understanding of both the pose and
herself or himself.

Is an adjustment really necessary?


If a student remains in a position in which
he or she may experience physical harm
even after being offered repeated verbal and
visual cueing, then it is most likely appropriate to offer an adjustment or modification.
Do you truly understand the pose?
If you are not completely comfortable and
confident that you understand the biomechanics of a pose, refrain from physically
adjusting anyone. In fact, it is best if you
refrain from teaching any pose of which you
lack intimate awareness.
Were you invited or given permission?
Students often ask to be moved deeper into
a pose. Grant this request only sparingly so
that your students do not become dependent
on you to move their bodies for them. At the
opposite end of the spectrum, if a student
denies your request to touch him or her, do
not take the refusal personally. Do, however, convey your respect to the student for
being responsible and mindful of her or his
personal space.

Summary
As you consider the information presented in this
chapter, what important qualities of an ideal yoga
instructor do you find are already strong in you?
What qualities might you wish to cultivate further? How effective and dynamic are your voice,
your creativity, your repertoire, and your ability
to build rapport?
Beyond considering these questions, you might
compare your work habits and ethics with the
qualities that students report liking and disliking
in a yoga instructor (see table 2.1). Doing so can
provide you with a reality check in terms of how
people might perceive you professionally. You
can use self-inquiry as a regular part of your own
yoga practice to deepen your understanding and
connections to your path as both a yoga practitioner and a teacher. If you recognize obstacles
and struggles in yourself, you can better recognize
them in your students and respond to them with
empathy. When you understand your students
motivations and know how they learn best, you
can effectively direct your compassion and your
instructions.

35

36

Instructing Hatha Yoga


Students will judge you, both consciously and
unconsciously, on many levels. Remember that it
is more important to nurture a students progress
than either his or her ego or your own self-interest.
Your job is to present an entrancing and safe class
as you embody the essence of yoga as best you can.
The adjustment information provided here
should serve as a guideline in your journey as

a yoga instructor. Each person is unique, and


no formula is right for everyone all the time.
Touch can be a comforting, healing modality
for one person and a psychological nightmare
for another. With time, mindful instruction, and
practice, you will discover your own teaching
techniques, as well as the intuition and skill with
which to apply them.

Review Questions
1. What are the four Cs of teaching yoga?
2. What are the three basic learning styles?
3. Which dosha is associated with the fluidity
of air?
4. Which type of student often has trouble
staying motivated?
5. List two things that students typically like
in a yoga instructor and two things that
they typically dislike.

6. How is the word asana used as an acronym


for teaching yoga?
7. True or false: There is a very strict code of
ethics that you are legally required to abide
by as a professional yoga teacher.
8. What aspects of your personal yoga practice will make you a better teacher?
9. Define ahimsa.

3
Creating a
Class Environment

RyanJLane/istock.com

oga students trust that


an instructor has the
knowledge and ability
to create a nurturing, safe,
and engaging class environment for practice. Such
an environment enhances
students mental, physical,
and spiritual awareness and
well-being during the relatively short time they spend
together. But how does one
go about creating such an
environment?
This chapter answers
that question by addressing
three key topics: equipment,
safety, and class atmosphere.
It begins by discussing the
types of equipment and
attire typically used by students in a variety of classes.
It then describes how the

37

38

Instructing Hatha Yoga


setting of a class helps create a safe and soothing practice session. It also highlights specific
environmental safety concerns that instructors
should attend to before, during, and after each
class session. The chapter then discusses how to
create an atmosphere suitable for any practice
and shares ways to manage many of the typical
distractions encountered in class.

Equipment Selection
If you walk into a sporting goods store or the
retail area of a fitness clubor peruse the cover
of many yoga periodicalsyou might get the
impression that yoga requires a specific uniform,
as well as certain equipment, if one is to practice
it successfully. In reality, Western fashion sense
and marketing notwithstanding, nothing could
be further from the truth. Unlike many physical
activities and exercise programs, yoga practice
requires minimal equipment. Indeed, East Indian
citizens practiced yoga for millennia with nothing
more than thin reed pads, a simple loincloth or
sari, and bare feet.
However, though yoga instruction and practice
require little in the way of equipment, certain
elements can make your teachingand your
students class experiencesboth safer and more
comfortable. The specifics depend on the style of
hatha yoga you teach, the nature of your student
population, and the location of your class.

Yoga Attire
Apart from personal fashion preference, select
from lightweight fabrics to allow for maximum
movement and comfort. In general, comfortable
shorts or leggings and a snug-fitting shirt work
well for practicing yoga. Loose-fitting T-shirts,
though comfortable and easy to move in, often
end up over the head in inversion postures, thus
creating an annoying distraction. These clothing
selections apply to students and instructors alike.
Another factor to consider when suggesting
clothing options for students is the type of yoga
being practiced. Students in a fast-paced class
may be most comfortable in a single layer of
lightweight, sweat-wicking clothing that can
accommodate the heat and moisture generated by
the body. In contrast, students in a less vigorous
style of class may be most comfortable beginning

class with warm-up layers that can be peeled off


as body temperature increases and then put back
on during the cool-down at the end of class.
Yoga instructors should follow the same
general clothing guidelines as their students for
comfort and ease of movement; in addition, they
should always dress in a professional manner.
Students must be able to see how your body
moves as you demonstrate, but you should avoid
wearing clothing that might be overly revealing,
such as see-through fabrics, precariously low-cut
necklines, or wide-legged or skimpy shorts.

Practitioners of Kundalini yoga suggest that you wear clothes made of


white cotton and other natural fabrics to foster the electromagnetic field
surrounding you during practice.

Yoga Mats
In addition to bare feet and comfortable clothing,
another indispensable piece of yoga equipment
for most people is a sticky yoga mat. Yoga mats
provide a stable, nonslip surface and, depending
on the thickness, a bit of cushion on which to
practice. Mats can be found in a variety of colors,
lengths, thicknesses, and materialsall of which
are matters of personal preference.
In some settings, yoga mats are provided on
site. If you teach at a site where mats are not
providedand if students are reluctant or unable
to purchase their ownyou might suggest that
they each bring a large towel or blanket. Whatever is used, it should be large enough that both
the hands and the feet can be in contact with it
during postures such as Adho Mukha Shvanasana
(Downward-Facing Dog). Be mindful, however,
that towels and blankets are generally slippery
and should be used with caution, especially
during standing poses. In fact, in many instances,
one might be best served by practicing directly
on the ground.
Occasionally, you will encounter a student
who recognizes that a mat is beneficial to ones
practice but is under the false impression that
any exercise mat will do. It is true that the mats
used in Pilates floor classes can be used for yoga
practice; however, they tend to be thicker and
made of more flexible material and provide less
traction than do yoga mats. Many fitness clubs

Creating a Class Environment


provide short, soft, and sometimes slick mats
that are generally used for floor-exercise work.
Unfortunately, these mats are designed to cushion
sit-ups and other exercises or stretches that do
not require the traction provided by yoga mats.
These and other soft mats may slide across the
floor unless the student pays closer attention to
the mat than to his or her yoga practice, which
both defeats the purpose of yoga and increases the
potential for injury. This type of mat also has too
much cushion to provide stability while standing.
Therefore, one would be much safer using a towel
or no mat at all.
If you teach in a facility where yoga mats are
provided for students, you will need to address
a health and safety concern that is often forgotten or ignored. When multiple pairs of sweaty
bare feet use a mat, it becomes a dirty and foul-
smelling habitat for germs. For this reason, mats
should be cleaned and disinfected on a regular
basis, and replacement mats should be purchased
as needed. The smell factor alone should encourage students to bring a personal mat! For many
people, an average investment of $30 for a basic
mat is a small price to pay for the practical protection provided by a mat reserved for personal use.

Props
Many hatha yoga styles use props to aid students
as they move through and deepen their postures.
Props can be especially helpful for a student who
is new to yoga because they provide additional
support as the student works to increase strength,
flexibility, and balance in any given posture. The
many ways in which props can be used to modify
and adjust students are illustrated in the chapters
covering specific asanas. For now, here is a brief
description of some typical yoga props:
Blankets or other soft bolsters can be placed
beneath students who have marked tightness in
the hamstrings, hips, or back to mechanically lift
and support the body in seated postures. These
props are essential in providing support and
comfort in very gentle and restorative classes. If
blankets and bolsters are not readily available,
you can use folded towels or mats. People with
sensitive knees can use gardening kneepads to
settle comfortably into kneeling postures. Many
studios also provide blankets to keep students
warm as they relax in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
during the resting portion of a practice session.

In many postures, straps or belts can be used


to help students expand reach without straining.
Straps are particularly helpful in extending the
stretch of the hamstrings without causing discomfort in seated and supine postures. These props
can also be used to secure or support the limbs
in certain postures.
When blocks are used, it is generally in
standing poses, to extend the arms reach toward
the ground without causing undue strain in the
hips, hamstrings, or back. They can also be used
in place of bolsters or blankets to provide more
stable elevation when needed. The blocks can
be made of wood or a polystyrene blend. Wood
blocks tend to hold up better over time, but they
are less comfortable and often slide.
Chairs and walls can be used to assist students who have difficulty in balance postures.
Chairs can also be used as an aid in seated asanas
for those who find it difficult to move up and
down from the ground. In addition to supporting
balance, a wall can be used to help students check
alignment for themselves in many postures. The
wall is also a great place for people to practice
assisted inversions, such as shoulderstands.
Sandbags can be used in seated, prone, and
supine postures to provide a constant yet gentle
pressure to release tight muscles. They also help
some students feel more deeply grounded and
supported.
Eye pillows can be used to cover the eyes
during the relaxation phase of a class. If the eye
pillows are filled with herbs or essential oils, they
add an aromatherapy component to aid in relaxation. An important hygiene note: If you provide
eye pillows to students during class, it is best to
ask them each to place a tissue under the eye
pillow in order to keep the pillow surface clean.
Mirrors can be used as visual aids to help
both the teacher and the student check body
alignment. Wall mirrors are generally found in
group exercise facilities and dance rooms, but a
yoga studio may or may not have them, depending on its style and focus of practice. In fact,
many yoga schools feel that mirrors create too
much distraction for students. Still, depending
on where and what style of yoga you teach, you
may have the opportunity to use wall mirrors as
an aid in aligning your students.
Yoga walls are specialized, wall-mounted
wooden structures equipped with straps and
harnesses to help students with balance and

39

40

Instructing Hatha Yoga

Props can help a student modify poses to match individual ability; they are also tools to help the instructor more easily
align a students posture.

alignment. The original yoga wall apparatus


was designed by B.K.S. Iyengar as a means to
enhanceeven the slightest anatomical alignments
in asanas. However, a studio need not teach
Iyengar yoga in order to use such a wall. In fact,
many studios offer classes that focus on accessing
deeper muscles with the aid of the wall straps,
as well as offering inverted poses without fear of
exacerbating any preexisting spinal condition.

Safety and Comfort


Concerns
Most people would agree that participating in
any physical activity carries inherent safety risks.
Because yoga practice is a relatively nonimpact
activity, injury rates tend to be much lower and
less severe than those for many other movement-
oriented activities. Of course, this is not to say
that injuries cannot occur in a yoga class; they
can and do.

In fact, if yoga is approached without mindfulness and attention to detail, it involves significant
inherent risk, a fact that was highlighted in 2012
by journalist William Broad in his New York Times
article titled How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body
and his book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and
the Rewards. Although the scope of this text does
not allow us to describe every possible injury, this
section of the chapter addresses some of the most
commonly identified safety and comfort concerns
that you and your students may face.

Student Safety
In addition to guiding your students through a
blissful class practice, your primary concern as
an instructor is your students personal safety
while they are in your care. At the beginning of
each class, and as new students join your ongoing
classes, make certain to ascertain whether any
student has an injury or illness that could affect
physical ability. If so, pay particular attention
to these students and help them modify asanas

Creating a Class Environment


as needed. Also remember that, for a variety of
reasons, many people will not volunteer such
information; therefore, it is your responsibility
to ask questions.

Bare Feet
Regardless of which style of yoga you teach,
encourage students to practice in bare feet. Doing
so allows each student to feel the connection to
the ground more completely in standing postures.
In addition, without the rigid constraint of shoes,
the feet are strengthened and are able to move in
a more natural manner, which helps with balance.
The bottoms of the feet also generally provide the
correct amount of traction against the ground
to guard against slipping in standing postures,
thus increasing the students safety. And in seated
postures, bare feet resolve the concern of the sole
of a shoe pressing uncomfortably into the flesh
or getting caught along the surface of the mat.
There are times, however, when the solemat
connection is just not firm enough. For example,
if a student sweats profusely through the bottom
of the feet, you may find that she or he is unable
to remain stationary. In this case, you might suggest that the student bring an extra towel to place
on the mat to help absorb sweat and provide a
firmergrip on the surface.
Because of the popularity of hot or vigorous
yoga, many companies now sell specialized,
highly absorbent towels with nonskid bottoms
designed specifically for eliminating slippage
and mopping up excess sweat. These towels also
help keep the hands from sliding in poses such
as Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing
Dog.) In addition, nonslip socks are now available
that are engineered like gloves with a sheath for
every toe. As with the nonslip towels, these socks
are made with materials that wick away sweat,
and can be very helpful for anyone who tends to
sweat profusely from the soles of the feet. These
socks also are a nice alternative for travel, as they
are easier to transport than a yoga mat.
Although it is rare, you may occasionally
encounter a student who is opposed to practicing barefoot. If the room is chilly, or if a student
has foot concerns, it may be difficult to convince
him or her to take off warm, and concealing,
socks during class. You can get most students to
comply, however, by gently reiterating the safety
concerns involved in wearing socks and reminding them that they are free to put their socks back

on during the seated portion of class. If that still


does not persuade them to remove their socks,
you can assure them that any classmate who is
looking at anothers feet instead of focusing on
his or her own practice will not be getting the full
benefit from the class! However, if a student is
adamant about wearing socks, suggest that they
invest in the non-skid style previously described.
Everyday-wear socks tend to have slippery soles
and do not provide a solid foundation in standing
poses. Also, the foot tends to slid out of regular
socks, creating an unnecessary distraction.

Adjustments
When physically adjusting your students, the
most important safety measure is to respect each
students body with compassion as if it were your
own. Recognize that some students are physically
unable to move the body into what is generally
perceived as the picture-perfect posture. Each student must contend with his or her own physical
and mental limitations, and it is not your decision
as the instructor to dictate where each students
precise position should be.
In addition to being compassionate and
respectful, ask yourself the following questions
before physically adjusting a student: Why am I
adjusting this person? Is a physical adjustment
really necessary? If the student asked you for
help to move a bit deeper into the pose, then the
answer to the second question is yes. Alternatively, if the person appears to be straining in a
poseand verbal cues are ineffectiveyou might
ask to realign his or her positioning for comfort
and safety.
No matter what, always ask permission before
physically touching a student, and always maintain awareness of just how far a person is willing
and able to deepen into the posture. Move slowly,
with compassion and awareness of each students
needs.

By first obtaining a students permission and then using a gentle


touch, you decrease the possibility
of causing physical or psychological
injury when providing an adjustment.

41

42

Instructing Hatha Yoga


Also, remind your students throughout the
class that it vitally important for them not to take
the body to the point of physical discomfort or
pain in any asana. Students need to recognize the
part that they play in their own physical safety by
respecting and accepting any immediate limitations that they sense when opening into an asana.
The mantra No pain, no pain should be recited
by each student before practice begins! In addition, in todays fast-paced, push-it-to-the-limit
society, most people achieve their deepest yoga
by not forcing the body all the way to its limit.

Hydration and Nutrition


Any activity that puts a physical demand on the
body requires adequate hydration and nutrition;
of course, yoga practice is no exception. For this
reason, remind students to stay well hydrated
before, during, and after class. Hydration is even
more important in classes that involve a high
room temperature or highly vigorous routines.
Most people who exercise on a regular basis
know that its best to exercise with a relatively
empty stomachboth for comfort and for healthy
digestion. However, many students who are new
to yoga mistakenly think that they will just
be stretching and therefore can come to class
having just eaten a full meal. Inform your students that, in reality, they will have a much more
comfortable and healthful experience if they wait
two or three hours after a large meal to practice
yoga. Indeed, the internal pressure created during
certain yoga postures can cause people to feel
lightheaded or nauseated if they are overly full.
In addition, when the stomach contains food,
the body moves significant blood and energy into
digestion instead of circulating it through the
skeletal muscle system. Therefore, the emptier
the stomach (and bladder and bowels), the more
comfortable the student feels, thus allowing her
or him to relax more fully into asana practice.
If a student really feels the need for a little extra
energy before class, you might suggest a light,
easily digestible snack (for example, yogurt or a
small piece of fruit, such as half a banana or a
handful of grapes) about an hour before class.

Instructor Safety
Amidst all the concerns about keeping your students safe and comfortable, it is just as import-

ant to attend to your personal well-being as you


teach. Constant awareness is your best defense.
For example, as you walk among students, always
be on the lookout for tripping hazards. When
adjusting a student, maintain your own good
posture and balance. As you use your body to help
a student gain or maintain balance, keep your
knees slightly bent so you can make any adjustments needed in your own balance. As a student
performs an inversion, such as a handstand, stand
to the side to avoid being smacked in the head as
the student lifts or lowers the legs.
When adjusting students who are seated or
lying down, resist the temptation to remain standing. Instructors often experience overuse injuries,
and even with the best intention to maintain
sound positioning, it is easy to place your spine
and joints in a precarious position. Therefore, to
minimize your risk, stay low by squatting, kneeling, or even sitting.

Environmental Safety
No matter where you teacha cozy yoga studio,
a wide-open auditorium, or a grassy fieldtake
time before each class to ensure that the practice
area is clean and as free of hazards as possible,
both for your students and for yourself. For
starters, the area should be clear of debris on the
floor or ground. In addition, if your yoga session
follows any type of high-energy class in which
people may have been sweating, give the floor
a good swabbing to reduce the risk of slipping,
either on or off the mat.
Also, if possible, ask your students to store
their personal possessions away from the practice
area. Doing so reduces the risk of accidentally
tripping and falling, thus making it much safer
for you to walk among the students as you check
alignment and make any requested adjustments.
This precaution is especially important in classes
where space between students is at a premium.
In addition, if you teach strenuous inversions and
arm balances, be sure that any unused props have
been moved out of the practice area to decrease
the possibility of students falling out of a pose
onto the props and causing injury.
It is also important to make proper use of hand
washing. One of this books main objectives is to
teach instructors how to make effective hands-on
adjustments. When doing so, of course, you will
touch students who are perspiring. Though it is

Creating a Class Environment


infeasible to run out and wash your hands after
every touch (and doing so would create quite
an unacceptable break in class flow), remember
the importance of good hygiene before and after
class, both for your own health and for that of
your students.

Equipment Safety

ment, if possible, and suggest he or she replace


the props before their next practice.

Class Atmosphere
In the days before yogas popularity soared, if
you had asked a non-yoga-practicing person
what came to mind when thinking about yoga,
he or she might have described a candlelit room
filled with patchouli incense and low droning
chants. If asked today, the person might conjure
an image of 20 to 50 people on yoga mats packed
tightly into a large room while moving in unison
to contemporary music. In reality, hatha yoga
practice today is approached in many diverse
ways. Some instructors use live music; some use
none at all. Some sessions are conducted one on
one; others can, and do fill a football field. In
addition, classes take place in a wide variety of
settings and may happen anywhere that space is
availablefor example, commercial yoga studios
(large or small), gymnasiums, group exercise
rooms in fitness facilities, community recreation

Courtesy Diane Ambrosini

If you use props in your class, check them regularly to ensure that they are in good condition.
Straps should be unfrayed, blankets should be
clean, and blocks should be well balanced and
stable. If you provide mats for your students,
make sure the small tread on the surface is intact
and that the surface still provides traction. If any
props have defects, remove them from use and
replace them.
Often, students bring their own props with
them to class. While it is their responsibility to
maintain their own equipment, if you notice
extensive wear, be sure to mention your concerns
to the student. If you feel the student's props present an immediate hazard, supply a safe replace-

43

Many students feel that practicing outdoors gives their yoga a more natural ambiance and a deeper connection to nature.

44

Instructing Hatha Yoga


centers, libraries, and the great outdoors. Because
of the increasing demand for yoga, the variations
are almost limitless.

Ideal Setting
Yoga classes can be, and often are, taught almost
anywhere. However, some locations are more
favorable for helping students achieve the release,
relaxation, and overall awareness that they crave.
Generally speaking, the most desirable space to
teach and practice yoga is one that was designed
with yoga in mind. Such a setting is spacious,
comfortable, free from outside distractions, well
ventilated, and warmly lit.
For many, yoga is also associated with calming music and the aromatherapy of incense, and
indeed these elements can be used to help create
a soothing atmosphere. However, incense burning is not always a welcome addition to class; in
fact, in many facilities, it is strictly forbidden. If
you teach in a facility that does allow incense,
it is a courtesy to first ask the students if they
mind. Many individuals are severely allergic to
smoke or perfume and may be adversely affected
by any scent wafting through the room. For this
reason, it is also advisable to maintain a policy
stating that no one should wear perfume or overly
scented lotions to class.

Floor Surfaces
Yoga can be practiced almost anywhere: a sandy
beach, the sidelines of a football game, your
living room, a mountain campground, or even
the water. However, while the surface may vary,
it should always be as level as possible to avoid
compromising a persons balance and to protect
the joints when holding postures. In addition, as
in any physical activity, some surfaces are better
suited than others for practicing yoga. Because
yoga is generally practiced indoors, this discussion addresses indoor floor surfaces.
Wood flooring can be found in a variety of settings, including many yoga studios; most dance
studios, high school gyms, and group exercise
rooms in newer fitness facilities; and some older
recreational facilities. Wood provides a smooth,
flat surface with a small amount of flexibility
that is relatively forgiving to the body. It also
provides greater warmth than concrete and other
harder surfaces. Yoga studios that feature wood
flooring often disallow outside footwear on the

studio floor in order to maintain the integrity of


the surface.
Concrete-based surfaces are the norm in older
fitness facilities, elementary school auditoriums,
and even some newer recreation facilities. They
provide a smooth surface that is generally easy to
clean. In many cases, the concrete is covered with
ceramic tile or linoleum. Unfortunately, concrete
flooring is much cooler than wood; it is also rigid
and provides no shock absorption for the joints.
Even so, it is a viable surface for practicing yoga
because of the extremely low-impact nature of
the activity. In addition, students can obtain some
cushioning and warmth by using mats.
Some facilities have carpeted flooring. These
surfaces provide the warmest floor and are very
suitable for gentle and restorative yoga, during
which students spend considerable time on the
ground. Although carpet does provide a little
extra cushioning, pay attention to what kinds of
activity are performed on the carpet. A sweat-
inducing activity can create a foul-smelling and
unsanitary surface if the carpet is not cleaned on
a regular basis.

Temperature Control
In general, the room temperature for a nonheated
yoga class should be between 70 and 76 degrees
Fahrenheit (about 21 and 24 degrees Celsius).
Temperatures in this range tend to create a comfortable environment for most studentnot too
hot, not too cold. However, these general guidelines notwithstanding, room temperature should
be tailored appropriately for both the style of yoga
being practiced and the student population.
For instance, peri- and postmenopausal
women tend to insist on cooler room temperatures and gently moving air. In contrast, some
styles of yoga use a room heated to a temperature
between 96 and 106 degrees Fahrenheit (between
36 and 41 degrees Celsius) with the intention of
helping warm the muscles for practice. In addition, in Bikram and other hot yoga classes, the
room is kept at a much higher temperature that
most other yoga styles, in order to help students
release more sweat.
Despite the importance of temperature, some
spaces do not provide easy access to the thermostat, which can cause consternation for both the
instructor and the students. For instance, one
instructor taught in a fitness club where an aerobics class was scheduled to follow her morning

Creating a Class Environment


yoga class. She found that the automatic cooling fans turned on 15 minutes before her class
endedright during the cool-down and Shavasana. After much shivering and complaining by
students, the management was finally convinced
to change the thermostat. In the meantime, however, many students came to class in multiple
layers. In fact, one student came with two layers
of exercise clothing, mittens, and a parkaa
remarkable situation in eastern San Diego County
in the summer!
This anecdote may be extreme, but it illustrates
the importance of reminding students to dress
in layers so that they can accommodate variable
conditions and changing body temperature. In
addition, be sure that the management where
you teach understands the intricacies and environmental needs of yoga practice.

cafeteria with a dotted line down the middle, the


word yoga on one side, and the word dance on the
other. It was explained that the line represented
a dividing wall between the two classes.
When she went to teach, however, the instructor saw that the so-called dividing wall was a mere
curtain. Moreover, the dance class was a tap class,
in which the instructor broadcast show tunes
over loudspeakers as the students stampeded on
an old, warped wooden stage just a few feet from
the yoga instructors voice. As a consequence,
the instructor had to shout: Breathe! Relax!
Almost all of the yoga students demanded their
money back, and the class was canceled. As this
story shows, some settings contain obstacles that
are simply impossible to overcome.

Distractions

Many yoga teachers like to use music in class


because it can help set the mood from the
moment a student walks in the door. In settings
where students may be distracted by other
soundssuch as clanging weights, loud voices, or
more bombastic tunesappropriate background
music can help anchor their awareness more
fully in the yoga classroom. Music can also help
students, especially those new to yoga, drown out
mental distractions. On the other hand, students
may become dependent on music and then have
trouble focusing without it. However, after some
practice, and with your repeated cueing, they can
use their own breathing to clear the mind.
Some traditions of yoga view music itself is
a distraction. For example, Iyengar hatha yoga
views music as distracting fluff and disallows
it in the class environment. In such classes, the
instructors voice and direction are most important in guiding students minds inward to fend off
outside distractions.

Students come to yoga class for a variety of


reasons. One of the most common is to attain
a certain level of self-awareness and focusto
clear the mind of stress and distracting thought
processes. Yet even in the most ideal yoga setting,
outside distractions can seep into the class and
disrupt the serene mood that students crave. In
settings that are less than idealfor example, a
fitness facility in which the yoga class is adjacent
to a basketball courtthese distractions can seem
almost too much to overcome.
In such cases, help students focus on their
asanas by reminding them to notice their breathing, thus buffering out many distractions. In
addition, before class begins, instruct students
that all cell phones must be turned off. Nothing
is as distracting to the students or the instructor
as a phone ringing during class!
The following example illustrates the importance of establishing an appropriate atmosphere
for your students yoga experiences. Picture a
yoga class set in a wonderfully spacious dance
room situated in a quiet bungalow at an adult
education center. The longtime students were
delighted, and perhaps a bit spoiled, by the rooms
seclusion, warm wood floors, and whispers of
wind sneaking in from outside. Sadly, the use of
the bungalow was taken away, and the class was
relocated to what the centers administration
thought was a perfect space: the cafeteria. The
instructor was given a floor plan showing the

Music

Music Selection
For a time, most music played in yoga classes was
in the New Age genre, which is characterized by
soothing, eclectic rhythms and natural sounds.
However, many instructors and students are
uncomfortable with this style of music due to
its tendency toward nonmelodic content. Today,
many yoga practitioners consider a variety of
music styles to be acceptable as a background element, including contemporary kirtan (devotional
chants), crystal bowl playing, classical, jazz, and

45

46

Instructing Hatha Yoga


even hip-hop and techno beat. Regardless of style,
the pace of the music should not clash with the
pace of your class. For example, although many
people adore chants or tribal beats, some people
find the rhythm of the music distracting when
also trying to listen to a teachers instructions.
Many yoga instructors have a naturally soft,
soothing voice that in itself is almost hypnotic and
can take the place of background music. If you
need to speak loudlywhether due to background
noise, large class size, or poor acousticsuse
softer music. In faster-paced classes, more energetic music can help the class move along quickly.
The tempo and style of your music should reflect
both your personal style and the desired tempo
of the class you are teaching.

Inviting musicians to play live music


or crystal bowls during class can be
a real treat for both you and your
students.

Music as Mood Setter


If you choose to use music in your classes, allow
yourself to be creative. Do not feel that you need
to stick with one style. Test out different pieces
with your students. Both you and your students
may appreciate some variety! If you find yourself
less than enthusiastic about a piece of music that
you have played for the past eight class sessions,
your students are likely to feel the same wayand
they will generally let you know it. Fortunately,
as yogas general popularity has increased, so too
has the breadth and variety of the music available
to instructors. In addition, many musicians have

added contemporary stylings to ancient chants,


thus creating yet another evolutionary shift in
modern yoga practices.
Although the objective of playing music in class
is to help create a mood, it should not overwhelm
the focus of the class.However, playing nontraditional music can provide a delightful change of
pace and even express a background theme. For
instance, playing Tchaikovskys Nutcracker suite
could be fun while teaching a classical-eclectic
yoga class in December. As an example, in one
workshop focused exclusively on complex postures, the instructor played rock songs with lyrics
such as have mercy. This lighthearted music
created a sense of levity in the class that was most
enjoyable and surprisingly nondistracting.
Some vivacious yoga instructors have been
known to create a purposeful party atmosphere
in their more rigorous classes simply by playing
spirited, nontraditional music. Similarly, in two
ballet classes, one featured live music by a classical pianist and the other used Smokey Robinson
tunes with the bass turned up. Students relished
both classes. Why shouldnt yoga classes have the
same creativity?

Summary
Although yoga practice may not require much
in the way of equipment or attire, it is unique in
its atmospheric needs. It is your responsibility as
the instructor to use all of the available resources
to create a safe and comforting environment in
which students feel protected and secure enough
to allow themselves to truly open their hearts and
minds to your instruction.

Review Questions
1. Why would yoga practitioners choose to
wear white cotton or other natural fibers?
2. Name three indispensable items used when
practicing yoga.
3. How can blocks be used?
4. What is the most important concern when
physically adjusting your students?

5. How long should the average person wait


after a meal before practicing yoga? Why?
6. Describe an ideal setting for a yoga class.
7. What temperature range is generally considered ideal for most yoga styles?
8. What are some pros and cons of using
music while teaching yoga?

4
Breathing
and Beyond

PeopleImages/istock.com

he most important
thing is your breath.
These are words that
a good yoga teacher should
say many times during
class. Reminding students
to breathe is always an
important cue. Poor breathing is an epidemic bad habit
in todays society, and it
contributes to the stress
and high anxiety suffered
by many people. Breathing
deeply and slowly allows
for greater circulation with
less work; it reduces stress
on the heart and enhances
the entire cardiovascular
system.
During asana practice,
ones breath can make a
difference in ability, comfort, and awareness. Alignment in asanas and proper
breathing are two aspects

47

48

Instructing Hatha Yoga


of hatha yoga focused on by most Western practitioners. These two elements enhance each other
in creating a more complete internal awareness
in the mind and body. This chapter focuses specifically on breath awareness and provides an
overview of the anatomical structures involved
in the breathing process. It also presents general
guidelines for helping students develop breath
control during asana practice. More specifically,
it covers the most common yogic breathing techniques and how they relate to asana practice.

Pranayama
Yogis refer to the force behind life itselfwhich
is inherent in the breathas prana [PRAAHnaah].In turn, the term pranayama [praah-naahYAAH-muh]refers to breath work, which connects
the mind and body in a shared consciousness.
Focusing on the breath helps a student bypass
the chatter in the mind and ego. When a student
begins attending to and controlling the breath,
his or her circulation improves, thus delivering
more oxygenated blood, which better fuels the
muscles and enhances concentration.
The fact that people usually breathe automaticallythat is, without conscious effort or
thoughtdoes not mean that the breath cannot
be controlled. In fact, for thousands of years,
yogis have developed ways to bring what were
once considered strictly involuntary systems
of the body under conscious control. The most
essential function of the body that can be regulated is the breath.
Ones breath provides a relatively easy and
convenient mechanism for tuning in to ones
inward self because it can be heard, felt, and
counted without special equipment. It is much
more difficult to notice various other aspects of
body functioningsuch as blood pressure, brain
waves, immune cells, electrolytes, and digestion
let alone consciously alter them. Happily, the
functioning of these systems generally improves
when breathing is more efficient.
Breath is also a metaphor for life. Not only can
breathing patterns affect a persons physiological
well-being; they can also affectand be affected
byones thought processes. Emotions can be
triggered either negatively through shallow,
labored breathing or positively through smooth,
flowing breaths, which stabilize our thoughts and
allow relaxation to set in.

Process of Breathing
Most people tend to breathe too shallowly, in
the uppermost region of the chest. This habit is
inefficient because it leads one to take in more
breaths in order to feel comfortable. This type of
overbreathing is a mild form of hyperventilation,
and it is exacerbated by stress. In fact, in some
people, this chronic breathing habit can induce
the stress response.
When a persons breaths are shallow and
frequent, his or her heart must work harder to
deliver oxygenated blood throughout the body. If
the circulation is chronically compromised, many
other body systems may function below the level
that nature intended. For example, poor circulation puts the immune system at risk by hindering
the elimination of toxins, thus diminishing the
bodys overall functional capacity (Jerath 2006).
Pranayama plays a major role in keeping the
processes of the physical and energetic body
healthy and in preventing the physical decay that
occurs when cells receive inadequate oxygen over
a prolonged period. Choppy, shallow breathing
occurs when the sympathetic nervous system
activates the bodys fight-flight-freeze response
to a situation perceived as threatening. When
this system remains activated over a long time,
it causes hormonal changes, which in turn produce physiological responses that endocrinologist Hans Selye labeled as general adaptation
syndrome. The resulting increase in cortisol and
adrenaline stresses the body and often leads to
one of many causes of premature death, such as
heart disease or stroke.

Anatomy of Breathing
A proper full, deep breath begins from the base
of the diaphragm near the pelvic girdle. This
action alone helps relax the rest of the respiratory muscles, as well as some neck muscles. The
calming effect of deep breathing is brought about
by the parasympathetic nervous system, which,
when activated, allows the body to rest and conserve energy. At the same time, this effect deactivates the sympathetic nervous system, which
regulates bodily functions involving the energy
expenditure generally associated with the bodys
self-protection during the activation of the fightflight-freeze response. As a result, according to
an article published in the International Journal

Breathing and Beyond


of Preventive Medicine (2012), the regular yogic
practice of deep, slow, nostril breathing produces
a multitude of health benefits: reduced anxiety,
healthier blood pressure, balanced brain waves,
and improved physical endurance.
The human breathing process is centered in a
crowded part of the bodythe torso,where most
of the bodys major organs are located adjacent
to one another. The heart resides almost in the
middle of the chest, and the bulk of its mass lies
toward the left side. As a consequence, this fistsized organ leaves the left lung room for only two
lobes, whereas the right lung has three.
The diaphragm, a parachute-shaped muscle, is
located below the heart and lungs and attaches
to the lumbar spine, the lower six ribs, and the
sternum. As this powerful muscle contracts,
the space in the chest cavity expands, giving
the lungs room to fill. Similarly, the intercostal
muscles, located between the ribs, also contract
to expand the rib cage upward and outward. As
this space opens, air is drawn in and the lungs
inflate. Exhalation occurs when the diaphragm
relaxes, moves upward in the chest, and presses
the air out of the lungs (figure 4.1).
Beneath the diaphragm are located additional
organsthe liver to the right and the stomach
and spleen to the left. The diaphragm also has
three openings to allow passage of the esophagus,
the inferior vena cava, and the aorta. As you can

Nose
Mouth
Trachea

Lung

Diaphragm

Figure 4.1 The diaphragm and lungs in the thoracic


cavity.
E6251/Ambrosini/fig04.01/518474/pulled/r1-alw

imagine, then, when the diaphragm is activated,


the many surrounding tissues and organs get
massaged and stimulated.
When a person breathes too shallowly, the
diaphragm does not contract fully, which means
that the lungs do not expand to full capacity. As
a result, air is moved only into the upper chest,
which strains the neck and shoulder muscles
and therefore causes more rapid and shortened
breaths. In this way, a person who breathes consistently into the chest rather than into the belly
creates strain in the entire body, robbing cells and
tissues of needed oxygen and creating weakness
and imbalance in the diaphragm and intercostal
(rib) muscles.

Types of Pranayama
If you watch a young child sleep, you will notice
the smooth, rhythmic rise and fall of the belly
and the gentle expansion of the upper torso
and chest. This is how all human beings begin
breathingfree from worries about constantly
needing to suck in our gut and simply allowing the fullness of prana to flow easily into and
through our body. Over time, however, we tend
to pick up stresses and carry them through our
lifes journey; therefore, we need to retrain our
breathing process. The idea is to get the breath
to expand below the rib cage toward the navel by
engaging the diaphragm more completely.
Simply observing the breath is a type of pranayama that is often practiced during Shavasana
(Corpse Pose). When we breathe more efficiently,
we can take in sufficient oxygen with fewer
breaths. Animals that take fewer breaths generally live longer. For example, a tortoise breathes
four times per minute and lives up to 300 years.
The average human, in contrast, takes 16 to 20
breaths per minute and usually does not reach
his or her 100th birthday!
It is possible for the mind to be alert while the
body is quiet and calm. It is also possible to be
very active while breathing steadily and smoothly
through the nose. Not only can we practice yoga
more efficiently and easily, but also we can walk,
run, and even swim at a good pace while breathing deeply and relatively slowlyand without
taking oxygen in through the mouth, which tends
to dehydrate the body.
There are many styles and techniques of
pranayama practice. The three most commonly
practiced methods are outlined in the following

49

50

Instructing Hatha Yoga


subsections: deep abdominal breathing, complete
yogic breath, and ujjayi[oo-JAAHY-ee] breathing.
A fourth subsection addresses the alternate-
nostril breathing technique (nadi shodhana
[NAAH-dee SHOH-duh-nuh]), which can be
taught either at the beginning or end of a class
session or separately from a typical class setting.
All of the methods are easily taught; however, it
is best to receive hands-on training from a qualified instructor before teaching these styles in
any great depth.

breathing styles tend to be easier to grasp and


perform.
To view a video clip which demonstrates deep
abdominal breathing, visit the web resource at
www.HumanKinetics.com/InstructingHatha
Yoga.

Complete Yogic Breathing


Some refer to full, deep breathing as durga
breathing. It is the practice of fully inflating the
lungs from bottom to top. A full, deep breath has
three parts. One begins by breathing deeply into
the abdominal area and continuing to inhale,
thus filling the entire torso with breath from the
abdomen to the collarbones. At the end of this
deep inhalation, the sternum rises (from lifting
the front ribs by using the mid-back muscles
assisted by deep breathing) and the collarbones
(clavicles) expand forward and up while the
shoulders remain relaxed.

Deep Abdominal Breathing


The simplest form of pranayama practice involves
breathing deeply into the abdomen. Teaching this
breath style gives students the opportunity to
become more fully aware of their current breathing patterns and shows them an easy way to begin
to control their breathing. One way to teach deep
abdominal breathing is to have students place
the hands on the lower abdomen over the navel.
Instruct them to breathe slowly and deeply so
that the hands gently rise from the expansion of
the breath.
This exercise can be done while standing, sitting, or (most easily) lying on the ground, either
supine (faceup) or prone (facedown). Students
should feel the belly expand while the ribs, chest,
and shoulders remain relaxed (see figure 4.2). For
additional feedback when lying supine, a small
sandbag can be placed on the abdomen, which
produces a slight feeling of resistance and can
help students draw the breath deeper into the
belly.
If students lie prone, the hands should be
placed beneath the forehead for comfort. For
feedback, students can use the feeling of the
abdomen expanding against the ground. To further aid students, ask them to imagine being a
small boat drifting on the gentle sea of the breath.
They can think of the torso rising and falling like
small waves. Once a person becomes comfortable
with deep abdominal breathing techniques, other

When teaching the complete yogic


breathing technique, repeat the following cue: Chest up, shoulders
down.
The inhalation is full and deep into the
abdomen, and the exhalation is equally deep
and complete. When teaching this pranayama
technique, direct students to release the breath
from the top of the torso to the bottomfrom
the chest down to the abdomen. At the end of the
exhalation, instruct students to gently squeeze the
abdomen in to expel as much old air as possible,
thus enabling an even deeper inhalation on the
next in-breath. If students have difficulty using
this technique to breath rhythmically, begin by
focusing on the exhalation, which is the most
relaxing stage of breathing.
To view a video clip which demonstrates
complete yogic breathing, visit the web resource

a
Figure 4.2 Deep abdominal breathing: (a) in and (b) out.

Breathing and Beyond


at www.HumanKinetics.com/InstructingHatha
Yoga.

Ujjayi Breathing
Ujjayi breathing is a more sophisticated pranayama technique that is used most often in
Ashtanga yoga classes. Basic ujjayi breath tends
to expand the lungs and chest more fully than
most other pranayama practices, and with
morecontrol, and also can help warm the body.
The breath produces a noise that resembles
something like a whispering roar as it vibrates in
the back of the throat and sinus areas, making a
sibilant ssss on inhalation and a hhhh sound
during exhalation. When students synchronize
their breathing in this manner, it sounds like a
pod of dolphins breathing together.
One easy way to introduce ujjayi breathing is
to ask students to begin breathing through an
open mouth while slightly tightening the back
of the throat. This action helps make the breath
more audible. Instruct students to whisper as
they inhale and exhale. For the more difficult
inhalation sound, you might have them practice
making an ash sound while slowly breathing
in. The exhalation is easier, because they can
usually get a good sound by trying to whisper a
prolonged ha.
Although breathing through an open mouth
makes it easier to feel the breath and hear the
sound, mouth breathing can be very dehydrating.
As students become more comfortable with the
breathing rhythm, instruct them to continue to
breathe through the nose. As they breathe slowly
and deeply through the nose, they should strive to
keep and emphasize the sound vibrations.
This breathing method is very efficient, and it
helps students focus not only on breathing but
also on the flow of asana movements. Because
ujjayi makes such a distinct sound, it automatically brings students back to awareness of the
breath. When a whole class uses this pranayama
technique, the students become a community,
helping each other focus through the sound they
are emanating. For example, in one class, on a
day when a certain accomplished ujjayi breather
was absent, the other students commented on
how much they missed her audible breathing to
help them stay focused on their own breathing
during asana practice.
To view a video clip which demonstrates
ujjayi breathing, visit the web resource at www
.HumanKinetics.com/InstructingHathaYoga.

Alternate-Nostril Breathing
Known as nadi shodhana, alternate-nostril
breathing increases and balances the prana flow
in both nostrils and throughout the whole body.
The term nadishodhana means to clean the nadis,
or nasal passages, which are channels through
which the energy, or prana, circulates. Chapter
5 provides more information about the energy
system; meanwhile, this section acquaints you
with the basic technique and the main benefits
of alternate-nostril breathing so that you can
practice and teach it.
According to Dr. Jeannette Vos, an expert in
education and brain research and best-selling
author of The Learning Revolution,people learn
five times more information when both hemispheres of the brain are active. Alternate-nostril
breathing engages both hemispheres of the brain
as it opens up both nostrils for a better breath.
The clearing and balancing effects of nadi
shodhana on both the left and right nostrils makes
it easier for students to breathe through the nose
overall. Unlike ujjayi, nadi shodhana is a quiet
breathing practice. It comes in many variations
and styles of hand positioning and fingering; the
most traditional way is to use the thumb and the
ring and little fingers of the right hand to alternately close and release the nostrils. The index
and middle fingers are folded inward toward the
palm (see figure 4.3).
To begin, invite students to the ground to find
a comfortable position. Usually, students are
seated, but one nice way to teach this technique is
to have them lie supine with the legs in a comfortable cross-legged position either on the ground
or up against a wall. Instruct students as follows:
Begin by exhaling through your left
nostril while your right thumb closes
your right nostril. Now inhale through
your left nostril. Use the ring and little
fingers of your right hand to close your
left nostril and release your right nostril. Exhale through your right nostril.
Inhale through your right nostril. Close
your right nostril with your thumb.
Open your left nostril by releasing
your ring and little fingers and exhale
through your left side.
This process completes one breath cycle. To start,
ask the students to try seven to ten cycles through
both nostrils.

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52

Instructing Hatha Yoga

Figure 4.3 Hand positioning for nadi shodhana breathing.

These are simple, directed breathing techniques that can be introduced to students at
all levels of yoga experience. There are many
variations, both in hand positioning and in the
duration of the breathing cycles. The key is to help
your students understand that it is important to
be aware of their breathing, not only during asana
practice but also throughout the day.
To view a video clip which demonstrates
alternate-nostril breathing, visit the web resource at
www.HumanKinetics.com/InstructingHathaYoga.

Instructing the Breathing


Process
Some schools of yoga instruct students that pranayama should be practiced only under the tutelage of a seasoned professional yoga instructor. In
other words, they take a Dont try this at home!
approach. Others, however, preach that students
must practice these techniques every day.
One reason for caution regarding pranayama is
to deter those who would abuse or exploit shallow
knowledge of such a powerful and sacred tool.
Without a good foundation, a novice practitioner
might hyperventilate or hold the breath when
it is inappropriate to do so. However, when the
focus is constantly brought back to the breath

in an appropriate fashion, the student develops


a strong internal focus and a deeper awareness
of the body overall. Thus, the body and mind
are gradually disciplined into the habit of better
breathing and posture.
The breath, like the perception of the body in
the asanas, should be felt and visualized from the
inside out. Instruct your students to visualize the
breath as white light radiating from the center of
the body, first to expand the spaces of the body
and then to move beyond the bodys edges. The
spine lengthens with the inhalation, and the
spaces between the vertebrae and the ribs expand
in all directions. The skin across the sternum
subtly stretches, both vertically and horizontally.
When students ask you how or what they should
practice at home between classes, educate them
about the benefits of simply becoming more
aware of their breath at any time during the day
and of learning how to breathe more slowly and
deeply.
Here are some basic guidelines to apply to
pranayama practice. They may also be applied
to asana and meditation practice.
One minute fully focused is better than
twenty minutes with no focus! What really matters is not quantity but quality. Start by committing to only 30 seconds or a few easy rounds of
breathing. Consider that a person who decides to
run a marathon would be foolish to train on the
first day by running 20 miles (32 kilometers). Why
approach pranayama practice in such a manner?
Expand according to your joy, not your
clock. When the benefits of pranayama are felt
and experienced, the result is a natural desire to
expand the time spent in practice. This expansion
often occurs without even being noticed by the
student. To use another running analogy, a person
who truly enjoys running often looks forward to
taking a longer run rather than viewing it as a
chore.
What is the meaning of pranayama practice?
No matter what is practiced, every action should
have meaning. Instead of simply understanding
on an intellectual level that one should practice
pranayama, the true meaning behind the action
must be exposed and addressed. The motive
need not be spiritual in nature. If a student
starts practicing pranayama because he or she
believes that it makes the face wrinkle less, that
is an appropriate motive and will lead to further
self-exploration. In fact, many people start doing
asanas to lose weight. Once the excess weight is

Serg Myshkovsky/istock.com

Breathing and Beyond

Asanas and pranayama work together to establish good posture and to open the torso for better breathing.

gone, or they simply begin to feel better, they are


past the physical concerns of appearance and
open themselves up to feeling, eating, and thinking better as well! Understanding the importance
of breath awareness to overall health allows
students to more fully reap the benefits of pranayama practice, both as its own discipline and as
a support for overall asana practice.

As in asana practice, if a pranayama


technique makes you feel dizzy, nauseated, or highly uncomfortable, its
best to stop and perhaps resume at
another time.

Linking Pranayama
With Asanas
Many people find it difficult to sit and focus
solely on the breath. The mind constantly begs for

attention or entertainment, and the body becomes


numb and restless. It is common to feel more like
an untamed lion than a peaceful and content yogi!
With this in mind, an asana session can be used
to jump-starta pranayama practice; the calming
effects of the breath help relax the mind, and the
rhythm and focus of the asanas give the body
what it cravesmovement.
Pranayama allows you to achieve a relaxed yet
focused state of being, both mentally and physically. Moreover, asanas and pranayamathe third
and fourth limbs of yogawork together in that
the good structural posture created through continual asana practice allows for increased space
in the torso, thus enabling greater breath volume.
Asanas also loosen the tight muscles of the rib
cage and the diaphragm so that the breath can
expand more fully. The more the breath expands,
the more effectively the circulatory and muscular
systems work.
After years of shallow breathing, the diaphragm and intercostal muscles lose functional
capacity and flexibility. When a muscle is not
regularly stretched and strengthened, it loses both
mass and function. The asanas strengthen the

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Instructing Hatha Yoga


torsos deep core muscles, which in turn support
good spinal posture and enhance the range of
motion and stability of the entire body.
Here are some general pranayama instructions
for students during asanas:
Breathe slowly and deeply through the nose.
A good duration to strive for is seven seconds for
the inhalation and seven seconds for the exhalation. Breathing through the nose allows for a
slightly higher oxygen uptake and filters the air
while preventing the dehydration that occurs with
mouth breathing.
Keep the breath smooth and steady. Jerky
or labored breath is a sign that a student is struggling and possibly overstraining. In that case, the
student should modify or come out of the asana.
Expanding and opening movements of
asanas usually occur on the inhalation, generally when moving the body into extension. For
example, you might say, Inhale as you raise your
arms overhead orInhale and gently bend back
to open up the chest.
Releasing or relaxing movements of asanas
generally occur on the exhalation. For example:
Exhale as you bend forward from your hips.
Actions that move the body into flexion, especially forward folds, feel more comfortable during
exhalation.
Visualize your breath moving into any area
of tension or resistance in order to soften and
release mental and physical blocks and bring
greater circulation and awareness to the affected
area.

Summary
The lessons and benefits of pranayama practice
take time. Give students a chance to feel, see, and
in some instances (such as ujjayi) even hear their
breath. Remember, students cannot be reminded
enough to focus on their breath; constant feedback is necessary. Start students off with good,
deep, slow abdominal breathing; then, as the class
progresses, begin teaching durga breathing with
the asanas. If you teach a physically strenuous
yoga class, such as an Ashtanga practice or rapid
vinyasa, the ujjayi breath techniques generally
take more time to teach when working with less
experienced students.
Also, because it is best to teach from experience, remember to practice these techniques
yourself. If you are just starting out as a yoga
teacher, breathing deeply and slowly will also help
you feel less nervous. If you have been teaching
for a while, then you already know the benefits of
these pranayamas and may be ready to incorporate these beneficial techniques into your classes.
Pranayama practice offers so many physical and
mental benefits, not the least of which is to clear
the mind. Prana signifies the breath and vital life
energy, and cleansing the energy channels is an
integral component of breath work because it aids
mental focus. Pranayama breathing enhances the
rejuvenating effects of the parasympathetic nervous system. Deep, slow breathing provides greater
oxygenation with less effort, thus reducing stress on
the entire cardiovascular system. Focused breathing also makes a positive difference in ones ability,
comfort, and awareness during asana practice.

Review Questions
1. Identify an epidemic habit in modern society that contributes to the stress and high
anxiety suffered by many people.
2. How can a student bypass the chatter in
his or her mind and ego?
3. ___________ can be triggered either negatively through shallow, labored breathing
or positively through smooth, flowing
breaths that stabilize thoughts and allow
relaxation to set in.
4. Choppy, shallow breathing is associated
with which nervous system?

5. What type of breathing was mentioned in


a National Institutes of Health report as a
way to improve physical endurance?
6. How many breaths per minute does the
average human take?
7. What are the three most common pranayama techniques taught in asana classes?
8. What is nadi shodhana, and what effect
does it have on the brain hemispheres?
9. Which is generally better while entering
Uttanasana (Intense Forward Bend)
inhaling or exhaling?

Energy
and Anatomy

RyanJLane/istock.com

n order to guide students through


an asana practice without harm,
you must understand the basic
mechanics of human movement and
be able to provide skillful cues. You
give your students more protection
when you include kinesthetic and
auditory instruction rather than using
only visual demonstration. If you teach
primarily through demonstration, students tend to concentrate on imitating
your movements instead of focusing
inward to become aware of their personal edge or the boundaries of their
physical and mental capabilities.
In contrast, good instructors facilitate students awareness and experience of playing the edge in a posture
without going beyond their physical
and emotional limits. In this way,
they help students arrive at a place of
deeper personal understanding on the
physical, mental, and emotional levels.
Certainly, in this process, students
may experience some struggles, both
physical and mental. However, if they
surpass their personal edge in an asana,
the possibility of injury increases.
Therefore, as a yoga teacher, you
need to have a firm grasp on the limits
of your students knowledge of biomechanics and their physical and mental
capacity to focus. In addition, because
of the dynamic qualities of most styles

55

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Instructing Hatha Yoga


of hatha yoga, all instructors must have at least
a basic understanding of what is called energetic
anatomy. You must also understand how the
human musculoskeletal and physiological systems function before guiding students through
a class or providing hands-on adjustments to
postures.
This chapter begins with an explanation of how
practicing yoga postures affects the major body
systems. It then introduces energetic anatomy
and defines the terms used to describe it. Later
sections of the chapter provide an overview of
basic human kinematics, movement systems,
planes of motion, and muscle mechanics. They
also illustrate the importance of describing and
applying proper mechanics when observing and
adjusting students in asanas.

Because of internal imbalances, a


student sometimes unintentionally
moves the body in a manner that
creates a risk of injury. It is your
duty to help such a student move in
a mechanically sound manner that
helps maintain joint integrity and
decreases the chance of injury.

Yoga Postures and Major


Body Systems
The beneficial effects of yoga asanas are relative to the postures being practiced. Therefore,
a well-rounded program includes a number of
asanas from each categorystanding, seated,
supine, prone, inverted, and restorative (all
covered in part II of the book)and moves the
spine through its total range of motion to bring
about the best results. A balanced yoga practice
affects the person as a whole, helping to eliminate
stress; rejuvenate the immune system;and protect against age-related degenerative conditions
such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease (Sengupta 2012). Use the detailed
information presented in the following sections
to educate students when they ask, What can
yoga do for me?

Skeletal System
Bones make up the frame of the body. Bone-
tissue growth, or osteogenesis,is stimulated by
weight-bearing activity; therefore, weight-bearing
yoga practice helps keep the skeleton strong and
aligned and reduces ones general risk of injury.
More specifically, the standing poses, especially
those that require balancing, create and maintain joint stability in the hips, knees, and ankles.
Asanas that work the arms build strength and
stability in the shoulder joints; examples include
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing
Dog) and plank pose variations. Twists and inversions, on the other hand, utilize the abdominal
and spinal muscles and keep the spine strong and
aligned. Overall, hatha yoga helps maintain the
integrity of structural balance and therefore helps
prevent and alleviate osteoporosis, arthritis, and
mechanical misalignments.
When strong, balanced muscles and tendons
hold the bones in place during movement,
mechanical alignment is maintained within a
joint. Chiropractors manipulate the joints of the
spine to realign them, but if the muscle tissues
that connect to the spine are not balanced and
strengthened, then the adjustment is temporary.
Similarly, many treatments can relieve the pain
of a ruptured disc or pinched nerve, but in the
long run the safest and least expensive approach
is usually to treat the root cause of misalignments.
Just as car tires need to be balanced and held
in place, the joints of the human body are kept
in alignment by strong, balanced muscles. When
your car tires are misaligned, unnecessary strain
is placed on the structure of your vehicle. Not only
do your tires wear out much faster, but also your
steering is impeded in proportion to the degree of
imbalance. Even after you get your tires balanced,
if the mechanic neglects to secure them properly,
thenlike your joints after a chiropractic adjustmentthe alignment may not hold.

Muscular System
When muscles are not used, they lose mass and
functionality; normal muscle function can also be
hindered by chronic tension or scar tissue from
healing after an injury. Yoga, on the other hand,
is one of the few physical practices that increase
functional strength, flexibility, and mobility in a
balanced way. Research performed at the Uni-

Energy and Anatomy

These women are minimizing their risk of osteoporosis and arthritis by practicing a fun, weight-bearing pose.

versity of California, Davis, demonstrated that


after only eight weeks of practicing yoga, study
participants experienced a 31 percent increase
in muscular strength, a 57 percent increase in
muscular endurance, and a 188 percent increase
in flexibility (Bauman 2002).
Asana practice strengthens and deeply stretches
the muscles. Both stability and range of motion
are needed for optimal performance of the muscles, joints, and connective tissues (such as fascia,
tendons, and ligaments). Therefore, hatha yoga
practice not only promotes basic healthy functioning but also enhances fitness.
Indeed, the human body is made to move,
and regular yoga practice helps preserve, and
often enhance, daily living skills. Ultimately, if
a person does not maintain functional strength
and mobility, he or she may suffer reduced or lost
ability to perform simple tasks, such as getting
up from a chair, walking up stairs, or opening a
jar. Asana practice also helps prevent repetitive
motion strain by strengthening and balancing
the opposing muscles in a joint. In addition, a
well-balanced muscular system protects other
bodily systems; as muscles flex, extend, and
rotate, they massage and manipulate adjacent
structures, such as the spine and internal organs.

Digestive System
The gastrointestinal tract is also toned and
stretched through asana practice; sluggish digestion is stimulated by the rhythmic movements
of the body. More specifically, forward bends
can stimulate digestion and hunger; in contrast,
hunger is often reduced by backbends because
they stretch the vagus nerve, which is involved
in the control of digestion. Backbends also

stretch the stomach away from the esophagus


and diaphragm, thus greatly reducing the risk of
herniation when they are practiced on a regular
basis. In addition, the rhythmic movement of
poses that affect the spinal and abdominal muscles simultaneously massage the liver, pancreas,
and other organs.
Because yoga asanas encourage healthy digestion and elimination, they increase nutritional
absorption and decrease constipation, gas, and
toxicity. For persons who suffer from digestive
system disorders, such as heartburn and irritable
bowel syndrome, the gentle stretching and compressing of twisting yoga postures helps increase
circulation and soothes the entire system, thus
helping it heal.

Reproductive System
For women in their childbearing years, the hormonal fluctuations of the monthly cycle often
cause unpleasant effects, such as painful menstrual cramps, backache, and irritability. Happily, the stress-reducing properties of restorative
asanas can help calm ones mood. Asanas that
open the hips can be applied to both menstrual
disorders and pregnancy. For example, Malasana
(Basic Squat, or Bead Pose) is a good preparation and labor technique because it flushes the
reproductive and urinary organs with greater circulation and stretches and strengthens the pelvic
supporting structures. Practitioners can also
prevent or reverse prolapse in these areas through
the practice of mulabandha (root lock; see later
section on bandhas). And for women who have
difficulty with pregnancy, the hormone-regulating
effects of hatha yoga often help create the conditions for successful conception and gestation.

57

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Instructing Hatha Yoga


Restorative yoga asanas have also been
shownto relieve many symptoms in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women (Kaur
Khalsa 2007). Here again, fluctuating hormones
can cause a range of uncomfortable effects: hot
flashes, irritability, insomnia, intense fatigue, and
depression. Erratic hormone fluctuations can
be counteracted and balanced by the restorative
poses, which calm the nervous system on a deep
level.
The male reproductive system also benefits greatly from yoga practice. Specifically,
pelvic-opening postures loosen and support the
hips and lower back. Practicing mula bandha in
certain poses helps strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and increases blood flow, which, especially
in older men, may help decrease swellingin the
prostate gland (Bonura 2013). As mentioned earlier, the relaxing properties of restorative yoga also
lower stress hormone levels, which may in turn
help with performance-related conditions in men.

Respiratory System
The skin is the largest organ of the human body;
it is also part of the respiratory system. Therefore,
as pranayama improves the entire respiratory
system, it benefits the skin as well. In addition,
both pranayama and asana practice optimize lung
capacity by increasing the elasticity of the intercostal (inter-rib) muscles. As a result, although
the rib junctions and spine typically stiffen with
agethus diminishing the thoracic cage and,
in turn, ones capacity for oxygen intakeyoga
practice provides the opposite effect.
Asana practice also expands the intercostal
muscles, thus enabling the walls of the lungs to
remain elastic. In addition, the alveoli (sacs that
contain air in the lungs) are opened more fully,
thus improving oxygen perfusion in the lungs. In
forward-bending asanas, the posterior lungs get
stretched and are well ventilatedwhich is not
the case in most other forms of exercise.
Poses such as Adho Mukha Shvanasana
(Downward-Facing Dog) can improve vital
capacity, producing the effect of having run for
a prolonged period without the accompanying
strain.
This effect can be assessed by means of a
.
VO2max test, which measures a persons maximal
oxygen uptake and can be used to calculate how
efficiently the person uses oxygen. In onestudy,

.
regular yoga practitioners had VO2max measurements equivalent to athletes in moderately intense
sports (Bauman 2002). Ultimately, then, yoga
improves the cardiovascular system.

Circulatory System
Like the skeletal muscles, the heart and blood
vessels are strengthened and kept supple by yoga.
For example, backbending movements strengthen
the cardiac sphincter. In addition, the anterior
and lateral walls (front and sides) of the heart
are completely stretched and strengthened as
the anterior body elongates from the arch, thus
aiding healthy blood flow around the periphery
of the organ. Also, all asanas enhance blood flow
into the thoracic bed and improve the elasticity
of the aorta.
You may have heard of angina, which is referred
chest pain occurring when the heart receives insufficient oxygen. Angina tolerance can be improved
by yoga and many other types of exercise. However,
the other types lack the arterial-massage effect
created by yoga movements.
Because standing poses are more static than
dynamic, they cause only minimal lactic acid
to form in the skeletal muscles, thus avoiding
fatigue in both the muscles and the circulatory
system. Yoga practice also aids the health of the
entire vascular system as blood vessels get relief
from gravity in inversions and restorative poses,
in which the legs are raised or the head is placed
below the heart. The constant massaging effect
of the asanas reduces the formation of varicose
veins. Yoga also increases circulation to the brain,
which can reduce the chance of stroke. And the
rhythmic nature of asanas and breath awareness
allow increased efficiency in the circulatory
system without undue strain on any body system.

Endocrine System
The endocrine system monitors and produces
hormonal secretions needed to regulate body
functions. When operating well, this system
creates a healthy balance (homeostasis) in the
body, thus strengthening the immune system
and increasing ones resistance to illness. The
pineal gland, an endocrine gland associated with
the sixth chakra [CHUK-ruh] or energy center, is
located in the midbrain and regulates the function

Energy and Anatomy


of the other endocrine glands. Also considered
the bodys third eye, the pineal gland secretes
the hormones known as serotonin and melatonin,
which stabilize the bodys rhythms in processes
such as sleep, mood regulation, sexual function,
memory, and appetite. Blood flow to this area of
the brain is increased by inverted poses such as
Salamba Shirshasana (Supported Headstand).
Yoga practice also aids other endocrine glands.
For example, the thymus, which plays a major role
in immune function, is located in the mid-sternal
area, which can be stretched and stimulated by
backbends and chest-opening poses. Salamba
Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand), on
the other hand, increases circulation in and
around the thyroid and parathyroid glands. The
thyroid is responsible for thermoregulation, as
well as growth and repair of bodily tissues. It is
believed that regular flushing of this gland helps
guard against imbalances such as hyper- and
hypothyroidism, which cause either agitation and
irritability or slowed metabolism, respectively.
The parathyroid regulates the bodys metabolism
of calcium and phosphorus, which, when out of
balance, negatively affect bone and kidney health.
The pancreas produces insulin, which is
necessary in regulating blood sugar. It can be
stimulated by asanas that gently stretch or exert
pressure on the abdominal area, such as twists,
forward flexion, and even simple backbends.
The adrenal glands produce and discharge
adrenaline and noradrenaline during stressful situations for use in the fight-flight-freeze response.
If the adrenals are underactive, the body is not
equipped to protect itself; if they are overactive,
the stress exhausts the body and negatively affects
the immune system. To stimulate the adrenal
glands, which are located just above the kidneys,
it helps to practice supported backbends. Supportive yoga poses and pranayama practices also
help calm the nervous system.
Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of
the immune system with regard to mindbody
health. More specifically, this form of study looks
at how behavior and perceptions work with the
endocrine system to influence overall well-being.
Of the seven major energy centers, or chakras,
identified in energetic anatomy, the ones that correspond to the endocrine system are associated
with physical and mental balance. Both energetic
anatomy and the chakras are discussed in more
detail in the next section.

Nervous Systems
The brain and spinal cord form the central nervous system (CNS), which is the bodys command
center. The CNS receives and interprets information sent from the bodys many systems and, after
processing the signals, sends out impulses for
these systems to act on. The CNS is connected to
the muscles and glands by the peripheral nervous
system (PNS), which relays information between
the CNS and the bodys periphery. The PNS is
further divided into the somatic and autonomic
nervous systems. Somatic neurons (nerve cells)
send impulses from the CNS to the skeletal muscles to produce movement, whereas autonomic
neurons connect to the two types of involuntary
muscle tissues: smooth (located in the stomach,
intestines, and blood vessels) and cardiac (located
in the heart).
The autonomic nervous system is further
divided into the sympathetic nervous system
(SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system
(PSNS). These two branches play key roles in the
stress response. When the SNS is stimulated, it
calls the bodys systems into action. The typical
response of a person under stress includes an
increase in heart rate and respiration, a redirection of blood flow away from vital organs and into
skeletal muscles, and dilation of the pupils. These
actions are a result of a surge of adrenalin, norepinephrine, cortisol, and other stress hormones
racing through the body.
The roles of the PSNS, in contrast, are to
bring the bodys systems back to normal after a
stressful event and to conserve the bodys energy.
As the PSNS shuts down the stress responses of
the sympathetic system, it also nourishes and
rebuilds the body to bring systems back into
balance and relative calm. If the PSNS is unable
to bring relief to the bodywhich is often the
case in modern societyeventually all systems
of the body become overtaxed. In many cases,
when the PSNS is unable to do its work, organs
and systems begin to fail and illness and disease
set in. The result is often early death.
As mentioned in chapter 4, pranayama
strengthens the PSNS by bringing relaxation
through rhythmic breathing. With this effect in
mind, students practice Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
at the end of each asana session as a method of
deep relaxation and restoration.

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All asanas promote homeostasis,


or internal equilibrium, in which
the body functions without strain.
Asanas that place the spine in a
horizontal position are especially
good because they quiet the sympathetic neurons and regulate blood
pressure.

Energetic Anatomy
All forms of life have an essential energy flowing
throughout their physical structure. To many,
this energy is the essence of life itself, and many
world cultures understand the relative health of
their citizens on the basis of the health of the
energy systems in each individual. The term
energetic anatomy (alternately, metaphysical anatomy) refers to systems in the body that are not
necessarily observable. Energetic anatomy may
or may not be consciously felt, and only recently
has it been measured by modern science, yet
teachings about this subtle system have existed
since ancient times.
The bodys energy channels, or meridians, are
mapped out in traditional Chinese medicine.
These maps are used to guide practitioners in
treating patients through acupuncture. The
channels are also mapped out in Ayurveda, the
ancient medicine of India, and the Ayurvedic
term for such a channel is nadi [NAAH-dee]. The
nadis make up a vast network throughout the
body and connect from the chakras, or power
centers, which are located vertically alongside
the spinal column.
In 2000, Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama (2001),
renowned author, physiological psychologist, and
founder of the California Institute for Human
Science, demonstrated that the areas in the body
believed to be chakras have a distinct electrical
presence when compared with other locations of
the body. Thus he essentially verified the physical existence of the chakras. More information
on Dr. Motoyamas research can be found at the
institutes website (www.cihs.edu).
The nadis provide a network for energy to flow
from the chakras. Each chakra has a corresponding psychological and physical center. As the

body moves through a variety of asanas, these life


force (prana) energy centers are gently twisted,
compressed, and stretched. Special techniques in
hatha yoga are practiced as a means of moving
and conserving the energy of the metaphysical
body while protecting the physical body. Each of
these practices is referred to as a bandha [BUHNdhuh], which in Sanskrit means to hold or to
lock. Yogic anatomy also includes sheaths or
layers called koshas [KOH-shuhs], which are
briefly explained later in this chapter.

Chakras
The chakras are considered to be the major
energy centers of the physical and energetic body.
Energy moves through the seven main chakras,
which are spaced along the spine from its base
to the crown of the head. It is believed that each
chakra represents a level of developmental progression of consciousness in a persons life as he
or she follows the path toward enlightenment.
The chakras shown in figure 5.1 are eachassociated with a physical location in the body, as well
as an emotional or psychological manifestation.
Table 5.1 presents the chakras, their Ayurvedic
elements, and their physical and psychological
functions and associations. Chakra energies can
be affected profoundly by the movement and flow
of asana practice. Each poses physical orientation

Sahasrara
Ajna

Vishuddha

Anahata
Manipura
Svadhishthana
Muladhara

Figure 5.1 The physical locations associated with the


seven chakras.

Energy and Anatomy

Table 5.1 Chakras


Chakra

Location

7thSahasrara

Crown of head

6thAjna

Above and between the


eyebrows (the third eye)

Ayurvedic
element

Physical
function(s) and
association(s)

Kosha

Medulla oblongata,
pineal gland

Psychological
function(s) and
association(s)
Wisdom, intuition,
meditation

Ether

Thyroid

4thAnahata

Heart area

Air

Thymus, heart, respiration

Love, compassion,
immunity

3rdManipura

Solar plexus; navel area


(between the navel and
sternum)

Fire

Digestive system

Ambition, achievement, power, control

2nd
Svadhisthana

Sacral plexus (pelvic area) Water

Reproductive
system

Sexual energy,
self-esteem, identity

1stMuladhara

Perineum and coccyx


(between the genitalia
and the base of the spine)

Elimination

Survival, stability

Earth

and focus can help equalize imbalances in energy


and emotion. The main chakra associated with
an asana is included in the explanation of each
pose in chapters 7 through 11.

Bandhas
In traditional yoga, the bandhas are practices
used to control the bodys internal prana. The
three main bandhas described in this section were
customarily practiced in unison while in a seated
position. This advanced practice is called Maha
Bandha (the great lock). The purpose of this
practice is to allow the Kundalini energy to rise
from the base chakras and be purified through
the fire of the Manipura chakra. As the energy
continues to rise, blocks to free-flowing prana
are said to be eliminated.
In an asana practice, one or all of the bandhas
may be activated. Just as specific muscles are
activated to provide core strength or stability, the
bandhas act as metaphysical or core-energy stabilizers. A bandha essentially holds energy within
the body by contracting certain muscles; therefore, a bandha is often applied during an asana
because it enables greater energy and stamina
to remain within a person on both a physical
and an energetic level. However, one should not

Anandamaya
Vijnanamaya
Manomaya
Pranamaya
Annamaya

Expression, communication, will

5thVishuddha Throat

attempt to engage any or all of the bandhas on a


continual basis, or necessarily with 100 percent
effort. Because the bandhas act like a valve for
moving and retaining subtle energies, overusing
any of them is like overusing the muscles without
relaxation.
The associations and applications of energetic
anatomy are intertwined with physical, mental,
and emotional effects. For example, some yoga
styles advise women to refrain from practicing
Shirshasana (Headstand) and other inversions
during menstruation. It is believed that during
this time, as the body eliminates unused tissue,
a womans energy needs to flow downward.
The term for downward-moving energy is
apana (uh-PAAH-nuh). The apana is not only
in opposition to a physically inverted asana but
also in conflict with the upward promotion of
energy of the root lock, or mula bandha. Udana
[oo-DAAH-nuh], or upward movement, refers
to the upward-moving energy that directs effort
in the body.
A bandha is generally thought of solely in
energetic terms, but it is also a physical technique
that has physical effects, during which muscle
contraction occurs in a particular region of the
body. The body has three main bandhas: mula
[MOO-luh], uddiyana [ood-dee-AH-nuh], and
jalandhara [JAAH-lund-uh-ruh].

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Mula bandhaLocated in the perineum
between the anus and the genitalia. The action
of the lock is akin to Kegel exercise when the
pubococcygeal muscles are contracted. Practicing
mula bandha helps stimulate the digestive and
reproductive systems and brings an uplifting and
refreshing feeling to the asanas.
Uddiyana bandhaLocated in the lower
abdominal area. The action of this lock firms and
lifts the respiratory diaphragm and supporting
musculature, specifically the transverse abdominis, while still allowing for normal respiration.
The physical action of this bandha also helps
support and stabilize the back musculature in
inverted poses. The inward, lifting action draws
the energy in the same direction.
Jalandhara bandhaLocated at the top of
the throat. The action of this lock occurs when
the chest is lifted and the chin rests on or near
the sternal notch. This bandha is traditionally practiced in seated meditation. The slight
restriction in breathing caused by flexion in the
next benefits the respiratory system and calms
the nervous system by drawing attention to the
rhythm and flow of the breath, which generally
helps to alleviate physical and emotional stress.
By applying these physical techniques during
asana practice, students can better retain and
move energy throughout the body while increasing mental and physical stability, both during and
after practice.

Koshas
In traditional yoga anatomy, a persons physical
and energetic body are made up of five layers or
sheaths, called koshas. The layers can be thought
of as a progressive series of levels that make up

the reality of our existence and lead to Atman, our


eternal center. The koshas are as follows:
Annamaya [AAH-nuh-MAAH-yuh]Material, or physical, sheath that requires food. It is
the outermost level. This category includes all
of the gross anatomy forming the physical body.
Pranamaya [PRAAH-naah-MAAH-yuh]
Astral, or vital, sheath that channels prana
(breath) throughout the body. It is where sense
awareness resides, and it allows our true nature
to move in the world.
Manomaya [MAAH-noh-MAAH-yuh]
Emotional mind sheath, which comprises our
affect, feelings, and emotional quotient, or degree
by which we can empathize with others. We can
become more deeply aware of this kosha level
through meditation.
Vijnanamaya[vih-nyuh-nuh-MAAH-yuh]
Wisdom or knowing sheath, encompassing intelligence on the deepest level. This is where the
consciousness of the ego-self is manifested and
where an understanding of truth resides.
Anandamaya [AAH-nuhn-duh-MAAHyuh]The sheath of bliss. This sheath is the link
to and awareness of the infinite spirit of true
peace and joy.
One focus of this book is to help you develop
your understanding of how to teach and adjust
yoga postures appropriately. It is equally important to your students well-being that you develop
a basic understanding of ancient yogic beliefs
about the interconnectedness of the physical,
emotional, and spiritual realms of human existence. Table 5.1 presents the connection between
the chakras and koshasand physical and psychological functions and associations.
A yoga class can have a positive effect on the
koshas and create more balanced functioning of

Energy Words
Bandhas[BUHN-dhuhs]Physical techniques that lock in, move, and hold energy in the body.
Drishti[dr-EESH-tee]Area on which your physical eyes focus while practicing asanas.
Gunas[GOOH-naahs]Three subtle qualities of mental and spiritual nature that govern spiritual growth.
Koshas[KOH-shuhs]Energetic layers, or sheaths, that move inward from our outermost physical boundary
to our deepest spiritual core. Koshas provide the framework for how we conceptualize our deepest Self.
Mudras[muhd-RAAHS]Energy-locking techniques that generally consist of hand gestures, such as prayer
position, or Anjali Mudra [UHN-juh-lee muhd-RAAH].
Prana[PRAAH-naah]Life force inherent in the breath.

Energy and Anatomy


the chakras. Some people strive in yoga to integrate all of the faculties, as much as possible, in
order to experience spiritual ecstasy. Most people
in todays Western world, however, simply wish
to reduce stress and pain or improve the immune
system through yoga practice. Many people are
also motivated to be in better physical shape.
Regardless of ones aim, a certain mindfulness is
essential in all yoga practice and teaching. The
more prevalent this mindfulness is, the more profound the benefits are on all levels, both physical
and energetic.

Human Movement
Systems
Movement of the human body occurs at many
levelsfrom the molecular level, where oxygen
passes into the bloodstream, to the coordinated
effort of the musculoskeletal system in intricate
and complex single-limbed balance postures.
The gross, or large, anatomy of the human body
includes the physical structures that can be seen
with the naked eye. Although the practice of yoga
postures affects the body at all levels, this section
focuses on the interconnectedness of the musculoskeletal structures and how they are meant to
move efficiently and with minimal risk of injury.
Understanding the mechanical principles
of human movement can help you determine
how to structure your classes. Appropriately
sequenced classes afford students the maximum
physical and mental benefits possible. Applying
principles of human movement also enables you
to recognize when students place themselves at
risk of physical injuryand when, how, and why
to properly apply physical adjustments.

Musculoskeletal System
The human movement system is composed of
bones, skeletal muscles, tendons, ligaments, and
fasciae. The skeleton is the framework of bones
that defines ones shape and general physical
movement abilitiesas a human being. Muscles
are attached to bones by tendons and other connective tissue and provide the means to move
the bones through specific movement patterns. A
joint is formed where the ends of two bones come
together; within a joint, bones are bound together
mainly by ligaments. For movement to occur, a
muscle must be attached to two separate bones

and cross a joint. When that muscle contracts


concentrically (see the later section of this chapter
describing muscular contractions), the bone acts
as a lever to create movement.

Skeletal Muscle
In hatha yoga, a person moves from posture to
posture by means of the skeletal muscle contractions that create movement throughout the
body. An overview of muscle tissue illustrates how
movement in one part of the body affects other,
seemingly remote areas of the body.
Each skeletal muscle consists of layers of
muscle tissue bundled together, surrounded, and
intertwined by a matrix of dense collagenous
tissue called the deep fascia. At the end of each
muscle, the fascia converges as tendons and
connects the muscle to bone (see figure 5.2).
Within the muscle belly, the deep fascia separate
muscle tissue into smaller and smaller bundles
of contractile tissuesthe smallest of which are
myofibrils. A myofibril is a cylinder comprised of
proteins called actin and myosin. It is within the
myofibrils that muscular contraction occurs on a
microscopic level. (More information regarding
muscular contraction can be found in the section
How Muscles Create Movement.)

Fascia
The fascia is a web of connective tissue distributed throughout the body. Fascia is organic
material that not only holds the body together
but also is responsible for our basic human
shapeboth inside and out (Myers 2014). The
fibers of this matrix are infused throughout the
bodys cells and surround them from the epidermis inward. A subcutaneous layer of tissue, called
the superficial fascia, is located throughout the
body directly beneath the dermal layer of skin.
This fascia forms the "outer shell" of the entire

Muscle belly
Epimysium (deep fascia)

Tendon

Fasciculus
Endomysium
(between fibers)
Sarcoplasm Sarcolemma
Myofibril
Myofilaments
actin (thin)
Perimysium
myosin (thick)
Single muscle fiber
Nucleus

Figure 5.2 Arrangement of connective tissues in and


around a skeletalE6251/Ambrosini/fig05.02/524912/pulled/r1-alw
muscle.

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Instructing Hatha Yoga


body. As previously mentioned, the deep fascia
surrounds the muscle tissues. It also wraps a
continuous web over the nerves and the blood
and lymphatic vessels. When movement of the
muscles occurs, it creates a massaging action,
which helps circulate lymph and interstitial fluid
throughout the body.
On one level, the fascia acts much like a stocking does when it is pulled onto a leg. Imagine
pulling on a long stocking, then think about what
happens to the material at the toe when a tiny
section of the stocking is snagged at the upper
leg. The tension can be seen and felt through the
entire length of the stocking because all of the
material in it is interconnected. The effect is even
greater in the fascia because it contains more
layers than a stocking. Thus, to some degree, a
tight spot in the bodythat is, a spot of tension
affects the entire structure.
This description illustrates how interconnected
are the physical structures of the human body;
changes in one area affect another area, even
if no direct connection is apparent. As a result,
tension or strain in one area can manifest as pain
or dysfunction in other, seemingly unconnected,
areas. Practicing yoga postures helps the entire
system achieve more balance by strengthening,
stretching, and increasing mobility in the joints.

How Muscles
Create Movement
A body segment moves when a muscle applies
force through its tendon onto its bony attachment. When muscle fibers generate sufficient
tension, the muscle contracts, thus moving or
stabilizing the affected area of the body. Muscles
work in concert to move the body in a coordinated fashion. Due to the interconnectedness of
skeletal-system tissuesand the fact that many
muscles cross more than one jointtrying to
isolate a single muscle in a yoga posture (or any
other movement) is like trying to isolate a single
note in a musical chord.
However, even though multiple muscles influence the movement of a particular body part
or segment, a given movement is often driven
primarily by one muscle. This muscle is referred
to as the prime mover, whereas the other contributing muscles are referred to as synergisticor
collaborative muscles. In addition to aiding the
prime mover, synergistic muscles stabilize and
refine certain types of movement.

Types of Muscular Contraction


Most meaningful movement is created by a
coordination of different types of muscular
contraction. There are three primary types of
muscular contraction: concentric, which shortens
the muscle fibers; eccentric, which lengthens the
muscle fibers; and isometric, which holds the
muscle fibersat the same length. Asana practice
uses a variety of contractions when moving into,
remaining in, and moving out of positions. To
illustrate how a particular asana uses all three
types of contraction at various points, the following description highlights the action of the
oblique (lateral or side) abdominalsand the quadratus lumborum muscles (located on each side
of the spine in the lower back)when performing
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle).
An eccentric contraction occurs when
muscle fibers lengthen from a shortened state
while an external force (such as gravity) is
applied. The tension in the muscles acts as a braking force that resists the external force and often
slows the movement. In Extended Triangle, as a
person leans the torso out to the left and reaches
the left hand toward the ground, the internal and
external oblique muscles and the quadratus lumborum on the right side contract eccentrically in
order to lower the torso in a controlled fashion.
An isometric contraction occurs when the
muscle fiber length remains the same. As a person
holds the extended position in Extended Triangle,
the muscles (internal and external obliques and
quadratus lumborum) remain essentially the
same length to hold the body in place and keep
the rib cage from either collapsing or rounding.
A concentric contraction occurs when
muscle fibers draw together to shorten the
muscles length and bring the two ends of the
muscle toward each other. In Extended Triangle,
as a person moves back into an upright position,
the muscles (internal and external obliques and
quadratus lumborum) contract concentrically to
bring the person back to standing.
The same muscles are generally used throughout a given posture. The type of contraction,
however, varies with changes in the direction
of movement and the influence of gravity. This
statement holds true for most yoga postures and
is explained in more detail in each asana chapter
in part II.

Energy and Anatomy

Three-Dimensional Movement
To facilitate proper execution of an asana with
regard to the bodys spatial orientation, we use
standardized terms. The most widely accepted
way to describe movement patterns is to begin
with the body in what is called the anatomical
position. Picture a person standing erect with the
arms at the sides of the body and the head, chest,
palms, knees, and toes facing forward (see figure
5.3). Movement can then be described in terms
of how the body deviates from the anatomical
position.
For example, an action that moves a body
section away from the midline and to the side
of the body is referred to as abduction. When a
body section is moved from the side toward the
midline, that action is referred to as adduction.
When two bones, such as upper and lower arm
bones, move closer to each other, decreasing the
angle, the joint is said to be in flexion. When the
segments move away from each other, thereby
increasing the angle, the joint is said to be

Transverse

Frontal

Sagittal

Figure 5.3 The anatomical position.


E6251/Ambtosini/fig05.03/535439/KH/R2-alw

in extension. When a segment twists about a


fixed point within the joint, the action is referred
to as rotation.

Anatomical Planes of Motion


The body moves in the three planes of three-
dimensional space: sagittal, frontal (or coronal),
and transverse. Each plane is perpendicular to
each of the other two. By using these directional
terms, we can describe where a body segment is
in relation to anotherwhether standing, seated,
prone (facedown), or supine (faceup). The planes
of motion can be described more specifically as
follows.
The sagittal plane is a vertical plane that
passes through the body from front to back,
thereby dividing it into left and right sides (see
figure 5.4). Movements within this plane occur
forward and backward, as in the typical human
gait.
The frontal, or coronal, plane also passes
through the body vertically but divides it into
front (anterior) and back (posterior) parts (see
figure 5.5). Movement within this plane occurs
along the side of the body, as in side bends.
The transverse, or horizontal, plane passes
through the body horizontally, thereby dividing
it into upper and lower portions (see figure 5.6).
One example of movement within this plane is
found in rotation of the body about the spinal
axis, as in a twist or pirouette.
Figures 5.4 through 5.6 illustrate movement and
stillness in relation to the anatomical planes.
In figure 5.4, illustrating the sagittal plane,
the person is entering into Natarajasana (King
Dancer). The bent leg moves backward, and the
opposite shoulder is flexed; both actions take
place in the sagittal plane.
Figure 5.5 illustrates movement in the frontal
plane as part of Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
(Extended Hand-to-Toe Pose). In the beginning
phase (not shown), the hip flexes and the lifted leg
is in the sagittal plane. When the leg rotates out to
the side, the movement occurs in the transverse
plane; the leg then aligns with the rest of the body
in the frontal plane.
In any given class, the spine should move in
the six directions for which it is designed, which
all occur in the three planes: moving forward
and backward in the sagittal plane, bending
laterally to the left and right in the frontal plane,

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Figure 5.6 The transverse plane.


E6251/Ambronsini/fig 05.06/535422/kh/r1

Figure 5.4 The sagittal plane.


E6251/Amgrosini/fig 05.04/535440/pulled/R1-kh

and twisting (rotating) both left and right in the


transverse plane.

A well-crafted yoga class moves each


students limbs and spine through
their full range, thus engaging all
three planes of motion.

Mechanics of Asanas

Figure 5.5 The frontal plane.


E6251/Ambrosini/fig 05.06/535441/pulled/R1-kh

When executed correctly, most asanas move the


body fully through the three anatomical planes
of motion. For all students, especially those with
limited mobility, proper muscle alignment minimizes strain on the stabilizing structures of the
joints, thus increasing the efficiency of movement
and decreasing the risk of injury. One of the most
important areas of the human body consists of
the spine and its surrounding structures. Without mechanically sound alignment that begins
in the spine, the rest of the joints and segments
in any given asana can be thrown off balance. It
is therefore imperative to guide each student to
her or his best spinal alignment at the beginning
of a posturebefore the student moves deeper.

Energy and Anatomy

Spinal Positioning
The ideal in human postural alignment is a
flexible, strong spine with healthy curves; unlike
a pencil, the spine is not meant to be perfectly
straight. A normal, healthy spine contains 24
moving vertebrae and has a natural S shape when
viewed from the right (see figure 5.7). The cervical
(neck) area has a slight concave curvature. The
shape of the spine becomes convex in the thoracic
(upper middle) area of the back, then moves into
a concave curvature in the lumbar, or low back,
area. An additional convex curve is found in the
sacrum (mid-pelvis), which is the location of
an additional five fused vertebrae. The coccyx,
or tailbone, is an extension of the spine that
can move independently of the sacrum. Neutral
positioning of the spine occurs when the natural
curves are intact but not exaggerated.
The shape of the spinal curves, in addition
to the cushioning of the disks, provides shock
absorption and allows for greater range of motion
in the spine. At the same time, stability in the
range of motion, along with the spaces between
the vertebrae, allows the nerves to be free of
obstruction. One should strive to create as much
space as possible between the vertebrae when
standing in a semi-relaxed upright position, such
as Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Opening this space
helps lengthen the torso and allows for easier
movement about the spineboth in yoga and in
everyday movement patterns.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury
of healthy spinal curves. Problematic curvature

Cervical (7)

Thoracic (12)

Lumbar (5)

Sacral (5)
Coccyx (4)

Figure 5.7 The curves of the spine.


E6251/Ambrosini/fig05.07/524917/pulled/r3-alw

can take a variety of forms. A spine that curves


to either side or twists about the axis of the spine
results in a condition known as scoliosis. If the
thoracic section has an overly pronounced convex
curve, it is said to be hyperkyphotic. If, on the
other hand, the lower back sways far beyond a
balanced neutral spine, it is considered hyperlordotic; in contrast, in a hypolordoticspine, the
lower back seems to be flat, or lacking a curve.
All of these conditions can create physical ailments, such as general spinal pain, headache, and
compressed internal organs. They can also lead
the body to overactivate certain muscles in an
attempt to attain proper alignment. People with
such spinal deviations can alleviate some of the
detrimental effects by regularly practicing yoga,
which focuses on lengthening and strengthening
the spine in all directions.
Given that a joint is the meeting of two
moveable bones, the spaces between vertebrae
are considered joints. Some of these joints are
more flexible than others and are generally more
susceptible to injury. These joints are located at
points where the spinal curve changes direction;
they are as follows: C7 and T1 (cervical 7 and
thoracic 1); T12 and L1 (thoracic 12 and lumbar
1); and L5 and S1 (lumbar 5 and sacrum). Practicing a varied range of asanas helps protect
these hypermobile vertebral joints from overuse
by bringing greater mobility to the entire spine.
The size and density of vertebrae is not uniform. Lumbar vertebrae, which bear considerable
body weight, are thicker and wider than those in
the cervical spine. The lumbar joints are also less
mobile than the smaller cervical joints. Therefore,
deeper spinal twists, flexions, and extensions
should be focused in the upper spinal region
rather than the lower region in order to minimize
the risk of injury.

The Perfect Asana


Because yoga has become so popular, anyone
can find a photo or video depicting a supposedly
perfect posture. Unfortunately, many people feel
that even in the first attempt at a posture, they
should look exactly like the people presented in
magazines and videosor, for that matter, like the
instructor. In reality, however, yoga is not solely
for the svelte, flexible, young models one often
sees in the media. Yoga is for everyone, regardless
of physical attributes, age, strength, or mobility.
Each persons body is unique, and everyone has
some degree of imbalance in strength, flexibility,

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balance, or focus. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to label someone as a beginner or advanced
student based simply on how he or she looks
while doing certain asanas.
Instead, advancement in hatha yoga is an
internal process for each person. Therefore, it
is crucial for students to learn to recognize, for
themselves, areas of tension and weakness in the
body. They can then work on ways to tailor an
asana to their needs rather than striving for what
they think the pose should look like.

A yoga pose should be modified to


fit a person as she or he is in the
momentnot the other way around.
If students do not work within this
principle, then they are simply performing gymnastics instead of yoga
and often end up placing themselves
at risk for injury.
For example, when a gymnast enters a backbend, her goal is to make her body bend backward and look a certain way. When a yogi enters
a backbend, he seeks to connect fully with all of
the sensations the posture may reveal to him. A
properly executed asana is one that restores or
maintains range of motion and functional postural strength while at the same time opening the
persons internal focus and energetic expansion.
If a practitioner engages enough awareness and
control of the body and mind, she or he can not
only reduce the risk of injury but also minimize
the normal degenerative processes of aging.
Everyones ideal posture looks somewhat distinctive. Therefore, the most effective adjustments
are made from the inside outfrom an awareness
of how the bodys energy is being used and how
comfortable the pose feels, both physically and
emotionally. As B.K.S. Iyengar has said, The
brain is the hardest part of the body to adjust in
asanas (Iyengar 1993).
Indeed, ones preconceived idea of how an asana
should look or feel does not always mesh with reality. In such cases, it can be difficult for an instructor to persuade a student that it is not important
to achieve what may be considered a visually ideal
posture, especially on ones first attempt. Still, a
skillful instructor works to guide each student into
finding the excellence of a posture within herself
or himselfinto feeling the grace and miraculous
beauty of her or his own body.

Holding Asanas
To decide how long students should remain in
postures, consider the physical and mental abilities of the entire class. In some ways, this aspect
of asana practice can be likened to weight training
or endurance training. In weight training, the
number of repetitions and sets can be modified
slowly to increase muscular strength over a period
of time. In endurance training, the percentage of
maximum heart rate and the duration of exercise
are increased to bring about changes in both
muscular and cardiovascular endurance. In yoga,
no matter where a student is, physically, within
a postureassuming that the student is not in a
position that risks injuryone of the instructors
duties is to create an appropriate sequence from
that posture to the next.
At the beginning of a class, let students know
that it is perfectly appropriate for them to exit a
pose if they feel pain or feel that the pose is just
too much. With this caveat established, you can
determine the amount of time for students to
remain in a given asana. To do so, use a 10-point
scale, in which 1 means that very little mental or
physical energy is exerted and 10 means that an
extreme amount of energy is put forth throughout
the asana. On this scale, in active classes, the body
and mind should be in the intensity range of 5 to
8, or slightly higher, and for less intensely active,
or restorative classes, a range from between 2 and
4, for the following variables:
Physical exertion. Students should try to
keep the energy level consistent in the muscles
while maintaining the appropriate physical alignment. However, different body parts may need
to be considered independently. For example, in
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle), a students legs may be strong even as the neck needs
to rest. If so, the student can adjust the neck and
continueif the rest of the body remains at an
intensity level between 5 and 8. As the overall
energy in the pose diminishes, the student should
come out of the posture.
Mental focus. Students should continually
ask themselves whether the mind is aware of the
body or is wandering elsewhere. For example,
instead of noticing how the hamstrings relax
with each exhalation, one might be wondering,
How can the person next to me do this posture
so much better than I can? When such thoughts
occur, the mental focus plummets to the lowest
level on the scale, and it is time to either refocus
or come out of the asana.

Energy and Anatomy


Endurance. Postures should be held with
awareness and intensity as long as the breathing
is steady and the mind and body do not stray from
the 5 to 8 range for more than two breaths. As
soon as two breaths are taken outside of the ideal
range, then it is best to come out of the pose and
rest or start over. Another guideline is to work up to
maintaining the intensity level at 5 to 8 or slightly
higher for each posture for 90 to 120 seconds.
In an active class, the instructor must decide
on a baseline pose duration that comfortably
challenges the group as a whole. Many of Mr.
Iyengars students recall him mentioning that the
moment when one feels that one cannot hold a
pose any longer is when the posture really begins.
With this in mind, yoga teachers must constantly
observe students to assess how they are doing. A
general rule of thumb is to wait until 20 percent
of students have come out of the asana, then
bring the rest of the class out and move on. For
example, in a class of ten students, wait until two
students appear to have come out of the position
before moving on to the next posture.
Meanwhile, if you begin to observe minor
strugglessuch as labored breathing, strained
faces, fidgeting, and profuse sweatingyou might
quote Mr. Iyengars view that the pose may be just
beginning for some of them. In response, you
may see smiles. You may even hear moansbut
probably no serious threats! If you hear sighs
when you finally bring the students out of the
pose, then they were probably in the pose long
enough to have reaped the benefits of the asana
and are relieved to move on to another.
In restorative classes, the intensity of each
asana should be reduced according to the overall objectives of the class. The time held in each
asana also depends on the energy level of the
class and on the meditative depth into which the
instructor is hoping to guide the students.

Avoiding Injury
Students often attend yoga classes in part because
they have heard that yoga makes people flexible.
In fact, one of yogas big draws is the consistent
focus on relaxing and lengthening the muscles in
asanas. Unfortunately, many students either come
to yoga from competitive sport or still partake of
the old-time no pain, no gain mentality; as a
result, they have no idea just how much they can
or should push themselves in yoga class.
Muscles can stretch up to 150 percent of their
resting length before tearing. In contrast, most

experts agree that tendons and ligaments can


stretch by only 4 percent before injury (Alter
2004). Tendons and ligaments do have some
elasticity, but their main functions are to stabilize joints and protect them from moving beyond
their natural range of motion. Moreover, stability
should not be sacrificed in pursuit of greater
range of motion. In fact, one of yogas basic
tenets is that asanas should be practiced with a
balance of stability and ease (sthira and sukha,
respectively, in Sanskrit).
Forcing a joint beyond the elastic capacity of
its associated ligaments can result in dislocation
or tearing. If a ligament is stretched beyond its
elastic limits, it cannot return to its original
resting shape and stability; furthermore, because
ligaments do not have a large blood supply, even
slight ligament injuries are slow to heal. You can
reduce the risk of injury by teaching students to
go into a posture with full awareness and to avoid
deepening a posture to the point of physical pain
or beyond a joints natural range of motion.

Hypermobile Joints
Most students who come to yoga know that
stretching and lengthening require effort, but
some students arrive with seemingly exceptional
flexibility. These students may amaze other students (and uninformed teachers), who may strive
to emulate them. However, although these loosejointed or bendy students can move the body
to the extreme, they often do not feel any kind
of stretch or physical signal, even at the extreme
edge of an asana. They also tend to have difficulty
with proprioceptionthat is, knowing where
their body parts are at any given time, or even
noticing that they have moved beyond a joints
normal range of motion.
Joint hypermobility generally occurs when the
connective tissuespecifically, the cartilage
within and surrounding a joint is weak and fails
to provide adequate structure and stability. This
condition occurs more often in women than in
men, and in some people it is a genetic trait.
Laxity or looseness in the joints can be a mechanism for injury because the bony structures of
the joint are able to move without restriction
across the joint surface, thus possibly leading to
joint dislocations as well as labrum tears in the
hips and shoulders.
Hypermobile students should be encouraged
to practice alignment-based and strengthening
styles of yoga (for example, viniyoga and Iyengar).
They should be discouraged from practicing

69

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Instructing Hatha Yoga


quick-paced styles (such as Ashtanga and other
vinyasa styles) and long-holding styles (such as
yin yoga) until they develop adequate strength
and kinesthetic awareness. Teach these students
to focus on alignment and to prevent their joints
from moving beyond a natural range. Cue them
to keep a slight bend in the elbow and knee joints
when they are bearing weight and to stop slightly
short of the end of the physical range of motion.
This can be a hard sell to some students, but if
you approach them from the perspective of joint
health, most will comply.

Spinal Stability
To properly execute either a standing or seated
forward bend, the body should hinge at the hip
joint while the spine remains in a lengthened
position (figure 5.8a). However, due to limited
flexibility in the hamstrings and weakness in the
spinal muscles, many students allow the back to
relax and round while they attempt to bring the
head toward the knees (figure 5.8b). This action
puts undue stress on the weakened spinal musculature, causes compression in the vertebrae,
and can exacerbate even the slightest injury or
discomfort in the area. Remind students to elongate the trunk as they inhale in order to retain
postural integrity of the spine in any position.
In standing forward bends, the legs help suspend the weight of the body, and because the
pelvis is not resting on the ground it can be moved
more freely in space. Whether gravity helps or
hinders a person in a forward bend depends on
his or her degree of flexibility in the hip muscles
and hamstrings. In general, even a person (without injury) with extremely inflexible hamstrings
and lower back muscles can bring the torso close
to 90 degrees of forward flexion without much
spinal flexion. If a person can flex the torso more
than 90 degrees, then the pull of gravity encourages the spine to lengthen.

To protect the lower back in students with


extremely tight hamstrings, invite them to place
the hands on a supportive prop, such as a wall,
chair seat, or block. If no props are available, ask
students to use the shins or even the thighs to support the body weight without straining the back.
Students may also bend the knees slightly; this
action relaxes the hamstring attachment at the
knee joint and consequently allows for lengthening at the connection to the pelvis, which in turn
allows the pelvis to rotate forward more freely.
With either technique, instruct students to concentrate on keeping the spine lengthened and to
stop at the first point of resistance or discomfort.
Seated postures have the potential to overextend the structures of the lower spine. Because
the legs and lower pelvis are fixed against the
ground in seated forward bends, students with
limited flexibility in the hamstrings or lower back
are especially affected. The gravitational force in
seated forward bends encourages the spine to curl
or hunch forward. Impress on students the need
to keep the torso as straight as possible as they
fold forward from the hips. This alignment is the
most difficult for many students to accomplish
because they are focused on reaching forward
and touching the toes at all costs!
For most students in a seated forward bend, the
body is placed in 90 degrees of hip flexion to begin
with. The ischial tuberosities, or sit bones, are
fixed against the ground, thus making it difficult
to roll the top of the pelvis forward. Because less
forward flexion is initiated at the hip joint in these
positions, they place more stress on the lower
back. Ironically, most people think that seated
poses are easier than standing postures and less
likely to lead to injury, when in fact they require
greater effort and strength in the soft tissues that
stabilize the spine. To help alleviate the possibility of straining the back, instruct students to sit
on a folded blanket or other prop in order to lift
the pelvis, which gives them a slightly forward

UNSTABLE

IDEAL

Figure 5.8 Forward bend: (a) ideal alignment of the spine and (b) unstable and possibly harmful alignment of the spine.

Energy and Anatomy


overall posture. Over time, hyperextension in the
knee joint can overstretch the hamstring tendons
and cause undue stress in the other structures of
the joint. To help students avoid placing the knee
joint in a potentially harmful position, remind
them to maintain a balance of activity in the front
and back of the legs.

pelvic tilt. This position allows most students to


sit longer and more comfortably.
In light of the effects just explained, be careful
when physically adjusting someone in a seated
forward bend, such as Janu Shirshasana (Headto-Knee Pose) or Paschimottanasana (Seated
Forward Bend). Students should avoid pressing
the rib cage down toward the knees; instead, they
should lengthen the ribs upward, away from the
hips and toward the toes.

External Rotation
The modern lifestyle is torturous to the shoulders and the overall spinal posture. Long hours
spent sitting and slouching in front of computers,
cellphones, and televisions lead to a tendency to
allow the shoulders to roll forward and sink into
the chest. Yoga practice is a wonderful way to
open the chest and shoulder joints, thus helping
to erase the effects of poor posture. In almost all
asanas, external rotation of the shoulder joint is
applied to open and expand the chest.
When a student stands in the anatomical position, which is akin to Tadasana (Mountain Pose),
the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) rests
securely in the joint socket (see figure 5.10a).
As the humerus is turned inward toward the
chest (internal rotation), the head of the bone
rolls slightly away from its secure position in
the socket. In non-weight-bearing postures, this
action generally does not pose much injury risk.
When a student is upright, with the arms by the
sides (or even with the arms extended to the sides,
parallel to the ground), it is easy to visualize
the direction in which to externally rotate the
shoulders and open the chest. When a student
is upside down, however, with the arms over the
head, the situation can be somewhat disorienting
for an instructor.
One serious mistake made by inexperienced
instructors is to internally rotate, by accident, the
shoulders of students practicing asanas in which
the arms support a significant portion of the body
weight (see figure 5.10b). Examples include Adho

Lifted Kneecaps (Not Locked)


In standing asanas, the legs provide support and
stability for the entire body. Ideally, all of the
lower-extremity muscles should be contracted at a
moderate level to stabilize the joints and provide
balance (see figure 5.9a). To extend the knee joint
and keep the legs as straight as possible, the quadriceps (front thigh muscles) must be contracted.
This action slightly lifts the kneecaps (patellas).
However, if the quadriceps contraction is
extreme and there is no reciprocal hamstring contraction, the pull through the quadriceps tendon
can shift the head of the tibia (lower leg bone)
backward rather than aligning the tibia with
the femur (thighbone). If the hamstring muscles
(back of the thigh) are relaxed, or if a student has
weak or naturally loose joints, the knee joint may
move past zero degrees of extension, thus causing
the knee to hyperextendthat is, moving the joint
in the direction opposite of that in which it is
intended to move. The most common description
for this occurrence is locking of the knee joint
(see figure 5.9b).
You will probably find that many students
make the mistake of locking the knees, especially
in forward bends. If the hamstrings and quadriceps are not activated simultaneously, the knees
are placed in a vulnerable position; moreover,
unbalanced muscular activation in the quadriceps
and hamstrings can adversely affect a persons

IDEAL

UNSTABLE

Figure 5.9 Knee joint alignment: (a) ideal positioning of the knee and (b) unstable knee alignment (locked, hyperextended knee).

71

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Instructing Hatha Yoga

IDEAL

UNSTABLE

Figure 5.10 (a) Ideal rotation of the shoulder and (b) unstable rotation of the shoulder.

Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing Dog),


Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana (Upward-Facing
Dog), Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank
Pose), Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Handstand),
Bakasana (Crane Pose), and Urdhva Dhanurasana
(Upward Bow Pose), which all place significant
body weight on the shoulder joint. If the shoulders are rotated internally in these asanas, the
shoulder joint is placed in an unstable position,
which can stress the shoulder tendons and ligaments. In contrast, when the shoulder is rotated
externally, the joint is more properly aligned and
therefore more stable.
Reports have arisen about instructors seriously
injuring students when adjusting them in a full
backbend (Urdhva Dhanurasana). If you are
untrained or inexperienced in physically adjusting for external rotation, stick to the verbal cues
explained in this book. In addition to studying
the information presented here, you can seek out

a registered teacher training school by contacting the Yoga Alliance (www.yogaalliance.org).


Ask about programs that emphasize hands-on
adjustments.

Summary
A yoga instructor carries great responsibility. Students place their trust in an instructors ability to
relate physical, emotional, and spiritual concepts;
they also trust that these concepts and ideals are
founded on a large body of knowledge. In order
to guide your students through a practice that is
both mechanically sound and personally satisfying, you must develop a basic understanding of
how the bodys major systems function, on both
the physical and metaphysical levels, and how
these systems benefit from yoga practice.

Review Questions
1. Define safe yoga instruction.
2. What is a nadi?
3. What is mula bandha, and with which
chakra is it associated?
4. Is it advisable for a woman to practice yoga
while menstruating? Why or why not?
5. Which anatomical plane does Utthita
Trikonasana (Extended Triangle) move
through?
6. What are the six directions in which the
spine should move in a balanced session?
7. Identify a few asanas that stimulate osteogenesis and contribute to joint stability.

8. What does it mean to lift the kneecaps?


Why, when, and how would you teach this
action?
9. Which muscles in the torso are used to
move into a standing forward bend, and
what type of contraction is used? What
about when entering into a standing
backbend?
10. What type of contraction occurs during the
holding of most asanas?
11. How long should asanas be held?
12. What makes a yoga student advanced?

Darren Green | Dreamstime.com

Part II

Asanas and
Adjustments

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6
Sun Salutations

Ryan Lane/Getty Images

erhaps one of the


quintessential
visions of Western hatha yoga practice
involves the series of
linked asanas known as
Sun Salutation, which is
accompanied by focused
breathing. The Sanskrit
name for these movements is Surya Namaskara [SOOHR-yuh
nuh-muhs-KAAH-ruh].
Surya is a word for sun,
and namaskara can
be translated as offering a deeply respectful acknowledgment or
greeting; the same root
is used in the salutation
namaste.
No true agreement has
developed as to the exact
origin of these practices,

75

76

Instructing Hatha Yoga


but it is known that during the period of Indian
civilization between 1750 and 500 BCE, the
sacred texts known as the Vedas depicted worship
practices including praise chants to the sun god.
These reverent mantras and prayers were often
performed whilelying prostrate in the direction of
the rising sun; for many, they may also have been
an element of religious pilgrimage. Some contend
that these devotional practices sowed the seeds
of the modern Sun Salutation. Others, including
yoga historian Mark Singleton (2010), maintain
that Surya Namaskara was likely introduced into
yoga in the early twentieth century by Tirumalai
Krishnamacharya as a means to warm the body
and focus the mind for further practice.
No matter where the practices originated, they
offer an apt representation of the Westernized
view of hatha yoga as a sometimes-intense physical activity that can be pervaded by reverence.
Three versions of Surya Namaskara are presented
in this chapter. However, it is possible to modify
and adapt any of the asanas, as well as the physical intensity of any series.
The Classical Sun Salutation comprises a flow
of postures through gentle backbends, lunges,
Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank Pose), and
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing
Dog). In the West, Ashtanga hatha yoga practices
more vigorous salutations called Sun Salutation
A (Surya Namaskara Ka in Sanskrit) and Sun
Salutation B (Surya NamaskaraKha).
Though the more vigorous Surya Namaskaras
are usually associated with Ashtanga, variations
can be practiced in any hatha style by changing
the speed or adding alternative postures to the
basic form or set. For example, when cueing a
lunge in a Classical Surya Namaskara, you can
teach a variation by raising the arms overhead or
clasping the hands behind the back. Each basic
set includes about 12 positions and breaths. In
addition, the Sun Salutations can be practiced as

an entire class series; alternately, they are used by


many vinyasa flow classes to link other postures.
Traditionally, Surya Namaskaras are practiced facing the rising sun, and the postures are
linked in a way that brings each part of the body
in contact with the suns rays. Indeed, the true
value of the salutations is to warm the body. You
can practice one or two slowly and gently or do
a number of salutations quickly in a row. The
momentum involved in practicing faster salutations warms the body, and the warmth allows
you to move into poses more easily. On the other
hand, going slowly builds deeper strength, even
though students may not warm their muscles as
quickly and will not be able to rely on momentum
to get into the poses.
All of the salutations provide the following
benefits:
Warming the muscles by taking the body
through a large range of motion
Linking the mind, body, and breath
Increasing overall circulation
Energizing the body and mind
When guiding students through the Sun Salutations, keep in mind that, due to the flowing
nature of the sequence, each pose is typically
held for a short time. Therefore, adjustments
are generally not made unless there is a risk of
student injury; even so, it is very important that
the instructor watch for rounded backs and shoulders as students move into and out of forward-
bending poses. If desired, it is also both possible
and appropriate to move through the sequences
at a slower pace.
The individual poses that make up the Sun
Salutations can be found in chapters 7 through
11, which provide detailed descriptions, cautions,
verbal cues, adjustments, modifications, and
kinematics.

Sun Salutations

Classical Surya Namaskara


This is the traditional Sun Salutation practiced in many styles of hatha yoga.

4 Inhale and point


your fingertips toward
the ground, then
sweep your arms up
over your head. Arch
back gently, reaching
out of your lower
back.

1 Begin in Tadasana
(Mountain Pose), then
inhale and reach your
hands over your head,
wide apart.

2 Stretch your arms


wide and open your
chest. Feel your feet
and legs rooted and
pressing firmly into the
ground.

3 Exhale and press


your palms together
overhead, then lower
your hands down to
your chest.

6 Place your hands on


the ground. Inhale and
take a long step back with
your right leg, coming
into a lunge. Raise your
torso and roll your shoulders back. Lift through
your spine and sink your
hips lower than your front
knee, placing your left
knee on the ground if you
like. Open your chest
and shoulders by pressing
your hands toward the
ground behind you.

7 Exhale and place


your hands flat against
the ground, shoulder-
width apart. Step your
left foot back, coming
into a plank position.

8 On your next exhalation, bring your


knees to the ground.
Hug your elbows in to
your sides and slowly
lower your chest and
chin to the ground,
resting in Zen Asana
(Transitional Pose).

9 Inhale and slide your


chest forward and up,
coming into Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose).
Roll your chest and
shoulders open.

11 Inhale and step


your right foot between
your hands, coming
back into a lunge with
your left leg back. Place
your right knee on the
ground if you like.
Open your chest and
shoulders by pressing
your hands toward the
ground behind you.

12 Exhale and step


your left foot forward
and fold into Uttanasana again. Elongate
the front and sides of
your body.

13 Stretch your arms


out to your sides and
inhale as you lift your
torso upright. Reach
your hands above your
head and press your
palms together.

14 Exhale and bring


your hands down in
front of your chest.

5 Exhale and fold


forward from your
hips into Uttanasana
(Intense Forward Bend).
Bend your knees
slightly if you need to,
and relax from your
neck to your sit bones.

10 Curl your toes under


and, as you exhale,
press firmly through your
hands and lift your sit
bones toward the sky into
Adho Mukha Shvanasana
(Downward-Facing Dog).
Press your chest back
toward your thighs. Roll
your elbows down toward
each other. Breathe in
Adho Mukha Shvanasana
for five to eight breaths.

77

Surya Namaskara A
This is the first salutation series done in Ashtanga-style hatha yoga.

1 Start in Samasthiti,
with your arms at
your sides.

2 Inhale as you reach


your hands above your
head in Anjali Mudra
(Prayer Pose). Feel
your rib cage lift and
elongate your body.

3 Exhale and bring your


arms out to your sides
and fold forward from
your hips, leading with
your chest, as in a swan
dive.

4 Fold into Uttanasana.

6 Exhale and step or


jump your feet back
into a plank position.

7 Move into Utthita


Chaturanga Dandasana.

8 Slowly bend your


elbows and lower your
torso toward the ground
into the Chaturanga
Dandasana (Four-Limbs
Staff Pose). Keep your
elbows in toward your
body and your legs
straight and energized.

9 Inhale and press


your hips, ribs, and
chest forward and
up into Urdhva
Mukha Shvanasana
(Upward-Facing Dog).
Press firmly through
the tops of your feet.
Maintain length in your
spine.

11 Inhale and either step


or jump your feet forward
between your hands.

16 Exhale and bring


your arms back to your
sides, into Samasthiti.

78

12 Arch your back


slightly in your forward bend.

13 Exhale and fold forward completely into


Uttanasana, resting and
lengthening your spine.

14 Inhale and reach


your arms out to your
sides with your palms
facing forward. Press
through your feet and
lift your torso upright.

5 Inhale and, keeping your hands on the


ground or on your
shins, lift your chest
and chin, arching
your back slightly.

10 Curl your toes under


and, as you exhale, lift
your hips up and back
into Adho Mukha Shvanasana. Breathe deeply
for three to five breaths.

15 Press your palms


together overhead,
making your body as
long as possible.

Sun Salutations

Surya Namaskara B
This series is also traditionally practiced in Ashtanga hatha yoga.

2Simultaneously
bend your knees and
bring your body into
Utkatasana (Chair
Pose). Breathe two or
three breaths. Inhale
and press through your
legs, straightening your
body.

3 Exhale and bring


your arms out to your
sides and fold forward
from your hips, leading
with your chest, as in a
swan dive.

4 Fold into Uttanasana.

5 Inhale and, keeping your hands on


the ground or on
your shins, lift your
chest and chin,
arching your back
slightly.

6 Exhale and step or


jump back.

7 Move into Utthita


Chaturanga Dandasana.

8 Slowly bend your


elbows and lower your
torso toward the ground
into Chaturanga Dandasana. Keep your elbows
in toward your body and
your legs straight and
energized.

9 Inhale and press your


hips, ribs, and chest
forward and up into
Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana. Press firmly
through the tops of your
feet.

10 Curl your toes


under and, as you
exhale, lift your hips
back into Adho Mukha
Shvanasana. Breathe
deeply for one to three
breaths.

11 Turn your left foot


out about 45 degrees.
Inhale and step forward
with your right foot.
Bend your right knee
into a lunge position
and raise your arms
overhead, coming into
Virabhadrasana I
(Warrior I).

12 Exhale and sweep


your hands down to
the ground as you step
your right foot back,
bringing your body
into Utthita Chaturanga
Dandasana.

13 Move down to
Chaturanga Dandasana.

14 Inhale and press


your hips, ribs, and
chest forward and up
into Urdhva Mukha
Shvanasana. Press firmly
through the tops of your
feet.

15 Curl your toes


under and, as you
exhale, lift your hips
up and back into Adho
Mukha Shvanasana.
Breathe deeply one to
three breaths.

1 Begin in Samasthiti,
then inhale and lift your
arms over your head.

(continued)
79

Surya Namaskara B (continued)

80

16 Turn your right


foot out approximately 45 degrees.
Inhale and step forward with your left
foot. Bend your left
knee into a lunge
position and raise
your arms overhead,
coming into Virabhadrasana I.

17 Exhale and sweep


your hands down to
the ground as you step
your right foot back,
bringing your body
into Utthita Chaturanga
Dandasana.

18 Move down to
Chaturanga Dandasana.

21 Inhale, then
exhale and step or
jump your feet forward between your
hands.

22 With your hands


on the ground or on
your shins, inhale
and arch your back
slightly.

23 Exhale and completely fold forward


into Uttanasana, resting and lengthening
your spine.

19 Inhale and press


your hips, ribs, and
chest forward and up
into Urdhva Mukha
Shvanasana. Press
firmly through the
tops of your feet.

24 Inhale and bend


your knees and hips.
Sweep your arms overhead as you lift your
torso and settle into
Utkatasana.

20 Curl your toes


under and, as you
exhale, lift your hips
up and back into Adho
Mukha Shvanasana.
Breathe deeply three to
five breaths.

25 Inhale and
straighten your legs,
stretching as tall and
long as possible.
Exhale and lower
your arms to your
sides back into
Samasthiti.

7
Standing Postures

AfricaImages/istock.com

his chapter highlights 19 standing


postures. Simply speaking, standing postures are asanas practiced
either when standing either on both feet
or when balanced on one leg at a time.
The practice of standing asanas makes
one more fully aware of ones connection
to the earth and helps one feel grounded,
stable, and rooted. The energies of the
earth draw up through the legs into the
spine, creating a lightness and expansion
throughout the entire body.
In active yoga classes, standing asanas
are generally sequenced at the beginning
of a session in order to warm the major
muscle groups and create total body and
postural awareness, which continues
throughout the rest of the session. Standing postures also help strengthen the
joints of the lower extremities and promote comprehensive joint stabilization
and integrity. In addition to developing
strength and stability in the pelvis and
legs, standing poses help students focus
on spinal alignment, improve and maintain sound overall posture, and increase
balance and breath awareness.
The postural awareness and strengthening of the core musculature also create
the control and mindfulness needed
to practice inverted asanas. In fact,
Tadasana (Mountain Pose), and standing
postures in general, not only build a foundation for all other postures but also are
considered to form the safest category of
poses for most people because they draw
on the entire bodys strength and support.
For example, it is almost impossible to

81

82

Instructing Hatha Yoga


stand on one leg for very long without focusing
the mind and strengthening the target muscles
that increase overall balance. In yoga, without
the deep awareness and good habits that arise
from practicing standing postures, a person often
experiences muscle imbalance, which, over time,
leads to injurious movement patterns.
The effort to achieve balance in any standing
posture can serve as an analog for lifes journey.
It does not matter if a person actually achieves
and maintains a state of solid balance for a long
period of time. What does matter is that the
person learns to recognize and become aware of
where her body is in space and, if she loses her
balance, to refocus her mind and body without
judgment. After all, nothing is static in life; balance consists simply of noticing the synergy (or
lack thereof) of a dynamic system and learning
how to flow with iton or off the mat!
The standing postures are presented here in
such an order that they generally build from one

to the next. Depending on your students and class


format, some sessions may be composed mainly
of standing poses, whereas other sessions may
include only a few standing poses or none at all.
As you practice on your own with your students in
mind, you will find that certain postures naturally
flow into certain others based on body positioning.
The first standing asana presented here is
Tadasana, which is considered the quintessential standing posture. For simplicity, all standing
poses in this chapter begin and end in Tadasana
(except for Ardha Chandrasana, which often
begins from Utthita Trikonasana). Remember,
however, that the forward-bending postures
can be interspersed throughout any standing
sequence to allow the mind and body to rest and
reenergize. Although you can follow the order
of asanas presented here, you can also sequence
your class in a variety of ways depending on your
personal style and class focus. Some examples of
sequencing are presented in chapter 13.

Standing Postures

Tadasana or Samasthiti
Mountain Pose
[taahd-AAH-suh-nuh] or [suhm-uhst-HEE-tuh-hee]
In Sanskrit, tada means mountain; sama means upright, straight, or unmoved; and sthiti
means steadiness. The name Tadasana is used in Iyengar and most eclectic hatha classes,
whereas Samasthiti is used mostly by Ashtanga (power) yogis. A few yoga schools call this
pose Talasana, a word for tree, but it should not be confused with Vrkshasana (Tree
Pose), which is the more common one-legged balance pose.

Description
Tadasana provides the foundation for all standing poses. It is generally performed at
the beginning of a practice in order to direct the students focus internally and to begin
warming the muscles for further practice. We begin with the feetthe base of the
bodyto highlight the importance of a strong, balanced foundation.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy

Foundational Focus
Root equally through the metatarsal heads and the center of the heel in both feet.

Benefits




Builds symmetry and balance in body alignment and overall posture.


Tones the lower extremities.
Strengthens the arches.
Improves strength in the spinal and abdominal musculature.
Improves overall posture.

Verbal Cues
As with all poses, begin by bringing your focus to your breath. Slow down and deepen your breath as you
center your mind within yourself; let your thoughts settle out of the forefront of your consciousness as you
continue to breathe deeply.
Begin with your feet parallel, as close together as is comfortable, and your toes pointing straight ahead. Spread
your toes and feel the length of each toe against the ground; doing so prevents your toes from curling under
and cramping your feet. Imagine your toes rooting outward and down, enhancing your stability.
Anchor through your big toes, your little toes, and the middle of your heels. Balance your body weight equally
between thefeet. Imagine that you are breathing in through your arches to help them lift slightly.
Firm your thigh muscles as you gently lift your kneecaps upward without locking your knee joints. Your legs
should remain long and strong but with slightly soft knees. Begin to rotate your upper legs inward and your
lower legs slightly outward. Your legs will not actually rotate much in either direction, but you will become
more aware of the energy of your leg muscles in the process. Imagine an upward flow of energy from your
arches along your inner legs into your pelvis.
Continue to focus on your breath.

83

Keep your pelvis in a neutral position so that the top of your pelvis is parallel to the ground. Center your hips
so they align moredirectly over your heels and find the place where you have to work a bit to stay balanced
without forcing or straining.
Keep your chest lifted (without arching your back), your shoulders relaxed, and your spine lengthened. With
each inhalation, feel your rib cage lift slightly away from your pelvis and imagine the energy from your feet
moving higher through your body toward the crown of your head.
Draw your shoulder blades together slightly to allow your chest to open more fully, with your arms relaxed
alongside your body and your fingertips pointed down toward the ground. Your palms should face either slightly
forward or toward your thighs
Continue to focus on your breath.
Keep your chin parallel to the ground, or slightly tilted downward, and imagine someone gently lifting your
skull away from your shoulders.
Keep your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles in a comfortable, not overly rigid alignment. Imagine a
straight line of energy running up and down the side of your body through each of these joints.
As you continue to breathe deeply, eliminate any thoughts other than those that have to do with your alignment
and your breath, and simply notice the physical and energetic movements in your body.
When your awareness becomes fully present in this asana, you have the key to practicing all asanas. The
extension to grow in this pose comes from deep in the mid back, and from this position the entirety of your
daily posture improves.

Adjustments
ArchesDirectthe student toroll the inner (medial) ankles outward to lift the arches.
You can brush your hand in the direction in which you instruct the student to move
the ankle, or you can place your fingers between the ground and the arch of the foot
to illustrate more space beneath the arch.
HipsStand behind the student. Center the hips more directly over the heels by placing
your hands lightly on the students hips at the iliac crest (top of the pelvis) and gently
guiding the hips into alignment over the heels.
ShouldersStand to the side of the student and check shoulder positioning while cueing
the student to relax the shoulders. Place your hands between the lifted shoulder blades
(mid-trapezius muscles) and guide the shoulders down away from the ears. You can also
touch the mid-chest (mid-sternal) area to encourage the chest to lift slightly, making sure
that the student does not begin to arch the lower back by lifting too forcefully.
Head and neckPlace your fingertips under the students chin or on the forehead and
your thumbs at the base of the skull behind the ears. Lightly suggest more length in
the neck by softly lifting the head. Gently guide the head back so that the ears align
comfortably over the shoulders.
Adjustment: lifted shoulders.

Modifications
PregnancyInstruct students to stand with the feet as wide apart as needed and in a position that is comfortable
enough to accommodate the belly and help them maintain balance. If balance is compromised, advise them to
use a wall or other sturdy prop.
LordosisStudents with this condition (extreme forward pelvic tilt) may need tangible feedback to move into a more
fully aligned Tadasana. It helps to have them stand against a wall and move the low back toward the wall in order
to feel the action of bringing the pelvis into a more neutral position (where the anterior superior iliac spine [ASIS],
the hip points located at the front of the pelvis,and pubic bone align vertically).
KyphosisFor students with this condition (extreme upper back curvature), place the back against a wall with a pillow
at the posterior bottom ribs while assisting them in pressing the shoulders back toward the wall. This modification
can also benefit people with extremely tight pectoral (chest) and anterior deltoid (front shoulder) muscles achieve
more awareness and open up more space in these areas.
84

Standing Postures

Weakness, fatigue, or paralysisStudents can place the hands on the back of a chair for support while standing, or
sit instead of standing, and focus on lengthening the spine.
Severe balance concernsStudents can stand with the back in front of a wall and use it in the way that a child who
is learning how to ride a bicycle uses a training wheel. Specifically, they can press against the wall with the hands
for stability. Eventually, as balance improves, the rest of the body works with more synergy and the hands and arms
are used less for support.

Kinematics
To the outside observer, Tadasana may appear to be nothing more than relaxed standing in the anatomical position;
in actuality, it is slightly more active. Electromyographic studies on standing posture indicate that human beings
produce a rather minimal amount of muscular activity while standing in a relaxed, upright posture (Basmajian 1985).
In Tadasana, however, the muscular activity is focused on consciously attaining and maintaining length in the entire
body and is generally isometric in nature.
Mechanically, if the base of the body is not aligned properly, compensations must be made higher up the body
in order to achieve proper balance. For example, if you stand with your shoulders rolling forward and toward each
other, your neck tends to hyperextend to keep your head in a more upright posture. These compensatory changes
create poor overall posture, which, in the long term, may lead to many physical and emotional concerns.

Tadasana
Body segment
Foot and toes

Lower leg

Thigh

Hip and pelvis

Torso

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe abduction, stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti minimi brevis,


abductor hallucis (C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and brevis, flexor hallucis


longus (C, I)

Slight external rotation of lower leg

Peroneus longus, brevis, and tertius (I)

Stability to counter body sway (muscles relaxing


and contracting as necessary to maintain balance)

Gastrocnemius, anterior and posterior tibialis,


flexor digitorum longus, flexor hallucis longus (C,
E, I)

Knee extension and patellar elevation

Quadriceps (C, I)

Thigh extension

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus (I)

Slight internal rotation of femur

Adductors, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus (C, I)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus lumborum, hamstrings (I)

Hip stability

Gluteus medius and minimus, deep external rotators* (I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis,


transverse abdominis, quadratus lumborum, erector
spinae (I)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae (C, I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Shoulder

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Hand and fingers Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis, and digiti minimi; lumbricales manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Neck

Splenius capitus and cervicis, suboccipitals,


semispinalis (I)

Neck extension and stability

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

85

Vrkshasana
Tree Pose
[vrick-SHAAH-suh-nuh]
Vrksha is the Sanskrit word for tree.In Vrkshasana, the one-legged balance is reminiscent of
the strength and energy in the trunk of a tree. The roots, represented by the standing foot, press
down into the earth for support, and the branches or hands extend up ever taller toward the sun.
Standing as a tree, you are strategically balanced so that energy comes up to your standing foot
from the earth and you use gravity to your advantage as you press downward.
Many trees have roots on top of the earth, but the roots anchor into the ground. The part
of Vrkshasana that represents roots anchoring into the ground is the force, or energy, exerted
by gravity on the standing foot. Reciprocally, energy is drawn upward through the trunk of the
body, while the arms stretching overhead are like branches reaching for the sun. This action
allows the ribs to lift and expand the diaphragm, thus enabling more expansive breaths.

Description
Vrkshasana, like all single-legged balance postures, should be practiced equally
on both legs. Vrkshasana and Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle) work well
togetherbecause of the muscular engagement needed to stabilize and open the
hips. In fact, many people prefer practicing Utthita Trikonasana before Vrkshasana
to prepare the hips for deeper external rotation.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy

Foundational Focus
Root through the metatarsal heads and the heel of the standing foot. Press the inner
thigh of the standing leg and the sole of the non-weight-bearing foot toward each other.

Benefits




Builds concentration, focus, and postural balance.


Reduces stressit is nearly impossible to worry and remain balanced at the same time.
Develops strength and stability in the feet and ankles.
Stabilizes and strengthens both superficial and deep hip muscles.
Is said to balance the pituitary gland because of the pressure on the first metatarsal for balance (pressure that
in reflexology is said to affect the structures in the neck and head).
Increases overall body strength.

Caution
High blood pressureStudents with this condition should refrain from lifting the arms overhead.

86

Standing Postures

Verbal Cues
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), find a point somewhere in front of you to focus on with your eyes turned
slightly downward. Gaze forward on a motionless drishtiand allow your eyes to remain softly fixed on the
chosen point. Breathe deeply and feel your body come into alignment.
Slowly and smoothly, shift your body weight more fully onto your right leg and begin to lift your left heel off
the ground. When you feel stable on your right leg, exhale and draw your left knee up toward your chest. Find
the balance on your right foot from front to back, redirecting the movement that naturally moves the body from
side to side when standing on one leg.
Connect even more fully into your right leg, feeling the energy from the ground lengthen your spine and being
mindful not to let the left side of your pelvis drop lower than the right side.
Keep your right hip pressed back; at first, it may feel almost as if you are overcompensating. Keep your pelvis
square while you externally rotate your left knee out to your left side. Feel the front of your right thigh and the
inside of your left knee reaching away from each other.
Exhale and place the sole of your left foot on the inside of your right leg anywhere that you feel you are comfortably, yet challengingly, balanced. However, avoid placing the foot on the inner knee joint. Firmly press
your left foot and your right leg into each other. Doing so helps draw energy into the midline of your body and
helps you maintain balance.
Moving slowly, place your hands in Anjali Mudra (Prayer Pose) with your palms pressed lightly together at the
level of your heart. Remaining fully rooted to the ground, imagine all the energy in your body drawing inward
toward the midline and upward toward the sky.
Continue to focus on your breath.
As you breathe in, slowly raise your arms overhead and feel your chest and ribs lift higher, away from your
hips. Remain here for two to three more breaths.
Slowly release your arms to your sides and set your left foot on the ground. Rotate your right foot in both
directions and shake your leg out slightly to loosen up the joints of your right leg. Come back to Tadasana to
prepare for the other side.

Adjustments
ToesRemind students to spread the toes for stability and to focus on keeping the balance between
the front and back of the foot without clenching the toes. For a kinesthetic reminder, point to
or lightly brush the tops of the toes. You can also press down into the first metatarsal (big toe)
to help the student work from front to back instead of wobbling from side to side.
Hip of non-weight-bearing legStand behind the student and place your hands lightly on the
hips as you level them. Move slowly so that the student is not thrown off balance. If necessary,
move the hip of the standing leg back into alignment over the knee.
SpineEncourage length in the low spine by reminding students to lift the crown of the head
toward the sky. You can lightly brush upward in the space between the shoulder blades.
Chest and ribsStand behind the student, placing your palms against the sides of the rib cage,
and gently draw the ribs up. Alternatively, hold the students upper arms so that you can
support the student while promoting extension through the spine. Encourage the student to
keep the pinky fingers touching as the arms are raised in order to maintain external rotation
at the shoulders and keep the chest open. Standing behind the student works best because
it requires little physical effort on your part and is less distracting to the student.
ShouldersPlace your hands lightly on top of the students shoulders and remind the student to stay relaxed.
Adjustment: hip alignment.

87

Modifications
Hip replacementTo avoid creating stress in the hip joint with its limited range
of motion, instruct the student to focus solely on balancing on one leg with
little if any external rotation of the bent leg. Invite the student to keep the
toes on the ground and rotate on the ball of the foot to the first point of
resistance in the hip.
Balance difficultyInstruct students to keep the toes of the bent leg on
the ground with the heel pressed against the straight leg or on a block
to the side of the standing leg. Have students use a prop (chair or wall)
as a sort of training wheelthat is, only as a way to regain balance if
they tend to wobble.
Severe balance difficultyInstruct students to place the foot of the bent
leg on a block or step stool. This technique helps students work on
opening the hips without compromising balance.
Pose deepeningInstead of placing the foot of the bent knee against
the standing leg, direct the student to reach the foot across to the
opposite hip into Ardha Padmasana (Half-Lotus) and wrap the sameside hand behind the back to hold the foot. If the student cannot
Modification: balance
quite reach the foot, she or he can use a strap.
difficulties.

Modification: pose
deepening.

Kinematics
Students often complain that the inside of the standing thigh is too slippery and that they are therefore unable
to hold the other foot against it. Generally, the problem does not really involve slippery pants or skin; rather, it is
a matter either of not pressing the sole of the foot firmly into the opposite thigh or of not having adequate range of
motion for that particular placement. If a student has enough flexibility and openness in the inner thigh to place the
heel of the foot into the groin, he or she will gain significant stability in the posture.

Vrkshasana (Standing on Right Leg)


Body segment
Foot and toes (R)

Kinematics

Active muscles

Toe abduction, stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Foot and toes (L)

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum longus, hallucis longus (C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Gastrocnemius, anterior and


posterior tibialis, flexor digitorum
longus, flexor hallucis longus (C,
E, I)

Knee extension, stability

Gastrocnemius (I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus, hallucis longus (C, I)

Thigh (R)

Knee extension and patellar elevation

Quadriceps (C, I)

Stability and adduction (adductor Adductors (C, I)


magnus helping to extend knee)

88

Muscles released

Gastrocnemius,
soleus

Standing Postures

Body segment

Kinematics

Active muscles

Thigh (L)

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip extension, stability

Hamstrings (C, I)

Hip stability

Gluteus maximus, medius, and


minimus; deep external rotators*
(C, I)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus


lumborum, hamstrings (I)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris (C, I)

Hip external rotation

Deep external rotators,* gluteus


maximus (C, I)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum
(I)

Adduction of scapulae

Rhomboids major and minor,


mid trapezius (C, I)

Postural support in mid back and


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Abduction of humerus

Deltoids (C, I)

Depression of humeral head

Infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis (C, I)

Pronation

Pronator teres, pronator quadratus (C, I)

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis (C, I)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris
(C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Neck extension, stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis (I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Torso

Shoulder

Upper arm

Lower arm

Hand and fingers

Neck

Muscles released

Adductors

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


palmaris longus

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

89

Utkata Konasana
Fire Angle Pose
[OOT-kuh-tuh kohn-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, utka means fierce or intenseandkona means
angle. This wide-legged squat gets its name from the intense
energy used in the thighs to hold the position. The asana is
also often called Goddess Pose because it is reminiscent of the
commanding stance of strength depicted in many statues of feminine
deities.

Description
Utkata Konasana is a powerful squatting pose that charges up
the energy of the hips and legs. The more the legs are rotated
externally, the more the balance is affected.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second
chakra (Svadhisthana) creative energy

Foundational Focus
Root through the heels and the fifth metatarsal heads. Anchor into the first metatarsal heads and draw energy through
an invisible line down from the base of the pelvis into the ground.

Benefits




Opens and strengthens the hips and groin.


Strengthens the entire thigh and the upper body.
Stabilizes the knee joints.
Serves as a beneficial pose during pregnancy due to the pelvic opening.
Increases overall body strength.

Caution
Knee or hip surgeryPersons who have had knee or hip surgery should refrain from this pose until range of motion
is reestablished, then proceed with modifications if medically appropriate.

Verbal Cues
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), step your legs as wide apart as is comfortable. Externally rotate the front of
your thighs, knees, and feet outward. Make sure that your knees are aligned in the same direction as your toes.
Visualize your kneecaps pointing directly away from each other.
Inhale and raise your arms out to your sides so that they are parallel to the ground with your palms facing down.
Keep your shoulders soft. Exhale and flex your hips, knees, and ankles, coming into a semi-squat.
Establish that your kneecaps are pointing in the same direction as your toes, and on the next exhalation squat
deeper. Breathe smoothly. Feel your outer hip muscles work to help open up more space betweenyour inner
thighs. Picture the outsides of your knees and thighs pressing into an imaginary wall behind you.

90

Standing Postures

Squat deeper until your upper thighs come as close to parallel with the ground as is comfortable for you. Feel
your hamstrings (the backs of your thighs) and gluteal muscles (buttocks) contracting by imagining your heels
drawing together. Visualize the strong energy holding your thighs in place. Breathe length through your back
and sides while keeping your hips centered under your shoulders.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Press energy from your heart center out through your hands. Spread your fingers. If your arms fatigue, press
your palms together in front of your heart or place your hands on your hips.
Inhale and reach your arms overhead as you straighten your legs. Exhale and lower your arms back to your
sides. Prepare for the next pose.

Adjustments
Feet and kneesIf a students knees rotate inward out of alignment with the
toes, semi-squat behind the student and slightly to one side. Place your palms
to the inside of the thighs, just above the knees, and gently press the knees away
from each other. Instruct the student to use the outer hip muscles to help draw the
thighs away from your hands.
PelvisIf a students hips are thrust back so that the pelvis is considerably behind the
line of the shoulders, stand directly behind the student and turn your body slightly
sideways with your knees somewhat bent. Press the outside of your closest thigh
against the students pelvis. Place your hands on the front of the students
shoulders and encourage him or her to draw the backs of the shoulders
toward you as you support the movement. Move slowly so that you both
keep your balance.
Adjustment: feet and knees.
SpineIf the student rounds the back as he or she squats, encourage length
in the spine by cueing the student to lift the crown of the head toward the sky. Stand behind the
student and place your hands lightly on the shoulder blades. Ask the student to draw the upper
back into your hands.
ShouldersIf the chest is flexed so that the arms are not in line with sides of the body, stand
behind the student and place your hands lightly on top of the shoulders. Draw the upper
arms slightly back to open the chest.

Modifications
Hip or knee replacementThis pose may be practiced only if the student has been
medically cleared to work on range of motion and if the external rotation is not
taken to the extreme. Place the student near a wall for stability.
Balance difficulty or pregnancyInvite the student to practice with the back
against a wall while pressing the outer thighs toward the wall.
Pose deepeningIf the student is comfortable practicing with the knees
flexed at 90 degrees, invite her or him to bring the arms into Garudasana Modification: deepening the pose with
arm variation.
(Eagle Pose).

Kinematics
This pose is energizing and powerful, and it is a good pose for women to practice during pregnancy; in fact, the
delivery process is often aided by the attention to pelvic opening and strengthening. The pose is also grounding and
highly beneficial for students who are not pregnant. In addition to holding the pose statically, students can slowly
flex and extend the legs in a rhythmic pattern to dynamically increase lower-body strength.Practicing the pose in a
dynamic manner can gradually increase stamina and range of motion in the legs. Ensure that the patella aligns with
the foot to avoid straining the inner knee structures.

91

Utkata Konasana
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe abduction, stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Lower Leg

Ankle dorsiflexion, stability

Gastrocnemius, soleus (E, I)

Stability

Peroneals, anterior and posterior


tibialis, gastrocnemius, soleus,
flexor digitorum longus, flexor
hallucis longus (C, E, I)

Thigh

Knee flexion, stability

Quadriceps, rectus femoris (E, I)

Knee stability

Hamstrings, popliteus (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus,


adductors, iliopsoas (E, I)

Hip external rotation

Gluteus medius and minimus,


deep external rotators* (C, I)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus


lumborum, hamstrings (I)

Hip external rotation

Deep external rotators,* gluteus


maximus (C, I)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum
(I)

Humerus abduction and stability

Deltoids, infraspinatus, teres


minor, supraspinatus, pectoralis
major (C, I)

Postural support in mid back and


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius, subscapularis


(C, I)

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Abduction of humerus

Deltoids (C, I)

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii, brachioradialis


(C, I)

Pronation

Pronator teres, pronator quadratus (C, I)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Neck

Neck extension, stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis (I)

Torso

Shoulder

Upper arm

Lower arm

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

92

Muscles released

Adductors

Standing Postures

Utthita Trikonasana
Extended Triangle
[oot-T-HEE-tuh tree-kohn-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, utthita means extended or stretched, tri means three,
and kona means angle. The posture is named for the triangle formed by
the extended legs and the side bend in the body.

Description
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), the legs are abducted (extended out) as
far apart as is comfortable, preferably between three and four feet (about
one meter), with one leg externally rotated. Arms are extended
out to the sides. The torso tilts laterally toward the externally
rotated leg so the arms are then perpendicular to the ground,
creating many triangles in the body's geometry.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, fourth chakra (Anahata) heartopening energy

Foundational Focus
Root through the heel and the first metatarsal head of the
front foot (of the externally rotated leg). Anchor into the
outer edge and heel of the back foot. Evenly balance the
grounding energy in bothlegs.

Benefits







Tones the legs and strengthens the ankles.


Loosens the hip joints, groin, and hamstrings.
Stabilizes and opens the hip joints when the pelvis is aligned properly.
Helps release the spinal musculature.
Opens the chest and shoulders.
Strengthens and aligns the neck.
Stimulates abdominal organs and improves digestion as it tones the abdominals.
Aids in stress relief.

Cautions
Heart conditions and high blood pressureInstruct the student to turn the gaze downward and keep the upper
arm on the hip.
Neck pain or injuryDirect the student to continue to gaze forward without turning the neck.
Shoulder concernsInstruct the student to keep the top hand on the hip and continue to rotate the shoulder back.

93

Verbal Cues
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), inhale and extend your arms out to your sides with your palms facing downward.
Step your legs apart, trying to place your feet as far apart as your outstretched hands, or as far apart as is comfortable to you.
Externally rotate your right leg out slightly more than 90 degrees, then internally rotate your left leg toward
your right heel about 45 degrees. Imagine a straight line drawn back from your right heel that passes through
the middle of your left arch.
Keep your front thigh muscles (quadriceps) actively firm by gently drawing your kneecaps up. Bring a slight bend
into both knees to keep from hyperextending the joints. Inhale and raise your right arm overhead, stretching
your side from your hip to your shoulder.
Slightly shift your pelvis to the left. As you exhale, extend your trunk to the right and reach out with your right
arm, bringing it parallel to the ground. Reach your fingers farther to the right, lengthening both sides of your
trunk. Let the weight of your hips shift back naturally.
Draw your shoulder blades slightly toward each other and imagine your clavicles (collarbones) moving slightly
apart to open your chest. Work to keep your front right thigh rolling out (rotating externally). At the same time,
press firmly into the left foot, while engaging the gluteal (buttocks) and hamstring muscles as if you were pressing
your thigh backward. This action opens both hip joints to create a natural opening within the groin. Your pelvis
will continue to rotate slightly toward the right, which protects the integrity of your sacrum.
Inhale and create more length in your torso by imagining your pelvis and right rib cage moving away from
each other as you stretch your torso further out over the right thigh. This elongates your right side and helps
keep your spine in alignment.
Continue to focus on your breath.
When you have reached as far to the right as you comfortably can, begin to lower your right hand toward the
ground and reach your left fingertips toward the sky, keeping your hands aligned with your shoulders. Allow
your pelvis to remain slightly turned inward to the right and externally rotate your left rib cage open toward
the sky. Imagine your breath opening more space in your right rib cage as it extends out over your right leg.
Feel the left side of your torso stretch so that your left shoulder and left hip move farther away from each other.
Keep your rib cage as parallel to the ground as possible. Imagine that your upper body is suspended to the side
with gentle support from your legs.
Gaze forward, keeping your ears aligned with your shoulders; alternatively, turn and look down toward your
right fingers. Keep your neck relaxed and in line with the rest of your spine.
Focus on balancing yourself evenly in both feet as your chest and hips remain open.
Continue to focus on your breath.
To come out of the posture, inhale and continue to press down through your legs as you bring your upper body
into an upright standing position. If there is any tension in your front leg, slightly bend the knee to create more
ease as you exit the pose. Prepare for the other side.

Adjustments
ArchesEncourage students to roll the inner (medial) ankles upward to lift the arches. You can brush your hand in
the direction in which you instruct a student to move the ankle, or you can place your fingers between the ground
and the students arch to create more space beneath the arch.
LegsRemind students to lightly draw up the front thigh muscles (quadriceps) to help keep the kneecaps lifted. You
can gently brush the mid-thigh muscles toward the hips. If the knees are hyperextending, remind students to relax
the knees slightly and engage the hamstrings by imagining that they are drawing the legs back together.
TorsoStand behind the student, using your thigh as a brace. Place your hand on the students upper rib cage and
gently guide the upper ribs toward you without drawing the pelvis back.

94

Standing Postures

Rib cagePlace the palm of your hand lightly on top of the students upper rib cage,
halfway between the shoulder and the hip. Instruct the student to lengthen the spine
and move the rib cage away from your hand so that it does not curve toward the
ceiling. Also, you may stand facing the students outstretched arm and hold onto the
forearm as you move it toward you. While doing this, place your toes against the bend
in the students hip crease and gently press the students pelvis away from you.
ShouldersDirect students to rotate both shoulders externally in order to keep
the chest open and expanded, cueing them to softly draw the shoulder blades
toward each other. If a students torso is extending either in front of or behind
the plane of the front hip, gently move the shoulders back into alignment. Be
sure to hold students securely while you move them and to let go slowly, making
certain that they maintain balance.
HandsIf the students lower hand is placed against the shin or anywhere close to
the knee joint, instruct the student to be conscientious by not pressing the body
weight into the front of the leg; pressing back on the leg increases the risk
of knee hyperextension. If the student continues to press on the top of
the leg, modify the posture by placing a block or chair under the lower
hand on the outside of the front leg wherever the student can comfortably
Adjustment: rib cage.
reach it. Also encourage the student to use the abdominal and back muscles
to help support the upper body.
Head and neckCue the student to lengthen the neck and extend the head away from
the shoulders without strain or stiffness.

Modifications
Extreme stiffnessIf a student has trouble reaching for the ground without rotating
the chest toward the ground, place a block or the seat of a chair under the
bottom hand to elevate it slightly. The student may also need to decrease the
distance between the legs.
Balance and alignment difficultyPlace the student against a wall to work
on alignment. Cue the student to press the shoulder blades and the back
of the lower hip into the wall. The student may also need to decrease
the distance between the legs.
Neck weaknessSuggest that the student turn the gaze toward the
ground, but remind him or her to maintain the line of the entire
spine. This action continues to build strength but reduces the
strain on the neck.
Modification: extreme stiffness.

Kinematics
Utthita Trikonasana engages both balance and strength. Getting into position requires eccentric contractions of the top
lateral torso. Much of the movement in this asana occurs in the transverse plane, with the torso and top leg moving
slightly backward in opposition to the natural forward rotation of the pelvis. Once the position has been established,
most of the muscle activity shifts to isometric contractions to maintain body position with balance.
Many instructors have been taught that the torso and pelvis should be kept squared in the frontal plane by strongly
pressing the top hip back. However, for most people, this alignment creates an unnatural torque in the sacrum, and it
often overstretches the ligaments. This destabilizing force can create pain in the sacroiliac joint and the lower back.
Cueing students to slightly vary the internal rotation of the back foot, based on individual comfort level, allows for
a softer hip opening for those with tighter hips.

95

Utthita Trikonasana (Flexing to the Right)


Body segment
Foot and toes

Muscles active

Muscles released

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Peroneals, posterior tibialis,


flexor digitorum longus, gastrocnemius, soleus, flexor hallucis
longus (C, E, I)

Lower leg (L)

Internal rotation of foot, stability

Anterior tibialis, posterior tibialis, Gastrocnemius, soleus, peroneflexor hallucis longus (C, I)
als

Thigh (R)

Knee extension and patella elevation

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus (I)

External rotation of femur, stability

Deep external rotators* (C, I)

Gluteus medius, gluteus minimus

Stability

Adductor longus, adductor


magnus (I)

Adductors

External rotation of femur, stability

Deep external rotators* (I)

Abduction, stability

Tensor fascia lata (I)

Hip stability

Gluteus medius, gluteus minimus


(I)

Pelvic stability

Hamstrings (E, I)

External rotation of femur, stability

Deep external rotators,* gluteus


maximus (C, I)

External rotation of femur, lateral


flexion, stability

Deep external rotators,* gluteus


maximus (C, I)

Hip extension, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, E, I)

Lateral flexion to right, stability

Tensor fascia lata (E, I)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus


lumborum, hamstrings (I)

Spinal stability

Erector spinae (C, I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Trunk stability and rotation

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum
(I)

Lateral flexion to right, stability

Internal and external obliques,


quadratus lumborum, latissimus
dorsi, erector spinae (E, I)

Thigh (L)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Torso (R and L)

Torso (L)

96

Kinematics
Toe abduction, foot
stability

Adductors, medial hamstrings

Iliopsoas, gluteus medius, tensor


fascia lata

Internal and external obliques,


quadratus lumborum, latissimus
dorsi, erector spinae

Standing Postures

Body segment
Shoulder

Kinematics

Muscles active

Abduction of humerus and joint


stability

Deltoids, supraspinatus, teres


minor (C, I)

Depression and stability of


humerus

Subscapularis, infraspinatus (C,


I), teres minor

Scapular rotation

Serratus anterior, mid and lower


trapezius (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids major and minor,


mid trapezius (C, I)

Postural support in mid back and


downward pull on scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus and teres minor


with some posterior deltoid (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Wrist and finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Stability

Sternocleidomastoid (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Neck

Muscles released
Pectoralis major

Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

97

Parivrtta Trikonasana
Revolving Triangle Pose
[par-ee-VRT-tuh tree-kohn-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, Parivrtta means the other side; it is also often
translated as meaning to revolve or revolving. Trikonasana
means trianglethus the name of this asana, in which the
anterior (front) torso rotates along the axis of the spine in the
opposite direction of Utthita Trikonasana.

Description
Parivrtta Trikonasana is similar to Utthita Trikonasana
(Extended Triangle) but shifts the front of the pelvis from
the frontal plane to a position in which it is almost parallel
to the ground, thus causing the upper body to rotate around
the spine. The twist through the mid-thoracic spine makes
the posture more challenging for most students because it
requires greater strength, flexibility, and balance than are
needed for Utthita Trikonasana.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, and third
chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root through the heel and the first metatarsal head of the front foot. Anchor into the heel and the metatarsal heads
of the back foot. Evenly balance the grounding energy in bothlegs.

Benefits



Energizes the entire body.


Massages the internal organs and stretches supporting spinal musculature.
Enhances balance.
Strengthens and stretches hips and legs.

Caution
Back injuryAs with any twisting posture, students with an acute back injury should be cautious when practicing
this asanaor skip it entirely.

Verbal Cues
Moving from Tadasana (Mountain Pose), step your left leg back far enough that the distance between your feet
is challenging but comfortable while also allowing you to keep your left heel firmly on the ground. Face your
right foot forward and externally rotate your left foot about 10 to 15 degrees.
Place your hands on your hips and softly press your inner thighs toward each other to stabilize your pelvis and
bring attention to your balance. This action also draws your left hip slightly forward and keeps your right leg
and torso facing your right foot.

98

Standing Postures

Inhale, lengthen out of your low spine, and reach your left arm overhead while keeping your right hand on
your hip.
Exhale and fold forward from your hips like a hinge, keeping your right hip stable. Allow your right hand to
slightly encourage your right hip back as you continue to reach forward with your left hand to elongate your torso.
Stop folding forward at the first point of resistance, whether it be in your hamstrings, hips, or lower back. Picture
your breath stabilizing your balance.
When you are in a comfortable position, exhale and place your left hand as far down the outside of your right
leg as possible without extending past your comfort range or the edge of your balance. Imagine pressing your
right leg outward, without actually moving it, and press your left hand against your outer right leg to engage
your outer hip muscles more fully for stability.
When you feel stable, rotate your torso slightly to the right and imagine the outside of your right shoulder
pointing toward the sky. Take a breath for stability and then straighten your right arm so that the palm points
away from you and your fingers point to the sky.
Inhale as you reopen the space between your hips and ribs by lengthening your lower ribs away from your
pelvis. Continue to elongate your entire spine all the way through your neck. Align your chin with the center of
your chest as much as possible without strain. If this taxes your balance, continue to look toward your right foot.
Keep your left hand reaching down toward the ground as your right hand stretches upward. Allow your breaths
to encourage more openness across your chest.
Remember to continue grounding through your feet and feel the revolving action through your mid-spine and
arms with each exhalation.
Continue to focus on your breath.
To exit the posture, unwind and bring your hands to either side of your front foot or
leg. Take a breath, then slowly place your hands on your hips. As you inhale, raise
yourself upright. Prepare for your next posture.

Adjustments
FeetIf the back foot lifts off the ground, cue the student to press down more firmly
on the outside of the back heel and the outer edge of the foot. You can squat behind
the student and press lightly on the outer aspect of the back foot with your hands or
toes. If the heel still lifts, ask the student to decrease the distance between the feet.
SpineIf a student is rounding the spine, stand to the side of the back leg, near
the hips. Place your closest hand on the top of the students far hip
and your other hand on the far shoulder. Using your hip to support
the students balance, draw the students hip and shoulder slightly
farther apart and draw the top shoulder toward you. Use your
hand to roll the shoulder down, away from the ear.
Adjustment: spine.

Modifications
Balance difficultyHave the student slightly bend the front knee. This
action also allows for more leverage to open the hips and straighten
the spine.
Tight hips or hamstringsPlace a block or a chair under the lower hand.
The use of the prop helps establish and maintain a straight spine while
eliminating undue strain on the hamstrings.
Balance or weaknessHave the student stand with the outside
of the front leg against a wall. Instruct the student to lean into
the wall for balance and to press the hand reaching down
against the wall. A block may also be necessary for comfort.
Modification: tight hips or hamstrings.

99

Kinematics
One of the most important aspects of this posture is to keep the spine as elongated as possible while flexing from
the hip joints. For this reason, students with tightness in the hamstrings or low back should use a block or other prop
under the bottom hand to keep the upper back from rounding. Also, direct students to focus on having the twist
come predominantly from the thoracic spine in order to help maintain integrity and stability in the hips, sacrum,
and lumbar spine.

Parivrtta Trikonasana (Rotating to the Right)


Body segment
Foot and toes

Muscles active

Muscles released

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Plantar flexion for foot and ankle


stability

Gastrocnemius, soleus (C, I)

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Peroneals, anterior and posterior


tibialis, flexor digitorum longus,
flexor hallucis longus (C, E, I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle stability

Peroneals (E, I)

Thigh (R and L)

Knee extension and patellar elevation

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus,


adductors (I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip flexion

Hamstrings (E, I)

Hamstrings, tensor fascia lata,


gluteus medius and minimus,
deep external rotators*

Hip and pelvis (L)

Hip extension

Hamstrings (E, I)

Adductors

Slight external rotation and stability

Deep external rotators* (I)

Trunk stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis (I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Torso (R)

Rotation to right

Internal obliques, quadratus lum- External obliques


borum (C, I)

Torso (L)

Rotation to right

External obliques (C, I)

Quadratus lumborum, latissimus


dorsi, internal obliques

Shoulder

Humerus abduction and shoulder stability

Deltoids, infraspinatus, teres


minor (C, I)

Pectoralis major

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids major and minor and


mid trapezius (C, I)

Postural support in mid back and


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus and teres minor


with some posterior deltoid (C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Torso (R and L)

100

Kinematics
Toe abduction, foot stability

Gastrocnemius, soleus, peroneals

Erector spinae

Standing Postures

Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Upper arm

Elbow

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm (R)

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Lower arm (R and


L)

Elbow

Anconeus (C, I)

Lower arm (L)

Pronation

Pronator teres (C, I)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi radialis, longus,


Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,
and brevis; extensor carpi ulnaris palmaris longus
(C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Stability

Sternocleidomastoid (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Neck

Biceps brachii,
brachialis, brachioradialis

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

101

Uttanasana
Intense Forward Bend
[oot-taahn-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, Ut means intensity, and tan means to stretch or lengthen.

Description
Uttanasana intensely stretches and lengthens the spine and hamstrings.
This basic standing forward bend should be done by folding from the hips,
like a hinge, while maintaining a straight low back. It can be practiced
with the legs at any distance apart that feels comfortable yet challenging.
Uttanasana is usually performed as a resting, rejuvenating posture between
other standing postures and as part of the Sun Salutations.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, fourth chakra (Anahata) expressive
energy

Foundational Focus
Root through the metatarsal heads. Anchor into the center
of each heel.

Benefits





Strengthens and stretches the spinal muscles.


Lengthens and stretches the hamstrings and opens the posterior of the hips.
Relaxes and rejuvenates the whole body.
Stimulates the liver, spleen, and kidneys.
Helps relieve headache.
Stimulates the digestive system.

Cautions
Back concernsAnyone with low back concerns should be extremely mindful to bend forward from the hips
only as far as is comfortable and only with the use of props. In addition, instruct students to be mindful when
exiting from Uttanasana to avoid straining the low back. Byfocusing on lifting from the crown of the head to
maintain length in the spine, softening the knees slightly, and using their arms when necessary, students alleviate
pain and avoid possible damage.
Late pregnancyPractice with modifications (wider leg position and use of props) or skip this posture.
GlaucomaAs with all postures where the head is below the heart, this pose is not recommended without
modification for students with glaucoma. If it is practiced, it should be held for a very short time.

Verbal Cues
Start in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with your feet at a comfortable yet challenging distance apart. Firm your thigh
muscles by pressing your legs slightly back without hyperextending your knees. Inhale and raise your arms above
your head. If your lower ribs flare forward and your spine moves into extension, imagine pressing your back
rib cage toward a wall behind you and draw your front pelvis slightly upward to reestablish an aligned posture.
102

Standing Postures

Exhale and draw your kneecaps upward slightly as you begin to fold forward at your hip joints. Keep the length
of your spine intact. Fold as far forward as feels comfortable to your back and hamstrings, stopping to breathe
at the first point of resistance. Let your arms come into a restful position on a prop or on the ground and relax
your shoulders.
Continue to reach out of the low back to keep length in your entire spine. Relax and picture your vertebrae
sinking toward the ground. If you feel any discomfort in your low back, place your hands on a prop to decrease
the flexion.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Relax your neck so that the crown of your head sinks toward the ground.
If your hands can touch the ground comfortably, place them near your heels and move your body weight slightly
more forward so that your hips align directly over your ankle joints. This action challenges your balance slightly.
If your hands do not touch the ground, allow them to hang down or place them against your legs or on a prop.
Be sure that there is no strain in your low back, hips, or hamstrings.
Picture your tailbone and sit bones reaching up to the sky as the crown of your head extends toward the ground.
Press through your heels as you breathe in and let the bottom of your pelvis reach up farther. As you exhale,
allow your spine to relax even deeper, suspending your upper body forward.
Soften your belly. Breathe into your low back and visualize your ribs expanding to the sides, thus allowing
more space for your breath. Keep your shoulders relaxed and away from
your ears.
To come out of the posture, place your hands on your hips or reach
your arms out to the sides. Open your chest by gently squeezing your
shoulder blades toward each other. Keep the front of your rib cage
elevated, and as you inhale press through your legs. Lift through the
crown of your head and begin to raise yourself to a standing position.

Adjustments
FeetAs much as possible, be sure that the outer edges of the students
feet are parallel with each other and with the outer edges of the mat. This
adjustment allows for more stability and alignment in the knees and hips.
Lower bodyStanding behind or to the side of the student, place your
hands lightly on the outside of the hips and gently move the hips so
that they are aligned over the ankle joints with the legs perpendicular to the ground.
NeckGently touch the back of the students head, or just remind
Adjustment: lower body.
the student verbally to relax the neck.

Modifications
Tight hamstringsInstruct the student to use a prop under the hands for support and to keep
the spine elongated.
Rounded backInstruct the student to take a wider stance with the feet
or to use a prop.
Pregnancy or stiff back, hips, or hamstringsSuggest that the student use
a wall or chair for support to relieve some of the physical work involved
in the posture, thus promoting an easier release in the spine and hamstrings. Instruct students to practice Ardha Uttanasana (Half Forward
Fold)by placing the hands against a wall or on top of a chair seat
and folding forward only until the spine is parallel to the ground.
Weakness or balance difficultyThe student can be seated on a
chair (or exercise ball) with the feet placed comfortably apart. From
Modification: weakness and balance difficulties.
there, instruct the student to fold as far forward as is comfortable.
103

Kinematics
The most common mistake that students make in practicing this posture is to bend forward from the lumbar or thoracic
spine instead of from the hip joints. If the knees bend, the hips usually move out of alignment. Although bending the
knees can take pressure out of the lower back, it does not allow the hamstrings the opportunity to stretch fully, and
students generally continue to initiate the forward fold from the back rather than from the hips. To protect the lower
back in people with particularly tight hamstrings, use a prop under the hands.

Uttanasana
Body segment
Foot and toes

Kinematics

Muscles active
Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti
minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Gastrocnemius, anterior and


posterior tibialis, flexor digitorum longus, and flexor hallucis
longus (C, E, I)

Slight external rotation of lower


leg

Peroneus longus, brevis, and tertius (C, I)

Thigh

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hamstrings

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion, stability

Hamstrings (E, I), iliopsoas (C, I)

Gluteus medius and minimus,


deep external rotators*

Hip stability

Adductors (I)

Spine extension

Thoracic erector spinae (C, I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Scapular abduction

(Gravity induced)

Latissimus dorsi, rhomboids,


trapezius

Humeral flexion

(Gravity induced)

Deltoids

Upper arm

Elbow extension

(Gravity induced)

Triceps brachii, biceps brachii,


brachialis, brachioradialis

Lower arm

Wrist extension or hyperextension

(Gravity or ground induced)

Extensor carpi radialis, brevis


and longus, extensor carpi
ulnaris

Hand and fingers

Finger extension

(Gravity or ground induced)

Neck

Extension

None

Lower leg

Torso

Shoulder

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

104

Muscles released

Toe abduction, foot stability

Gastrocnemius

Lumbar erector spinae, quadratus lumborum

Sternocleidomastoid, splenius
capitus and cervicis, cervical
erector spinae

Standing Postures

Prasarita Padottanasana
Extended-Leg Forward Bend
[pruh-SAAH-ree-tuh paah-doht-taahn-AAHsuh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, Prasarita means to expand or
spread. This asana is a variation of a forward
bend with the legs abducted.

Description
Although Prasarita Padottanasana
has a number of variations, four
are traditionally practiced in
the warm-up of the Ashtanga
yoga series. All four are pictured
here; however, the cueing is described only once because each variation begins in the same opening stance, followed
by a gentle back arch and forward fold from the hips. The only difference is in arm and hand placement. After each
forward bend, bring the hands back to the hips, stand, and move into the next posture.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, seventh chakra (Sahasrara), especially if the head touches the ground

Foundational Focus
Root through the metatarsal heads slightly more than the heels. Anchor into the outer edges of the feet.

Benefits




Stretches the hamstrings, inner thighs, and low back.


Builds stability in the feet and legs.
Stretches the shoulder joints throughout the range of motion.
Relaxes and recharges the mind and body.
Stimulates and tones the abdominals.

Cautions
Shoulder injuryStudents with shoulder concerns should proceed cautiously in variation 3.
Back concernsAnyone with low-back concerns should be extremely mindful and bend at the hips only as far
as is comfortable. A block or wall should be used for additional support.

Verbal Cues
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), step your legs out as wide as is comfortable. Internally rotate your feet slightly
and press through the edges of the feet.
Position your body so that your hips, belly, and chest point forward. Anchor into the outer edges of your feet,
drawing energy up from your arches into your pelvis.
Bring your hands to your hips and open your chest by drawing your shoulder blades gently toward each other
and softening them down toward your hips. As you continue to press your feet firmly against the ground, feel
your spine lengthen.
105

Inhale and lift your chest slightly, feeling more expansion in your
chest. Imagine the breath drawing your collarbones wider.
Exhale, drawing your lower abdomen inward as you begin to
fold forward from your hip joints. Slightly lift your kneecaps as you continue flexing forward.
As you continue to exhale, press through your
legs and fold further forward, maintaining the
length and openness in your upper back
and chest.
Variation 2: Hands remain on the hips and elbows are drawn toward
Lower your hands to the ground or to a
each other behind the back.
prop and place them shoulder-width apart
between your feet.
Inhale as you straighten your arms and look forward while arching
(hyperextending) your back slightly. Feel the front of your chest
broaden and the front of your torso open.
Exhale and bend your elbows as you lower the crown
of your head toward the ground into a deeper fold.
Keep your inner elbows pulled in toward each
other and relax your neck so that your ears
drop away from your shoulders.
Adjust your body weight so that your hip
joints align directly over your ankles. Variation 3: Hands clasp behind the back. If there is sufficient flexibility
Roll forward slightly toward your toes, and comfort, the hands can lower toward the ground behind the head.
while still keeping your heels on the
ground; this straightens your knees slightly, giving you a deeper
stretch in the hamstrings. By moving slowly, you will maintain
balance.
If your head touches the ground, put as much weight on the
crown of your head as feels comfortable to you, being
mindful not to compress your neck. If you have so
much flexibility in the hips that when you fold forward your neck crimps, bring your legs slightly
closer together.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Variation 4: Hands reach out and grasp the big toes.
To exit, place your hands on your hips and
press firmly through your feet. Keep your elbows pointing away from you behind your back. Inhale as you lift
yourself upright. Step or jump your feet together into Tadasana.

Adjustments
BalanceIf the student has weak balance, stand behind her or him. Place the side of your hip against the back of
the students thigh to block him or her from placing the weight too far back on the heels. You can also stand to the
front of the student, placing your hands lightly on the outer edges of the hips, and slowly and gently bring the body
weight forward onto the toes to provide better alignment.
HandsWhen the students hands are on the ground, they should be in line with the feet. If the hands are too far
forward in front of the line of the toes, instruct the student to move the hands back. Have the student accommodate
moving the hands back by spreading the feet wider apart if comfortable.
NeckIf a student has hyperextended the neck, gently touch the back of the head to cue relaxation.
ElbowsIn variation 2, if the students elbows are not parallel to each other, stand behind the student and place your
hands on the upper arms and roll the elbows inward toward the midline of the body. This adjustment also helps
increase chest expansion. To further stabilize and build strength in the chest and shoulders in variation 1, place a
block between the students elbows and instruct the student to squeeze into it while keeping length in the spine.
106

Standing Postures

Modifications
Tight hamstrings or backFor the very inflexible, place the students palms against
a wall or on the seat of a chair to help avoid back strain while slowly stretching
the hamstrings. For those with more flexibility, place the palms on a yoga
block to provide support. Remind the student to focus on the length and
expansion of the spine while relaxing the back of the legs.
Tight groinIf the student is unable to abduct the legs far enough to place the
head on the ground, place a block or chair seat under the head for support.
Make certain that the prop is on a secure surface so that it will not slip.
WeaknessPlace the student at the edge of a chair or on a fitness ball.
Instruct the student to bend forward from the hips and practice the variations
of the arm positions.
Modification: tight hamstrings or back.

Kinematics

As in Uttanasana, if the quadriceps contract concentrically, the hamstrings relax more readily. Like Uttanasana,
which focuses deeply on the hamstrings, Prasarita Padottanasana also stretches both the hip adductor group (inner
thigh) and the peroneal group (outer calf) at the lateral ankle joint. Note: Although four variations of the asana are
discussed, only variation 1 is described in the kinematic table.

Prasarita Padottanasana (Variation 1)


Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Foot and toes

Toe abduction, foot stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Lower leg

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Gastrocnemius, soleus, peroneGastrocnemius, anterior and


posterior tibialis, flexor digitorum als
longus, flexor hallucis longus (C,
E, I)

Thigh

Leg extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hamstrings, adductors

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion

Hamstrings (E, I)

Deep external rotators*

Thigh abduction, stability

Tensor fascia lata (C, I)

Spine extension

Thoracic erector spinae (C, I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Scapular abduction

(Gravity induced)

Overhead extension

(Gravity induced)

Upper arm

Humeral flexion

(Gravity induced)

Lower arm

Elbow flexion

(Gravity induced)

Wrist extension or hyperextension

(Gravity or ground induced)

Hand and fingers

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (I)

Neck

Extension

None

Torso
Shoulder

Lumbar erector spinae


Latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, mid
trapezius
Deltoids, triceps brachii, biceps
brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis
Extensor carpi radialis brevis and
longus, extensor carpi ulnaris

Sternocleidomastoid, splenius
capitus and cervicis, cervical
erector spinae

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

107

Garudasana
Eagle Pose
[guh-rood-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, Garuda refers to the king of birds: the eagle. It also suggests the focus needed
to remain steady in this position.

Description
This one-legged balancing posture involves crossing the non-weight-bearing leg over the
standing leg. The thighs and hips are activated by the slight crouch. The mid back and
posterior shoulders are stretched as the arms cross in front of the chest. As with an eagle
focused and ready for action, this pose helps one develop stillness and concentration.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-openingenergy

Foundational Focus
Root through the metatarsal heads and the heel of the standing foot. Squeeze the
energy of the inner thighs together.

Benefits
Helps develop focus, concentration, and increased balance.
Provides a deep stretch in the outer hips, along the posterior
shoulders, and between the shoulder blades.
Stretches and strengthens the calf and ankle of the standing leg.

Cautions
Hip replacementFor students with hip replacement, crossing the affected limb beyond the midline of the body
(adducting) is generally contraindicated (see the modifications section).
Knee injuryStudents with knee concerns should use modifications.

Verbal Cues
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), find a gazing point (drishti) somewhere in front of you for focus. Keep your
gaze fixed on this spot throughout the posture to help eliminate visual distraction.
Shift your weight slightly to your right leg. Root through the toes and heel of your right foot. Inhale to create
space in your spine and keep your pelvis square and aligned under the shoulders.
Bring your hands to your hips and roll your front shoulders open as you exhale and slightly bend both knees.
Be sure that your body weight falls straight down from your spine and that your knees do not extend beyond
your feet. Flex your hips as if you were going to sit on a tall chair.
Slowly lift your left heel off the ground. Breathe, and when you feel stable, lift your toes off the ground and
cross your left knee over your right leg above the right knee joint, keeping both knees bent. If possible, hook
the top of your left foot behind your right calf and slightly press your inner thigh muscles (adductors) toward
each other for stability.
Keep the line of your sit bones directed toward the ground and your rib cage and chest lifted and open. With
every breath in, reach the crown of your head upward.
Continue to focus on your breath.
108

Standing Postures

Maintain length in your entire spine from your low back to your neck. Keep your body weight balanced with
your hips pressing back slightly and your spine as perpendicular to the ground as possible.
Inhale and stretch your arms apart out to your sides, like wings. Exhale and cross your arms above the elbows in
front of your chest as if you were giving yourself a hug with your right arm over your left arm. Feel the shoulder
blades draw slightly apart.
On an exhalation, externally rotate your upper arms so that the backs of your hands come closer together in
front of your face. If you comfortably can, press your palms together, essentially wrapping (binding) your arms.
Bring your hands in line with your gaze, along the midline of your body.
Continue to focus on your breaththe smoother and steadier your breath, the steadier your balance. Imagine
drawing energy up from the ground and having it centered in your navel, where your center of mass sits.
Breathe into the space between your shoulder blades, feeling them move slightly away from each other with
each inhalation, gently stretching the trapezius muscles. Be sure to soften your shoulders away from your ears,
keeping your neck as long as possible.
To exit the posture, inhale and slowly unwind your arms. Uncross your left leg and place the foot on the ground.
Inhale and straighten your right leg. Prepare for the opposite side.

Adjustments
BalanceFirst, for better balance, instruct the student to spread the toes as wide as is
comfortable. Stand behind the student and place your hands lightly on either side of
the hips. While the student exhales, draw the hips slightly back and down. At the same
time, use the outside of one of your shoulders to press against the students mid back
in order to encourage the student to lift the rib cage and open the space between the
shoulder blades.
Knee of standing legIf the knee of a students standing leg extends too far forward in
front of the line of the toes, stand behind and slightly to the side of the student with your
hip close to the students sacrum. Allow your hipto support some of the students body
weight. Holding onto the hips, gently move the students body weight back over the
heels.
ShouldersLightly touch the tops of the students shoulders to encourage the student
to relax the shoulders away from the ears.
ElbowsIf the students arms are crossed below the elbow, on the forearm, stand to
the front of the student and grasp the upper arms and gently move each arm across
the students chest, toward the opposite shoulder. Do not attempt this adjustment
if the student has any shoulder injury or discomfort.

Adjustment: balance.

Modifications
Balance difficultyPlace the student with the back against a wall if one is available; if not, instruct
the student to keep the toes of the lifted foot lightly touching the ground or resting on a block.
Knee concernsEncourage the student to keep the toes of the non-weight-bearing leg on the
ground to help maintain balance. This placement also keeps the supporting leg from taking all of
the body weight. Students with knee concerns should avoid hooking the top of the raised foot
behind the standing calf. Another option, which can also help those with balance difficulty, is to
sit at the edge of a chair or fitness ball (or lean against a wall) in order to keep the hips aligned
(and use the wall as a sort of training wheel as needed).
Hip replacement or extremely tight hipInstruct the student to cross the legs at the ankle
joint and to avoid crossing the non-weight-bearing knee over the midline of the body.
Tight shoulders or large chestIf the student is unable to bring the elbows near each
other in front of the body, one option is to invite the student to focus on pressing the
forearms together and breathing fully into the space between the shoulder blades. The
student may also simply reach the top hand across to the opposite shoulder while
placing the bottom hand or forearm against the outside of the reaching arm, thus
Adjustment: tight shoulders or
encouraging a stretch in the outside of the top arm as it crosses the chest.
large chest.

109

Kinematics
To avoid placing undue stress on the weight-bearing leg, the knee joint should be aligned with or posterior to the
forefoot. Students whose upper body is heavy or tight will have difficulty wrapping the arms. In this case, instruct
them to give themselves a hug by reaching the hands toward the opposite shoulders. This action allows for a stretch
in the posterior shoulder musculature.

Garudasana (Standing on Right Leg)


Body segment
Foot and toes (R)

Muscles active

Muscles released

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Foot and toes (L)

Toe hyperextension

Extensor digitorum longus,


extensor hallucis longus (C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus (E, I)

Ankle stability

Anterior and posterior tibialis,


flexor digitorum longus, flexor
hallucis longus, peroneals (C,
E, I)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis (C, I)

Ankle eversion

Peroneals, extensor digitorum


longus (C, I)

Knee flexion

Quadriceps (E, I)

Knee stability

Adductors (I)

Thigh (L)

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip flexion, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(E, I)

Hip stability

Gluteus medius and minimus,


adductors (I)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris (C, I)

Thigh adduction

Adductors, gracilis, pectineus


(C, I)

Trunk stability

Rectus abdominis, internal and


external obliques, transverse
abdominis, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (I)

Postural support and downward


pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

Horizontal flexion of humerus

Pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, Rhomboids, upper and mid tracoracobrachialis (C, I)
pezius, posterior deltoid

Stability and external rotation of


humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor (I)

Scapular depression

Pectoralis minor, subclavius (C, I)

Scapular stability

Serratus anterior (C, I)

Lower leg (L)

Thigh (R)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Torso

Shoulder

110

Kinematics
Toe abduction, foot stability

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Gluteus medius and minimus;


deep external rotators*

Standing Postures

Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Upper arm

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis (C, I)

Lower arm

Pronation of lower arm

Pronator teres, pronator quadratus (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris
(C, I)

Wrist stability

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


palmaris longus (I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, extensor


digiti minimi brevis (C, I)

Finger adduction

Flexor and extensor pollicis


longus, adductor pollicis (C, I)

Neck extension, stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis (I)

Neck

Muscles released
Triceps brachii

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

111

Utthita Parshvakonasana
Extended Side-Angle Stretch
[oot-T-HEE-tuh paarsh-vuh-kohn-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, Parshva means side or flank, kon means angle, and utthita means
extended.ThusUtthita Parshvakonasana is an extended side-angle (or flank-angle)
stretch.

Description
This posture is a side-stretching lunge in which one hand is placed on the
ground on the lunging side and the other arm is extended overhead. Moving
into it from Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) is an easy transition.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra
(Svadhisthana)creative energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the metatarsal heads and the heel
of both feet. Anchor into the outer foot of
the back leg.

Benefits







Stretches the side of the body.


Helps relieve sciatica.
Helps relieve hip, thigh, and low back pain caused by arthritis or imbalance.
Opens the groin.
Stabilizes the hip and knee joints.
Opens and stabilizes the chest and shoulders.
Increases circulation to structures around the heart and lungs.
Tones the abdominal muscles.

Cautions
Knee concernsStudents with a knee injury should be extra careful to prevent the bent knee from either rolling
inward or extending beyond the line of the toes.
Neck pain or injuryStudents with a neck concern should look forward and focus on keeping the sides of the
neck long.

Verbal Cues
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), extend your arms out to your sides with your palms facing down.
Step your feet apart, abducting your legs, so that your feet are as far apart as your outstretched hands, or as far
apart as is comfortably challenging.
Externally rotate your left leg out 90 degrees, then turn your right foot in slightly toward your left at about 45
degrees.
112

Standing Postures

Exhale and slowly bend your left knee so that the top of your left thigh is as parallel to the ground as possible
while making sure not to extend the knee beyond the toes.If this misalignment happens, move into a slightly
wider stance.
Inhale and open and expand from the front center of your spine. Feel your hips and shoulders opening and
your spine extending and lengthening.
Exhale, keeping the foundation of your body strong, and reach through your left arm as your left rib cage extends
out over your left thigh. Continue to root through the outside edge of your right foot. Bend your left elbow and
place the forearm on top of your left thigh. Breathe here and allow your pelvis to naturally turn slightly toward
your left leg while your right thigh remains active and anchoring.
If it feels comfortable to do so, on an exhalation, lower your left hand to the ground, to either the inside or the
outside of your left foot. By placing your left arm in front of the knee, you make it easier to press back with
your upper arm to keep your knee from rolling inward. Placing your hand behind your left foot makes it easier
to maintain a frontal plane orientation in your rib cage. Place your hand where you feel that it most supports
your body.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Take your right hand to your right rib cage and press back (externally rotating) if you feel your chest rolling
toward your left thigh. Inhale and reestablish the length in your side, expanding through the front and back of
your spine.
On the next inhalation, sweep your right arm out in front of your body with your right palm facing the ground.
Keep your shoulders relaxed away from your ears and extend your right arm over your head so that your biceps
(upper arm) is close to your right ear. Imagine a strong line of energy drawing upward from the outside of your
right foot all the way into your right fingertips.
Keep the space in your neck as long and extended as possible. Press your right thumb slightly back to open
your shoulder a bit more. Continue to root through your right foot while still pressing the outside of your left
knee laterally to open your groin. Visualize your thighs rolling away from each other, opening your hip joints
more with each breath.
Remain focused on your breathing.
To exit the position, press firmly through both feet and inhale while extending your left knee and sweeping your
right arm out to the right side of your body. Imagine that you are being pulled up by that right hand. Prepare
for the next side.

Adjustments
Bent kneeIf the student is physically able to do so, remind him
or her to maintain the bent knee at an angle where the thigh is
close to being parallel with the ground. If necessary, instruct
the student to adjust the distance between the feet in order to
modify the angle of the knee. If the knee rotates inward, semisquat behind the student and place your closest hand on the midthigh of the bent knee and your opposite hand on the upper hip for
stability. Gently guide the bent knee into alignment.
Hips and torsoInstruct the student to imagine rolling the front of
the straight leg externally to encourage more opening in the hip joint
without compromising the pelvis. Stand behind the student and brace
your knee against the back of the pelvis. Use your closest hand to stabilize the top hip so that the student maintains balance. Use your other
hand to support the students upper body and maintain an open chest.
Hand placementHelp the student decide whether to place
the lower arm in front of or behind the foot, depending on the
students stability, flexibility, and openness in the hips. If the
student is new to the pose or has overly tight hips, encourage
Adjustment: hips and torso.
the use of a block.
113

Modifications
Stiff hipsIf the student cannot comfortably reach the ground without
compromising the spinal alignment, instruct the student to bend the
elbow of the downward facing arm and place the forearm on the
bent thigh as close to the knee as possible. The student may also use
a block for leverage. Caution: Students often sink into the shoulder in this
modification. It can be difficult for them to achieve length in the side to
lift out of the low back and neck, so cue them to press the forearm down
into the thigh, or hand into the block, and lengthen the torso.
Balance concernsA student with balance concerns can be placed
with her or his back against a wall to help maintain balance. It
is also helpful to use a block or chair to support the lower arm.
Stiff neck or shouldersIf the neck fatigues or is extremely stiff,
Modification: stiff hips.
instruct the student to look down toward the foot of the bent
leg instead of forward.

Kinematics
Students new to the posture often practice it in the modified position, wherein the lower arm rests on the thigh of the
bent leg. Over time, as students increase strength and flexibility in the hips and shoulders, they develop the ability
to bring the hand closer to the ground. Generally, when you see a students lower shoulder pressed up near the ear,
you can suggest that the student try to bring the hand to the ground or to a prop.

Utthita Parshvakonasana (Flexing to the Right)


Body segment
Foot and toes

Muscles active

Toe abduction, foot stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Peroneals, anterior and posterior


tibialis, gastrocnemius, soleus,
flexor digitorum longus, flexor
hallucis longus (C, E, I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle inversion, stability

Anterior tibialis, flexor hallucis


longus (C, I)

Ankle stability

Peroneals (E, I)

Thigh (R)

Knee flexion, stability

Quadriceps (E, I)

Knee stability

Hamstrings, popliteus (I)

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

External rotation of femur

Deep external rotators* (C, I)

Hip flexion, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(E, I)

Hip flexion, abduction, and stability

Tensor fascia lata (E, I)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis (C, I)

External rotation of femur, stability

Deep external rotators* (C, I)

Thigh (L)
Hip and pelvis (R)

114

Kinematics

Muscles released

Gastrocnemius, soleus, peroneals

Adductors

Standing Postures

Body segment
Hip and pelvis (L)

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Hip extension and stability

Gluteus maximus, hamstrings


(C, I)

Abduction

Tensor fascia lata

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis (C, I)

Torso stability

Erector spinae, rectus abdominis,


internal and external obliques,
rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum
(I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids major and minor,


mid trapezius (C, I)

Shoulder (R)

Humerus abduction and shoulder stability

Deltoids, infraspinatus, teres


minor (C, I)

Shoulder (L)

Humerus flexion

Anterior deltoids, pectoralis


major, biceps brachii (C, I)

Latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

Lower arm

Elbow

Anconeus (C, I)

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Hand and fingers


(R)

Wrist hyperextension, stability,


finger extension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus; extensor carpi ulnaris;
extensor digitorum, indicis,
and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger abduction, stability

Abductor pollicis longus, extensor pollicis brevis, interossei


dorsales manus, abductor digiti
minimi, abductor pollicis brevis,
opponens pollicis (C, I)

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris,
extensor digitorum (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


occipitals, cervical erector
spinae, scalenes, sternocleidomastoid (I)

Torso

Shoulder (R and L)

Hand and fingers


(L)

Neck

Iliopsoas, adductors

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


digitorum superficialis, palmaris
longus

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

115

Ardha Chandrasana
Half-Moon Pose
[AR-dhuh chuhn-DRAAH-suh-nuh]
Ardha is Sanskrit for half, and chandra is one of the
Sanskrit words for moon.

Description
This posture is named more for the pattern that
the body follows when entering the posture
than for what it looks like in the posture
itself. From Utthita Trikonasana (Extended
Triangle), the body weight is balanced on
the forward leg as the trailing leg lifts off the
ground in an arcing motion. If you visualize
the moon as a big circle, then the arc that the
non-weight-bearing leg moves through resembles the curve
of the half-moon. As an extension of Utthita Trikonasana,
Ardha Chandrasana provides similar benefits,
most notably in that it opens the chest, hips,
and pelvis.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra (Svadhisthana) creative energy, and fourth chakra (Anahata)
heart-opening energy

Foundational Focus
Balance evenly between the metatarsal heads and the heel of the standing leg. Root through the big toe with the
little toe acting as a counterbalance. Use the hand on the ground as a balance support.

Benefits
Strengthens the musculature of the weight-bearing leg, as well as the hip and torso on the non-weight-bearing
side.
Opens the chest and shoulders.
Builds concentration and focus.
Strengthens the hip abductors.

Cautions
PregnancyAfter the first trimester, this pose should be practiced with modifications.
Weakness or balance concernsThose with extreme weakness or balance difficulty should use modifications.
Hip or knee replacementThose with a replacement joint should either refrain from doing this pose or practice
it with modifications.

116

Standing Postures

Verbal Cues
Begin in Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle), with a 4 to 6 inch (10 to 15 centimeter) narrower stance.
While extending your upper body over your right leg, bend your right knee and place your right hand down
to the ground in front of your toes. Turn your head to look at your right foot and mindfully keep your right
knee aligned with your right foot. Slightly press the knee externally to keep it from rolling inward, which can
compromise the joint.
Breathe deeply in this position for a few breaths and focus on the balance and strength in your right leg. Keep
the space open in your hips, low back, and chest.
Rest your left hand on your left hip. Check that your right leg continues to rotate externally and not inwardleg
alignment in this pose is very important. Imagine your breath lifting the arch of your right foot.
Continue to focus on your breath.
While keeping your right knee bent, extend your fingertips 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) further in front
of your right toes. Inhale and slowly straighten your right leg as you lift your left leg until it is parallel to the
ground. Press through the heel of your left foot, extending your toes to keep your leg strong. Focus on aligning
your hips over your right ankle and your balance in your right foot.
Consciously maintain external rotation in your right leg, keeping your knee and toes in alignment. Rotate your
left hip back slightly; imagine that you are pressing your shoulder blades and hips against a wall behind you.
With each inhalation, expand the space from the front center of the spine. Remember: The steadier your breath
is, the steadier your balance will be.
Turn to look forward, aligning your chin with your sternum, and keep length and space in your neck, shoulders,
and chest. Raise your left hand in the air and keep both arms reaching out from the center of your spine. Feel
the front of your shoulders externally rotate away from your chest. Use the energy in your right arm to help
maintain upper body balance and alignment without relying completely on the arm for overall balance.
Continue to focus on keeping the action and energy moving outward through your legs.
To exit this posture, slowly bend your right knee and lower your left leg back to the ground. Inhale as you
extend your right knee and bring yourself back into standing. Prepare
to repeat on the other side.

Adjustments
Standing legMake sure that the knee of the standing leg is aligned over
the ankle and rotated externally by 90 degrees. For a stable foundation,
it is usually best to have the student come out of the posture and move
back into it with any necessary modifications.
HipStand behind the student, facing toward the head, and position
your closest hip against the students top leg, hip, or low back for
stability. Place your nearest hand on the students top thigh and
gently draw the pelvis toward you. Place your other hand on the
students nearest shoulder to help her or him maintain spinal alignment.
Extended legStanding behind the student, brace your nearest hip against
the students low back and place one hand lightly under the knee joint
to move the leg parallel to the ground.
Adjustment: hip.

117

Modifications
Balance trainingPlace the student with the back near a wall, which may be used to encourage
alignment as well as balance support. Instruct the student to press the top hip and shoulder toward
the wall. Also direct the student to place the fingers of the top arm against the wall and press gently
into the hand to move the body away from the wall for a breath or two.
Weakness in hip abductorsPosition the student with the body perpendicular to a wall, so that the
sole of the non-weight-bearing foot is placed against the wall. The pressure helps with balance and with strengthening the lifted leg. If no wall is available,
stand facing the sole of the foot and instruct the student to
press the foot into your hand.
Difficulty reaching support hand to the groundPlace a block
under the students lower hand to aid in balancing and in maintaining
proper alignment. This modification should generally be used for all students who are new to practicing this pose to help them get a feel
for balance and keep them from overstretching.
Pregnancy or extreme weakness or imbalanceInstruct the student
to kneel and place one hand on the ground or on a block at her
or his side and lift the opposite leg off the ground.

Modification: pregnancy or extreme weakness or


imbalance.

Kinematics
Because this version of Ardha Chandrasana is entered from Utthita Trikonasanafirst flexing, then extending the
knee of the balancing legit greatly uses the quadriceps and gluteals. In addition, the pull of gravity challenges the
strength in the neck, hips, and spineas the student focuses on maintaining balance and alignment with the spine
and non-weight-bearing leg parallel to the ground.

Ardha Chandrasana (Standing on Right Leg)


Body segment
Foot and toes (R)

Muscles active

Muscles released

Toe abduction, foot


stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Foot and toes (L)

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum longus, anterior tibialis, extensor hallucis


longus (C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Peroneals, anterior and posterior


tibialis, gastrocnemius, soleus,
flexor digitorum longus, flexor
hallucis longus (C, E, I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus, peroneus tertius


(C, I)

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Thigh (R)

Knee flexion and extension,


patellar elevation

Quadriceps (C, E, I)

Adductors, gracilis

External rotation of femur, stability

Gluteus maximus, deep external


rotators* (C, I)

Knee extension, patellar elevation

Quadriceps (C, I)

Thigh (L)

118

Kinematics

Standing Postures

Body segment
Hip and pelvis (R)

Kinematics

Muscles active

Hip flexion, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(E, I)

Hip stability

Gluteus medius and minimus,


adductors (C, I)

Hip extension

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Hip stability (against gravity)

Tensor fascia lata, gluteus medius


and maximus, deep external
rotators* (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum,
erector spinae (I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Humerus abduction, shoulder


stability

Deltoids, supraspinatus, (C, I)

Humerus depression, stability

Subscapularis, infraspinatus,
teres minor (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Postural support in mid back,


downward pull on scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus and teres minor


with some posterior deltoid (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris,
extensor digitorum (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


occipitals, cervical erector
spinae, sternocleidomastoid (I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Torso

Shoulder

Hand and fingers

Neck

Muscles released

Pectoralis major

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


digitorum superficialis, palmaris
longus

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

119

Parivrtta Parshvakonasana
Revolving Extended Side-Angle Stretch
[par-ee-VRT-tuh paarsh-vuh-kohn-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, Parshva means side or flank, and kon means angle.
Parivrtta means the other side and is often translated as meaning
to revolve or revolving. This posture is a twisted or revolving
flank stretch.

Description
Starting from Utthita Parshvakonasana (Extended
Side-Angle Stretch), the front torso rotates
toward the flexed thigh and away from the
anchoring back leg. It is a challenge to
keep the back foot rooted on the
ground, so the lower extremities
must provide anchoring that
connects the energy of the
body with the ground while
maintaining balance. The two popular variations of this posture usually involve changing the arm position. In one,
the top arm extends over the ears, as in Utthita Parshvakonasana. In the other, the hands are clasped together to
create a bind (see Modifications).

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root through the metatarsal heads and the heel of the front foot. Anchor into the outer edge of the back foot. Evenly
balance the grounding energy in both legs.

Benefits




Combines the benefits of Utthita Parshvakonasana with a spinal twist.


Improves digestion.
Stimulates circulation.
Builds balance and focus.
Provides deep stretch in the hips and shoulders and in the upward-facing side of the body.

Cautions
Back concernsAs with other twists, a student with a back injury should be extra cautious and use modifications.
Neck concernsA student with a neck concern should look straight ahead and focus on keeping length in the
sides of the neck.
PregnancyIt is not advisable to practice this posture during pregnancy due to the extreme rotation in the torso.

120

Standing Postures

Verbal Cues
Start from Utthita Parshvakonasana (Extended Side-Angle Stretch) with your right leg forward and your right
hand to the outside of your right foot. Bring your left hand from over your head to your left hip. You may need
to adjust your left leg by turning your front pelvis toward the ground and lifting your heel off the ground so that
you can square your hips and rotate your spine more comfortably.
Once you feel balanced, press through the outside of your left heel, even if the heel does not reach the ground.
If the heel remains lifted, gently draw the energy of your inner thighs toward each other without actually moving
your thighs to help stabilize your balance.
Rotate the center of your chest toward your right knee as you exhale. Reach your left elbow toward the outside
of your right leg. If the spinal rotation feels comfortable for you, place your left hand on the ground to the
outside of the right leg. If that degree of rotation is uncomfortable or overly challenging, place your left elbow
on top of, or slightly to the outside of the right thigh.
On each inhalation, lengthen your spine and open your chest. On each exhalation, slowly rotate slightly further toward the right, stopping at the first point of resistance. Stay mindful not to go past the edge of what is
comfortably challenging. The rotation should be felt in your mid-thoracic spine.
Extend your right arm and lift your right hand over your head, bringing your upper arm near your right ear.
Gently guide your right thumb back to allow for more rotation in your right rib cage and openness in your
chest, if doing so is comfortable. Keep your gaze forward or look down toward your right foot, keeping both
sides of your neck long.
Continue to focus on your breath.
To exit this position, exhale and slowly lower your right hand back to the ground as you release the rotation in
your torso. Inhale and lift your left hand off the ground, and imagine being pulled up out of the lunge with that
hand as you also straighten your right knee, coming back into a standing position. Prepare for your next posture.
Another option for exiting this position is to place both hands on the ground under the shoulders and step the
right leg back into a plank to move on to other positions.

Adjustments
BalanceEnable the student to stay in position with greater stability by offering a block on which to
place the lower hand. This option should be used with all students who are new to the pose.
Bent legCheck that the students bent knee is not rotating inward. If it is, then guide the
knee into deeper external rotation by gently pressing your hand against the inside of
the students leg, slightly above the knee.
ShouldersInstruct students that the shoulders should be as far away from the ears as
possible. Gently touch the tops of the shoulders as a reminder to relax in this area.
SpineIf the student is rounding the spine, gently touch the upper spine between
the shoulder blades as a reminder to elongate through this area. Cue the student
to visualize the spine as a long straight line, with the crown of the head moving
away from the back foot.
Overhead extended armThe arm extended over the ear must be
rotated externally to open the chest and shoulders. Be sure that
the students palm faces down toward the ground. Stand or kneel
behind the student and hold the upper arm while gently rolling the
elbow toward the ground. Use the side of your body to stabilize
the student if necessary.
Adjustment: shoulders.

121

Modifications
Difficulty in rotating and balancingCue the student to lower the back knee onto the
ground, square the hips, and bring the lower arm to the outside of the opposite leg, either
to the ground or to a block. The student can then rotate and open the body with more ease.
From there, the student can lift the back knee off the ground if so desired.
Back knee painIf the back knee is uncomfortable on the ground, provide the student
with extra padding, such as a blanket or small pillow.
Tight shouldersThe hands can be in prayer position (Anjali Mudra)
so that the bottom elbow is used to press against the top or
outside of the bent thigh in order to create more leverage for
rotating the shoulders open.
Posture deepeningBinding the arms gives a deeper stretch in Modification: difficulty in rotating and balancing.
the chest and shoulders. Instruct the student as follows: Bend
the elbow that is placed to the outside of your bent knee, then
rotate your forearm inward so that it goes under your thigh.
Lower your rib cage slightly further toward your front thigh and
reach your lower hand toward the outside of the same-side hip.
Next, bend the opposite (top) elbow and rotate the front of the
shoulder toward the sky (hyperextending the shoulder). Bring the
back of that hand against your spine, reaching toward the opposite
hand. If the student cannot quite clasp the hands together, provide
a strap and work the hands toward each other. Make sure that the
strap remains securely on the upper hamstrings for comfort.
This positioning stretches the chest and the front of the shoulders more intensely. You can move students deeper into the
position if they are stable by moving the hip of the bent knee Modification: deepening the posture.
toward the back foot, thus creating more space in the torso.

Kinematics
This posture uses a considerable amount of energy due to the stability and concentration required to maintain both
balance and alignment. Most students will be comfortable practicing any of the modified versions of the pose.

Parivrtta Parshvakonasana (Flexing and Rotating to the Right)


Body segment
Foot and toes

122

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Toe abduction, foot stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus (C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Peroneals, anterior and posterior


tibialis, gastrocnemius, soleus,
flexor digitorum longus, flexor
hallucis longus (C, E, I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle inversion, stability

Anterior tibialis, flexor hallucis


longus (C, I)

Gastrocnemius, soleus,
peroneals

Thigh (R)

Knee flexion

Quadriceps (E, I)

Hip adductors

Thigh (L)

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Standing Postures

Body segment
Hip and pelvis (R)

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Hip flexion, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus (E, I)

Hip flexion, abduction, stability

Tensor fascia lata (E, I)

External rotation of femur, stability

Deep external rotators,* gluteus


maximus (C, I)

External rotation of femur, stability

Deep external rotators,* gluteus


maximus (C, I)

Hip extension, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus (C,


I)

Torso (R and L)

Trunk stability

Erector spinae, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis,


transverse abdominis, quadratus
lumborum (I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Torso (R)

Rotation to right

Internal obliques, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

External obliques

Torso (L)

Rotation to right

External obliques (C, I)

Internal obliques, quadratus


lumborum

Shoulder (R and L)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Shoulder (R)

Humerus flexion

Anterior deltoids, pectoralis


major, biceps brachii (C, I)

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor (C, I)

Humerus abduction, shoulder


stability

Deltoids, infraspinatus, teres


minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Slight hyperextension of
humerus, stability

Posterior deltoid, teres major,


latissimus dorsi (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis, and


digiti minimi; lumbricales manus;
interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor pollicis (C, I)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris,
extensor digitorum (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis, and


digiti minimi; lumbricales manus;
interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor pollicis (C, I)

Stability

Sternocleidomastoid, splenius
capitus and cervicis, occipitals,
cervical erector spinae (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Shoulder (L)

Hand and fingers


(R)

Hand and fingers


(L)

Neck (R)

Iliopsoas, hip adductors

Posterior deltoids, serratus


anterior

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


digitorum superficialis, palmaris
longus

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

123

Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana


Revolving Half-Moon Pose
[par-ee-VRT-tuh AR-dhuh chuhn-DRAAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, Parivrtta means the other side and is often translated to mean to revolve or
revolving. Ardha is Sanskrit for half, and chandra is one of the Sanskrit words for moon.

Description
Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana is basically the
half-moon posture with the upper torso
revolving to the opposite side. One can enter
this posture from either Ardha Chandrasana
(Half-Moon Pose) or Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolving Triangle
Pose). This asana is much more challenging than Half-Moon due to the
twist, which requires greater strength for balance and greater flexibility
to rotate and remain open in the chest. Before attempting this posture,
beginning students should be able to balance for at least two or three breaths
in the other standing balance postures, and will generally require props.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy,
second chakra (Svadisthana) creative energy

Foundational Focus
Balance evenly between the metatarsal heads and the heel of the standing foot. Root through the big toe, with the
little toe acting as a counterbalance.

Benefits



Improves flexibility and strength in the hips and torso.


Builds balance and focus.
Increases stamina.
Tones the abdominal muscles.

Cautions
Weakness or dizzinessAnyone feeling weak or dizzy should skip this posture.
Back or neck concernsAnyone with acute back injury should avoid this pose. Those with neck issues should
practice with caution or modification.
PregnancyIt is inadvisable to attempt this posture during pregnancy due to the extreme rotation in the torso.

Verbal Cues
From Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle), extending to the right side, exhale and draw the crease of your
right hip back toward your left heel. Place your hands on your hips and slowly rotate the front of your left hip
toward your inner thigh. Press firmly through your left foot for grounding and balance.
Bend your right knee and rotate it slightly outward. Fold forward more deeply from your hips and place your
left fingertips on the ground approximately 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) in front of your right foot.
124

Standing Postures

Root through your right foot and on an inhalation begin to transfer the weight of your left leg forward over your
right foot and left hand. Breathe steadily, and when you feel balanced, slowly lift your left foot off the ground.
Look down at the ground as you straighten your right leg. Maintain length on all sides of your spine. When you
find your balance and alignment in your hips, continue reaching out of your extended back leg. Lengthen the
front of your spine and rotate the right side of your torso toward the sky.
Roll your right shoulder blade back and down toward your hips. Lift your right arm toward the sky and keep
length in your neck. Anchor strongly into the right leg, using your left hand to guide your balance.
Continue to focus on your breath, pressing strongly through your non-weight-bearing leg. Spread the left toes
to keep the foot active and feel a line of energy moving from the shoulders through the entire left leg.
To exit this position, inhale and slowly bend your right knee while setting your left foot back on the ground. Your
chest will naturally rotate forward out of the twist. Take another breath, and on the next inhalation straighten
your right leg and lift your torso. Exhale and bring your arms to your sides. Prepare for the next posture.

Adjustments
Support footInstruct students to spread the toes and keep the supporting knee aligned with
the foot, drawing energy up through the arch. Remind them to spread the toes and press
through the back lifted foot and leg.
BalanceTo help a student maintain balance, stand on the side of the elevated leg and use
your hip or ribs to provide support. Place the hand closest to the students legs on the
top hip, to provide support and to slightly draw the hip away from the lower ribcage.
Use your other hand to lift or gently guide the top shoulder toward the opposite side of
the body for greater rotation.
HipsCreate alignment in the hips by encouraging the student to
point the hip of the lifted leg toward the standing leg as much as
possible. Brush your fingertips on the crease of the standing hip to
encourage length in the torso.
Exiting the postureTo come out of this posture, students need to focus on moving slowly
and being mindful of body positioning. Focusing on the breath enables them to exit
the posture as gracefully and purposefully as possible. To assist a
student physically, stand to the side of the weight-bearing leg with
your hip blocking the students hip. Place your closest hand on the
students upper shoulder and your other hand on the opposite hip
Adjustment: balance.
and gently guide the person to unwind and come upright.

Modifications
Difficulty reaching ground with handIf a student has difficulty lowering to the ground while maintaining balance,
provide a block or the seat of a chair for the lower hand. This modification should also be used by most students
who are new to this pose to help provide balance and alignment without strain.
BalanceYou can help students establish and maintain balance in a number of ways. One
way is to instruct them to keep the upward rotating hand on the hip instead of extending
the hand toward the sky. Students can also place the hands against a wall for support or
place the sole of the lifted foot against a wall for stability.
Strength building, balance building, weakness, or pregnancyInstruct students to
start with a baby Revolving Half-Moon to build strength, flexibility, and
balance. Starting with the hands and knees on the ground, students
place the left hand on the ground to the outside of the right knee.
Instruct them to rotate the torso to the right and rest the right hand
on the right hip or extend the right hand in the air as they lift and
extend the left leg back. Some students may require the use of a
Modification: strength building, balance building,
block under the forearms and a blanket under the knees.
weakness, or pregnancy.

125

Kinematics
Because the lifted leg has nothing to press against, more effort is required to keep the spine lengthened and to open
the chest. This posture requires the deeper stabilizing musculature of the hips, pelvis, and spine to achieve and
maintain alignment and balance.

Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana (Standing on Right Leg)


Body segment
Foot and toes (R)

126

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Toe abduction, foot stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Foot and toes (L)

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum longus, anterior tibialis (I)

Lower leg (R)

Stability to counter body sway


Gastrocnemius, soleus, peroand contract and relax as needed neals, posterior tibialis, flexor
digitorum longus, flexor hallucis
longus (C, E, I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle plantar flexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus (C, I)

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus

Thigh (R)

Knee extension, patellar elevation, stability

Quadriceps (C, I)

Adductors, gracilis

Thigh (L)

Knee extension, patellar elevation

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Flexion, stability

Hamstrings, adductors (E, I)

Hip stability

Gluteus medius and minimus


(C, I)

External rotation of femur

Gluteus maximus, deep external


rotators* (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Hip extension

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Torso (R and L)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum,
erector spinae (I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Torso (R)

Trunk rotation to right

Internal obliques, quadratus lum- Erector spinae, external obliques


borum (C, I)

Torso (L)

Trunk rotation to right

External obliques (C, I)

Quadratus lumborum, erector


spinae, internal obliques

Shoulder

Humerus abduction, shoulder


stability

Deltoids, infraspinatus, teres


minor (C, I)

Pectoralis major

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids major and minor,


mid trapezius (C, I)

Supporting posture in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus and teres minor


with some posterior deltoid (C, I)

Hamstrings

Standing Postures

Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm (R)

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Hand and fingers


(L)

Wrist hyperextension, stability,


finger extension

Extensor carpi radialis longus


and brevis; extensor carpi
ulnaris; extensor digitorum, indicis, and digiti minimi; lumbricales manus; interossei dorsales
(C, I)

Neck

Stability

Sternocleidomastoid, splenius
capitus and cervicis, occipitals,
cervical erector spinae (C, I)

Hand and fingers


(R)

Muscles released
Biceps brachii, brachialis,
brachioradialis

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


digitorum superficialis, palmaris
longus

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

127

Utkatasana
Fierce, or Chair Pose
[OOT-kuht-AAH-suh-nuh]
This pose is fierce (utkata in Sanskrit) because when practicing it, one draws energy from and builds
strength in the thighs and hips, wherefrom warriors drew much of their power and virility in Indian
mythology. Thus Utkatasana is a very symbolic pose. Many yoga styles simply call the pose "chair
pose," as it resembles someone sitting.

Description
Although the positioning appears as if one is sitting in an uncomfortable chair, it is considered
a semi-standing squat with the arms lifted overhead. The energy used in this pose helps warm
the muscles in a short time. This posture is part of Surya Namaskara B.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through both heels. Anchor with the metatarsal
heads. Evenly balance the grounding energy in bothlegs.

Benefits



Builds strength and endurance in the hips and thighs.


Improves balance.
Stabilizes and balances the knee joint musculature.
Opens and tones the chest and shoulders.

Caution
Knee injuryThose with knee pain or injury should avoid bending the knees deeply.

Verbal Cues
Begin from Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with your feet and legs parallel and your toes and knees pointed forward.
Inhale and raise your arms forward and parallel to the ground with your palms facing each other. Feel your
shoulders soften. Press your palms together; you may keep your hands shoulder-width apart if that is more
comfortable for you.
Softly elongate your neck so that your ears move up away from your shoulders. Keep your chest lifted and
continue to lengthen through your entire spine.
On the next inhalation, raise your arms higher so that your hands are overhead. Soften through your shoulders.
Exhale and bend your hips, knees, and ankles. As you lower your torso, try to keep your hips aligned slightly
behind the line of your heels and to keep your knees back behind your toes. Engage the muscles in the back
of your thighs and in your buttocks and imagine them helping to hold your thighs up; this stabilizes the knee
and hip joints.
Continue to connect with your breath, keeping an even rhythm as the effort in your legs increases.

128

Standing Postures

Feel your sit bones sink downward and notice the extension in your low spine. Gaze forward as you draw your
thumbs up and back to open your shoulder joints. Take time to breathe deeply, opening your chest and relaxing
your shoulder blades down slightly from your ears.
Be sure that your neck is comfortable so there is space in the back of your neck. If you are uncomfortable at all
in your neck or shoulders, lower your arms so that they are parallel to the ground, as at the beginning.
Feel the energy of your inner thighs drawing together without moving your legs and keep your knees aligned
behind the line ofyour toes. Notice that your hips feel as if they are being pulled backward and down, as if
you were preparing to sit. At the same time, allow your rib cage to lift toward the sky.
Find yourself in the space where you are the most comfortably challenged and continue to focus on your breath.
To exit this posture, inhale deeply as you straighten your hips and knees. Exhale and lower your arms back to
your sides in Tadasana.
A nice countering pose is Uttanasana (Intense Forward Bend), which will balance the intensity of this pose
with relaxation.

Adjustments
Feet and kneesInstruct the student to position the feet so that
they point directly forward. If the students knees are not aligned
in the same plane as the feet, gently press against the outsides of the
students knees. Occasionally, a student will attempt to squat too deeply,
thus causing the knees to compensate by rotating externally. To regain alignment, instruct the student to straighten up slightly.
Lower extremitiesStudents often align the hips and knees too far forward. To
adjust a students posture, stand in a semi-squat behind and to one side of the
student and place your hands on the sides of the students hips. Gently and
slowly guide the hips backward. Because the students balance will shift as
you move the hips, you must move slowly and with care. Remind the student
to direct the sit bones toward the ground in order to keep length
in the low spine.
SpineIf the student is standing with an accentuated forward
pelvic tilt (swayback), instruct the student to point the sit bones
Adjustment: lower extremity.
toward the ground and to keep length in the low spine. You can
place your hands lightly at the low spine, above the pelvis, as a reminder to lengthen the area. If the student flexes
at the hips so much that the chest tilts significantly toward the ground, remind the student to imagine sitting in a
chair and to draw the spine toward the seat back. Sometimes straightening the knees a bit helps realign the torso.
ChestIf the students chest is collapsing inward, help rotate the arms externally to keep the shoulders open. Standing
in front of the student, place your hands on the upper arms, and externally rotate the elbows toward each other
and toward the midline of the body. Also, you can gently guide the students thumbs toward the back of the bodyto
open the shoulders even more.

Modifications
Weakness or knee painInstruct students not to squat down too far. Focus on the alignment and on lengthening the
spine. Over time, invite students to increase the flexion once they have gained muscular strength and muscular
endurance.
Balance difficulty and leg weaknessPlace the student with the back against the wall for support, both for balance
and for gradually gaining strength in the thighs and hips.
Standing instability and late pregnancySuggest that students place the feet farther apart for better stability. Remind
them, however, to ensure that the knees do not turn inward.
Strength buildingPlace a towel or small ball between the students knees and a block between the hands to help
target the knee and shoulder alignment. By pressing against the props, the student increases strength at the point
of proper alignment.
129

Kinematics
The body positioning of this asana is similar to that of a traditional squat but with the legs closer together. Still,
even though no additional load is placed on the body, the alignment in the sagittal plane in this asana helps build
and maintain joint stability. To provide a balanced load in the knee joint, cue students to engage the adductors and
hamstrings, as well as the quadriceps, for greater comfort and stability. Proper body alignment generally enables
synergy in the anterior and posterior musculature.

Utkatasana
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe abduction, foot stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle dorsiflexion, stability

Gastrocnemius, soleus (E, I)

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Peroneals, anterior and posterior


tibialis, gastrocnemius, soleus,
flexor digitorum longus, flexor
hallucis longus (C, E, I)

Knee flexion, stability

Quadriceps (E, I)

Knee stability

Hamstrings, popliteus (I)

Hip flexion

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(E, I)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus


lumborum, hamstrings (I)

Hip stability

Adductors, gluteus maximus (I)

Thigh
Hip and pelvis

Torso

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae (C, I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum,
erector spinae (I)

Humeral flexion (90 to 180


degrees)

Anterior deltoids, pectoralis


major, biceps brachii (C, I)

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids major and minor,


mid trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Neck extension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis;


suboccipitals, semispinalis, and
upper trapezius (I)

Shoulder

Hand and fingers

Neck

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

130

Muscles released

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

Standing Postures

Virabhadrasana I
Warrior I
[veer-uhb-huh-DRAAH-suh-nuh kuh]
In the Western hemisphere, this pose is known as Warrior I. In India, tradition uses
letters of the alphabet rather than numerals as descriptors, and the first consonant
letter of the Sanskrit alphabet is pronounced kuh. Virabhadra is the name of a
powerful mythical warrior who, according to legend, was so great that when a hair
of his dropped to the earth it caused a great army to arise.

Description
Warrior poses are not only symbolic of warrior energy but also quite physical
in that they require considerable strength in the muscles of the legs,
which represent virility and power. At the same time, all three warrior
asanas demand that the chest and heart area remain open, thus
illustrating bravery, vulnerability, and openheartedness. The
arms and legs are active, while the heart center, when open,
banishes the fear of death.
The Warrior I variation is a standing forward lunge. The
hips face forward with the legs in the sagittal planeone leg forward and the other backinstead of having both
legs out to the sides (in the frontal plane) as in Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle) and Vrkshasana (Tree Pose).
Virabhadrasana I works deeply into the hip muscles. In many active vinyasa or Ashtanga classes, it is commonly
entered from Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing Dog).

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the metatarsal heads and the heel of the front foot. Anchor into the outer edge and big toe of the back foot.
Evenly balance the grounding energy in bothlegs.

Benefits




Strengthens the lower extremities, particularly the thighs.


Stabilizes the hips, knees, and ankles.
Builds strength and endurance.
Opens the shoulders, chest, and abdomen.
Improves flexibility and stamina in the spine.

Cautions
Knee injuryStudents with knee pain or injury should be extra careful to flex the knee less than 90 degrees and
to prevent the knee from turning inward.
Shoulder concernsStudents with shoulder pain or injury should modify the pose by keeping the arms parallel
to the ground, or even with the hands on the hips.
High blood pressureStudents with high blood pressure or other heart concerns should keep the arms parallel
to the ground.

131

Verbal Cues
From Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing Dog), inhale and take a giant step forward with your right
leg so that your foot aligns between your hands, with your knee joint stacked over your ankle joint and your
toes and knee facing forward. Externally rotate your left foot about 45 degrees and press the outer heel and
pinky toe to the ground. (If entering from Tadasana [Mountain Pose], take a large step back with your left leg
and align your legs, as just described, then flex your front leg into a lunge.)
Inhale and raise your torso so that it is perpendicular to the ground and your hips are as level as possible with
your front knee. Try to keep your right knee bent at 90 degrees so that your right thigh remains parallel to the
ground. Exhale, press your inner thighs toward each other, and feel your left hip draw forward, squaring your
hips more evenly under your shoulders.
Inhale and raise your arms overhead with your palms either pressed together or shoulder-width apart. Soften
your shoulders and press your thumbs back slightly to open your chest and shoulder joints. Direct your gaze
forward to a distant point on the ground (drishti). Keep your chin parallel with the ground.
Press firmly into the outside of your left foot and heel and continue to draw your inner left thigh toward your
right leg. The front of your left pelvis will align slightly behind the line of your right pelvis. Allow your right
knee to open slightly toward your right pinky toe.
As you settle your hips into this pose, imagine sliding your right heel back slightly. This engages the hamstrings
and gluteals to help stabilize the knee joint while relieving some of the work in the quadriceps. Connect to
the power in your legs.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Inhale and elongate through your lower spine and feel your rib cage lifting and arching back slightly.
With each exhalation, notice your lower body feeling more grounded. With each inhalation, lift your chest
slightly higher; notice a lightness in your upper body.
Keep your left heel firmly connected to the ground, pressing through the outer edge of the foot, and draw
energy up from the arch into your pelvis. This action helps maintain alignment in the pelvis and increases the
balance and grounding in the pose.
Maintain smooth, steady breaths as you feel the strength in the energy of your whole body.
To exit this position, press through your right leg, extending your knee, and step your
left leg forward. Alternatively, you can bend forward at the hips, place your hands
on the ground, and step or jump back to flow into another posture.

Adjustments
Back footTo help maintain grounding in the back leg, walk to the students side and
use your toes to lightly brush against the outer edge of the heel, thus encouraging
the student to press the foot into the ground. Do not push too hard!
Front kneeLightly touch the medial side (inside) or top of the students knee and
guide the leg into a slight external rotation, which keeps the knee from rolling
inward. Instruct the student to lift the arch slightly, while continuing to maintain
balanced pressure through the toes and heel. This adjustment helps stabilize the
energy through the knee joint.
HipsTo align a students hips comfortably under the shoulders, place your
fingers at the outer edge of the crease in the flexed hip and gently guide
the hip back. At the same time, lightly press the back hip forward.
SpineRemind the student to keep the top of the pelvis level. Brush
your hand upward on the low spine, encouraging length through
the lower vertebrae.

Adjustment: knee.

132

Standing Postures

Upper torsoStand behind the student and place your hands on the upper arms, with your thumbs to the inside
and your fingers to the outside of the arm, near the shoulders. Gently rotate the students arms externally, so that
the elbows rotate slightly inward and toward each other.
ShouldersInstruct students to softly draw the shoulders down away from the ears to keep space in the sides of the
neck. Place your hands gently on top of the shoulders and press softly downward and outward.
ChestRemind students to keep the chest lifted. To help physically, place your fingertips or the palm of your hand on
the mid spine. Ask the student to lift the back forward
and up, away from your hand.

Modifications
Weakness, fatigue, or pregnancyStudents can
place a chair, stool, or fitness ball under the hips
to take some of the body weight off of the front
leg. The prop increases stability and balance and
reduces the amount of energy needed for maintaining proper position. It also allows students
to focus on centering energy and on body alignment. When using a chair, turn it sideways so that
the chair back is nearest to the forward leg,
thus enabling the student to use
the closest hand to hold onto
the chair back for support.
Weak shouldersIf a stuModification: weakness, fatigue, or pregnancy.
dent has an acute shoulder
condition with limited range of movement, instruct the student to raise the arms
only as high as is comfortable. For a gentle strength-building option, encourage
the student to flex the arms at the shoulders with the palms facing each otherat
shoulder height. Instruct the student to keep the thumbs pointed up or externally rotate the arm so that the palms face upward. The shoulders often
fatigue quickly in beginning students and those who are recovering
from injury. Invite these students to orient the upper arms out to the
sides with the elbows bent at 90 degrees and pointed outward toward the
side walls with the fingers extendedin other words, in a shape resembling
that of an American football goalpost. For weaker individuals, encourage them to
place the hands on the hips, with the fingers pointing back to keep the shoulders in
Modification: weak shoulders.
external rotation, and the chest open.
Knee concernsThe lunge in this asana is beneficial in strengthening the quadriceps and aligning the kneecaps.
Students with a compromised knee joint should move slowly into and out of this pose and should focus on alignment. Instruct them to flex the front knee only as far as is comfortable, while keeping the hips higher than the knee.
They should also keep the front shin perpendicular to the ground and simultaneously engage both the quadriceps
and the hamstrings. In another possible modification, Baby Warrior, the back knee rests on the ground instead
of being straight and lifted. This lunge is similar to that practiced in classical Sun Salutations. For comfort, students
often require a soft prop, such as a blanket or towel, under the kneecap on the ground.

Kinematics
Because students are so focused on the front knee, they are often unaware that the hips are not aligned and that the
hip of the back leg is rotated backward. The more firmly they press through the back foot, the more the hip flexors
stretch to allow the pelvis to rotate freely forward. You can help students reorient the hip of the back leg forward, as
well as increase balance, by reminding them to imagine drawing the inner thighs toward each other.

133

Virabhadrasana I (Right Leg Forward)


Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe abduction, foot stability

Lower leg (R)

Slight ankle dorsiflexion, stability Gastrocnemius, soleus (E, I)

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Ankle stability

Peroneals, anterior and posterior


tibialis, flexor digitorum longus,
flexor hallucis longus (C, E, I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle inversion, stability

Anterior tibialis, flexor hallucis


longus (C, I)

Thigh (R)

Knee flexion, stability

Quadriceps (E, I)

Knee stability

Hamstrings, popliteus (I)

Thigh (L)

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, iliopsoas (I)

Hip flexion

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(E, I)

External rotation

Gluteus maximus, deep external


rotators* (C, I)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, hamstrings,


adductors (I)

Hip stability, hyperextension

Adductors, gluteus maximus,


gluteus medius tensor fascia lata,
hamstrings (C, I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Slight spinal hyperextension and


stability

Iliopsoas, rectus abdominis (E, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


transverse abdominis, quadratus
lumborum, erector spinae (I)

Rectus abdominis

Humeral flexion, stability

Deltoids, pectoralis major,


biceps brachii (C, I)

Latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoids (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids major and minor,


mid trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Head and fingers

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals (I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Torso

Shoulder

Neck

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.

134

Muscles released

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

Peroneals, gastrocnemius, soleus

Rectus femoris, iliopsoas

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

Standing Postures

Virabhadrasana II
Warrior II
[veer-uhb-huh-DRAAH-suh-nuh k-huh]
In the Western hemisphere this pose is
known as Warrior II; it is the second asana
named after the warrior Virabhadra. The second
consonant in Sanskrit is pronounced k-huhsimilar to that of Warrior
I (kuh), but in this case the sound is aspirated. As a guide to proper
pronunciation, it takes twice as much breath to say k-huh as
it does to say kuh.

Description
This lunge posture is similar to that of Virabhadrasana I,
but instead of the chest facing forward in the sagittal
plane, the bent leg here is rotated externally,
directly out to the side, with the arms abducted
and parallel to the ground in the frontal
plane. The spine is perpendicular to the
ground with the natural curves intact.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra (Svadisthana), third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the heel of the flexed leg. Anchor into the heel and outer edge of the extended leg. Evenly balance the
grounding energy in both legs.

Benefits






Opens and strengthens the hip musculature.


Tones the lower extremities.
Opens and stretches the shoulders, chest, and abdomen.
Works on subtle alignments of the upper body.
Opens and strengthens the shoulder joints.
Builds muscular endurance.
Tones the abdominal muscles.

Cautions
Knee concernsStudents with knee injury or weakness should practice with modification.
Neck concernsStudents with neck injury or pain should avoid turning the head and gaze forward instead.
PregnancyAfter the second trimester, students should proceed with caution and modification.

Verbal Cues
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), inhale and reach your hands over your head. Exhale and lower your arms out
to your sides until they are parallel to the ground. Step your right leg out to the side so that your feet are as far
apart as your outstretched hands, if doing so is comfortable.
135

Rotate your left foot slightly inward toward your right heel and rotate your right leg out at 90 degrees so that
a line drawn from the heel of your right foot would bisect your left arch. Press evenly through both feet and
breathe comfortably.
Orient your outstretched arms and shoulders in the frontal plane. Allow your left hip to rotate slightly inward
toward the right to protect the structural integrity of your sacrum. Continue to press fully into your left outer
heel for anchoring.
Inhale and elongate through your spine while keeping the top of your pelvis parallel to the ground. Imagine
externally rotating both thighs, opening them from the center away from each other. Feel the energy of your
legs increase.
Exhale and turn your head to the right, gazing past your right fingertips. Align your chin with your right shoulder and soften through your neck. If you feel your shoulders rise, rotate your palms upward to encourage your
shoulder blades to soften away from your ears.
Exhale and bend your right knee until your hips and right knee are bent at about 90 degrees. Draw energy
upward from your right hamstrings and gluteals by imagining that you are drawing your right heel back, toward
your left foot. This action helps to stabilize the knee.
Continue to extend through your left leg and left arm. Feel your left rib cage press back to keep your torso from
rotating too far out of the frontal plane. Allow your front pelvis to naturally turn slightly toward the right for
comfort and to support your lower back and sacrum.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Keep your right thigh opening out to the right while rooting through the heel and big toe of your right foot.
Visualize a wall behind your back and imagine gently pressing the back of your left thigh, rib cage, and shoulders toward it.
With each exhalation, let your hips lower toward the ground as you bring the top of your right thigh parallel to
the ground. Make certain that your right knee does not extend beyond the line of your right foot.
To exit the posture, inhale and straighten your right leg. Rotate your toes forward and bring your arms to your
sides. Prepare for the next side or asana.

Adjustments
Bent kneeRemind students to roll the front thigh outward by lightly brushing your hand against the outside of the
knee; alternatively, just point to the knee and remind students verbally. You can also semi-squat behind a student
and place one hand on the mid thigh of the flexed leg and the other hand on the outside of the opposite hip for
stability. Slowly externally rotate the students flexed thigh to more fully open the pelvis.
Hips and kneesIf a student has difficulty keeping the bent knee and opposite hip apart, place the students back
against a wall so that less energy is expended on balancing and more can be used to consciously open the front
of the body. Instruct the student to press the extended leg back toward the wall. To
make a hands-on adjustment, stand to the students back, place one hand on the
students flexed thigh and the other hand on the outside of the opposite thigh, and
encourage the student to draw the thighs away from each other.
Hip heightStand behind the student, place your hands lightly on
the outer hips, and guide the pelvis lower. Be sure that the student is both strong and balanced enough to comfortably manage
this adjustment. You may need to suggest that the student take the legs farther
apart in order to avoid placing excessive stress on the bent knee while working
to engage the hips and legs more fully.
ShouldersInstruct students to relax the shoulders down away from the
ears. Place your hands softly on the tops of the shoulders and gently
guide them downward.
SpineIf a students spine leans out over the bent leg such that the
spine is no longer perpendicular to the ground, stand behind
the student with your hands on the sides of his or her ribcage
Adjustment: spine.
and lightly guide the torso back to center by gently aligning the
136

Standing Postures

shoulders over the hips. Instruct the student to guide the pelvis toward the bent knee
while keeping the crown of the head pointing directly upward.

Modification
Pregnancy, weakness, or rehabilitationInstruct the student to
bend the front knee less than 90 degrees. This modification requires
less muscular energy and endurance. The student can also use a wall, chair, or
fitness ball for support.

Kinematics
It is usually best to instruct students to place the feet slightly wider apart
than the distance of the outstretched hands, if it is comfortable
for them to do so. Otherwise, the feet tend to be too close
together when moving into the lunge, and the bent knee extends
Modification: pregnancy, weakness, or rehabilitation.
past the foot, thus causing a loss of stability and alignment and
possibly straining the knee structures. A too-narrow stance also
makes it harder to open the hip and easier to roll the bent knee inward, thus offsetting the body weight and possibly
straining the medial knee. Even when the knee is aligned properly, students must engage the hamstrings to work in
synergy with the quadriceps in order to balance the muscular forces through the joint. To help students establish this
balance, cue them to root through the front heel.

Virabhadrasana II (Right Knee Bent)


Body segment
Foot and toes

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe abduction, foot stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Ankle dorsiflexion, stability

Gastrocnemius, soleus (E, I)

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Peroneals, anterior and posterior


tibialis, gastrocnemius, soleus,
flexor digitorum longus, flexor
hallucis longus (C, E, I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle inversion, stability

Anterior tibialis, flexor hallucis


longus (C, I)

Thigh (R)

Knee flexion, stability

Quadriceps (E, I)

Thigh (L)

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip flexion

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(E, I)

External rotation, stability

Gluteus medius and minimus


(C, I)

Abduction, stability

Tensor fascia lata (E, I)

Hip flexion, abduction, stability

Tensor fascia lata (E, I)

Lower leg (R)

Muscles released

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Gastrocnemius, soleus,
peroneals

Adductors

(continued)

137

Virabhadrasana II (Right Knee Bent) (continued)


Body segment
Hip and pelvis (L)

Kinematics

Muscles active

Hip extension and stability

Gluteus maximus, hamstrings


(C, I)

External rotation, stability

Gluteus maximus, deep external


rotators* (C, I)

Abduction, stability

Tensor fascia lata, gluteus


medius, gluteus minimus (I)

Pelvic stability

Hamstrings, rectus abdominis (I)

Torso stability

Erector spinae, internal and


external obliques (I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Humerus abduction, shoulder


stability

Deltoids, infraspinatus, teres


minor, supraspinatus, pectoralis
major (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Scapular rotation

Serratus anterior, mid and lower


trapezius (C, I)

Supporting posture in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius, subscapularis


(C, I)

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus and teres minor


with some posterior deltoid (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii, brachioradialis


(C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres, pronator quadratus (C, I)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Neck (R)

Head rotation to right, stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


cervical erector spinae, occipitals (C, I)

Neck (L)

Head rotation to right

Sternocleidomastoid (C, I)

Torso

Shoulder

Hand and fingers

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

138

Muscles released
Iliopsoas, adductors

Sternocleidomastoid

Standing Postures

Virabhadrasana III
Warrior III
[veer-uhb-huh-DRAAH-suh-nuh guh]
This is the third warrior position dedicated to the
ancient warrior Virabhadra. As with the other two warrior asanas, the
designation of this third variation is signified by a Sanskrit consonant soundin this
case the third one, which is guh.

Description
This asana can be thought of as a variation of Tadasana
(Mountain Pose), which serves as the starting point. In this
pose, the arms are extended overhead and the body is flexed
at the hip, balanced over one leg, with the upper body and
opposite leg parallel to the ground. To create balance and
stability, the deeper core and hip muscles are required to work in unison. The pose also requires considerable strength
and endurance due to the force of gravity working against both the extended upper body and the outstretched leg.
After performing this posture, be sure to counterstretch, with any forward folding asana, to relaxboth the low back
and the hip stabilizers.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Balance evenly between the metatarsal heads and the heel of the standing foot. Root through the big toe, using the
little toe as a counterbalance.

Benefits




Strengthens the muscles of the spine, posterior shoulders, and hips.


Builds stamina, endurance, and balance.
Opens the chest.
Promotes awareness of proper hip alignment.
Builds abdominal strength.

Cautions
Balance concerns or vertigoStudents with extreme balance difficulty or vertigo should practice with support.
High blood pressureStudents with high blood pressure should practice with modifications.

Verbal Cues
Begin either from Virabhadrasana I or from Tadasana (Mountain Pose).
From Virahabhadrasana I:
With your right leg forward in the lunge, draw back through the crease in your right hip. Rotate your left
foot so that the toes point forward and lift the left heel off the ground. Maintain pelvic alignment. Keep your
arms overhead with your shoulders soft.
Exhale and fold forward at your hips. Straighten your right leg as you begin to lift your left foot off the ground
behind you. Balance here for a breath or two.
139

Inhale as you move your body weight completely onto your front leg, bringing your torso, arms, and back
leg parallel to the ground.
Root into the big toe and heel of your right foot, directing the energetic balance of your foot from front to
back rather than side to side. Slightly guide your left hip inward, toward your inner right thigh to bring the
back of your pelvis parallel to the ground.
Gaze slightly forward, looking toward your hands or somewhere slightly ahead of you on the ground. Keep
softness in your neck and relax your shoulders away from your ears. Breathe steadily.
From Tadasana:
Inhale and raise your arms above your head. Relax the top of your shoulders away from your ears. Transfer the
weight of your body onto your right leg, then step your left foot straight behind you so that the toes are barely
touching the ground. Imagine gently pressing your inner thighs toward your midline to help stabilize your
balance. Remain poised here for a couple of breaths. Stay mindful of keeping your hips squared and level.
Inhale and lengthen through your spine. Exhale as you slowly begin to fold forward from your right hip while
lifting your left leg and lowering your torso until both are parallel to the ground.
With each in-breath, continue to extend and lengthen through your arms, torso, and extended back leg. On
each exhalation, imaging your left hip rotating inward toward your right thigh to keep your pelvis aligned.
Gaze slightly forward toward your hands or somewhere slightly ahead of you on the ground. Draw your
shoulders softly away from your ears. Breathe steadily.
To exit the pose from either version of entry, inhale and begin to slowly lower the left leg down to the ground
as you lift your chest and torso upright. Use the strength of the legs, hips, and lower abdomen to move in a
controlled fashion to avoid straining the low back as you lower the leg. Relax your hands to your sides and
prepare for the other side.

Adjustments
Standing leg bentStudents often bend the support leg significantly to compensate for
balance difficulty or tight hamstrings. Instruct them to spread the toes and straighten
the supporting knee. Also, remind students to focus on evenly distributing the
body weight on the foot and folding forward only as far as the
hamstring comfortably allows with a straight knee. Stand in
front of the student to provide balance support as indicated
in the balance adjustment description in this list.
HipsIf the hip of the students lifted leg is higher than the hip of the supported
leg, stand to the supporting-leg side and gently hold the students outer hips.
Lower the elevated side of the pelvis so that the hips are aligned in the
frontal plane with the rest of the torso. Move slowly and gently so that
the student does not lose balance. To keep the student from falling, press
Adjustment: hips.
your hip against the students hip as a prop.
BalanceStanding in front of the student, place your outstretched
arms under the students forearms and let the student lean lightly
into your arms until balanced. Be sure to remove your arms slowly
and only when the student is balanced. Assume a relaxed stance
with your knees slightly bent; avoid using your own shoulder or
back to hold the student up. Many students, especially beginners, are much more comfortable if they position the arms out
to the sides for balance.
ArmsTo help a student straighten the arms and lift or press the
thumbs higher, stand in front of the student, hold on to the upper
arms, and gently rotate the shoulders externally. This adjustment
keeps the student from rounding the upper back and aids in
strengthening the back and shoulders. Also, you may simply
brush your hands on the outsides of the students arms to cue Adjustment: balance.
the student to relax the shoulders away from the ears.
140

Standing Postures

Modifications
Shoulder or neck tightness or painInstruct students to hold the
arms at the sides with the hands by the hips. Often, this
modification also makes it easier to balance and keep the
torso straight.
Balance difficulty and strength buildingPlace the students hands on a ballet bar, against a wall, or even on
the back of a chair to help provide lift in the upper body
and aid in balance. The student can also place the foot of Modification: balance difficulty and strength building.
the lifted leg against a wall to build strength and balance.
WeaknessIt is best not to keep anyone in this posture for too long if it is the first time that a student has practiced it
or if the student experiences significant weaknessas may be the case for someone recovering from illness or injury.

Kinematics
This asana requires a great deal of strength in the low-back and hip-extensor strength to keep the lifted leg parallel to
the ground. As an appropriate counterposture, follow this posture with a resting forward bend, such as Uttanasana
(Intense Forward Bend).

Virabhadrasana III (Standing on Right Leg)


Body segment
Foot and toes (R)

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe abduction, foot stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Foot and toes (L)

Toe flexion

Flexor digitorum longus, flexor


hallucis longus (C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Peroneals, anterior and posterior


tibialis, gastrocnemius, soleus,
flexor digitorum longus, flexor
hallucis longus (C, E, I)

Lower leg (L)

Plantar flexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus (C, I)

Thigh (R)

Knee extension, patellar elevation

Quadriceps (C, I)

Stability and adduction

Adductors (C, I)

Thigh (L)

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip flexion and stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(E, I)

Hip stability

Gluteus medius and minimus,


adductors (C, I)

Hip extension

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus


lumborum, hamstrings (I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Muscles released

Anterior tibialis

Iliopsoas

(continued)
141

Virabhadrasana III (Standing on Right Leg) (continued)


Body segment
Torso

Shoulder

Kinematics

Muscles active

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum,
erector spinae (I)

Humeral flexion, stability

Anterior deltoids, pectoralis


major, biceps brachii (C, I)

Maintenance of humeral flexion


against gravity

Deltoids, rhomboids, trapezius


(C, I)

External rotation, stability

Infraspinatus, teres minor (C, I)

Scapular adduction, stability

Rhomboids major and minor,


mid trapezius (C, I)

Stability

Subscapularis (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Neck extension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


cervical erector spinae, sub
occipitals, (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Neck

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

142

Muscles released

Latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

Standing Postures

Parshvottanasana
Intense Side Stretch
[paarsh-voht-taahn-AHH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, Parshva means side or flank, and ottana
means intense extension or stretch; thus parshvottanasana
indicates an intense stretch in the side.

Description
Parshvottanasana is similar to Uttanasana (Intense
Forward Bend), but in this case one leg is forward
and the other is back. This placement of the legs
requires more balance and creates a deeper stretch
through the hips, hamstrings, and sides. The arms
are in Anjali Mudra, or Prayer Pose, behind the
back, if doing so is comfortable. The stretch
extends from the backs of the heels all the
way up into the neck, thus releasing tension
throughout the entire back of the body.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the metatarsal heads and the heel of the front foot. Anchor into the outer edge and big toe of the back foot.
Evenly balance the grounding energy in bothlegs.

Benefits





Relieves stiffness in the neck, shoulders, elbows, and wrists.


Opens the chest.
Increases balance.
Stimulates the abdominal organs.
Provides deep stretch for the legs, hips, and side torso.
Relieves arthritis in the neck and spine.

Cautions
Glaucoma or high blood pressureIn general, students with glaucoma or high blood pressure should not place
the head below the heart; therefore, modifications should be used.
Shoulder injuryAnyone with a shoulder injury should practice a modified version of hand placement.

Verbal Cues
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), step your legs apart a distance of three to four feet (about one meter). Turn
to the right so that your right leg is forward, your left leg is back, and your torso is aligned with your right leg.
Rotate your left foot and thigh slightly toward the right. Adjust the width of your feet so that you can keep your
left heel on the ground. Gently press your inner thighs toward each other to help align your hips forward.
143

Press the palms of your hands together behind your back with the fingertips pointed up. Draw the tips of your
fingers up your spine. Go only as far as it feels comfortably challenging to go; never force or strain! Keep the front
of your shoulders rolling open. If this positioning is not comfortable for your wrists or shoulders, modify by either
grasping opposite elbows or clasping your hands together behind your back with the knuckles pointing down.
Continue to focus on your breath as you soften the shoulders and open the chest.
Continue to press your inner thighs toward each other, drawing your left hip slightly forward and your right hip
backward. Lift your low back, ribs, and chest away from your hips as you breathe in deeply. Keep your gaze
focused forward as you gently arch backward from your upper back, widening your collarbones. Relax your
shoulders and maintain even length in your neck.
Exhale, drawing your right hip back slightly. Take your time as you begin to slowly fold forward until either
your spine is parallel with the ground or you feel the first point of resistance in your muscles. Keep your pelvis
aligned and continue to root through your feet.
With the next exhalation, relax your torso farther down over your right leg as much as you can without rounding
your back. Feel the left side of your rib cage move inward slightly toward your right thigh.
As you inhale, feel your torso lengthen from your hips to the top of your head. Imagine lengthening your chest
out beyond your toes. Relax your neck and soften your abdomen as you breathe
deeply into your back and hips. Feel the balance in your feet from front to back
and press firmly through your back heel.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Continue gently moving your right hip back. You should feel your right hip
and hamstring lengthening deeply anduseyour left leg as an anchoring force.
To come out of this position, press down firmly through both feet and extend
upward through the crown of your head. Relax your hands and bring them
to your sides as you prepare for the other side.

Adjustments
Front hipStanding either behind or to the side of the student, use your
fingertips to gently guide the front hip back and square the hips forward
in the sagittal plane.
Rib cageStand behind the student to the side of the back leg. Place your
closest hand on the opposite side of the students rib cage and your
other hand on the side of the rib cage nearest you. Use your hip as a
prop to keep the student balanced. With a light touch, slightly rotate
Adjustment: rib cage.
the nearest side toward you and the far side ribs toward the inner thigh
of the students front leg, so that the chest points more directly toward the ground.
ShouldersGently place your hands on top of the students shoulders and guide the
shoulders down away from the ears. With your fingertips lightly on the students
anterior (front) shoulders, draw the shoulder blades toward each other to open
the chest more fully.
NeckLightly touch the back of the students head as a reminder to release
tension held there.

Modifications
Tight shouldersIf a student cannot comfortably place the palms together behind
the back, instruct the student to place the arms behind the waist and clasp the
opposite elbows. Alternatively, instruct the student to clasp the hands behind
the body with the elbows straight. As the student folds forward, she or he can lift
the arms to help stretch the front of the shoulders and expand the chest. When the
student moves to the other side, invite him or her to place the other forearm or thumb
on top in order to maintain energetic synergy in the pose.
144

Modification: tight shoulders.

Standing Postures

Increased shoulder stretchFor students who can press the palms together,
instruct them to point the elbows up toward the sky.
Tight hamstringsIf the hamstring stretch is too intense, instruct the student to bend the front leg slightly, taking care not to let the knee turn
inward if it is bent. Also, remind all students to refrain from folding
deeper than the hamstring is comfortable going.
Rounded backCue the student to refrain from folding down toward
the thigh all the way. Invite the student to keep the back parallel to
the ground. Also, for some students, it is best to cue the leg positioning, but instead of reaching the arms behind the back invite
them to place the hands on the hips or against a chair or wall.
This modification is appropriate for persons with glaucoma.

Modification: rounded back; tight hamstrings.

Kinematics
As in Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), the more firmly the student presses through the back foot, the more the hip flexors
stretch to allow the pelvis to rotate forward. This action also helps create better balance as the student folds forward
and deepens the stretch in the hip extensors. The arm kinematics shown in the chart reflect arms in reverse Anjali
Mudra (Prayer Position)that is, with the palms together behind the back.

Parshvottanasana (Right Leg Forward)


Body segment
Foot and toes

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Toe abduction, foot stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Peroneals, anterior and posterior


tibialis, gastrocnemius, soleus,
flexor digitorum longus, flexor
hallucis longus (C, E, I)

Anterior tibialis

Lower leg (L)

Ankle dorsiflexion, stability

Gastrocnemius, soleus, peroneals (E, I)

Gastrocnemius, soleus, peroneals

Thigh

Knee extension, patellar elevation

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Flexion, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(E, I)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus


lumborum, hamstrings (I)

Hip extension

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Slight external rotation, stability

Deep external rotators,* gluteus


maximus (C, I)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum,
erector spinae (I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Torso

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus

Iliopsoas

(continued)
145

Parshvottanasana (Right Leg Forward) (continued)


Body segment
Shoulder

Kinematics

Muscles active

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids major and minor,


mid trapezius (C, I)

Postural support in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Upper arm

Hyperextension of humerus

Posterior deltoid, latissimus


dorsi, teres major (C, I)

Lower arm

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis (C, I)

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi radialis longus


and brevis, extensor carpi
ulnaris, extensor digitorum (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales manus
(C, I)

Extension and stability

Splenius capitis and cervicis,


cervical erector spinae, upper
trapezius (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Neck

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

146

Muscles released
Pectoralis major, anterior deltoid,
coracobrachialis

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


palmaris longus

Standing Postures

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana


Extended Hand-to-Toe Pose
[oot-T-HEE-tuh HAAS-tuh paah-daahng-oost-AHH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, Utthita means extended, hasta means hand, pada means either leg or
foot, and gusth means big toe. Though the name of this asana refers to a number
of different positions, in the standing position it usually refers to standing on one
leg with the other leg extended parallel to the ground while holding onto the
big toe of the lifted foot.

Description
This asana uses strength in the hip flexors and quadriceps of both the standing and
(especially) the flexed leg. Once you are balanced on one leg and holding onto the
big toe of the lifted leg with either your fingers or a strap, this is generally the end of
the pose. However, from this position, the lifted leg can be abducted to the side, then
brought back to the center, with the torso flexed forward before finally lowering the leg
slowly to the ground.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra (Svadhisthana) creative energy

Foundational Focus
Root through the heel and the first metatarsal head of the front foot. Anchor into the
heel.

Benefits



Position one.

Increases concentration and balance.


Builds stability and strength.
Balances stability and symmetry in the pelvis and spine.
Tones the abdominal muscles.

Caution
Lower back injuryStudents with a lower back injury should practice
with modifications.

Verbal Cues
Starting from Tadasana (Mountain Pose), shift your weight more fully onto your
right leg. Place your hands on your hips for stability and roll your front shoulders
and chest open. Exhale as you bend your left hip and knee, drawing your thigh
up toward your chest. Breathe here, maintaining balance.
Keep your right hand on your right hip, and reach down with the first two fingers
of your left hand to hook your big toe. Maintain length in your spine and keep
your chest lifted. Take your time as you sustain your alignment and balance.
Slowly begin to straighten your left leg out in front of you so that it is parallel
to the ground.
Position two.

147

Inhale and lengthen your spine while rolling (externally rotating)


your front shoulders back to open your chest more fully. Press
firmly into your standing leg so that the top of your pelvis
remains in neutral position. Keep your shoulders aligned
over your hips.
Focus your gaze on a drishti somewhere out in front of your
body so that nothing in your peripheral vision causes you to
lose your balance.
Draw your left hip back and down to maintain balance in your
pelvis. Press firmly through your right leg (see position one
photo). This may be the end of the pose.
Remain in this position or rotate your left leg out to the left side,
grounding your balance through your right heel. Turn your head
and slowly gaze over your right shoulder. Keep your hand on
your right hip or extend your right arm out to the right side,
parallel to the ground, as a counter balance.
As you inhale, elongate your neck and continue to point your
chin out over your right shoulder to keep the openness in your
Position three.
Position four.
chest and shoulders (see position two photo).
Exhale and slowly bring your left leg and head forward again. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your chest
lifted. Bend your left arm, pointing your elbow out to the left, and lift your left foot slightly higher, as far as
feels comfortable.
On an exhalation, fold from your hips as far as possible and draw your head toward your left knee. You can
hold onto the left foot with both hands if that is more accessible (see position three photo).
Inhale and stand fully upright, moving your chest away from your thigh. Exhale and bring your hands back to
your hips, holding your left leg in place in front of you for a couple more breaths before gently lowering the
foot to the ground (see position four photo). Prepare for the next side.

Adjustments
Standing footIf the supporting foot is not pointed directly forward under the knee joint, students will have difficulty
maintaining balance. Remind them to keep the toes and knees pointed forward and aligned under the hips.
LegsStand in front of the student and provide gentle support to the lifted leg. Hold the leg lightly at the
heel. You can help the student rotate the leg slowly to the side as you help with balance.
HipsTo help the student maintain hip alignment and keep the top of the pelvis parallel to the
ground, stand behind the student and lightly place your hands on the sides of the hips as you make
the necessary adjustment. Proceed with a light touch.
ShouldersBe sure that the students shoulders do not roll forward, thus closing off the chest
and rounding the upper back. Stand behind the student and place one hand lightly
between the shoulder blades. Instruct the student to draw the shoulder blades
toward your hand. This adjustment opens the front shoulders and lifts the chest.

Modifications
Hamstrings or hip tightnessGive the student a strap to wrap around the foot
as an extension of the arms. This modification allows the student to keep the spine
straight and aids significantly in balance. If no strap is available, you can instruct the
student to keep the knees bent slightly and place the hands behind the thigh
for support. Doing so helps alleviate strain in the low back.
Increase strength and flexibilityStudents can rest the lifted foot against
a wall, chair back, or ballet bar as they focus on spinal alignment while
building strength and flexibility in the legs.
Modification: hamstrings or hip tightness.
148

Standing Postures

Lower back injury or weaknessInstruct the student to sit in a chair or on a fitness ball in order to focus on balance
and flexibility while flexing the hip and extending the knee.

Kinematics
An added benefit of this posture is the subtle strengthening and stretching of the posterior shoulder in the arm that
reaches for the extended foot. To give a student the feeling of elongation in the back of the body, place the back
against the wall and direct the student to press the shoulder blades toward the wall. This action helps create proper
alignment, which aids balance in the long run.

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Standing on Right Leg)


Body segment
Foot and toes (R)

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe abduction, foot stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Foot and toes (L)

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum longus, anterior tibialis (C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Peroneals, anterior and posterior


tibialis, gastrocnemius, soleus,
flexor digitorum longus, flexor
hallucis longus (C, E, I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus (C, I)

Thigh (R)

Knee extension, patellar elevation

Quadriceps (C, I)

Stability, adduction

Adductors (C, I)

Thigh (L)

Knee extension

Quadriceps, adductor magnus


(C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip extension, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Hip stability

Gluteus maximus, medius, and


minimus; adductors; deep external rotators* (I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris, pectineus, tensor fascia lata (C, I)

Torso

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus


lumborum, hamstrings (I)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum
(C, I)

Humerus abduction

Deltoids, supraspinatus (C, I)

External humeral rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, trapezius (C, I)

Shoulder (R)

Muscles released

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Hamstrings

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus,


deep external rotators*

Pectoralis major

(continued)
149

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Standing on Right Leg) (continued)


Body segment
Shoulder (L)

Kinematics

Muscles active

Shoulder flexion

Anterior deltoid, pectoralis


major, biceps brachii (C, I)

External humeral rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor (C, I)

Stability

Latissimus dorsi (C, I)

Scapular stability

Serratus anterior, pectoralis


minor (I)

Upper arm (R)

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachioradialis,


brachialis (C, I)

Upper arm (L)

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis (C, I)

Lower arm (R)

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Lower arm (L)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres, pronator quadratus (C, I)

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris
(C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Finger flexion

Flexor digitorum, superficialis


and profundus; lumbricales
manus; interossei palmaris (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Neck extension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


cervical erector spinae (C, I)

Hand and fingers


(R)

Hand and fingers


(L)

Neck

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

150

Muscles released
Posterior deltoid, rhomboids

Standing Postures

Natarajasana
King Dancer
[nut-tuh-raahj-AHH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, Nata means dancer, and raja means royal. This posture
symbolizesone of the many forms of Shiva (a Hindu god) as Lord of the Dance.

Description
Natarajasana is a one-legged balance posture with a backbend and is indeed
rather regal looking with the puffed-out chest. The non-weight-bearing leg
is extended behind the back, and the arms reach either overhead or behind
the back to the foot. This posture has many variations. Most people cannot
achieve the back arch and shoulder opening of the original posture, so a
modified version is generally taught. The posture is described here in three
phases, building from the least demanding to the most.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, third chakra (Manipura)
vitalizing energy, fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-opening energy

Foundational Focus
Root through the first metatarsal head and heel.

Benefits



Stretches the chest and shoulders deeply.


Enhances balance and concentration.
Lengthens and strengthens the front of the torso and spine.
Stretches the quadriceps and iliopsoas (deep hip flexors)in the non-weight-bearing leg.

Cautions
Acute back painStudents with acute low back injury should refrain performing from the back-
arching phase of this posture.
PregnancyPregnant students should practice phase one.
WeaknessStudents feeling weakness should practice phase one.

Verbal Cues
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), bring your hands to your hips and shift your weight to your left foot
without allowing your right hip to drop. Find your drishti (gazing point) and remain focused. Breathe.

Phase One
Bend your right knee and bring your right heel toward your buttocks. Inhale and reach back
with your right hand to grasp your right foot or ankle. Hold wherever you can do so comfortably with your hand or a strap, making sure that there is no strain in your low back. Flex your
right foot so that the toes point toward the rightknee.
Inhale, lifting your ribs away from your hips, and begin to press your right thigh slightly back
while keeping your hips stable and aligned under your shoulders. Draw your inner thighs
toward the midline of your body so that your bent leg does not abduct or rotate externally.
Continue to focus on your breath. This may be the end of the pose.

151

Phase Two
Inhale and raise your left arm overhead while lifting the rib cage. As you
exhale, keep your pelvis leveland your chest lifted while bending forward
slightly from your left hip joint.
Create a slight backbend as you strive to stretch your hips and rib cage away from
each other, opening up your chest and abdomen. Keep the front of your shoulders
opening away from your chest by drawing your shoulder blades softly together. Imagine your collarbones moving away from the center of your chest on each inhalation.
Gaze up toward your left fingertips. Keep your neck long. Imagine your pelvis
and the crown of your head stretching away from each other with each breath.
Continue to focus on your breath. This may be the end of the pose.

Phase Three
If you feel comfortably balanced and have substantial flexibility in your shoulders, spine,
and hips, stand straight instead of flexing forward at the hips. Press the center of your
chest upward toward the sky as you arch your mid back slightly. Draw your right heel
up toward your shoulder blades. Feel the deep stretch in the front of your right thigh.
Hold your right leg in place while stretching both arms overhead. Reach back with
your hands and grasp your right foot or ankle. Use a strap to hold the foot for greater
comfort.
Maintain the upright position of your spine and continue to lift your rib cage
out of your low back area. With every inhalation, lift higher and feel your chest
puff open. Maintain your grip on the foot, lifting it as high as you comfortably
can and imagining it to move toward the back of your head. Feel the arc of energy
through your torso as you root into the ground with your left leg.
To exit this posture, slowly release your foot and bring your arms back to
your sides. Lower your leg to the ground and prepare to practice on the other
side. Counter this pose with Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing
Dog) or Balasana (Childs Pose).

Adjustments
BalanceStand in front of the student and hold onto the top hand with one or both of your hands.
Extend the students arm overhead, lifting slowly. You may need to place your hand on the hip
of the students supporting leg for stability. Release the student slowly so that he or she
maintains balance.
Non-weight-bearing legStand behind or to the side of the student and gently tap the
front of the thigh, cueing the student to lift the thigh higher behind the body. You can
also place your hand gently under the students heel to aid in balance while helping
to lift the leg higher, if doing so is comfortable.
Low backStudents often arch the low back or abduct the leg to reach the foot; both
moves can aggravate the lower back. To adjust, stand to the side of the student and
place one hand on the students hip and the other on the shoulder. Help the student
maintain alignment and balance as she or he slowly draws the foot toward the hand.
ShouldersStand behind the student, place your hands on the students upper arms,
and rotate the shoulders externally and down away from the ears.
Adjustment: low back.

152

Standing Postures

Modifications
Building flexibilityFor students with very tight quadriceps, modify the position by wrapping a strap
around the lifted ankle or foot. For those with slightly more flexibility, simply instruct the student to
grasp the ankle or foot while drawing the heel toward the buttocks. This is also a good counterstretch
for Padangusthasana (Entended Hand-to-Toe Pose).
Tight shouldersMake sure that the students arms are rotated externally as they reach overhead
by keeping the elbows parallel to each other. If the elbows point away from the body, then the
arms are not externally rotated and it will be difficult or impossible to reach the hands closer to
the foot. If comfortable for the student, a strap can be wrapped around the upper arms to achieve
and maintain shoulder alignment.
Pregnancy, weakness, or acute low-back concernsAsk the student to stay in phase one of the posture.
For increased balance, instruct the student to practice near a wall or place a sturdy chair in front or
to the side of the student for extra support.

Kinematics
People with sufficient flexibility in the shoulders, hips, and spine can arch the back so that the
foot touches the back of the head.

Modification:
building flexibility.

Natarajasana, Phase Three (Standing on Left Leg)


Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes (R)

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum (C)

Foot and toes (L)

Toe abduction, foot stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Ankle dorsiflexion, ankle plantar


flexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus (C, I)

Lower leg (L)

Stability to counter body sway


(muscles relaxing and contracting as necessary to maintain
balance)

Peroneals, anterior and posterior


tibialis, gastrocnemius, soleus,
flexor digitorum longus, flexor
hallucis longus (C, E, I)

Thigh (R)

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Thigh adduction, stability

Adductors (C, I)

Knee extension, patellar elevation

Quadriceps, gracilis, adductor


magnus (C, I)

Stability, adduction

Adductors (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip hyperextension, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Hip stability

Gluteus maximus and medius,


hamstrings, adductors, deep
external rotators* (C, I)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus


lumborum, hamstrings (I)

Thigh (L)

Muscles released

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus

Quadriceps

Iliopsoas

(continued)

153

Natarajasana, Phase Three (Standing on Left Leg) (continued)


Body segment
Torso

Shoulder

Kinematics

Muscles active

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum
(C, I)

Hyperflexion, humerus adduction

Anterior deltoid, pectoralis


major, biceps brachii (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius, (C, I)

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor (C, I)

Scapular stability

Serratus anterior (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow flexion, stability

Triceps brachii, biceps brachii


(C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Finger flexion

Flexor digiti minimi brevis, interossei palmaris, flexor pollicis


brevis (C, I)

Neck

Neck stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


occipitals, cervical erector
spinae (I)

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

154

Muscles released

Posterior deltoid

8
Seated Postures

Dean Mitchell/istock.com

he Sanskrit word asana


can be translated as a
way of being or a way
of being seated. This chapter
describes 20 asanas that are
seated or nearly seated. In the
seated postures, the hips are
placed on the ground. Seated
poses can include forward
bends, side bends, and twists,
with crossed or straight legs.
The asanas without hips on the
ground in this chapter are as
follows: Malasana (Basic Squat,
or Bead Pose), in which the hips
hover slightly above the ground;
Parighasana (Kneeling Triangle,
or Gate Pose), a kneeling side
bend; Tolasana (Scale Pose),
an arm balance; and Bakasana
(Crane Pose), another strengthening arm balance.
The quintessential seated
yoga pose, Padmasana (Lotus
Pose), often comes to the mind
of students and would-be yogis

155

156

Instructing Hatha Yoga


when they think about asanas and meditation.
Seated poses may appear to be relatively easy
because they generally require less energy and
strength in the legs than do the standing asanas.
However, in seated asanas, the back and abdominal muscles typically must work more intensely to
maintain good sitting posture. Moreover, if a student has not developed strong postural muscles
and is lacking in hip flexibility, then seated asanas
may feel very challenging and uncomfortable.
In fact, most people cannot tolerate sitting with
a straight spine for more than a few moments
because the back muscles are weak and generally lack endurance. In addition, in order for the
back to be free to lift and lengthen, the hips also
need to be relaxed and flexible. When a student is
able to sit comfortably with an aligned spine, the
shoulders and chest can open more completely,
thus warding off degeneration of the entire spinal
column and associated trunk joints (hips and
shoulders). Whether students seek to strengthen
and release the upper body after long hours in
front of a computer or to develop the strength to
sit comfortably for long periods of meditation,
seated poses can empower them by deepening the
opening of the hips, relaxing the shoulders and
neck, and improving the muscular endurance of
the back and abdominals.

Standing postures are often used to warm up


the body and circulate blood out to the limbs.
When a person is seated, the blood then has a
chance to go back into the internal organs, lymph
nodes, and joints more substantially. The residual warmth and more concentrated circulation
enable deeper twists and stretches.
Whereas standing poses improve hip and shoulder stability, seated poses improve flexibility and
spinal endurance, which allow the practitioner to
develop the ability to sit comfortably at length.
Although most people think that seated postures
are more elementary because they appear easier
to do, they are actually more demanding of the
spine and therefore can be considered, in a sense,
more advanced. Ultimately, however, any pose is
made either more or less advanced by ones level
of perspective and experience.
The asanas presented in this chapter are
sequenced in an order that lends itself to smooth
flow in a class. The order is also geared for your
ease of reference and planning, since it begins
with the poses that are the easiest to teach and the
most popular. Asanas presented toward the end
of the chapter are not necessarily more difficult
for students, but they do tend to be more sophisticated to teach and to arrange for easy flow into
and out of other asanas.

Seated Postures

Malasana
Basic Squat, or Bead Pose
[maahl-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, mala means bead, and in yoga tradition a string of prayer
beads is referred to as a mala. It is thought that the squatting position of
this posture makes a person appear to resemble a bead dangling from a
string. The pose is also commonly called Garland Pose.

Description
Malasana is considered a seated posture in this text because of its
grounding nature. It is a good transitional asana when moving from a
standing pose to a seated one; it is also a good pose for vinyasa practice
when moving from one posture to the next. Because of the restorative
nature of Malasana,it can be incorporated into a practice session at
any time.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra
(Svadhisthana) creative energy

Foundational Focus
Root through the heels. Anchor with the metatarsal heads. Evenly balance the grounding energy between bothlegs.

Benefits




Stretches the back muscles.


Opens the pelvic area.
Massages the internal organs.
Strengthens the abdominals.
Stabilizes and builds strength in the ankles and feet.

Caution
Knee or ankle concernsStudents with a knee injury should either practice with modifications or skip this pose.

Verbal Cues
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), place your feet hip-width apart with your toes pointed straight ahead or slightly
out to the sides. Be sure that your feet are not pointed inward or your knees will roll together as you lower your
hips toward the ground, which can strain the inner knee structures.
As you begin to flex your hips, knees, and ankles, shift your pelvis and knees back toward your heels as if you
were lowering your buttocks onto a chair just beyond your reach.
Keep your rib cage floating up and your chest and front shoulders open as you inhale. Gently draw your shoulder
blades toward each other to keep your front shoulders and chest expanded.
As you exhale, lower your hips farther. If you need to, reach your arms out in front of your body to keep your
balance. Feel your abdominal muscles activate to aid in your balance.

157

Move slowly and breathe deeply as you lower to a point where you are comfortable yet slightly challenged.
Adjust your position according to what feels best for your bodyto maintain stability.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Press outward through your thighs to keep your knees from rolling toward each other. Anchor your energy down
through your heels and do the best you can to sink your heels all the way to the ground.
Stay in this position for a few breaths. Interlace your fingers and rest your forehead on your thumbs, or bring
your hands together in Anjali Mudra (Prayer Pose). Soften your abdomen and relax your shoulders as you focus
your breath into your back.
If your knees begin to roll toward each other, gently press your elbows into your inner thighs to maintain alignment with your knees and feet. Keep your shoulders soft.
To exit this position, lower your bottom onto the ground as slowly and gracefully as possible and prepare for
the next asana.

Adjustments
HeelsMany students have tight calf muscles, which causes them to lift the heels off the
ground. The ideal solution is to place a towel or blanket under the heels for support
and comfort; you can also simply roll up the back of a mat and place it under the
heels. This is the most common adjustment needed for this posture.
KneesA students knees often roll in toward each other. When this happens, place the students arms between the knees as a wedge to hold the
knees out. Cue the student to check to ensure that the knees are pointed
in the same direction as the toes.
BalanceSquat or kneel in front of the student, whichever is most comfortable for you. The two of you should hold onto each others wrists.
Take on some of the students weight until she or he feels well balanced.
Adjustment: heels.
Gently draw the student toward you so that the students body weight
does not sink back too far behind the heels.

Modifications
Knee concernsUse a bar, such as a ballet
bar, if available, so that the student can
hold onto it when squatting down, thus
taking the body weight off of the knees.
In addition, you can have the student
sit on blocks or on the ground with
bent knees. In this option, instruct the
studentto abduct the thighs and slightly
round the torso while engaging the abdomAdjustment: balance.
inal muscles.
Foot injury, very stiff ankles, weak knees, or hip replacementThe student can lie on the back with the knees pulled
into the chest. The knees should be held apart wider than the shoulders for a restorative posture.

Kinematics
Although this postures deep squat may seem completely contraindicated for those with a knee injury, it can be
beneficial to some because of the stretching in both the thighs and the calves. Some causes of knee hyperextension
may be helped by gently stretching overly tight calf muscles. This pose is a particularly beneficial posture for pregnant
students because the squat opens and gently stretches the pelvis and perineum.

158

Seated Postures

Malasana
Body segment
Foot and toes

Lower leg

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe abduction, stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Ankle dorsiflexion, stability

Gastrocnemius, soleus (E, I)

Ankle stability

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus, peroneals (I)

Muscles released

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Thigh

Knee flexion

Quadriceps (E, I)

Quadriceps

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(E, I)

Gluteus maximus, deep external


rotators*

Stability

Adductors, gluteus medius and


minimus, deep external rotators*
(I)

Torso

Trunk stability

Quadratus lumborum, erector


Internal and external obliques,
spinae
rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum,
erector spinae (I)

Shoulder

Internal rotation

Latissimus dorsi, anterior deltoid, Rhomboids, trapezius


pectoralis major (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachioradialis,


brachialis (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Thumb abduction

Abductor pollicis longus and


brevis, extensor pollicis brevis
(C, I)

Neck flexion

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


levator scapulae, cervical erector
spinae, upper trapezius (E, R)

Neck

Triceps brachii

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


levator scapulae, cervical erector
spinae, upper trapezius

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, and R = relaxed.

159

Dandasana
Staff Pose
[duhn-DAAH-suh-nuh]
Danda is Sanskrit for staff or walking stick. The pose name Dandasana describes
the straightness and strength of the upper torso and back.

Description
In Dandasana, the spine and the lower body are
straight and strong with the hips bent to 90
degrees. It is an active posture with the upper
spine, lower abdominal, and thigh muscles all
working to keep length in both the upper and
lower body. This asana is generally the point from
which many other seated postures build.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones. Anchor into the backs of the heels.

Benefits




Massages internal organs.


Strengthens upper back.
Strengthens and stretches abdominal muscles, lower back, and thighs.
Can soothe heartburn.
Helps build postural awareness.

Caution
Back painStudents with acute back pain should practice with modifications.

Verbal Cues
Sit on the ground with your legs stretched out in front of you. Keep your legs and feet as close together as is
comfortable with your sit bones (ischial tuberosities) level on the ground. Place your hands down to either side
of your hips with your fingers pointed forward toward your toes.
Breathe in deeply as you lengthen your spine, lifting your rib cage from your pelvis. Draw your shoulder blades
together slightly, and soften your shoulders away from your ears. Gaze softly forward beyond your toes.
Roll your upper thighs toward each other slightly while keeping your toes pointed upward. Slide your kneecaps
toward your hips by activating your quadriceps. Anchor into the back of your heels to keep them from lifting
off the ground. Imagine your pelvis rooting into the ground and draw energy upward.
Press down through your hands and sit bones to elongate the sides of your spine. Feel your shoulders softening
away from your ears and the front of your shoulders rolling open away from your chest.

160

Seated Postures

With each exhalation, notice your ears aligned over your shoulders, and your shoulders aligned over your hips.
With each inhalation, feel the crown of your head stretching upward toward the sky.
Focus on your breath. Prepare for your next pose.

Adjustments
LegsRemind students to keep the toes pointed upward. Gently brush the outsides of the feet to cue students to
press the feet closer together by activating the adductor and quadriceps muscles.
Spine and shouldersMost students will not realize that the upper back is rounded. To adjust, kneel behind the
student (watch your mechanics), and place your hands to the sides of the ribs and gently cue to lift the rib cage
upward. You can also press your knee gently against the students mid back to encourage more length in the spine.
At the same time, place your hands on the fronts of the students shoulders and gradually roll the upper arms back
to open the chest and elongate the spine.
HeadObserve students to see if the chin is jutting forward. To adjust, place your hands lightly to the sides of the
students head and move the head back to align the ears directly over the shoulders. You can also place your hand
lightly on top of a students head and ask the student to press
against your hand to lengthen the neck and spine.

Modifications
Tight hamstrings or weak upper spineThe most common
adjustment for Dandasana is to place a folded blanket or
towel under the students pelvis. It is also acceptable to allow
students to keep the knees flexed slightly as they work, over
time, to stretch the hamstrings. Another modification is to place
students with the hips and back against a wall, stick, or other
sturdy linear object and instruct them to press the pelvis and
upper back against the object to align the spine.
Tight shouldersInvite the student to externally rotate the upper
arms so that the fingers point backward instead of forward to
open the shoulders more completely.

Modification: tight hamstrings or weak upper spine.

Kinematics
The common modification of placing a blanket, bolster, or folded towel under the students hips helps alleviate
strain in the low back by repositioning the tilt of the front pelvis slightly more forward, thus achieving a more natural
alignment in the spine. This modification also helps alleviate the rounded back that occurs in those with very tight
hamstrings. By allowing more concentrated flexion at the hip joint, the student strengthens the upper spine muscles
while also aligning the shoulders directly over the hips. This modification is appropriate and quite beneficial as it
provides a base of aligned posture with ease and stability in all of the other seated positions.

Dandasana
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum longus (C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus (C, I)

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Thigh

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hamstrings

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion, stability

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris (C, I)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus


lumborum, hamstrings (I)

(continued)

161

Dandasana (continued)
Body segment
Torso

Kinematics

Muscles active
Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Trunk extension and stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum,
erector spinae, latissimus dorsi (I)

Scapular adduction, stability

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Postural support in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus and teres minor


with some posterior deltoid (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

Lower arm

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


palmaris longus

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi ulnaris, radialis


longus and brevis, extensor digitorum (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Neck

Neck extension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


cervical erector spinae, upper
trapezius (I)

Shoulder

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

162

Muscles released

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis major

Seated Postures

Janu Shirshasana
Head-to-Knee Pose
[JAAH-noo sheer-SHAAH-suh-nuh]
Janu is Sanskrit for knee, and shirsha means
head.

Description
In this seated forward bend, one leg is
stretched forward in front of the body, and
the knee of the opposite leg is flexed and lowered laterally to the ground. This posture is broken down into two
parts, the first of which concentrates on lengthening both the upper and lower halves of the body. In the second, or
resting, phase of the pose, the head rests close to the knee. In some variations of Janu Shirshasana, the foot of the
bent knee is flexed and rotated with the toes pointing toward the ground. In other variations, the ankle of the bent
leg is crossed into Ardha Padmasana (Half-Lotus).

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra (Svadhisthana) creative energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones. Anchor into the heel of the straight leg.

Benefits






Stretches and strengthens the spine.


Stretches the hamstrings and groin.
Calms the nervous system and helps relieve mild depression.
Improves digestion.
May alleviate symptoms of menstrual discomfort or menopause.
Can reduce anxiety, fatigue, and headache.
Relieves symptoms of high blood pressure, insomnia, and sinusitis.

Cautions
Acute knee or back painPractice with modifications.
Intestinal discomfortDue to the pressure created in the abdomen, those with intestinal discomfort should
refrain from practicing this pose until the discomfort passes.

Verbal Cues
Phase One
From Dandasana (Staff Pose), anchor through your left leg. Bend your right knee and draw your thigh toward
your chest while pointing your sit bones slightly toward the back edge of your mat. Keep your hips as squared
as possible as you rotate your right leg out, lowering the outer leg toward the ground.
As your right thigh lowers to the ground, picture the top of that thigh as a bottle top opening. As your right
thigh rotates out (externally), the twisting action helps free the hip joint, thus opening space and releasing ten-

163

sion. The more the hip opens, the less stress is placed on the knee.
Dorsiflex the foot, so that the toes point toward the knee and help
stabilize the joint.
Interlace your fingers, and, as you inhale, raise your arms overhead.
Pronate your forearms to rotate your palms away from your body.
Extend your arms as straight as is comfortable, pressing your
thumbs toward the sky and pointing your pinky fingers toward the
ground behind you to more fully engage your posterior shoulder
and upper back muscles. Relax your shoulders away from your
ears, opening space in the sides of your neck.
Exhale and turn your torso slightly toward the left so that you
align your spine with your straight left leg.
Inhale and lengthen your spine as you begin to feel taller through
your torso. Feel your rib cage lift out of your low back. Gaze
forward beyond your toes.
Exhale and slowly fold forward from your hips, like a hinge.
Stop at the first sign of resistance and breathe into that space.
Phase one.
Fold only as far as you can comfortably go without rounding
your spine, then place your hands on the ground to either side of your left leg.
Maintain all of the length and extension in your spine and reach your hands
toward your left foot. Hold on wherever you can reach comfortably with
your hands or with the use of a strap.
Continue to focus on your breath.

Phase Two
On the next inhalation, arch your mid back slightly, lift your chest,
and imagine your navel reaching toward the sky.
Exhale and fold your torso forward from the bottom to the
top, draping your upper body over the front of your left leg.
With each exhalation, let your neck relax as your head
lowers toward your knee. Allow your right rib cage to relax
toward your left leg.
Moving into phase two.
Soften your abdomen. Visualize your breath moving into
your back and imagine that energy opening space between your ribs and between your vertebrae. Focus your
breath on any place where you feel tension or resistance.
To exit the pose, bring your hands to the ground beside your hips. Inhale and press through your arms to raise
your torso. Exhale and stretch your right leg out, and prepare for the opposite side.

Adjustments
FeetIf the students bent-leg ankle feels uncomfortable, adjust by either increasing the angle of the knee or placing
some light padding under the ankle.
KneeIf the students bent knee is off the ground, you can offer support with a folded blanket or adjust for hip and
back tightness (explained next).
HipsIf the students hips are not square in relation to the outstretched leg, use your hands to gently draw the hips
back; alternatively, cue the student to move the hips in a manner such that the hip of the straight leg moves back
a little. You also can press the other hip (of the bent-knee leg) slightly forward at the same time. Note: The forward
bend should come from the hips; otherwise, the back tends to round, especially in the low spine.

164

Seated Postures

TorsoThe back should be aligned toward the extended


foot. Kneel slightly behind the student, place your hands
on the students outer rib cage, and encourage the student
to lift the rib cage out of the low spine as much as possible. Additionally, when kneeling behind the student,
place one of your hands at the top of the pelvis and
your other hand on the students shoulder in a way
that helps relax the shoulders down and open. As
you guide the students torso forward and up, you
also guide the shoulders down. These two actions
together should begin to straighten the back and
open the chest.
HeadIn the resting phase of this asana, the neck
and head should relax. If the students neck is
holding any tension, brush your fingers against
Adjustment: torso.
or lightly tap the neck or head to release.
ArmsThe arms and hands can be held in many ways in this pose. As long as the students shoulders remain relaxed
and away from the ears, various options for hand positioning can be explored without detracting from the poses
general benefits. If a student has enough flexibility to reach the hands to the foot, then the arms can be either active
or passive. If the student is flexible enough to reach beyond the foot, then the student may apply a grip with one
hand holding the opposite wrist.

Modifications
Raised bent knee, rounded back and shouldersSeat the student on a bolster
or blanket to lift the hips higher than the knees. If the bent knee remains
lifted higher than the hips, place a bolster, folded blanket, or block under
the upper thigh for support. This modification helps open the hips and
takes effort off of the low back, thus allowing for more relaxation. It
also allows for a straighter upper spine.
Tight hips or hamstringsProvide a strap to wrap around the outstretched foot if the student cannot reach it without rounding the
spine.
Pregnancy or otherwise large bellyTo comfortably accommodate a larger belly in this forward fold, invite the student
to widen the straight leg slightly before folding. This modification may also be used to open more space in the low back
Modification: tight hips or hamstrings.
of the bent-leg side.

Kinematics
This posture uses the concentric contraction of the quadriceps to help release the hamstrings and hip rotators as
the torso folds over the outstretched leg. As the student continues to lengthen the torso out over the straight leg, the
adductors of the bent leg are stretched. In the torso, the scapulae (shoulder blades) are drawn slightly together and
toward the hips by the concentric contraction of the rhomboids and trapezius muscles between the scapulae, which
help keep the torso long throughout the posture.
The torso should be elongated as much as possible, especially during the first phase of the pose. If a student's
upper back is rounded, then it is important to help the student lift the front ribs and open the chest.

165

Janu Shirshasana (Left Leg Extended)


Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus, tibialis anterior (C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus (C, I)

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Thigh (R)

Knee flexion

Hamstrings, sartorius (C, I)

Adductors, gracilis

Thigh (L)

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hamstrings, adductors

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris (C, I)

Adductors

Initial hip external rotation

Adductors (E, R)

Hip abduction and external


rotation

Gluteus medius and minimus,


deep external rotators*

Initial hip flexion (forward bend)

Hamstrings (E)

Hip flexion over 120 degrees

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris (C, I)

Spinal extension with forward


flexion

Erector spinae (C, E, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis (I)

Humeral flexion

Anterior deltoids, biceps brachii,


coracobrachialis, pectoralis
major (C, I)

Scapular adduction, stability

Rhomboids major and minor,


mid trapezius (C, I)

Scapular stability

Serratus anterior (I)

Postural support in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

External rotation

Infraspinatus and teres minor


with some posterior deltoid (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Finger flexion

Flexor digitorum profundus and


superficialis, flexor digiti minimi,
interossei palmaris (C, I)

Neck

Neck extension, stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis, cervical erector spinae, upper trapezius (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Torso

Shoulder

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus,


deep external rotators
Quadratus lumborum, latissimus
dorsi

Biceps brachii, brachioradialis,


brachialis

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right (in the body segment column) or relaxed
(in the muscles active column).

166

Seated Postures

Ardha Matsyendrasana
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
[AR-dhuh muht-see-yen-DRAAH-suh-nuh]
Matsya means fish in Sanskrit, and endra
means ruler. In one of the legends
explaining the origin of the asanas, a
fish overheard Shiva (a Hindu god)
explaining the secrets of yoga and was
fascinated with the knowledge. The
fish began to twist its body in order to
hear the words more clearly. Shiva
noticed the fish and gave it the
divine form of Matsyendra, who
then spread the knowledge
of yoga throughout the
land. This twisting asana
is the foundation of all
the seated twists.

Description
Ardha Matsyendrasana is a seated twist in which one leg is straight out in front of the body and the other leg is bent and
usually crossed over the straight leg near the opposite hip. The upper torso is rotated in the direction of the bent leg.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones. Anchor into the heel of the flexed leg and the back of the heel of the straight leg.

Benefits





Increases energy level.


Stimulates and massages the internal organs, specifically the kidneys and liver.
Stimulates digestion.
Aligns the spine.
Builds the trunk muscles.
Opens the shoulders and chest.

Cautions
Migraine or cold symptomsStudents with migraine headache or severe cold symptoms should replace this
posture with a gentle, restorative supine twist.
Hip replacementStudents with a hip replacement should not cross the foot of the bent knee over the straight leg.
Acute back injuryStudents suffering from a back concern should either proceed with caution or skip this pose.
PregnancyPregnant students should rotate only through the upper spine if they are beyond the first trimester.

167

Verbal Cues
From Dandasana (Staff Pose), inhale and lengthen your spine. Exhale and pull your right thigh to your chest.
Cross your right foot to the outside of your left leg as close to your left hip as is comfortable. Press firmly into
the ball of your left foot. You will feel a slight rotation of your pelvis where your left hip moves slightly forward
of your right.
Inhale and raise your right arm overhead to lift your rib cage. On an exhalation, slowly rotate your rib cage and
belly toward the right. Stop when you can no longer move without assistance from your arms.
Inhale and feel your rib cage lift away from your hips. Lower your right arm and place your hand on the ground
as close to your sacrum as possible. Externally rotate your right shoulder so that your fingers point away from
your body. Breathe deeply into the open space of your right chest, and feel your chest rotate slightly more to
the right.
Place your left arm wherever it feels most comfortably challenginghugging your right rib cage, wrapped
around your right knee, or with the back of your elbow to the outside of your right thigh. Use this connection
for stabilizing the twist. Remain mindful to keep the line of your spine perpendicular to the ground. Soften into
the twisting action through your thoracic spine.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Inhale and lengthen your spine, imagining more space opening up between the vertebrae. As you exhale, turn
your head to look over your right shoulder. Rotate your rib cage as much as you comfortably can so that your
right shoulder points as far back from the front of your body as is comfortable. Tuck your chin toward your right
shoulder to encourage a deeper stretch on the left side of your neck.
To exit this posture, inhale and slowly turn your head and chest forward. Place your hands to your sides and
extend your right leg out. Prepare for the next side.

Adjustments
Legs and hipsMake sure the students outstretched leg is
extended but comfortable and that the hip of the bent knee
remains on the ground. If it lifts off the ground, either
instruct the student to root through the sit bones or
place the student on a bolster or blanket.
SpineIf the spine rounds, kneel behind the student
and gently press against the middle spine with your
hands or knee. Cue the student to lift the chest
and lengthen the spine, moving it away from your
support.
ShouldersCue the student to relax the shoulders
away from the ears by placing your hands gently
on top of the shoulders. Also, remind the student
to reach the crown of the head upward.
Adjustment: spine; shoulders.
RotationFor students with a limited spinal range of
motion or with shoulder concerns, instruct them to
keep the elbow of the front hand straight and to place the other hand to the side, wherever it is comfortably challenged. To adjust, kneel behind the student and place one hand on the front of the shoulder to the side where the
student is rotating. Place your other hand on the students rib cage on the opposite side. Gently move the students rib
cage forward, away from you, while rotating the shoulder around a little farther, thus creating more spinal rotation.
Hand positionEncourage the student to keep the back arm as straight and as close to the spine as possible. This
position depends on the length of the students arm and the width of the shoulders. In all cases, the shoulders
should remain relaxed.

168

Seated Postures

Finger positionInstruct the student to rotate the back arm externally so that the fingers point away from the spine. Kneeling
behind the student, place one hand on the students extended
upper arm and rotate the shoulder externally. At the same
time, place your other hand on the students opposite
shoulder to create length through the front of the chest.

Modifications
Low-back weakness or hip or hamstring tightnessPlace
a folded blanket under the students hips to help align
the pelvis.
Hip replacement or larger bellyInstruct the student not
to cross the bent knee over the opposite leg but
instead to keep it aligned with the same-side hip
by placing the foot of the bent leg against the
inside of the straight leg.
Adjustment: rotation.

Kinematics

Ardha Matsyendrasana focuses on toning the abdominal and spinal muscles and creating a gentle stretch in the deep
external hip rotators and the shoulders. Having both legs grounded helps create more length in the torso, as does the
grounding of the arm that rotates behind the body. The twist is initiated in the lower thoracic region and, depending
on a persons spinal flexibility, continues up through the spine into the cervical spine (neck). The firmness of the
abdominal muscles also helps keep the torso lifted and stable.

Ardha Matsyendrasana (Rotating to the Right)


Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus (C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus (C, I)

Thigh (R)

Knee flexion

Hamstrings, sartorius (C, I)

Thigh adduction

Adductors, gracilis, pectineus


(C, I)

Muscles released

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Thigh (L)

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris (C, I)

Torso (R and L)

Trunk stability

Erector spinae, transverse


abdominis, rectus abdominis
(C, I)

Chest and rib elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Torso (R)

Rotation to right

Internal obliques, latissimus dorsi Erector spinae (L), external


(C, I)
obliques

Torso (L)

Rotation to right

External obliques (C, I)

Tensor fascia lata, deep external


rotators,* gluteus medius

Quadratus lumborum, serratus


anterior, internal oblique

(continued)

169

Ardha Matsyendrasana (Rotating to the Right) (continued)


Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

External rotation

Posterior deltoid, teres minor,


infraspinatus (C, I)

Shoulder (R)

Humeral hyperextension, stability

Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid, teres major (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, trapezius (C, I)

Shoulder (L)

Humeral extension, leverage


against right knee

Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid, teres major (C, I)

Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid, teres major, rhomboids, mid


trapezius

Upper arm (R)

Forearm extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

Upper arm (L)

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis (C, I)

Lower arm (R)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Lower arm (L)

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Hand and fingers


(R)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi radialis longus


Flexor carpi radialis, flexor carpi
and brevis, extensor carpi ulnaris ulnaris, flexor digitorum superfi(C, I)
cialis, palmaris longus

Hand and fingers


(L)

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis longus


and brevis, extensor carpi ulnaris
(C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Neck (R and L)

Neck extension, stability

Cervical erector spinae, splenius


capitis and cervicis, semispinalis
(C, I)

Neck (R)

Head rotation to right

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


occipitals (C, I)

Sternocleidomastoid

Neck (L)

Head rotation to right

Sternocleidomastoid (C, I)

Upper trapezius, splenius capitus


and cervicis, occipitals

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

170

Muscles released

Shoulder (R and L)

Anterior deltoid, pectoralis major

Seated Postures

Marichyasana A
Marichis Pose, Variation A
[mar-EE-chee-YAHH-suh-nuh kuh]
Marichi is the name of a great sage in Hindu mythology, and the
word can be translated as the way of light. The Marichyasana
variations are symbolically and energetically powerful, as
Marichi himself is said to be. This is the first of four Marichyasana
poses.

Description
Marichyasana and its variations are extensions of the spinal twist of
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose). The main
difference between the two postures is that in the Marichyasana
variations the arms are bound around the body to create a deeper
stretch into the joints. Marichyasana has four commonly
practiced variationsA, B, C, and D. In variation A, the bent
leg does not cross the opposite leg, and the arms wrap behind
the back as the torso moves into a forward bend.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra
(Svadhisthana) creative energy, third chakra (Manipura)
vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones. Anchor into the heel of the flexed leg and the back of the heel of the straight leg.

Benefits





Increases energy level.


Massages the internal organs.
Brings the spine into alignment.
Builds strength in the trunk muscles.
Strengthens the hip and shoulder joints.
Increases circulation in the joints.

Cautions
PregnancyAfter the first trimester, pregnant students should avoid doing this posture due to the compression
of the abdomen.
Spine concernsThose with a spine injury should practice with modifications or skip this pose.
Shoulder injuryProceed with caution and modifications.

171

Verbal Cues
From Dandasana (Staff Pose), inhale to lengthen your spine. As you exhale, bend your right knee and draw
your thigh to your chest. Place your heel as close to your pelvis as possible. Imagine your left leg as an anchor,
keeping the thigh muscles activated.
Inhale and raise your right arm overhead. Exhale and bring the outside of your right upper arm to the inside
of your right leg. Exhale and fold from the hips, imagining someone gently pulling your right hand forward so
that your right shoulder reaches beyond your right shin.
Rotate your chest and belly slightly to the left. Bend your right elbow and press against your shin with your
upper arm. Inhale and lift your rib cage away from your hips.
Internally rotate your right arm so that your thumb points downward. Bend your elbow and reach your hand
around the outside of your right leg toward your spine. Press your upper arm against your shin to help lift your
chest, moving it forward toward your right foot.
Bring your left arm behind your back, with the palm facing out and reach toward your right hand. Grasp your
left wrist with your right hand. Inhale and lengthen your spine, arching back slightly to lift your chest and open
your abdominal region.
Exhale and fold forward from your hips while you stretch your chest toward your left knee. Relax your spine
and neck. Release your muscles with each exhalation.
Continue to focus on your breath.
To exit this position, exhale and release your arms slowly. Bring your hands by your hips and inhale as you lift
your chest upright. Straighten your right leg and prepare for the other side.

Adjustments
Extended legIf the students extended leg is rotated externally, this generally means that the leg is relaxed. Brush
the outside of the foot to cue the student to activate the leg throughout the posture, with the toes and knee pointing
up, and remind the student to anchor through that leg.
Bent legSometimes a student needs to take the knee wider than hip-width apart to accommodate the rib cage
rotation. However, instruct the student to align the knee with the hip as much as possible to make it easier to wrap
the arm around the leg. Gently press the outside of your shin against the students outer thigh to bring the leg into
alignment.
ShouldersKneel behind the student and place one hand on the upper arm on the side toward which the student
is rotating. Gently guide the shoulder into greater external rotation. At the same time, place your opposite hand
on the lower back ribs, near the kidneys, and gently press forward and up. This adjustment creates length as well
as rotation in the torso.
HandsIf the students hands are nearly but not quite touching behind the body, ask the student to relax and breathe
deeply. Kneel behind the student and place a hand on each of the students upper arms. As the student exhales,
slowly press the arms closer together to draw the fingertips nearer. The student also can bend farther forward to help
shorten the space between the thigh and the rib cage. Have the student stay in this position for only a few breaths
until more strength and flexibility are gained.

Modifications
Tight hipsIf the hip of the bent leg is lifted off the ground, place a rolled-up blanket or towel under the students
opposite hip and remind the student to root the hips into the ground.
Tight shouldersInstruct the student to hold the ends of a strap between both hands in order to allow the student
to hold the arms in a static position and deepen the stretch.

Kinematics
Because of the deep shoulder stretch, students new to this pose may feel like the circulation is being cut off when
they bind the arms. After some practice, the muscles relax and the joints loosen and students gain more range in the
joint to allow the posture to be comfortable for a longer time.
172

Seated Postures

Marichyasana A (Right Knee Bent)


Body segment
Foot and toes

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus (I)

Lower leg (R)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis (I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis (C, I)

Thigh (R)

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Thigh (L)

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, sartorius, left rectus


femoris (C, I)

Torso

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum
(I)

Chest and rib elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Hyperextension, adduction of
humerus

Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm (R)

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis (C, I)

Upper arm (L)

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis, triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris,
extensor digitorum (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Finger flexion

Flexor digiti minimi brevis, interossei dorsales manus and palmaris, opponens digiti minimi,
flexor pollicis brevis (C, I)

Neck

Head extension or slight hyperextension, stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


occipitals, cervical erector
spinae, semispinalis, upper trapezius (I)

Shoulder

Muscles released

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Pectoralis major and minor, anterior deltoid

Sternocleidomastoid

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

173

Marichyasana B
Marichis Pose, Variation B
[mar-EE-chee-YAHH-suh-nuh k-huh]
This asana is the second of the four Marichyasana variations.

Description
This variation of Marichyasana is similar to variation A, except that
instead of the leg being extended in front of the body, the knee is
flexed and the ankle is placed in Ardha Padmasana (Half-Lotus).

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra
(Svadhisthana) creative energy, third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing
energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones. Anchor into both feet
and the externally rotated knee.

Benefits







Increases energy level.


Massages the internal organs.
Aligns the spine.
Builds strength in the trunk muscles.
Deeply strengthens the hip and shoulder joints.
Increases circulation in the joints.
Relieves stiffness in the hips, knees, and ankles.
Strengthens the low spine and abdominal muscles.

Cautions
Knee injuriesStudents should be extremely mindful of the knee in Ardha Padmasana whether they have a knee
injury or not. If it is difficult to rotate the leg externally because the hips are tight, the knees take on the strain
in order to compensate.
PregnancyDue to the compression into the abdomen, women in the second or third trimester of pregnancy
should not practice this posture.
Shoulder injuryThose with a shoulder injury should proceed with caution and modifications.

Verbal Cues
From Dandasana (Staff Pose), inhale to lengthen the spine. On the next inhalation, bend your left knee and
externally rotate the leg so the knee lowers toward the ground. Exhale and bring your left ankle to the crease
of your right hip, into Ardha Padmasana (Half-Lotus Pose). Please see modifications for Ardha Padmasana for
students who cannot accommodate this positioning comfortably.

174

Seated Postures

With your next exhalation, bend the right knee and bring the thigh toward the chest. Dorsiflex the left foot so
the top of the foot and toes press into the outside of the right thigh. This helps secure the foot in position.
Inhale and raise your right arm overhead. Exhale and lower your right arm to the inside of your right leg. Exhale,
folding from your hips and imagine someone gently pulling your right hand forward so that your right shoulder
reaches beyond your right shin.
Rotate your chest slightly to the left. Bend your right elbow and press against the shin with your upper arm as
you lift your rib cage away from your hips.
Internally rotate your right arm so that your thumb points downward. Bend the elbow and reach your hand
around the outside of your right leg toward your spine.
Bring your left arm behind your back, with the palm facing out, and reach toward the right hand. Clasp the left
wrist with the right hand. Inhale and lengthen the spine, arching back slightly to lift the chest.
Exhale and fold forward from the hips, pressing your chest toward your left knee. Relax your spine and neck.
Release your muscles with each exhalation.
Continue to focus on your breath.
To exit this position, exhale and release the arms slowly. Bring the hands by your hips and inhale as you lift your
chest upright. Uncross your left leg and straighten both legs back into Dandasana. Prepare for the opposite side.

Adjustments
Leg positioningUse the adjustments for Ardha Padmasana to help the student into the most appropriate positioning, as some students are unable to sit in the full expression of the pose without lifting one side of the pelvis off the
ground. You may also simply cue the student to place the left foot under the right thigh, near the hip.
FeetThe foot in Ardha Padmasana should not be overstretched on the outside of the ankle. Remind the student to
keep the foot dorsiflexed and active.
HipsIf students hips are not level, kneel behind the student with your hands lightly touching the hips. Press downward gently and draw back slightly on the side that is not in Ardha Padmasana.
Bent legSometimes a student will need to take the knee wider than hip width to accommodate the rib cage rotation.
As in Variation A, encourage the student to align the knee with the hip as much as possible to make it easier to wrap
the arm around the leg. Gently press against the students outer thigh to bring the leg into alignment.
HandsIf the hands are almost touching, remind the student to relax and breathe deeply. The student can bend
farther forward to help shorten the space between the thigh and rib cage. Invite the student to stay in this position
for only a few breaths until the student gains more strength and flexibility.

Modifications
Tight hip in Ardha PadmasanaIf the student is unable to sit in Ardha Padmasana, instruct the student to keep the
bent leg on the ground as in Janu Shirshasana (Head to Knee Pose). Place a blanket or bolster under the bent knee
to relax the leg in either position.
Tight shouldersInstruct the student to hold the ends of a strap between both hands to allow for holding the arms
in a static position while deepening the stretch in the shoulders.

Kinematics
Because the foot of the leg in Ardha Padmasana is wedged against the opposite thigh and abdomen, it makes it
somewhat easier to hold the leg in position for those working on the external rotation in Padmasana (Lotus Pose).
Tight shoulder adjustments are the same as in Variation A.

175

Marichyasana B (Right Knee Bent, Left Leg in Ardha Padmasana)


Body segment
Foot and toes

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus (I)

Lower leg (R)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis (I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis (R)

Thigh

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (R)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas (C, I)

Hip external rotation

Adductors, sartorius (E, R)

External rotation, stability

Gluteus medius and minimus,


deep external rotators* (C, I)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum,
erector spinae (I)

Chest and rib elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Hyperextension, adduction of
humerus

Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm (R)

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis (C, I)

Upper arm (L)

Elbow flexion

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris,
extensor digitorum (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Finger flexion

Flexor digiti minimi brevis, interossei dorsales manus and palmaris, opponens digiti minimi,
flexor pollicis brevis (C, I)

Neck

Head extension, stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


occipitals, cervical erector
spinae, semispinalis, upper trapezius (I)

Torso

Shoulder

Muscles released

Adductors

Pectoralis major and minor, anterior deltoid

Sternocleidomastoid

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = relaxed (in body segment column) or right (in
muscles active column).

176

Seated Postures

Marichyasana C
Marichis Pose, Variation C
[mar-EE-chee-YAHH-suh-nuh, guh]
This is the third of the four Marichyasana variations.

Description
This variation of Marichyasana is somewhat similar to variation A. In this variation,
the foot of the bent leg is crossed over the opposite thigh, the torso twists in the
direction of the bent leg, and the opposite arm wraps around the bent leg
binding behind the back.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra (Svadhisthana)
creative energy, third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones.
Anchor into the heel of the flexed
leg and the back of the heel of
the straight leg.

Benefits






Increases energy level.


Massages the internal organs.
Aligns the spine.
Builds strength in the trunk muscles.
Deeply strengthens the hip and shoulder joints.
Increases circulation in the joints.
Increases focus.

Cautions
PregnancyDue to the compression in the abdomen, women in the second or third trimester of pregnancy
should not practice this posture.
Shoulder injuryThose with a shoulder injury should proceed with caution and modifications.

Verbal Cues
From Dandasana (Staff Pose), inhale to lengthen your spine. Exhale and bend your right knee, bringing your
thigh to your chest. Cross your right foot over your left thigh and place the foot on the ground wherever it feels
most comfortable.
Inhale and rotate your rib cage to the right. Turn your head to look over your right shoulder as far as is comfortable. Imagine your left leg as an anchor, keeping the thigh muscles activated. Place your right hand on the
ground for support.

177

On your next exhalation, continue to keep your torso rotated to the right and reach your left arm across your
body to the outside of your right leg. Move your left shoulder blade toward the outside of your right knee as
you turn your torso a bit more to the right, if comfortable.
Bend your left elbow and press your upper arm against the outside of your right knee as you lift your rib cage
away from your hips.
Internally rotate your left arm so that your thumb points toward the ground, then wrap your arm around the front
of your right leg. Reach the hand around, toward your right hand, and bind your hands together, if comfortable.
Inhale, lengthening your spine, and open as much space between your lower ribs and pelvis as possible. Continue to press the back of your left upper arm against your right leg for leverage.
Continue to focus on your breath.
To exit this position, exhale and release your arms slowly. Rotate your chest forward and bring your hands by
your hips. Uncross your left leg and straighten both legs back into Dandasana. Prepare for the opposite side.

Adjustments
Extended leg If the students extended leg is rotated externally, this generally means that the leg is relaxed. Brush
the outside of the foot to cue the student to activate the leg throughout the posture with the toes and knee pointing
up; remind the student to anchor through that leg.
HipsIf the students hips are not level and touching the ground, kneel behind the student with your hands lightly
touching the students hips and press downward to ground the pelvis.
TorsoKneel behind the student, and place your hand onthe students same-side shoulder. Pull back gently as you
use your opposite hand to press forward and up on the students rib cage, thus creating more spinal rotation.
HandsIf the students hands are almost touching and have enough range of motion, encourage the student to relax
and breathe deeply, drawing the hands closer together on an exhalation. You may aid in drawing the hands closer
by kneeling behind the student and grasping the upper arms. As the student exhales, press the arms toward each
other and draw the hands closer together, as far as is comfortable.

Modifications
Tight hipsIf the hip of the bent leg lifts off the ground, place a rolled-up blanket or bolster under the opposite hip,
or both hips if necessary, to balance the pelvis.
Tight shouldersInvite the student to hold the ends of a strap between the hands behind the back. This modification
allows the student to hold the arms in a static position to deepen the stretch without straining the shoulder joints.
Shoulder injury or tight chestInstead of asking the student to bind the arms behind the back, invite the student to
place the back arm against the spine and press the back of the opposite arm into the bent knee. You can also have
the student practice Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose) instead.

Kinematics
The pressure of the bent arm against the opposite thigh aids in gaining leverage to rotate the torso more fully.

178

Seated Postures

Marichyasana C (Right Knee Bent, Rotation to Right)


Body segment
Foot and toes

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus (I)

Lower leg (R)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis (I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis (C, I)

Thigh (R)

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Muscles released

Thigh (L)

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, sartorius (C, I)

Gluteus maximus

Hip and pelvis (L)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius (C, I)

Hamstrings

Torso (R and L)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae (C, I)

Trunk stability

Rectus abdominis, transverse


abdominis, quadratus lumborum,
erector spinae (I)

Torso (R)

Rotation to right

Internal obliques, erector spinae,


latissimus dorsi (C, I)

External oblique

Torso (L)

Rotation to right

External oblique (C, I)

Internal oblique, quadratus lumborum

Shoulder (R)

Humerus hyperextension and


adduction

Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Pectoralis major and minor, anterior deltoid

External rotation

Posterior deltoid, infraspinatus,


teres minor (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Internal rotation

Pectoralis major, anterior deltoid


(C, I)

Humerus hyperextension

Latissimus dorsi, teres major (C,


I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm (R and


L)

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis (C, I)

Lower arm (R and


L)

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris,
extensor digitorum (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Finger flexion

Flexor digiti minimi brevis, interossei dorsales manus and palmaris, opponens digiti minimi,
flexor pollicis brevis (C, I)

Neck (R)

Head rotation to right, stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


occipitals, cervical erector
spinae (C, I)

Neck (L)

Head rotation

Sternocleidomastoid (C, I)

Shoulder (L)

Sternocleidomastoid

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

179

Marichyasana D
Marichis Pose, Variation D
[mar-EE-chee-YAHH-suh-nuh g-huh]
This is the fourth of the four Marichyasana variations.

Description
This variation of Marichyasana is a combination of the Ardha Padmasana
(Half-Lotus) element of variation B and the twisting of variation C. It is
by far the most technically challenging variation; in fact, many people
describe this combination of hip opening, spinal twisting, and arm
binding as a pretzel pose.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra (Svadhisthana)
creative energy, third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones. Anchor into both feet and
the externally rotated knee.

Benefits







Increases energy level.


Massages the internal organs.
Brings the spine into alignment.
Builds strength in the trunk muscles.
Opens the shoulder joints.
Deeply strengthens the hip and shoulder joints.
Increases circulation in the joints.
Increases focus.

Cautions
Knee injuriesStudents should be extremely mindful of the knee in Ardha Padmasana, whether or not they have
a knee injury. If it is difficult to rotate the leg externally because the hips are tight, the knees take on the strain
in order to compensate. Modifications should be used.
PregnancyDue to compression in the abdomen, women in the second or third trimester of pregnancy should
not practice this posture.
Shoulder injuryStudents with extreme shoulder tightness or injury should practice with caution and modifications.

180

Seated Postures

Verbal Cues
From Dandasana (Staff Pose), inhale to lengthen the spine, creating as much space between the ribs and hips
as possible. Keep the hips level and on the ground.
On the next inhalation, bend your left knee and externally rotate the leg so that the knee lowers toward the
ground. Exhale and bring your left ankle to the crease of your right hip into Ardha Padmasana (Half-Lotus Pose).
(Please see the modifications for Ardha Padmasana for students who cannot accommodate this positioning
comfortably, or simply place the left foot under the right thigh as close to the hip as possible.)
With your next exhalation, bend your right knee to your chest. Dorsiflex your left foot so that the tops of the
foot and toes press into the outside of your right thigh to keep the foot in position.
Breathing in, place your right arm behind your spine for leverage. Bring the back of your left arm across to the
outside of your right knee. Reach as far as you can, using the energy of your right arm to lift your spine.
Reach your right hand behind your back toward your left hip. Internally rotate your left arm so that your thumb
points toward the ground, then wrap your arm around the front of your right leg. Reach your left hand toward
your right hand.
As you exhale, rotate your right shoulder and rib cage back as far as is comfortable and press your left rib cage
forward toward the outer edge of your right knee. Press the back of your left upper arm against your right thigh
for leverage. Bind your hands together, if comfortable.
Continue to focus on your breath.
To exit this position, exhale and release your arms slowly. Bring your hands beside your hips and inhale as
you lift your chest upright. Uncross your left leg and straighten both legs back into Dandasana. Prepare for the
opposite side.

Adjustments
Ardha Padmasana positioningPlease refer to the modification instructions for Padmasana in chapter 8to help the
student into the most appropriate positioning. The foot in Ardha Padmasana should not be overstretched on the
outside of the ankle.
HipsIf the hips are not level, kneel behind the student with your hands lightly touching the outer pelvis. Press down
gently and pull back on the hip that is not in Ardha Padmasana.
Bent legSometimes a student needs to take the knee wider than hip-width apart to accommodate the rib cage rotation. However, instruct the student to align the knee with the hip in order to make it easier to wrap the arm around
the leg. Gently press against the students outer thigh with the outside of your calf to coax the leg into alignment.
HandsIf the students hands are almost touching, encourage the student to relax and breathe deeply. The student
can bend farther forward to help shorten the space between the thigh and rib cage. Have the student stay in this
position for only a few breaths until the student gains more strength and flexibility.

Modifications
Tight hip in Ardha PadmasanaIf the student is unable to sit in Ardha Padmasana, suggest that the student keep the
bent leg on the ground. Place a blanket under the bent knee for support to relax the leg in either position.
Tight shouldersCue the student to hold the ends of a strap between the hands. This modification allows the person
to hold the arms in a static position to deepen the stretch.
Inability to bind armsInstead of binding with the initial balancing arm, suggest that the student keep the hand on
the ground behind the spine and place the outside of the opposite arm against the outside of the bent knee. You
can also instruct the student to bind by twisting the torso in the opposite direction.
Balance concernsIf the student has extreme difficulty attaining this posture without strain, or cannot maintain
positioning and stay balanced, it is best to substitute another posture.

Kinematics
The Ardha Padmasana positioning of the leg in this posture is likely to require modification for many students. As
always, students should refrain from forcing the legs or arms into this position if they experience any discomfort.
181

Marichyasana D (Right Knee Flexed, Left Leg in Ardha Padmasana, Torso Rotated to
Right)
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus (I)

Lower leg (R)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis (C)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis (C, I)

Thigh

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R


and L)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus


lumborum, hamstrings (I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, sartorius (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas (C, I)

Hip external rotation

Adductors, sartorius (E)

External rotation, stability

Gluteus medius, deep external


rotators* (C, I)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae (C, I)

Trunk stability

Rectus abdominis, transverse


abdominis, quadratus lumborum,
erector spinae (I)

Torso (R)

Rotation to right

Internal obliques, erector spinae,


latissimus dorsi (C, I)

Torso (L)

Rotation to right

External obliques, internal


oblique, quadratus lumborum,
erector spinae (C, I)

Shoulder (R)

Humerus hyperextension and


adduction

Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid (C, I)

External rotation

Posterior deltoid, infraspinatus,


teres minor (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Internal rotation

Pectoralis major, anterior deltoid


(C, I)

Humerus hyperextension

Latissimus dorsi (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis (C, I)

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Lower arm

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris,
extensor digitorum (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Finger flexion

Flexor digiti minimi brevis, interossei dorsales manus and palmaris, opponens digiti minimi,
flexor pollicis brevis (C, I)

Neck (R)

Head rotation to right, stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


occipitals, cervical erector
spinae (C, I)

Neck (L)

Head rotation

Sternocleidomastoid (C, I)

Torso (R and L)

Shoulder (L)

Upper arm

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

182

Muscles released

Adductors

External obliques

Pectoralis major, anterior deltoid

Sternocleidomastoid

Seated Postures

Paschimottanasana
Seated Forward Bend, or Intense West-Side Stretch
[puhsh-chee-moht-tuhn-AHH-suh-nuh]
Paschima means west in Sanskrit, and uttana means intense
stretch. Traditionally, it is considered ideal to face east
for meditation and practice; therefore,
the east side of the body is viewed
as the front, whereas the west
side is viewed as the back.
Literally translated, then,
paschimottanasana means
intense stretch of the
westor, in this case, of
the back side of the body.

Description
This is a seated, full forward bend. The legs are outstretched in front of the body, and the torso is folded forward at
the hips and, to the best of the students ability, resting on the front of the legs.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones. Anchor into the backs of the heels.

Benefits






Calms and soothes the nervous system.


Stretches the hamstrings and the entire back, both in the passive and the active variations.
Stimulates circulation to the liver, kidneys, and reproductive organs.
Improves digestion.
Can relieve some symptoms of menstrual discomfort and menopause.
May alleviate headache, anxiety, and fatigue.
Can help relievehigh blood pressure, infertility, insomnia, and sinusitis.

Caution
Back injuryPerform this pose with the back straight and little or no forward bend. Until the student is strong
enough to release the spine while sitting, the pose should be practiced with modification or replaced by a
different pose.
Intestinal discomfortDue to the pressure created in the abdomen, students with intestinal discomfort should
refrain from practicing this pose until the discomfort passes.

183

Verbal Cues
Active
From Dandasana (Staff Pose), inhale and sit tall. Roll your upper legs toward each other slightly and reach your
sit bones back so that your pelvis tilts slightly forward. Inhale and raise both arms overhead.
Expand the space between your front hip points (anterior superior iliac spines) and your navel. Exhale and begin
to flex at your hips, like a hinge. Fold forward only as much as is comfortable without rounding your upper
back. Stop at the first sign of resistance or tightness and soften into that space.
Place your hands on the ground beside your hips and use your arms to help lengthen your spine. Keep your
ears aligned with the top of your shoulders.
Gently reach your hands toward your feet and hold wherever you comfortably can while maintaining an elongated back.
Inhale, lift, and open your chest, arching back slightly. Roll your upper arms out,imagining your collarbones
expanding away from each other, and continue to lengthen the front of your torso. Move your ribs forward
and up slightly,and soften your shoulders away from your ears. Maintain length in your throat and the back
of your neck.

Resting
Exhale and slowly roll down your spine from the bottom to the top, relaxing your torso over your legs.
Soften your abdomen and find your breath moving into the back of your body. Relax your shoulders away from
your ears and keep your neck soft. Visualize your body sinking into the earth.
Imagine your breath moving into any place that is resistant or holding tension
and release that area completely. Soften the back of your neck to feel more
lengthening between your shoulder blades.
To exit this position, place your hands on the ground beside your
hips. Inhale and press down through your hands as you slowly lift
your torso and head.

Adjustments
FeetThe students feet are generally not of much concern in this
pose; however, if the student can reach the hands beyond the feet,
then you can help the person deepen the posture. Instruct the
student to bring the feet together and draw the toes toward the
head. You can assist by gently pressing up against the bottom of
the toes.
LegsIf the students knees are bent, check for proper back
alignment and support. It is better to have the student back
Adjustment: spine; shoulders.
off, focus on the legs, and sit more upright than to let the
student struggle with tight hamstrings. Note: If the student has
finished with the active phase of the posture and is resting, he or she may
UNSTABLE
bend the knees slightly as a modification, as long as the body remains
relaxed. Instruct the student to bring the legs as close together as
is comfortable.
HipsIf tight hamstrings prevent the forward bend from starting
in the hips, modify with a strap (see the modifications section).
SpineStudents often have trouble keeping the back straight. To
help a student lengthen the spine, squat or kneel behind the
student and place the heels of your hands at the bottom edge of
her or his rib cage. Lift, ever so lightly, as the student exhales.
This action helps tilt the pelvis forward and lengthens through
the lower back. Do not press downward on a student in this
Unstable and possibly harmful alignment: spine and
shoulders rounded.
position; doing so may result in back injury!
184

Seated Postures

ShouldersIf a students back is rounded, the shoulders will usually be rounded as well. To help the student roll the
fronts of the shoulders open, kneel behind the student and place a hand on each shoulder with your fingers draped
just in front of the junction of the arm, shoulder, and chest. Use your hands to gently draw the collarbones apart
and lightly press the shoulders down. At the same time, you can softly press your knee into the students mid back,
thus lifting the chest and opening the shoulders.
NeckThe students neck should be actively aligned with the spine in the active phase of the pose and should be
relaxed in the resting phase. The key is to keep space in the neck between the
head and shoulders regardless of the phase.

Modifications
Spinal weaknessWhen practicing this pose, it is common to use a prop,
such as a strap, pillow, or folded blanket. A blanket or bolster propped
under the hips takes some of the pressure and work off of a weak or
rounded back.
Tight hamstrings or hipsStudents benefit greatly when they sit
propped up on a blanket or bolster. This positioning helps tilt the
front pelvis forward to ease the hamstrings and lower back. If
a student cannot reach the hands to the feet, offer the student
a strap to wrap around the feet. The strap allows the student
to get an extra stretch in the shoulders and lateral torso. The
student should not grasp the strap tightly, because doing so
Modification: tight hamstrings or hips.
tightens the upper body in the pose.

Kinematics
If a student is very close to bringing the chest down to the legs, you can assist in deepening the flexion. However,
when applying adjustments in this posture, be certain that your hand placement and the movement of the adjustment
are mechanically sound. Never press down on the students spine to deepen the forward bend! Doing so would put
excessive strain on the spinal ligaments and discs.
To begin, kneel behind the student and lightly place your palms flat against the students upper pelvis with your
fingers pointing toward the ground. Keep your hands in position and gently lift and lengthen the pelvis toward the
direction of the head. The pelvis will not actually lift, but the motion will elongate the lower spine and help the student
flex at the hip joint, rather than allowing the low spine to round. Also, make certain that you move according to the
students breath pattern; actively provide the adjustments as the student exhales to keep the energy flow.

Paschimottanasana
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus (C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum


longus (C, I)

Muscles released

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Thigh

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hamstrings

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, sartorius, rectus femoris


(C, I)

Deep external rotators, hamstrings, gluteus maximus

Hip flexion more than 120


degrees

Rectus abdominis (C, I)

Spinal extension,
stability

Erector spinae (E, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum,
erector spinae (I)

Torso

Quadratus lumborum, erector


spinae

(continued)
185

Paschimottanasana (continued)
Body segment
Shoulder

Kinematics

Muscles active

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids and mid trapezius (C, I)

Scapular stability

Serratus anterior

Humeral flexion

Deltoids, pectoralis major, biceps


brachii, coracobrachialis, supra
spinatus (C, I)

Postural support in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus and teres minor with


some posterior deltoid (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Hand and fingers Finger flexion

Flexor digitorum profundus and


superficialis, flexor digiti minimi
and brevis, interossei palmaris (C, I)

Neck

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis, upper
trapezius (C, I)

Head extension, stability

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

186

Muscles released
Latissimus dorsi

Biceps brachii, brachioradialis,


brachialis

Seated Postures

Gomukhasana
Cows Face Pose
[go-mook-AHH-suh-nuh]
Go in Sanskrit means cow, and mukha is the word for face. At first glance, this pose
may not seem to resemble the face of the gentle and symbolically nurturing creature
after which it is named. You may see the pattern, however, if you look at your image in
the mirror while practicing this pose. The arms are like a cows ears, and the legs form the
shape of a cows mouth.

Description
In this seated asana, the legs are on the ground, stacked in front of the
hips with the knees bent. One knee is folded on top of the other, aligned
with the middle of the body. The spine is upright, and the arms are bent,
with one elbow pointed up and the other pointed down as the
hands reach toward each other and bind behind the back. Note:
Sometimes the two halves of the pose are done separately.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra
(Svadhisthana) creative energy, fourth chakra (Anahata) heartopening energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones. Anchor into the outer thigh
of the leg resting on the ground.

Benefits




Opens the chest and shoulders.


Improves circulation.
Stretches the arms and wrists.
Relieves discomfort for headache sufferers and postnatal women.
Relieves sciatica.

Cautions
Hip replacementsStudents with a hip replacement are advised not to cross the legs over the midline of the
body. They may practice the arm portion of the posture and sit in any other comfortable position.
Shoulder injuryAdvise students with any shoulder injury to use caution. For students with rotator-cuff tears,
the anterior shoulder of the bottom arm is usually sensitive and tight in this pose, thus making it inadvisable for
them to rotate the arm externally. Students with a history of shoulder dislocation should modify the pose with
the use of a strap so that the hand does not reach as far behind the back.

Verbal Cues
From Dandasana (Staff Pose), exhale and bend your right knee, drawing your thigh toward your chest. Cross
your right foot over your left leg, placing your foot on the ground outside your left thigh as close to the hip as
is comfortable.
187

Externally rotate your left leg so that your left little toe moves toward the ground. Flex your left knee and bring
your left heel to the outside of your right hip.
Exhale and relax your right hip, allowing your knee to rotate externally and rest on the top of your left knee.
Draw your right foot as close to your left hip as is comfortable.
Dorsiflex your feet so that the toes point toward your knees. Root through
your sit bones and settle into the stability of your pelvis. With each exhalation, relax your legs more.
Inhale and reach your right arm overhead so that your upper arm aligns
with your ear. Externally rotate the arm, pointing the thumb away from
your body.
Soften your right shoulder and bend your right elbow. Slide the palm of
your right hand down your back to the lowest vertebra you can comfortablyreach. Inhale and lift the elbow toward the sky, being mindful not to
push your head forward.
Extend your left arm out to the side with your palm facing up. Keep the
front of your shoulder rolled open and place your left hand to the ground
behind you. Rotate (pronate) your lower arm so that the palm faces away
from your body. Bend your left elbow and reach the back of your left hand up
your spine toward your right hand. If your hands touch, bind them together.
If not, simply focus on pointing your elbows in opposite directionsthe
right elbow to the sky, the left one to the ground.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Inhale and lift your chest upward to keep your spine elongated. Exhale
and let your shoulders relax. Feel the space opening between your
ears and shoulders, keeping your neck long yet soft.
To exit this posture, inhale and release your fingers. Slowly bring
both hands down to your sides. Exhale and lift your right knee off of To prepare the shoulders for the bind,
your left. Lean back slightly and straighten your left leg, then your extend your left arm out to the side with
right leg, and prepare for the next side.
your palm facing up.

Adjustments
BackIf the students upper back is rounded, kneel behind the student, place the palms of your hands just below
the scapulae, and slowly press the rib cage forward and up.
ArmsIf the students elbows are abducted and aligned wider than shoulder-width apart, place
your hands against the outsides of the upper arms, near the shoulders, and gently press the
arms closer toward the students midline.
HandsIf the students hands do not touch but are very close, you may be able, with
the students permission, to move the hands the extra distance to enable them to
meet. Kneel behind the student and place your hands on the students upper arms,
just above the elbows. Carefully and slowly, press the hands closer together.

Modifications
HipsIf the hips are not level on the ground, place a blanket under the lower
hip. As an option, the student can sit on the foot of the bottom leg to raise the
hip level.
Hip replacementInstruct the student to sit in any comfortable position where
the thighs do not cross over each other.
Tight shouldersIf a student cannot reach the hands together without assistance, ask the student to hold the ends of a strap between the hands.
Modification: tight shoulders.

188

Seated Postures

Kinematics
Gomukhasana provides an excellent stretch for the triceps. If a student is unable to touch the hands together, it is
beneficial for the student to use a strap of some type between the hands. The strap allows the student to hold the arm
positioning with much more ease. Remind the student to keep a fairly relaxed grip on the strap so as not to tighten
the arms.

Gomukhasana (Right Elbow Up, Left Elbow Down)


Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus (I)

Lower leg

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum


longus (C, I)

Thigh

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas (C, I)

Initial external rotation, adduction

Adductors, sartorius (E)

Initial external rotation

Gluteus medius, deep external rotators* (C, I, R)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus lumborum, hamstrings (I)

Torso stability

Rectus abdominis, internal and


external obliques, transverse
abdominis (C, I)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum


(C, I)

Sternoclavicular stability

Subclavius (I)

Horizontal flexion of humerus

Pectoralis major, coracobrachialis,


anterior and middle deltoid (C, I)

Stability and external rotation of


humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor (C, I)

Supporting posture in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

Torso

Shoulder (R)

Muscles released

Adductors, tensor fascia lata, gluteus medius and minimus

Latissimus dorsi, trapezius, pectoralis major and minor

Scapular stability, lateral rotation Serratus anterior (I)


Shoulder (L)

Hyperextension and adduction


of humerus

Latissimus dorsi, teres major (C, I)

Stability and external rotation of


humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior


deltoid (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm (R)

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Lower arm (L)

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus (C, I)

Hand
and fingers

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, extensor digiti


minimi brevis, dorsal interossei (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor pollicis


(C, I)

Neck extension

Splenius capitus and cervicis, suboccipitals, semispinalis (I)

Neck

Anterior deltoid, upper trapezius,


levator scapulae, subscapularis

Triceps brachii

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right (in the body segment column) or relaxed
(in the muscles active column).

189

Paripurna Navasana
Full Boat Pose
[par-ee-POUR-nuh naah-VAAH-suh-nuh]
Paripurna means full or complete, and nava is
Sanskrit for ship or boat. The shape of the body
in Navasana resembles a boat with the oars balanced
in the water.

Description
Navasana is a seated jackknife balancing position. The legs are
raised off the ground with straight knees, and the toes hover at
eye level. The spine is straight and reclined slightly, and the arms
are extended parallel to the ground.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, third
chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones. For those with stronger abdominals and no low-back concerns, the rootcan move
back more fully onto the sacrum.

Benefits



Strengthens the thighs, hips, abdominal muscles, and back; targets the core musculature.
Massages the internal organs.
Stimulates digestion.
Builds balance and concentration.

Caution
Pregnancy or injuryPregnant or injured students are advised to avoid this posture.
Intestinal discomfortDue to the pressure created in the abdomen, students with intestinal discomfort should
refrain from practicing this pose until the discomfort passes.

Verbal Cues
From Dandasana (Staff Pose), exhale and bend your knees, bringing them toward your chest. Keep the soles
of your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands on the backs of your thighs and lift your chest as you inhale.
Keep your spine long and your shoulders relaxed.
Exhale and begin to recline your torso with your spine straight. Feel your abdominal muscles and hip flexors
engage to support your spine and notice your balance shifting toward the backs of your sit bones.
On an exhalation, slowly lift your feet off the ground, keeping your knees flexed. Balance here between your
sit bones and your tailbone and slowly take your hands away from the backs of your thighs, bringing your arms
to your sides parallel to the ground.

190

Seated Postures

If this position feels comfortably challenging, stay here and focus on your breath. If your back feels fatigued but
your abdominals feel strong, bring your hands again to the backs of your thighs for support.
If you feel strong and comfortable, especially in your low back, then roll farther back onto your sacrum so that
there is more activity in your abdominal muscles. Remain relaxed in your shoulders, with a long torso.
Continue to focus on your breath.
To go further, into the full Navasana (Paripurna Navasana),
place your hands behind your thighs again. Use your arms
to hold onto your legs to assist or relieve your low back
and legs. Exhale and gradually straighten your knees,
bringing your toes to eye level. Look toward your toes
with a soft gaze.
If and when you feel ready, release your hands so that
your arms are once again parallel to the ground. Breathe
length and strength from your sit bones to your hands
and feet. You are in full Navasana if you are breathing!
To exit the position, exhale and slowly lower your feet
back to the ground and sit upright. To rest your thighs and
abdominal muscles, lower your legs into Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle) and rest before the next posture.

Adjustments

Adjustment: spine.

SpineIt often takes a little practice before a student has


enough strength to keep the spine from rounding. If the torso is collapsing inward, direct your student to maintain spinal alignment by
keeping the hands behind the thighs and focusing on the breath
while continuing to elongate the torso. Another option is to kneel
behind the student and lightly support the spine with your knee
or palm in order to create more length and support.
LegsIf the students legs are shaking and the student is having difficulty keeping the legs extended, kneel beside the student and place
your closest forearm under the calves to support the legs briefly. Place
your other arm behind the students back to support the spine,
as well. Supporting the legs enables the student to straighten
the legs more fully and build strength.
Adjustment: legs.

Modifications
Weakness or fatigueFor a weak or tired student, the intensity of the pose can
be reduced by bending the knees. Also, to build strength, instruct the student to
keep the feet on the ground while reclining for a few breaths at a time.
Building strengthThe student can use the arms for support by placing the hands
on the ground behind the hips with the elbows bent. Instruct the student to raise
one leg while maintaining the integrity of the upper body. After a few breaths,
the student can switch to the other side.
Tailbone concernsOccasionally, a student complains of tailbone pain when
reclining in this asana. First, instruct the student to sit on a folded blanket. If
this does not alleviate the pain, skip this pose altogether, or instruct the student
to recline only somewhat and to focus on lifting the feet off the ground while
Modification: weakness or fatigue.
maintaining an elongated spine.

191

Kinematics
For students who are new or weaker, the balance point of the body falls between the ischial tuberosities (sit bones)
and the tailbone. If the body is balanced above the tailbone, higher onto the pelvis, the likelihood of flexion in the
lumbar spine increases, as does the possibility of injury. For more experienced or stronger students, balancing on
the flattened sacrum provides more concentrated strengthening of the abdominals; it is important that these students
do not have any lumbar or sacral concerns.

Paripurna Navasana
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus (I)

Lower leg

Plantar flexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus (C, I)

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus

Thigh

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hamstrings

Thigh adduction

Adductors, gracilis (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris (C, I)

Torso

Spinal extension, stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, latissimus dorsi (C, I)

Humerus flexion

Pectoralis major, anterior deltoid,


coracobrachialis (C, I)

Joint stability

Trapezius, rhomboids, teres


minor (I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension, stability

Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis, triceps brachii (E, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris,
extensor digitorum (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Neck extension against gravity

Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes
(C, I)

Shoulder

Neck

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

192

Muscles released

Seated Postures

Baddha Konasana
Bound Angle Pose
[BUD-dhuh kohn-AAH-suh-nuh]
Baddha is Sanskrit for bound, and kona means angle. This posture is
often called Cobblers Pose because it replicates the traditional seated
position for East Indian shoemakers. The shoemakers used the feet to
hold a shoe so that both hands were free. The pose is also referred
to as Butterfly Pose by teachers who do not use Sanskrit terms in
their teaching and in childrens classes.

Description
In this seated asana, the knees are bent and the legs rotated
externally with the soles of the feet either pressed together or held
together with the hands to make a seal or lock.
Variations of this posture involve making the
space between the ankles and the groin
more or less open.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding
energy, second chakra (Svadhisthana)
creative energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones. Anchor into the outer legs and the outsides of the feet. Connect with the energy
of the heels and toes of each foot pressing together.

Benefits






Promotes wellness in the urinary and reproductive organs.


Increases general circulation by stretching the major arteries and lymph glands in the groin, legs, and thighs.
Stretches the adductor muscles of the thighs.
Relieves mild depression symptoms.
Can help alleviate pain from sciatica.
Relieves discomfort for pregnant and menstruating women.
Helps ease childbirth, if practiced regularly.

Caution
Knee, hip, or groin injuryStudents with such an injury should use modifications andprops.

Verbal Cues
From Dandasana (Staff Pose), exhale and bring your knees toward your chest. Inhale and let the outside of your
knees slowly lower toward the ground.

193

Root through your sit bones with your body weight evenly distributed to both sides. Inhale and keep your spine
lifted and strong, and reach your tailbone and sit bones slightly back toward the end of your mat by slightly
folding the front pelvis forward. Settle back firmly on the base of your pelvis.
Bring your hands to the ground beside your hips and press the soles of your feet together. Feel your knees move
slightly closer to the ground as you exhale softly. Press lightly into your arms to open more length through the
sides without lifting your hips off the ground.
Maintain the length in your spine and place your hands on your ankles or clasp your fingers around your feet,
keeping your shoulders relaxed.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Inhale deeply to elongate your torso. On your next exhalation, fold forward from your hips, feeling your pelvis
rock forward. Imagine lowering your chest toward the ground beyond your feet. Soften your shoulders and continue to keep your hands around your ankles or feet for leverage. Feel free to gently press your elbows against
your inner legs to help open your thighs slightly more. You can also place your hands on the groundhowever
you are most comfortable.
If your hips feel comfortable, use your hands to draw the soles of your feet open toward the sky. This action
gently rolls your outer legs closer to the ground, thus opening the groin more deeply. Place your hands on your
mid thighs and gently rotate your thighs externally to open them. As always, when you inhale, lengthen your
spine and extend the crown of your head beyond your feet.
To exit this posture, place your hands to the ground beside your hips. Press firmly through your arms and inhale
as you lift slowly through your chest and the crown of your head. Exhale and stretch your legs out in front of
you as you move back into Dandasana.

Adjustments
FeetInstruct the student to actively press the outer edges of the soles of the feet together. Gently brush the feet with
your hands as a reminder.
KneesIf the student has difficulty lowering the knees to the ground, help the student roll the soles of the feet up
by pressing the tops of the feet toward the ground. Instruct the student to open the soles of the feet as if opening a
book. This action rotates both legs externally.
SpineTo help support the students back, sit or kneel behind the student with your shin against the back. Place your
hands lightly on the mid thighs while gently rotating the legs externally. Press
your shoulder or knee lightly against the students spine and lift. This action
encourages length in the back.

Modifications
Groin or knee injuryPlace blocks or blankets under the students outer
knees and hips for support.
Tight hipsInstruct the student to make the knee angle larger by moving
the feet farther from the body. The student may also keep the feet
slightly apart for comfort. Most students with tight hips also benefit
greatly from propping the outer legs as in the previous modification.
Weak or injured spinePlace the student on the back for spinal
support but open the angle between the legs to stretch the groin.
This positioning is called Supta Baddha Konasana(Reclining Bound
Angle). If this positioning still creates a strain on the spine, instruct
the student to lie on the ground with the legs against a wall and
place the soles of the feet together while gently pressing the knees
toward the wall.
PregnancyPlace stacked bolsters, blankets, or a chair in front of
the student and have her rest her arms and forehead on the prop for
support. This modification works well for all seated forward bends. Modification: groin or knee injury.
194

Seated Postures

Kinematics
In this posture, it is sometimes difficult for students to recognize why the knees do not come all the way down to the
ground. Common sense would suggest that tight adductors are the culprits, and this is true in many cases. However,
other factors are often involved as wellspecifically, tight hip rotators and individual anatomical differences.
For students with tight hips, the forward-bend portion of the asana is made possible by a coordinated effort
between the hip flexors (iliopsoas and rectus femoris), the spinal extensors (erector spinae), and sometimes the arms.
The forward bend is initiated by an eccentric contraction of the spinal muscles; if initiated with an exhalation, the
contraction of the abdominal muscles also aids reciprocally in allowing the spinal muscles to soften. Then, to aid
in the flexion, the hip flexors contract concentrically to help draw the torso down farther. Because of the external
rotation of the femurs, the angle of contraction in the flexors may not allow a person to lower any farther without
using the arms to draw the torso down as well. Students should keep the shoulders relaxed when using the arms and
should not force the torso downward.

Baddha Konasana
Body segment
Foot and toes

Kinematics
Toe extension

Muscles active

Lower leg

Ankle inversion

Anterior tibialis (C, I)

Thigh

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, quadriceps (C, I)

Initiates external rotation

Adductors (E)

External rotation

Deep external rotators,* gluteus


medius (C, I)

Flexion, external rotation

Sartorius (C, I)

Spine extension, stability

Erector spinae, semispinalis, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis (C, I)

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids major and minor,


mid trapezius (C, I)

Postural support in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow flexion

Brachialis, biceps brachii,


brachioradialis (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Finger and thumb flexion

Flexor digiti minimi brevis, interossei dorsales manus and palmaris, opponens digiti minimi,
flexor pollicis brevis (C, I)

Neck

Neck extension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


cervical erector spinae, semi
spinalis (I)

Torso

Shoulder

Muscles released

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus (I)
Peroneals
Iliopsoas, quadriceps (after external rotation), gracilis, sartorius

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

195

Upavishtha Konasana
Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend
[oo-puh-VISH-tuh kohnAAH-suh-nuh]
Upavishtha means seated or
sitting in Sanskrit; kona means angle.

Description
Upavishtha Konasana is a seated straddle position. With the legs outstretched from the center, the torso folds forward
toward the ground from the hips.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra (Svadhisthana) creative energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones. Anchor into the backs of the heels.

Benefits



Opens the hips.


Stretches the groin, hamstrings, and low back.
Stimulates digestion.
In a complete forward bend, deeply stretches the hips and lengthens the torso.

Cautions
Back pain or injuryPractice with modification or skip the pose.
Advanced pregnancy (where the belly gets in the way of folding forward)Practice with the use of props to
support the abdomen and back.

Verbal Cues
From Dandasana (Staff Pose), inhale and move your legs apart as wide as you comfortably can, making sure
that the stretch in the groin is not intense. Point your tailbone and sit bones toward the back of your mat, which
will tilt the front of your pelvis slightly forward.
Root the fronts of your sit bones into the ground and imagine energy drawing from the top of your head downward toward your hips. Point your toes and knees up. Breathe deeply and slowly and lift your rib cage away
from your hips.
Inhale and reach your arms up and then out to your sides as you expand your chest. Gaze forward with your
chin parallel to the ground and your ears aligned over your shoulders.
As you keep your chin and chest lifted, exhale and fold slowly forward from your hips. Maintain length in
your spine as you bring your chest closer to the ground. Stop at the first point of resistance and breathe length
through your entire spine. Keep your chest open and your upper back long.
Lower your arms and place your hands above or below your knees or on the ground in front of your legs. Press
lightly down into your hands and use this energy to support your back and rib cage as you lift the chest higher,
slightly arching the back. Exhale and fold forward more deeply from the hip joints.
196

Seated Postures

Continue to focus on your breath.


When you get to the point where you feel that you want to relax your back, stay in this position and breathe
deeply, allowing your breath to loosen and soften your muscles. Imagine the breath
expanding between your vertebrae and ribs.
On the next exhalation, allow your body to completely relax. Make certain that
your spine feels comfortable and use your hands or a prop for support.
To exit this posture, bring your hands to your mid thighs and press down slowly
but firmly. Inhale and lift through your chest and the crown of your
head, coming once again to a seated position. Exhale and bring
your legs together again in Dandasana. Roll your thighs in and
out to loosen your hip joints and hamstrings.

Adjustments
KneesIf the student needs to bend the knees slightly for comfort,
seat the student on folded blankets or a bolster to help lift the
hips and decrease stress on the hamstrings and low back.
SpineIf the student rounds the spine in the forward fold,
cue the student to sit upright slowly and begin again. Kneel
behind the student and place your hand lightly on the mid
back and encourage length by moving the fingers up the spine
Adjustment: spine.
toward the head.

Modifications
Tight back or hamstringsSeat the student on a folded blanket or bolster to
help tilt the pelvis slightly forward. You can also invite the student to keep
the knees bent slightly or place a small rolled-up towel behind the knees.
PregnancyHelp the student keep the abdomen open and not compressed. Place a chair or stacked blankets in front of the student for
her to rest her hands on. As the student flexes forward slightly, the
support of the chair allows her to keep the torso upright. The student
may also rest her arms and head on a chair with a pillow for
relaxation. Many students also find a soft bolster or pillow
under the growing abdomen to be comfortably supportive.
Weakness or injuryModify the seated posture to a restorative
one such as Viparita Karani (Restorative Legs-Up-the-Wall
Pose), in which the heels and backs of the legs are against a
wall and the back is on the ground.
Modification: pregnancy.

Kinematics
As the upper body flexes forward, people with tight adductors often find that the legs roll into internal rotation. To
help make your students aware of this action, give them an additional verbal cue to keep the knees and toes pointing
upward or slightly externally rotated. Remind students to focus the breath softly into the groin and hamstrings if they
feel any tightness in these areas, and not to push beyond the first point of resistance.

197

Upavishtha Konasana
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus (C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus (C, I)

Thigh

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion over 120 degrees

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris (C, I)

Thigh abduction, stability

Tensor fascia lata, gluteus medius Adductors, gracilis


and minimus (C, I)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


transverse abdominis (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids major and minor,


mid trapezius (C, I)

Humerus horizontal extension

Mid and posterior deltoid, supraspinatus (C, I)

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Joint stability

Subscapularis, teres minor, infraspinatus

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Finger and thumb flexion

Flexor digiti minimi brevis, interossei dorsales manus and palmaris, opponens digiti minimi,
flexor pollicis brevis (C, I)

Neck

Neck extension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


cervical erector spinae (I)

Torso

Shoulder

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

198

Muscles released

Foot and toes

Hamstrings

Pectoralis major

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

Seated Postures

Parighasana
Kneeling Triangle, or Gate Pose
[par-eegh-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, parigha is the word for a crossbar used to lock a gate, which is the shape
of the body in this posture. Physically, this side stretch lengthens the intercostals
(rib muscles) and enables the expansion of the breath. In a metaphysical sense, the
breath is the gateway that connects the mind, body, and spirit.

Description
This intense side stretch is generally practiced in a kneeling position with one leg abducted
and rotated externally. It can also be described as a kneeling version of Utthita Trikonasana
(Extended Triangle). The deeper variation of this posture requires considerable flexibility
in the lateral torso because the hips are lowered onto the ground.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra (Svadhisthana) creative
energy, third chakra (Manipurna) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the knee and the top of the foot of the bent leg. Anchor
into the heel and possibly the toes of the straight leg.

Benefits




Applies a deep lateral stretch to the torso and low back.


Loosens the spine.
Stretches the pelvis and chest.
Strengthens the lateral abdominal muscles.
Aids in digestion.

Cautions
Knee concernsPractice with modifications.
Back concernsThose with back pain or injury should limit the lateral stretch to some degree and use props
for support.

Verbal Cues
From a kneeling position, place your knees hip-width apart with your thighs perpendicular to the ground. Align
your spine and legs as in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Abduct your right leg, keeping it in line with your torso.
Rotate the top of your right thigh externally so that your knee and toes points upward.
If possible, press your right forefoot flat against the ground to help support your balance and stretch the upper
ankle. If this action strains the ankle or causes cramping, allow your toes to lift slightly off the ground. Anchor
into your left knee and right heel.
Stretch your arms out to your sides with your palms facing downward. Inhale and lengthen your spine, reaching
the crown of your head toward the sky.

199

As you exhale, reach your right arm out over your right leg, maintaining length in your
low back. When you have stretched out as far as you comfortably can, slowly lower
your right hand toward the ground without placing any upper body weight on your
right leg. Be sure that your left thigh remains perpendicular to the ground and
does not shift to either side.
Sweep your left arm forward, then reach over your head, bringing your upper arm
close to your left ear. Point your palm toward the midline of your body. Continue to
gaze forward; however, if there is tension in your neck, look down to your right foot.
Continue to focus on your breath.
As you breathe, notice your breath filling your entire torso, lengthening your
sides. Feel the muscles between your ribs expand as your spine continues
to lengthen. Keep your torso aligned over your right leg.
To exit this pose, press your right foot firmly into the ground and sweep
your left hand out to the left side of your body. As you inhale, feel yourself
lifted by your left arm. Exhale and lower your arms to your sides.
Bring your right knee back under your body and prepare to move
to the left side.

Adjustments

Adjustment: extended thigh.

Foot of extended legIf the students foot is not aligned with the hip, the balance will be
compromised. Invite the student to slide the foot back so that the heel is in line with the hip.
Extended thighSquat or kneel behind the student and place one hand on the outer mid
ribcage or the hip of the kneeling leg to provide stability, and the other hand on the
mid thigh of the straight leg. Gently draw the muscles toward you to externally rotate
the leg and open the pelvic region.
Rib cageIf the torso is sinking into the extended thigh, kneel behind the student
and lightly place your hand on the outer portion of the rib cage. Cue the student
to lengthen the spine and draw the ribs away from your hand.
ShouldersTo help open the chest and shoulders, squat or kneel behind the
student, place your nearest hand on the students upper arm, and slowly
rotate the arm externally. Cue the student to maintain length in the neck.

Modifications
Knee painIf the student has difficulty placing the total body weight on the
knees, double up the mat or place other padding under the joint.
Modification: tight back or sides.
Tight hamstrings or adductorsInstruct the student to keep the extended
knee slightly bent.
Tight back or sidesIf the student is unable to reach the ground with the
bottom hand, place a block or other prop to the outside of the extended
leg. This modification allows the student to keep weight off of
the leg yet remain balanced.
Posture deepeningInstead of keeping the thigh of the bent
knee perpendicular to the ground, the hips can be flexed so
Modification: deepening the pose.
that the sit bones rest on the ground. If flexibility allows, the
hands can reach overhead toward the foot of the straight leg. This variation should be practiced only by students
with sufficient range of motion in the hips and knees to allow for deepening the asana comfortably.

Kinematics
The upper-body and hip mechanics of this posture are similar to those in Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle),
except that this is a kneeling posture. As with Trikonasana, the emphasis here is to keep the torso mainly in the frontal
plane and to continue to encourage length in the spine.
200

Seated Postures

Parighasana (Leg Abducted to Right Side)


Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Foot and toes (R)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexors digitorum and hallucis


longus, flexor digitorum brevis
(C, I)

Foot and toes (L)

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum longus,


extensor hallucis longus, anterior
tibialis (C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Ankle plantar flexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus (C, I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle plantar flexion and stability

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus, peroneals (C, I)

Thigh (R)

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Thigh (L)

Knee flexion

Hamstrings, gastrocnemius (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip abduction and external


rotation

Tensor fascia lata, deep external


rotators,* gluteus medius and
minimus (C, I)

Hamstrings, adductors

Hip and pelvis (L)

Hip extension, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Iliopsoas, quadriceps

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, hamstrings,


quadratus lumborum (I)

Torso

Trunk stability

Rectus abdominis, internal and


external obliques, transverse
abdominis (I)

Torso (L)

Lateral flexion to right

Quadratus lumborum, erector


spinae, internal and external
obliques (E, I)

Shoulder (R)

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Humerus horizontal flexion

Middle and posterior deltoid,


supraspinatus (C, I)

Humerus flexion

Anterior deltoids, pectoralis


major, biceps brachii (C, I)

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm (R)

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Forearm extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis longus


and brevis, extensor carpi ulnaris
(C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Hand and fingers


(L)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Neck

Neck extension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


sternocleidomastoid, scalenes (I)

Shoulder (L)

Hand and fingers


(R and L)

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus, anterior tibialis

Quadratus lumborum, erector


spinae, latissimus dorsi, internal
and external obliques

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

201

Virasana
Hero Pose
[veer-AAH-suh-nuh]
Vira is Sanskrit for hero or champion. In Hindu mythology, the thighsare
an extremely important part of the body, signifying virility and power. This
pose focuses an intense stretch in the front thighs (quadriceps).

Description
Virasana is a deep kneeling posture in which the hips are seated on the
ground between the feet. Variations of this asana are used to sit in certain
styles of meditation.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones as they rest either on the ground, on a
prop, or on the backs of the calves. Anchor into the tops of the feet and the shins.

Benefits




Helps alleviate calcaneal (heel) spurs and strengthens the arches.


Stretches the quadriceps and ankles.
Helps alleviate arthritis pain in the feet and ankles.
Provides good spinal support for meditation (better than sitting cross-legged).
Stimulates digestion.

Cautions
Acute knee injuryStudents with undiagnosed knee pain should not practice this posture. Others with a knee
injury should proceed cautiously and with modifications.
Circulatory concernsStudents with cardiac or other circulation concerns should avoid this pose.

Verbal Cues
Kneel on the ground with your knees approximately hip-distance apart. Rest the tops of your feet against the
ground with your toes pointed directly backward.
Exhale as you begin to slowly lower your hips toward your heels. Place your hands on your upper calves and
rotate the bulk of your calf muscles away from the midline of your body. This action helps relax the knees as
you lower farther and opens up space in whichto place your hips.
Keep your knees aligned and your spine lengthened as you lower your hips onto the ground between your
ankles. If you notice your knees splaying, focus on drawing your inner thighs toward each other. This action
will also provide an anchoring sensation in your pelvis.
Inhale and lift your chest and the crown of your head upward. Roll your shoulders back and relax them to keep
your chest expanding with your breath. Gaze softly forward, keeping length in the sides of your neck.

202

Seated Postures

Rest your hands at your sides or on top of your thighs. Breathe deeply and continue to relax your shoulders.
Continue to focus on your breath, and feel your hips soften with each exhalation.
To exit the position, place your hands on the ground beside your legs. Slowly shift your pelvis to one side and
rest on the side of your hip. Extend your knees as you sweep your feet forward, bringing you into Dandasana. Roll your ankles in both directions
in order to loosen your knees and hips. Prepare for your next pose.

Adjustments
FeetEnsure that the students toes are not pointing out to the sides.
If they are, instruct the student to come back into a kneeling position
with the tops of the feet on the ground and the inner ankles against the
side of the hips.
KneesTake care that the students knees are as close together as possible. Kneel in front of the student and place your hand lightly between
the knee joints. Instruct the student to press against your hand with both
knees. Remove your hand and instruct the student to keep the
pressure constant.
ShouldersRemind the student to keep length in the spine
with the front shoulders rolled back. To help establish
length in the upper spine, kneel or semi-squat behind
the student, press your knee or palm lightly against the Adjustment: shoulders.
students spine, and lift gently. Place your opposite hand on the students nearest shoulder
to help encourage openness in the chest.

Modifications
Foot pain or tight anklesIf the student has a foot or ankle injury or complains of
feeling uncomfortable with the top of the feet against the ground, place a folded
blanket under the front of the ankle joint. It may also help to place
the hips on a folded blanket or block.
Knee painPlace a folded blanket or a block under the students hips to open the angle under the knees. This action
decreases pressure on the knee joints. Another possible modification is to bend only one knee at a time, especially if the
student has pain or injury in one leg. From the low lunging
position, instruct the student to extend one leg forward and
lower the hips to the ground behind. Depending on the
students flexibility, she or he may wish to place a block
or blanket under the hip of the straight leg.
Posture deepeningInstruct the student to interlace
the fingers and press the palms out. Then have the
student inhale and reach the hands over the head.
On an exhalation, cue the student to bring the hands
behind the hips and slightly recline the spine to
achieve a deeper stretch in the quadriceps.

Modification: knee pain.

Modification: knee pain.

Kinematics
Sometimes a student rotates the lower legs externally in order to rest the pelvis on the ground between the heels.
This action creates a risk of injury in the medial knee structures. Always check that the front of the shins is resting
flat on the ground and that the calves and feet do not rotate externally.

203

Virasana
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum longus (I)

Lower leg

Ankle plantar flexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus (I, R)

Internal rotation

Posterior tibialis (I)

Thigh

Knee flexion

Quadriceps (E, R)

Quadriceps

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(E, R)

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus

Torso

Spine extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis (C, I)

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Humerus adduction

Latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major


(C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi ulnaris, radialis


longus and brevis (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (I)

Neck

Neck extension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


cervical erector spinae (I)

Shoulder

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, and R = relaxed.

204

Muscles released

Foot and toes

Anterior tibialis, peroneals

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris

Seated Postures

Bharadvajasana
Bharadvajas Pose
[bhuh-RUHD-vaah-JAAH-suh-nuh]
In Hindu mythology, Bharadvaja was one of the legendary Seven Seers. He was
also the father of Drona, a great military leader who fought the war chronicled
in the Mahabharata.

Description
Bharadvajasana is a gentle, seated twist that can be practiced with the legs
in a sideways, leaning Virasana (Hero Pose) or with one leg in Virasana
and the other in Ardha Padmasana (Half-Lotus Pose).

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, third chakra (Manipura)
vitalizing energy, fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-opening energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones. In the basic position, anchor into
the outside of the leg resting on the ground. In the deeper expression
of the pose, anchor into the outside of the leg resting on the ground
and press the top of the foot into the opposite hip.

Benefits





Stretches and strengthens the low spine.


Stretches the neck, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles.
Massages the internal organs.
Helps relieve sciatica pain.
Improves digestion.
Helps relieve anxiety.

Cautions
Acute knee concernsStudents with acute knee concerns should practice only the basic variation or use modifications.
Acute spinal concernsStudents with spinal concerns should limit rotation in the spine.
Intestinal discomfortDue to the pressure created in the abdomen, students with intestinal discomfort should
refrain from practicing this pose until the discomfort passes.

Verbal Cues
From Virasana (Heros Pose), shift your body weight to your right hip and lower the hip to the ground. Keep
your legs together and allow your left ankle to rest on top of the arch of your right foot.
Inhale and lengthen your spine as you settle your hips more comfortably onto the ground. Exhale and bring your
right hand to the ground behind your hip. Reach your left hand across your body to the outside of your right leg.

205

As you exhale, focus on keeping the top of your pelvis level with the ground and continue to ground through
your sit bones.
With each inhalation, lengthen your spine, allowing your right arm to aid in keeping your spine perpendicular
to the ground. With each exhalation, lightly press your right shoulder farther back, and rotate the front of the
shoulder away from your chest in order to open more space in this area.
Keep your right shoulder open, and slowly turn your head and look over your left shoulder. Align your chin
with your shoulder without straining your neck. For a deeper stretch in the right side of your neck, slightly lower
your chin toward your left shoulder.
Continue to focus on your breath.
To exit this posture, exhale and slowly turn your head forward. Then inhale and slowly bring your chest forward. Lift your hips back over your heels into Virasana and prepare to practice the pose on the opposite side.

Adjustments
FeetBe sure that the bottom foot is resting on the ground. Cue the student to relax both feet.
HipsIf the top of the students pelvis is not level with the ground, place a blanket under the lower hip. Kneel behind
the student, place your hands softly at the top of the pelvis, and apply light pressure downward. Be aware of the
students comfort level.
SpineRemind the student to lift out of the low spine. Kneel behind the student, gently place your hand on the
rounded spine, and encourage lengthening up.
RotationIf the student has difficulty rotating the shoulder, squat or kneel behind the student and place one hand
on the front of the shoulder joint nearest to you. Place your opposite hand on the students outer rib cage and
gently rotate the shoulder toward you as you gently press the rib cage away. Lightly lift the students spine as you
move the torso.

Modifications
Tight spine or shoulders in the Ardha Padmasana
variationIf the student has difficulty grasping
the toe, wrap a strap around the foot and cue
the student to hold onto the other end with
the hand behind the back.
Pose deepeningThe following variation
is for students who can sit comfortably in
Ardha Padmasana (Half-Lotus Pose). Instruct
students to cross the bottom leg over the
top so that the foot rests in the crease of
the opposite thigh in Ardha Padmasana.
Next, instruct them to reach the hand
farthest from the feet behind the back
and toward the top foot. If possible, students can grab the big toe and use the Modification: tight spine or shoulders
connection for leverage while rotating.
in the Ardha Padmasana variation.

Modification: deepening the posture.

Kinematics
In Bharadvajasana, the spine should remain perpendicular to the ground with all of the natural curves intact. However,
because of tight hip extensors and rotators, some students find that they cannot keep both halves of the pelvis on
the ground. To compensate, the low back curves laterally toward the legs; another compensation is to exaggerate
the forward curve in the low spine (lordosis). For comfort and proper alignment, place a bolster or blanket under the
hip farthest from the legs.

206

Seated Postures

Bharadvajasana (Rotating Torso to Right)


Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus (I)

Lower leg

Ankle stability

Gastrocnemius, soleus, peroneals (I)

Thigh

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas (C, I)

External rotation, stability

Adductors (E, I)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas (C, I)

Internal rotation

Deep external rotators* (E, I)

Spinal stability

Rectus abdominis, transverse


abdominis, quadratus lumborum
(I)

Chest and rib elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Torso (R)

Spinal rotation to right

Internal oblique, erector spinae,


latissimus dorsi (C, I)

External oblique

Torso (L)

Spinal rotation to right

External obliques (C, I)

Quadratus lumborum, internal


oblique, erector spinae

Shoulder (R)

Humeral extension

Posterior deltoid, latissimus dorsi


(C, I)

Pectoralis major

External rotation

Posterior deltoid, teres minor,


infraspinatus (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Torso (R and L)

Deep external rotators,* gluteus


medius

Shoulder (L)

Internal rotation and humeral


Latissimus, posterior deltoid (C, I) Quadratus lumborum
extension (aids in spinal rotation)

Upper arm (R)

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Upper arm (L)

Elbow extension against resistance (also aids in spinal rotation)

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm (R)

Supination

Supinator (C, I)

Lower arm (L)

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Hand and fingers


(R)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi radialis longus


Wrist flexors
and brevis, extensor carpi ulnaris
(C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Wrist flexion

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


palmaris longus (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Neck (R)

Head rotation to right, stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


occipitals, cervical erector
spinae (C, I)

Neck (L)

Head rotation to right

Sternocleidomastoid (C, I)

Hand and fingers


(L)

Sternocleidomastoid

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

207

Padmasana
Lotus Pose
[puhd-MAAH-suh-nuh]
Padma is Sanskrit for lotus flower, which is associated with beauty, spirituality,
and eternity. When meditating in Padmasana, the energy of prana is said to flow
through the chakra centers, which are generally represented as lotus flowers.

Description
Padmasana is an upright, seated position in which the legs are crossed
in front with each ankle resting comfortably on the opposite thigh near
the crease of the hip. This is the quintessential seated asana in hatha
yoga and East Indian meditation. Padmasana is said to connect the
energies of the root chakra and the crown chakra while in meditation.
To sit comfortably in this position, one needs flexible, open hips.
This takes time and practice. Many people, especially in the West,
have inflexible hip joints and cannot easily sit in this position
without much preparatory work. Four variations of Padmasana
are provided here so that students at every level of flexibility can
sit in this restful position.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, seventh chakra (Sahasrara) divine energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly through the sit bones. Anchor into the outer edges of the thighs while resting the outside of each foot
against the opposite thigh.

Benefits




Relieves stiffness in the hips, knees, and ankles.


Strengthens the low spine and abdominal muscles.
Promotes a relaxed, balanced posture.
Increases circulation of interstitial fluids (lymph fluids).
Boosts energy.

Cautions
Acute knee injuryStudents with acute knee concerns should either practice only the basic variation or use
modifications.
Artificial jointsStudents with a hip or knee replacement should either skip this pose or practice only with
modifications.

Verbal Cues
For all variations, emphasize to students that they should each respect the limits of their own body! Even if a student
can normally come into Padmasana quite easily, there may be days when, because of body temperature or fatigue,
the student has difficulty. Remind students to move slowly and to come into the posture only to the point where the
body is most comfortably challenged. In this way, they can sit restfully.
208

Seated Postures

First Variation: Baby Lotus


From Dandasana (Staff Pose), bend your knees, then cross one ankle over the other
and draw your feet in as close to your body as is comfortable. It is fine if your knees
are lifted off the ground. However, if your knees are higher than your hips, it
is best to sit on a folded blanket or bolster.
Elongate your spine and allow your shoulders to relax. Rest your hands on
your lap or down by your hips.
Focus on your breath. Practice this pose on both sides to maintain
balance in your hips.

Second Variation: Sukhasana [soo-KHAAH-suh-nuh] (Easy Pose)


From Dandasana, bend your left knee and draw your heel close to
your right hip. Next, bend your right knee and place your lower leg
in front of your left shin. Your ankles do not cross in this position.
Allow your knees to rotate easily toward the ground. This is generally a precursor to sitting comfortably in Padmasana.
First variation: Baby Lotus.
Elongate your spine and allow your shoulders to relax.
Rest your hands on your lap or down by your hips.
Focus on your breath. Practice this pose on both sides
to maintain balance in your hips.

Third Variation: Ardha Padmasana (Half-Lotus,


or Tailors Seat)
This variation gets to the root of sitting in a deep,
comfortable Padmasana.
From Sukhasana, place your right foot on
top of your left ankle and calf. If you feel
comfortable doing so, wedge your right
foot between your left calf and thigh
to help keep your legs in this position.
Focus on your breath.
If there is no strain in your knee or hip,
lift your light leg up slightly and bring
Second variation: Sukhasana.
your right knee inward toward the
midline of your body. Breathe.
Place your right ankle above your left knee so that your right foot and knee hang
comfortably toward the ground. Move your left foot away from your body by extending your knee slightly.
As comfortably as possible, move your legs so that the knees are at a 90-degree
angle. Lower your top (right) knee toward your left ankle as much as you can
in a relaxed manner. This position is called Agnistambhasana [ugh-NEEstumb-AAH-suh-nuh] (Fire Log Pose). Relax and breathe here for a few
breaths, elongating your spine as you inhale and softening your shoulders
as you exhale.
Turn the sole of your top (right) foot upward; if you can, bring your right
heel slowly toward your navel. Move your right knee even more toward
center. Be sure that the knee feels comfortable.
Rest the top of your right ankle as close to the crease of your left thigh
as is comfortable for you. Relax your right ankle so that the foot hangs
over the outside of the thigh. Your right hip is stretched and open, thus
Third variation: Ardha Padmasana.
allowing the ankle to soften.
209

As you relax your lower body into this posture, be sure to keep your spine straight, lengthened, and relaxed.
Continue to Padmasana or, to exit this variation, extend your bottom leg and then your top leg. Loosen your
hips, knees, and ankles by rolling your legs from side to side. Switch sides.

Fourth Variation: Padmasana (Full Lotus)


From Ardha Padmasana, move your left (lower)leg away from your body
so that the outside of your top thigh rests completely on the ground.
Exhale and, as much as you comfortably can, bring your left foot up
from the ground and draw your left heel in toward your navel. This
action brings your left knee farther forward. Breathe.
If your knees and hips still feel comfortable, inhale and bring your
left ankle into the crease of your right thigh.
Root into your sit bones as you relax your lower body more
deeply into this position. Breathe length through your spine
and relax your shoulders. Place your hands on your mid
thighs with your palms facing upward and keep your arms
relaxed, or bring your hands to your chest into Anjali Mudra.
To exit this posture, slowly straighten your left leg. Roll the
leg from side to side and rotate the ankle around. With the
next breath, extend your right leg and loosen its joints.
Although many people are more comfortable practicing
on one side, it is always a good idea to practice this
posture with the opposite leg positioning in order to
Fourth variation: Padmasana.
keep both sides of the legs and hips loosened.

Adjustments
AnklesStudents often complain of ankle pain when sitting in Ardha Padmasana or variations
in which the ankle is on the ground. To cushion the bones, place a small folded towel under
the foot. Also, if the feet are crossed over the opposite thigh, make sure that the ankles are
not inverted (rolling inward); this positioning places undue stress on the lateral ankle structures. Instruct students to bring the knees more in line with the center or to move out of
the position.
KneesIf much stress is placed on the knees as the adductors relax, place folded blankets,
bolsters, or blocks under the outside of the thighs as a wedge.
SpineIf a student is rounding the back, place a blanket under the hips to lift the pelvis
and lengthen the spine. Place your hand lightly on the spine to cue the student to
sit taller through the spine and chest.

Modifications
Low-back or hip tightness; weakness in all variationsPlace a folded
blanket under the students hips. You can also place the student with his
or her back against a wall for support.
Hip tightnessDepending on the degree of tightness, instruct the student Modification: low back or hip tightness;
weakness.
to keep the legs in the most comfortable and least stressful position.

Kinematics
Many students are so determined to come into either Ardha Padmasana or Padmasana that they place excessive
stress on all of the leg joints, especially the knees. A common error many students make is placing the ankle only
partially across the opposite thigh. If the ankle is not draped over the thigh, the lateral ligaments and tendons become
overstretched. Impress on your students the importance of sitting comfortably and without strain. Also, for students
new to sitting in the full expression of this pose, it is essential to do a thorough warm-up of the hip and thigh muscles.
210

Seated Postures

Padmasana
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Lower leg

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis (C, I)

Thigh

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas (C, I)

External rotation

Adductors (E, R)

Flexion and rotation

Sartorius (C, I)

Spine extension, stability

Erector spinae, semispinalis, quadratus lumborum, (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis (C, I)

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids major and minor,


mid trapezius (C, I)

Postural support in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachioradialis


(R)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (R)

Hand and fingers

Finger flexion

Flexor digiti minimi brevis, interossei palmaris, flexor pollicis


brevis (R)

Neck

Neck extension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


cervical erector spinae, semi
spinalis (I)

Torso

Shoulder

Muscles released

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus (I)
Adductors
Deep external rotators,* adductors

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, and R = relaxed.

211

Tolasana
Scale Pose
[tohl-AHH-suh-nuh]
Tola is the Sanskrit term for a measurement of mass. Because this pose
resembles the balancing platform of a measuring scale, it is named Tolasana.
In Ashtanga practice, this posture is called Utpluti (oot-PLUHT-tee).

Description
This arm-balance pose is generally used as a transition from one asana
to another. Ideally, it is practiced with the legs in Padmasana (Full Lotus)
and the body lifted off the ground and balanced between the hands. This
asana requires strength, balance, and concentration.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, third chakra
(Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the metacarpal heads and fingertips in both hands.
Evenly balance the grounding energy in both hands.

Benefits



Strengthens the abdominal muscles, arms, wrists, and hands.


Increases balance and mental focus.
Increases energy.
Stretches the hips if the legs are in Padmasana.

Cautions
PregnancyDue to the concentrated effort of the lower abdominals, this posture is not recommended beyond
the second trimester.
Extreme weaknessStudents with this condition should practice with modifications to increase strength.
Shoulder or wrist concernsStudents with shoulder or wrist injury should avoid this pose or practice with
modifications.

Verbal Cues
From the variation of Padmasana (Lotus Pose) that best coordinates with your ability, place your hands on the
ground beside your hips. Hug your elbows in toward your rib cage and lightly squeeze your shoulder blades
toward each other to open your chest.
Inhale and lengthen your spine. Widen your fingers and press your hands onto the ground as you focus on
anchoring into your fingertips and the heels of your hands.
Exhale and straighten your elbows while you lift your hips off the ground. Draw your legs inward toward your
lower abdominal area. Distribute your body weight evenly between your hands and feel the strength in your
abdomen aiding your balance.

212

Seated Postures

Encourage a slight bend to your elbows to keep from hyperextending the joints. Relax the tops of your shoulders away from your ears and lift the crown of your head toward the sky. As you inhale, feel your chest lift as
you open the fronts of your shoulders. Continue to be aware of the even balance between your hands, and the
power in your abdominal area.
Keep your breathing smooth and controlled.
To exit the posture, exhale and bend your elbows to slowly lower your hips and legs back to the ground. Flex
and loosen your wrists. Uncross your legs, then recross them the opposite way and come back into the position.
Another option for exiting this posture is to extend the legs either forward or backward in order to move directly
into another asana.

Adjustments
ArmsIf the students hands are placed too far away from the hips, balancing will be difficult and the shoulder joints
will be unstable. Instruct the student to place the hands as close to the hips as possible before lifting. Also, students
often collapse into the chest and hunch the shoulders into the ears. Remind them to keep the elbows straight and
near the rib cage. To adjust, kneel behind the student and place your hands on the upper arms. Lightly rotate the
upper arms externally and encourage the student to lengthen the spine.
NeckPlace your hands lightly on top of the students shoulders to encourage length in the neck. Also remind the
student to gaze forward, not down, while lifting the hips off the ground.

Modifications
Arm strengthTo help a student build strength in the arms and shoulders, cue to press
through the arms and lift the hips while the legs remain on the ground. Place a folded
blanket under the hips to shorten the distance to lift.
Abdominal strengthTo help a student build
abdominal strength, instruct the student to
keep thepalms and hips on the ground
and then lift the legs toward the abdomen.
Long torsoIf a students torso is longer
than the arms, the student will tend
to lift from the fingers instead of
the palms, thus placing undue
stress on the finger joints. Place
blocks under the students
hands to lengthen the arms.
Wrist weaknessIf a student
complains of wrist pain,
props are available that
Modification: building abdominal strength.
allow the student to grip
an elevated bar in order
to lift, rather than
bending the joint.
Also, make certain to
counter the hyperextension of the wrists
with some gentle,
Modification: long torso.
easy wrist flexion.

Kinematics
Tolasana is not a pure seated posture; it is generally considered an arm-balancing asana. However, it is a good
transitional posture in the seated category. It can also build strength in the arms, abdominals, and legseven if the legs
are not lifted off the ground. It is a pose that requires coordinated strength and attention throughout the entire body.
213

Tolasana
Body segment
Foot and toes

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis longus (I)

Lower leg

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis (C, I)

Thigh

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion, stability

Iliopsoas (C, I)

External rotation, stability

Adductors (E, I)

Flexion, external rotation

Sartorius (C, I)

Hip stability

Deep external rotators,* gluteus medius (I)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus lumborum (I)

Flexion

Rectus abdominis (C, I)

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis,


transverse abdominis (C, I)

External rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids and mid trapezius (C, I)

Scapular depression, stability

Serratus anterior (C, I)

Postural support in mid back, downward pull of


scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

Humerus hyperextension, stability

Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Elbow stability

Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis (I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation, stability

Pronator teres and quadratus (C, I)

Wrist hyperextension, stability, and balance

Wrist flexors and extensors (C, I)

Finger abduction

Abductor digiti minimi, interossei (C, I)

Finger stability, balance

Flexor digitorum profundus and superficialis, flexor


digiti minimi brevis, interossei palmaris (C, I)

Neck extension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis, cervical erector


spinae, semispinalis, upper trapezius (C, I)

Torso

Shoulder

Hand and fingers

Neck

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

214

Seated Postures

Hanumanasana
Forward-Split Pose
[huh-noo-maahn-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Hindu mythology, Hanuman was a powerful god of service and
the son of Vayu, the god of wind or breath. Heis a magical monkey
characterized by both mental and physical strength. The epitome of
service, he helped rescue Sita, the wife of Lord Rama by making great
flying leaps across the seas to fulfill his duty.

Description
This asana is a tribute to Hanumans giant leapa forward split.
Hanumanasana is another posture that many students may find
quite challenging when they first try it.
With practice, however, it provides very
beneficial flexibility in the hamstrings
and hip flexors. When one is able to
practice Hanumanasana comfortably,
the pose can be deepened by a slight
backbend.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra (Svadhisthana) creative energy, fourth chakra (Anahata)
heart-opening energy, seventh chakra (Sahasrara) divine energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the sit bone of the forward leg and the top of the thigh of the back leg. Anchor into the back of the heel of
the forward leg and the top of the foot and thigh of the back leg. Evenly balance the grounding energy in both legs.

Benefits



Stretches the hamstrings and hip flexors.


Stabilizes and balances the deep hip muscles.
Helps relieve sciatica pain.
Strengthens the spinal and abdominal muscles.

Caution
Hamstring or groin injuryProceed with modifications.

Verbal Cues
Begin in a kneeling lunge (a position in the classical Sun Salutation) with
your right leg forward. Slide your left leg back and lower your front thigh
toward the ground. Your hands remain on the ground.
Square your shoulders so that they align directly
over your pelvis. Inhale and move your
pelvis toward your right heel and lift your rib
cage so that your spine is as long as possible.
Preparation for Hanumanasana.
215

Breathe deeply into any area in which you feel resistance and relax, or back away slightly. Gaze softly forward.
Secure your hands on the ground as you slowly slide your right heel forward. Exhale and straighten your right
leg as much as is comfortable. Go to the first point of resistance and breathe here. Your pelvis should remain
in a fairly neutral position.
Find the place where you feel balanced between your legs and remain there as you breathe deeply. Allow
your muscles to relax with each exhalation. Lift your rib cage away from your hips
as you inhale.
If you can do so comfortably and without strain, lower your hips all the way to
the ground. Inhale and raise your arms overhead if you feel grounded in the hips.
Stay here and soften your breath.
If you cannot bring your hips to the ground comfortably, focus on keeping
your hips and shoulders in alignment.
To exit this posture, use your arms and abdominal muscles to eliminate the
possibility of straining your low back or groin. Move slowly and press your
hands into the ground while lifting your hips. Bend your right knee and move
your body back into the lunge. Switch legs and prepare to practice on the
opposite side.

Adjustments
HipsIf a students hips are out of alignment where the front hip
rotates forward, squat or kneel to the side of the forward leg
and place your hands on the sides of the pelvis. Very gently
draw the front of the flexed hip back and press the back of
the extended hip forward.
Adjustment: balance.
BalanceIf a student has difficulty balancing in the posture
with the arms overhead, stand to the students side and lightly
hold onto the arms as a means of support.

Modifications
Tight hamstrings or hip flexorsIf either of these muscle groups is tight, the student will be unable to comfortably lower the hips to the ground, and may require
blankets under the hips or back knee for more support. Another modification is to
place blocks under the students hands to keep the upper body weight from overly
stretching the hamstrings and hip flexors. Cue the student to
keep the shoulders relaxed.
Knee discomfortFor some students, the pressure of the back
knee against the ground creates discomfort; to alleviate it,
Modification: tight hamstrings or hip flexors.
place padding under the knee.

Kinematics
As with Padmasana (Lotus Pose), some people can come into this posture naturally and with ease, but most need
to practice modified versions as they increase the range of motion in the joints and flexibility in the hamstrings and
hip flexors.

216

Seated Postures

Hanumanasana (Right Leg Forward)


Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus (C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus (C, I)

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Lower leg (L)

Ankle plantar flexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus (I)

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus

Thigh

Knee extension

Quadriceps

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris (C, I, R)

Hamstrings

Hip and pelvis (L)

Hip hyperextension

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Torso

Slight lumbar hyperextension

Rectus abdominis (E, I)

Rectus abdominis

Slight lumbar hyperextension,


spinal stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Trunk stability

Transverse abdominis, internal


and external obliques (I)

Humeral flexion

Anterior deltoids, pectoralis


major, biceps brachii (C, I)

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior tibialis (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Forearm extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Neck extension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, upper trapezius (I)

Shoulder

Hand and fingers

Neck

Latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior

Biceps brachii, brachioradialis

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right (in body segment column) or relaxed (in
muscles active column).

217

Bakasana
Crane Pose
[buhk-AAH-suh-nuh]
Baka is Sanskrit for crane (the tall wading bird). Like a tall
and poised crane, Bakasana is a graceful, balancing asana. In
some yoga traditions, this pose is often mistakenly referred to as
Crow Pose. However, despite some physical similarities, Crow Pose,
or Kakasana (KAH-KAH-suh-nuh), is generally
practiced with the elbows completely straight.

Description
Like Tolasana (Scale Pose), Bakasana is
most often categorized as an arm balance
but is frequently used as a transitional
seated pose. In this squatting arm balance,
the arms support the weight of the body as the bent knees rest on the backs
of the upper arms. Once the person is balanced on the hands, the feet are
lifted off the ground. Many students are
naturally somewhat fearful of falling
forward onto the face when they first
practice this asana.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra (Svadhisthana) creative energy, third chakra (Manipura)
vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the metacarpal heads and fingertips in both hands. Anchor the front of the knees (or shins) into the backs
of the upper arms. Evenly balance the grounding energy in both hands.

Benefits



Strengthens the arms and wrists.


Improves focus and balance.
Strengthens the abdominal muscles.
Stretches the low back.

Cautions
Wrist injury or acute carpal tunnel syndromeStudents with wrist concerns should refrain from practicing this
posture.
PregnancyThis posture is not recommended after the second trimester.

218

Seated Postures

Verbal Cues
From Malasana (Basic Squat, or Bead Pose), place your hands shoulder-width apart on the ground in front of you.
Fix your gaze on a drishti (focal point) slightly forward of your hands. Spread your fingers apart to create a wider
base of support and anchor into your fingertips.
Lean forward slightly and feel your body weight shift toward your fingers. Engage your inner thigh muscles
(adductors) to draw attention to your lower abdominal region. On an exhalation, firm the abdominal muscles.
Bend your elbows and slowly lift your heels off the ground as you shift your body weight more toward your
hands. Continue to gaze forward toward your drishti. Feel your hips lift upward.
Press your knees or shins against the backs of your upper arms with your knees as close to your underarms
(axillas) as possible. Notice your balance center and imagine your breath moving into and out of this mid-
abdominal space.
Continue to focus on your breath.
As you lean forward, exhale and slowly lift one foot off the ground. If you do not feel comfortably balanced,
slowly lower that foot and lift the other. If you feel balanced, lift both feet slowly off the ground.
Spread the toes to keep the entire body energized. Hover here and breathe slowly and smoothly.
Continue to focus your gaze past your hands. Apply abdominal lock (uddiyana bandha) and
continue to balance for five or six breaths.
To exit the posture, exhale, slowly lower your feet back to the ground, and rest in Malasana or
transition into another pose.

Adjustments
Aiding balanceSquat or stand in a slight lunge behind the student with
your hands on the outsides of the hips; alternately, place a strap into
the creases of the students hips. Lightly aid the students balance
without holding the student up with your strength.
HandsRemind the student to place the hands no more
than shoulder-width apart and to press the hands
firmly into the ground. If the students fingers are not
spread, lightly touch the top of the hand to encourage
expansion.
ElbowsKneel beside the student and place your hands
on the outsides of the upper arms to guide the elbows in
toward the body.
Adjustment: aiding balance.

Modifications
Confidence buildingSome students feel much more confident and less fearful with folded blankets or a pillow
positioned nearby so as to cushion any fall. Also, continue to remind them to keep the gaze forward of the hands.
If a student does fall forward, remind her or him that continuing on after falling builds strength and character in
all aspects of life!
Strength buildingFor students who have difficulty lifting both feet off the ground, place blocks or folded blankets
under the feet so that they begin the pose with the hips in a slightly elevated position. Also, for those recovering
from wrist injury, instruct them to practice putting body weight on the hands while keeping the feet on the ground.

Kinematics
Individuals with tight hips may lift the hips significantly higher than the head as they get into position and often lose
balance more quickly. The more compact a student can make the body in this position, the easier it is to remain
controlled and balanced. This is a very active posture, in which, once the person is in position, most of the muscles
remain in isometric contraction to maintain balance.

219

Bakasana
Body segment

Kinematics

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis longus (C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus (C, I)

Thigh

Knee flexion, stability

Hamstrings, sartorius (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion, stability

Iliopsoas, sartorius, rectus femoris (C, I)

Hip abduction, stability

Gluteus medius and minimus (C, I)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Sternoclavicular stability

Subclavius (I)

Torso stability

Rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques,


transverse abdominis (I)

Flexion of humerus, stability

Pectoralis major, coracobrachialis, anterior deltoid


(C, I)

Adduction of humerus, stability

Latissimus dorsi, teres major (C, I)

Stability and external rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Shoulder and scapular stability

Subscapularis, serratus anterior (C, I)

Scapular stability

Rhomboids and mid trapezius (C, I)

Supporting posture in mid back, downward pull of


scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow flexion, stability

Triceps brachii (E, I), biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis (I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation, stability

Pronator teres and quadratus (C, I)

Wrist hyperextension, balance, and stability

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and longus, extensor


carpi ulnaris (C, I), flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,
palmaris longus (E, I)

Finger abduction

Abductor digiti minimi, interossei (C, I)

Finger extension, stability, balance

Flexor digitorum profundus and superficialis, flexor


digiti minimi brevis, interossei palmaris (C, I)

Neck hyperextension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis, cervical erector


spinae, semispinalis, upper trapezius (C, I)

Torso

Shoulder

Hand and fingers

Neck

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

220

Muscles active

9
Supine and
Prone Postures

Alexander Novikov/istock.com

his chapter comprises 17 poses that


render the body
either faceup (supine) or
facedown (prone) with
the bottom of the pelvis
(the ischial tuberosities)
generally off the ground.
In addition, Eka Pada
Rajakapotasana (OneLegged Royal Pigeon
Pose) is included in this
chapter because it can be
practiced with the body
in both supine and prone
positions. More generally,
the positions presented
here include backbends,
plank variations, positions
on the hands and knees,
and asanas in which the
body is lying faceup or
facedown (for example,
Supta Padangusthasana
[Reclining Hand-to-Toe

221

222

Instructing Hatha Yoga


Pose], which borders on being a restorative pose).
Also included here is Vasishthasana (Side Plank
Pose), which, though neither supine nor prone,
is related to regular plank poses and does not fit
well into the other categories outlined in this book.
Generally, the supine and prone asanas stretch
and strengthen the core musculature. Plank
poses build stability and strength in the arms
and shoulders, and backbends open the chest and
strengthen the mid and upper back. Some of the
postures included in this chapter also help warm

up the body. Others are often practiced to energize


the body and mindfor example, Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose). Backbends typically
serve as counterposes to forward-folding asanas
(and vice versa) and complete the balancing of
the spinal range of motion during asana sessions.
Although prone poses are not generally advised
after the first trimester of pregnancy due to the
pressure on the abdomen, many postures can be
practiced with modifications so that the belly
does not rest on the ground.

Supine and Prone Postures

Durga-Go
Cat and Cow Pose
[DUR-guh-go]
Cat and Cow pose has no official Sanskrit translation. Some schools of
yoga use the Sanskrit term Marjaryasana because marjara means cat. The
name Durga-Go was chosen because in Hindu belief, Durga
isa warrior goddess who rode the back of a ferocious
tiger; go is Sanskrit for cow.

Description

Neutral position.

Durga-Go is a flowing pose practiced on the


hands and knees. It moves the spine through a gentle range of flexion and
hyperextension in the sagittal plane. The rounded, flexed position of the
spine resembles a cat with its back arched, and the hyperextension in the
spine is reminiscent of the sway in a cows back.

Energetic Focus
Third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy, fourth chakra
(Anahata) heart-opening energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the metatarsal heads and fingertips in
both hands. Anchor into the knees and the tops of
both feet.

Durga (cat) position.

Benefits
Warms and stretches the spinal musculature.
Provides a safe substitute for other poses, such as Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing Dog), when one is pregnant or unable to
support the body weight with the arms.
Loosens and relaxes the neck, upper back, and
shoulders.
Moves the energy with the breath.
Go (cow) position.

Cautions
Wrist concernsStudents with a wrist concern should practice with modifications.
Neck pain or injuryStudents with neck pain or injury should keep the head aligned with the torso.
Lower back concernsStudents with acute lower back pain or injury should practice with modifications or
move through a smaller range of motion.

Verbal Cues
Begin on your hands and knees. Place your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Maintain length in your neck and openness in your shoulders. Spread your fingers and soften your elbows slightly.
223

Inhale and lengthen your spine. Stretch so that the crown of your head and your tailbone are as far away from
each other as possible. Feel your breath expand through your entire torso. Imagine your back as a tabletop
while keeping a strong torso.
Exhale and tuck your lower pelvis downward as you draw your chin toward your chest. Draw your abdomen
slightly in toward your spine and lift your mid spine toward the sky. Relax the space between your shoulder
blades and feel your lower back stretch. This is the durga position.
Inhale and move your spine back into the tabletop position. Feel your spine lengthen once again. With your
next inhalation, press your hips back slightly as you point your tailbone toward the sky. At the same time, press
your chest forward and up, with your chin slightly lifted. Arch your back as far as feels comfortable to you.
Imagine your collar bones drawing apart as you open your chest and inhale deeply. Feel your abdomen lengthen
and stretch. This is the go position. If your lower back feels uncomfortable, decrease your back arch slightly.
Exhale and release your spine back to the tabletop (neutral) position.
Repeat this cycle two or three times, or more, moving with the breath. Return to the tabletop position. Prepare
for the next posture.

Adjustments
Hands and kneesIf the hands and knees are either too close together or too far apart, the student will have trouble
flattening the back. Cue the student to adjust the distance accordingly.
ElbowsIf the elbows are locked, the student will often internally rotate the upper arms and sink the head into the
shoulders. To adjust, kneel or squat at the students side, lightly grasp the upper arms near the shoulders, and rotate
the elbows toward the rib cage.
ShouldersRemind the student to maintain distance between the ears and shoulders. Gently tap the tops of the
shoulders to cue the student to relax them.
SpineTo help a student achieve flexion in the spine, kneel or squat at the students side and place your hand
lightly on the middle of the back. Encourage the student to press the spine against your hand to lift it. To help the
student hyperextend the spine, place your hand at the mid spine and instruct the student to move the spine away
from your hand.
Breath awarenessWhen in the durga (rounded back) position, place your hand lightly on the mid spine and cue
the student to direct the breath to that area, as if breathing the shoulder blades apart.

Modifications
Feet and anklesIf the student has trouble balancing with the tops of the feet on the ground, instruct the student to
curl the toes under for stability. You may also place a small rolled towel under the students front ankles for comfort.
Wrist painInstead of cueing a student to place the hands on the ground, instruct the student to bend the elbows
and place the forearms on the ground or on top of blocks. Another option is to place a chair in front of the student
and invite her or him to place the forearms on the seat. Ideally, the
chair should be at the students shoulder height.
Variation for lateral movements of the spineCue students
to remain in the same hands-and-knees position with the
spine parallel to the ground, exhale, and squeeze the sameside hip and shoulder together. Instruct students to look over
the shoulder on the side being flexed. Cue students to inhale
and move back to straight spine, then exhale and move to
the other side. Invite them to move rhythmically, with the
breath, just as in the original pose.
Modification: wrist pain.

Kinematics
Hands-and-knees positioning is a transitional position for many other postures. The hands should remain directly
beneath the shoulders and the knees directly under the hips to avoid putting undue shearing stress on the joints. The
elbow joints should remain straight but not hyperextended.
224

Supine and Prone Postures

Durga-Go
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum longus, extensor


hallucis longus (C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle plantar flexion, stability

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum


longus, peroneals (C, I)

Thigh

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas (C, I)

Hip stability

Gluteus maximus, hamstrings, deep


hip rotators (C, I)

Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus lumborum, hamstrings (I)

Torso stability

Rectus abdominis, internal and


external obliques, transverse
abdominis (C, I)

Spinal flexion

Rectus abdominis (C, I)

Sternoclavicular stability

Subclavius (I)

Torso (go phase)

Spinal hyperextension, stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Shoulder (both
phases)

Flexion of humerus

Pectoralis major, anterior deltoids,


coracobrachialis, biceps brachii
(C, I)

Torso (durga
phase)

Muscles released

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum

Rectus abdominis, internal and


external obliques, transverse
abdominis

Stability and external rotation of Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior


humerus
deltoid (C, I)
Supporting posture in mid back,
downward pull of scapulae
Shoulder (durga
phase)

Lower trapezius (C, I)

Scapular abduction and stability Subscapularis, serratus anterior


(C, I)
Humerus adduction

Pectoralis major, anterior deltoid


(C, I)

Shoulder (go
phase)

Adduction of scapulae

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus (C, I)

Forearm extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Wrist hyperextension, stability

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris (C, I)

Wrist stability

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


palmaris longus (C, I)

Finger extension, stability

Extensor digitorum, extensor digiti


minimi brevis (C, I)

Finger abduction

Abductor pollicis longus, opponens


pollicis (C, I)

Neck (durga
phase)

Initial neck flexion

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis, upper
trapezius (E)

Neck flexion

Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes (C, I)

Neck (go phase)

Neck hyperextension

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis, upper
trapezius (C, I)

Hand and fingers

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

Trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis,
upper trapezius
Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes

225

Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana


Plank Pose
[oot-T-HEE-tuh chuh-tour-RUHN-guh duhn-DAAH-suhnuh]
Utthita is the Sanskrit word for extended, chatur
means four, anga means limbs, and danda
means staff or rod. This pose is sometimes called
Kumbhakasana [koom-BAHK-AAH-suh-nuh],or Breath
Retention Pose, due to the short moment of breath holding before the torso is lowered toward the ground. The pose
is also sometimes called Phalakasana [fuh-LUK-AAH-suh-nuh]. In Sanskrit, phalak translates as guardian. Some
schools of hatha yoga refer to Phalakasana as a forearm plank.

Description
This posture essentially uses the extended-arm positioning of a push-up; it is a transitional movement in the Sun
Salutations (Surya Namaskaras).

Energetic Focus
Third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the metatarsal heads and fingertips in both hands. Anchor the metatarsal heads of both feet. Balance the
grounding energy evenly between the handsand feet.

Benefits
Prepares the body for variations of extended body posturesfor example, Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbs
Staff Pose) and Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana (Upward-Facing Dog).
Builds strength in the shoulders, arms, back, legs, and abdominal muscles.
Builds stability in the shoulders and core musculature.

Cautions
Wrist concernsStudents with wrist injury or pain or carpal tunnel syndrome should use modifications.
Lower-back weaknessStudents who have difficulty holding this pose should practice with modifications.
PregnancyAfter the first trimester, this pose should be practiced with modifications, and generally avoided in
the third trimester.

Verbal Cues
From a low lunge, place your palms on the ground directly under your shoulders. Spread your fingers and press
into your fingertips to lighten the pressure on the heels of your hands.
Inhale and lengthen your spine as you open your shoulders and chest. Hug your upper arms in toward your rib
cage. Soften your elbows slightly to keep them from hyperextending.
Exhale and step your front leg back as you lift your back knee off the ground. Curl your toes under and straighten
your legs. Press back through your heels and imagine touching the back wall.

226

Supine and Prone Postures

Slightly rotate your inner thighs toward each other to energize your legs. In your minds eye, notice that your
ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles are aligned. Gaze down at the ground between your hands, lengthening
the sides of your neck.
Breathe deeply and slowly and apply uddiyana bandha (see chapter 5). On an energetic level, this action helps
maintain energy; on a physical level, it helps support your abdomen and low back.
Imagine pressing the ground away from your chest. This action helps keep your upper back elongated and your
shoulder blades pressed against your spine.
In the Sun Salutations, the body is next lowered toward the ground to continue the vinyasa (flow); the body is
also in position to transition into many other postures.

Adjustments
HeelsMake sure that the heels press back to keep the legs active. Lightly touch the backs of the heels to remind
the student to press backward.
HipsIf a students hips are lifted higher than the shoulders and knees, place your hand lightly, with no pressure,
on the upper pelvis and instruct the student to move the hips away from your hand.
ShouldersIf the shoulders are not aligned over the hands, kneel to one side or in front of the students head. With
your hands on the students upper shoulders, gently realign the students body weight over the hands.
Shoulder bladesIf the students shoulder blades wing out (lift away from the back due to weakness), remind the
student to press more firmly against the ground through the arms. Kneel beside the student, place your hand lightly
between the shoulder blades, and instruct the student to press the body up
against your hand.
NeckCue the student to look down toward the ground without dropping
the head. The ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should be aligned. If
any of the joints are sinking, gently touch the side of the joint and instruct
the student to lift slightly.

Modifications
Difficulty in finding alignmentStraddle the students
back and bend your knees as you lightly hold the sides
of the students hips and lift slightly to take some of the
body weight.
WeaknessIf the student is unable to maintain a straight
spine in the position, instruct the student to keep the
knees bent and on the ground and to focus on keeping the spine straight from the shoulders to the hips.
Adjustment: shoulders.
Wrist concernsIf the student cannot flex the wrists
or put weight on them, instruct the student to flex the elbows and place the forearms on
the ground or on blocks. Students can also use specialized props to keep the wrist joints
aligned.

Kinematics
This particular asana works best as a preparatory posture to build
the necessary strength in the arms, legs, and abdominal
muscles for performing arm balances. It also helps
develop the necessary range of motion in the shoulders
and chest for performing many other poses. And,
as with any plank, it is a core strengthener
and balancer.

Modification: wrist concerns.

227

Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana


Body segment
Foot and toes

Lower leg

Thigh
Hip and pelvis
Torso

Shoulder

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe abduction

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti minimi brevis, abductor hallucis (C, I)

Toe hyperextension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis longus, anterior tibialis


(C, I)

Forefoot stability

Anterior tibialis, flexor digitorum longus (C, I)

Ankle stability

Gastrocnemius, soleus, posterior tibialis, flexor digitorum and hallucis longus (I)

Ankle dorsiflexion, stability

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus (C, I)

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Femur adduction, stability

Adductors (C, I)

Hip extension, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus (C, I)

Hip stabilization

Gluteus medius, deep external rotators* (I)

Torso stability

Rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis (I)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (I)

Sternoclavicular stability

Subclavius (I)

Flexion of humerus

Pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, coracobrachialis,


biceps brachii (C, I)

Stability and external rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular stability

Rhomboids, mid trapezius

Scapular abduction, stability

Serratus anterior, subscapularis (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus (C, I)

Forearm extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and longus, extensor carpi


ulnaris (C, I)

Wrist stability

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris, palmaris longus (C, I)

Hand
and fingers

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, extensor digiti minimi brevis (C, I)

Finger abduction

Abductor pollicis longus, opponens pollicis (C, I)

Neck

Neck extension, stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis, suboccipitals, semi


spinalis, upper trapezius (I)

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

228

Muscles released

Gastrocnemius,
soleus

Rhomboids, mid
trapezius

Supine and Prone Postures

Chaturanga Dandasana
Four-Limbs Staff Pose
[chuh-tour-RUHN-guh duhn-DAAHsuh-nuh]
Chatur means four in Sanskrit, anga means
limb and danda means staff. In this pose, the four limbs support the straight staff of the spine.

Description
This posture is more challenging than Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank Pose). Whereas that posehas straight
elbows and is similar to the up phase of a push-up, this pose has bent elbows and is similar to the down phase of
a push-up, with the body hovering slightly above the ground. It is practiced in the Ashtanga Sun Salutations (Surya
Namaskara A and B).

Energetic Focus
Third chakra (Manipura chakra) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the metatarsal heads and fingertips in both hands. Anchor the metatarsal heads of both feet. Balance the
grounding energy evenly between the handsand feet.

Benefits
Strengthens the shoulders, arms, and wrists.
Strengthens the abdominal muscles and massages the organs.

Cautions
Wrist concernsStudents with wrist injury or pain or carpal tunnel syndrome should use modifications.
Lower-back weaknessStudents who have difficulty holding this pose should practice with modifications.
PregnancyThis pose should be practiced with modification past the first trimester.

Verbal Cues
From Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana, with your palms pressed against the ground and aligned with your shoulders, press back through your heels and prepare to slowly bend your elbows.
Exhale and slowly lower your body toward the ground. Keep your upper arms close to your rib cage and your
shoulders away from your ears. Lower your chest toward the ground and hover a few inches (centimeters)
above it; the exact distance will vary from person to person. Go to where you feel you are most comfortably
challenged and can still breathe smoothly.
Squeeze your upper arms in toward your ribs and lengthen your neck so that your ears are fartheraway from
your shoulders. Continue to gaze at a spot between your hands.
To exit the pose, lower to the ground and prepare to transition into another posture.

229

Adjustments
ElbowsIf the students elbows point away from the body, kneel to one side and place your hands on the persons
upper arms near the shoulders. Gently move the arms in toward the rib cage.
HipsAlign the students body so that the hips are neither too high nor too low in relation to the shoulders and knees.
If the hips are too low, straddle the students back and bend your knees as you hold the sides of the hips and lift
slightly. If the students hips are lifted too high, place your hand lightly on the upper pelvis and instruct the student
to move the hips away from your hand.

Modifications
Strength buildingInstead of allowing the student to struggle to hold the pose, instruct the student to bring the knees
to the ground and focus on lowering the chest to the ground slowly and in proper alignment.
Wrist concernsIf the student cannot flex the wrists or put weight on them, instruct the student to flex the elbows
and place the forearms on the ground or on blocks.

Kinematics
To maintain stability in the shoulders in this pose, the elbows should be placed close to the body. This placement
maintains the proper alignment of the humerus (upper arm bone) in the shoulder socket while the joint bears body
weight.

Chaturanga Dandasana
Body segment
Foot and toes

Lower leg

Thigh
Hip and pelvis

Torso

230

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe abduction

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe hyperextension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus, anterior tibialis (C, I)

Forefoot stability

Anterior tibialis, flexor digitorum


longus (C, I)

Ankle stability

Gastrocnemius, soleus, posterior


tibialis, flexor digitorum and hallucis longus (I)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus (C, I)

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Leg adduction and stability

Adductors (C, I)

Hip extension

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Hip stabilization

Gluteus medius, deep hip rotators (I)

Torso stability

Rectus abdominis, internal and


external obliques, transverse
abdominis (I)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (I)

Muscles released

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Supine and Prone Postures

Body segment
Shoulder

Kinematics

Muscles active

Sternoclavicular stability

Subclavius (I)

Humerus extension, stability

Pectoralis major, biceps brachii,


anterior deltoid (E, I)

Humerus extension, adduction,


and stability

Latissimus dorsi (C, I)

Stability and external rotation of


humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular abduction, stability

Subscapularis, serratus anterior


(C, I)

Scapular stability

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Supporting posture in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow flexion and stability

Triceps brachii, posterior deltoid,


biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis (E, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Wrist hyperextension, stability

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


palmaris longus (E, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, extensor


digiti minimi brevis (C, I)

Finger abduction

Abductor pollicis longus, opponens pollicis (C, I)

Neck extension, stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis,
upper trapezius (I)

Hand and fingers

Neck

Muscles released
Pectoralis major

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

231

Zen Asana
Transitional Pose
[zehn AAH-suh-nuh]
The name Zen was chosen for this pose
because it is not really a pose; instead, it
is usually practiced either as part of, or
as a transitional movement during, the
Classical Sun Salutation. In a sense, then,
it does and yet does not exist; therefore, although a name in Sanskrit might not be found, it is appropriately named
Zen Asana. This transitional positioning is both valuable and important, because it places weight on the sternum
(breastbone) and helps develop flexibility and coordination in the joints.

Description
Zen Asana is a prone pose in which the toes, knees, hands, chest, and chin touch the ground. The hips and low back
are lifted and reach away from the waist, whereas the elbows are flexed and aligned close to the ribs.

Energetic Focus
Fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-opening energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the knees and the tops of the feet. Anchor through the chest and evenly inboth hands.

Benefits
Although seldom practiced outside of the Classical Sun Salutation, this position provides the following benefits:
Strengthens the sternum.
Promotes alignment, stability, and flexibility in the spine and shoulders.
Prepares the body for backbends and other weight-bearing arm poses.
Creates expansion in the neck and low back.
Provides a good substitute pose for modifications, as well as a bedrock pose for healthy spinal extension in
Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana (Upward-Facing Dog) and Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), which it often precedes in
practice.

Cautions
Lower-back concernsStudents with lower-back injury or pain should modify or skip this pose.
Wrist or shoulder concernsModification should be used by students with shoulder or wrist injury or pain or
carpal tunnel syndrome.
Lower-back weaknessStudents who have difficulty holding this pose should practice with modifications.
PregnancyThis pose should be avoided after the first trimester, and with modifications in the second and third
trimesters.

Verbal Cues
From Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank Pose), exhale as you bend your knees and bring them to the ground.
As your knees near the ground, slowly begin to bend your elbows and bring your chest and chin to the ground
as well.
232

Supine and Prone Postures

Keep your elbows drawn in and close to your ribs. Your hips will be lifted, and your sit bones will face the sky.
Allow your chest to sink into the earth as you roll your collarbones apart. Breathe deeply into your chest. Relax
your shoulders away from your ears.
Press your sit bones up and back as far as you comfortably can, encouraging space in your low back.
Let the inhalation open space throughout your body, especially in your spine and chest. Allow a deeper release
into your body with each exhalation.
Transition into Bhujangasana (Cobra) or Balasana (Childs Pose).

Adjustments
Hips and kneesSome students struggle with the torso positioning in this posture and find themselves basically
flat on the ground. The main reason for this discomfort is that they move the chest forward and often lack the arm
strength to lower the chest straight down. To adjust, if the knees are not bent and the hips are not raised, straddle or
semi-squat above or beside the student, placing your hands to the sides of the pelvis. Instruct the student to bend
the knees as you slowly guide the hips to move up and back.
Low backTo support and create space in the students low back, kneel next to the student and place your hand on
the base of the spine. Use your palmwith your fingers pointing toward, yet not touching, the students tailboneto
gently press the pelvis up and away from the waist.
ChestEncourage students to rest the sternum on the ground. If a student seems tense in the upper spine, kneel
beside the student and place your hand on the mid back. Remind the student to breathe and let the spine sink away
from your hand. Take care not to press down on the students back. With each breath, simply let your hand get a
little heavier while the student further relaxes the spine.
Arms and shouldersIf a students elbows splay and the shoulders are drawn up by the ears, kneel or squat to the
side and lightly grasp the upper arms. Gently move the students arms closer to the ribs. To relax the shoulders from
the ears, place your hands on top of the fronts of the students shoulders and gently draw the shoulders back and
away from the ears.
NeckThe adjustment described for arms and shoulders can also create more space in the back of the neck because
moving the students shoulders down, away from the ears, creates an opening across the front of the chest. If the
students arms are in a good position but the neck is cramped or tense, kneel beside the student and use your hands
to encourage the shoulders away from the ears. To help the student elongate the neck a little more actively, gently
touch the crown of the students head and instruct the student to push your finger farther up with each inhalation.

Modifications
PregnancyDuring the first half of pregnancy, many women feel comfortable lowering themselves into this pose,
especially if they have been practicing yoga consistently throughout the pregnancy. If not, it is best to replace Zen
Asana with Durga-Go (Cat and Cow Pose). For a woman in her first trimester who feels comfortable, place a pillow
or blankets under her abdomen for support. This pose may be a little difficult for postpartum women, especially
if they are breastfeeding. If the student does not wish to replace the pose, instruct her to keep a folded blanket or
pillow under her chest.
Low-back concernsIf a student is uncomfortable in this posture because the low back feels compromised, replace
it with Balasana (Childs Pose) and cue the student to spread the knees wider apart so that the chest and chin sink
toward the ground as the student releases the spine.

Kinematics
The key is to get into this posture with awareness and control. If students can lower slowly while eccentrically
contracting the triceps and actively working the posterior shoulder muscles, then they will settle appropriately into
the posture. Cue students to bring the knees to the ground before the body is halfway down in order to avoid having to
use the back muscles for support; instruct them to focus on using proper upper-body mechanics. Generally, a student
who has good low-back and core structure support in this positioning can more easily perform other variations of
plank (such as Chaturanga Dandasana, or Four-Limbs Staff Pose) and backbends (such as Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana,
or Upward-Facing Dog).
233

Zen Asana
Body segment
Foot and toes

Kinematics

Muscles active

Toe spreading

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe hyperextension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus, tibialis anterior (C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus (C, I)

Thigh

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (E, I)

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Leg adduction and stability

Adductors (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(E, I)

Gluteus maximus

Torso

Torso stability

Rectus abdominis, internal and


external obliques, transverse
abdominis (I)

Rectus abdominis

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (I)

Sternoclavicular stability

Subclavius (I)

Humerus extension, stability

Pectoralis major and minor,


biceps brachii, anterior deltoid,
serratus anterior (E, I)

Humerus extension, adduction,


and stability

Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Stability and external rotation of


humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Adduction of scapulae

Rhomboids and mid trapezius


(C, I)

Supporting posture in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow flexion

Triceps brachii, posterior deltoid


(E, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Elbow forearm

Anconeus (C, I)

Wrist hyperextension

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


palmaris longus (E, I)

Wrist stability

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


palmaris longus (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, extensor


digiti minimi brevis (C, I)

Finger abduction

Abductor pollicis longus, opponens pollicis (C, I)

Neck hyperextension, stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis,
upper trapezius (C, R)

Shoulder

Hand and fingers

Neck

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, and R = relaxed.

234

Muscles released

Pectoralis major, anterior deltoid

Supine and Prone Postures

Vasishthasana
Side Plank Pose
[vuhs-eesht-AAH-suh-nuh]
Vasishtha is Sanskrit for most excellent.
It is also the name of a well-known
sage associated with good fortune,
strength, and dignity. Holding this posture
requires strength and increases poise and
confidence.

Description
Vasishthasana is a side plank pose most often
practiced with the body balanced on the side of one
foot and the palm of the hand on the same side. In
another variation, the top leg is lifted above the
leg on the ground, rather than being stacked on
top of it, and the big toe of the lifted leg is grasped
by the non-weight-bearing hand.

Energetic Focus
Third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy, fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-opening energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the metacarpal heads and fingertips of the weight-bearing hand. Anchor through the outer edge of the
lower foot.

Benefits





Strengthens the arms, abdomen, and legs.


Stabilizes the shoulders.
Stretches and strengthens the wrists.
Opens the chest.
Opens the hips if the top leg is lifted.
Improves concentration and balance.

Cautions
Wrist concernsStudents with wrist concerns should practice with modifications.
WeaknessThis asana should not be practiced by students recovering from serious illness or injury.
PregnancyAfter the first trimester, practice with modifications.

Verbal Cues
From Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank Pose), shift your body weight onto your right hand. Make sure that
your shoulder aligns over your wrist and that your fingers point away from your body. Press into your fingertips.
Rotate the front of your body away from the ground so that your left hip and shoulder are stacked over your
right hip and shoulder. Place your left hand on your left hip. Your body weight is supported on your right hand
and the outside of your right foot. Feel the energy in your legs.
235

Breathe deeply and smoothly.


Exhale and lift your left arm with your fingers pointing toward the sky. Gaze
forward, keeping your ears aligned with your shoulders and your neck long but
relaxed. Slightly soften your right elbow to keep it from hyperextending and to
stabilize the joint.
Lengthen your body as much as possible, with the crown of your head moving
away from your feet. The more you stretch your feet away from your head, the
easier it will be to keep your hips aligned with your knees and shoulders.
Continue to focus on your breath.
To exit the pose, exhale and rotate your body back into plank;
prepare to practice on the opposite side.

Adjustments
Legs and hipsThe legs should be straight and active in this
Adjustment: shoulders.
posture, with the hips lifted and aligned with the knees and
shoulders. If the hips sink, then squat or kneel behind the student
and press your hand against the outside of the bottom hip to cue
lifting of the hips.
Low spineIf a students low back is significantly arched (that is,
constituting swayback), kneel behind the student and gently press
your hand or knee into the upper pelvis to encourage length
in the low back.
ShouldersCue students to align the shoulders comfortably.
If the hand is aligned too far forward of the shoulder, the
joint will be unstable. If the hand is placed too close to the
hips, the wrist joint may be strained. To adjust, kneel behind
the student while you place one hand on the lower shoulder and
the other hand on the outside of the top hip.

Modifications

Modification: weakness or wrist concerns; deepening

Weakness or wrist concernsThe asana may be practiced pose (hips).


with the lower elbow and forearm on the ground. This
modification allows the student to gradually build strength
in the shoulder and torso without putting strain on the wrist.
Low-back weakness or pregnancyInstruct the student to bend
the lower knee and place the lower leg on the ground for support.
Balance difficultyIf a student cannot balance with the top foot
stacked on the lower, suggest that the student place the top foot
on the ground in front of the opposite foot.
Pose deepeningIf students are comfortable in the standard
side plank, cue them to lift the top leg while keeping the
non-weight-bearing arm perpendicular to the ground. To
deepen the hip stretch, cue students to bend the top knee, Modification: deepening the posture.
grasp the big toe with the first two fingers of the upper hand,
exhale, and slowly extend the top foot toward the sky. In another modification for a deeper pose, instruct students to
anchor through the top foot, stretch the lower leg out in front of the body, and grasp the lifted foot with the top hand.

Kinematics
This pose requires a coordinated effort between the strength of the torso and the strength and stability of the weightbearing shoulder and hip. Students need to build strength in both areas so that they do not drop the hips toward the
ground or allow the bottom shoulder to collapse into the side of the head.
236

Supine and Prone Postures

Vasishthasana (Weight on Right Side)


Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus, tibialis anterior (C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Lateral ankle stability

Peroneus longus, brevis, and tertius (C, I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum and hallucis longus (C, I)

Thigh

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Adduction and stability

Adductors (C, I)

Hip and pelvis


(R and L)

Hip extension, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip stability

Gluteus medius, deep external


rotators,* tensor fascia lata, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Torso

Torso stability

Rectus abdominis, internal and


external obliques, transverse
abdominis, right latissimus dorsi
(I)

Spinal extension and stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (I)

Shoulder

Sternoclavicular stability

Subclavius (I)

Horizontal humerus extension,


external rotation, and stability

Deltoids, infraspinatus, teres


minor (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm (R)

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Forearm extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Wrist hyperextension, stability

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris,
extensor digitorum, flexor carpi
radialis and ulnaris, palmaris
longus (C, I)

Lower arm (L)

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Hand and fingers


(R)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, extensor


digiti minimi brevis (C, I)

Finger abduction

Abductor pollicis longus, opponens pollicis (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Neck (R)

Head rotation to left

Sternocleidomastoid (C, I)

Neck (L)

Head rotation, neck stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


occipitals, cervical erector
spinae, upper trapezius (C, I)

Hand and fingers


(L)

Muscles released

Sternocleidomastoid

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

237

Purvottanasana
Reverse Plank, or Intense East-Side Stretch
[poohr-VOHT-taahn-AAH-suh-nuh]
Purva means east and relates to the front of the body. Uttana
means intense. This posture stretches the front of the body
intensely.

Description
Purvottanasana is a supine or reversed
plank pose in which the hands
press into the ground behind
the back as the front of the
body is lifted. This asana
is practiced as one of the
five major exercises in
Tibetan yoga.

Energetic Focus
Third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy, fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-opening energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly into the metacarpal heads and fingertips. Anchor into the backs of the heels. Balance the grounding
energy evenly between the handsand feet.

Benefits



Deeply stretches the chest and shoulders.


Strengthens the wrists and ankles.
Builds endurance.
Provides a counterstretch to Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend, or Intense West-Side Stretch), or seated
forward fold.
Strengthens the posterior muscles in the legs and spine.

Cautions
Extreme neck weaknessDo not allow students with a neck concern to hyperextend the neck so that the head
drops below the shoulders. Instruct them to practice modifications if they experience discomfort.
Shoulder or wrist concernsStudents who have acute pain or injury in the shoulder or wrist should practice
with modifications or avoid the pose.

Verbal Cues
Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your palms on the ground beside your hips. Move your hands 6 to 8 inches
(15 to 20 centimeters) behind your hips and shoulder-width apart. Point your fingers either toward or away from
your body, depending on which feels most comfortable to your shoulders and wrists.
Spread your fingers and press through your arms to expand your chest. Imagine your collarbones moving apart
with each inhalation. Breathe deeply, lengthening your spine.
238

Supine and Prone Postures

Exhale and lift your hips and legs off the ground, bringing your body weight onto your arms. Press the soles of
your feet into the ground. Feel the length of your body increase with each breath.
Keep your arms perpendicular to the ground, with a little softness in your elbows to deter hyperextension. If
your shoulders and chest are open and the level of your chest is above your shoulders, exhale and slowly relax
your neck so that the top of your head points toward the ground behind you. Focus on keeping length in the
back of your neck. Allow your throat to stretch gently; however, if you feel discomfort, slowly draw your chin
back in toward your chest.
Continue to focus on your breath.
To exit the posture, exhale and bend your elbows to slowly lower your hips to the ground. Keep your neck
relaxed. As your hips touch the ground, slowly roll up your spine from the bottom to the top, moving back into
an upright position. Inhale and slowly lift your head upright. Prepare for the next pose.

Adjustments
FeetIf the students toes are almost touching the ground, gently place your fingers on the top of the foot to help the
student ground. Do not press forcefully. However, if the student is susceptible to cramping in the feet
or calves, invite her or him to keep the ankles flexed.
HipsAssist the student in lifting the hips by kneeling to the side and placing your hands on either side
of the students hips. You may also straddle the students knees and squat slightly as you place your
hands on the outside of the students hips and lift. Another method is to use the same body position,
wrap a strap behind the students pelvis, and lean back to help the student raise the pelvis until it is
aligned between the shoulders and knees. With either method, be mindful of your body position.
Shoulders and chestRemind the student to keep the chest lifted. You can lightly tap the chest
while instructing the student to push through the arms and move
the chest toward the sky. You may also kneel or squat behind
the student, place your hand between the students shoulder
blades, and cue the student to move away from your hand.
NeckMake certain that the student places the neck in a comfortable position. If the student feels strain caused by the hyperextension, instruct the student to keep the ears aligned with the
shoulders and to look straight ahead, or to press the chin into
the chest. If the student has difficulty lifting the head, kneel
to his or her side with your hand on the back of the head and
gently guide the head back into alignment.
Adjustment: hips.

Modifications
Weakness or discomfortInstruct the student to bend the knees, keeping the feet flat on the ground. As the student
lifts the hips, the body will be in a tabletop position, which reduces the workload by redistributing the center of mass.
Tight ankles or crampingInstruct the student to dorsiflex the ankles (draw the toes toward the knees). Doing so
helps keep the calves and arches from cramping.
Weak or tight shouldersInstruct the student to rotate the shoulders externally so that the fingers point away from
the body rather than pointing toward the feet. If the student is unable to lift the chest higher than the shoulders,
then instruct the student to lower the chin toward the chest. Encourage the student to focus on lifting the chest to
eventually touch the chin. See the Kinematics section for the reasons that this modification is important.

Kinematics
Students who sag in the shoulders and chest tend to overcompensate for the weakness by hyperextending the neck to
such a degree that they pinch the neck rather than maintaining length throughout the spine. This overcompensation
tends to decrease circulation and expansion in the region, which in turn leads to tension and can injure the vertebrae
and supporting structures, rather than increasing the circulation and creating more length and strength.

239

Purvottanasana
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexors digitorum and hallucis


longus, flexor digitorum brevis
(C, I)

Lower leg

Plantar flexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus (C, I)

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus

Thigh

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip extension or hyperextension

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus,


gluteus medius (C, I)

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Torso

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


transverse abdominis (I)

Rectus abdominis

Hyperextension

Erector spinae, semispinalis (C, I)

Scapular adduction, stability

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Humerus hyperextension

Latissimus dorsi, teres major


(C, I)

Shoulder

Hyperextension, stability

Posterior deltoid (I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, ulnaris (I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (I)

Finger abduction

Abductor digiti minimi, abductor


pollicis brevis, opponens pollicis
(C, I)

Neck hyperextension

Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes
(E, I)

Hand and fingers

Neck

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

240

Muscles released

Anterior deltoid, pectoralis major


and minor

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

Flexor digitorum profundus and


superficialis, flexor digiti minimi,
interossei

Sternocleidomastoid

Supine and Prone Postures

Bhujangasana
Cobra Pose
[bhoo-juhn-GAAH-suh-nuh]
Bhujanga is Sanskrit for serpent or snake. This pose is often translated
in the West as Cobra because the chest is lifted
in the same way that a cobra raises its head.

Description
Bhujangasana is a prone backbending
posture with numerous variations. In
the postures simplest form, the chest is lifted off the ground and the arms are at the sides. This posture is part of the
Classical Sun Salutation. A deeper variation brings the head and feet together.

Energetic Focus
Fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-opening energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly into the metacarpal heads and fingertips. Anchor into the front pelvis and upper thighs.

Benefits





Increases range of motion in the spine.


Strengthens and stretches the spine.
Opens the chest and shoulders.
Increases circulation through the lungs and abdomen.
Energizes the legs.
Can be used to relieve pain from herniated disks and sciatica.

Cautions
PregnancyWomen past the first trimester should use a substitute posture.
Acute back pain or injuryStudents with back discomfort or injury should avoid this pose.
Wrist pain or carpal tunnel syndromeStudents with wrist concerns should practice with modification.

Verbal Cues
Begin from a prone position, resting your chin or forehead on the ground. Inhale and bring your hands under
your shoulders. Relax the tops of your feet and your front thighs against the ground. Point your fingers forward
and hug your upper arms into your sides as you exhale. Breathe softly, feeling the connection of your belly
with the ground.
Spread your fingers and as you exhale lightly press into your fingertips as you continue to draw your upper
arms towards your rib cage. Inhale, opening space between your shoulder blades and softening your shoulders.
Imagine your spine lengthening with each breath.
Press the front of your pelvis into the ground and activate the muscles in your legs slightly by rolling your front
thighs slightly toward each other. Exhale and begin to press the tops of your toes lightly against the ground.
Keep the back of the hips (gluteus maximus) relatively relaxed so that the lift in the torso comes primarily from
the back muscles.
241

Keep your hands rooted into the ground, inhale, and press down and back into your palms to extend your
chest forward. Visualize sliding your chest and rib cage forward. Feel your chest lift naturally away from the
ground. Keep your neck long and lift through the crown of your head. Anchor your front thighs into the ground
and straighten your elbows only to a point where your low back feels comfortable. Keep your hips and thighs
on the ground.
As you inhale, feel your spine and abdomen lengthen; as you exhale, feel your shoulders relax down away
from your ears. Be aware of your mid-back muscles helping to lift your chest.
Continue to focus on your breath.
If it feels best to keep your abdomen on the ground to ease your low back, notice your torso slowly rise as you
inhale deeply and lower as you exhale. If you can comfortably lift your abdomen off the ground with no strain
in your low back, expand your front torso and chest with each inhalation.
To exit the position, exhale and slowly lower your abdomen and chest back to the ground from the bottom
of your torso to the top. Counter Bhujangasana with Balasana (Childs Pose) or Adho Mukha Shvanasana
(Downward-Facing Dog).

Adjustments
FeetThe top of the feet should be flat against the ground. If the students toes are curled
under, lightly brush the backs of the heels and instruct the student to relax the tops of the
feet on the ground.
LegsThe legs should remain active in this position, stretching down away from the
hips. To cue the student to activate the muscles, gently tap the backs of the legs.
HipsIf the students hips are off the ground, lightly touch the low back and
remind the student to press the hips toward the ground.
Low backIf a student has trouble lengthening through the back, kneel to
the side and place your hand lightly on the upper sacrum. Encourage
the student to press the pelvis away from the head.
ElbowsIf the students elbows point away from the body,
you can kneel to the side, grasp the upper arms just
above the elbows, and gently press the outsides of the
Adjustment: elbows.
arms toward the body.
ShouldersMake sure that the students shoulders do not lift toward the ears. Kneel to the students side and lightly
place your hands on top of the shoulders. Press down gently to cue the student to create more space between the
ears and shoulders and to position the head so that the ears remain aligned with the shoulders.

Modifications
Tight backAsk the student to slide the elbows wider
apart than the shoulders and to rest on the forearms for
support. Instruct the student to use the arms for support
instead of the back muscles and to focus on pressing the
chest forward rather than lifting.
PregnancyFrom the second trimester on, pressure
on the abdomen is generally uncomfortable and
contraindicated. Therefore, instead of Bhujangasana, Modification: tight back.
pregnant women should substitute Durga-Go (Cat
and Cow Pose).

Kinematics
The McKenzie press-up used in physical therapy is a variation of Bhujangasana. The McKenzie version is a passive
spinal arch in which the arms press the spine into a gentle backbend to increase the range of motion. Bhujangasana
is a much more active pose, in which the erector spinae muscles help lift the chest and arch the back, thus building
strength and increasing the range of motion in the spine.
242

Supine and Prone Postures

Bhujangasana
Body segment
Foot and toes

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Toe abduction

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe hyperextension

Extensor digitorum longus,


extensor hallucis longus, tibialis
anterior (C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle plantar flexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus (C, I)

Thigh

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Leg adduction

Adductors (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip hyperextension

Hamstrings (C, I)

Iliopsoas, gluteus maximus

Torso

Spinal hyperextension

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Rectus abdominis

Torso stability

Internal and external obliques,


transverse abdominis (I)

Sternoclavicular stability

Subclavius (I)

Extension and adduction of


humerus

Latissimus dorsi, teres major


(C, I)

Stability and external rotation of


humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular stability

Subscapularis, serratus anterior


(C, I)

Adduction of scapulae

Rhomboids and mid trapezius


(C, I)

Supporting posture in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow flexion

Triceps brachii, posterior deltoid


(E, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris
(C, I)

Wrist stability

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


palmaris longus (C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, extensor


digiti minimi brevis (C, I)

Finger abduction

Abductor pollicis longus, opponens pollicis (C, I)

Neck extension

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis,
upper trapezius (I)

Shoulder

Hand and fingers

Neck

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus

Pectoralis major

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

243

Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana


Upward-Facing Dog
[oohr-dhuh-vuh moo-KUHSH-vuhn-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, urdhva means upward, mukha means face, and shvana means dog. The stretch in
this pose resembles the way that a dog stretches its chest and belly.

Description
This posture resembles Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) but differs in that the entire body
is lifted off the ground and supported on the palms and
the top of the feet. As a result, the spinal extension
is deeper in this pose, and more strength is
needed to maintain the openness in the chest
and shoulders.

Energetic Focus
Second chakra (Svadhisthana) creative energy, third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy, fourth chakra (Anahata)
heart-opening energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly into the metacarpal heads and fingertips. Anchor into the tops of the feet. Balance the grounding energy
evenly between the handsand feet.

Benefits






Strengthens the spine, arms, wrists, legs, and hips.


Opens the chest.
Increases circulation to the lungs and abdomen.
Increases spinal range of motion.
Improves posture.
Stretches the abdomen and hip flexors.
Stimulates the abdominal area.

Cautions
PregnancyWomen past the first trimester should use a substitute posture, such as Durga-Go (Cat and Cow Pose).
Low-back pain or injuryStudents with this type of condition should use Bhujangasana as a substitute pose.
WristsIf a student has a history of wrist concerns or complains of wrist pain, use a prop or modify the pose.

Verbal Cues

244

From a prone position, with your chin or forehead resting on the groundor from Chaturanga Dandasana
(Four-Limbs Staff Pose)stretch your legs away from your hips and chest. Press back through your hands so
that they align closer to your waist, spread your fingers, and press into your fingertips.
Inhale and press the tops of your feet down as you begin to raise your chest and shoulders off the ground. Feel
the energy of your arms shift your chest forward.
Straighten your arms and direct the crown of your head toward the sky. As you continue to extend your elbows,
press your pelvis forward, raising your hips and legs off the ground. Feel the strength and energy in your legs
moving up through your chest.

Supine and Prone Postures

Soften your elbows slightly and keep your upper arms drawn into your sides. With each inhalation, lift your heart
toward the sky. Elongate your neck and tilt your chin slightly upward, keeping length in the back of your neck.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Roll the front of your shoulders open by drawing your shoulder blades slightly closer together. Preserve as much
length as possible through your low back and imagine that space expanding in all directions with each breath.
To exit this position, bend your elbows and slowly lower your body back to the ground; alternatively, move
into Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing Dog).

Adjustments
FeetRemind the student not to curl the toes under but to flatten the tops of the feet on the ground. Lightly press
the bottoms of the heels forward.
LegsThe legs should remain close together, active, and lifted off the ground. If the students hips, knees, and shins
are touching the ground, straddle the students legs and squat or kneel above the calves.
Place your hands or a strap under the thighs just above the knees and lift. Instruct the
student to contract the leg muscles to help support the weight. Be mindful of your
own mechanics!
PelvisIf the belly sags, instruct the student to contract the abdominal muscles
while you squat behind and place your hands on the sides of the rib cage or on
the outer hips. Guide the torso gently upward and slightly back toward you to
help create more space in the low back.
HandsRemind students to align the hands under the shoulders and to spread
the fingers. To encourage students to widen the fingers, lightly touch the tops of
the hands.
ChestThe chest should be positioned in front of the arms. To adjust, squat or kneel
to one side of the student and place one hand between the
shoulder blades. Encourage the student to press forward
and up through the chest, away from your hand.
NeckIf the students shoulders are hunched up
Adjustment: chest.
toward the ears, cue the student to lower the
shoulders and then lengthen the neck and tilt the
chin slightly toward the sky. To encourage more length through the back of the neck, stand to the side and place
one palm against the base of the students skull with your fingers pointed toward the spine.

Modifications
Extreme weaknessTo build strength, instruct students to practice Bhujangasana before attempting
this pose.
Strength buildingAllow the student to keep the lower legs on the ground and work on lengthening
the spine. Cue the student to engage the leg muscles.
Tight anklesSome students have difficulty plantar-flexing the ankles (that is, pointing the toes and
stretching the top ankle). For these students, place a small, rolled-up towel under the fronts
of the ankles to provide some relief when anchoring into the feet.
Tight hip flexors or low backPlace blankets or a bolster under
the students thighs. Encourage the student to anchor through
the feet by pressing the hips and upper thighs down while
lengthening the spine upward.
Modifications: tight ankles.

Kinematics
Many students who are new to yoga confuse this posture with Bhujangasana. As a result, they extend the arms fully
but keep the legs and hips on the grounda position that generally creates too much hyperextension in the lumbar
spine. Suggest that these students come down to Bhujangasana and work on gradually lengthening the spine.
245

Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana


Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toes in extension against ground

Extensor digitorum longus and


hallucis, anterior tibialis, flexor
digitorum and hallucis longus,
posterior tibialis (C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle in plantar flexion but


actively dorsiflexing

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus, peroneals (C, I)

Thigh

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip extension and hyperextension

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus,


rectus femoris (C, I)

Hip stability

Deep external rotators,* adductors (C, I)

Torso stability

Rectus abdominis, internal and


external obliques, transverse
abdominis (I)

Spinal hyperextension

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Flexion of humerus, stability

Pectoralis major, coracobrachialis, biceps brachii (C, I)

Arm stability

Latissimus dorsi, teres major


(C, I)

Stability and external rotation of


humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Adduction of scapulae

Rhomboids and mid trapezius


(C, I)

Supporting posture in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris
(C, I)

Wrist stability

Flexor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris
(C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, extensor


digiti minimi brevis (C, I)

Finger abduction

Abductor pollicis longus, opponens pollicis (C, I)

Slight neck hyperextension and


stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis,
upper trapezius (I)

Torso

Shoulder

Hand and fingers

Neck

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

246

Muscles released

Iliopsoas (I)

Rectus abdominis, obliques

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes

Supine and Prone Postures

Shalabhasana
Locust Pose
[shuh-luhb-HAAHsuh-nuh]
Shalabha is Sanskrit for
locust or grasshopper.
This posture is said to resemble a locust as it rests on the ground with the legs higher than the front of the body.

Description
In Shalabhasana, the body is prone and the legs are lifted off the ground. The posture has two main variations, both
of which strengthen the back of the body.

Energetic Focus
Second chakra (Svadhisthana) creative energy, third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the front of the pelvis. Anchor into the upper abdomen.

Benefits




Strengthens the low spine and the posterior hip and thigh muscles.
Stretches the abdominal cavity.
Stimulates the kidneys.
Opens the shoulders and chest.
Stimulates circulation in the abdomen and chest.

Cautions
PregnancyBecause the belly is on the ground, this posture should not be practiced after the first trimester of
pregnancy.
Low-back pain or injuryStudents with this type of condition should either practice this pose one leg at a time
or avoid the pose.

Verbal Cues
From a prone position with your chin or forehead resting on the ground, reach your feet toward the wall behind
you. Rest your arms at your sides with your palms facing down.
Inhale and imagine the crown of your head and your toes moving farther away from each other as you lengthen
your sides. Reach your hands back toward your feet and feel a lengthening in the sides of your neck and your
upper shoulders.
Inhale and raise your head, chest, knees, and feet slightly off the ground. Imagine the length of your body
increasing as you inhale: feet and head moving even farther apart. Your abdomen and front pelvis remain
rooted on the ground.
As you continue to breathe, press your chest forward and stretch your feet away from your body. Spread your
toes to more fully energize your legs. Feel your front body lift and lengthen slowly as you breathe in deeply. If
it is comfortable to do so, lift your legs slightly higher while keeping length in your low spine.
Continue to focus on your breathing.
247

As you breathe, feel the muscles throughout the back half of your body working to maintain the lift in your legs
and torso. Keep your ears aligned with your shoulders and expand through your chest.
To exit the position, exhale and slowly lower your chest, head, and legs back to the ground. Bend your knees
and slightly rock your feet from side to side to relax your low back. Counter with Balasana (Childs Pose) or
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing Dog).

Adjustments
FeetIf the student does not actively engage the feet, tap the balls of the feet to cue the student to stretch out and
spread through the ends of the toes.
LegsThe knees should be extended and the hips slightly hyperextended. Remind the student to contract the muscles
of the hips and legs and stretch the feet away from the hips. Kneel behind the students feet, placing your hands
under the ankles, and slightly lift the legs as you draw the toes toward you.
ShouldersKneel beside the student, and place your hands on the upper arms near the shoulders. Rotate the students
shoulders externally (toward the spine), and remind the student to lengthen the spine.

Modifications
Strength buildingInstruct students to practice Ardha Shalabhasana (Half-Locust). The chin remains on the ground,
and the legs are lifted one at a time.
Deeper variationCue students to start in a prone position while
keeping the chin on the ground. Instruct them to place the hands
and forearms under the fronts of the hips and thighs for support. As they
inhale, instruct them to lift one or both legs into the air as
high as is comfortably challenging.
Modification: deeper variation.

Kinematics

The degree of hyperextension in the hips and spine is dependent on the strength of the students spinal and hip
extensor muscles, as well as the flexibility of the oppositional abdominal and hip flexor muscles. It is important to
cue students to maintain length in the lower back.

Shalabhasana
Body segment
Foot and toes

248

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Toe abduction

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe flexion

Flexor digitorum longus and


brevis, flexor hallucis longus
(C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle plantar flexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus (C, I)

Thigh

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Slight thigh adduction

Tensor fascia lata (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip hyperextension

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Torso

Spinal hyperextension

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Rectus abdominis, obliques

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Torso stability

Internal and external obliques,


transverse abdominis (I)

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus

Supine and Prone Postures

Body segment
Shoulder

Kinematics

Muscles active

Arm hyperextension

Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid, triceps brachii

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids and mid trapezius


(C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Arm extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris
(C, I)

Finger extension

Extensor digitorum, indicis,


and digiti minimi; lumbricales
manus; interossei dorsales (C, I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Neck extension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis,
upper trapezius (I)

Hand and fingers

Neck

Muscles released
Pectoralis major, anterior deltoid

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

249

Dhanurasana
Bow Pose
[dhuh-noor-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, dhanu means bow, as in a
bow and arrow. In this pose, the torso
represents the bow, and the arms signify
the action of the bowstring by pulling the
head and feet closer together.

Description
Dhanurasana is a moderate to deep
backbend. The knees are bent, and the
arms reach back toward the lifted feet.

Energetic Focus
Third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy, fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-opening energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the front of the pelvis and abdomen. Anchor through the fronts of the shins, where the hands grasp the ankles.

Benefits




Stretches the entire front of the body.


Strengthens the spine.
Opens the shoulders, chest, and throat.
Stimulates circulation in the abdomen and anterior of the pelvis.
Strengthens the lungs.

Cautions
PregnancyThis pose is not recommended for women after the first trimester.
Acute low-back injury, high blood pressure, or heart concernsStudents with any of these health concerns are
not advised to practice this pose.
Shoulder concernsStudents with shoulder injury or pain should practice with modifications.

Verbal Cues
From a prone position, with the chin or forehead resting on the ground, position your legs so that your knees
are slightly wider apart than your hips. Exhale and bend your knees so that your lower legs are perpendicular
to the ground.
Inhale and reach your hands back toward your feet while slowly lifting your chest off the ground. Dorsiflex
your ankles (point your toes toward your knees) and wrap your hands around the outsides of your ankles or
the tops of your feet. Anchor the front of your pelvis into the ground and lift your chest forward and upward
to lengthen your abdomen. By pressing your chest slightly forward, you open space in your low back as well.
Inhale and draw your shoulder blades toward each other to open the front of your shoulders and chest.
Spread your toes to energize your feet and legs. As you exhale, press your feet away from your body. As you
do this, you will feel your chest lift and open more fully.
250

Supine and Prone Postures

Continue to focus on breathing smoothly.


On your next exhalation, if it feels comfortable to you, lift the fronts of your thighs off the ground as you reach
the soles of your feet toward the sky. Maintain the lift and openness in your chest and shoulders.
With each inhalation, lift the crown of your head, pressing your chest forward and lengthening your low back.
Feel your breath as your abdomen expands and contracts against the ground.
To exit the position, exhale, release your hands gently from your feet, and lower your knees and chest back to
the ground. Slightly rock your legs from side to side to relax your low back. Balasana (Childs Pose) is a good
counterstretch.

Adjustments
FeetIf the students toes are not pointed down toward the knees, lightly tap the feet to cue the student to activate
them more.
KneesThe knees should be slightly farther than hip-width apart. If the students knees are too close together, kneel
or squat to the side and lightly place your hands on the insides of the knees. Apply enough pressure to cue the
student to widen the legs. Also, the knees should not be flexed more than 90 degrees. If they are, generally the
elbows are flexed as well. Lightly touch the backs of the students heels and cue the
student to extend the knees slightly so that the arms straighten. This adjustment keeps
the chest open.
ShouldersIf a student has difficulty lifting through the
front of the chest, kneel to the side with your hands on
the fronts of the shoulders and rotate the shoulders externally (toward the spine) as you gently lift the students
upper torso.

Modifications
Strength and flexibility buildingInstruct students to first practice Ardha Dhanurasana
(Half-Bow Pose) by lifting one leg at a time
Modification: strength building.
while keeping the torso on the ground. This
modification helps build strength and flexibility
gradually in the legs and low spine. As students build strength over
time, they can begin lifting both legs at the same time, then move
on to lifting the torso as well.
Tight shouldersIf the student cannot reach back to the feet comfortably, place one end of a strap in each hand and wrap it around the
fronts of the ankles.
Deepening of the shoulder stretchInstruct students that instead of
placing the palms around the outside of the ankles or feet, they
can place the palms against the arches of the feet and align the
thumbs with the big toes. This position actively increases the
external rotation of the shoulders.
Modification: deepening the shoulder stretch.

Kinematics
Because the full body weight is borne by the abdominal cavity in Dhanurasana, individuals who are new to practicing
the posture may find that the heart rate increases due to the pressure exerted on deep blood vessels such as the vena
cava. If this effect causes discomfort, suggest that the affected student exit the pose and practice lying on her or his side.
Students who can easily grasp the ankles can lift the thighs off the ground more effectively by contracting the
quadriceps concentrically, as if straightening the legs, than by using a solely concentric contraction of the hip extensors. The two sets of opposing muscles work together to create the bow position that gives the posture its name. In
addition, the wider positioning of the feet in relation to the hips helps the student avoid placing undue stress and
strain on the sacrum.
251

Dhanurasana
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum longus,


extensor hallucis longus, tibialis
anterior (C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle plantar flexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus (C, I)

Thigh

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Quadriceps

Hip and pelvis

Initial hip hyperextension

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Active hip hyperextension

Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus


maximus (C, I)

Spinal hyperextension

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Torso

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Torso stability

Internal and external obliques,


transverse abdominis (I)

Humerus hyperextension

Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid, triceps brachii (C, I)

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids and mid trapezius


(C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris (I)

Finger flexion

Flexor digitorum, extensor digiti


minimi brevis, dorsal interossei
(I)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (I)

Neck hyperextension

Splenius capitus and cervicis,


suboccipitals, semispinalis,
upper trapezius (C, I)

Shoulder

Hand and fingers

Neck

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

252

Muscles released

Rectus abdominis

Pectoralis major, anterior deltoid

Supine and Prone Postures

Setu Bandhasana
Bridge Pose
[sey-TOO buhn-DHAAH-suh-nuh]
Setu is a Sanskrit term for bridge or dam, and
bandha means lock. The shape of the body in
this pose resembles a bridge.

Description
Setu Bandhasana is a relatively
easy backbending asana in
which the head, the neck, and the top edge of the shoulders remain on the ground, while the knees are flexed and
the feet are flat on the ground. The resulting body shape resembles a bridge, and because the neck and chin press
together (jalandhara bandha), energy is held in, much like water controlled by a dam.

Energetic Focus
Third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy, fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-opening energy, fifth chakra (Vishuddha)
purifying energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly into both heels. Anchor into the shoulder blades and the backs of the arms.

Benefits







Opens and expands the chest.


Strengthens the mid and upper spine.
Helps alleviate symptoms of mild depression.
Stretches the entire torso.
Increases circulation to the thyroid gland.
Energizes the legs.
Relieves low-back tightness.
Helps alleviate menstrual and menopausal discomfort.

Caution
Neck pillowsThe use of neck pillows should be avoided in this posture, as they do not allow for the proper
range of motion in the back of the neck.
Neck concernsStudents with acute neck pain or injury should avoid this pose.
PregnancyThis pose should not be practiced after the second trimester.

Verbal Cues
From a supine position, bend your knees and bring your heels toward your hips. Place your feet hip-width apart
and parallel with each other. Bring your arms to your sides and slightly reach your hands toward your heels.
Rest your shoulder blades comfortably against the ground.
Slightly tilt your lower pelvis so that your sit bones point toward the backs of your knees. Lengthen your low
back slightly. Anchor your shoulder blades into the ground, and lengthen the back of your neck. Without moving
your legs, feel your inner thigh muscles activate as if they were pressing together.
253

Inhale to energize your body. Exhale and slowly peel your pelvis and lower spine off the ground. Feel your
vertebrae lift, one by one, off the ground as the lifting action moves up toward your neck.
Press the fronts of your hips and your abdomen toward the sky. Imagine your tailbone reaching to touch the
back of your knees. Feel your chest draw in toward your chin.
As you exhale, press your kneecaps forward, away from your body, and notice a lengthening in your front thighs.
As your chest moves closer to your chin, breathe into the stretch in your abdomen and in the back of your neck.
If possible, interlace your fingers under your back. Squeeze your elbows and shoulder blades together, lifting
your chest even higher.
Continue to focus on your breath.
With each inhalation, feel your chest and ribs open more fully. On each exhalation, press your feet more firmly
against the ground.
To exit the position, unclasp your fingers and bring your arms back to your sides. Exhale and slowly lower
your spine back to the ground, one vertebra at a time, from the top to the bottom. Rest your spine against the
ground and allow all of your muscles to relax. Lift your knees into your chest and rock gently from side to side.

Adjustments
FeetThe feet should be hip-width apart and parallel to each other. If the toes turn in or out, gently tap the outsides
of the students feet to cue the student to realign the feet.
KneesIf the student rolls the legs out laterally from the body, kneel in front of the knees and place your hands on
the outsides of the students lower thighs. Lightly move the knees closer to parallel.
Hips and low backIf the hips are not lifted higher than the chest and knees, place a strap around the students
pelvis at the sacral level. Stand in a slight lunge facing
the students knees and place your front foot
between the students feet. As you hold onto
the ends of the strap, lean back slightly while
straightening your front leg and gently lift the students hips toward you. Move slowly and check
in with the student regarding comfort.
ChestIf the chest sinks between the shoulders,
place a strap around the students upper torso
under the scapulae. Hold the ends of the strap
in your hands and sit or semi-squat a few inches
(centimeters) away from the students head. Lean
back and lift the students chest and rib cage
Adjustment: chest.
toward you.

Modifications
Early pregnancy or weaknessPlace folded blankets under the students low back and hips. You also can place a
block under the sacrum for the student to rest on. These modifications allow the abdomen and chest to stretch
without the effort.
Low-back discomfortIf the student has slight tightness in the lumbar area, instruct the student to lift the heels off
the ground in order to relieve some of the muscular activity in the back. Also, remind students to press the inner
thighs toward each other so that the legs do not splay outward.
Pose deepeningInstruct the student to draw the heels closer to the hips and grasp the ankles. This modification
increases the stretch through the thighs and allows for a greater arch
throughout the length of the spine.
Deeper supported positioningIn this variation,
place a block under the students upper pelvis
(the block must not rest on the lumbar spine)
as in the pregnancy modification. Instruct the
Modification: deeper supported positioning.
student to extend one leg, keeping the heel on
254

Supine and Prone Postures

the ground. Invite the student to relax the leg and, if the student is comfortable in the lower back, to extend the other
leg. If discomfort is felt, ask the student to slowly bend the knees again and rest. If the student feels comfortable
with the legs extended, the student may stretch the arms overhead and relax in this position. The low back should
remain comfortable.

Kinematics
Because the neck remains on the ground in this posture, it can be used as a preliminary step in building the necessary
range of motion in the neck and shoulders for Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand). In the deeper
supported variation of Setu Bandhasana, the lifting of the pelvis allows for a deeper passive psoas stretch. Remind
students not to turn the head once the pelvis is lifted so as not to place strain on the neck.

Setu Bandhasana
Body segment
Foot and toes

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Toe abduction

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum and hallucis


longus, flexor digitorum brevis
(C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle dorsiflexion, stability

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum and hallucis longus (I)

Thigh

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Slight adduction

Adductors (I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip hyperextension

Gluteus maximus, hamstrings


(C, I)

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Torso

Spinal hyperextension

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Rectus abdominis

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Torso stability

Internal and external obliques,


transverse abdominis (I)

Humerus hyperextension

Latissimus dorsi, teres major,


posterior deltoid, triceps brachii
(C, I)

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular adduction and depression

Rhomboids, mid and lower trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Finger adduction

Adductor pollicis, flexor pollicis


longus and brevis, interossei
(C, I)

Finger flexion

Flexor digitorum, extensor digiti


minimi brevis, dorsal interossei
(C, I)

Neck flexion, jalandhara bandha

Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes,
hyoids (C, I)

Shoulder

Hand and fingers

Neck

Quadriceps

Pectoralis major and minor, anterior deltoid, serratus anterior

Cervical erector spinae, splenius


capitus and cervicis, upper trapezius

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

255

Urdhva Dhanurasana
Upward Bow Pose
[oohr-dhuh-vuh dhuh-noor-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, urdhva means upward or backward,
and dhanu means bow (like a bow and arrow).
Thus the name signifies an upward bow, and
the posture is sometimes called Urdhva Mukha
Dhanurasana (Upward-Facing Bow). Another
much-used name for this position is Chakrasana
[chuk-RAAH-suh-nuh]. Chakra means wheel
and, as discussed in chapter 5, is the name for
the bodys energy centers. The shape of the
body in Urdhva Dhanurasana can be said
to resemble the drawn string of a
bow or the roundness of a wheel;
generally, however, Chakrasana
indicates a backward somersault,
which is used in some vinyasa flow
practices.

Description
Urdhva Dhanurasana is a full backbend in which the hands and feet support the body and the abdomen faces toward
the sky. The pose may also be classified as an inversion.

Energetic Focus
Third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy, fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-opening energy, fifth chakra (Vishuddha)
purifying energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the heels and metatarsal heads of both feet. Anchor into the metacarpal heads and fingertips of both hands.
Balance the grounding energy evenly between the handsand feet.

Benefits





Increases flexibility and range of motion in the spine.


Strengthens the shoulders, arms, wrists, legs, and spine.
Opens the chest and shoulder girdle.
Relieves asthma symptoms by expanding the lungs.
Increases energy.
Stimulates the thyroid gland.

Cautions
Shoulder or wrist concernsStudents with any of these concerns should practice with modifications or avoid
this pose.
Glaucoma or high blood pressureStudents with either of these conditions are advised against practicing this pose.
Low-back injuryStudents with this condition should avoid this pose.
256

Supine and Prone Postures

Verbal Cues
From a supine position, bend your knees and bring your heels as close to your hips as is comfortable. Bend
your elbows and lift your upper arms off the ground. Place your palms flat on the ground near the top of your
shoulders with your fingers pointing toward your body. Exhale and gently hug your elbows toward each other
so that your arms are parallel to each other.
Spread your fingers and press into your fingertips. Slightly rotate your thighs internally and feel the strength
and grounding in your legs.
Exhale and begin to press your feet and hands firmly against the ground.
As in Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose), press firmly into the heels and lift the hips and back off the ground. Continue to hug the inner thighs toward each other and the elbows toward each other.
Inhale to open your chest and lengthen your low back. As you exhale again, slowly straighten your arms while
lifting your head and upper torso off the ground. Maintain the alignment in your elbows, drawing them in closer
toward the midline of your body.
Continue to press strongly, yet without strain, through your arms and heels. Lift your lower abdomen toward the
sky. Feel as if your spinal and posterior hip muscles are gently lifting your spine upward away from the ground.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Feel your spine lengthen and maintain equal balance between your feet and hands.
To exit the posture, exhale and slowly bend your knees and elbows, lowering your shoulders and hips back
to the ground. Inhale and exhale deeply to relax your spine. Let your knees rock gently from side to
side, massaging your lower back.

Adjustments
FeetMake certain that the students feet are hip-width apart and parallel to each other. If the
toes point out, squat in front of the student and gently nudge the feet into alignment so that
the toes point forward. Remind the student to keep the feet active and press
through the heels.
KneesThe knees should remain somewhat flexed. If the students knees
point laterally from the body, lightly place your hands on the outer
thighs and move the students legs closer to parallel. Continue to cue
the student to press inward with the inner thighs.
Hips and low backIf the hips are not lifted, place a strap around the
students hips at the sacral level. Stand facing the students knees in a
slight lunge with your front foot between the students feet. As you hold
onto the ends of the strap, lean back, straightening your front leg, and
Adjustment: hips and low back.
gently lift the students hips toward you.
Mid and upper spine and chestThe chest should be lifted and positioned opposite the lower
legs. If the chest sinks down between the shoulders, place a strap around the students scapulae
(shoulder blades). Stand facing the students head and begin in a lunge position,
holding the ends of the strap in your hands. Lean back slightly and lift the
students chest and rib cage forward. Use caution with this adjustment
so as not to take the student off balance.
ShouldersUse extreme caution when adjusting a students
shoulders in Urdhva Dhanurasana! The shoulders should be
rotated externally. However, because the students body is
upside down and facing away from you, confusion can arise
about the direction in which you should attempt to roll
the upper arms. Face the students head and place your
hands on the upper arms, near the shoulders, with your
thumbs closest to the head. Rotate the students arms
Adjustment: shoulders. Slowly rotate the arms in the direcso that your thumbs move toward you and the students tion of the arrow.
257

elbows move toward the students body. Moving the arms in the opposite direction can injure the students shoulders. If you have any doubts about making this adjustment, do not do it!
NeckDo not touch the students neck in this posture. Verbally cue the student to relax the neck and to keep length
between the ears and shoulders.

Modifications
Arm weakness or tightnessPosition the student in Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose) with the pelvis on a block. Instruct
the student to place the hands in position for Urdhva Dhanurasana and press into the hands while maintaining
elbow alignment. To focus more energy into pressing through the arms, a strap can be placed around the upper
arms, just above the elbows, to keep the arms together.
Weak or tight wristsPlace two blocks diagonally against a wall; be sure to place the blocks on a mat so that they
do not slide. Instruct the student to start in Setu Bandhasana, with the head facing the blocks and the hands on
the front of the blocks with the fingers facing down. On an inhalation, the student straightens the arms as much
as is comfortable. With this modification, the angle of the wrist is much more forgiving for those who have with
weakness and tightness in the joint. If the elbows rotate outward, a strap can be wrapped around the upper arms
above the elbows.
Limited spinal range of motion and significant weaknessHave the student lie with the back over an exercise ball
or a blanketed chair with the feet and hands touching the ground. This prop supports the spine and lengthens the
torso. (See chapter 11 Restorative Postures.)
Posture deepeningA student can deepen the posture by entering the asana from a standing position. To build confidence, position the student with his or her back to a wall that is about as far away as the students hands and feet
are from each other in the full expression of this pose. Instruct the student to reach the hands overhead and behind
and walk the hands down the wall toward the ground. Make certain that the toes point directly forward and the
thighs rotate inward slightly as they lower the upper body down toward the ground. Moving into the pose from a
standing position also builds strength in the abdominal muscles.

Kinematics
The closer the hands are to the feet, the more challenging the posture is. To remain comfortable in this pose, the
student needs a certain range of motion through the torso. One also needs external rotation in the shoulder joint in
order to retain joint stability. As in all backbending poses, if the thighs rotate slightly internally then the lower spine
and sacrum are not compressed.

Urdhva Dhanurasana (Lifting Up From a Supine Position)


Body segment
Foot and toes

Muscles active
Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti
minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(I)

Toe flexion (pressure into


ground)

Flexor digitorum and hallucis


longus, flexor digitorum brevis
(C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle plantar flexion, stability

Gastrocnemius, soleus, anterior


tibialis, extensor digitorum and
hallucis longus (I)

Thigh

Knee flexion

Hamstrings, stability (C, I)

Thigh adduction, stability

Adductors (C, I)

Hip hyperextension

Gluteus maximus, hamstrings


(C, I)

Hip and pelvis

258

Kinematics
Toe abduction

Muscles released

Quadriceps
Iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Supine and Prone Postures

Body segment
Torso

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Spinal hyperextension

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, rectus abdominis (C, I)

Torso stability

Internal and external obliques,


transverse abdominis (I)

Sternoclavicular stability

Subclavius (I)

Humerus hyperflexion, stability

Pectoralis major, anterior deltoid


(I)

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular stability

Serratus anterior, subscapularis


(C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids and mid trapezius


(C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension, stability

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Forearm extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris
(C, I)

Finger extension, stability

Extensor digitorum, extensor


digiti minimi brevis (C, I)

Finger abduction

Abductor pollicis longus, opponens pollicis (C, I)

Neck hyperextension

Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes (E) Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes

Shoulder

Hand and fingers

Neck

Rectus abdominis

Latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major


and minor

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

259

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana


One-Legged Royal Pigeon Pose
[eka-PAAH-duh-RAAH-juh kuh-poht-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, eka pada means one leg, raja means royal, and kapota
means pigeon or dove. This pose name reflects the fact that the
practitioners chest puffs out like that of a roosting pigeon.

Description
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana is addressed here in the form of two
variations and one modified alternative. The version practiced
most commonly is referred to as Baby Pigeon, which is more
of a prone posture that comes after a deep lunge.
The outside of the front leg is placed with the knee
flexed and resting against the ground, and the trailing
leg is extended straight back with the front of the leg
on the ground. The torso is folded forward over the
bent knee.
The second variation begins in the same position as Baby Pigeon; however, instead of folding forward over the
front leg, the practitioner keeps the torso upright and arches back slightly while the head and hands reach toward
the back foot. This variation is generally called Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged Royal Pigeon).

Energetic Focus
Second chakra (Svadhisthana) creative energy, fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-opening energy

Foundational Focus
Root through the sit bone and the outer edge of the flexed leg. Anchor into the front thigh of the back leg. Balance
the grounding energy evenly in both legs.

Benefits



Opens the hips and chest.


Lengthens the hip flexors and external rotators.
Stabilizes the hips.
Stimulates and stretches the abdominal organs.

Cautions
Knee or hip injuryStudents with an acute knee or hip concern should avoid this posture.
Sacroiliac concernsStudents with sacroiliac injury or instability should proceed with modifications or avoid
this pose.

260

Supine and Prone Postures

Verbal Cues
Variation 1: Baby Pigeon
Starting with your weight on your hands and knees, inhale and lengthen your spine. Imagine moving the crown
of your head and your sit bones as far from each other as possible.
Exhale and step your right foot forward, coming into a low lunge with your hands on the ground. Slide your right
foot across to the outside of your left hand, then slowly lower your right knee to the outside of your right hand.
If you feel discomfort in your hip or knee as you lower your leg, practice the rest of the pose with modifications.
Slide your left leg behind you and lower your pelvis toward the ground. Feel the front of your left thigh elongate.
Breathe softly into that space. Press into your hands and lift your lower rib cage away from
your hips as you open space in your low back.
Inhale and stretch your chest and head toward the sky. Roll the fronts of your shoulders
open to expand your chest. As you breathe, imagine your collar bones drawing apart
with each inhalation.
Exhale and begin to slowly walk your hands forward away from your body, lowering
your torso toward the ground. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart, and if it is
comfortable to do so your right knee should be positioned to the outside of your right
shoulder. This positioning helps release your hips without straining your knee joint.
Again, if this positioning is not comfortable, practice with modifications.
Continue stretching your upper body forward, breathing deeply to relax your hip and
spinal muscles.
Take another five or six breaths as you continue to soften your upper body and hips.
To exit this position, press your hands into the ground and slowly walk your hands
back toward your body as you raise your torso. When your hands are under
your shoulders, press down and lift your hips off the ground and move back
onto your hands and knees; alternatively, stretch out your legs in Adho Mukha
Shvanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) before preparing for the opposite side.

Variation 2: Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged Royal Pigeon Pose)


From Baby Pigeon, with your torso perpendicular to the ground, focus on lengthening your spine and lifting
your rib cage away from your hips.
Exhale and bend your left knee, bringing your left foot toward the back of your pelvis. Your pelvis will likely
rise off the ground. Breathe and picture your hips rooting into the ground.
Exhale and reach your arms overhead and grasp your left foot or ankle with both hands. Breathe slowly and
smoothly.
Inhale deeply and puff your chest up and out like that of a pigeon to lift your rib cage even more. Rotate
the fronts of your shoulders out from your chest. Slightly tilt your chin upward
and arch back from your mid spine as much as you feel comfortable doing.
Exhale and draw your elbows closer together.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Maintain the length in your low back as you continue to lift your
chest. Imagine setting the back of your head into the arches of your
feet. Feel the smooth arc of your spine.
To exit this position, slowly release your left foot. Maintain control
of your left leg so that the foot does not drop quickly to the ground.
Bring your hands back to the ground under your shoulders and
press down to lift your hips off the ground and move back onto
your hands and knees; alternatively, stretch out your legs in
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) before
preparing for the opposite side.

261

Adjustments
FeetThe top of the foot on the extended leg should be relaxed and resting on the ground. The leg should be aligned
with the hip. If the leg is abducted, squat or kneel to the side of the student and guide the leg inward by gently
pressing the outer hip inward. Lightly tap the foot to encourage relaxation.
Knees and hipsThe extended knee should be square to the ground and not rotating outward. Generally, if the knee
rotates externally, it does so because the opposite hip is tight (see the modifications section for this pose) and the
body leans to that side. To guide the student into alignment, place your hands on the outsides of the hips while
kneeling behind the student. This adjustment usually also realigns the
extended knee. If the student is able to keep the hips grounded but
feels discomfort in the kneecap of that leg, place a folded towel
or cushion under the knee for comfort.
Lumbar spineIf the student slumps into the lower back, cue the
student to lift the rib cage. Kneel beside the student, place your
hands on the outsides of the rib cage, and lift gently to encourage length in the back.
ShouldersRemind the student to maintain soft shoulders and
keep space in the neck below the ears. Place your hands
gently on the fronts of the shoulders to cue relaxation and
expansion in the chest and neck.

Modifications
Modification: tight hips.

Tight hipsPlace a rolled blanket or a block under the


hip of the bent leg to bring the top of the pelvis level.
Strength and flexibility buildingPlace blocks under the hands and to the sides
of the students hips to help support the upper body as the student strengthens
the torso and stretches the hips.
Intermediate variationSome students are flexible enough in the hip flexors
but unable to reach the arms over the head to clasp the back foot. Offer these
students the following variation. Bring them to the point where they bend the
back leg. Instruct them to exhale and reach both hands back to grasp the
ankle as they open the chest. If students feel comfortable, instruct them
to exhale and rotate the torso slightly to the extended-leg side as they
reach the same-side arm back to clasp the foot. If they have enough
balance and strength, invite them to raise the opposite arm overhead
and slightly raise the chest, breathing deeply and smoothly.
Modification: intermediate variation.
Deepening of the pose(Twisted Pigeon)Cue students as follows: From
Baby Pigeon, with your right leg flexed, cross your left elbow toward the outside of your
right thigh. Bend your elbows, press your palms together in front of your chest,
and rotate your torso to the right. Your hips should maintain contact with the
ground during the twist. This pose can be called Parivrtta
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana. To adjust, kneel behind the
student with one hand on the closest shoulder and
your other hand on the back of the students rib
cage. Gently guide the shoulder toward you and
Modification: deepening into Parivrtta Eka Pada Rajakapotasana.
press the rib cage away.

Kinematics
Many people have overly tight external hip rotators and therefore find it difficult to sit comfortably in Eka Pada
Rajakapotasana. The asana can be modified with a bolster or folded blankets placed under the flexed hip; otherwise,
the student risks injuring the knee. The risk is even greater if the student places the weight of the upper body on the
flexed thigh.
262

Supine and Prone Postures

The following table illustrates the kinematics of the full expression of the pose. Due to the extreme hyperextension
in the spine in the deepest expression of the pose, it should be modified for students whose hips are even moderately
tight. If the outer hip on the bent leg and the front thigh of the back leg do not rest comfortably on the ground, then
the tightness in the hips and extreme hyperextension in the spine may lead to instability or injury over time.

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Right Knee Bent)


Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus, anterior tibialis (C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Ankle dorsiflexion, inversion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus (C, I)

Lower leg (L)

Ankle plantar flexion, stability

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus, peroneals (C, I)

Thigh (R)

Knee flexion

Hamstrings, sartorius (C, I)

Thigh (L)

Knee flexion

Hamstrings (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas (C, I)

Femoral abduction

Gluteus medius and minimus


(C, I)

Initial femoral external rotation

Adductors, sartorius (E, R)

Femur external rotation

Deep external rotators* (I, R)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Hip hyperextension

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Iliopsoas, quadriceps

Torso

Spinal hyperextension

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Rectus abdominis

Rib and chest elevation

Pectoralis minor (C, I)

Torso stability

Rectus abdominis, internal and


external obliques, transverse
abdominis (E, I)

Humerus flexion

Pectoralis major, anterior deltoids (C, I)

Stability and external rotation of


humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Scapular stability

Subscapularis, serratus anterior


(C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

Supporting posture in mid back,


downward pull of scapulae

Lower trapezius (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis (C, I)

Lower arm

Wrist flexion

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


palmaris longus (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Finger flexion

Flexor digitorum profundus


and superficialis, flexor pollicis
longus (C, I)

Neck

Neck hyperextension

Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes (E)

Shoulder

Adductors, gracilis

Triceps brachii

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right (in body segment column) or relaxed (in
muscles active column).

263

Ushtrasana
Camel Pose
[oosh-TRAAH-suh-nuh]
Ushtra is Sanskrit for camel. In this pose, the arch of the body represents
the hump of a camels back, and the bend in the legs resembles those of a
camels rising from the ground.

Description
Ushtrasana is a kneeling backbend. The openness in the hips and shoulders is
a good precursor to more demanding backbends.

Energetic Focus
Third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy, fourth chakra (Anahata)
heart-opening energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the tops of the feet and the shins. Anchor the hands onto the backs of the heels or onto a prop.

Benefits






Opens the shoulders and chest.


Strengthens the mid-back and posterior shoulder muscles.
Stretches the abdominal cavity.
Increases circulation to the throat area.
Lengthens the hip flexors.
Stretches the fronts of the ankles.
Increases awareness of alignment.

Cautions
Back or neck concernsStudents with back or neck difficulty should practice with modification.
High blood pressureStudents with this condition are advised to use modification.

Verbal Cues
Starting in a kneeling position, align your knees hip-width apart. Curl your toes under so that your heels are
lifted. Slightly rotate your thighs inward to stabilize your hips.
Reach behind you and place the heel of your hands on the top of your pelvis. Exhale and draw your elbows
and shoulder blades closer together. Feel your chest expand. Press your hands against the top of your pelvis to
move your hips slightly forward. Your thighs should remain mostly perpendicular to the ground.
Inhale and lift your ribs and chest as you press your pelvis forward a little more. Imagine that a hand placed
between your shoulder blades is gently pressing in and up to lift your chest.
Reach your right hand down toward your right heel and rest your palm there. Take a breath, then slowly reach
your left hand to your left heel. Your thumbs should point away from your body. Breathe in deeply and rotate
the fronts of your shoulders away from your chest.

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Supine and Prone Postures

Continue to focus on your breath.


Press your hands into your heels as you draw your elbows slightly closer together. With your next inhalation,
relax your neck, allowing your head to tilt back slightly into a comfortable position. Continue to maintain
length in the sides and back of your neck. If your neck feels compromised or uncomfortable, softly draw your
chin in toward your chest.
If you are comfortable in this position, lower the tops of your feet against the ground. Continue to open your
heart toward the sky. Feel the front of your chest expand, opening up your heart energy.
On each inhalation, feel your chest and lower back rise. On each exhalation, feel your thighs rotate inward
for stability.
To exit this position, inhale deeply and imagine being lifted by your chest. Move slowly and lift your right hand
off your foot and bring it to the front of your body, as if someone were pulling you upright. Bring your left arm forward
and lift your torso upright. Lower your hips to your heels
and your upper body to the ground into Balasana (Childs
Pose). Gently rock your pelvis from side to side to soften
your back.

Adjustments
FeetRemind students to begin with the toes curled under and
the heels lifted. If, when a student brings the tops of the feet to
the ground, the toes point outward, gently brush the outsides of
the feet to encourage the student to realign the toes.
Knees and thighsIf the student begins with the knees wider
than hip-width apart, cue the student to move the knees
closer together before moving into the posture. In addition,
remind students to rotate the thighs internally in order to
keep the back of the pelvis open. As a reminder, gently
brush the outsides of the thighs.
HipsThe hips should remain aligned directly over the Adjustment: hips.
knees; however, as students reach for the feet, they often neglect to press the pelvis forward. To
adjust, stand or kneel beside the student and place your closest palm on the students
upper pelvis. Move the torso slightly forward and upward while moving the pelvis
into alignment over the knees. Another option is to stand in front of the student in
a semi-lunge, place a strap around the pelvis, and use the strap to gently draw
the student toward you.
SpineIf the students low spine is collapsing, kneel to the side, place your
hand on the low back, and instruct the student to move the body away from
your hand.
ShouldersThe shoulders should be rotated externally and be relaxed away
from the ears. To adjust, instruct the student to press firmly through the arms
for length. To aid in external rotation, stand or kneel behind the student and
place your hands on the shoulders with your thumbs closest to you. Rotate
the students arms so that the shoulder blades come closer together.
ChestThe chest should be higher than the level of the shoulders.
To adjust, stand beside the student and place your hand between
the shoulder blades, then instruct the student to lift away from
Adjustment: shoulders.
your hand.

Modifications
Neck discomfortIf a student is not comfortable with lowering the head back, instruct the student to tuck the chin
into the chest. This modification should be used for those with high blood pressure.
265

Tight hip flexorsIf the student has difficulty bringing the hands to the feet without dropping the hips
back, cue the student to place the hands on the back of the pelvis and squeeze the elbows and
shoulder blades inward while moving the pelvis forward. For additional support and leverage,
place blocks under the students hands and cue the student to press firmly into the blocks.
These modifications help the student build flexibility in the quadriceps and psoas.
Upper spine weakness and tight chestA student may need assistance to lift the upper
spine and rib cage. Sit behind the student as he or she kneels and place the ball of
one foot lightly between the students shoulder blades. Clasp the wrists in your hands
and instruct the student to grasp your wrists. While the student inhales, gently press
your foot forward against the back while holding the arms. As the student exhales,
instruct her or him to move the pelvis forward and relax the shoulders and neck. This
action is a Thai yoga therapy technique used to expand the students chest and
shoulders while the instructor supports the weight.
Abdominal weaknessAssist the student in exiting the posture. Standing behind
the student in a semi-squat, place your hands between the shoulder blades Modification: tight hip flexors.
with your fingers pointing down. As the student inhales, gently press upward on
the back to help the student lift upright. Another variation is to stand in a slight lunge in front of the student. Cue
the student to reach the right arm forward and clasp your right arm, above the elbow, while you clasp the students
arm. Straighten your legs and lean back slightly to lift the student upright.

Kinematics
With the toes hyperextended, the arch of the foot is stretched as the body weight is moved over the heels. Some
students find such positioning fairly uncomfortable at first; encourage them to practice this positioning in order to
benefit the structures of the feet.

266

Supine and Prone Postures

Ushtrasana
Body segment
Foot and toes

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Toe hyperextension

Extensor digitorum longus and hallucis,


Plantar fascia, flexor digitoanterior tibialis, flexor digitorum and hallu- rum and hallucis longus, poscis longus, posterior tibialis (C, E, I)
terior tibialis

Foot stability

Extensor digitorum longus and hallucis,


anterior tibialis, flexor digitorum and hallucis longus, posterior tibialis (I)

Lower leg

Ankle in dorsiflexion, stability

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus, Gastrocnemius and soleus


peroneals (C, I)

Thigh

Knee flexion, stability

Hamstrings (C, I)

Quadriceps

Hip and
pelvis

Hip hyperextension, stability

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris (E, I)

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Hip stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus (C, I)

Stability

Deep external rotators,* gluteus medius (I)

Torso stability

Rectus abdominis, internal and external


obliques, transverse abdominis (E, I)

Spinal stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum (I)

Adduction of scapulae

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C, I)

External rotation and stability

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid


(C, I)

Hyperextension and adduction of humerus

Latissimus dorsi, teres major (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension (also aids in


hyperextending humerus)

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Wrist hyperextension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and longus,


extensor carpi ulnaris (C, I)

Hand and
fingers

Finger flexion

Flexor digiti minimi brevis, interossei palmaris, flexor pollicis brevis (C, I)

Neck

Neck hyperextension

Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes (E, I)

Torso

Shoulder

Rectus abdominis, obliques

Pectoralis major and minor,


anterior deltoid, subscapularis, serratus anterior

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

267

Supta Virasana
Reclining Hero Pose
[SOOP-tuh veer-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, supta means reclining or
lying down and vira means hero,
chief, warrior, or champion. In
Latin, virilis means man. In both the
Mahabharata (a Hindu epic) and the
legend ofKing Arthur, a mans secret
strength, power, and virility reside
symbolically in the thighs.

Description
Supta Virasana is a supine posture in which the knees are bent and the lower legs tucked under or to the outside of
the thighs. This pose provides an excellent stretch for the quadriceps.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra (Svadhisthana) creative energy, third chakra (Manipura)
vitalizing energy, fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-opening energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the back of the pelvis and the inner thighs. Anchor into the shoulder blades and upper arms.

Benefits






Lengthens the quadriceps and iliopsoas.


Increases circulation in the legs.
May help alleviate symptoms of sciatica.
Gently stretches the abdomen and aids digestion.
Opens the chest.
Increases flexibility in the ankles and feet.
Helps relieve menstrual discomfort.

Cautions
This pose should be introduced only if students are able to sit comfortably with the buttocks on the ground in
the seated version (Virasana). If a student is uncomfortable in the pose, it may be practiced with modifications.
Serious knee or back concernsStudents with knee replacement should avoid this asana. Those with back
concerns should practice with modifications.
PregnancyDue to hormone-induced laxity in the tendons and ligaments during pregnancy, the reclining version
of Virasana should not be practiced past the first trimester.

268

Supine and Prone Postures

Verbal Cues
From a kneeling position, with the shins and the fronts of the ankles against the ground, slowly lower your
hips toward your heels. As you lower, fold forward slightly from your hips and reach behind to grasp your
inner calves. Gently roll your calf muscles away from the midline of your body to provide a more open space
between your legs. Lower your hips slowly to the ground.
Make certain that your toes point straight back or slightly inward. As your hips settle, align your shoulders over
your hips. Breathe smoothly, making sure that the position is comfortable for your knee joints.
Inhale, lifting your chest, and extend your arms behind you. Place your hands on the ground in front of your
toes. Inhale and press down firmly through your arms to lengthen your torso and low back.
Exhale and slowly bend one elbow at a time to bring your forearms to the ground. As you breathe, continue
to lengthen your rib cage away from your hips. Lower your chin to your chest if doing so feels comfortable.
Soften your buttocks and thighs.
On the next inhalation, slowly extend your arms, one at a time, to the sides of your legs, lowering your back a
little closer to the ground. Your breath should be smooth and steady. All the while, ensure that your knee joints
and lower back do not feel compromised.
If you are comfortable, lower your shoulders and head to the ground. Listen to your body and be sure to avoid
any strain in your knees or back. Breathe relaxation through the fronts of your thighs and softness and length
into your lower back.
Continue to focus on your breath.
If you are comfortable with your entire back and head resting on the ground, reach your arms overhead and
interlace your fingers. Press your palms away from your head and feel the elongation of your entire torso.
To exit this posture, bring your elbows in to the sides of your waist. Exhale and engage your abdominal muscles
while you press your elbows down to lift your shoulders off the ground. Draw your chin into your chest. Press
your hands into the ground and slowly straighten one arm at a time. Leading from your chest, slowly lift your
torso upright, from the bottom to the top, and raise your head last. Stretch and shake out your legs.

Adjustments
AnklesIf the student cannot comfortably rest the tops of the feet on the ground, place a small cushion or rolled-up
towel under the ankles. Kneel behind the student and gently rotate the feet so that the toes point straight back or
slightly inward.
KneesBefore the student lowers the hips to the ground, be sure that the knees are no farther than hip-width apart.
If the knees splay, wrap a strap around the lower thighs to keep the knees together
or place a rolled towel between the knees and instruct the student
to press into the towel. Another adjustment is to kneel facing the
student, place your hands on the mid thighs, and rotate the
muscles internally to help keep the knees aligned and relaxed.
If the students knees lift slightly from the ground, and the person
would like more stretch in the thighs, place a weighted sandbag
or other weighted prop on the lower thighs to increase stretch
Adjustment: knees.
in the quadriceps and iliopsoas.
Low backIf the students back is considerably arched while reclining, first cue the student to exit and then reenter
the pose with focus on elongating the spine. If this action does not help, kneel in front of the students knees and
lightly secure the legs. As the spine lowers to the ground again, cue the student to reach the shoulder blades away
from the hips in order to encourage more length in the torso.
ChestThe chest should remain lifted, not collapsed. Lightly touch the students upper sternum with one finger and
instruct the student to push upward into your finger.

269

Modifications
Building flexibility and awarenessInstruct the student
to practice what is called Ardha Supta Virasana(Half-
Reclining Hero Pose). In this variation, only one knee is
flexed; the opposite leg stays extended forward. Practice
on each side, unless one knee is compromised.
Modification: building flexibility and awareness; tight hip
Tightness in the feet, ankles, or kneesPlace blankets or a
flexors.
block under the students hips to support the body weight
while taking pressure off the feet, ankles, and knees. Some students may require additional propping to elevate the
entire torso; in this instance, the support should extend from the hips to the back of the head.
Overly arched lumbar spinePlace blankets under the students hips and shoulders to encourage the low back to relax.
Tight hip flexorsIf the student is unable to rest the torso on the ground without the knees lifting off the ground,
place blankets under the shoulders to raise the students chest and encourage the legs to relax.

Kinematics
The focus of this asana is to increase stability and flexibility in the knee joint. And while it may appear to be
contraindicated for people with knee pain, when practiced with modifications and props, it can provide a therapeutic
lengthening of the quadriceps. However, those with acute knee pain or diagnosed joint injury should refrain from
practicing this pose.

Supta Virasana
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum longus (I)

Lower leg

Ankle plantar flexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus (I, R)

Ankle inversion

Posterior tibialis (C, I)

Knee flexion

Quadriceps (E, R)

Thigh

Anterior tibialis, peroneals


Quadriceps

Hip and pelvis

Hip and pelvis extension

Iliopsoas, rectus abdominis (E, R)

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Torso

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


transverse abdominis (E, I)

Rectus abdominis

Shoulder

External rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Pectoralis major

Humerus flexion (initial)

Anterior deltoid, pectoralis major


(C, I)

Humerus flexion (final)

Posterior deltoid, triceps brachii


(E)

Upper arm

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Finger adduction

Adductor pollicis, flexor pollicis


longus and brevis, interossei
(C, I)

Finger flexion

Flexor digitorum, extensor digiti


minimi brevis, dorsal interossei
(C, I)

Neck flexion, jalandhara bandha

Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes,
hyoids (C, I)

Hand and fingers

Neck

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, and R = relaxed.

270

Muscles released

Cervical erector spinae, splenius


capitus and cervicis, upper trapezius

Supine and Prone Postures

Matsyasana
Fish Pose
[muht-see-YAHH-suh-nuh]
Matsya is a Sanskrit term meaning fish.
This asana is dedicated to Matsya, the fish
incarnation of Vishnu, who saved the first
man (Manu) and the seven sages from
a great flood.

Description
Matsyasana is a supine backbending posture in which the legs, hips, and crown of the head remain on the ground
while the chest and ribs are lifted. Traditionally, Matsyasana is practiced with the legs in Padmasana (Lotus Pose). In
another, more challenging variation, the arms and legs are extended and lifted off the ground.

Energetic Focus
Fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-opening energy, fifth chakra (Vishuddha) purifying energy, sixth chakra (Ajna) perceptive
energy, seventh chakra (Sahasrara) divine energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the back of the pelvis. Anchor onto the top of the head.

Benefits






Opens the rib cage, chest, and abdomen.


Helps with respiratory ailments.
Gently strengthens the neck.
Increases circulation in the throat.
Stimulates the thyroid gland.
Strengthens the back.
Improves digestion.

Cautions
High blood pressure or migraineStudents with high blood pressure or migraine should refrain from practicing
this pose.
InsomniaStudents who suffer from insomnia should not practice this posture immediately before trying to sleep.
Neck issuesStudents with neck injury should refrain from practicing this pose.
Low back painStudents with pain the lower back musculature should practice with modifications. Those with
acute low back pain or disc injury should refrain from practicing this pose.

Verbal Cues
If the student is comfortable practicing Padmasana, begin with the legs in that position, reclining with the spine and
head resting on the ground. If not, follow the instructions from a straight-leg or bent-knee position.
Lie supine, with your legs extended and your arms at your sides. Exhale and internally rotate your thighs. As
you inhale, bend your elbows and press the backs of your upper arms down into the ground.
271

On the next inhalation, lift your back and shoulders off the ground, supported by your arms. Lengthen your neck,
then arch your head back to rest the crown of your head on the ground. Continue to elongate your neck on all
sides as you breathe deeply. Notice the bridge that your torso forms from your pelvis to the crown of your head.
If your spine and neck are comfortable in this position, place your palms together over the center of your chest
in Anjali Mudra (Prayer Pose). Feel your energy from your heart expand from this space. Continue to elongate
through your neck.
Continue to focus on your breath.
Feel your chest continue to lift and lengthen with each breath. Focus on using your spinal muscles to support
your upper body; imagine them lifting your entire torso up from the ground. The weight on your head and
through your neck should feel comfortable.
To exit the position, bring your arms back to your sides. Exhale, and uncross or straighten your legs. Once again,
press into the backs of your arms and lift your head from the ground. Draw your chin slowly in toward your
chest as you exhale and gently bring the back of your head to the ground. Lower the rest of your torso to the
ground slowly. This pose is often used as a counterpose for Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand).

Adjustments
HipsThe hips should remain on the ground throughout the pose. If the student presses against the ground and lifts
the hips (which happens often when the pose is practiced
with the knees bent), instruct the student to anchor
into the back of the pelvis in order to keep the
hips rooted. To assist, kneel beside the student
and lightly place your hands on the lower
thighs or, if the legs are bent, on the knees.
This subtle reminder helps the student
focus on securing the hips to the ground.
ChestIf the chest or rib cage collapses,
kneel above the students head, place
your hands behind the shoulder
blades, and cue the student to lift the
Adjustment: chest.
back away from your hands.
HeadThe students head should touch the ground with the crownnot with the back of the head. Instruct the
student to press down strongly with the arms in order to create more lift in the chest and to hyperextend the neck
until the crown rests on the ground. The chest adjustment is also appropriate for realigning the head, as well.

Modifications
DiscomfortIf a student is uncomfortable in Padmasana, cue the student to bring the legs into Baddha Konasana
(Bound Angle Pose), which helps open the hips. Some students may also find it more comfortable to simply bend
the knees with the feet flat on the ground.
StrainingIf a students face is strained or red, or if the breath is labored, place the student in a less demanding asana,
such as Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose).
Neck or low-back painPlace folded blankets or
bolsters under the students shoulders to relieve
the back muscles.
Posture deepeningIf students are comfortable, cue
them to deepen the pose by lifting the legs and arms
off the ground while maintaining the rest of the pose. You
may need to help a student hold the limbs in this position.
To do so, kneel or squat by the students feet and place
your hands under the heels for light support.
Modification: deepening the posture.

272

Supine and Prone Postures

Kinematics
In order to eliminate the possibility of straining the neck muscles, the crown of the head, not the back of the head,
should rest on the ground.

Matsyasana
Body segment

Kinematics

Muscles active

Foot and toes

Toe flexion

Flexor digitorum and hallucis


longus, flexor digitorum brevis
(C, I)

Lower leg

Plantar flexion

Gastrocnemius, soleus (C, I)

Thigh

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris (C, I)

Torso

Trunk stability

Internal and external obliques,


transverse abdominis, quadratus
lumborum (I)

Spinal hyperextension

Erector spinae, semispinalis, quadratus lumborum (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (C)

Humerus hyperextension

Latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Upper arm

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis (C, I)

Lower arm

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres and quadratus


(C, I)

Wrist extension, stability

Flexor digitorum profundus and


superficialis (I)

Hand and fingers

Finger extension and stability

Flexor digitorum profundus and


superficialis, flexor digiti minimi,
interossei (C, I)

Neck

Neck hyperextension, stability

Sternocleidomastoid, scalenes
(E, I)

Neck stability

Cervical erector spinae, splenius


capitus and cervicis, upper trapezius (C, I)

Shoulder

Muscles released

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum longus

Rectus abdominis

Anterior deltoid, pectoralis major


and minor

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

273

Supta Padangusthasana
Reclining Hand-to-Toe Pose
[SOOP-tuh paah-daahngoost-AHH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, supta means reclining,
pada means foot, and angustha means
big toe.

Description
Supta Padangusthasana is a supine
position in which one leg is flexed
at the hip and the big toe of the
same-side foot is typically grasped
by the same-side hand. This
is often used as a transitional
asana to move from the more
active phase of a session into more relaxing and restorative poses near the end.

Energetic Focus
First chakra (Muladhara) grounding energy, second chakra (Svadhisthana) creative energy

Foundational Focus
Root into the back of the pelvis and the back of the heel of the grounded leg. Anchor the hand or a strap around the
lifted leg.

Benefits




Lengthens the hamstrings and hips without any strain on the back.
Stretches the calves and arches.
Stimulates the reproductive organs.
Relaxes the spine.
Aids digestion.

Caution
PregnancyInstruct pregnant women to lie on the side instead of on the back and to flex the top leg toward the
chest.

Verbal Cues
From a supine position, with your arms at your sides and your legs straight, press firmly into your left leg and,
as you exhale, draw your right knee into your chest. Hug the leg in to stretch your low back but keep your
shoulders relaxed.
Inhale and slowly straighten your knee, lifting your right foot toward the sky. The knee should remain as straight
as possible without locking. Be mindful of any discomfort in your low back or hamstrings. If your back feels compromised, bend your left knee and bring your left heel to the ground as close to your sit bones as is comfortable.

274

Supine and Prone Postures

Reach up with your right hand and grab as


close to your right toes as possiblewherever you can reach comfortably. Your shoulders
and hips should remain on the ground. Feel your
back sink into the support of the ground.
Inhale deeply and anchor your left leg more
firmly into the ground. As you exhale, press
your navel toward the ground while lifting
your chest and head toward your right
foot. Send energy through your right heel Lenthening the hamstrings.
and point your toes toward your head. This helps to lengthen the hamstrings and keep the abdominal muscles
engaged. Imagine your breath lengthening your leg.
As you breathe, allow your abdomen to soften and relax your shoulders. Exhale, maintaining length in your leg,
and slowly lower your head and shoulders back to the ground. Continue to breathe length through your leg.
Continue to focus on your breath.
To exit the position, release your right hand to your side and slowly lower your leg back to the ground. If your
low back feels uncomfortable, slightly bend your knee. As your leg rests on the ground, notice that your right
leg feels longer and more relaxed than your left. Rest for a few breaths, then prepare to practice on the left side.

Adjustments
FeetIf the heel of the lifted leg is not higher than the toes, instruct the student to point the toes down toward the
head more fully. To guide the toes lower, you can gently press down on the ball of the foot.
KneeIf the student bends the knee in an effort to grasp the toes, adjust the hands to a position where the student can
hold on comfortably or offer a strap to wrap around the foot while maintaining as much knee extension as possible.
HipsIf the leg extended on the ground is comfortable but lifts off the ground, kneel beside the student and press
gently on the top of the thigh, near the hip. Do not press near the knee joint. A weighted sandbag can also be
placed at the top of the thigh.
ShouldersThe shoulders should remain relaxed. Especially when the torso is lifted, students have a tendency to
round the shoulders and lift them toward the ears. To adjust, kneel beside the student and gently place your hands
on the tops of the shoulders as a guide to relax and keep space between the ears and shoulders. Cue the student
to elongate the sides of the neck.
NeckRemind the student to keep the ears aligned with the shoulders and not to drop the head back or bring the
chin to the chest while lifting the torso. Kneel beside the student and place your hand lightly on the back of the
head. If the head drops back, instruct the student to move the back of the head away from your hand. If the neck
is flexed, cue the student to press lightly into the back of your hand until the ears are aligned with
the shoulders.

Modifications
Tight hamstringsIf the student is unable to reach the hand to the foot without
bending the knee, wrap a strap around the ball of the foot and place the
loose ends in the students hand. Instruct the student to find the place
where she or he feels comfortably challenged while still extending the
knee as much as possible.
Overly tight spineInstruct the student to bend the knee of the anchoring leg, placing the foot flat on the ground. This modification helps eliminate
strain in the low back.
Spinal weaknessPlace the student in a position where the back
is on the ground and the legs are up against a wall with the hips
and the backs of the legs touching the wall. Instruct the student
to flex one hip more deeply so that the leg moves closer to the
chest while keeping the knee extended. This modification reduces
strain on the back while still allowing the hamstring to stretch.
Modification: spinal weakness.
275

Kinematics
Resting the torso on the ground in the beginning and ending phases of this asana allows the student to focus on
stretching the hamstrings and hips while the spine remains in alignment. With the posterior shoulder muscles pressed
into the ground, one can take a true measure of flexibility in the hamstrings and posterior hips; in contrast, in seated
and standing forward bends, the range of motion is often distorted by flexion in the torso.

Supta Padangusthasana (Right Hip Flexed)


Body segment
Foot and toes (R)

Kinematics

Muscles active
Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti
minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Toe dorsiflexion

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus, anterior tibialis (C, I)

Foot and toes (L)

Toe extension

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus, anterior tibialis (C, I)

Lower leg (R)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum and hallucis longus (C)

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Lower leg (L)

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum and hallucis longus (C, I)

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Thigh (R)

Knee extension

Quadriceps, gracilis (C, I)

Thigh (L)

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (R)

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris, pectineus (C, I)

Hip and pelvis (L)

Hip extension, stability

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus


(C, I)

Torso

Trunk stability

Rectus abdominis, internal and


external obliques, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum
(C, I)

Shoulder (R)

Shoulder flexion

Anterior deltoid, pectoralis major


(C, I)

External humerus rotation

Infraspinatus, teres minor (C, I)

Scapular adduction

Rhomboids, trapezius (C, I)

Shoulder (L)

Shoulder abduction

Deltoids (C, I)

Upper arm (R)

Elbow extension

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Upper arm (L)

Elbow flexion

Biceps brachii, brachioradialis


(C, I)

Lower arm (R)

Forearm supination

Supinator (C, I)

Elbow extension

Anconeus (C, I)

Lower arm (L)

Forearm pronation

Pronator teres (C, I)

Hand and fingers


(R)

Wrist extension

Extensor carpi radialis brevis and


longus, extensor carpi ulnaris (I)

Finger flexion

Flexor digitorum, extensor digiti


minimi brevis, dorsal interossei
(C, I)

Hand and fingers


(L)

Finger adduction

Interossei palmaris, adductor


pollicis (C, I)

Neck

Neck extension and stability

Splenius capitus and cervicis (I)

C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, I = isometric contraction, L = left, and R = right.

276

Muscles released

Toe abduction

Hamstrings, gluteus maximus

10
Inverted Postures

AleksandarNakic/istock.com

nversions are asanas


in which the head
is placed below the
heart and part or all of
the body weight is supported by the shoulders,
arms, or head. As a result,
Uttanasana (Intense
Forward Bend) is considered a standing pose
rather than an inversion
because the legs support the body as a whole.
Bear in mind, however,
the fact that many poses
have characteristics of
more than one category.
For instance, consider
Urdhva Dhanurasana
(Upward Bow Pose, or
backbend), which is
illustrated in chapter 9.
Because the head is below
the heart in that pose,
it is often considered

277

278

Instructing Hatha Yoga


an inversion. (However, in this book, it was placed
in Supine and Prone Postures in order to illustrate
a progression in backbending poses).
Many inversions are physically demanding and
require not only considerable strength but also
openness and flexibility in the upper body. It is
advisable, therefore, to teach modified versions of
the poses to students who are not already familiar
with inversions. Once students feel stable and
confident in a variation, begin cueing them into
the full expression of the pose. It is also best for
students who are new to practicing inversions to
hold a posture for only brief periods and gradually increase the duration as they build strength
and confidence.
Being upside down provides both physical and
emotional benefits. In physical terms, it strengthens the veins by increasing demand on the heart,
while also increasing stability in the neck, arms,
and torso because the body weight is supported
by the upper body. It also improves balance and
relieves, at least for a time, the effects of gravity,
such as varicose veins and sagging. In emotional
terms, perhaps one of the most profound reasons
for practicing inversions beyond simply doing
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward-Facing
Dog) is for the metaphor of being comfortable
when turned upside down! Indeed, the biggest
obstacle to learning Salamba Shirshasana (Headstand) is often fear, exacerbated by the disorientation that many students feel when they are
first upended.
The following list presents cautions about
inverted postures and certain medical conditions.
Additional cautions specific to any given asana
are listed in the description of that asana.
Glaucoma and detached retinaMost inversions present some risk for students with either of
these conditions. If a student is not accustomed
to being upside down, the pressure of the circulation suddenly flooding into the head could

put pressure on the blood vessels surrounding


the eyes. Certain inversions, such as Salamba
Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) and
Halasana (Plow Pose), call for the head and neck
to be in a neutral position, thus concentrating
the blood in the throat area rather than creating
pressure in the head and therefore the eyes. Even
these two poses, however, should be approached
with caution.
High or low blood pressureThe following inverted asanas raise blood pressure
and are therefore contraindicated for students
with hypertension: Salamba Shirshasana,
Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Handstand), Pincha
Mayurasana (Scorpion), and to some extent Adho
Mukha Shvanasana. Asanas contraindicated for
people with low blood pressure include Salamba
Sarvangasana and Halasana.
MenstruationAs mentioned in chapter 5,
inversions are often modified during menstruation because energy should flow downward
during this time in a womans cycle. In many
cases, personal preference dictates whether a
woman practices inversions during menses.
Neck or shoulder injury or extreme spinal
weaknessDepending on the severity of injury
to the neck and shoulders, some students may
not have the muscular strength needed to safely
support an inversion. If a student cannot muster
the strength to use the ideal (primary) muscles,
other muscles are engaged in order to compensate
and injuries are often exacerbated. This danger
exists in all poses but is especially acute in inversions, in which the possible injuries tend to be
relatively serious and dramatic. For example, if
a student falls, it is of course more injurious to
twist the neck than to twist the ankle. Students
who suffer from spondylitis (inflammation of the
vertebral joints) or another arthritic condition of
the spinal column should refrain from practicing
weight-bearing inversions.

Inverted Postures

Adho Mukha Shvanasana


Downward-Facing Dog
[uhd-HOE moo-KUHSH-vuhn-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, adho means downward, mukha means face, and
shvana means dog. This asana is named Downward-Facing
Dog because it resembles the pose that a dog strikes when
stretching or, sometimes, when feeling playful.

Description
Adho Mukha Shvanasana is practiced with the feet and hands pushing against the ground and the hips piked with
the sit bones lifted high in the air. This posture is technically considered a resting asana, but for many who are just
starting out in yoga it can be quite challenging because it requires considerable strength and flexibility in both the
upper and lower body. The restful, rejuvenating effects of the pose become apparent after continuous practice. This
pose is part of the Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskaras) series. Practicing this asana builds strength and flexibility in
the arms and shoulders, which makes it a foundational pose for arm balances.

Energetic Focus
Fourth chakra (Anahata) heart-opening energy, fifth chakra (Vishuddha) purifying energy, sixth chakra (Ajna) perceptive
energy, seventh chakra (Sahasrara) divine energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly into the metacarpal heads and fingertips. Anchor into the backs of the heelseven if the heels do not
reach the ground. Balance the grounding energy evenly between the hands and feet.

Benefits








Builds strength and stability in the shoulders.


Stretches the hamstrings and deeper calf muscles that other stretches usually cannot affect.
Stretches, strengthens, and improves circulation in the legs, making this posture especially beneficial for runners.
Stretches the hands and feet.
Rejuvenates the whole body.
Builds a foundation for other inversion postures.
Relaxes the heart.
Increases blood flow to the head.
Can relieve menstrual and menopausal discomfort.

Cautions
Shoulder dislocationIf a student has a tendency toward shoulder dislocation, do not emphasize the external
rotation of the shoulders. Instruct the student to focus on keeping the arms as straight and as comfortable as
possible, perhaps slightly drawing the shoulders nearer to the ears. Also, see the modifications discussion for
ways to build shoulder stability and strength.
Wrist injury or carpal tunnel syndromeStudents with wrist injury or weakness should practice this pose with
modifications.
PregnancyWomen who are new to the pose or past the first trimester of pregnancy should practice with modifications.
279

Verbal Cues
From Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), align your hands so that they are slightly farther than shoulder-width apart.
Spread your fingers. Inhale to elongate your spine, then curl your toes under. Exhale and straighten your arms
to lift your upper body off the ground. As you raise your hips toward the sky, press them back as far as is comfortable. Reach your heels toward the ground.
Relax your neck. Inhale and imagine your shoulders moving away from your hands.
Press firmly into your fingertips, taking weight out of the heels of your hands. Visualize pushing the earth away
from your body. Feel the strength in your arms.
Gently draw your upper arms in toward your ears. Inhale and rotate the backs of your upper arms slightly
toward the ground. To minimize the possibility of hyperextending your elbows, soften them slightly while still
contracting your upper arm muscles. Feel your shoulders and chest open and your spine lengthen with greater
traction. Imagine more space between your vertebrae with each breath.
Press your thighbones (femurs) back and continue to ground through your heels. It is okay if your heels do not
touch the ground; simply focus on lengthening your legs and lifting your sit bones.
Continue to focus on your breath.
As you breathe in, feel the energy in your hands and arms, as well as the weight of your head providing traction
to your spine. Envision opening more space between your vertebrae.
To exit this position from the Classical Sun Salutation, step one foot forward between your hands, coming into
a lunge.
To exit this position from an Ashtanga Sun Salutation, walk or jump both feet forward between your hands into
Uttanasana (Intense Forward Bend).
Otherwise, flow into another pose. If you need to rest, bend your knees, place them on the ground, and relax
in Balasana (Childs Pose).

Adjustments
HipsStand behind the student in a semi-lunge, with your front foot between
the students legs. Place one hand on the outside of each hip joint. Cue the
student to ground through the hands and inhale while leaning back slightly
and lifting the hips back. The students whole torso should elongate. The
arms will be relieved of some workload and will feel more relaxed. Make
certain that your own body mechanics are sound: bend your knees and
use your body weight, rather than your back strength, to draw the
student back.
SpineIf the students upper spine is rounded, perform the adjustment
described for the hips. You may also stand to the students side and
place a palm lightly between the students shoulder blades with
your fingers pointed toward the hips. Gently press your hand
upward in the direction of the pelvis, thus encouraging the
student to lengthen the spine; however, do not actually slide
your hand, but simply simulate the direction the pelvis should
move to give the student a kinesthetic feel for the motion you Adjustment: hips; spine.
are indicating.
NeckMake sure that the students neck is relaxed. Cue the student to lower the crown of the head toward the
ground. To encourage the student to lower the head, place a hand gently on the back of the neck.
ShouldersEncourage the student to rotate the shoulders externally. Because the student is upside down, it may
be challenging for you to recognize the correct direction in which to adjust. It is crucial that you rotate the arms

280

Inverted Postures

in the correct direction. Stand or squat facing the students head.


Place your hands on the students upper arms, just below the
shoulders, with your thumbs closest to the head. Very slowly
rotate the students arms so that your thumbs move away from
each other and the students elbows draw in closer. Make
certain that the student keeps pressing the palms firmly
and securely into the ground.
Hands and fingersStudents often rotate the hands
inward or outward to adjust for shoulder or wrist
tightness. Cue students to point the middle finger
directly forward, away from the body. If this positioning is difficult, instruct students to use modifications. Some students place most of the pressure
on the hands to the outside, on the pinky, with very Adjustment: shoulders.
little weight on the rest of the hand. To adjust, kneel
or squat beside the student and lightly press on the tops of the index finger and thumb in order to encourage the
student to anchor into those joints.

Modifications
Arm, wrist, or shoulder weaknessInstruct the student to bend the
elbows and place the forearms on the ground. This positioning
is more challenging for the shoulder joint but serves as a good
modification for anyone who cannot support the body weight fully
on the hands. This position is often considered a pose in and of
itselfnamely, Dolphin Pose, sometimes translated as Makarasana
(muh-kuh-RAH-suh-nuh). It is a good preparatory pose for Salamba
Sarvangasana (Supported Headstand).
Hip, hamstring, or back tightnessCue the student to bend the knees
slightly while continuing to lift the hips. Suggest that the student
move the feet farther apart, since doing so often helps with balance
and can change the angle of pull in the hamstrings.
Pregnancy, extreme weakness, or tightness in the upper extremities
Place the student facing a wall with the hands at shoulder height.
Instruct the student to position the body at arms-length from the
wall while keeping the hands in place. Next, cue the student to bend
forward from the hip joint and step back so that the feet are under
the hips. Direct the student to push into the wall so that the hips
shift back as far as is comfortable. The spine is now free to suspend, Modification: pregnancy, extreme weakness, or
opening the shoulders and chest, and the head can relax between tightness in upper extremities.
the upper arms. An alternative pose is Durga-Go (Cat and Cow Pose).
FatigueBecause this asana is physically demanding, many students are unable to stay in the position for very long.
Encourage such students to rest in Balasana (Childs Pose).

Kinematics
The arms and legs gain considerable strength from practicing this asana. Weakness in the posterior shoulder muscles
and upper back can combine with tightness in the anterior shoulder muscles and chest to constrict the nerve and
blood vessel plexus that supplies the arms and wrists. Therefore, imbalance in the upper body can be a contributing
factor if a student complains of numbness or pain in the wrists during day-to-day activities. Adho Mukha Shvanasana
is an excellent pose for balancing the shoulders and back and for opening the chest.

281

Adho Mukha Shvanasana


Body segment
Foot and toes

Kinematics

Muscles active

Muscles released

Toe extension, stability

Extensor digitorum and hallucis


longus, flexor digitorum longus,
and flexor hallucis longus (C, I)

Toe abduction, stability

Dorsal interossei, abductor digiti


minimi brevis, abductor hallucis
(C, I)

Lower leg

Ankle dorsiflexion

Anterior tibialis, extensor digitorum, and hallucis longus (C, I)

Gastrocnemius, soleus

Thigh

Knee extension

Quadriceps (C, I)

Hamstrings

Hip and pelvis

Hip flexion

Iliopsoas, rectus femoris (C, I)

Gluteus maximus, deep external


rotators*

Hip internal rotation and stability Adductors, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus (C, I)
Pelvic stability

Rectus abdominis, quadratus


lumborum, hamstrings (I)

Torso

Trunk stability

Erector spinae, quadratus lumInternal and external obliques,


borum
rectus abdominis, transverse
abdominis, quadratus lumborum,
erector spinae (I)

Shoulder

Humerus flexion and hyperflexion, stability

Pectoralis major, coracobrachialis, deltoids, biceps brachii (C, I)

Scapular stability, external rotation of humerus

Infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid (C, I)

Joint stability

Subscapularis, supraspinatus
(C, I)

Scapular stability

Rhomboids, mid trapezius (I)

Pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi,


levator scapulae

Scapular stability, downward pull Lower trapezius (C, I)


of scapulae
Scapular stability and abduction

Serratus anterior, teres major


(C, I)

Sternoclavicular stability

Subclavius (I)

Upper arm

Elbow extension, stability

Triceps brachii (C, I)

Biceps brachii, brachialis,


brachioradialis

Lower arm

Forearm pronation,
stability

Pronator teres, quadratus (C, I)

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


palmaris longus

Wrist hyperextension, stability

Flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris,


palmaris longus (E, I)

Finger extension, stability

Extensor digitorum, extensor


digiti minimi brevis (C, I)

Finger abduction

Abductor pollicis longus, opponens pollicis (C, I)

Neck relaxed

None

Hand and fingers

Neck

*Obturator externus and internus, gemellus superior and inferior, quadratus femoris, and piriformis.
C = concentric contraction, E = eccentric contraction, and I = isometric contraction.

282

Cervical erector spinae, splenius


capitus and cervicis

Inverted Postures

Salamba Sarvangasana
Supported Shoulderstand
[saah-LUM-buh sahr-vaahng-AAH-suh-nuh]
In Sanskrit, sa means with, alamba means "support, sarva means all, and anga
means limb. In this pose, almost all of the body weight is supported by the upper body,
specifically the upper spine, upper arms, shoulders, and back of the head. The pose is also
practiced in unsupported variations, such as Niralamba [neer-aah-LUM-buh] Sarvangasana.
Shoulderstand is often considered the queen or mother of all asanas because it is both
active and restorative.

Description
In Salamba Sarvangasana, the shoulders rest directly on the ground, or on a prop. The
upper arms are behind the back in a supportive position, and the hands are positioned
on the back to provide greater lift. The neck is flexed so that the chin and chest are
close together.

Energetic Focus
Third chakra (Manipura) vitalizing energy, fifth chakra (Vishuddha)
purifying energy

Foundational Focus
Root evenly into the backs of the upper arms and the upper shoulders. Anchor
into the back of the head.

Benefits






Soothes the nervous system and the mind, thus relieving stress and mild depression.
Stimulates the thyroid gland.
Aids digestion.
Stretches the shoulders and neck.
May relieve menopausal symptoms.
Reduces fatigue and may help alleviate insomnia in some people.
Beneficial for relieving symptoms of asthma, infertility, and sinusitis.

Cautions
Acute neck or shoulder injuryPractice with modification or substitute another asana.
PregnancyWomen who are new to yoga should not practice this pose after becoming pregnant. Those who
are experienced with the pose may practice it through