Asana of the Month – Balakasana

Balakasana

Balakasana

The pose I commonly find myself in is Child’s Pose (Balakasana) and the many variations of having my knees pulled in close to my chest.

Physically it does many things; however, I notice these qualities:

  • It lengthens the lower lumbar region, which is a common area that experiences contraction.
  • When on the knees with the arms by the sides, it allows the shoulders to relax over the knees and lengthen the back of the neck, areas that can commonly hold stress and tension.
  • Internally in the mid-section, it gives space to the kidney and adrenal gland area.
  • It also brings more awareness to the breath as the lung capacity is reduced, offering a much quieter and softer breath.

Quite often Child’s Pose is the second posture I offer in a Yin Yoga class, right after Savasana. I find it to be a great starting point to the class as it offers the time to relax, slow down from the busyness of life, look inward and set some intentions.

AOM-childs-pose-neil-1

Balakasana, arms extended, palms up

Progressing Through the Posture
There are a few stages I like to progress through with Child’s Pose:

  1. Initially, knees are on the floor, toes extended, torso curled over the tops of the thighs with the arms relaxed by the sides of the legs, and if possible, the forehead lightly resting on the floor.
  2. After a minute or two, extend the arms along the floor above the head with the elbows relaxed – and notice.
  3. Walk the fingers away, extending the arms as far as feels comfortable, and notice, perhaps, a difference in the quality of the breath.
  4. Bring the hands together with palms facing up with the pinky fingers touching. At this point there is a beautiful quality to the posture, with hands forward and open to the sky, as if making an offering to the divine. And, as many of you know, in the giving there is the receiving with hands open to catch the abundance.
Balakasana

Balakasana

Modifications
Here are some modifications for those who have challenges with their:

  • knees: Place a bolster under the buttocks on top of the calves
  • ankles: Put some support under the ankles, like a rolled up towel or the end of the yoga mat
  • neck: Place a foam block under the forehead.

Child’s Pose has a humble quality that is nice to relish. I am not sure if you have ever found yourself down on your knees in a complete sense of helpless surrender. When that happens, what follows is usually very unexpected, perhaps even described as miraculous.

SONY DSCAbout the instructor
Neil Mark is a SSCY YTT grad from 2003, a super jock gone yogi. Neil lives on Salt Spring and teaches regularly at the Centre’s Yoga Getaways and the Annual Community Yoga Retreat. He can can also be found chanting at satsangs on Sundays.

Asana of the month: Baddha Konasana

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle – Butterfly)

Baddha Konasana

Baddha Konasana

I find myself in this posture in almost every practice as I love the deep hip opening and the gentle elongation and release in the lower back and sacrum. I share it regularly with my students, who are mostly women as it is a great posture for menstrual health and pain, preparation for child birth and for ovarian health as it increases circulation and brings vitality to the whole pelvic area. But Baddha Konasana has lots to offer men too – everyone benefits from opening the hips and releasing tension from the pelvis and this posture is also great for prostate health. It is also good for strengthening the lower back, inviting deep surrender into stillness and calming the mind. The variations with this posture make it very flexible in a practice on its own or as a counter posture and it in it’s reclining version (Supta Baddha Konnasana) it’s a favourite restorative posture of mine too.

Coming into the posture

Starting in Dandasana (stick pose) seated with legs straight out in front, if needed ensure that the hips are supported in a slight anterior tilt by placing a prop (foam block or blanket) just under the buttocks so that the pelvis is neutral and the spine can lengthen straight up through the crown.

Bend the knees and bring the soles of the feet together, resting them about 6-8 inches from the body and allow the knees to fall out to the sides.

Take a few deep breaths all the way down the spine to the root chakra. With each exhalation allow the hips to soften as the knees fall away. With each inhalation gently elongate up through the spine feeling subtle spaces between each vertebrae. Allow the shoulders blades to come down the back and gently lengthen the neck. The chin is parallel to the floor. Widen the chest but take care not the arch the back or open the front ribs keep the spine neutral.

Baddha Konasana

Baddha Konasana

Once you have taken a few breaths and settled into the posture feeling the pelvis rooted and stable, take a deep inhalation start to come forward as you exhale all the time gently enlongating the spine out of the hips. You are bending forwards from the hips not the waist and visualising the navel coming towards the feet. The breath remains free and not restricted by the spine curving forwards, elongate to ensure the freedom of the breath. Move slowly and gently. Stay slow and mindful and don’t rush to get anywhere… there is no goal or destination!

Rest half way down and take some breaths and lengthen. Then slowly start to bow forward coming into your full expression. You are guiding the navel towards the feet not the head. Keep the breath flowing freely and continue to elongate. I personally feel that elongation constantly during a practice is integral. Not to overdo it but to gently and consistently bring space into the joints, opening and widening the body while slowly moving towards the posture.

Rest in your full expression of the posture and if it feels appropriate for your body at this point there is an invitation to let go into releasing the spine into a curve and the had point towards the feet. Feel the surrender and openness in the body and in the hips.

Keep the breath smooth and slow and when complete on an inhalation slowly release and come up to sitting. Gently support the knees to release out of the posture. Straighten and shake out the legs.

Modifications

If there is discomfort in the knees due to injury you can support them with blocks or bolsters so the hips are able to relax more.

If the hips are very inflexible sit on something higher to raise yourself right up to assist the hips soften with more support.

Variations

  • Bring the feet further out away from the body so the shape inside the legs is more of a diamond which will change the stretch away from the adductors and more into the glutes and lower back.
  • Try raising the feet onto a foam block to access a different opening in the hips.
  • With the hands turn the feet so the soles face the sky. Take care if there are any twinges in the knees and if so leave the soles of the feet together to protect the knees.

As spring shares it’s promise with little signs around us in our environment and more regular glimpses of sunshine, we can use this posture to ground and root and create strong foundations from which to spring forth open up from our deepest essence ready to sow our seeds and create beautiful amazing things in our personal lives and communities.

Namaste

Clare Blanchflower

Clare Blanchflower

About the instructor

Clare Blanchflower has been a practitioner of yoga since 1996, when she found herself drawn to the devotional practices and community at the Sivananda Ashram in London, UK. She is a grateful graduate of SSCY YTT and a regular member of the centre sangha. She is committed to truth, service and living with presence and joy. She shares a practice that brings deep body awareness, curiosity, quietening, connection, balance and invites access to the deep knowing wisdom body where healing and transformation can take place. Teaching is her greatest place of learning.

Asana of the month: Viparita Karani

Viparita Karani (legs-up-the-wall pose)
Viparita = inverted, reversed; Karani = doing, making

Viparita Karani

Viparita Karani

Viparita Karani is a wonderful yoga posture and a favourite of mine, one that I share with students any time of the year. This asana is particularly refreshing in the long dark months of winter. It is a nice inversion alternative
 to savasana pose and it’s calming for the mind and gently stretches the back
 of the legs, neck, and low back.

Benefits of  Viparita Karani

During the winter season when mild depression can affect some 
people, this asana practiced daily from 15 to 30 minutes can 
bring an overall grounding sensation while balancing the nervous 
system and introduces relaxation response. Tired legs and feet will
 definitely feel restored after Viparita Karani.
 The restorative nature of this posture gets blood flowing to parts of 
the body that need it, making it good for many ailments, including
 arthritis, menopause, high and low blood pressure and respiratory 
ailments.
Asana-February

Getting into the pose

To begin you’ll need two firm folded blankets or a firm bolster for 
support placed about 5-6 inches from an unobstructed wall. As
well, eye-pillows can be used for over the eyes and forehead. If 
you are stiffer in the hamstrings you will want to place the props 
further away from the wall, no more than 10 inches. To start, sit
 sideways on the middle of the prop with your right side close to the 
wall. As you begin to exhale turn to the right and let your legs
 move up the wall as you lower your torso and shoulders to the 
floor, looking up to the ceiling. Keeping your pelvis centred on 
the prop and comfortable for the lumbar, keep your legs relaxed 
and settled against the wall. Let your arms rest on the floor slightly 
lower than your shoulders or resting overhead on the floor. Your head should be positioned so that your forehead is slightly higher
 than your chin. For additional comfort use a small rolled towel for
 under your neck (without letting the head tip back) while following 
the breath slowly. Find the quietness of your belly and the
 spaciousness around your heart as well as the sensation of feeling 
held. Other props that you can use are a heavy blanket for covering 
the torso or a sand bag for the soles of the feet.

Coming out of the pose

When ready to move out of the pose, slide away from the wall 
coming off of the prop, and rolling onto your side. Take a few soft 
slow breaths before lifting up while exhaling.

Variations on the pose

Here are some variations to make this asana your own. Bend
 your knees and bring the soles of your feet together (like baddha
konasana) with outer feet against the wall. As well, try elevating
 the lower legs onto a chair with a foam block under your hips and a
 thick blanket under your calves. Alternatively, use what you have
 to support the lower legs horizontally and the feet touching the wall
 and a blanket or sand bag on the legs.

This is my favourite winter asana to help restore and strengthen mind
 body and breath. Include Viparita Karani in your personal yoga 
practice.

About the instructor

Peter BarragonPeter Ashok Baragon graduated from SSCY’s Yoga Teacher Training ten years ago  and has been teaching in Vancouver and West Vancouver ever since.  He enjoys teaching at community based centres for the variety of participants and the opportunity to offer different styles throughout the week. Rooted in classical ashtanga yoga and hatha yoga, he also teaches yin, restorative, chair-yoga for seniors and power flow vinyasa. Teaching for him flows from a place of love, compassion and gratitude.