In tips for teachers

I realized last week that I was trying too hard to lift my arms.

I was reaching my arms overhead in urdhva hastasana and – I thought – doing a pretty good job.  I was straightening the arms, lifting through the sides of the waist, and (for once) not sticking my ribs at.  Ah-ha, I thought, I’m DOING it!  My teacher comes by and purses her lips at me.  “Relax here, stop working so hard.  Your collarbones are all tight.”  She wiggles my fingers until my collarbones have space to breathe.

Hmmmm, now I seem to be doing much less.  And it feels…better.

How many times have we been struggling with a pose only to realize that the next step involves letting something go rather than adding on more effort?  “Sthira Sukham Asanam” as it says in the yoga sutras, which means “asana is a steady, comfortable seat.”  But somehow we find it much easier to focus on the “steady” part of the equation than the “comfort.”  When we go to yoga class, we are usually trying to be good students.  We want to “do it” right.  And it’s usually easier to “do” something than to “let go” of something.  So we do, do, and do… and hope that we’re on the right path.

It’s time to focus on the other side of the equation.  The comfort side.  The undoing side.  Can we simplify our practice so that we’re doing what we need to?  No more, no less.  Yoga then becomes a process of stripping away, rather than layering on.  We come down to the essential elements of the poses, rather than bogging them down in layers of tension.  Un-do. Simplify.  Do what is necessary, not more.

As a delightful challenge to the process of simplification, this week’s pose is parivrtta ardha chandrasana (revolved half moon).  A profoundly challenging balancing pose, we are asked to basically revolve our Virabhadrasana III (warrior III).  Even here, search for the sukha.  Do what is necessary, not more.

Component Parts:

Neutral legs: The back leg is certainly going to want to externally rotate.  Strongly lift the inner thigh of the extended back leg to the ceiling as you reach through the back heel.  The standing leg hip will want to rotate forward.  Draw the standing leg hip back and firm the inner thighs towards each other.   Find this adductor (inner thigh) action in earlier, more accessible poses like lunges, Virabhadrasana I, Parvottanasana, and Virabhadrasana III.

Thoracic Spine/Twist: For this twist, the thoracic spine must draw strongly into the body.  Keep the upper body open, use the bottom tips of the shoulder blades to dig into the chest and lift the chest open.  Broaden the collarbones.  Good places to find this: cobra, updog, open twists, parivrtta parsvakonasana, parivrtta trikonasana

Core: A strong connection from the inner legs into the center is essential.  The flexies among us will be tempted to twist by collapsing in the lower back.  Instead, lengthen the tailbone to the extended heel and lift the sides of the waist to the ceiling.  From this strength and foundation, then open the chest.  Find this core work in navasana (try it with straight legs, coming from dandasana – just like picking up your right angle and shifting it into another perspective.  It’s a whole new pose!).  A great way to workshop navasana is on your back.  This helps keep the spine long and the lower back drawing into the body (rather than collapsing away and rounding the spine – thanks to our quadratus lumborum for the support!).  Lay on your back about two feet from the wall and bring your heels onto the wall, legs together, like tadasasana.  Lift your chest without hyper extending the lower back.  With legs straight, make your heels light then gently lift them away from the wall until your legs are at ninety degrees.  Then slowly (slowly) lower the heels back to the wall, keeping the chest open, lower back long.  Once we’ve got that, we can try to come into navasana from dandasana with the legs straight.  Lift through the chest, tip back, zip your legs together, and lift your legs.  Keep the chest open and the lower back drawing up and in.  Guaranteed to warm you up.

Hamstrings: Oh yes, the hamstrings must be warmed up.  Uttanasana, parsvottanasana (pyramid), prasarita padottanasana (wide-legged forward fold), virabhadrasana III (warrior III).

Sequencing ideas:

Virasana/Meditation to start.  Teach the neutral legs.  Touch on the lengthening of the side waist, lift of the chest.

Extended cat/cow: neutral legs, reach through heels.  Opening chest without collapsing waist.

Make your way into Surya A’s as a general warm up, with lunges and an open twist

Warrior II to warm up hamstrings

Prasarita Padottanasana (with strap behind to encourage opening of thoracic), hamstrings, neutral

Surya B for neutral alignment in legs – add in parivrtta parsvakonasana with focus on lengthening both sides, rather than C-curve

Parsvottanasana (with strap behind, open chest)

To the wall:

Navasana core exercise (see above.  On back, then from dandasana.  Also an interesting option here to do jathara parivartanasana.)

Supta Hasta Padangustasana with extended foot on wall and using strap (to find alignment in non-weight bearing position)

Utkatastana at wall (to give hamstrings a break)

Utthita Hasta Padangustasana at wall (leg neutral)

Virabhadrasana III with extended leg at wall.  Use blocks under hands.  The openness and lift of the chest is a potent counterbalance to the extended leg.

Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana with extended leg at wall – TADA!  I love using the wall here, as it encourages length and an accuracy in alignment that is freeing.

Cool down should include some bent leg hip openers to soothe the outer hips and give hamstrings a rest.  Baddha konasana, Ankle to knee, a forward fold in sukhasana would feel great.

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Showing 3 comments
  • Georgiann Snellman

    This is a good piece, I was wondering if I could use this blog post on my website, I will link it back to your website though. If this is a problem please let me know and I will take it down right away.

  • Rachel

    Sure Georgiann! Thanks for reading!

  • Anjeanette

    One of my favorite stretches is Parsvottanasana! But sometimes the hamstrings can be a little tight. Yoga guru Leeann Carey has a free yoga video that shows what to look for in this pose. I thought your readers would enjoy it:

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