Sunday, December 25, 2011

VIDEO: Easy Proper Pigeon - a piriformis workout for the rest of us!

One of our more "obscure" muscles (in that, you're not really aware of it on a daily basis like your quads and hammies) is the piriformis. This muscle is located deep in your butt, running from the sacrum to the top of the thighbone.  It's one of the the many hip rotator muscles that collectively turn the hips and upper leg outward (called external rotation), and particularly for athletes, provides stability around the knee when twisting and changing direction.

If you sit in a chair, place the right ankle (flex that foot!) just south of the left knee and tip your body forward, you'll feel the piriformis wake up in that very spot. I call this the Piriformis Desk Jockey stretch, because it's an ideal thing to do at your desk. Sitting cross-legged also activates this muscle. 
Piriformis as viewed from behind.

The piriformis skates somewhat close to the infamous sciatic nerve - the one that often gives grief by sending shooting pains down the leg and sometimes numbing the butt.  This Wiki entry eviscerates the area impressively, showing how the nerve actually passes THROUGH this muscle for a certain percentage of the population. Stretching and strengthening this muscle is thought to help alleviate and and avoid sciatic pain.

Easy proper Pigeon pose: make a "box" with your arms to keep the front foot flexed

Apart from sitting cross legged, doing the Piriformis Desk Jockey and a further variation of the latter lying flat on your back (loads of Google images of these moves here) you can kick things up a notch by doing Pigeon Pose.

In its easiest form, it's simply lying face down with one leg tucked under your body, grounding the same side hip down on the mat. 

In its more advanced or "proper" form, the shin is parallel to the end of the mat - rather difficult for all but the most malleably-hipped humans.

I made the video above to illustrate an easy way to get into "proper" pigeon. As you can see I am one of these humans who aren't super open-hipped by design - I'm also one of the child ballerinas who could never really do the splits! None of this genetic stuff need stop you from getting a good approximation to the essence of any yoga move and reaping the benefits.

Yoga Journal describes a more usual way of getting into the pose here. If that's not easy for you, try it my way!

Lynette's Easy Proper Pigeon:

1. Bend the back leg completely
2. Bring front leg shin parallel to mat, flexing foot
3. "Box" that front leg in with the arms as shown below, keeping the front foot flexed to protect the knee
4. Keeping upper body low to the mat, manoeuvre it squarely over your front leg (with flexed foot!)
5. Now - with care - knee-toe the back leg to straighten it, with the entire front of the leg facing the mat. Don't over strain! Drop forehead to mat and exhale to deepen. Stay there a while, all the while "scootching" your back leg to be as straight and long as possible.
6. To come out, the first thing you must do is release the back leg completely, i.e. bend it acutely at the knee. This "unlocks" everything.
7. Stretch out and do the other side.

Just remember 3 things:

1. The FIRST thing you do going INTO the pose is bend the back leg completely.
2. Keep that front foot FLEXED (that's what the boxed arms are for) to protect the knee
3. The FIRST thing you do coming OUT of the pose is bend the back leg completely.

Happy piriforming/pigeoning! 

Lynette teaches Vinyasa for the rest of us at YoGanesh Manhattan

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Yoga Rover: Samadhi Studio + Vasisthasana with "Easy Feet"

John Churchill, founder and owner of Samadhi demonstrates Gomukasana (Cow Face pose) with a side bend. Why Cow Face? The stacked knees look like the lips of a cow, the feet like the ears. 
Whenever I travel anywhere, I always try to seek out local yoga class. No only does it help me get unknotted from slouching about in bucket-seated motorized transport, I get to learn something new from a professional fellow teacher, in a fresh new place. (I also do this with haircuts - I got an excellent 'do for $2 in Tarma, Peru....).

So while visiting Boston with my folding bike recently, I found a studio that was a perfectly civilized 3-mile bike ride from door to door - a lo-carbon emission way to arrive already warmed up to class!

The studio:  Samadhi in Newton, MA. The teacher: founder and master acupuncturist, John Churchill.

John's Open class contained quite a few interesting variations on basic poses that I hadn't come across before. I confess I like to experiment, seeking different (and easier) ways to achieve the effects of poses for nervous newbie students, so this definitely resonated with me.

1. Vasisthasana or side plank variation: first, I liked that he instructed students to start from plank with feet slightly apart, dropping the sides of both feet to the left, say, one directly behind the other, heel to toe. The advantage is a wider surface area - weight on two feet, not just the one underneath:

Easy Vasisthasana feet
Stacking the feet side by side on top of each other - the textbook way - has always hurt my feet and is tricky for beginners:

One of my easy variations on this is to make a "V" with the big toe and second toe of the right foot say, then slot it over the skinny part above the heel of the other foot, before tipping the whole "unit" over to the side. It's just a variation of what John taught - his is actually simpler, easier and more comfortable:

Easy Vasisthasana feet V2
Tip the whole "unit" to the side

Second, once in the Vasisthasana side plank position, he instructed us to lower the hip to the mat a few times. This is a very cool and interesting way to stretch out the side of the body while actually in another pose. I like it!

2. For preparing to do Warrior III, he had us do several small, prep moves to weight the standing foot considerably, before attempting to take flight. This kind of prep is rarely done to this degree in balancing poses - we often try to move into them too hastily and end up hopping around and falling all over the place. It was surprising how after "priming" the standing leg so much, it felt extremely stable.

3. He seemed to be a big fan of Gomukhasana pose, as shown in the above picture, which does a nice  job of stretching out the much neglected piriformus (one of those muscles in the sit bone area that gets sat on all day in office chairs). I liked the side bend he incorporated into this pose. The most common arm position for this pose, as you'll see in the link, is the "reach behind," where your hands either meet or they don't!

There were more cool moves of course, but these are the ones I remembered.

Thank you John @Samadhi!

Spotting more cool moves by fellow teachers: Yoga Rover

Passage to Boston from NYC: 4-5 hours on the Bolt Bus with folding transportation in the hold!

Friday, August 26, 2011

2 Storm Salutations for Hurricane Irene - to send her away!

Danger! Addictive substance!
With Hurricane Irene threatening to take a bite out of the Big Apple this Sunday, everyone's battening down hatches, stocking up on water, candles, batteries and favorite addictions - in my case, Trader Joe's Potato Trio chips (no salt, tons of fat) and a case of Chocolate Fudge Orgain (guilt free chocolate shake). And we're locking our doors, putting cling wrap around the edges and not going OUT. Some are even starting as early as Saturday. So how do you get your yoga fix when the route to your favorite studio is knee deep in water?

Get out your mat, push back the furniture and do a couple of Storm Salutations for Hurricane Irene.

They are basically Sun Salutations, but you stay super low so the eye of the storm somehow misses you.

Storm Salutation A: A smooth tumble from Downdog to Plow. You roll out of storm's danger like a tumbleweed! 

Start cross legged, hands on knees.

Inhale - roll forward onto hands and knees

Exhale - push back into downdog - pedal the feet! Stretch those calves!

Inhale - drop to knees, cross feet over behind you, roll back into cross legged seat (use hands to help!)

Exhale - continue rolling back into easy plow (knees bent). Hang out here.

Inhale - and reverse it:

Exhale - cross feet, roll forward into cross legged seat then immediately uncross feet onto

Inhale - hands and knees

Exhale - push back into down dog

- do this several times, making it one smooth move in both directions. As the lower back limbers up you can move into full plow.

At this point are officially allowed to take a swig or two of Orgain, stuff a Potato Trio or two in your face, and continue ... and no, I don't get a kickback from this mention - do you see an Adword in sight? 

Storm Salutation B: This one is based around the low-lying Child's Pose asana. It's a bit like a body wave. There's a brief Prairie Dog moment to check if the storm's heading in your direction ...

Begin on hands and knees. Inhale ...

Exhale - Down dog.

Inhale - drop knees on the way to ...

Exhale - Child's Pose

Inhale - come forward to plank

Exhale - knees, chest, chin (or Chaturanga)

Inhale - raise chest, baby cobra (rising to Updog to kick it up a notch)

Exhale - lower chest (or entire body)

Inhale - Walk hands and body all the way back to ...

Exhale - Child's pose.

Inhale - up on knees, hands behind hips

Exhale - arch back, head tipped back (kneeling backbend) - Prairie Dog moment! Where's the storm headed? Yikes! Right in my direction! Get down!

Inhale - Come forward onto hands and knees

Exhale - Push back in to Child's Pose

Inhale  - up to hands and knees then back to ...

Exhale - Down dog

Variations: Throw in a couple of 90 degree Child's Poses - from hands and knees, walk arms around 90 degrees to body and settle head, chest, everything down. Exhale. Inhale, rise up, walk hands around to do it on the other side. Exhale.  Nice side stretch!

It's a great way to limber up the back, shoulders, legs, remembering to double the mat over because of the additional pressure on the knees.

Around 20 reps gets people warmed up and slightly breathless! OK, then you can go and crack open the chips and beer and what have you as you watch the windows being expertly washed by Mother Nature.


Still stuck inside?

When you're done with that, clear another space on the wall (difficult in a 450 sq ft Manhattan studio I know) and try this gentle hip opener. You can read a book while doing it. That's multitasking for you!

This was inspired by an article inYoga Journal: I had everyone in my class with feet splayed against the wall to practice some "gravitationally assisted" hip openings. Flex feet, pushing through heels, pressing calves against the wall, then relax. Note hips magically open a leeetle bit wider, heels inch down the wall ...

This should be done at home for 5-10 mins. In my class it became a kind of "active Savasana".

Once at the wall, it made perfect sense to gently bring legs together, bend ze knees, then drop them over to the left, then right (keep shoulders flat on the ground!) using the wall as a comforting "landing pad". SO many people complain of sciatica. Too much slouching in swivel chairs and sofas!

Good luck on H-day!

Gal on yoga

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Under the Crescent Moon ...

Under the Crescent Moon: and the healthy, non-toxic clay walls of YoGanesh!
To relieve pressure on sensitive knees:  1. Fold over the side of the mat 2. Activate all leg muscles, drawing energy up through your torso and out through the top of your head

Yoganesh, the newish studio where I teach a Monday and Friday evening class, just celebrated it's first Anniversary. Here's my post about it on the YoGanesh Blog. And while you're at it, read about the new classes and workshops. See you in class! 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Now teaching Yoga for Runners+Cyclists @ Yoganesh

I'm now teaching the Friday 7.30pm Yoga for Runners+Cyclists class at Yoganesh. Both sports create similar problems due to the 1-dimensional plane they lock you in. Just like, ironically, sitting in a chair all day hunched over a computer!

Hope to see you there - or at my ny nite owl class, 9pm Monday nights. Bend it and mend it!

Check out my video interview of knee guru Andy Pruitt talking about Cyclists and Runner's knees:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Yoga for Cyclists

I'm looking forward to sharing my AM/PM yoga practise with fellow New York Cycle Club members at West Point. It's taken me years of riding a bike for a living (albeit not like Lance) to note that a quick leg bend against a park bench - the amount of stretching most cyclists do - just doesn't cut it!

 I asked one of my teachers Sarah Coleman, owner of delightful East Village studio Finding Sukha, to demonstrate a nice little routine for cyclists. See the video above for some quad and hamstring lengthening moves. Thanks so much Sarah.

Bend it and mend it!

The Charlie's Angel stretch is also a good one for cyclists - and swivel chair dwellers ....

Sunday, May 29, 2011

More about my Monday 9pm "Nite Owl" class at YoGanesh

I'm now teaching a late nite Monday class at Yoganesh232 7th Ave, NYC 
(btw. 23rd and 24th),  9pm-10pm.

So it's not that late, but should be easier for workaholics (voluntary or otherwise), nite owls and other after-dark downdoggers to make the class without too much huffing an puffing. And what better way to counter a week of swivel chair sedentariness in advance? Which reminds me - take the stairs when you can. Up, but not down. Descending stairs isn't that good for anyone's knees.Going up - take it two and a time, steadily, using your quads, inhale on the first two, exhale the next. It's a similar thing you do when climbing a steep hill on the bike - your breath will carry you to the top - and in the case of stairs - swinging your arms.

Great for the heart, back, leg muscles.

Just don't stop breathing! Check out my YouTube interview of knee-guru Andy Pruitt talking about knees!

Do pass this on to your yoga-interested pals - it is still a fairly new studio, and the warm and altruistic owner Norma is very committed to offering affordable yoga in Manhattan at $12 a class. 

Last week after I locked up at 10pm, four of us beat it over to Westville on 18th near 8th, for a slice of their amazing strawberry rhubarb pie before they close 11pm (city-that-never-sleeps stuff!). Just a tip for you - amazing, healthy food there.

See you at 9 pm at Yoganesh.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Now teaching the late, late show at Yoganesh

Well, not that late. Hence, the not quite "after dark" shot of the Ganesh mascot (pictured).

As of Memorial Monday, I'm teaching a 9pm-10-pm class at Yoganesh, for night owls, workaholics any anyone else who can't seem to make it to the "crowded hours" right after work. Now and then I'll teach other classes there.

I've put my 6.30pm Chelsea Recreation Center free class on hiatus, It's just too hard to beat it down 5th, 7th, 9th or the Westside Bike Path (I've tried all four) to make it to the center on time.

I'm thrilled that Phil Lynch, a yoga teacher from California, is also teaching at Yoganesh. He's a no-fluff down to earth kinda guy, who, during my training, famously showed us from downdog, how to float your legs forward to meet your hands - with superhuman strength in the elbows and wrists.  I want to learn that!

Come on down dawg!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easy Stuff: Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon) pose against the Wall

One thing I love about going to different yoga classes around town (and especially when I travel), is that I always pick up at least one new and interesting tip to pass onto my students. No matter where I go, the teacher  invariably does or says something that makes me think, hey ... that's a great idea. It's not just experienced teachers that furnish these aha! moments either - newer teachers, being fresh from the textbooks and training, often remind earlier graduates about the correct way to do things. 

So I must thank a teacher at the Ypsi Studio in Ypsilante, Michigan, a small town near Ann Arbor. I was there for Christmas and persuaded my hosts to drive me through the thick of the snow to a class at this little fitness studio in Michigan Ave. My hosts had expressed enthusiastic interest in doing the class, but as the day wore on, bailed, one by one.

There were only four of us in the class, taught by Ed Jackson, originally from LA. Ed showed us a brilliant way to teach the basic but rather challenging one foot balancing pose, Ardha Chandrasana, or Half Moon pose, using the wall. Here it is, with thanks to Liza Bermudez from Yogamaya who helped me refine it:

Hold each step for a few breaths to fine tune the position. Activate all muscles in legs and core - it will help you balance - and don't forget to breathe.

1.  Have a block ready at the wall. Stand far enough from the wall to a) bend entire top half of body 90 degrees at waist, and b) place palms flat on wall. Head should be between your upper arms

2. Raise left leg 90 degrees, foot flexed, so as to form a straight (straighter than mine, please!) line from heel to hands. You're effectively doing Warrior 3 using the wall as a support.
3. Now turn the hands clockwise 90 degrees as shown, and turn the entire body to face the left. Keep the arms fairly straight, using the wall as a support as you gain balance on the standing leg.
4. Now reach the right hand down and place on block. You can also put the left hand on the hip, and from there straighten it out and reach the fingers for the ceiling. As you get better you can move the block to a lower level or completely. Breathe!

Some classes will teach this with the raised back foot against the wall instead of hands, but some may find this easier - some may find it harder! 

Interestingly, I've often heard teachers call this "yoga stealing" and say things like, "I hope you don't mind me stealing that." I know that it's not easy to get a regular yoga teaching spot, especially in places where every third person seems to be a yoga teacher. But I think of it as "yoga sharing." The more we can "unintimidate" people into doing yoga by passing around good tips and tricks, the saner and less stressed our world will be.

More tips from great teachers: Yoga Rover

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Yoga/Pilates for Cyclists: coming to an Otello room near you!

NOTE: This post, and future posts relating to the Yoga/Pilates for Cyclists project in collaboration with Karin Fantus will now be continued on this blog:

Following our sold-out Yoga/Pilates for Cyclists Sampler class in Jan 2011, Karin and I have found a cozy space to continue the series. Judging by the feedback the New York Cycle Clubbers found our class very interesting and beneficial. (OK, we did hand out 85% dark chocolate with the anonymous feedback sheets). Here's a movie tour of the space:

Tour around the space above - and apologies - I couldn't help but tickle the ivories a little, despite a traumatic childhood involving piano lessons and a book of mindless Czerny Etudes that resulted in teethmarks on the piano ...

A musical space indeed: a 72nd St location - with cushy new carpet - for around 8-10 participants
(when we stack the chairs)

"What a tangled web we weave ... "
It's called the Otello room, normally used as a recital and practice space by musicians and opera singers. Signed photos of famous warblers, and even a signed score, decorate the walls. In a corner, a small baby grand sets off the space but doesn't intrude too much into it.

The location is right above the 72 St subway on Broadway. Very central and convenient (Trader Joes right opposite), freshly painted with a cushy new carpet.
The view towards Broadway - and signed photos of famous opera singers on the wall. 
There's a nook for students to store mats and pilates rollers to save schlepping. Alternatively, we can provide some that you can rent.  The available times we have for this space are ...

Monday nights, 6:30-8:30pm
Saturdays at 3:00-5:00pm

We will need to ask interested participants what works best for your schedule - bearing in mind the NYCC begins its SIG series in March. Perhaps Saturdays while it's a little too cold to ride, then Monday nights as the weather warms up and SIG season starts? Or perhaps Mondays are perfect - the party end of the week is still 5 days away.

Aaaaah, using the foam roller (pilates/MELT technique). Once you've tried it, you gotta have one.
More pictures on my GalfromdownunderYoga Facebook page
We hope to commence classes very soon - starting early February. The charge will be $20 per 90 minute class, allowing an extra half hour for a bit of socializing and unwinding. We can always go grab a snack after if and when the mood suits.

Feedback welcome in the comment field below. THANKS!

Karin and Lynette.

Very useful feedback from participants.  See more.