Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Yoga Tip Tuesdays: the 'other' shoulderstand

When you think of shoulderstand, you probably think of the popular images of someone upside down with their legs ramrod-straight in the air, their body folded nearly in half at the neck, their chin pressed to their chest. Yet let's face it - the modern, "gymnastic" version of shoulderstand that we are used to seeing is simply not practical - or safe - for everyone. It requires a high degree of backwards flexibility of the shoulders, for starters. It also requires nearly 90 degrees of forward flexion at the cervical spine and places a lot of the body's weight on the delicate vertebrae at the back of the neck. Not to mention that if you are a woman with anything over a C-cup, you may feel like you're at risk of smothering yourself!

Thankfully, there is an alternative variation of shoulderstand that gives you exactly the same benefits as the "gymnastic" shoulderstand. In sanskrit this pose is often referred to as "viparita karani asana." It's basically a slightly modified version of shoulderstand, where instead of trying to get your body straight up and down, you allow your body to settle in a 'pike' pose, with a comfortable angle between the torso and legs. This allows you to take more of the weight of the body in the hands, elbows and arms, which decreases the weight and pressure on the cervical spine. It also creates more 'breathing' space between the chin and the torso - ideal for bodybuilders with tight pecs and shoulders and for busty women. The pose has a beautiful, mudra-like feel to it and allows you to breathe deeply into the belly. Drishti is either straight up, or at the belly if you can do this while still keeping the chin lifted high.

I can not say enough how much I love and prefer this pose!! Personally, I now only practice this asana instead of shoulderstand and I always teach it in classes (I call the two versions "classical" shoulderstand and "gymnastic" shoulderstand) - yet it took me years to come across it simply because it isn't taught in our modern asana classes. So without further ado, here you have it: viparita karani asana.

(NB: The usual counter-indications for this pose apply: you shouldn't be practicing inversions if you have untreated high blood pressure, angina, glaucoma, or osteoporosis of the spine, wrists or shoulders.)

Readers, what poses would you like to see modifications for on the blog??

Thursday, June 12, 2014

7 stretches for neck and shoulders you can do at your desk

Dearest readers,

Well, I've been absent from the blog for much longer than I intended! Life has been busy these past few months, both personally and professionally. But in any case, I'm back and have some reader-requested posts lined up for you!

Thanks to all of you who have continued to visit and comment on the blog while I've been away - I especially appreciate those of you who have reached out by email or on Facebook to ask your questions! Keep them coming.

So without further-ado, a long-awaited reader request: 7 simple stretches for tight shoulders that you can do right at your desk! It's a simple sequence that takes about five minutes - enjoy!