Let’s talk about Downward Dog

There is that one yoga pose that will always be in your yoga classes, no matter how difficult the class is i.e. beginner or intermediate level and that is the Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose). This pose got its name as it looks like a dog stretching. It is an inversion (hips above head), arm strengthening and whole body stretch pose. Personally I love this pose as it’s easy, calming and it gives you a really good stretch for your shoulders, arms, back and the entire back of your legs. It’s also a great warm-up pose before you start doing other asanas. We will take a deeper look into the anatomy and alignment of the Downward Facing Dog pose.


Alignment & Joint Movement

  1. Flex our hips, with sit bones pointing to the ceiling
  2. Extend our knees
  3. Ankles are flexed
  4. Feet are dorsiflexed
  5. Fingers are abducted and weight is spread evenly across palms, which are firm
  6. Extend the wrists
  7. Extend our elbows
  8. Pronate the forearms
  9. Shoulders are flexed and rotated externally
  10. Lumbar spine extends, cervical spine flexes
  11. Come into the shape of an inverted V
  12. Continue to push the belly towards the thighs
  13. Gaze towards the navel


Anatomy in Downward Dog Pose

The Shoulders and the Arms

Rotator Cuff is a combination of 4 muscles: Subscapularis, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor and Supraspinatus. These muscles originate from the scapula (shoulder blade) and insert on the upper arm bone, near the humeral head. The main function of the rotator cuff is to support and position the ball of the humeral bone and socket of the shoulder joint, which is less stable. 

Serratus Anterior forms the lateral part of the chest wall and originates from the superior borders of the 1st to 8th ribs at the side of the chest and along the anterior length of the medial border of the scapula. The serratus anterior muscle supports the upward rotation of the scapula, preventing us from putting too much weight on the rotator cuffs in the Downward dog pose.

Deltoids is a three-part muscle with anterior, lateral and posterior sections, originating from the clavicle, acromion and scapula respectively, and inserting on the lateral humerus. The anterior deltoid will raise the arm forward, the posterior deltoid extends the arm backwards and the lateral deltoid abducts the arms. In Downward Dog pose, as you externally rotate the scapula, the posterior deltoids work with the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles to contribute to the action to stabilise the shoulder in Downward Dog. Contract the anterior deltoids to move the shoulders forward, imagining that you are flexing your arms overhead.

Triceps Brachii is also activated in Downward Dog pose. It is a  three-headed muscle at the back of our upper arm where the medial and short heads originate from the humerus and the long head from the glenoid (end of the scapula). As the triceps brachii contracts, it helps us extend our elbows and rotates our scapula, increasing the contact of the humeral head and the glenoid, thus stabilising our shoulder joint. As the triceps contract and our elbows extend, the force also helps us extend our knees and stretch our hamstrings.

When we have tight shoulders, our shoulders may internally rotate and come up to our ears, causing the triceps or upper arms to carry our weight and our elbows may point towards the side. We need to depress the scapula and upward rotate it with the help of our serratus anterior and deltoids, to activate the rotator cuffs and keep the teres minor and infraspinatus from contracting, opening up the space around our collarbones.


The Trunk

The Latissimus Dorsi is a large, triangular muscle, which forms two-thirds of our superficial back muscles and originates from the posterior iliac crest, sacrum, the top of the back of the bottom six thoracic vertebrae. The latissimus dorsi is a breathing muscle that expands the circumference of our ribcage when we inhale, for more air to enter our lungs. The lats also adduct, rotate and extend our arms. In a downward dog, the extension between the arm and sacrum is established by the lats. It draws the body forward and through the arms when we transit from the Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog) or Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose).


The Pelvic Girdle and Thighs

Gluteus Medius is a medium sized fan-shaped muscle located forward of the gluteus maximus. It’s origin is on the outer surface of the ilium below the iliac crest and inserts on the superior surface of the greater trochanter of the femur. This muscle stabilises the pelvis and is used to synergise hip flexion. The muscle internally rotates the hips, bringing the kneecaps to face forward. When it is activated, it helps to draw the iliac bones slightly apart and internally rotate the thighs.

The Quadriceps is a four-part muscle which inserts on the patella (knee cap). It is made up of the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and vastus laterialis which originates from the femur and inserts at the patella. The rectus femoris originates from the front of the pelvis and continues on the front of the thigh, covering the vastus intermedius and combining with other quadriceps to insert on the patella. When this muscle is contracted, it leads to hip flexion and knee extension. When the quadriceps are engaged in this pose, the rectus femoris flexes the hips and extends the knees and the three vastus muscles contract, straightening the knee to bring the heels closer to the mat.

The Gastrocnemius originates from the back of the femur above the medial femoral condyle and the lateral femoral condyle (both ends of the femur). The Soleus originates from the head and upper part of the fibula and the inside of the upper tibia. The gastrocnemius and soleus combine to form the Achilles tendon, which inserts onto the back of the calcaneus (heel bone). The main action of these muscles is to plantarflex the ankle, however the gastrocnemius also flexes the knee. If the muscles are tight, it will prevent one from getting the heels to the floor in a Downward-Facing dog pose. The Tibialis Anterior is a muscle at the front of the shin, originating from the lateral surface of the tibia and bones of the lower leg. The muscle inserts into the inside part of the foot and the first metatarsal (foot arch and dorsiflexes the ankle. Both the gastrocnemius and soleus form an antagonist pair with the tibialis anterior muscles hence the more we flex our ankles, the more it stretches the calf muscles and our Achilles tendons. With flexibility in the ankles, it enables the heels to come closer to the floor. So in future, when you meet students in your class who may not be able to put their heels on the mat, you know what exercises you should recommend to them, to stretch these muscles to create more flexibility in the ankles.


Photo credit: Google


Downward Dog pose engages a lot of muscles, most of which I have touched upon this post. In future as you do your downward dogs, don’t forget to engage the right muscles and ensure that your alignment is right, to reap the most benefits out of this pose! Sending you peace and light. (:

Yoga and menstruation: should I or shouldn’t?

Is it possible to do yoga with menstruation?What to do if you decide to actively start learning yoga? Does every month have to lose a week of precious time? Not at all. Moreover, yoga during menstruation is not only not harmful, but also beneficial. Of course, subject to some precautions and the right choice of asanas.

There are top poses, which should be avoided while you on your ‘’special days’’

Sarvangasana. Should be  excluded from yoga during menstruation. All inverted poses are equally harmful during this period. They delay bleeding. As a result, excess fluid is not excreted from the body, and can cause the formation of fibromas, cysts, and even malignant tumors. Also prohibited: halasana, shirshasana, adho mukha vrishkasana;

Navasana. During menstruation, you should not  do any asanas engage your core muscle . And this is almost all power poses. So, first of all, exclude exercises on the abdominal muscles and balances on the hands. During such asanas, bleeding and pain may intensify. Also prohibited: bakasana, lolasana, mayurasana;

Kapotasana. Yoga during menstruation should not include strong deflections of the   back. This creates excessive tension in the abdomen. Also prohibited: ardha chakrasana, ushtrasana;

Yoga Nidrasana. During such yoga classes, you should exclude extreme twisting and squeezing the abdomen. Also prohibited: eka pada shirshasana, jathara parivritanasana;

Mula Bandha. Do not do yoga, which will include unnatural bandha and pranayama. For example, excessively intense breathing of a bhastrika or uddiyana bandha can disrupt the natural course of processes in the pelvic organs. Also forbidden: kapalabhati, maha mudra.

Top asanas that are safe during  menstruation

Baddha Konasan .This asana relieves the pain and stress that accompany the days of menstruation. Even if you do not dare to do yoga these days, you can simply practice this pose separately. You can also practice: padmasana, sukhasana;

Ardha Chandrasana. This pose helps control the discharge if it is excessive. Pain in the back is also reduced. It is also possible to practice: utthita hasta padangustahasana, vriksasana;

Dundasana. Yoga offers simple forward stretches to relax the brain and calm the discomfort in the lower abdomen. You can also practice: jana shirshasana, marichiasana;

Shoshankasana. Relaxing postures help with excessive irritability and in the event that heaviness in the chest bothers you. You can also practice: shavanasa, adho mukha sukhasana;

The breath of ujaya. Calm pranayama in a simple pose or shavasana will help to relax the body. Full yogic breathing is safe during your period too.

However, we should keep in mind that there are no two identical women.  Someone waits the onset of new cycle with horror, and someone has almost no symptoms and can continue with the usual daily routine. So as the conclusion, remember to  be sensitive, listen to your body, and it will answer all your questions.

Oh my goddess pose!

This is the pose to do for everyone who wants to leave negative feelings behind, be opened and overcome a broken heart. Goddess pose reminds you that you are in charge of your happiness!

The sanskirt name states how strong this pose is working for you – Utkata Konasana, where utkata means powerful or fierce (kona means angle). Fierce is represented in the angle of the legs but also in the strength and determination built through mastering this pose. In addition to lighten your emotions, drawing energy form the universe and empowering yourself for challenges to come, this pose also gives a nice workout on your quadriceps, hip groins, chest and inner thighs.

To get into the pose start in Tadasana, place your hands on your hips and then bring your feet about three to four feet apart. Turn your heels in and toes out to pointing in the corner of your mat. Bend your knees deeply so that they are aligned directly over your toes and lower your hips into a squat. Work your thighs to be parallel to the floor. Keep your hands on your hips, place them at heart centre or extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder height with your palms facing down, before turning your thumbs up toward the ceiling, so that your palms face forward. Bend your elbows and point your fingertips toward the sky; your upper arms and forearms should be at a 90-degree angle. Tailbone is drawn in slightly and hips are pressed forward, while drawing your thighs back. Roll your shoulders down your back and fix your gaze.

Utkata Konasana heats your body and allows a good circulation. This is a pose which develops outer and inner power at the same time and balances the body inside and out. The main chakra tackled in this pose is the svadisthana chakra (second chakra) that sits in the lower abdomen and pelvic area. This chakra is linked to self-esteem, fertility, loving yourself and consciousness of the own body. Practice this pose at seaside to really feel the drawing of energy from the universe when staying in Utkata Konasana.

 So next time you want to say oh my G…. just inhale and exhale deeply and get into goddess pose to balance yourself inside and out!


UTTANASANA (Deep standing forward bend)

Meaning: Intense stretch
–  This is one of the poses within the sun salutation sequence
Dristi: Nosetip
Preparation poses:
1)   Paschimottanasana  (West posterior stretch pose)
2)   Ardha Uttanasana (Standing half forward bend)
3)   Forward bend leaning on a chair
4)   Uttanasana with knees bent, then slowly engage quads to straighten
1)   Stand in Tadasana with feet hip width apart and hands on the hip
2)   Breathe in and lengthen the spine by arching back
3)   Exhale and flex the hip forward by contracting the hip flexors (including psoas, pectineus and rectus femoris muscles)
4)   When bending forward, shift weight slightly to the toes
5)   Pronate both arms and press palms into the mat
6)   Activate the lower part of the trapezius to draw shoulders away from the neck
7)   Contract deltoids and biceps to flex the elbow
8)   Contract rectus abdominis muscles slightly to deepen the stretch and to protect the lower back
9)   Engage the quadriceps by pulling the kneecaps (patella) up to prevent knees from bending.
10)  Aim to flatten your torso against your thighs
11)   Hold in Uttanasana for 5 Ujjayi breaths, with eyes gazing at the nosetip
12)   Attempt to deepen the stretch with each exhalation
13)   After 5 breaths, slowly inhale and extend the hip joint by engaging the abdomen
14)   Return to Tadasana
Variations to Uttanasana:
Padangusthasana (Standing forward bend with bound toe)
Padahasthasana (Standing forward bend with palms under the feet)
Counter poses to Uttanasana:
Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
Purvottanasana (East anterior stretch pose)
Muscles lengthening/Stretching:
Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus (posterior), hamstrings, gastrocnemius
Muscles contracting:
Psoas, pectieus, rectus femoris, trapezius, deltoids, biceps, rectus abdominis, quadriceps
Stretch reflex in Uttanasana:
When bending forward, the muscles being stretched (namely hamstrings, gluteus maximus and erector spinae) will involuntarily contract in order to resist over lengthening. This is a protective response to avoid injury to the muscles. When the erector spinae contracts, the back rounds and this prevents deepening of the stretch in Uttanasana. When the hamstrings contract, the knees flex and this again prevents deepening of the stretch. Rounding of the back and flexing of the knees are very common mistakes when executing this Asana. In order to lessen the stretch reflex, relax into the stretch and practice passive stretching in forward bend. This allows the muscles to adjust to the stretch.
Contraindications to the pose:
1)   People with back injuries – Attempt pose with bent knees and move into the pose cautiously
2)   People with neck injuries – Always lengthen the neck and avoid compressing the back of the neck as you look forward
3)   People with Osteoporosis
A disc bulge may occur if too much weight is borne by the Lumbar spine. To prevent this, avoid rounding the lower back.
Benefits of the pose:
1)   Helps to reduce stress and calm the mind
2)   Stimulates the Pineal, Hypothalamus and Pituitary endocrine glands in the brain
3)   Stimulates the liver and kidney
4)   Improves digestion
5)   Relieves headaches, menstrual cramps and insomnia
6)   Helps correct spinal problems such as scoliosis

Meniscus and lotus pose

Knee pain problem is very common especially for marathon runners &  elderly people. Of course, there are also other groups of people which I did not mention here.
Majority of the people complaint about the pain in their knee which is the medial side of the knee. However, there are a minority group expressing the pain is outside of their knee & also about pain running through thte centerline of the knee or around the knee cap. These 3 areas mentioned are due to stress in the knee in different ways.
In yoga, pain inside the knee is the most common problem and is mostly associated to the leg being in a half or full lotus position. This is mainly due to the compression of the medial meniscus. However, it does not mean that the meniscus is torn , it could simply mean that this area has been irritated repeatedly.This knee pain could also be related to  hamstring or adductor  & hence, a good assessment is the key for knee injury.
 In this article, only medial meniscus will be discussed as there are many stories of knee problem in the lotus position. This could be indicated by the swellingin the back of the knee and sometimes regular clicking sound that follows the pop. However, again, good assessment of the injury is needed and the best option is to seek the doctor and if needed a MRI  will be done.
 Before we go deeper into meniscus, below is a brief explanation in anatomy context:

 In anatomy, a meniscus (from Greek μηνίσκος meniskos, “crescent”[1]) is a crescent-shaped fibrocartilaginous structure that, in contrast to articular disks, only partly divides a joint cavity.[2] In humans it is present in the knee, acromioclavicular, sternoclavicular, and temporomandibular joints;[3] in other organisms they may be present in other joints (e.g., between the forearm bones of birds). A small meniscus also occurs in the radio-carpal joint.

 In the knee structure, there are two separate pieces of cartilage that make up the meniscus. Each is an additional piece of cartilage that sits between the femur and tibia and this is where the two bones come together and form the femorotibial joint ( knee joint). The function of this cartilage is to add cushioining to the joint and allow the knee to flex, extend and rotate.

The shape of the meniscus is crescent shaped and sits on top of the tibia which is referred to as tibial plateau. One of the meniscus is on the inside ( medial) while the other is on the outside ( lateral) which makes up the anterior & posterior.The MCL (medial collateral ligament) attaches to the medial meniscus, which is why injuries to these structures may occur at the same time. The MCL runs up the inside of the tibiofemoral joint. On the outside runs the LCL (lateral collateral ligament) which has no attachment to the lateral meniscus. The lateral meniscus does, however, attach to another structure called popliteus. Popliteus is a muscle that covers the back of the knee and helps “unlock” the knee from a fully straightened position. It is also thought to help pull the lateral meniscus out of the way during knee bending, so to avoid pinching and subsequent tearing of the meniscus .The area of the meniscus with the most problem is the posterior portion of the medial meniscus especially in the lotus scenario.
Can torn Meniscus heal?
This is a very common question and the answer is dependent on the degree to which the meniscus is torn.If the tears occur on the outer edge of the meniscus, it can heal on their own as there is a small blood supply that feeds the outer edge to help it heal.If the inner part is badly torn, surgery could be required as joints should not have friction and a tear will cause an increase in friction which will then result in swelling, irritation and pain. If unattended, the tear could grow in size and damage the cartilage on the femur that has slide over to the torn area.
 Medial meniscus and lotus pose
There are 2 movements that would put tremendous pressure on the medial meniscus which are the flexion of the knee and the internal( medial) rotation of the tibia.In lotus position both the femur and the tibia have to rotate externally. Hence, if the tibia does not have enough outward rotation, there should be enough in the hip to make it up.In order to avoid any injury while doing the lotus pose, we will need to understand the problem. The degree of mobility for Hip joint is very important in this pose. 
Lotus Pose (Padmasana) is a supreme position for meditation, and Lotus variations of other asanas can be profound. However, forcing the legs into Lotus is one of the most dangerous things you can do in yoga. Each year, many yogis seriously injure their knees this way. Often the culprit is not the student but an overenthusiastic teacher physically pushing a student into the pose. Below are some variations which we could do in the lotus pose:

    1. Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana (Half-Bound Half-Lotus Forward Bend),
    2.  Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose):As one move from the Dandasana( staff pose) to baddha konasan,the ball-shaped head of the thigh bone must rotate outward In the hip socket about 100 degree
    3. Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose):Bending the knee and  placing the foot in preparation for  Janu Sirsasana requires somewhat less external rotation, but as a student bends forward in the pose, the tilt of the pelvis relative to the femur brings the total rotation to about 115 degrees

Padmasana requires the same amount of external rotation (115 degrees) just sitting upright, and the angle of rotation is somewhat different, making it more challenging .When we combine the Padmasana action with a forward bend, as we do in Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, the total external rotation required at the hip joint jumps to about 145 degrees.

The above picture show the safe knee placement. Most of the people , the thighbone stops rotating partway into the pose due to tight muscles or ligaments( shown in the below picture). In some cases, it could be due to bone-to -bone limitations deep in the hip.When the femur stops rotating, the only way to get the foot up higher is to bend the knee sideways. Knees are not designed to do this-they are only designed to flex and extend.

Halasana technique

The name comes from the Sanskrit words hala meaning “plow” and asana meaning “posture” or “seat. The plow is represented in the myths and traditional stories of Egypt, China, Tibet & India. In the Ramayana, King Janaka uncovers a beautiful baby girl as he is plowing the earth in a sacrificial ground. He adopts the baby and names her Sita, and she later becomes the beautiful wife of Rama. This story relates the power of the plow as a tool for revealing hidden treasures.


  • Calming, restorative effect on the sympathetic nervous system
  •  Assists in balancing the glandular secretions adrenaline and thyroxin
  •  Improve in the elimination of toxins in the digestive and urinary tracts
  • Relief from hypertension in the pose for those with high blood pressure
  • helps nourish the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine by increasing circulation and suppleness
  • Promote mental clarity and increased vitality

Finishing sequence:
Halasana  is part of the finishing pose as it helps to prepare the practitioner for relaxation, pranayama and meditation. This pose taps into the body’s natural processes of relaxation by pacifying the nerves, soothing the brain and heart , and regulating the breath. All this preparation helps to develop the stillness and alertness needed for pranayama and meditation.

  • Take care not to overwork and possibly injure the vulnerable cervical vertebrae.
  • Practice on a thicker yoga mats else if you are using a thinner mat, try folding the mat in half to create a double thickness under your head, shoulders, and arms, or use two mats, one on top of the other.
  •  Additional support will be needed in the event of serious neck problems
  • This pose can put significant strain on the cervical spine, which does not normally undergo this type of stress, and can cause injury if not performed properly.As alternatives, simply lying on the back and raising the legs into a hamstring stretch, or doing a seated forward bend may be appropriate.


  • Lie flat down on your mat with arms at your sides, palms down pressing into the floor.
  • Spread your shoulder blades apart with a slight inward rotation of the arms.
  • With an inhalation, lift your legs up to vertical, keeping your spine flat on the floor.
  •  Take several breaths here, feeling the release of any tension in the throat, shoulders, and chest with each exhalation.
  • With your next exhalation, slowly draw your navel toward the spine and lift your legs over your head, lifting your hips off the floor.

Beginner’s  tip:

  1.  move near a wall and with your legs vertical,
  2. bend your knees to 90 degrees &  press your feet into the wall, and practice raising your hips.
  3. When you feel a softness coming to your frontal body, move away from the wall to work at lifting your legs over your head until they are parallel with the floor.
  4. Keep your legs firm, your knees straight, and avoid hardening your buttocks.
  5. With your toes on the floor, lift your top thighs and tailbone toward the ceiling and draw your inner groins deep into the pelvis. Continue to draw your chin away from your sternum and soften your throat.


  • Once you can maintain your balance( shown in the above pic), focus on the rise and fall of the breath, filling the back of the lungs as you inhale
  •  As the spine lifts, the toes will sink toward the floor.
  •  Keep normal breathing and  with each cycle, try  to release tension in the frontal body while supporting the lift in the back body (spine).
  • After 10 cycles of breath, slowly bend your knees and roll the spine down until the whole back side of your body rests on the floor.

Sirsasana: The Infamous Headstand

It seems like everyone has an opinion about Sirsasana.  Either it is one of their favorite, most restorative and calming asanas or they struggle enormously with it.  I fall into the first category.  Ever since I was a child, I loved hanging upside down.  I was always upside down in trees, on monkey bars, on couches.  Since my mom practiced yoga, she taught my sister and me how to do headstands early on.  Ever since, I’ve been hooked.
I think one of the things I love about Sirsasana are the options: you can get into it in a variety of ways; you have options about your hands; you can play with muscles, alignment, and movements while you hold; you can come back to your feet as you please.  Depending on my mood and what my body is asking for, I will hold my arms in tripod (and even there, you have options!), keep my elbows snug around my ears, or push myself with my arms outstretched.  If I’m feeling like wiggling my hips, I can flex my knees and use the weight of my feet to pull my hips forward and back.  If I’m feeling like really engaging my core, I can open my legs in a splits position and rotate them, one leg front, one back, then switch.  Or, if I’m looking for focus and stillness, I can practice balance, listening to my breath, and gazing ahead of me.
Being inverted helps me find my balance, helps me take the weight off my feet and knees hips and spine.  It helps my heart pump blood to my brain and thyroid and lungs.  It helps my internal organs to get a little room in their cave.  It calms my nervous system, washing my cells with parasympathetic hormones.  When I come out, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.  I held an asana that is challenging, I gave my heart some help, I flooded my brain with oxygen and nutrients.  I feel strong, focused, and clear.
(I’m not going to describe the process of coming into Sirsasana, as it’s an asana that really should be done with the help of a teacher until you develop the confidence to do it on your own.)

Sasankasana: Rabbit Pose

I have a stiff neck, due to a combination of years in the scrum (playing rugby) and heredity.  My grandmother can no longer rotate her neck far enough to look behind her as she is driving.  My mom’s neck is getting tighter and tighter as she ages.  My hope is that by practicing Yoga, treating my body well, and being aware, I will be able to stave off the immobility my grandmother struggles with daily.
For this reason (in addition to how lovely it feels!), rabbit pose is one of my favorite spine stretching asanas.  I find that it lengthens my upper and middle trapezius, rhomboids, and all the muscles along the back of my neck.
To come into this asana, I kneel in Vajrasana and grab my heels (wrists rotated to face the ground, thumbs on the outsides of my feet).  In this step, it is important to keep your knees together and on the ground, buttocks resting on the ground between the heels.  I then roll forward through my spine (like I’m curling over a beach ball) until the crown of my head is on the ground.  Once my head is on the ground, I scoot my knees (still holding my heels) towards my forehead, until they bump against my face.  I’m still holding my heels, so my back is arched from the lower thoracic all the way through the cervical spine.  Once here, I hold for as long as is comfortable (stretching comfortable, so not easy…).  I keep my triceps brachii and deltoids contracted so that my arms are helping my deepen the stretch throughout.  It’s also helpful to tighten your glutes to raise the back of your hips higher towards the ceiling.
If you have an injury in your shoulder or rotator cuff, this asana is not for you, as it will strain the muscles that are already stressed.  This asana is beneficial for people with stiff spines, tight shoulders, and dizzy heads.  It increases the flow of blood and prana to your brain and neck and improves the flow of energy to the ajna chakra.  It also tones and strengthens the muscles of the arms, shoulders, back, thighs, and neck.
This asana is one of my favorite ways to counter a headstand or to improve my mood and mental function any time!

Parivritta Parsvakonasana

Keep the back heel on the ground.
This simple instruction adds an incredible layer of complexity to the twist in Parivritta Parsvakonasana. The pose looks almost benign at first sight, with both legs and one arm as the supporting pillars of balance. It is more challenging than a simple spinal twist, yet definitely less intimidating and more manageable than, say, inversions. At first sight.
Getting into the posture
The initial steps of getting into the posture are simple enough. From tadasana, abduct both legs from the hips to widen feet 1.2m to 1.5m apart. Rotate right hip joint and right ankle outwards so that the right foot points 90 degrees to the right. Rotate left hip joint and left ankle inwards slightly.
Next, rotate the hips further clockwise to bring the shoulders and torso to face the right side, making sure that the hips are squared to the breadth of the mat. At exhalation, bend the right knee such that the right thigh is parallel to the floor. To maintain alignment, lift the left heel off the floor at the same time and spin on the ball of the foot until the inner left foot is parallel to the inner right foot. Firm the sartorius muscles to turn the right thigh outward, so that the center of the kneecap is in line with the center of the right ankle。
The challenge begins as one turn to the right from the lumbar region on exhalation to bring the left elbow over the right knee, and extend the arm to place the left palm by the side of the right little toe. After painstakingly bringing the left armpit in contact with the right knee, the right hip may have swung out to compensate for the lack of twist in the thoracic vertebrae, shifting the body out of alignment towards the left, taking the back leg and foot along with it.
To focus first on getting one elbow deeper on the outside edge of the other shin, one can start by practicing with the back knee on the floor to take out any balance element at this point. Once there is good contact between the knee and armpit, the arm and leg can be pressed into each other to create pressure to bring the torso deeper into the twist. This pressure also serves to manage one’s balance when the back knee is off the mat, during which, one needs to contract the gluteus muscles to square the hips, consciously tighten quadriceps, straighten the back leg and push against the left sole to maintain balance and alignment.
Next, rotate the right shoulder outward and open the chest to deepen the twist, and extend the right arm overhead. Turn the head to look at the upper thumb.  With every inhalation, lift a little more through the sternum, pushing the fingers against the floor to help. Twist a little more with every exhalation.
Now, rotate the left heel slightly inward, and press it to the ground.

The right hip immediately swings out again, and one loses balance easily. The mind loses focus as it tries to keep the right arm extended overhead, left palm on the floor, torso twisted, back leg straight, and back heel pushed against the floor all at the same time, somehow forgetting that the hips also need to remain squared. The pose has become one wobbly, uncomfortably twisted figure as a result of simply adding one extra step of grounding the back heel.
Learning is continuous

Repeated failures in performing this Parivritta Parsvakonasana correctly may build up frustration within oneself, because even though each individual aspect of the pose is manageable, combining them to form a stable, aligned posture somehow remains beyond reach for many. Not to mention staying there for five breaths.
The first mental approach is to understand that this is not one asana you could immediately get into. It takes patience and lots of practice to build up strength and flexibility in the relevant body parts.
Next, understand that students with different body conditions and thus limitations have their own reasons on why this posture is not yet achievable. To twist with more ease, one could gain some proficiency in Marichyasana C and Parivritta Trikonasana first to increase flexibility in the thoracic region. Lack of thoracic flexibility causes the hips to go out of alignment when one focuses too much on bringing the left armpit over the right knee without twisting enough of the spine.
Beginners may be unable to reach the floor with their palms. The student can first either rest the forearm on top of the bent-knee thigh, or use a block outside of the front foot to support the hand, for the student to benefit from the twist.
Thirdly, the student needs to be constantly aware of the position of the hips, and alignment of the back leg. It does not seem difficult to tighten the gluteus muscles to keep the hips squared, nor to pull through the knee caps and quadriceps upward towards the pelvis. Yet, it requires energy and focus to twist, tighten, straighten, balance and maintain all at the same time.
Finally, to practice pressing the back heel down, one could do the posture by bracing the back heel against a wall first. As one bends the front knee and then lower the torso to the side, you can imagine that you are pushing the wall away from you. Press the head of the back femur bone deep into its socket and lift the inner back groin deep into the leg.
Benefits of Parivritta Parsvakonasana
This asana greatly increases the flexibility in the hips and lower back. It also lengthens the leg and back muscles. The twisting action opens the chest, groin, hip flexors, and legs, as well as strengthens the shoulders, spine and surrounding muscles. It stimulates peristalsis in the intestines, improving digestion. It also tones and massages the pancreas and liver, and stretches the kidneys. Blood is sent to the spinal discs and other deep tissues, and the abdomen is compressed to release unwanted gas out of the body.  When done correctly, this posture articulates the spine, and aids in correcting scoliosis.
As one of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga, asana requires constant practice to build up the body’s health and strength. One does not need to be demoralized by not getting the posture right in the initial stage. The solution is a holistic one, involving a healthy lifestyle, a positive mind, and practice, practice, practice. Clear the mind with the help of pranayama, and focus. Steady the mind and you steady the body.

Sirsasana (Headstand)

Sirasana (sirsa = head) or Headstand is an inverted pose which reverses the action of gravity on the body. Inversions turn everything upside down, allowing us to experience a different perspective. The increased blood flow to the brain brings increased oxygen and nutrient to the mind thereby improving the clarity of thought and ease of concentration.


–   The increased blood flow to the brain stimulates the pituitary gland which revitalises the mind and central nervous system. The pituitary gland is considered a “master gland” which controls the function of the endocrine system including the thyroid, adrenal gland, ovaries and testes. These glands in turn regulate metabolism, growth, blood pressure, sexuality and other fundamental body functions. An imbalance of the secretion of the various hormones produced by the pituitary gland can lead to many serious disorders of the endocrine system. 

–   The inverted pose ensures good venous return where the blood will return under gravity without the need for muscular activity. Below the level of the heart, pumps are used to bring blood back up to its level. These skeletal muscle pumps are found in the veins. Contraction of skeletal muscle squeezes blood through them and because they are one-way valves, blood only moves in one direction, towards the heart. Therefore it is necessary to have muscle activity whenever we are upright in order to ensure good venous return. By performing the headstand, the venous return increases and the additional blood stretches the walls of the ventricles. When that happens, the stretched muscle fibers in the ventricles automatically pump more strongly, thus increasing the cardiac output. It resembles the cardio-vascular activity achieved while exercising.

–   The pose helps to relieve anxiety and other psychological disorders.

–   The final position requires muscles in the neck, shoulders, arms, back and abdomen to be active, which strengthens and revitalises the entire body. It strengthens the core muscles and uppper body.

–   The inversion changes the effect of gravity on the body, which has an important effect on blood circulation to the legs and head.

–   The pose increases pressure on the diaphragm which aids deep exhalation to expel waste gases and bacteria from the lungs and can relieve the daily effects of gravity on the spine.

–   The inversion encourages an upward flow of energy, from the Muladhara Chakra (root chakra) to the Sahasrara Chakra (crown chakra). It helps to awaken the Sahasrara chakra (Crown chakra) which is deemed as the most important Chakra intimately connected to, and influencing, all other chakras and controlling consciousness.

Getting into the pose:

1.         Kneel down on the mat. Rest your weight on the forearms and wrap the hands around the elbows. Release the hands, place them in front of you, and form a triangle by interlacing the fingers. Form a cup with the palms. (Note: These steps set the foundation for a stable headstand.)

2.         Rest the crown of the head on the mat, so that the back of the head touches the palms.

3.         Raise the knees, tuck the toes under, straigthen the knees and raise your hips (visualise a downward dog). Without bending the knees, walk the feet towards the head, gradually bringing the weight of the body onto the head. Pull your hips back so that your neck is not bent backward or forward, but is in a straight line with the spine.

4.         When the feet are as close to the head as possible, lift them off the floor (one by one or both with control), bend the kness and slowly bring the thighs close to the chest.

5.         Once stability is achieved in Step 4, slowly raise both knees using your abdominal muscles and point the knees toward the ceiling until the hips are facing forward, the thighs are vertical and the knees are aligned with the buttocks.

6.         If comfortable, slowly straighten the legs so that the head, trunk, back of the thighs and the heels are in a straight line perpendicular to the floor. This is the final position. Relax the legs and feet. Keep the back active to support the spine and hold it straight. Relax the mind and breathe normally.

Contraindications: High and low blood pressure; Glaucoma; Detached retina; Haemorrhaging or other brain disorders; Chronic or acute neck pain.