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)

 

 

An Ultra Beginner Class

Who is considered as an ultra beginner exactly? Well, someone who has never done yoga before; someone who doesn’t do much exercise at all; or even, just take a look at the coffee shop across your house, those middle age people or elderlies that are relaxing and chilling away with their coffees in the lazy afternoons – those, are ultra beginners. 

 

If these group of people are to be considered as ultra beginners, that means the class would meant no downward dogs, nor any warriors. Then how should we plan such a class for 60 minutes? 

 

I played around with some poses, and tested them on the ‘ultra’ beginners that I could grab around me from office and among my friends, and this is what I’ve got.

 

  • Introduction

Sit comfortably, introduction of the session, open the class with OM chants

  • Deep breathing exercise

Inhale through the nose, exhale through the nose. Long deep breaths for 6 to 10 times

  • Warm ups
  1.  Neck Rotation
  2.  Shoulder Rotation
  3. Side bend/Stretches
  4. Vakrasana
  5. Baddha Konasana
  • Asanas
  1. Tadasana
  2. Padangusthasana
  3. Prasarita Padottanasana
  4. Vrksana
  5. Chakravakasana
  6. Dandayamana Bharmanasana
  7. Balasana
  • Counter stretches
  1. Apanasana
  2. Supta Matsyendrasana
  3. Ananda Balasana
  • Cool Down

Lie in Savasana

  • Closing

Chanting of 3 OMs to close the class. 

 

Namaste.

 

Still, some of the stretches were not easy, surprisingly, for these ultra beginners, but they are definitely manageable, and would suffice for an ultra beginner class for a good 60 minutes! 

Juicy Stretches for your Joints

Regardless of whether you’ve been spending more time at home or you’ve started going back into the office, I’m sure most of us have found ourselves more sedentary during this crisis. My family and I alternate between spending long hours at the desk and couch potatoing on the sofa catching up on Netflix, resulting in increasingly stiff bodies and creaky joints.

To combat that, here’s a 60 minute deep stretch sequence for you! Hold each pose for 2-3 minutes to allow your body to go deeper into the posture. With each inhalation, relax the mind and body to prevent resistance to the deep intense, stretches. With each exhalation, allow gravity to pull your body open a little bit more and allow the stretches to become effortless.

1) Chest Opener with Block + Butterfly Legs

chest opener, lying with yoga blocks - Gina Aliotti Fitness

2) Upavistha Konasana

Seated Angle Pose • Yoga Basics

3) Quadricep Stretch @ Wall (2-3 mins per leg)

How to Strengthen Knees and Prevent Injury When Running - Running Stats

4) Lizard Pose (2-3 mins per leg)

Lizard Pose – YogaMerge

5) Frog Pose

Frog Pose - Mandukasana - The Yoga Collective - How To Do Frog Pose

6) Melting Heart Pose

Melting Heart pose | Ekhart Yoga

7) Prone Shoulder Stretch (2-3 mins per side)

Change your students' warm up from running laps to saluting the sun, yoga style

8) Supine Pigeon Pose (2-3 mins per leg)

Maximize Your Flexibility With Lower Body Stretches

9) Supine Twist (2-3 mins per side)

Supta Matsyendrasana - Supine Spinal Twist - Yogaasan

9) Wind Releasing Pose + Savasana

Enjoy 🙂

Inspired and thankful

What is a good yoga lesson? To some, it is a good workout or physical challenge. To others, a good stretch or rest for the mind. Whichever the case may be, a good lesson is often seamless. It flows through the pranayamas, warm-ups, asanas to the peak pose (optional) without your realization. A good teacher guides you from asanas to asanas, section to section, breath to breath with smooth and continuous instructions. Alignment variations and physical adjustments are inserted in between with little disruptions.

I have always thought that being an experienced student would equate to being a good instructor. Of cos, I have done it hundreds of time, I can just draw from memory and repeat the instructions if i wanted to! I have severely underestimated the work put into each lesson plan.

When writing our own lesson plans, my classmates and I churned out scripts. Yes, scripts of instructions! Detailing breath intake, alignment, and adjustment ques, muscle benefits, much like a screenplay complete with “exit stage left or stage right”. The plan must also be balanced in terms of working the muscles equally and also within the required duration. Then, you have to memorize the script and deliver that in a class of live students, whilst demonstrating the asanas to the best of your abilities. I have not gone into mirror movements yet!

Now I am thankful. Thankful for all the teachers that piqued my interest in yoga with their amazing lesson plans. Thankful for the effort and time that you have devoted to the plans, and in turn your students. I hope my lesson plans will do the same too.

 

How can yoga help with menopause?

Symptoms of menopause vary significantly in duration and severity from one woman to the other. They are generally linked to declining levels of estrogen and other hormones. It takes time for the body to adjust to those changes. And during this transition, symptoms can be quite debilitating both physically and emotionally. They commonly include hot flashes and night sweats, irritability and mood swings, insomnia, fatigue, weight gain, bloating, palpitations, reduced libido and vaginal dryness, joint aches and pains (joint, back, neck), problems with memory and concentration, reduced muscle mass and increased risk of osteoporosis.

Hormone replacement therapy is now widely used. But it has been linked to an increased risk for certain health conditions (cardiovascular risks, breast/lung/colon cancer, urinary incontinence…) and comes with side effects. Therefore, health practitioners and patients alike have been looking for healthier and natural alternatives to support this transition. Those include lifestyle changes, diet, exercise… and of course yoga! Research has shown that specific regular yoga practice is bringing significant relief to several menopausal symptoms.

 

How can yoga relief menopausal symptoms?

  • Yoga helps building mental resilience

Regular yoga practice helps to quiet the mind and body. It has been associated with an increased tolerance for pain over time and may help reduce the discomfort. Yoga, and specifically pranayama, have also been shown to relieve stress and quiet the mind. Hence, insomnia can be improved, overall mood is more balanced leading to less irritability and mental calm can help going through menopausal aches and pains. Finally, mental focus required for yoga practice and meditation exercises can improve memory and concentration issues.

  • Yoga supports a strong physical body and the flow of energy

Yoga has been associated with good joint health and joint pain relief. It helps strengthening joints and increasing flexibility. Yoga practice is also energizing and can help with menopausal fatigue. Finally, it will help counteract reduced muscle mass commonly observed with menopause.

  • Yoga helps regulating body functions

Blood pressure may increase after menopause and a consistent yoga practice has been linked with reduced blood pressure and better blood circulation and oxygenation. Yoga is also linked with better weight management which can assist in menopausal weight changes due to hormonal imbalance. Similarly, it can help with hot flashes.

 

Which specific yoga practices are recommended for menopause?

Regular practice of specific asanas, pranayama and dyana have been shown to be all beneficial to relief menopausal symptoms.

Specific Asanas

While asanas may not directly influence estrogen production, specific postures can help control unpleasant symptoms. Restorative postures, in particular, can help relax the nervous system and may improve the functioning of the endocrine system.

Hot Flashes

This is the most common symptom of menopause which is characterized by sudden increase in body temperature and pulse rate. And stress or any tension in the body can make it worse. Hence, recommended poses should be cooling and restorative poses. Supported reclining poses are interesting such as Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle), Supta Virasana (reclining hero) and Supta Padmasana (reclined lotus) which will soften and release any tightness in the chest and belly. Ardha Halasana (half plow) with supported legs and Janu Sirsasana (head-to-knee) with the head supported, can also help to calm nerves.

We should use props, blocks, or any other support that will help to relax. Supported postures can help relief from anxiety and irritability, without heating or stressing the body. It is important to note that unsupported inversions, strenuous poses, and backbends can sometimes make hot flashes worse.

Anxiety, Irritability, and Insomnia

Hormonal imbalance imposes continual stress to the sympathetic autonomous nervous system and the adrenal glands which exhaust themselves. Forward bends, such as Uttanasana (standing forward bend) Padangusthasana / Pada Hastasana and Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged standing forward bend) are helpful to relax those by calming the mind. For insomnia specifically, inversions then followed by restorative postures can help such as Salamba Sirsasana (supported headstand), Salamba Sarvangasana (supported shoulderstand).

Fatigue

Also, a very common symptom, it is likely due to low levels of progesterone and/or exhausted adrenal glands. Gentle supported backbends can help to reenergize: Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle), again, is recommended. Standing poses like Virabhadrasana I and II (warrior I and II) help feeling strong and combat the fatigue.

Depression and Mood Swings

Regular yoga practice is associated with better regulation and control of your thoughts and attitude. It helps to feel strong, healthy and grounded. Backbends, especially if supported, are recommended bringing a sense of lightness into the body and opening heart and lungs such as Ustrasana (camel) and Chakrasana (wheel). Furthermore, chest opening poses energize the body by improving breathing and circulation such as also Dhanurasana (bow), Bhujangasana (cobra). The same inversions as above, can also help to improve mood. All those positively affects the mind.

Memory and concentration

The same postures that counter depression, such as backbends, chest openers, and inversions, can help increasing cognitive abilities. Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) and Ardha Pincha Mayurasana (dolphin) can also improve mental alertness. And Savasana soothes the nerves and can help with better concentration after.

Pranayama

Regular practice of pranayama has also been shown to be beneficial in treating a wide range of stress disorders. It develops a steady mind and strong willpower. It slows down mental chatter and infuses positive thinking. Practice can help, in particular, with menopausal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, depression and mood swings.

Some cooling pranayama such as sitali and sitkari pranayama can be very interesting in menopause. Both are activating the parasympathetic autonomous nervous system, relaxing the body whilst also cooling it down. It is important to note that in the case of hot flashes, other more regular pranayama such as Ujjayi or Kapala Bhati are not recommended as they are also heating up the body.

Dhyana

Meditation or dhyana is known to help still the mind and regulate the nervous system. It will similarly help for all stress related and mental imbalance of menopause, with no contraindication. It has been also found to be associated with increased melatonin level leading to improved sleep quality, particularly if done in the evening before sleep.

As a conclusion, we need to highlight that every woman is different and will experience different symptoms. Those will also evolve over time and may not be the same from one day to the other. So, it comes down to each of us to experience and adapt practice accordingly to smoothly ride through this life transition!

The Balancing Act

Going back to the “Why do I want to do YTT”, one of the main reasons was because I wanted to learn the technique of how to do all the various inversions that could possibly be done and, effortlessly.

Just like how an elephant balances on the circus ball? I wanna be just like that.

 

But saying is one thing and doing is another. When we first started YTT, we were told that different poses will be tested during the examination, i.e Crow pose – 1min, Headstand – 3mins etc etc. And I thought, Oh my goodness, I can’t even hold the crow pose for 10s, how to do it for 1min? Surely a miracle must happen on the examination day for me to pass.

Week by week, as we attended YTT, teacher took effort to train us, and painful as it was, we definitely needed it. The 1001 chaturangas we kept doing, transitioning from one pose from one to another, there was no mercy. But overtime, bit by bit, we became stronger; chaturanga holds extended from 30s to 45s, headstand practice went up to ‘let’s-do-for-3-full-minutes’ and if we can’t, it’s fine, we have the wall behind us and thus could cheat a little. Slowly but surely, doing inversion became easier. My crow practice started from 5-10s, to 15-25s, in which I saw improvements but it was simply not good enough. Headstands, on the other hand, had me playing this balancing act as I tried to beat gravity, keeping my feet up high and trying not to tilt. All of these however, was just not the ‘right technique’. I’m not saying that there is the one method we must all conform to, but surely I always felt that there is a better & easier way to take, for a longer and more convincing stay in each desired pose.

The technique is none other than ’rounding your back, squeezing your core super hard and creating a firm base’ before each balancing pose. Example – when you do crow, you place your palms down on the floor, round your back, squeeze the core before proceeding to bring your knees outside your arms and eventually getting your feet off the ground.

As you stay in your posture (sounds easy but hard to master), just continue to contract and contract those core muscles, keep that rounded back, and sometimes I see it as staying super compacted with a bigger area of base to lower your center of gravity, hence making you more stable. Moving on to headstand, it is slightly different because the body is fully extended and lengthened, but using the same concept, create that firm base and that is fundamental. Place your forearms and head down the mat in a triangular shape, keep your elbows tucked for a narrow and firmer base, slowly start to walk your feet closer to your elbows and eventually contract/engage your core as you lift both feet off the mat and come to a perfect invert.

I won’t say that I am an expert in balancing poses and all now, I’m pretty sure I’m still unable to do the lotus feet headstand (i.e a cross-legged sitting where each foot is placed on the opposite thigh): in lotus position, place forearms and head down in triangular just as how you would do a normal headstand, but only relying on your core, lift your lotus feet up [probably my ultimate challenge to myself] – this pose is really a “pure-core” work of art. But having said that, practicing this newfound technique has really enabled me to hold in those poses for an unexpected extended period of time. And I am excited, because word is that once you’ve got that strong base formed like a house built upon a rock, the rain can pour, the flood can come, but your house won’t shake.

 

 

 

 

Yoga Lesson Plans

One more lesson to exam. OMG time really flies; I am sure I will miss my weekends with the girls and having “boot camp” early in the morning – precious memories.

Am glad I signed up this course, no regrets and also grateful to have Master Sree and Master Paalu who guided us patiently 😊

We were taught on how to sequence lessons for the last part of the course and it was an eye opening experience for me because, there were so many things to consider!

Are there any new comers in the class?
Anyone doing Yoga for the first time?
Any medical conditions?
Simple postures which I took for granted might not be suitable for beginners.

Gosh!

The timing for each pose, the sequencing of the pose, the warm up, the opening, the closing, the tone of your voice all needs to be taken into considerations of the class you are teaching.

But the contradictory thing is that after painstakingly planned for 2 classes, I actually enjoy planning the rest of the class, taking note on the type of asanas, which asana comes first, seated first of standing first – so much fun!

But of course, being a student is so much easier.
Be in your Yoga wear, come in time for class and just follow the instructions.
Finish, go home.

New found respect for the teachers.

Bravo!

Oh thru class planning, I found out some of my favorite asanas – Tree, Malasana & Camel!

21092019 Weekend YTT
Post 4 of 4
Shirley

Lesson planning and teaching

Yoga instructors develop a lesson plan for each class. As students, we don’t think about the amount of effort a yogi puts into planning a class to ensure you get achieve progress within one class and get value for your money and time. Certain instructors make their classes feel integrated and smooth flowing, but only highly experienced yogis are able to make teaching effortless.

If you decide to join a YTT-200 course, the training will expose you to how much effort, practice and confidence goes into becoming a Yoga instructor. In the Tirisula program, trainees are required develop a lesson plan and conduct a test class among classmates. Three days were dedicated to lesson planning. During the first day, we made and applied a plan for Ultra Beginner students; the second day was for Beginner students; and the third day was for Intermediate students.

I missed the second day (hence I am making a blog specifically about this topic), which meant that I went from test teaching for Ultra Beginner to Advanced. Some people might struggle to shift their mind-set from student to teacher — and I quickly realized that I was one of those people. Lesson planning can be challenging. Applying the lesson plan on actual students is even more challenging.

There are three key aspects to consider:

  • Student level

Students coming in will have different levels of experience and ability. So, classes are segregated between, Ultra Beginner, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Your style as a teacher will fit one of these levels better than the others. The trick is figuring out which one and also continually trying to improve on teaching for the other levels.

  • Program and sequence

There is a flow to the segments of a class. Generally, there is a teacher’s welcome, checking for injuries, opening chant, breathing exercise, warm up, asanas, cool down and closing chant. During warm up, you can include simple test poses to see the average ability level of the class. As for asanas, the ideal sequence is from standing, sitting, prone, supine, and lastly, inversions. For every pose, there should also be a counter pose. Transitioning between segments of the class and between asanas is also important to maintain pace, energy flow and momentum build-up.

  • Teaching technique

Aside from the lesson plan, the actual teaching part is important to rehearse. There are four key things to consider for teaching:

  • Demonstration (show to students how to get in and out of a challenging pose)
    • Instruction (guide the inhale/exhale, describe the exact movement and mention the asana name with a clear voice and relaxed but firm tone)
    • Counting (sync the breathing for consistent movements)
    • Adjustment (improve alignment and stretch with touch and motivating words)

During the course, I really struggled with applying my lesson plans. I am still at the stage where I understand the technique but am poor at verbalizing it. I fixate on recalling what the next step should be that I pay no mind to the student, which is a quick recipe to becoming a horrible yoga instructor. Being a yoga teacher is not easy, and for people like me, it does not happen over the course of a month. It’s an ongoing process of learning and applying then passing the knowledge on.

Our master trainers tell us that a high percentage of those who complete the YTT 200 do not pursue a Yoga teaching career; and I hope I do not become part of that percentage. I have a long way to go before I can say I have confidence in my lesson planning and teaching skills. I don’t know if I will make it, but I hope I do. One thing is for sure though – I learned so much from one month of Yoga teacher training than two years of being a Yoga pupil.

Guidelines for Lesson Planning (Beginners)

Looking for a beginner yoga lesson planning inspiration?
Read below tips to stay inspired when developing lesson plans for beginners!

 

I was exploring for many ways to create a lesson plan for beginners as part of my assignment … How do i spark interest in those who’ve never tried yoga?

There are some pointers to consider when creating lesson plans for beginners, especially for beginners who’ve never tried yoga before. Below could be some tips to capture the hearts of students:

 

Venue

Yes! Venue can influence how a person feels when he is in class. An outdoor space can potentially boost the energy level of students as compared to an indoor studio. For morning classes, students may be more motivated to attend classes conducted in an outdoor setting (in a garden/park) with a gentle flow because of the serenity and the fresh air. For afternoon classes, students may prefer an indoor setting with a more energetic flow.

Anatomical Focus

Wondering what does it mean by anatomical focus? Depending on the style of the class, anatomical focus help the students to be more aware and conscious during practice. For such therapeutic classes (i.e. hip-opening / back-bending), hamstrings, etc.), students will be able to improve flexibility for the intended area of focus. Additionally, identifying focus areas can help teachers to sequence and select the yoga poses to be taught during the lesson!

Adjustments

Beginners will definitely need the help and support of the teacher through adjustments. Correcting their postures allow them to feel the muscles they have to contract/relax during the various poses. For longer term benefits (i.e. minimize injuries), teachers should focus on fundamental alignments when teaching the beginners.

Accessories

For beginners, accessories such as straps and blocks should be available during practice. Otherwise, teachers may want to consider modifying to a less ‘demanding’ pose if blocks might not be available for the student to garner additional support. Students can also use towels as a substitute for straps.

 

Beside the above tips, having the passion to teach will naturally enhance the vibes of the class.
Beginners will be attracted to the class’ energy and feel good after the practice!

Relax, practice and be yourself.

planning and neutralising

I have practised yoga without really understanding the logic behind certain poses that we do. Typically, we go through a sequence of poses during classes. While it may seem effortless to follow through a class as a student while “emptying your mind”, I find it interesting to learn in Tirisula YTT that much behind-the-scenes work is needed to properly plan out a class. For instance, in an average lesson plan, we have to prepare for the following:

– Intro (3-5min)
– Admin (1 min)
– Warmup (10min)
– Asana (30 min)
– Pranayama (3-5min)
– Relaxation (5min)
– Closing (2min)

As part of the asanas, counterposes are important in order to return the body closer to it’s natural state. This will leave less room for injury and over-extension. An energy-inducing asana cannot be left without a counterpose.

Typically, poses such as urdhva mukha svanansana (upward facing dog) will be followed by Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog). Matysasana (Fish pose) is a counter pose to many inversion poses like Sarvangasana (shoulder stand).

The counterposes help to neutralise the asanas that we practise. It may be easy to overlook the importance of counterposes as they may seem too simple for some. Yet, rest and focused breathing is necessary for our bodies to relax and prepare for the next steps. The same logic applies to music, when rests cannot be ignored in a piece. This theory can be applied to the approach of our daily lives. It is important to recognise that taking a breather is needed to maintain a good spiritual and mental balance. Brainless but neutralising activities is needed to bring things back to order and keep stress at bay.