Yoga Journal - - Contents - By Vin­nie Marino

Cul­ti­vate open hips and a healthy low back with this se­quence that peaks in Fly­ing Pi­geon Pose from Yo­gaWorks teacher Vin­nie Marino.


many yo­gis, and for good rea­son: Main­tain­ing flex­i­bil­ity and sta­bil­ity in the hip joints is cru­cial for lower-back health, not to men­tion for cul­ti­vat­ing over­all free­dom and ease in our bod­ies. And open­ing the hips can be par­tic­u­larly help­ful when it comes to sit­ting com­fort­ably for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time in med­i­ta­tion. In this se­quence, we’ll warm up with stand­ing pos­tures to strengthen the outer hips, en­sure sta­bil­ity and proper po­si­tion­ing of the fe­mur in the hip socket, re­lease ten­sion in the lower back, and stretch the in­ner thighs. With the outer hips “turned on,” the in­ner thighs pre­pared, and the core awake, you’ll more read­ily launch into the peak pose—Fly­ing Pi­geon. (Re­mem­ber, even if this pose feels out of reach, there is ben­e­fit in the at­tempt!) Fi­nally, we’ll move into deeper stretches on the floor to help re­lease any trapped phys­i­cal and emo­tional ten­sion.

Prac­tice tips

1. Lis­ten to your body. Ev­ery sen­sa­tion you ex­pe­ri­ence is your body telling you whether you’re where you need to be—or whether you’re push­ing too far. If any move­ment feels like too much or it trig­gers pain, be will­ing to back off.

2. Go slow. When you move slowly and with in­ten­tion, you’ll be able to dive deep and revel in the open­ness you’re cre­at­ing. After this prac­tice, I en­cour­age you to med­i­tate for 5–10 min­utes and no­tice how this hip-open­ing se­quence helps you sit more com­fort­ably.

Sukhasana 1 Easy Pose

Sit cross-legged with one shin in front of the other, and your feet under your knees. Draw your navel in, lengthen your spine, and re­lax your shoul­der blades down your back. In­hale to lengthen your spine even more, and on an ex­hale, straighten your arms and lean for­ward, stay­ing up on tented fin­ger­tips. Pause here for 5 deep breaths.

Ut­tanasana 3

Stand­ing For­ward Bend From Down­ward Dog, walk your hands back to­ward your feet. With your fin­ger­tips on the mat, firm your legs and fold for­ward. If you feel any sen­si­tiv­ity in your ham­strings or low back, bend your knees deeply. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, then walk your hands back out to Down Dog.

2 Adho Mukha Svanasana Down­ward-Fac­ing Dog Pose

Come to your hands and knees; bring your hands a few inches in front of your shoul­ders and spread your fin­gers. With your feet hip-dis­tance apart, curl your toes under and lift your hips. Move to­ward straight­en­ing your legs while de­scend­ing your heels to­ward the ground. Stay for 5 deep breaths.

4 Ut­thita Parsvakonasana Ex­tended Side An­gle Pose

From Down Dog, place your right foot be­tween your hands and turn your back toes in slightly to­ward the left side of your mat. Ground down through your right hand on the mat (or a block) in­side your right foot, then lift your left arm sky­ward. Use your right arm to press your knee open as you si­mul­ta­ne­ously hug the right hip in to lengthen your torso and open your right in­ner hip. Hold for 3–5 breaths, then re­peat on the other side.

Vrk­sasana 5 Tree Pose

From Tadasana (Moun­tain Pose), place your right heel high up on your left in­ner thigh or be­low the knee, but not on the joint. Place your hands on your hips, mak­ing sure your pelvis is even in all di­rec­tions, as you hug your outer left hip in to­ward your mid­line and ex­tend through your right knee. Con­nect your eyes to one point—your dr­ishti— as you bring your hands to An­jali Mu­dra (Sa­lu­ta­tion Seal). Stay here, or grow your hands over­head and stay there for 5 deep breaths, then re­peat on the other side. Re­lease, then step back to Down Dog.

8 Ardha Chan­drasana

Half Moon Pose From Tri­an­gle, look down and slide your right hand about a foot in front of you, a lit­tle to the right of your right foot. Step your left leg up and re­visit all the ac­tions of Tri­an­gle Pose: Hug your right hip to­ward the mid­line, firm your back (lifted) leg, lengthen both sides of your waist, and draw your ribs and navel in. Set­tle your gaze to­ward your mat, to the side, or up to­ward your lifted hand. Stay here for 5 deep breaths. Move through a vinyasa, then re­peat War­rior II, Tri­an­gle Pose, and Half Moon Pose on the left side.

6 Virab­hadrasana II

War­rior Pose II From Down Dog, place your right foot be­tween your hands. Turn your back toes in slightly to­ward the left side of your mat, then rise to stand and bring both arms par­al­lel to the ground. Firm your back leg and work to­ward a 90-de­gree bend in your front knee, track­ing your knee straight ahead of you. Firm your right hip under and draw your navel in. With your arms spread, open your chest as you keep your shoul­ders float­ing above your hips. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.

9 Horse Stance with Garu­dasana (Ea­gle Pose) Arms

Place your feet 3–4 feet apart, with your toes turned out at a 45-de­gree an­gle. Wrap your left arm under your right and raise your fore­arms per­pen­dic­u­lar to the mat. Squat down so your knees track to­ward your sec­ond toes. With a flat back, ex­tend your chest as you pull your hips back. Hold here for 5 breaths. Keep­ing your legs bent, bring your torso back up­right, switch the cross of your arms, and re­peat. Place your hands on your mat and re­turn to Down Dog.

7 Ut­thita Trikonasana

Ex­tended Tri­an­gle Pose From War­rior II, straighten your front (right) leg and shift your right hip back as you reach for­ward and grab your right an­kle with your right hand or place the hand out­side the leg on the mat or a block. Float your spine over your front leg and open your chest, keep­ing the front ribs and navel in. Lift your left arm sky­ward and gaze up to­ward your left hand if that feels OK on your neck (if not, look side­ways or down). Stay in this po­si­tion for 5 deep breaths.

1o Bad­dha Parsvakonasana

Bound Side An­gle Pose From Down Dog, place your right foot in the cen­ter of your mat, be­tween your hands. Turn your back toes in slightly, bend your right knee, place your right el­bow on your right knee, and lift your left arm sky­ward. In­ter­nally ro­tate your top arm and bring it be­hind your back, then bring your right arm under your right leg to bind. Main­tain length in your spine and pull the right hip un­der­neath you as you hold for 5 deep breaths, then re­peat on the other side.

11 Stand­ing Hip Opener

From Tadasana (Moun­tain Pose), bring the out­side of your right an­kle on top of your left thigh and flex your right foot. Ac­tively press your right knee to­ward the floor as you lower your hips back and down, feel­ing the stretch in the outer right hip. Hold here for 5 deep breaths, or fold for­ward over your stand­ing leg, bring­ing your fin­ger­tips to rest on the floor or blocks in front of you and hook­ing your flexed right foot around your left tri­ceps. (Make sure you feel the stretch in your right hip and glutes, not your right knee.)

14 Bad­dha Konasana

Bound An­gle Pose Stretch both legs out in front of you, and then draw your feet as close to your pelvis as you com­fort­ably can. With peace fin­gers, grasp the big toe of each foot as you bring the soles of your feet to­gether and al­low your knees to open away from your mid­line. If your knees are high off the floor or your back rounds, sit on a blan­ket or block, or place your hands be­hind you. If you have more flex­i­bil­ity, hold your feet and fold for­ward. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.

12 Eka Pada Galavasana

Fly­ing Pi­geon Pose From the pre­vi­ous pose, hook your right foot around your left tri­ceps even more strongly and root your hands into your mat, lean­ing for­ward so that your up­per arms feel as if they’re in Chat­u­ranga Dan­dasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). Ex­tend your left leg in the air be­hind you and find your dr­ishti on the floor in front of you. Hold for 5–8 deep breaths, then re­peat Stand­ing Hip Opener and Fly­ing Pi­geon on the other side. Fi­nally, make your way to Down Dog, with or with­out a vinyasa.

15 Eka Pada Ra­jakapotasana

One-Legged King Pi­geon Pose Come to Table­top, with your knees directly be­low your hips, and your hands slightly ahead of your shoul­ders. Slide your right knee for­ward to the back of your right wrist, angling your right shin under your torso. Slowly slide your left leg back, straight­en­ing your knee and de­scend­ing the front of your thigh to­ward the mat. Lower the out­side of your right but­tock to the floor (or a blan­ket, for more sup­port). Then, crawl your hands for­ward and re­lax your torso down to­ward your mat, only go­ing as deep as you com­fort­ably can. Stay here for 10 or more deep breaths, then switch sides.

13 Janu Sir­sasana

Head-of-the-Knee Pose From Down Dog, jump or walk through to seated with both legs straight out in front of you. Bend your left leg and place the sole of your left foot against your right in­ner thigh. On an in­hale, ex­tend your arms sky­ward and turn your belly and chest to­ward your out­stretched right leg; on an ex­hale, keep your spine long as you fold for­ward over your right leg, hold­ing onto your foot or a strap. As you lengthen your torso, fo­cus on ex­tend­ing your chest over your straight leg rather than round­ing. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, then re­peat on the other side.

Paschi­mot­tanasana 16

Seated For­ward Bend Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Draw your in­ner thighs into your pelvis; as you in­hale, ex­tend your arms over­head. As you ex­hale, fold for­ward, bend­ing from your hip joints and ex­tend­ing your spine to grab the outer edges of your feet. (If you can’t reach, wrap a strap around your feet and clasp ei­ther side.) Keep your el­bows straight un­til you’re ready to stretch fur­ther, then bend your el­bows out to­ward your sides. Al­low your lower belly then up­per belly, ribs, and fi­nally head to touch your legs. Stay in this pose for 1–3 min­utes be­fore mov­ing into Savasana (Corpse Pose).

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