How Mastering The Dogs Can Change Your Practice

I remember when I began falling in love with vinyasa; not just the style of a vinyasa yoga but the beautiful sequence that is inserted between postures, that fosters heat in the body, the intense flow from the strength demanded, and the feeling of space as the body is rinsed of residual sensations from holding the previous posture. When I first began practicing, each vinyasa felt like a treat for my body; the dessert after releasing (sometimes escaping) from a series of long held postures to wash out whatever sequences we did, like they never happened but you can continue to build and feel the effects within. It was my opportunity to feel every muscle and joint working to support each other in this dance with breathe.

For clarity, the vinyasa sequence itself is low push up (aka Chaturanga), upward dog and downward dog that you will no doubt repeat 50 times in a typical power, vinyasa, Ashtanga or any other “flow” style of yoga these days.

These are 3 separate postures, merged together into a three-way relationship that not only build strength but opens the front and back body sequentially.
Each posture, with its own nuances, alignment, muscle actions, and kinesthetic qualities, that when joined together, asks us to see how they compliment each other through the use of breath and movement.

Truth be told, this took time to truly comprehend in my body. Knowing the underlining reasons for doing these “vinyasas” throughout class deepened my ability to relate and practice the postures differently, both in the classic sequence and otherwise.

Understanding mechanics of the body in these particular shapes and deciphering the muscles that need to be switched on to find a sense of “flow” gave me a solid foundation that enabled me to feel more empowered and confident when practicing asana.

These poses on their own are the cornerstones for many standing postures, inversions, advanced backbends and arm balances.

Within a given practice, continually moving into downward dog opens the back of the legs, namely the hamstrings, calves, ankles that prepare the body to go deeper in postures like Triangle, Warrior One and Wide Legged Forward fold, just to name a few. The interplay of the upper body’s chain of joints such as the hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders is one train of joints continues to amaze me. When you change the positioning of one of these joints, it changes the kinetic train of joints entirely. Through much trial and error (a sore neck and tight jaw), activating and stabilizing the scapula on the back can really help change the “comfortability” factor in the pose which is so often repeated.

I always tell my students that Chaturanga is the start of arm balancing. Building strength is one component. As you experience shifting weight onto your hands, there is a necessary and energetic alignment factor that forces you to reach through the crown of your head while pressing out of your feet as you lower the body and hover a few inches from the earth. Understanding this gives you the feeling of lightness instead of your entire body weight succumbing to gravity’s effects. I consider this base camp for arm balancing.

As the chest body moves through the gateway of the arms to open in Upward Dog , being able to feel the shoulder blades engage and press into “front” of the body, essentially, initiates the lifts of the legs as the whole body moves forward and “up”. For years I would sink into my lower back, and crank my chest up, never realizing that engagement in the core is so important to keep your lumbar area pain free! Moving my focus to stabilizing my lower back and working to find mobility in the upper back was the key factor in finding the “better” positioning in the pose that allowed me to feel more ease in my body, as I utilize and build strength.

These three poses continue to keep me honest each time I practice and informs me of what is happening in present time; What feels good in my body, what doesn’t, what I need to do today to honour where I am today, moments when my ego self is so loud, and what’s possible. This serves an important dialogue to keep my body safe when practicing asana and knowing that on this journey towards “mastering “ these postures, there are yet deeper reasons for practicing, like learning patience and humility.

Join me as we examine how these three postures, threaded together to create the “vinyasa”, serves a purpose in their own right and beyond the physical world. Let’s gain clarity and harness confidence as we break down each posture and how to string them together with assurance and stability in the body and heart.

January 30, 2016 11:30 am – 1 pm.
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Learn to Master Your Dogs

Learn to Master Your Dogs

Sari Nisker-Fox

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