foundation

Foundation Friday || Ujjayi Breath

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Our Foundation Friday series delves into the basics of yoga—looking at its postures (asana), breath (pranayama), philosophy, and all the other essentials—giving you the foundations upon which to build a solid practice.  

Find the balance of fierce grace with this essential yogic breath.

 


Foundation Friday || Ujjayi Breath


Ujjayi Breath Pranayama

"Ud" = moving upward, "Jaya" = conquest, victory fire breath, victorious breath, ocean breath

 

“Remember the connection between breath and movement: every movement comes out of breath. Rather than moving with and following the breath, the breath should initiate the movement. Practicing this way, we will be moved by the breath like the autumn wind picking up leaves.”

- Gregor Maehle

 

Ujjayi breath is a pranayama technique that allows you to focus and calm the mind.  Often coupled with asana, this breath will guide you deeper into poses, steady your intention and allow you to experience your yoga more fully.  In your practice, breath is regarded as the teacher; how you move and where you go is paralleled with the rhythm of your breath.  Ujjayi breath is strong, fierce, warming - your pranayamic partner to bring you out of fear, anxiety, or judgement.  Just as the intensity of your practice fluctuates, so does your breath.  You may choose to use this fiery breath throughout your practice, or switch it up with a more gentle nostril breath like sama vritti to adjust the tone of the moment.

* note that Ujjayi pranayama involves breath retention and Ujjayi breath is the steady rhythm, sans retention

 

Benefits of Ujjayi Breath

 

  • increases focus
  • calms the mind
  • builds concentration
  • creates internal heat
  • increases oxygenation
  • tones the lungs
  • facilitates the flow of prana
  • builds energy throughout practice
  • clears toxins
  • creates awareness, especially within transitions of asanas
How do you get there?

 

Ujjayi breath is done through the nose, travelling down deep into the belly and filling up the rib cage.  A hissing or "wave-like" sound is created upon exhale through the constriction of the back of the throat.  Breath is slowed by the diaphragm and by this constriction, resulting in an audible exhale.  The length of inhale and exhale is even and smooth, and intensity of this breath may increase in conjunction with the intensity of asana.  You may liken Ujjayi breathing to fogging up a mirror with your breath with the mouth closed.  Again, intensity can fluctuate but the principle of restricting the back of the throat is key.

 

 

 

 

Foundation Friday: Uttanasana

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Our Foundation Friday series delves into the basics of yoga—looking at its postures (asana), breath (pranayama), philosophy, and all the other essentials—giving you the foundations upon which to build a solid practice.  Today we are highlighting Uttanasana, or standing forward fold.  


Foundation Friday: Uttanasana


Uttanasana || Standing Forward Fold OOH-tah-NAH-sah-nah

Ud (उद्; ud) = prefix for verbs or nouns, indicating superiority in location, rank, power, intensity Tana (तान; tāna) = "stretched" Uttana (उत्तान; uttāna) = "intense stretch" or "straight" or "stretched" Asana (आसन; āsana) meaning "posture" or "seat"

 

Uttanasana is an active time-out; your legs release, your feet root and ground you, your head is below your heart, and your spine releases. Taking time here allows your other postures to integrate and connects you to the present moment.  With a variety of ways to execute uttanasana, you can tailor your experience in this asana to suit your intention.  You may choose to dangle and sway, releasing tension from your entire back body, or you may choose a variation including a grip on the toes or hands under the feet with a more active core, spine and legs. Regardless, uttanasana allows you to hang your heart close to your body, a shape that offers inner reflection and the opportunity to create self-love.  As our postures are medicine, this one bows you into your Self, creating a reverent pause to fall deeper in love.

 

Benefits of Uttanasana

 

  • stretches your hips, hamstrings and calves
  • strengthens your knees and thighs
  • keeps your spine strong and flexible
  • calms your mind, soothes your nerves
  • reduces stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression
  • releases neck, spine and back tension
  • activates your core
  • stimulates your kidneys, liver and spleen
  • addresses symptoms of menopause, asthma, headaches and insomnia
  • improves digestion
  • can lower high blood pressure
How do I get there?

 

1. Start in Tadasana (mountain pose), creating a clear connection with the earth through your feet (pada bandha)
2. With your hands on your hips, exhale and fold forward, drawing your navel to your spine slightly to create more space from which to bend.
3. Continue to root down through the 4 corners of your feet and draw energy up the inner seam of your legs into your pelvic floor and core.  Allow a slight bend in your knee if needed to release any hyper-extension.  Lift your sit bones to stretch your hamstrings and take your inner thighs up and back to release your sacrum.
4.  Release any tension from your neck and allow the weight of your crown to draw you deeper into the stretch.
5.  You may choose to grab for opposite elbows, wrap a mudra around your big toes, walk your palms under your feet or place your hands to the sides or backs of your legs.  Follow the pattern of inhale to lengthen and exhale to deepen to continue to surrender in this pose.
6.  You may hold uttanasana for 30 seconds to over a minute, or perhaps as long as you need.  To come out of the pose, bring your hands back to your hips and rotate up from the joint until you are standing strong and tall.  Let the information of the pose land in you as you breathe and observe.

Foundation Friday: Malasana

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This post is an instalment in a series that delves into the basics of yoga—looking at its postures (asana), breath (pranayama), philosophy, and all the other essentials—giving you the foundations upon which to build a solid practice. Today's focus will be on Malasana, or Garland Pose.


Foundation Friday: Malasana


Pose, or Asana Garland Pose, or "Yogi Squat" mah-lah-sah-nah

Squat, yogi squat, garland pose, malasana

In conjunction with our monthly theme, Malasana is one of the ultimate grounding yoga postures. The rooting through the feet, the closeness of the pelvis to the earth, and the general feeling of heaviness and surrendering to the weight of gravity in this posture all encourage a downward flow of energy. Malasana's energetic qualities are calming, soothing, and quieting for the busy mind, as this asana activates a flow of prana down through the body, towards the ultimate source of grounding—the earth.

Many Eastern cultures are accustomed to sitting on the floor for meals and meetings, or squatting comfortably as they go about their daily activities— whereas In our Western world, we spend so much of our lives seated in chairs, car seats, or on couches. We lose the softness and suppleness of our hips, calves, and ankles, and the strength of our low back, thighs, and core. Physically and energetically, malasana helps to counteract these losses.

Malasana may help…

  • Tone your thighs, glutes, and calves
  • Strengthen your low back and abdominal muscles
  • Open through your hips and inner thighs
  • Aid in digestion and elimination
  • Soothe anxiety and promote calm

squat, yogi squat, pregnant, jana roemer, malasana, garland pose

So, how do I get there? 

  1. Start standing with your feet about mat-distance apart. Turn your toes slightly outwards.
  2. Lower your hips in between your legs. Keep your heels on the floor if you can, or support them with a folded mat or towel. You might even try this posture with a prop—like a block, or bolster under your seat.
  3. Draw your hands into anjali mudra (prayer position) and slide your shoulders back. Press your outer elbows into your inner thighs, and vice versa. If this is too much, keep both of your hands on the floor in front of you for support.
  4. Lengthen your tailbone down towards the earth—like gravity is pulling it lower—but lengthen the crown of your head higher to elongate your spine.
  5. Broaden the front of your chest.
Once you're in malasana, try closing your eyes. See if you can hold the posture for a minute, or maybe even longer. Perhaps you can feel the downward flow of energy moving through your body. Notice, when you come out, if you feel a little more calm, or connected with Mama Earth. If you need some release, a forward fold is a really sweet counterpose.

We hope this helps you better malasana, or garland pose. Please feel free to comment on our Facebook with any further questions. And let us know if you have something you would like to see featured in Foundation Friday!

Foundation Friday: Anjaneyasana

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This post is an instalment in a series that delves into the basics of yoga—looking at its postures (asana), breath (pranayama), philosophy, and all the other essentials—giving you the foundations upon which to build a solid practice. Today's focus will be on Anjaneyasana, or Crescent Lunge Pose.


Foundation Friday: Anjaneyasana


Pose, or Asana "Crescent Lunge Pose" ahn-jahn-eh-yass-a-nah

 Anjaneyasana, or Crescent Lunge Pose is a posture you'll find in nearly every yoga class. You might find yourself in an Anjaneyasana variation with your back knee lifted or lowered, toes tucked under or not, perhaps in a slight back bend, or with your arms reaching back like you're a runner about to leap off your starting block. Lunges strengthen and stretch the feet, legs, hips, core, back, and even the shoulders and arms—this posture gets your whole body involved!

Anjaneyasana may help…

  • Relieve symptoms of sciatica
  • Build stabilizing muscles in your legs
  • Open through your hips, shoulders, groin, armpits, and neck
  • Strengthen your thighs, calves, arches, back, shoulders, and arms

So, how do I get there? 

  1. From Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog), step your right foot up in between your hands. Or, from Tadasana (Mountain Pose), bend your knees and take a long step back with your left leg. Ensure your legs are hip-distance apart.
  2. Lunge into your front leg—bend your front knee to a 90-degree angle, while ensuring your stance is long enough that your front ankle lines up directly underneath your knee.
  3. Choose to lower your back knee (low lunge), or keep it lifted (high lunge). *If lowering your back knee bothers your knee joint, you can place a foam composite block underneath that knee, or fold your mat over to offer the joint extra padding.
  4. Press your front foot down strongly to lift your torso so that it's vertical, stacking your shoulders over your hips.
  5. Squeeze your inner thighs towards each other to press your right hip back and your left hip forward, so your hips are square.
  6. Root your tailbone, but lengthen up throughout your spine to the crown of your head.
  7. Reach your arms skyward, slide your shoulders back and down your spine, and fan your fingers out wide.
Try out the different variations of crescent lunge to see what feels best in your body—maybe you'd like to work from a high lunge, reaching your arms back alongside your body and interlacing your fingers to expand across your chest. Or perhaps you'd prefer to find a deeper stretch into your psoas from a low lunge, reaching your fingertips to the ceiling and opening your heart skywards. Or, if you're practicing at home, try using Anjayeasana as a preparatory pose for the Warrior Series.

We hope this helps you better anjaneyasana, or crescent lunge pose. Please feel free to comment on our Facebook with any further questions. And let us know if you have something you would like to see featured in Foundation Friday!

Foundation Friday: Pada Bandha

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This post is an instalment in a series that delves into the basics of yoga—looking at its postures (asana), breath (pranayama), philosophy, and all the other essentials—giving you the foundations upon which to build a solid practice. This post focuses on one of the "bandhas", or "locks"—in what might be our most literal "Foundation" Friday yet!


Foundation Friday: Pada Bandha


Lock, or Seal ("Bandha") Foot Lock, or “Pada Bandha” pah-dah bahn-dah

 

First off—what is a bandha?

The sanskrit word "bandha" translates to lock, seal, or closure. During asana (postural) or pranayama (breath work) practice, bandhas help to energetically "lock" in energy and prana (life force), consciously sealing it inside of our bodies so that it can aid us in our practice. There are three main internal bandhas, one "mother" bandha, and two stabilizing, grounding bandhas—pada bandha, as we'll look at today, is of the stabilizing, foundational variety.

What then, is pada bandha?

Pada, in sanskrit, means "foot"—so pada bandha, is then a "foot lock," or "foot seal." It is a sealing of your connection—or a rooting—with the earth beneath you. It is a solid foundation upon which you can balance. It's a way to get acquainted with all the tiny, underused muscles in your feet (all twenty of them!).

Pada bandha may help…

  • You to feel more energized by "locking" your energy in
  • Give a sensation of "grounding"  while simultaneously lifting (may aid in anxiety or depression)
  • Protect your knees
  • Support your balance
  • Alleviate problems with fallen arches
  • Strengthen your legs
  • Activate mula bandha (more on that to come!)

So, how do I get there? 

  1. Take a good look at the bottom of your foot.... get really up close and personal! Notice its curvatures, and its raised and recessed areas. Thank them for all the work they do—these feet are what support you, day in and day out!
  2. Find the four corners of the sole of one foot—the mound of your big toe and pinky toe, and your inner and outer heel. From standing, place your foot down on an even surface and press each of those four corners down evenly.
  3. Pick up all five of your toes and spread them away from your foot and as far apart from each other as you can.
  4. While still pressing down through your "four corners," and with your toes lifted, draw, or squeeze the ball of your big toe mound towards your inner heel, and your inner heel towards the mound of your big toe in a way that lifts your arch. Without releasing through the inner edge, do the same with the mound of your pinky toe, and your outer heel. Perhaps you might notice your ankle lift slightly, or feel like you can draw the strength of your feet up your whole leg.
  5. Keeping all of the engagement you found in Step 4, place your toes back down—one at a time if you can—still spread widely, almost as if you had webbed feet, or spacers in between your toes (this is what we like to call "yogi toes!").
  6. Do the same with your other foot.
Pada bandha is not only for standing and balancing poses—play with your pada bandha wherever you're at. Notice how activating a lifted foot strengthens your entire leg. If you practice an inversion such as headstand, energize your feet—including your toes—to see how it helps stabilize and balance you further. Even if your legs are outstretched in a seated position, activating pada bandha—pressing out through the mounds of your toes and your heels, while muscularly pulling your toes towards your face—will find you feeling into deep places in your legs that you never knew even existed!

We hope this helps you better understand the concept of pada bandha. Please feel free to comment on our Facebook with any further questions. And let us know if you have something you would like to see featured in Foundation Friday!

Foundation Friday: Downward Facing Dog

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This post is an instalment in a series that delves into the basics of yoga—looking at its postures (asana), breath (pranayama), philosophy, and all the other essentials—giving you the foundations upon which to build a solid practice. This post focuses on the ubiquitous downward facing dog.


Foundation Friday: Downward Facing Dog


Pose, or "Asana" Downward Facing Dog, or “Adho Mukha Svanasana” odd-oh mook-ah shvah-nass-ah-nah (not to be confused with savasana)

Why do we practice downward facing dog?

Downward dog is probably one of the most prevalent of all yoga postures. Though it may not feel like one when you first begin practicing, downward facing dog is actually a resting pose, and is often offered as a break between sequences, or as a starting and finishing point in a flow, or vinyasa. This pose will likely be taught in your first-ever beginner's class, and will carry you through as you advance your practice—downward dog is a quintessential pose, so it's important to get your alignment, er... down!

Downward dog may help…

  • Calm the mind, relieving stress and mild depression
  • Energize your body
  • Stretch your shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
  • Strengthen your arms and legs, which acclimatizing you to weight-bearing in your arms
  • Improve digestion
  • Offer relief for sinus pain, headaches, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
  • Ease conditions of menopause, high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet, and sciatica, and prevent osteoporosis

Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture tend to favour Downward Facing Dog for its activation and extension of the Bladder Channel, the longest channel in the body. According to their perspective, elongating the spine throughout this posture aids in strengthening immunity, among a host of other benefits.

How do I get there? 

  1. Start from a table top position, on your hands and knees. Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder distance apart and spread your fingers wide.
  2. Turn your hands so that the space between your pointer finger and your middle finger points to the top of your mat.
  3. Press down through the four corners of your hands, especially the mound of your thumb and pointer finger, while gripping your mat with your fingertips.
  4. Tuck your toes under, and press your hips up so that your body looks like an inverted pyramid from the side.
  5. Squeeze your forearms towards each other, and roll your upper arms away from each other.
  6. Ensuring your feet are hip-distance apart, take a soft bend into your knees and press your heart back towards your thighs.
  7. Roll your inner thighs back and wide behind you.
  8. Tilt your sitting bones skyward, and draw your tummy in towards your spine.
  9. Hug your shins towards each other, and press your heels down towards your mat (but it's okay if they don't touch!)
  10. Look between your feet, shins, thighs, or upwards at your belly.
It sure sounds like a lot of steps—but since this is such a foundational pose, it's important to be aligned optimally to avoid injury and promote a sustainable practice. Try focusing on one step of the posture within each practice, and then slowly start to add more as you integrate each part into your body until you've got your downward dog totally down!

If this position is uncomfortable, you can:

  • Place your hands on blocks if your shoulders are quite tight
  • Prop a towel, rolled mat, or some small sort of padding underneath your palms to alleviate pressure on your wrists
  • Take a bigger bend into your knees if your legs are tight
  • Support your head with a bolster or a block
  • Or, start from standing with a wall or chair in front of you, then bend at your waist and press your palms into a wall or chair instead of the floor. Progress by walking your hands lower towards the earth as the posture becomes more accessible.

We hope this helps you better understand the concept of downward facing dog. Please feel free to comment on our Facebook with any further questions. And let us know if you have something you would like to see featured in Foundation Friday!

Foundation Friday: Drishti

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Zoran's drishti aids in his balance and concentration.


Foundation Friday: Drishti or Gazing Point


Drishti (meaning: "full seeing", vision, point of view, intelligence or wisdom)

Pratyahara: sense withdrawal

Dharana: concentration

drish-tee

 


"The eyes play a predominant part in the practice of asanas." - BKS Iyengar


Drishti, or focused gaze, is a means for developing concentrated intention. It relates to the fifth limb of yoga concerning sense withdrawal, as well as the sixth limb dharana relating to concentration.  There are a total of 9 drishtis and each yoga asana is associated with one.  There are many yoga systems that use this practice and differences regarding which are used for specific asanas, but drishti is mainly part of the Ashtanga Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga traditions.

 

Why do we practice drishti?

 

Focusing your gaze as specific points allows your concentration and intention to flow in a circular manner.  The gaze first comes from within and is then directed outward to a specific point.  This intense focus creates an energy that is reflected back into your body to hold your concentration.  This allows the 'looking' to reflect inward, creating a withdrawal of the outward senses and a connection to Self.  The directed gaze also gives the mind a focused visual stimulus; wherever your eyes go your mind will follow.  Drishti allows the mind to be singularly focussed and balances our internal and external practice.  In a visually addictive world, our attention is like currency.  Spend it wisely!

 

Drishti may help...

 

  • concentration
  • inner connection
  • posture alignment
  • meditation
  • cleansing the mind
How is it done?

 

Though the gaze is fixed on an external point, the true meaning of drishti is meant to direct our focus to the subtle aspects of our practice.  We may become more aware of our breath, mind, and internal workings of our body simply by creating this circular focus.  In general, let your gaze move in the direction of your stretch.  Prana follows the direction of your gaze.
Yoga Journal states the following:

In Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), for instance, we gaze at the nose tip: Nasagrai Drishti. In meditation and in Matsyasana (Fish Pose), we gaze toward the Ajna Chakra, the third eye: Naitrayohmadya (also called Broomadhya) Drishti. In Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), we use Nabi Chakra Drishti, gazing at the navel. We use Hastagrai Drishti, gazing at the hand, in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose). In most seated forward bends, we gaze at the big toes: Pahayoragrai Drishti. When we twist to the left or right in seated spinal twists, we gaze as far as we can in the direction of the twist, using Parsva Drishti. In Urdhva Hastasana, the first movement of the Sun Salutation, we gaze up at the thumbs, using Angusta Ma Dyai Drishti. In Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I), we use Urdhva Drishti, gazing up to infinity. In every asana, the prescribed drishti assists concentration, aids movement, and helps orient the pranic (energetic) body.

 

In some cases, an improper drishti can actually be harmful, like shoulderstand where the head should not turn to look left or right.  Keep this in mind when working with drishti in your practice.

 

Let the drishti be your guide in to the unseen, to your source, your truth.  Allow the flow of your gaze bring you into your true balance and nature.

 

 

 

Foundation Friday: Savasana

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  This post is the first in a new series that delves into the basics of yoga—looking at its postures (asana), breath (pranayama), philosophy, and all the other essentials—giving you the foundations upon which to build a solid practice. First off, we’ll be taking a look at the quintessential yoga asana, or pose—savasana.

 


Foundation Friday: Savasana


 

Asana

Corpse Pose, or “Savasana”

(sava=corpse, asana=pose)

sha-vass-a-na

 

 

Savasana is the most important—and perhaps, the most difficult—pose in yoga. While it may appear that someone in savasana is simply setting up for a nap, the goal is not actually to fall asleep—rather, savasana intends to mimic the restful effects of sleep by rejuvenating the body, mind, and spirit while the practitioner remains conscious. Since we are not distracted by sensory sensation in this restful position, we are perfectly prepared to lie in quiet awareness of our breath, of our mind, and our humble presence. Without attaching any judgment on to our pattern of breath or to any thoughts that may arise, we may simply be conscious of them.

 

Why do we practice savasana?

 

Savasana is a perfect place to pause and find some peace before yoga, to settle our minds and bodies, to get ourselves into a quiet space, setting the tone for our practice. After asana practice, it is so important to take savasana—savanasa is where our bodies make sense of everything that happened throughout practice. This is the time that we can integrate any new sensory information throughout our bodies—where we can soak up all the goodness of practice and let it sink in. It is also an exercise in calming the nervous system, and just like any muscle in our body, the more we can train our brains to find quiet—to slow down and simply notice things the way they are—the stronger our brains and nervous systems will be at mimicking the same quiet, stillness, and calm throughout the rest of our lives.

 

Savasana may help…

 

• Decrease your heart rate • Lower your blood pressure • Alleviate muscle tension • Lessen anxiety • Heighten your ability to concentrate or focus • Increase your energy levels

 

 

How do I get there? 

 

  1. First, lie on your back. Lay your feet outstretched from your body about hip-width distance apart, with your arms outstretched a few inches away from your side body, palms face up.
  2. Let your toes relax to the sides (your feet may rotate outwards slightly).
  3. Slightly tuck your tailbone under to lengthen your spine.
  4. Tuck your shoulder blades underneath your body to open across your chest.
  5. Slightly tuck your chin in to keep the back of your neck long.
  6. Close your eyes.
  7. Relax and soften everywhere that you can in your body.
  8. Release any breathing technique you may have been using in class—breathe naturally.

***Note: comfort is essential in savasana—find whichever variation of savasana is the most relaxing to you, so that it will be easier for you to avoid distractions.

If this position is uncomfortable, you can:

 

  • Keep your upper body the same, but bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall wide
  • Place the soles of your feet mat-width distance apart and rest your knees together (helps if you are experiencing lower back discomfort)
  • Place a bolster under your knees (also helps with lower back discomfort)

 

We hope this helps you better understand the concept of savasana. Please feel free to comment with any further questions. And let us know if you have something you would like to see featured in Foundation Friday!