Monday, July 25, 2011

Guest Post by Yogi Amanda McCarroll

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click here for Amanda's Bio

5 Tips for Your Best Vinyasa

The term Vinyasa is used in many contexts – here I am discussing the sequence of postures commonly referred to as a “vinyasa.”  These asanas consist of plank, chaturanga dandasana, bhujangasana or urdhva mukha svanasana, and adho mukha svanasana.  The following are a few tips to help you to move through a vinyasa mindfully and without causing harm to your back and shoulders.

Understand the difference between bhujangasana and urdhva mukha svanasana.

Cobra pose (bhujangasana) is practiced laying belly-down on the earth with the palms flat on either side of the chest.  The elbows stay bent so that you are able to draw the shoulders back and relax them down away from the neck as you rise up into the pose.  The palms press gently into the ground and draw back towards the feet.

 Upward dog (urdhva mukha svanasana) is practiced with just the tops of the feet and the palms pressing strongly down into the earth. The arms are straight with a micro-bend in the elbows so that you aren’t hyper-extending.  There is a very strong lift with the inner thighs and abdominal muscles to prevent strain in the lower back.  

 I often see people practicing a combination of the two with their arms straight but their hips are on the ground.  This in-between place is dangerous for the shoulders and low back.  Upward dog is a very difficult pose – if it’s too much for you, opt for cobra.  It is very safe and helps to open the chest, shoulders and upper back. 

Be extremely mindful of the shoulders in chaturanga dandasana.
Practicing chaturanga correctly is extremely challenging.  I often see students internally rotating and angling the heads of their shoulders downwards which will cause wear and tear on the shoulders over time.  I also see people lowering too far down towards the earth, making the pose and the transition to upward dog more difficult than it has to be.
Lower down only until the elbows are bent at 90 degree angles.  Keep the heads of your shoulders lifted at least as high as the elbows and keep your shoulder blades hugging onto the back towards the spine.  The chest is open and the shoulders are externally rotated.  The abdominal muscles are drawn in and the inner thighs are lifting.    

The transition from urdhva mukha svanasana to adho mukha svanasansa should be powered by the abdominal muscles.
When moving from upward dog to downward dog, exhale the navel strongly back towards the spine so that you are accessing your abdominal muscles and not collapsing into your lower back.  When you move through this transition with your core, you will be able to lightly roll over your toes creating a seamless and effortless flight from updog to downdog.

Don’t rush – move with your breath.
The breath for a vinyasa:

            Exhale from plank to chaturanga

            Inhale into cobra or upward dog

            Exhale into downward dog

Depending on your instructor, vinyasa classes typically move at a brisk pace.  Take your time – do not worry about moving at the same exact pace as everyone around you.  To flow through a vinyasa mindfully and with breath, you may have to go slower than other students.  If you are practicing cobra instead of upward dog, than you will definitely be slower than the rest of the class.  That’s okay – take your time, and ALWAYS move with our breath.

  Skip vinyasas if you are tired and move directly into downward dog or balasana (child’s pose).

Many classes include dozens of vinyasas – do not feel like you have to do every single one.  You don’t win anything and there aren’t any points if you manage to do every single chatturanga!  Try to let go of any feelings of competition with yourself or with others.  Vinyasas are very beneficial when done correctly.  If you are fatigued and unable to do them mindfully, then it is much better to just skip them and move right into downward dog or even child’s pose.
Written by Amanda Mccarroll
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