Yoga Poses : As you begin your yoga session, try to enter into your practice with a sense of maitri, a Sanskrit word that translates as “unconditional friendliness toward one’s own experience.” This is quite different from striving to be what you think you should be—an idealized version of yourself—the one without the stiff knees, tight hamstrings, or sore neck. Once you think you should be different from what you are, you become disconnected from the experience, which greatly diminishes your yoga practice.

If, instead, you give yourself permission to be who you are, if you open up and relax into maitri, a softening and unfolding can occur—from the inside out. We can practice maitri when we’re off the mat as well. As you go about your day, express an attitude of openness, awareness, and acceptance toward yourself, your experiences, and others.

Remember that asana, the Sanskrit word for pose, means “posture comfortably held.” You are not out to “feel the burn.” Try to hold the pose to the edge of your tolerance. Don’t force yourself beyond this limit. Allow your breath, not competitiveness or ego, to fuel and energize your body. If your muscles are tight, direct the breath to that area. Go to where you feel the stretch and hold it at that point; inhale deeply, and on an exhalation, see if you can deepen into the stretch. Try repeating the pose. The first time, your body and mind may not be prepared; the second time, you know what’s expected so you may have a very different experience.

Use this time to focus inward. If you practice the poses in a quiet space and attend to what is happening moment to moment, you are actually practicing a form of meditation in motion. Don’t rush, don’t strive, and don’t overdo it. Be aware and be yourself.

Standing Yoga Poses

This section focuses on poses done from a standing position. These dynamic poses energize, stretch, and strengthen your body as well as increase your focus and concentration. When you prepare for a pose, make sure your body is aligned and your spine is comfortably extended. Allow the skeletal system to support the body. For example, in Mountain pose (see below), sense that your ears are over your shoulders, shoulders positioned over your hips, hips over ankles. Stand as though you have grown an inch. Pull your shoulders back slightly, down and away from your ears. Splay your toes and press them into the floor.

In poses where you are bent over, soften your knees if your muscles feel tight and tuck your chin slightly toward your chest; when coming back up, roll your body up slowly, keeping your knees soft and chin slightly lifted so your head comes up last. If balancing poses present a challenge, hold onto a wall or the back of a chair. Gaze at a spot in front of you and breathe deeply; with practice, your balance will improve.

MOUNTAIN Yoga Poses

Mountain is a fundamental pose that provides the proper alignment for other standing poses. It helps correct any posture problems we may have developed, while restoring a natural state of balance to the body and mind. (You may also want to try Seated Mountain, page 92.) • Stand erect, with legs hip-width apart and feet parallel. Place half of your weight onto your heels, the other half onto the balls of your feet. Feel your big toes pressing down.

  • Allow your thighbones to move toward your hamstring muscles in the back of your legs. Feel your kneecaps lift.
  • Feel yourself lifting out of your waist. Your shoulders are relaxed and down, and your chin is level with the floor. Retract your chin slightly to feel a lengthening in the back of your neck.
  • Inhale deeply, filling the lungs. Keep your arms by your sides or raise them overhead with palms facing each other. Relax your shoulders as you stretch from the armpits.
  • Gaze ahead; hold for 8 to 10 breaths. If your arms are raised, release them and let them slowly float down to your sides.

STANDING-ON-TOES Yoga Poses

In addition to strengthening the calf muscles, this pose stretches the soles of the feet, massages the balls of the feet, helps with balance, and increases concentration.

  • Stand in Mountain pose (facing page), with arms by your sides.
  • Inhale and raise your heels from the floor, rising up onto the balls of your feet. Exhale and come back down.
  • Repeat this up and down movement for 4 to 6 breaths.
  • Inhale and lift your heels from the floor, rising up onto the balls of your feet and raising your arms overhead.
  • Repeat this up and down movement with your feet and arms several times.
  • Remain on your toes with the arms raised for 4 to 6 breaths.
  • Return your feet to the floor and your arms to your sides.
  • Repeat once more.

HALF MOON Yoga Poses

Half Moon bends your body so that it resembles a crescent moon. As your body bends first to one side and then to the other, it reinforces how supple and flexible your entire being is. If you do both rounds of Half Moon, you’ll likely stretch further the second time. This deceptively simple pose stretches the muscles at the waist and along the sides of the upper body, and trims and tones the waistline. It also stretches the arms and aligns the spine. (You may also wish to try Seated Half Moon, page 92.) • Stand with your feet parallel and close together.

  • Raise both arms overhead, palms facing each other. If it feels comfortable, cross your thumbs.
  • Tighten your thigh muscles to feel a lifting of the kneecaps.
  • Create an extension in your spine and slowly and gently bend out of the waist to the left.
  • Angle your upper body slightly to the left and look down at your left foot. Make sure there is no strain in your neck.
  • Hold for a few breaths.
  • Return your upper body to the center. If your shoulders have inched up, drop them down away from the ears.
  • Repeat on the right side. Don’t strain. Hold for several breaths.
  • Return to center. Relax your arms.
  • Repeat once more on both sides.

TRIANGLE Yoga Poses

A triangle is a geometric form that embodies strength, balance, and support. This ancient posture, which replicates the innate stability of a triangle, improves flexibility of the torso, elongates and straightens the spine, opens the hip area, and strengthens the arms, legs, ankles, and feet. Concentrate on holding the pose in stillness while you breathe deeply and rhythmically. Feel the solidity and strength of the triangle fill your entire being and rest firmly in the knowledge that nothing can shake the solid foundation that is your core.

  • Stand with your feet separated about 3 feet apart or the length of one leg.
  • Turn your right foot out 90°; turn your left foot in (toward the right) about 30°.
  • As you inhale, stretch your arms out from your shoulders so they form a T.
  • Exhale and bend slowly to the right.
  • Lower your right arm to your right shin and extend your left arm up toward the ceiling.
  • Make sure your shoulders are in alignment, as though stacked over your right knee. Maintain an extension of the spine.
  • Look up at your thumb if you can without straining. Breathe in and out slowly.
  • As the left side of your body relaxes and opens up, slide your right hand further down your leg. To make sure your upper body stays in proper alignment, imagine you are sliding between two pieces of glass. Hold for several breaths.
  • Feel your endurance grow. Envision yourself as a strong, stable, immobile triangle.
  • To release, “pinwheel” your arms back up to a standing position.
  • Rest and then reverse the pose.

MODIFIED PROUD WARRIOR Yoga Poses

Modified Proud Warrior, a less intense pose than Proud Warrior (facing page), takes concentration and willpower. Doing this pose will improve your balance and increase your ability to concentrate. Use your steady breath as fuel to assist you in Virabhadrasana I, which looks a lot less intense than it actually is. This pose helps you realize that no matter what swirls around you, at your core you are balanced and strong.

  • Stand with your feet directly below your hips, with your spine elongated. The shoulders are down and away from the ears.
  • Step forward with your right foot, bending your right knee. Keep your knee directly over your ankle.
  • Inhale and bring both arms forward, up, and overhead with palms facing each other.
  • Engage your abdominal muscles 30 to 35 percent. Feel your breastbone lift away from your navel.
  • Press your left heel into the floor. Keep your left leg absolutely straight.
  • Gaze at a spot in front of you and breathe deeply. Hold for 8 to 10 seconds.
  • To release the pose, step forward with your left foot.
  • Repeat on the other side.

 PROUD WARRIOR Yoga Poses

An extension of Triangle, Proud Warrior (or “excellent” warrior in Sanskrit) is a slightly more advanced pose. It offers benefits similar to those offered by Trikonasana, or Triangle (page 63), with the added benefit of strengthening the leg and thigh muscles. Holding this pose reinforces the message throughout your body, mind, and spirit that you are a proud and fearless warrior, prepared to face whatever challenges may arise. As you become Proud Warrior, be aware that you can call on your inner strength and confidence throughout your day.

  • Stand tall with your feet separated about 3 feet apart or the length of one leg.
  • Turn your right foot out 90°; turn your left foot in toward the right about 30°.
  • As you inhale, stretch your arms out from your shoulders so they form a T with the body.
  • Bend your right knee, forming a right angle with your calf and thigh.
  • Take care that your knee does not extend over the right foot. Your left leg is straight, with muscles engaged, and the sole of your left foot is grounded on the floor.
  • Turn your head and gaze over your right hand. Shoulders are down and away from the ears.
  • Bend at the waist as you “pinwheel” your upper torso to the right. If it feels more comfortable, place your right forearm on your right thighbone. Left arm is perpendicular to the floor. Turn your head to the left or gaze up at your raised left hand.
  • As you grow stronger, lower your right hand onto a yoga block or as depicted in figure 2.
  • Raise your left arm directly above the right. Hold for several breaths.
  • Straighten your upper body and then your right leg. Lower your arms to your side.
  • Turn your feet the opposite way and repeat on the left side.

ARCHER’S POSE

This pose strengthens the nerves and the leg muscles, opens the shoulder joints and chest, and increases concentration and focus. Not only will you look strong, but you will also become stronger—physically and mentally—as you assume the stance of a confident archer.

  • Stand with your spine erect and your feet about 3 feet apart. Your shoulders are down and away from your ears.
  • Turn your right foot out 90°; turn your left foot in about 30°.
  • Keep your hips and shoulders facing forward? Bend your right knee so that it is directly over the ankle.
  • Make fists and bring them to your upper chest. Straighten your right arm and look in that direction. Imagine there is a large bow in your right hand; with your left hand, pull back on the string. Make sure left shoulder does not round forward.
  • Bend your right knee a little more and sink down, keeping your gaze fixed on the target. Keep your right knee positioned over the right ankle. With practice, you may be able to lower your hips so that your right thigh is parallel to the floor.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply into the center of your chest. Engage your abdominal muscles 20 percent and pull back more with your left hand. Make sure your shoulders remain down and away from your ears. Hold for a minute.
  • Lower your arms and straighten your legs.
  • Reverse direction and repeat on the other side.

DANCER’S POSE Yoga Poses

This graceful pose strengthens and tones the leg muscles and tightens the muscles of the upper arms, hips, and buttocks. As is true for all the balance poses, it helps with concentration and focus as well as inner determination. Yes, you can be a lissome dancer . . . if only for those moments when you hold the pose.

  • Stand erect with your spine elongated and your feet hip-width apart.
  • Shift your weight onto your left foot.
  • Inhale and raise your left arm with the palm facing forward, and hold your arm close by your left ear.
  • Exhale and bend your right leg behind you. With your right hand, palm facing out, grasp the inside of your ankle. If it’s more comfortable, you may grasp your leg with the palm facing in.
  • The sole of your right foot faces up; your right knee points down.
  • Inhale and focus on a spot on the floor in front of you. Exhale and very slowly lower your upper torso and left arm until nearly horizontal with the floor. Hinge at the waist.
  • Raise your right leg behind you. Allow the right foot to press into your hand as you attempt to lift your toes toward the ceiling.
  • Your body looks like a bow strung by an archer. Don’t be concerned with the height of your raised leg—go for the stretch and balance. Breathe deeply and hold the pose for 10 seconds.
  • On an inhalation, raise your upper torso and release your right leg and arms. Do the pose on the opposite side, then repeat on each side once more.

STANDING HEAD-TO-KNEE Yoga Poses

This challenging pose will assist with balance and concentration. It stretches and strengthens the muscles of the legs, arms, and shoulders; works the abdomen; and stretches the back. Be patient but determined with this pose. Even if you only go as far as holding your hands beneath your knee, you will still experience a strengthening of the standing leg as well as improved balance.

  • Stand in Mountain pose
  • Shift your weight onto your left foot, establishing four-point contact between your toe and heel mounds and the floor.
  • Engage the upper muscles of your left leg by pressing the thigh bone back toward the hamstring. Feel a lifting of the kneecap.
  • Inhale and raise your right knee toward your chest; place both hands beneath your knee, interlacing your fingers. Make sure that you feel stable before continuing.
  • Place both hands under the ball of your right foot. Maintain the lifting of the left kneecap. Gaze at a spot in front of you. Bring your right thigh toward your chest.
  • Refocus your gaze and attempt to straighten your right leg until it is parallel to the floor.
  • Bend at the elbows and pull back on the ball of your foot. With each exhalation, try to lower your upper body a little closer to your extended leg. Hold for a few breaths.
  • Release by bending your knee and returning to an upright position. Release your hands.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Do one more round on each side?

STANDING SIDE STRETCH Yoga Poses

This pose stretches and tones the hamstring muscles, back, shoulders, and arms. This is a strenuous posture, so be gentle with yourself. You may also discover that the pose is easier on one side than on the other. This pose presents an opportunity to accept yourself as you are.

  • Stand with your spine elongated and your feet about 3 feet apart.
  • Join your palms together behind your back in Namasté. If this is not possible, place your palms on opposite elbows or wrists.
  • Rotate your right foot and entire upper body to the right so it is directed over your right leg. See that your knee is centered over the shinbone and not torqued to the left or right.
  • Engage your right thigh to feel a lifting of the kneecap.
  • Inhale. Lift out of your waist, creating a gentle backbend.
  • Exhale. Slowly bend forward from your hips, engaging your abdominal muscles. Fold over your right leg.
  • Press evenly into the soles of your feet and feel yourself easing slowly into the part of the pose that feels perfect for you.
  • Allow your head to be heavy. Keep your chin tilted toward your chest and your hips parallel. Breathe deeply. With each exhalation, attempt to release further into the pose.
  • Come up slowly, keeping your abdominal muscles engaged. Lift your chest 3 inches to flatten your back. Press evenly into both feet and continue to raise the upper body. Your head comes up last.
  • Return to center.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • If you need support, give yourself permission to bring your hands around to the front and onto the floor or your lower leg.

 TREE

This noble pose reminds us of our connection to the earth, which sustains and nourishes all living beings. We spend so much of our time walking on floors and pavement that our link to the earth is weakened. The Tree improves your posture and helps stabilize the pelvis, elongate the spine, strengthen the legs and ankles, and increase flexibility of the inner thigh muscles. In addition, it helps with balance and centering.

  • Stand erect with your eyes fixed on a focal point in front of you. If it is difficult to maintain your balance, you may also perform this pose while lying on your back.
  • Bear the weight of your body on your right leg by tightening the thigh muscle.
  • Inhale and raise your left leg, placing the sole of the foot onto the calf muscle or inner thigh of the standing leg. If your foot slips, hold your ankle with one hand.
  • Stretch the inner groin of the bent leg by taking the knee out to the side, aligning the knee with the hip. Breathe deeply.
  • Once you are balanced, you may raise your arms above your head or clasp your hands in Namasté at the center of the chest. If you are holding onto your leg, raise your other hand to the middle of the chest or rest your open palm at the heart center.
  • Hold for 8 to 10 breaths.
  • Return your raised leg to the floor and lower your arms.
  • Repeat on the other side.

BALANCING STICK

Balancing Stick will really get your system working. It tones and firms the legs, hips, buttocks, shoulders, and arms as it increases circulation and works the heart. It also improves concentration and balance. Focus on elongating the arms and leg when you are in this position.

•Stand with your feet together. Raise your arms over your head, palms together; if it feels comfortable, cross your thumbs.

  • Inhale and step forward about a foot with your left leg. Point your right toe and rest it lightly on the floor behind you. Your heel is lifted.
  • Gaze at a spot on the floor beyond you. Exhale and allow your upper body to pivot forward from your hip as your right leg lifts up straight behind you and your outstretched arms lower down in front of you. Your hips should be level. Viewed from the side, your body forms a T.
  • If balance is a challenge, let your fingers rest lightly on a high-backed chair or shelf.
  • Breathe normally and hold for 10 seconds.
  • Lower your right leg and raise your arms, returning to start position. Check to make sure your shoulders are down away from the ears.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Do the pose once more on each side.

EAGLE

When you hold this pose, imagine that you are as strong and fearless as an eagle. This balancing pose greatly increases concentration. It also firms the upper arms, stretches the shoulders, opens the hips, and strengthens the thighs, calves, and knee and ankle joints. In addition, it works the abdominal muscles and brings a fresh supply of blood to the sexual organs and kidneys.

  • Stand with your feet together and your back straight and spine elongated.
  • Stretch your arms out to both sides.
  • Bring your left arm under the right, crossing both arms at the elbow. Place your hands together, palms facing each other.
  • Pull your upper arms to your chest and bring your hands toward your face; if possible, allow your fingers to touch your nose and place your thumbs under your chin.
  • Bend both knees slightly. To assist with balance, gaze at a spot in front of you and breathe deeply. Slowly cross your left leg over your right thigh. If you can, wrap your left foot around the right ankle or calf.
  • Bend your right leg a little further. Your spine remains straight, and your hips are forward. Breathe deeply and hold for 10 to 15 seconds.
  • If your balance falters, try to concentrate on your breathing and focus on the spot in front of you.
  • Release your arms first and then uncross and straighten your legs.
  • Repeat once more.

CHAIR

This energizing pose will make your body temperature and energy level soar. It will also work the thigh and calf muscles while strengthening the ankles and Achilles tendons. By rising onto the balls of your feet, you’ll give your arches a welcome stretch too. Your legs will stay toned and strong while you improve your balance, focus, and concentration.

  • Stand with your feet directly under your hips in Mountain (page 60). Arms and hands are held straight out in front at shoulder level. Keep your shoulders relaxed, back, and down.
  • Inhale. On an exhalation, slowly begin lowering your body into a squat position as though you were about to sit in an imaginary chair. Do not go beyond 90° at the knees.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, with your knees over your ankles.
  • Breathe slowly as you gaze beyond your arms. Keep your neck relaxed and extended.
  • Raise your toes off the floor, rocking back on your heels. Hold for a count of 5 breaths.
  • Return to a standing position with arms remaining at shoulder level.
  • From this standing position, inhale and lift your heels off the floor.
  • On an exhalation, slowly begin lowering your body into a squat position, again sitting in an imaginary chair. Do not go beyond 90° at the knees.
  • Breathe deeply and hold for a count of 5.
  • Inhale and raise back up to a standing position. Lower your arms and return to Mountain.
  • Feel the energy course through your body.
  • Repeat 3 more times.

VICTORY SQUAT

Stand strong in Victory Squat and connect to your vital center of being—what the Japanese call hara—approximately 1 inch below the navel. Celebrate your power, determination, and focus. This pose strengthens the thigh muscles, upper arms, and abdominal muscles.

  • Begin in Mountain pose (page 60), with arms by your sides.
  • On an inhalation, step to the right so your feet are separated wider than your hips. Toes point out slightly. Exhale and bend your knees. Make sure your knees are over your ankles.
  • Inhale and lift your arms up into a V position. Exhale as you lower and bend your elbows so your upper arms are parallel with the floor at shoulder level and your forearms are straight up, palms facing forward with fingers together. Your forearms and upper arms make a 45° angle.
  • Your pelvis is neutral (not tipped forward or back), and your shoulders are down and away from the ears.
  • Hold the pose for 4 to 6 breaths, feeling your “power center” grow stronger with each inhalation.
  • Return to Mountain with your feet under your hips and arms by your sides.
  • Repeat the squat. If you can, widen your stance and bend your knees a little more, taking care that your knees remain over the ankles.
  • Repeat several times.

FORWARD BEND

This refreshing pose stretches the entire spine, allowing the back to relax and the muscles to release. It loosens any stiffness held in the arms, shoulders, and neck and reduces fatigue and tension.

  • Stand with your feet about 12 inches apart, with knees slightly bent. Arms are by your sides.
  • Inhale. Exhale and bring your chin to your chest. As if you were an inflatable doll slowly losing its air, let your upper body sag. If necessary, bend the knees more so that your hands rest on either side of your feet on the floor.
  • Let your upper body hang loosely like a rag doll.
  • To come out of the pose, place your hands on your shins, knees, or thighs, depending on what is most comfortable for you. When returning to an upright position, lift the chin first. Don’t come up with a straight back. On an inhalation, slowly uncurl up, one vertebra at a time. Elevate your body slowly to avoid any light-headedness.
  • Once you’re upright, gently relax your shoulders back and down.

FORWARD BEND WITH TWIST

In addition to the benefits of Forward Bend, this pose gives the arms, shoulders, and muscles along the sides of the body an added stretch.

  • Follow the directions for Forward Bend.
  • Bring both hands to the outside of your right ankle. Feel a slight twist in the spine. Repeat to the left.
  • Come out of the pose as in Forward Bend, taking care to slowly uncurl your spine so that the head comes up last.

SUPPORTED FORWARD BEND

(Upasthabdha Uttanasana)

This pose lengthens and aligns the spine, reduces lower back pain, and helps keep the back and neck flexible. It also stretches the backs of the legs and hamstring muscles. It is a relaxing pose that increases circulation and can relieve fatigue. You may find that using the wall for support allows you to let go and relax into the stretch for a deeper experience.

  • Stand about a foot away from a wall. Your spine is elongated, and your feet are hip-distance apart.
  • Allow your buttocks to lean against the wall. Bend forward, hinging at the hips. Bend your knees slightly.
  • Reach around and use your hands to lift the flesh of your buttocks up and away from your sitting bones.
  • Bend your arms and grasp your elbows with your hands. Allow your head to hang loosely between your bent arms.
  • With each exhalation, see if your upper body relaxes a little bit more.
  • Remain in the pose for 4 to 6 breaths.
  • Straighten the arms. On an inhalation, slowly begin to come up one vertebra at a time. Elevate your chin from your chest to make sure the head comes up last and there is no strain on the neck or back.

YOGA MUDRA

Mudra is a Sanskrit word meaning “seal.” Yoga Mudra (pronounced moo-dra) is a symbolic gesture of yoga, in which the head surrenders to the heart. With your head held lower than your heart, you can let go and trust that it is the heart— rather than the mind—that truly understands. Yoga Mudra loosens the shoulders, arms, and spinal column, and improves posture and back problems. It also gives a great stretch to the backs of the thighs and brings a fresh supply of blood to the face and head.

  • Stand with your feet parallel and hip-width apart. Clasp your hands behind you, interlacing the fingers. (If your shoulders are tight, hold a strap between your
  • Bend your knees, tuck your chin toward your chest, and lower into a forward bend.
  • With your hands still clasped, allow your arms to fall forward up over your lower or upper back without straining.
  • Breathe slowly and rhythmically as you hold the pose for 6 counts.
  • On an inhalation begin to raise your upper body, keeping your knees bent. Slowly raise your chin. Your head comes up last.
  • When you have returned to an upright position, release your hands slowly, letting your arms float back to the sides of your body.
  • Feel the release of tension in your neck, shoulders, and back.

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