Asanas that demand attention
Asana is one of the eight limbs of yoga. Each asana or ‘seat’ aligns different energy channels or ‘nadis’. All asanas create an opportunity to improve our focus, awareness and connection with both the physical and the subtle body. Yoga is not a series of gymnastics poses to conquer. Rather the yogi seeks to know ourselves well during a variety of challenges. When the pose is physically ‘easy’ can we stay mentally present? When the pose is physically challenging, can we take Patanjali’s advice and surrender to the higher consciousness?
ई णधाना वा ।।२३।। 1.23 ĪŚVARA-PRAṆIDHĀṆĀD VĀ
Or by surrender to Supreme Consciousness
As we all meet on the mat, remember the poses that challenge also are the poses that give generously in return.
Below you will find a handful of asanas that demand our attention. Remember yoga is a practice, not a destination. To continue on the road to wellness, we must continue to make layered progress. Deepen the breath, sharpen the mind and improve the alignment. I like to use one of the following as the peak physical demand in my home yoga practice. I encourage you to try one or all of them yourself. Please ensure you are supple and warm, aligned and open in your practice before flowing into these poses. Keeping the ego small and the heart open helps with all things, I’ve found it invaluable on the mat.
I was recently behind a man in a line, the patch on his backpack read: Don’t be afraid of failure, be afraid of staying where you are. Take small steps toward your best self. The physical benefits are the tip of the iceberg.
Utthita Hasta Padanguśthasana
Extended hand thumb to foot pose
Pour all your weight into your left foot and take yogi toe lock; right hand to right big toe. Extend the right leg out in front of you, maintaining a tall spine. Inhale here and allow the exhale to bring you over your straight leg: nose to knee. Hold for five breaths. Inhale up to stand and on the next exhale open your bound leg to the right, moving your eyes to the left. Hold for five breaths. Inhale the leg back to center and fold nose to knee once again. Repeat on the other side.
This pose strengthens the legs and increases both mobility and flexibility of the hips. Helps purify the kidneys and relieve constipation. It stimulates the three granthis traya knots (personality obstacles) at the coccyx: home of the suśumna nadi or central chakra channel.
Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose — Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
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Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana
Standing half bound lotus pose
Move your weight into your left leg and bring the back of the right foot up to the crease of the upper left leg. Inhale as you reach the right arm up and internally rotate the right arm as it descends behind your back to grab and bind the right big toe. Exhale and fold forward over your standing leg. Hold for five breaths.
The folded position of the pose creates an opportunity to cleanse both the liver and the spleen. This helps to detoxify the body. The position of the heel stimulates the digestive fire (agni) and moves trapped intestinal gases.
D, the final expression of this pose begins in the seated position. Fold the back of the right foot into the seam of the left upper thigh. Pull the left heel directly in toward the left hip, folding the right foot into the left ribs and thigh. Inhale the right arm up to the sky and exhale as you move it across to the outside of the left knee. With the right elbow holding position on the left knee, extend the right arm straight and turn the thumb down toward the floor. Bend the right elbow again, this time passing back of the right hand past the inside of the left calf. On the next inhale, extend the spine tall as you look back over your left shoulder; reaching your left hand around behind your back to meet the right hand (enclosing the left knee in the arm bind).
Digestive support for poor habits, lack of peristalsis tone, and stress related waste retention are all aided by the deep fold and bind of A, B, C and D versions of this pose. The rotator cuff is both strengthened and mobilized. The spine becomes a long open curve of energy. Women suffering reproductive disorders can find relief, blood flow and energetic opening as well. Image is of Marichyasana D
Arm pressure pose
Begin with your hands beneath your shoulders in a plank pose, walk your feet both directly behind the wrists. Anchor your feet to the floor and walk your hands first behind the ankles and then over the outside of the foot; all the while, tucking your shoulders under your upper thighs. Keep the shoulders under the thighs and return the palms to the floor under the shoulders. As you straighten the arms, lower the hips and lift the feet in front of your belly. Cross the ankles. Looking straight ahead. On the next exhale, begin to slowly bend the elbows and move the forehead toward the floor. Pull the belly button in and up to make space for the ankles to pass between the wrists. Hold on your forehead or chin for five breaths. Activate the deep core as you press the hands to move your back the way you came into the pose.
Lifting from the inner unit and toning the transverse abdominis, the pose provides great strength in the wrists and arms. The final expression of the pose opens the anna nala and cleans the stomach.
From a sitting position, open the legs as wide as the mat and walk your chest toward the floor between the legs. Slide your left shoulder under your left knee and your right shoulder under your right knee. Use your thumbs to bring the knee over the back of your shoulder like a backpack strap. Straighten the arms to the side on the floor like a starfish. Chin on the ground, looking forward, begin to move the heels away from the hips, pressing the chest down with the weight and strength of the legs.
The chest expands and the breath deepens. This improves the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart. When practiced with long exhales it calms the vagus nerve and moves the body into a parasympathetic state. Opening the heart chakra and the throat chakra to improve the balance of apana vayu and prana vayu or releasing breath and inspiration.
Yoga Alliance Certified Instructor