Journey to Front Splits: A Hip Opening Flow

Source: Yoga Dharma

 

Hip openers powerfully stimulate and balance the muladhara, or root chakra. By physically rooting our pelvic floor and the base of our spine into the Earth, we plug ourselves into the vibrational current of the planet. It also activates the sacral chakra, Svadisthana, which is translated as dwelling in a place of the self. This energy center relates to fun, freedom, creativity, flexibility, and pleasure. When we open our hips, we restore our reproductive organs, which at a base level represent the original force creating existence. Through creating balance in these chakras we can become grounded, comfortable within our own identity, inherently creative, and flexible in changing environments, not excessively holding on to what you thought before. Before you start this practice, meditate on something you would like to let go of that you feel prevents you from expressing yourself fully.

Each asana holds meaning that’s intended to connect us to our deeper beings. This hip opening flow ends with Hanumanasana, the yogic name to the famous front splits. Hanuman, the ancient Monkey God in the mythological times, was famous for his powerful leaps, as he was able to jump over South India to Sri Lanka to rescue Sita, the Queen, who was kidnapped by the Lord of Darkness. Such leap is memorialized in the pose. Similar to Hanuman’s devotion in saving the queen, this asana expresses the expansiveness possible when you fully commit to your practice.

This flow will focus on the following major movements and muscular engagements:

(1) Opening the Hamstrings

(2) Opening the Hip Flexors

(3) Lengthening Your Stride

(4) Engagement of Glutes, Pelvic Floor, Psoas, and Core

(5) Keeping the spine neutral while performing all (important to prevent lower back injury, don’t go into anterior tilt).

It’s important to note that any hip opening pose must be approached with humility, even if you’re already quite flexible. Many flexible people further stretch their already-open hamstrings but allow their pelvis to tip forward (anterior tilt). This creates an imbalance and leads to lower back pain when students attempt, as they should, to lift the spine.

Hanumanasana requires the work of the hips and hamstrings, while balancing the upper body on the pelvis. With the hips and the legs moving in opposite directions, the hip flexors and hamstrings need to be strong and flexible to attain the required balance and stability.

 

Warmup (5 mins)

  • Table Top Cat Cow (1 min)
  • Table top with leg pulsing on each side (1 min)
  • 5 rounds of Surya Namaskar A (3 mins)

Main Sequence

Standing Sequence (25 minutes)

  • Prasarita Padottanasana ABCD (3 minutes)
  • Parsvottanasana
    • Praying hands (1 minute)
    • Hugging and kissing knee (1 minute)
  • Surya Namaskar A Half til Downward Dog (30 seconds)
  • Vinyasa on Both sides: Downward dog – Three legged downdog with knee flexing- Active pigeon- Sleeping Pigeon- Child’s Pose- Repeat on left side (6 minutes)
  • Vinyasa on Both sides: High lunge- Warrior 1- Skandasana- Warrior 2- Birds of paradise- Tadasana (8 minutes)
  • Surya Namaskar A Half til Downward Dog (30 seconds)
  • Lizard pose + Quad Stretch Both sides (2 minutes)
  • Active Malasana (2 minutes)
    • Active Malasana Level 2: For more adduction stretch, step on the blocks while still pushing the thighs back and engaging hamstrings
    • Active Malasana Level 3: place forearm and palm flat on the ground, flap legs sideways
  • Goddess Pose (1 minute)

Seating Sequence (10 minutes)

  • Paschmitonasana A (1 minute)
  • Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana Both sides (2 minutes)
  • Triang Mukha Eka Pada admotanasana (2 minutes)
  • Split drills with blocks (Get two blocks. Put them near your pelvis. Keep on placing one block in front of another until you extend your arms to its maximum. Once arms are at maximum, fold forward) (2 minutes)
  • Hanumanasana (3 minutes)
    • Focus on leveling the pelvis instead of reaching to the ground
    • Keep hips squared; try to avoid going into an anterior tilt
    • Press your inner thighs towards each other to help support the pelvis.
    • Engage hip flexors, glutes, pelvic core, psoas, and core

Counter Pose/ Closing (5 minutes)

  • Hug knees in supine pose
  • Supine twist
  • Shoulder stand
  • Shoulderstand Lotus Pose (Padma Sarvangasana)
  • Inversion: Headstand or Tripod

Shavasana (5 minutes)

 

 

Grounding Into Gratitude: Practicing Santosha on and off the mat

Source: PSU Vanguard

Are we forever chasing rainbows?

Oftentimes, we think that if we get a promotion, get more money, lose weight, have better skin, get a bigger house, or get better with our asanas, we will be happier. We humans are in the constant chase for something that we don’t have, and once we do achieve what we wanted, we would aim for something else, something better. Psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill because we’re running after something only to end up in the same place- desiring more of what we don’t have. 

Santosha, the second of five niyamas, is the Sanskrit word for contentment, which, as stated in the Yoga Sūtra, “brings about unsurpassed joy.”  Niyamas are literally translated as positive duties or observances. Together with Yamas, these are recommended activities and habits to cultivate a healthy lifestyle, and spiritual enlightenment. Santosha tells us that we can only truly find happiness from within, and relying on external factors will never bring us peace. This niyama invites us to be content in the present, and know that we are complete and enough the way we are. This is not to say that we should never have desires or goals. The niyama is simply inviting us to stop wasting energy thinking about what we lack. Instead, we should enjoy the journey, live in the present, and be thankful for what we do have. Intrinsic happiness is unconditional. 

The secret to the law of attraction is to believe that we already have what we want. To manifest the best version of ourselves, we need to be grateful with ourselves and be happy where we are. Yoga is an amazing practice to work on changing our self-harming thought patterns for the better. 

 

How to practice santosha on the mat: 

  • Don’t compare yourself with other yogis. All of us have probably fallen prey to this: a difficult asana comes up in class which we’re not confident of doing; instead of practicing, we look around and compare ourselves with others. Or when we’re stuck in our phones, we tend to look at all these yogi Youtubers and sulk about not being as strong and flexible as them. Santosha tells us to shift the focus back to improving ourselves for the sake of personal growth instead of spending time wishing we had someone else’s physical abilities. Give yourself freedom to enjoy where you are in your practice.
  • Be compassionate to your body. We often forget how much our bodies provide for us: it gets us to walk, run, and perform our daily activities without much thinking. The fact that we can breathe, show up in our mat, and do asanas when we want to is amazing in itself. The least we can do is be thankful by not bringing physical harm to it and to stop saying hurtful words to it. 

Also understand that your body will be different each day depending on what you eat, how well you sleep, the quality of air you breathe, your mental state, etc. Some days you’re stronger, other days you’re very tight. Accept it for what it is at the present and know that your body will always evolve.  

  • Be present in your practice. What makes physical yoga distinct from other workouts is its mind-body-breath connection. It’s normal to get distracted with thoughts of the future or past when you’re practicing. When that happens, acknowledge the thought and try your best to bring yourself back to your movement through focusing on the breath. Being present makes your poses and breathwork more precise too. 
  • Always start and end your practice with namaste. Deciding to show up for yourself on the mat is an excellent practice of self-care. Acknowledge that you are alive, breathing, and your body can perform these asanas for you. That’s already a lot of things to be grateful for. 

 

How to practice santosha off the mat: 

 

  • Start and end your day with gratitude. In the morning, list three constant things in your life that you are grateful for. It could be the presence of your friends, family, a steady source of income, a roof on top of your head, a place to sleep, food to eat, a body that works hard for you, the fact that you’re still alive. When you start your day focusing on these things instead of what you don’t have, you will attract more things to be thankful for. At the end of the day, think about what happened in the day that you’re grateful for.

 

  • Let go of what you can’t control. Oftentimes, the source of discontentment is from things we can’t change or influence such as those that happened in the past or others’ opinions of us. Don’t sacrifice your bliss and headspace for these moments. Instead, focus on what you can directly control which ultimately is yourself- your breath, your attitude, your reaction to things. You can choose to be disappointed or accepting of events. 

 

  • Let go of expectations and perfection. Practice remaining calm in success or failure. Find ease in whatever you’re doing and completely enjoy the process. If you focus on the progress instead of the result, you are directed back to the present and appreciate how far you’ve come. Expectations often leave you frustrated with how far you need to go. Completely surrender to the moment and let life surprise you. 

 

  • Go outside and appreciate the world around you. If you’ve been taking the blue sky, tall trees, or building murals for granted, marvel at them today. Look at all their details and relish the fact that you get to live with all these beauty. Allow yourself to be moved by the wonder of nature. You can keep the state of Santosha by disconnecting from technology so you can really stay in the present.
  • Take yourself in on a date.  To find santosha, you must spend some time alone to truly rid yourself of external validation. You must be content and accept yourself for who you truly are. Yes, your relationships are important and without others, you probably won’t survive but you must be careful on making others the source of your happiness. Sustainable contentment only come from within.

Beyond Truthfulness: practicing Satya on and off the mat

Image Source: www.bindiyoga.ca

 

`Yamas` (moral discipline) are observances recommended by yogic philosophy and teaching as part of the eight-limbed path of yoga, developed by Patanjali. Unlike a commandment that has to be strictly followed, the five yamas are established for enthusiasts to develop a mindful and healthy lifestyle.

The second yama is called Satya. The Sanskrit word literally translates to fact, reality, or true nature in English. In its simplest form, satya means upholding the truth. Although the yama certainly encompasses honesty, it also includes integrity to ourselves, our lives, and our inner divine. The practice invites us to be our truest, most authentic selves. More than simply telling your truth, you have to also practice and live it. 

For instance, you can’t keep saying that you want a break but also accept overtime work from your office; or know deep down that you want to commit into a serious relationship but go on casual, meaningless dates.  These small contradictions keep us from manifesting what it is we really want. Satya encourages us to align our thoughts, words, and actions with our desires, while keeping them pure and harmless. 

Reflection piece: In what situations do you notice that your actions are in conflict with what you feel? Why? Who or what are you protecting?

Note: truth shouldn’t cause harm

This yama doesn’t invite us to be frank and forward in telling negative observations, no matter how truthful they are. Our ethical code doesn’t live in a bubble. There’s a reason why ahimsa (non-violence) is the first yama. It tells us that whatever we do should not cause harm to others. Hence, if telling your version of the truth will hurt others, you have to think twice whether your opinion matters. Practicing satya isn’t simply about blindly telling the truth regardless of the consequence. It’s making sure that you speak and act with thought and intention instead of just saying whatever is on your mind. 

 

How to practice satya on the mat

  • Set an intention in your practice. Your intention is the truth as to why you are on the mat today. It will direct your reality. Is your intention to get stronger? To get better sleep? To feel less stressed? Whenever you feel like you don’t want to practice, remind yourself of your intention to get on the mat. 
  • Listen to your physical body. Pain, discomfort, and injury are different languages that your body uses to communicate its truth. Don’t ignore that. If you’re feeling tired, or healing from an injury, don’t force yourself into doing another Chaturanga Dandanasana. It’s a violation of both satya and ahimsa
  • Rather than believing that you are not strong, flexible, or good enough, honor the reality of your body: it just needs practice. Everybody can improve through practice, and no one is an exception. 

 

How to practice satya off the mat

  • Do you feel that you are striving for things that you don’t actually want, but are conditioned by society, family, friends, or loved ones as things you should aspire to have? Ask the hard questions and be completely honest with yourself on whether you are living the life that aligns with your truth.  
  • Make sure that you speak to yourself and others with kindness and intention. Before speaking, ask yourself: is what I’m saying good, true, and beneficial? 
  • Speak up for yourself when your voice needs to be heard.
  • Shift from judgment to observation. For instance, instead of saying “I am fat”, say “My body doesn’t meet yet my standards but it can always improve.” In the first sentence, you are imposing your standards on the world by labeling yourself fat and calling it your reality; in the second, you are simply and clearly expressing your need (to be less fat) in the moment.

The Core Muscle That Truly Matters

For the longest time, I have associated core muscles only with rectus abdominis, otherwise known as ~abs~. We live in a society that glorifies the possession of the so-called ~6-pack~, making it the ultimate goal for any workout, a social trophy that could mean you have strength, endurance, and overall attractiveness. On our 2nd week of YTT, I have learned that it is in fact, only one of the three muscles that make up our core. The other two are transverse abdominis and oblique muscles.

Of the three, the most overlooked is the Transverse Abdominis (TVA). This muscle runs between the ribs and the pelvis, horizontally from front to back, acting as a corset. It’s extremely important as it’s the deepest core muscle, and acts as a support for the entire lower back, stabilizing the trunk while maintaining internal abdominal pressure. Additionally, it increases pressure on the thoracic spine (where the lungs are) to aid in breathing and heart stimulation.

TVA is also responsible in getting yogis to gracefully jump and float into inversion asanas.

TLDR version: the stronger the TVA, the less likely one will experience lower back pain.

Are you someone who, despite doing several crunches and push-ups or other rectus abdominis-defining exercises, still have the abdominal wall bulging forward?
In other words, does your belly pooch seem to not disappear despite doing 1 minute of chaturanga and 100 curl-ups each day? That is a sign of a weak TVA.

When you feel tension in your lower back and hip flexors when you cycle, perform leg lifts, or bridge, it also means you have weak TVA.

Luckily, our ignored and forgotten yet very precious TVA works very efficiently which means you don’t have to put that much physical effort to activate it. In other words, no crunches and push-ups needed.

So, how exactly can you work this muscle?

First things first. Locate your TVA by following these steps:

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees, internally rotate your shoulders. Relax your belly completely.
  • Place your fingertips on the boney part of your hips, then move them an inch inwards towards your navel.
  • Feign a cough. Feel that muscle pressing on your fingers? That’s your TVA.

Now, here are a few simple ways to strengthen it. While doing these drills, make sure to consciously feel your TVA being engaged.

 

  • Uddiyana Bandha (Upward binding; navel lock)

Uddiyana bandha is the abdominal lock. It is the second of the three interior body locks used in asana and pranayama practice to control the flow of energy (prana) in the body.

Uddiyana Bandha is best practiced first thing in the morning when the stomach is completely empty.

Inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale quickly through your nose.

Push as much air as possible out of your lungs by contracting your TVA and two other abdominal muscles.

Perform what’s called a “mock inhalation” by expanding your rib cage as if you were inhaling, but without actually doing so. The expansion of the rib cage creates a hollowing sensation and appearance in the belly.

Read more about its benefits and proper ways of doing it here.

  • Abdominal Bracing (Breathing technique).

Take a deep breath in.

Expand your rib cage.

Pull your rib cage down.

Think about tightening your midsection as if you were just about to be punched in the gut.

 

  • Setu Bandha Sarvāṅgāsana (Bridge Pose)

Lie with your back flat on the floor.

Bend your knees and set your feet parallel on the floor, heels as close to the sitting bones as possible.

Pressing your inner feet and arms actively into the floor, push your TVA upward toward the ceiling, firming (but not hardening) the buttocks, and lift the buttocks off the floor. Thighs and feet must be parallel.

Clasp the hands below your pelvis.

 

  • Single Leg Extensions.

Lie down on your back. Keep your spine straight.

Bend your legs at a 90-degree angle and slowly bring one leg down.

Repeat on the other side. Repeat for as many times as you can.

 

  •  Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)

Lie on your mat.

Draw your right knee into the chest.

Slowly straighten and extend the right leg up.

Make sure that your arms are straight and shoulders are pressing down.

Repeat on the other side.

 

  • Bitilasana Marjaryasana (Cat and Cow Pose)

Cow- round your back, lift your lower back up, open your chest, look towards the ceiling

Cat- curve your spine, drop your head, push the floor away, contract your TVA, look towards your navel

 

  • Kumbhakasana (Plank)

Position your wrists and elbows directly under your shoulders.

Maintain a straight body line from head to heels.

Contract your TVA.

Lightly squeeze your butt and the fronts of your thighs.

 

Practice doing these asanas everyday and you’ll surely enjoy a more stabilized lower back, and feel better when performing inversion asanas!