This full length vinyasa yoga flow had me sweating a lot. I mean, it was a hot day and I am a sweaty person but this still should give you a good workout even if you’re not the perspiring type.
A quickie for your hamstrings this 35min Power Vinyasa yoga class I taped out of my home studio will strengthen and lengthen the posterior legs. Upbeat music as always.
In Your Knee is a Hinge Part 1 I started discussing how to keep the knee safe when bearing weight in standing lunges where the hips are open (a la Warrior II).
The trick is to not let your knee roll inward because, as the title suggests, your knee is a hinge. It’s not a ball and socket joint like your shoulder or hip. It’s only meant to move in one direction. Check out the post for the tip I gave to help you do that.
This follow-up is another really quick and easy cue to keep in mind when you’re in your lunge.
In your warrior II, create a circle of energy starting where the inner thigh meets the groin and moving clockwise around the entire thigh of your bent knee.
That is, pull the inner thigh up to and around the kneecap, then pull the outer knee along the outer thigh to the hip socket. Did your knee re-align itself? I thought so.
Check out the video for more detail (plus a fun singing solo by your truly).
I’ve been posting some Asana Quick Fix videos on my Facebook page and YouTube lately to address some really easy ways to make your yoga poses better for you body. Check them out, if you haven’t already!
Let’s Talk Standing Lunges
In standing lunges with an open pelvis, like warrior II and side angle the front knee happens to be bearing the weight of most of your body. So it’s critical that you keep it safe as possible.
What can damage the knee? When the front knee is rolling inward. This happens a lot and is primarily because of poor range of motion in the inner thighs. If you are trying to open your hips and your flexibility is poor in the inner thighs then you just happen to drag your front knee in the same direction as the hips are going.
This is bad.
Maybe not once or twice or thrice but if you keep practicing yoga like this you won’t be practicing forever.
The knee is a very simple joint. It’s a hinge. It opens and closes in one direction like a door. Imagine you had a door that moved up and down as you opened and closed it. You’d be like “this door is fucked up”. Feel free to say that to yourself every time your knee caves in in warrior II. “This knee is fucked up”. Because it definitely is not safe for it to be moving that way.
So how do I fix it?
How can you keep your front knee from caving in and getting all wonky and out of alignment and fucked up? Don’t sacrifice the knee for open hips!
Come into warrior II or side angle. Look down at your front femur. If it is not parallel to the edges of the mat and the knees is caving in here’s what you do:
Turn the front of your back hip down toward the floor and watch the front knee realign, like magic!
Check out the video below for a little more explanation and stay tuned for part two!
From a weight lifter’s perspective, bracing the core is super important to get you to lift the load at hand without injuring yourself. It helps you stabilize when you are moving a lot of weight in one plane.
But what if you’re not moving a lot of weight? What if you’re just holding a Warrior pose? Or walking your dog? Or playing shinny? Is all that effort to brace your core really necessary?
Core stability is all about control, coordination, and agility.
I recently took a workshop that really intrigued me. It was with Suzi Hately at the Yoga Conference in Toronto about how to find more stability in the core with less work. She spoke from a therapeutic perspective about how core stability means control, coordination, and agility.
Agility is key. Firm bracing of the core muscles is great for something like weightlifting but can be limiting when your body needs to be responsive and to change direction quickly (ie. be agile).
So how do you evoke the core without actively engaging it?
Lay on your back with the knees over the hips and the shins parallel to the floor. Press your hands into your knees and knees back into your hands. This requires the core to work, but we want it to work naturally, without forcing it.
Can you evoke the core rather than forcing the core muscles to engage? Can you breathe smoothly and easily? Can you do this exercise with less effort?
Then notice if other muscles in the body are engaging or firming up. Are you holding tension in your shoulders? Chest? Hip flexors?
Your body is so smart that it will do what it needs to do to get the job done. In this case, if there is some weakness in the core muscles then other muscles will compensate in order for you to make this exercise happen. Cool, right?
If you find these compensatory muscles working, can you really soften them without forcing relaxation? Like butter melting in a pan, like a foot sinking into wet sand.
When you have completely softened all your compensatory muscles and you’ve stopped forcing your core to engage then you will find the point of stability for your body. It may be weaker than you think!
For me, when I do this exercise, I find it damn near impossible to stop my hip flexors from doing all the work once I stop bracing my abs. It’s as if it is harder to do less work and to find ease in the exercise.
And that’s what the core should core provide. A sense of lightness and ease.
So see for yourself what happens when you work your core less and tap into your true stability.
If you’ve been to a yoga class taught by me you’ll notice (rather quickly, I might add) that the class is challenging. It’s high energy, fast paced, and it gets your heart rate pumping and sweat dripping.
It is the definition of yang, through and through: hot, active, muscular, powerful, exhilarating, go-go-go.
And we need go-go-go in our lives. We need to be physically active in this energy-generating way. It’s how we stoke our internal fire. It’s how we get stronger. It’s how we gain power. It’s how we practice resiliency in the face of adversity. It’s how we grow.
But we also need to create balance in our fitness regime, just like in our lives. You can’t thrive forever on a continuous stream of high intensity stimuli from intense bootcamp classes to rigorous hockey practices to long endurance runs to workplace stress. Your internal fire will burn out.
Can we bring relaxation to our stress? Yin to our yang? Can we balance our nervous system so we’re not all fight or flight and no chill & still?
Well, that’s kind of the point of yoga.
Actually, the best time to connect to the stillness in your mind is when your body is moving. When you become so immersed in your movement that your mind stops, time stops, you are IN THE ZONE, my friend.
Sitting still leads to all sorts of thoughts you never knew you had. Sitting still and trying to connect to the stillness in your mind is, like, way more advanced, amiright?
3 Ways to Bring Calmness to Your Power Yoga Flow
Constrict the throat in your “ujjayi” breath. It stimulates your vagus nerve to activate your parasympathetic nervous system making your body want to chill & be still. Also, making your exhales longer than inhales helps slow the heart rate and calm you down.
2) Be Curious
Approach your body like it’s something to be explored and not something that needs to be better, slimmer, stronger, taller, bendier, and on and on. When is curiosity ever stressful? Tap into your innate sense of curiosity you give yourself the opportunity to get out of your judgment zone and just feel something.
3) Get your jam on
Some might argue that music distracts the mind rather than helps you tap into it. Maybe when you’re sitting still, but when you are moving through a power yoga flow music is a great way to get out of your head and into your body. It silences your thoughts and encourages your awareness to be with your body as it moves in space to the sound of the music. Just you, your body, and the beat.
Part 2 of the Yoga for Athletes series focuses on focus.
Get in ‘The Zone’
“Get you head in the game!”
“Keep your eyes open! Pay attention!”
. . . hollow words shouted from the sidelines attempting to motivate you to stay focused and perform at your best. Easier said than done.
As an athlete you’ve had those moments when you just can’t focus and your head is out of the game. Your thoughts are drifting to pain in your body or stress in your life and not your performance.
But as an athlete you’ve also had those moments when you are so into the game that you’re one with it. The connection between your mind and body becomes so intertwined that you don’t know where thought ends and action starts. You’re not thinking THEN doing. Your mind is so absorbed, so hyper-aware that your body is doing exactly what you need to do. It’s magic.
This is what it takes to have success in your sport. This is what it takes to have peak performance.
But how do you get to the point where your mind and body to work in synchronicity? How do you get out of the distraction zone and into the performance zone?
Yoga is a great way to help you get there. The goal in yoga is to be completely aware of your body at any given moment of the practice. It’s about focus. It’s a moving meditation.
Everything from stress, to nervousness, to noises and visual distractions can take your head out of the game but yoga teaches you how to avoid them and turn your attention inside yourself. Consistent yoga gives you great practice in programming your mind to let go of distractions so you can stay in ‘The Zone’ in every game.
Yoga for athletes is critical and if you’re not practicing yoga as part of your training then you’re doing your body a disservice.
There are a number of major benefits that yoga can provide to athletes that their strength and conditioning cannot and I will be introducing them one at a time as a part of my new Yoga for Athletes series.
This first and most important part of a yoga practice is actually not learning handstand (contrary to what you might think if your primary knowledge of yoga comes from Instagram yogalebrities). It’s learning to breathe.
Learning to Breathe
I know how to breathe! You’re thinking to yourself. But, do you? Really?
When I tell athletes to take a big breath in, what often happens is they fill up and puff out their chest and suck in their gut.
It’s interesting. And by interesting, I mean unfortunate. Because that might make you look good (big chest, small waist) it’s totally inefficient. . .
. . . and it means you’re not using their diaphragm properly.
The diaphragm is that muscle between the gut organs and the chest organs. When used properly, the diaphragm drops on the inhale making space for the lungs so the belly– not the chest– will get bigger.
If the diaphragm is not being used then, in order to make space for the breath, other muscles in the upper body will have to compensate like the shoulders, upper back, and chest. Ya know, the muscles that you need for your sport.
So, that is to say, you’re wasting your muscle power on breathing when you could be using it to block, attack, shoot, and score.
Easy Exercise to Improve your Breathing
1. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4 and focus on your breath coming down into the belly and allow the belly get bigger.
2. Exhale through the nose for a count of 8. Start the exhale from the bottom of you belly and focus on squeezing the breath out from bottom to top like you’re squeezing a tube of toothpaste.
You can do this for as long as you want. You can do this whenever you want. You can stop and forget about it and then start again.
Benefits of this exercise:
By breathing into your belly, you are activating your diaphragm and preventing your superficial muscles from compensating to make space for your breath.
By making your exhales longer than your inhales you are activating your parasympathetic nervous system, ie. your nervous system is making your body relaxed.