As you travel through yogic postures, you begin to build awareness of the communications taking place between your body and mind. Do you feel peacefully removed from the raging storm of life around you, comfortable and confident with your strength, range of motion, flexibility, and steadiness? Or are you painfully noting the slow passage of time, sensing a physical awkwardness or strain in your movements?
Listen to your own feelings and sensations, and acknowledge their importance, to help make your Yoga experience an expression of peace, calm, and security. That positive message is what Yoga practice is all about.
Busting the perfect posture myth
Some modern schools of Hatha Yoga claim that they teach “perfect” postures that you can slip into as easily as a tailor-made suit. But how can the same posture be perfect for both a 15-year-old athlete and a 60-year-old retiree? Besides, these schools disagree among themselves about what constitutes a perfect posture. To spell it out, the perfect posture is a perfect myth.
As the great Yoga master Patanjali explained nearly 2,000 years ago, posture has only two requirements: A posture should be steady and easeful:
- Steady posture: A steady posture is a posture that you hold stable for a certain period of time. The key isn’t freezing all movement. Your posture becomes steady when your mind is steady. As long as your thoughts run wild, your body also remains unsteady. As you become more skilled in self-observation, you become sensitive to the tension in your body. That tension is what Yoga means by unsteadiness.
- Easeful posture: A posture is easeful when it’s enjoyable and enlivening rather than boring and burdensome. An easeful posture increases the principle of clarity — sattva — in you. But easefulness isn’t slouching. Sattva and joy are intimately connected. The more sattva is present in your body-mind, the more relaxed and happy you are.
Although Patanjali was thinking primarily, perhaps even exclusively, in terms of meditation postures, his formula applies to all postures equally.
Listening to your body
No one knows your body as you do. The more you practice Yoga, the better you become at determining your limitations, as well as your strengths, within each posture. Each posture presents its own unique challenges. You want to feel encouraged to explore and expand your physical and emotional boundaries without risking strain or injury to yourself.
Some teachers speak of practicing at the edge, the point at which the intensity of a posture challenges you but doesn’t cause you pain or unusual discomfort. The idea is to slowly and carefully push that edge further back and open up new territory. Cultivate self-observation and pay attention to the feedback from your body to be able to practice at the edge.
Each Yoga session is an exercise in self-observation without being judgmental. Listen to what your body is telling you. Train yourself to become aware of the signals that continually travel from your muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and skin to your brain.
Be in dialogue with your body instead of indulging in a mental monologue that excludes bodily awareness. Pay particular attention to signals coming from your neck, lower back, jaw muscles, abdomen, and any known problem or tension areas of your body.
To gauge the intensity of a difficult Yoga posture, use a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being your threshold for tolerable pain. Imagine a flashing red light and an alarm bell going off after you pass level 8. Notice the signals and heed them, particularly your breath. If your breathing becomes labored, it usually indicates that you might want to back off.
Beginners commonly experience trembling when holding certain Yoga postures. Normally, the involuntary motion is noticeable in the legs or arms and is nothing to worry about, as long as you aren’t straining.
The tremors are simply a sign that your muscles are working in response to a new demand. Instead of focusing on the feeling that you’ve become a wobbly bowl of jelly, lengthen your breath a little, if you can, and allow your attention to go deeper within. If the trembling starts to go off the Richter scale, either ease up a little or end the posture altogether.
Moving slowly but surely
All postural movements are intended to be executed slowly. Unfortunately, most people are usually on automatic with movements that tend to be unconscious, too fast, and not particularly graceful. Most people are generally unaware of their bodies, but yogic postures lead you to adopt a different attitude. Consider the advantages of slow-motion :
- Enhanced awareness, which enables you to listen to what your body is telling you and to practice at the edge.
- Safer practice. Slowing down lowers the risk of straining or spraining muscles, tearing ligaments, and overtaxing your heart.
- Arrival at a deep stage of relaxation more quickly.
- Improved breathing and breathing stamina.
- Shared workload among more muscle groups.
For the best results, practice your postures at a slow, steady pace while calmly focusing on your breath and the postural movement. Resist the temptation to speed up; instead, savor each posture. Relax and be present here and now. If your breathing becomes labored or you begin to feel fatigued, rest until you’re ready to go on.
If you find yourself rushing through your program, pause and ask yourself, “Why the hurry?” If you’re truly short on time, shorten your program and focus on fewer postures.
If you’re rushing through your program because you’re feeling bored or generally distracted, pause and remind yourself why you’re practicing yoga in the first place. Renew your motivation by telling yourself that you have plenty of time to complete your session. Boredom is a sign that you’re detached from your own bodily experience and aren’t living in the present moment. Participate fully in the process.
Yoga with Weights: What You Need to Get Started
To get started with Yoga with Weights, you need a little willpower, an open mind, and a sense of adventure; at least, those are the only intangibles you need. Taking the first step in any new activity is usually the hardest part. As for the tangibles, you need some equipment to get going.
At a minimum, you need a quiet and comfortable place to exercise, hand weights, and ankle weights. A yoga mat, the right clothes, and good shoes (for warming up) are also beneficial. The good news for you? These items don’t cost a bundle.
Read on for more information about the gear and equipment you need for a Yoga with Weights workout.
Choosing hand- and ankle-weights
You need two kinds of weights if you want to incorporate weight resistance into your yoga workouts: hand weights and ankle weights. Most sporting goods and athletic stores carry these weights. Here are some guidelines.
Investing in weights of different sizes
Opt for three sizes of hand and ankle weights: a pair of 1-pound weights, a pair of 3-pound weights, and a pair of 5-pound weights.
Why not lift weights heavier than 5 pounds? Using 5-pound weights — in addition to the yoga poses — gives you a very solid workout. The 1-, 3-, or 5-pounders stretch your muscles, release tension in your muscles, and engage the muscles in the deep core of your body that you use for balance and stability. This added resistance from the weights forces your deep-core muscles to spring into action.
Lifting weights heavier than 5 pounds may make you too top- or bottom-heavy and upset the balance and distribution of your body weight.
The amount of resistance you want is up to you. Experiment with the different weights, and choose the size that gives you the best workout. Always start with the lightest hand or ankle weights and work your way up. Doing so allows you to start from your comfort zone and work your way into the weight that gives you the most fulfilling workout. If you start with the heaviest weight, you run the risk of straining yourself and pulling a muscle.
Knowing which size weight to use
How do you know which size weight (1-, 3-, or 5-pound) to use in a particular exercise? The size is ultimately up to you, but if you find yourself straining as you do an exercise, consider using a lighter weight. Some telltale signs that you should switch to a lighter weight include grunting, holding your breath, or experiencing shaking or cramping muscles.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Keep different sizes of weights at your side and test the different weights until you find the pair that engages you the best in an exercise. You may find yourself using different weights for different exercises. The surest way to know whether your choice of weights is the right one is to see how you feel after a workout.
If your body feels weak and shaky, or you’re too sore the next day, you need lighter weights. If you finish a workout with the feeling of “comfortable discomfort” — a feeling that you’ve met the challenge and given yourself a good workout — you know that your choice in weights was the right one.
Settling on the right yoga mat
You need a solid, supporting surface to exercise on, and for that reason, using a yoga mat is a good idea for your safety. Mats give you padding, comfort, and protection, especially for your knees and spine. However, it isn’t necessary to have a yoga mat when you do Yoga with Weights exercises. You can exercise on a solid, non-slippery, close-weave type of carpet or clean, dry floor.
If you’re taking a Yoga with Weights class in a gym, bring your own mat for hygiene purposes. Most gyms offer yoga mats, but they can get very sweaty. Rolling around in your own sweat is much more agreeable and hygienic than rolling around in a stranger’s sweat.
When you shop for a yoga mat, look for one that stretches a little and gives you good support. Mats range from a fraction of an inch to an inch deep, but depth isn’t the real issue — cushioning is. The idea is to get some relief from the hard floor, and although comfort is fine, a spongy mat can be a nuisance because it doesn’t give you a solid base to work on.
For your purposes, a quarter- to the half-inch-thick mat is best because it offers comfort and stability; if you’re uncomfortable sitting on the floor or on your knees, get a mat that’s on the thick side. Also, the mat should be as long as you are tall plus about 6 inches; in other words, if you’re 5-feet-6, find a 6-foot yoga mat.
Don’t select a foam mat; they’re too thick and too short for Yoga with Weights exercises. Foam mats are made for aerobic exercising.
Wearing clothing that preserves modesty and movement
Don’t wear shirts and pants that restrict your movements in any way or drag on the floor, and never wear a belt; the waistband of your pants must be loose so your breathing isn’t constricted or confined. For the sake of comfort, wear clothes with natural and breathable fibers. You can find these clothes in many sporting goods stores, outdoor outfitters, and yoga retail stores, as well as on the Internet.
Follow these guidelines when choosing your undergarments:
- Women: Women should wear an athletic or spandex bra that lifts their breasts and presses them into their bodies. For top-heavy women, this factor is important for balancing as well as for comfort.
- Men: Men should wear tightly fitting — but not too tightly fitting — underwear from which no, ahem, items may escape and see the light of day. Spandex running shorts are excellent for Yoga with Weights. They support your muscles and keep them warm, and they permit you to move without restriction.
How to do the Yoga Full Lotus Posture Correctly
The Full Lotus Posture (Padmasana) is a wonderful Power Yoga exercise for opening up the hips and creating flexibility in the ankles and knees. Practiced in moderation, the Full Lotus Posture can invigorate the nerves of your legs and thighs. The strength and flexibility that you gain by practicing the Lotus Posture can even help you to avoid injuries when you’re partaking in other activities, such as hiking and skiing.
What is the Full Lotus Posture?
The Lotus Posture is named for the lotus flower — a type of water lily that has multiple petals and floats on ponds and slow streams. When you see a real lotus flower, up close and personal, you understand how this posture inherited its name. The lotus flower possesses a calm, quiet beauty that yoga practitioners can contemplate — and mirror — in this seated posture.
Because the lotus has its roots in the muck of the lake or pond bottom and its blooms face toward heaven, because it moves with the water yet doesn’t lose its rooting, it is the perfect symbol of the Yoga practice that is both grounded and spiritually oriented.
Part of the power and effectiveness of the Lotus Position comes from the triangle shape your body assumes. Many Eastern cultures believe that triangular shape, such as those of the pyramids of Egypt, harnesses life energy. Triangles also symbolize knowledge, will, and action, three key aspects of your Power Yoga practice. By turning your body into a mini-pyramid, you can tap into this mystical energy and stay very grounded at the same time.
Don’t jump into the Lotus Posture
The Full Lotus is a very advanced pose, so be extremely aware of your knees and take your time as you move into the Lotus Posture. This posture is too much of a stretch for you if you feel pain in your knees or lower back. As your flexibility improves, you can continue to try the Full Lotus Position until it feels comfortable and right for you. Until then, don’t push your body into this posture.
Even when you feel comfortable assuming the Full Lotus Posture, let your Lotus bloom slowly — knees are a precious commodity, so give them some respect. Your ligaments and joints accept gradual changes. If you use this posture too much, or too soon, you could badly injure your knees and slow the progress of your entire Power Yoga practice.
Practicing the Full Lotus (Padmasana)
The word Padma means “lotus.” In this posture, you float like a water lily as you create the beauty of a lotus flower with your body and in your mind. The Lotus Posture is a classic pose for meditation and pranayama, controlled Yoga breathing. Another name for this posture is the Buddha Pose; many yogis and yoginis, past and present, envision the Buddha meditating in this pose.
Use these steps to practice the Full Lotus Posture:
- Sit on the floor in the Easy Posture. Your back is straight, your mind is calm, and you are completely focused and relaxed.
- Take your right foot in your hands, and slowly place it on your left thigh as close to the crease of your hip as you can. Try to align your left heel with your hip joint while keeping your left ankle straight.
- Take your left foot in your hands, and slowly place it on your right thigh as close to the crease of your hip as you can. Try to align your right heel with your hip joint while keeping your right ankle straight.
- Be aware of correct posture as you open your chest, lengthen your spine, and gently pull your shoulders back; feel yourself relax as you sit proud, with your chin held high. Remember to press in at your lower back to maintain its natural inward curve.
- Extend your arms over your thighs, and rest your hands and wrists on your knees, with palms facing upward.
- 6. Place your hands in the Jnana Mudra Position. You now are in the Full Lotus Position, as illustrated in the figure.
- Close your eyes and hold this pose for 5 to 10 slow deep breaths. Calm your mind and relax, as you feel yourself gently floating.
- As you breathe, try to engage the Mula bandha and Uddiyana bandha muscle locks. You may even try Jalandara bandha, in this pose. Bandhas, or muscle locks, are made up of muscle groups in your body. To engage a bandha, you physically contract the muscles in one of three areas of your body. The Mula bandha is located in the perineal muscles between your genitals and anus. The Uddiyana bandha is located about three-fingers width below your navel. The Jalandhara bandha is called a chin lock. You engage this bandha by stretching the back of the neck as you lower your chin into the notch in your breastbone.
- Open your eyes; take your left ankle in your hands and slowly lower your left foot to the floor, and then take your right ankle in your hands and lower your right foot to the floor.
- Relax for a few breaths in the Easy Posture.
The next time you practice this posture, place your left foot on your right thigh first. Alternating the order of your foot placement each time you assume the Lotus Position, gives your muscles a balanced stretch over the course of your Power Yoga practice.