In addition to putting the body position to that of the picture here, these are some refinements to take note when doing Virabhadrasana II:
- Step feet wide apart enough such that the bended knee does not go over the right ankle
- Point the right toes to the front and ensure that the bended knee is more or less in line with the 2nd right toe.
- Place the left foot such that the right heel is in line with the arch of the left foot and the left foot is 90 degrees to the leg or slightly pointed inwards
- Firm the straight left leg by lifting the knee cap and tightening the thigh muscles
- Keep both legs firm and strong, ensuring that the right leg is not holding most of the weight and the weight is spread as evenly as possible between the right (bended) leg and the left (straight) leg.
- Lower the hips down such that the angle created by the right shin and the right thigh can be as close to 90 degrees as possible
- Press the outer left foot firmly on the floor
- Keep the abdominal and core muscles strong and the body straight above the hips in a verticle line, neither leaning forward or sideways
- Keep the hips as open as possible and the front of the body facing to the side
- Widen shoulder blades, stretch the arms away from the body in the same direction as the legs and parallel to the floor
- Keep the arms straight and firm while maintaining relaxed shoulders and neck
- Keep sides of the torso long
- Press the tailbone slightly toward the pubis, not arching much of the lower back
- Draw the belly in slightly, maintaining mula bandha and uddiyana bandha
- Gaze over the extended right hand and focus on the right thumb as the drishti point
There are many benefits from doing this pose, including the following:
- Increase stamina as this is a powerful pose, especially if holding for some time
- Open hips to stretch inner thighs, groins and ankles
- Expand chest, lungs and shoulders
- Improves concentration and core awareness
- Stimulates abdominal organs and digestion
- Relieves backache
Virabhadrasana II is a good transition pose to many standing poses including Parsvakonasana, Trikonasana and Pasarita Padottanasana.
In April 2011, Charl Schwartzel won the US Masters Golf tournament with one of the most extraordinary final round of golf. I am not sure if he does yoga on the side but this is what he said:
“You’ve got to really try and force yourself to stay in the present, which is very difficult around here. There’s so many people and so many roars that go up. That’s the biggest thing. You’ve got to breathe. Sometimes you forget to breathe.”
Sometimes we forget to breathe, but most of the time we forget that we are breathing. We can live for weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without breath. I’m sure there’s hardly any Yoga classes we attended whereby the instructor did not repeatedly tell us to breath. In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, the breath is the key. In the Yoga theory, the length of life is not measured by the number of years but by the number of breaths.
In each breath that we take, the air that we breathe in travels into the external nose and through the internal nasal cavity where the air is filtered. Thereafter, it passes through the Pharynx (Throat), Larynx, Trachea, Primary Bronchi then into the Lungs to the Secondary Bronchi, Tertiary Bronchi, Bronchioles and finally to the Alveolar where the gas exchange takes place.
The lungs absorb about 5% of the oxygen from the air into the blood plasma, most of which is bound to the protein hemoglobin in our red blood cells. Our cardiovascular system transports the oxygen in the blood throughout the body for our cellular respiration.
In addition to keeping us alive as described above, slow and deep breaths calm our mind, slow down the heart rate, reduce stress and tension and even relieves pain. Focusing on the breath brings clarity, helps us stay in the present, makes us feel more peaceful and hence have longer and healthier lives.
So the next time you are faced with a stressful situation (and also when in an Ashtanga class), remember…. Breathe. Most of the time, it does help.
They say a good yoga teacher will transform you to the next level. I finally understand their words now.
In my 3 years and a few months of yoga experience at one of big major commercial studios, it had not come until 7 months ago that I met a really good teacher. Until then yoga for me had been only a miracle exercise that shaped my body for the first time in my life and kept the mind lively and happy.
I happened to take private training class with this teacher totally unexpectedlly. He was a new teacher at that time and I didn’t have any intention to take PT with any teacher. Somehow by seeing him at a glance, I thought this teacher might open my super tight shoulders and hip joints which I had been struggling forever. After 10 hour PT with him, my shoulders and hip joints were slightly open but I still couldn’t do those asanas such as parivritta baddha parsvakonasana.
What made me think him a good teacher was, he was the first one who told me to relax, release the tension, and breathe easily during the practice. That was a total awakening to me. Since then, I attended the classes with more focused and relaxed mind. It changed my practice totally. In his class I could focus even more and go deeper and stronger. I thought I finally met a kind of guru. But this teacher had to leave in a short period.
The next great teacher whom I met is a very spiritual teacher. (Actually he had been there for over 3 years but I couldn’t go to his class because it was so beyond of my mind level. The first teacher’s energy led me to him, I think.) He also tells me to relax shoulders where my tension always goes and not to go far beyond with the postures if the alignment goes wrong.
In his asana class he preaches yoga sutras all the way through and always reminds us to set our consciousness inside our body. It will bring you a sort of bliss feeling during asanas. His pranayama class brought me up to the stage that I could feel more comfortable setting my consciousness inside my body during both holding breath and meditation. By taking his classes my mind started to stay calmer, more stable and peaceful in daily life. I realized that yoga practice must have been this way.
Then his energy led me to Paalu, our master, which was also happened by following the flow of consequences although those two people don’t know each other.
By following Paalu, besides so many things that he had taught us, I found meditation was more powerful and peaceful than I had ever imagined. I believe that I will go deeper into my body and mind from now on. Keep on practicing.
What mostly made these 3 teachers especially better than the rest of good teachers was I feel stronger connection to each one of them, probably in energy level. They pulled me and pushed me forward with their strong energy. That’s what I feel now.
I am truly grateful to all these great teachers.
Uttita Parsvakonasana- The Extended Side Angle Pose
- Strengthens the thighs, hips, knees, and ankles.
- Massages the abdominal organs.
- Increases endurance and stamina
- Stretches your groin, back, spine, waist, lungs (intercostals) and shoulders.
Description of Pose (Anatomical Terms)
- Begin in Anatomical Position.
- Right leg abduct from hip. (Agonist-Illopsoas. Antagonist-Gluteus Medius)
- Right knee flexion. (Agonist-Rectus Femoris. Antagonist-Biceps Femoris)
- Right Ankle Abduct
- Spine Lateral flexion to the right
- External rotation of right hip. (Gluteus Maximus)
- Internal rotation of left hip. (Gluteus Medius)
- Left ankle supinate
- Scapula Retraction. (Trapezius)
- Right arm external rotation
- Right wrist hyper extension
- Left arm extension of humerus and forearm
- Pronate left palms.
Once I asked this question – People commented that the Yoga Philosophy is self-centered. It teaches people to focus on one’s own self, body, mind and soul, whereas the Bible, for example, teaches one to “Love thy Enemies”. I will always remember the response I got….. “You can only give something that you have. If you do not have peace and happiness with you, how do you expect to give the same to others?” This example of the practicality of the philosophy of Yoga, is what draws me strongly to its underlying aim – a state of unfluctuated mind. Be it peace or happiness or contentment or something much deeper than these, the process of understanding about this underlying aim has had profound impact on my life.
Through my exposure to Yoga philosophy, I have been reminded that we have to accept others for who they are – each a different individual. We cannot expect and should not attempt, to control how others think and behave. So often, we are upset and affected by others – “Why did she say that?” “He should have done this” etc. In some part, Yoga taught me to mind what I should be doing, rather than mind what others should be doing. This is the self-centeredness of Yoga.
How about our dependency on our external environment? The happiness of our loved ones affects us and we care how people think of us to a great extent. Our mind and our mood are constantly fluctuating, a large part due to the effects of external factors. Can there be peace then? Living in the “real” world within a society, it is hard to avoid the external impact on our daily lives but having been in touch with Yoga for the past few years, I have been reminded (more than ever before) to keep my fluctuating mind and mood in check. This is self-centeredness of Yoga.
In this process of self-reminder, hopefully we can find more peace, calmness and happiness in our daily lives to so that we can spread it on.
In fact, the Yoga philosophy is far from being a self-centered philosophy. The first limb of Ashtanga Yoga, the Yamas, teaches us the principles of acceptable social behaviour – Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, Aparigraha. And to end this small chapter, let me mention another quote I heard from a Yoga philosophy talk…. “If you apply the teachings of Yoga, you will not need to ‘love thy enemy’ – because you will not make someone an enemy to begin with.” – It’s all in the mind.
Pramana – Factual knowledge
Viparyaya – Wrong perceptions, faulty data
Vikalpa – Fanciful knowledge, asking yourself endless “What if’s?”
Nidra – Sleep, dullness or inertia
Smrtyayah – Remembrance of previous experiences and unquestioning acceptance
There are many methods people use to hide from the truth. I can understand why – the truth or extreme consciousness can be new, unfamiliar and (worst of all for me) lonely. It is difficult to step away from the status quo. When things seem to work fine as they are, why change them?
When I first read this sutra, I immediately saw many parallels with my career path. I had a good job in Hong Kong. I knew that my salary and hours were decent (pramana). My experiences told me that I wasn’t doing badly (viparyaya). Friends told me that I should be grateful for a job in these economic times (smrtayah and vikalpa). Most of all, I could sleepwalk my way through a work day with no difficulties (nidra). There was no reason to leave. But I did.
I had the appearance of a satisfying career but I wasn’t happy with it. Despite the facts that pointed to a good job, this was the truth of how I felt.
Today, I’m jobless and I don’t know what the future holds. But after abandoning these “kleshas”, I feel better. The “vrittis” I used to have about whether I was doing the right thing, are gone.
I know my (very uncertain) career story is hardly Samadhi, but it’s a micro-example of how removing barriers to truth can bring a person closer to a state of super consciousness. Similarly, Yoga is the process of steadying and clarifying your perception so that you can liberate and empower yourself.
Bend the right knee and place beside the right hip, right sole facing up.
Hold the right calf with right hand and roll it outwards. This helps to lower the right sit bone.
Bring the knees towards each other.
Bend forward and grab the left foot.
Apply Uddiyan Bandha to fold deeply at the hips.
Bring the navel towards the extended leg.
There is a tendency to lean/tilt towards the straight leg, elongate both sides of the chest and waist equally.
Elongate the spine by pulling forward towards the toes, head up. Do not attempt to tuck the head in as this will curl the spine instead.
Stay for five breaths.
With every inhalation, open the chest and with every exhalation, fold forward again. (Refer to Figure 1.). Keep the straight leg straight and active; point the toes of the straight leg up towards the sky.
During the pose, some might experience the folded leg hip bone is higher, and you are leaning heavily to one side, use a folded towel/block under the hip (not thighs) of the straight leg. (Figure 1.1) This will help balance the hips.
In the bend leg position, if you feel discomfort/pressure on the top of your feet or ankle, place a rolled towel under the ankle for support. (Figure 1.2)
‘According to BKS Iyengar, this pose is great for dropped arches and flat feet. It is therapeutic for ankle and knee sprains or any swelling in the leg. It keeps the internal organs from being sluggish. This seated forward bend can be done for fatigue, menstruation, illness, recovery from travel, for those who cannot do inversions. A forward bending practice is nice before bed or in the middle of the night when you cannot sleep. Additional benefits are the calming of the mind, opening of hips and making the spine more flexible.’ (www.yoga.com)