URDHVA MUKHA SVANASANA: UPWARD FACING DOG

Before attempting upward facing dog, please warm up your body with cat/cow stretches and cobra pose. Doing this pose without warming up first can cause lower back discomfort.

BENEFITS OF UPWARD FACING DOG:

  • opens the chest and shoulders

  • builds upper body strength

  • improves spinal flexibility

  • energizing

  • benefits the heart chakra and sacral chakra

YOU CAN FIND THIS POSE IN THIS YOGA CLASS.

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TRADITIONAL VARIATION

Lying on your belly, press the tops of the feet and all ten toes into the yoga mat. The feet can be together or hip distance apart. Engage the legs and lift the knee caps off the floor. Bring the hands below the shoulders. Fan the fingertips wide and firmly press all the knuckles into the yoga mat. Begin to open your heart, lifting the chest off the mat, squeezing the shoulder blades together. Press into the palms of the hands, straighten the arms and lift the hips up off the mat. Lengthen the tailbone away from crown of head and keep the core engaged. Feel the pelvis moving forward in space. These core actions will protect your low back. Keep the shoulders are away from the ears and broaden through the collarbones. Dip your chin to keep the back of the neck long, and gaze straight ahead. Hold for 5-10 deep breaths. A good counterpose to practice after this one is child’s pose.

KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER:

  • engage the legs

  • engage the core and lengthen the tailbone

  • sensation of the pelvis moving forward in space

  • keep a microbend in the elbows and fan the fingers

  • press firmly into all the knuckles

  • dip your chin to create length in back of neck

  • gaze straight ahead

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ADDING PROPS: YOGA BLOCKS

Adding yoga blocks under the hands will give you a bit more height here so that it might be easier to lift the hips off the mat. Be extra mindful to keep your core strong so that your low back doesn’t sag too far and cause pinching.

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ADDING PROPS: YOGA BOLSTER

This variation is my current favorite! If you’re new to updog, I’d recommend starting here. It helps you to build strength while keeping the body supported. With the bolster underneath the pelvis, you can focus on engaging your core and really feeling the pelvis moving forward in space. So important for us to keep our low back safe in these backbends.

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CHAIR VARIATION

This is a great option if getting down to the floor isn’t possible for you right now. However, this variation is still just as challenging for the upper body!

ALTERNATE POSE: COBRA POSE

This pose is a great alternative if putting a lot of weight on your hands doesn’t feel good. Cobra pose still builds lots of strength in the body and opens the chest and shoulders.

ALTERNATE POSE: FISH POSE

If you’re looking for a deep back bend but you don’t want to lie on your belly or put weight into your hands, try one of these fish pose variations. Fish pose can be practiced passively when you add props, so you get all the benefits of opening the heart without any effort.

HOW DID IT GO?

If you tried any of these variations, I'd love to know how it went for you! Tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #spoonieyogatribe in your photos for a chance to be featured on my page! Or post a photo in our private Facebook group to show off your progress! As a part of your membership, you can get personalized feedback on your poses. 

UTKATA KONASANA: GODDESS POSE

Goddess pose is an empowering, sensual and challenging yoga pose. Also called “yogi squat,” this pose will strengthen your whole body.

BENEFITS OF GODDESS POSE:

  • stretches the inner thighs and groin

  • strengthens the quads and glutes

  • strengthens the core

  • strengthens the upper body (when done with arms up)

  • benefits svadhisthana chakra (sacral chakra)

  • inspires sensuality and creativity - awakens the divine feminine energy

  • grounding

  • empowering

  • energizing

YOU CAN FIND THIS POSE IN THESE YOGA CLASSES.

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TRADITIONAL VARIATION

From Tadasana, step the feet wider than hip distance apart. Turn the toes out to 45 degrees. Press firmly into all four corners of the feet. Bend the knees and sink low in the hips. Try to get the knees to 90 degrees, and make sure the knees are stacked over ankles (my stance is just a tad short in the first photo). This will protect your knees from strain. Engage your core muscles, pulling the low abs and front ribs in. There are a lot of options for the arms here. You can choose to keep the hands on the hips. You could bring the hands together at prayer or you can take cactus arms (first photo) with the fingertips fanned and the arms active. Hold this pose for ten deep breaths or as long as you can ;)

To exit the pose, straighten the legs and step or hop the feet together.

KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER:

  • knees over ankles

  • core engaged

  • sink lower than you think you can

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CHAIR VARIATION

Doing this pose seated in a chair is still suuuper challenging! Sit at the edge of your seat and take the knees wide. Actively press into the feet. Feel the glutes and quads engage. Pull the navel in toward your spine. Knit the front ribs in. Keep the hands on your hips or together at prayer. For more challenge, take the arms up into cactus arms. Hold for ten deep breaths, then walk the feet back together.

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ALTERNATE POSE: MALASANA

You may find malasana a bit less challenging, and it will help you to build strength and flexibility in the lower body. It offers all the same energetic benefits as Goddess pose.

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ALTERNATE POSE: SUPTA BADDHA KONASANA

Reclining bound angle pose will also stretch the inner thighs and groin and offers similar energetic benefits. If you actively press the soles of the feet together and engage the inner thighs, you’ll get some muscle conditioning in this pose as well.

HOW DID IT GO?

If you tried any of these variations, I'd love to know how it went for you! Tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #spoonieyogatribe in your photos for a chance to be featured on my page! Or post a photo in our private Facebook group to show off your progress! As a part of your membership, you can get personalized feedback on your poses. 

MARJARYASANA/BITILASANA VINYASA: CAT/COW STRETCHES

Cat/cow stretches are a beautiful way to warm up your body before you practice deeper yoga stretches or active poses. Cat/cow stretches are made up of marjaryasana and bitilasana, and they are considered a vinyasa because we are linking our movement with our breath as we flow between these two poses.

BENEFITS OF CAT/COW:

  • creates length in the spine

  • relieves tension

  • strengthens the core muscles

  • massages internal organs

  • improves digestion

  • improves posture

Press play on the video below for three cat/cow variations.

YOU CAN ALSO FIND CAT/COW IN THESE YOGA CLASSES.

CLICK HERE FOR TABLETOP POSE PROP IDEAS.

KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER

  • always engage your core muscles on the exhale to propel the movement

  • focus on length and spaciousness - not how extreme your range of motion is

  • evenly arch through the entire spine in cow pose

  • think about being an evenly rounded rainbow in cat pose

  • keep your neck long

HOW DID IT GO?

If you tried any of these variations, I'd love to know how it went for you! Tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #spoonieyogatribe in your photos for a chance to be featured on my page! Or post a photo in our private Facebook group to show off your progress! As a part of your membership, you can get personalized feedback on your poses. 

BHUJANGASANA: COBRA POSE

There are many incarnations of cobra pose, but I always like to practice and teach this pose without putting much weight into the hands. This means, it ends up looking more like a baby cobra pose. Not as impressive to look at, but the benefits are magnified. By relying on the back muscles to lift and hold the pose, you build strength in muscles that don’t get much attention in daily life. This helps to balance the spine and improve posture, which can lead to less pain and better breathing capacity.

BENEFITS OF COBRA POSE:

  • builds back and core strength

  • opens the chest and shoulders

  • balances the heart chakra

  • improves posture

  • improves breathing capacity

  • stimulating and energizing

YOU CAN FIND THIS POSE IN THESE YOGA CLASSES.

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TRADITIONAL VARIATION

INSTRUCTIONS:
Come down onto your mat and lie on your belly. Start by pressing the tops of the feet into the mat. (Some people teach this pose with the feet together, but I prefer it with the feet hip distance apart. I find this makes it more comfortable for the lower back.) Engage the legs - quads, hamstrings and inner thighs. Lift the kneecaps off the mat. Engage the lower belly. Lengthen the tailbone away from the crown of the head and press the hip bones into the mat. Bring the palms of the hands below the shoulders, but refrain from putting too much weight into them. They’re just there for support. The elbows are magnetized toward one another, and you may feel your biceps brushing against your torso. Squeeze the shoulder blades together and begin to lift your chest up off the mat. Feel the heart space open. Tuck the chin slightly in to create length in the back of your neck, gazing at the floor.

Hold for ten deep breaths, then relax in child’s pose to balance the spine.

KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER:

  • Engage the legs and lower belly to protect the lower back

  • Press the hips into the mat

  • Squeeze the elbows and shoulder blades toward the midline

  • Use the upper back muscles to lift the chest - avoid using the hands

  • Tuck the chin to protect your neck (you may find that this helps your lower back too)

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VARIATION: TAKING THE ARMS WIDE

If hugging the arms close to the torso doesn’t feel comfortable, you can take the hands wide, pressing into the palms of the hands or coming onto the fingertips. This variation can be more intense as it takes the backbend deeper. Remember to keep your lower body engaged to protect your lower back.

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ADDING PROPS

Adding a folded blanket under the hip bones can make this pose more comfortable, especially if you’re doing this on a hard floor.

You can also add a bolster or a thick pillow underneath the chest. If your back muscles are particularly weak, this can help you to build strength. (Don’t fret. Most of us have weak back muscles.) Do your best to muscularly engage the same way you would if you were doing the traditional variation.

This variation can be held for ten deep breaths, or longer if desired.

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SEATED VARIATION

If getting down onto your belly isn’t possible for you right now, you can practice this seated cobra variation to open the chest and enliven the nervous system. This can be seated on the floor or in chair.

Start by sitting up tall with both sitting bones evenly pressing into the earth. Lengthen the tailbone away from the crown of the head. Engage the low belly and begin to arch evenly through the entire spine. Squeeze the shoulder blades together. Open the chest. Slightly dip your chin to keep the back of the neck long.

Hold for ten deep breaths.

HOW DID IT GO?

If you tried any of these variations, I'd love to know how it went for you! Tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #spoonieyogatribe in your photos for a chance to be featured on my page! Or post a photo in our private Facebook group to show off your progress! As a part of your membership, you can get personalized feedback on your poses. 

BAKASANA: CROW POSE

Arm balances can seem really impressive and intimidating and impossible. But I would encourage you to give this pose a try! Crow pose was the first arm balance I learned as a yogi, and I think like me, you will surprise yourself with your own strength. You won't know what you're capable of unless you try. Even if you're not ready for an unsupported variation, one of these modification ideas can give you the same benefits!

Benefits of Crow Pose:

  • strengthens the whole body
  • targets the core muscles especially
  • improves balance
  • boosts confidence and promotes self-trust
  • promotes mental focus 
  • improves hip strength and flexibility

I would recommend warming up before you practice this pose. Some hip opening poses like Pigeon Pose and Garland Pose would be great choices. If you're practicing any of the variations that place weight on the hands, I would also recommend doing this practice to warm up your hands/wrists. 

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TRADITIONAL VARIATION

Start by coming into a squat on your tip toes with the big toes touching. Take the knees wide.

Place the hands flat on the floor, about shoulder width apart. Fan your fingers and press firmly into all ten fingers. The fleshy part of the hand between the index finger and thumb should also be pressing into the mat. The center of the palm is lifted. This focus on hand positioning will help to protect your wrists.

Snuggle the knees as close as you can get them into your armpits. The knees will be resting on the backs of your arms. Lift the hips up in the air and lean forward so that your weight shifts onto your hands. Engage your core. Pull the belly button in toward your spine. You will feel the back body round, and this is good. This is what is going to give you the lift you need.

When you're ready, lift one foot off the floor. See how that feels. Then lift the other foot. The big toes should be touching. 

This pose does require arm strength, but it also requires core strength and hip strength to hold the shape. I have seen people on Instagram doing crow pose challenges where they're timing how long they can hold it. But honestly, if you can only hold this pose for a couple seconds, that's great! I can only hold it for a few seconds myself. Because of this, I usually will do repetitions. So I'll rest for a couple breaths in between each attempt. This allows me to build strength at my own pace. Honor your body. Whatever you are capable of doing is worth doing.

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ADDING PROPS: BLOCKS UNDER THE FEET

Adding blocks will allow you to put more weight on your hands and create the shape of crow pose without actually lifting your feet. So this is going to help you feel more stable while still building strength. You can practice holding this variation for up to one minutes or you can practice doing repetitions of shorter holds.

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SEATED VARIATION ON BLOCKS

This variation is similar to Navasana (Boat Pose). To practice it, sit down on top of a yoga block. Extend your arms in front of you with the hands flexed. Engage the core muscles and pull the knees up toward the armpits. You can keep the toes resting on the floor, or if you'd like more challenge, you can lift the feet off the floor. Hold for up to one minute, or practice doing repetitions or shorter holds.

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CHAIR VARIATION WITH BLOCKS

For this variation, you will sit at the center of your chair so that when you lean into crow pose, you don't tip forward and fall on your face. In your seated position, take the knees wide. Then lean forward so that the knees are snuggling up toward the armpits. The hands are going to come onto blocks, about shoulder-width apart, adjusting the height of the blocks as needed. Press into the palms of the hands. Engage the core muscles and round through your back body. Bring the big toes together and lift the feet. Don't be fooled! This pose is challenging, even when done in a chair! Practice holding this pose for up to one minute, or practice doing repetitions.

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SUPINE VARIATION

This variation is my current favorite! In this variation you get to really focus on your hips and core. You're strengthening your core and teaching your body what it feels like to make the shape without worrying about falling. If you've never done crow pose before, I'd recommend starting here.

To practice this variation, lie on your back. Extend the arms straight up toward the ceiling like you're trying to push the ceiling away with your palms. Then engage your core muscles and bend your knees up toward your armpits. Lift your head. Get round in your spine. Feel the belly button pull in toward your spine. Hold the pose for 5-10 deep breaths or longer, depending on your comfort.

HOW DID IT GO?

If you tried any of these variations, I'd love to know how it went for you! Tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #spoonieyogatribe in your photos for a chance to be featured on my page! Or post a photo in our private Facebook group to show off your progress! As a part of your membership, you can get personalized feedback on your poses. 

BHARMANASANA: TABLETOP POSE

Tabletop pose is a foundational pose that we work with fairly often in asana practices. We use it as our base for cat/cow stretches, and it can be used as an alternative for downward-facing dog in a vinyasa (flow) practice. Although it is a common pose, that doesn't mean it is easy! I know many yogis struggle to get comfortable in this pose, so today I'm going to show you a few ways to modify it to fit your body's needs. All of these variations come with the same benefits:

  • building upper body strength
  • building core strength
  • building strength in the wrists and hands
  • improving posture
  • improves proprioception (awareness of body in space)
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TRADITIONAL VARIATION

For the traditional variation of this pose, come down onto your hands and knees. The hips are stacked over your knees. You can point or flex the toes, whichever you prefer. The shoulders are stacked directly over the wrists. All ten fingers are fanned out so that you're pressing evenly into all ten fingertips. The fleshy part of the hand between the index finger and the thumb is pressing into the mat. The center of the hand is lifted off the mat like a suction cup. This activation of the hands is going to protect your wrists in this pose. 

Engage your core muscles to keep the back flat. The gaze is just past your fingertips, keeping your neck straight so that it is an extension of your spine. 

Hold this pose for five to ten breaths or longer if you'd like to challenge yourself.

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VARIATION: TAKING A WIDE STANCE

If you'd like, you can give yourself more space to explore in this pose. Take the hands beyond the shoulders, maybe take them as wide as the mat. You can do the same with your knees. This can make it feel a bit easier on the wrists, but it does challenge the shoulders a bit more. Give it a try and see if it feels good for you!

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VARIATION: COMING ONTO THE FISTS

If you have sensitive wrists, coming up onto your fists will take the bend out of your wrists, which can help to alleviate pain here. This can feel a bit odd for your knuckles though, so again, give it a try and just see if it feels right for your body.

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VARIATION: ADDING BLOCKS 

Adding blocks under the hands shifts the weight back onto the knees a bit, so this may be a good option for you if you are just beginning to build upper body strength or if you have sensitive wrists and/or shoulders. 

VARIATION: STANDING WITH A CHAIR

This option can be helpful if getting down to the floor isn’t an option for you or if you have sensitive knees or knee injury. The same idea of stacking the shoulders over wrists and hips over knees applies. You can rest the hands on top of the seat and fan the fingers or you can grip the edges of the seat like I have done here.

 

VARIATION: ADDING A FOLDED BLANKET UNDER THE KNEES

Giving yourself extra padding on your knees can help to reduce pain. Remember that you can combine any of these variations to optimize your personal comfort.

HOW DID IT GO?

If you tried any of these variations, I'd love to know how it went for you! Tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #spoonieyogatribe in your photos for a chance to be featured on my page! Or post a photo in our private Facebook group to show off your progress! As a part of your membership, you can get personalized feedback on your poses. 

TRIKONASANA: TRIANGLE POSE

Trikonasana (triangle pose) can feel totally liberating...or totally frightening. I have fallen so many times in this pose, but I always come back to it because it’s one of those poses that just has so much to offer. Supporting the pose with props can allow us to create the stability we need in the lower body in order to feel the expansion in the upper body, so don’t rush yourself to doing this pose free-standing if you aren’t ready. You can experience the same benefits with support, which include:

  • inner thigh stretch
  • lower body strengthening
  • core strengthening - including the obliques
  • improving our balance
  • opening the chest
  • energizing the body

TRADITIONAL VARIATION 

We’ll start with the left side, so your left foot will be in front. Take a wide stance, much like we do for Warrior II with the heel of the front foot in line with the arch of the back foot. Experiment with the length of your stance. The wider your feet, the deeper the stretch will be for the inner thigh. Lift your arms into a T position. Cock your right hip like you’ve got attitude and reach through your left fingertips. Get as long as you can through your upper body, then windmill the arms so the left hand comes down in front of your left shin bone. The top arm extends toward the sky or you can bend it and place the right hand on your right hip. Pull the front ribs in, keep thr core strong. You may feel your obliques activate here in order to keep your upper body lifted. Keep both shoulders plugged in their sockets as you lean back, creating space in your chest.  Taking the gaze up will challenge your balance, so feel free to keep your gaze straight ahead or toward the floor.

Hold for five to ten deep breaths. Then practice on the opposite side.

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WITH A BLOCK

Adding a block under the bottom hand to the inside of the front foot can help with balance and relieves a bit of the core effort. Feel free to play with the height of your block, but make sure you aren’t dumping all of your weight into it. You should still experience some core activation and side-body lift.

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CHAIR OPTION #1

This variation is similar to using a block, but it elevates the height, which might feel better for people with vertigo, POTS or balance issues.

CHAIR OPTION #2

This variation is something I invented, and I absolutely love it! It still allows you to engage all your muscles while the chair holds your weight and keeps you stable.

To come into this variation, be seated in a chair. Take your right leg straight out to the side, and keep your left leg bent in front of you, ankle stacked over knee. You’ll turn your body toward the right, reaching down with your left hand and up with your right hand. Open the chest as you pull your belly button in. You could add a block to this variation if desired or you could bend your bottom arm and rest your elbow on top of your bent leg. Feel free to play with the position of your top arm and with your gaze. 

Hold for ten deep breaths and then practice on the opposite side.

BONUS TIP:

In any of these variations, you have the option to practice against a wall, so that your back is pressing into the wall. This allows you to fully open the chest and find extention in your spine without worrying about falling backwards (which I have done...many times).

HOW DID IT GO?

If you tried any of these variations, I'd love to know how it went for you! Tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #spoonieyogatribe in your photos for a chance to be featured on my page! Or post a photo in our private Facebook group to show off your progress! As a part of your membership, you can get personalized feedback on your poses. 

UTTIHITA CHATURANGA DANDASANA: PLANK POSE

Plank pose can be a very physically demanding pose, one that we may be tempted to avoid if we have chronic pain or chronic illness symptoms. But there are ways we can modify it to make it more comfortable and less demanding, so that we can find the version of the pose that challenges us without completely exhausting ourselves. We don't want to miss out on the benefits of this pose! If you have sensitive wrists, these modifications will help you too.

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TRADITIONAL VARIATION

For the traditional expression of this pose, we'll start in table top pose. This way we can set up the arms first and then bring in the legs. The shoulders should be stacked directly over your wrists. Externally rotate the shoulders so that the inside creases of the elbows are facing the front of the mat. Keep a micro-bend in the elbows to prevent locking or hyperextension. Press firmly into all ten fingertips. Lengthen the tailbone and engage the core muscles. Finally, extend the legs back, coming onto the toes. Hold for as long as possible. 5-10 breaths is a great goal to start with. When you are finished, take rest in child's pose so your body can recuperate.

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MODIFICATION #1: PLANK POSE ON FISTS

Instead of practicing plank pose with the hands flat, make fists and come onto the knuckles. Otherwise, your alignment will be the same. Practicing this way keeps the wrists straight and may help relieve wrist pain.

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MODIFICATION #2: FOREARM PLANK

This variation may also help those with sensitive wrists, but it can be more demanding on the shoulders. Begin in tabletop pose, then come down onto the forearms with the shoulders aligned over the elbows. Elbows are bent at a 90 degree angle. Lengthen the tailbone, engage the core muscles. When you are ready, extend the legs behind you and come onto the toes. 

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MODIFICATION #3: HALF PLANK

Again, you'll start in tabletop pose with the knees together. Walk the hands forward slightly, then drop the hips to engage the core muscles. The toes can be pointed or you can come onto the toes, whichever feels more comfortable.

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MODIFICATION #4: PLANK AT THE WALL

This variation places significantly less weight on the arms and hands. Face the wall and place the palms against the wall shoulder width apart and at shoulder height. Walk the feet back a bit and come onto the toes so that you're leaning into the wall. This will help you to build strength. 

HOW DID IT GO?

If you tried any of these variations, I'd love to know how it went for you! Tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #spoonieyogatribe in your photos for a chance to be featured on my page! Or post a photo in our private Facebook group to show off your progress!

ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA: DOWNWARD FACING DOG

I once heard a yoga instructor of mine call downward facing dog a "resting pose." Ha! I beg to differ. This pose is an energizing pose and is very physically demanding for the upper body. It strengthens the arms, shoulders and core muscles while lengthening the spine and stretching the hamstrings. It tones the digestive organs, and when done with the head supported, this pose can also relieve headaches and menstrual discomfort.

Check out the variations below to find the one that works best for your body, and don't forget that you can always ask questions here

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TRADITIONAL DOWNWARD FACING DOG

Start on hands and knees, but unlike tabletop pose, you'll walk the hands slightly in front of the shoulders. Spread the fingers wide and press firmly into all ten fingertips. Curl your toes under, and begin to lift your hips up toward the sky. Reach the heels toward the floor and straighten the legs as far as you are able (If your heels don't touch the floor, you might like the next modification option). Lengthen your tailbone away from the crown of your head. Engage the lower belly to protect your lower back and to prevent all of your weight from falling on your hands. Shoulders are plugged in their sockets, relaxed away from the ears. Take ten deep breaths here, then take rest in child's pose.

Modify or avoid this pose if you have a rotator cuff injury, high blood pressure, diarrhea, or carpal tunnel.

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VARIATION: BLANKET UNDER THE HEELS

Adding a blanket underneath your heels will allow you to ground your feet firmly into the earth while still maintaining a bend in your knees. This is helpful if you have tight hamstrings. 

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POSE ALTERNATIVE: DOLPHIN POSE

If you have sensitive wrists, dolphin pose might be a good alternative to downward facing dog. However, dolphin pose does put a lot more pressure on the shoulders and requires quite a bit of shoulder flexibility. To come into this pose, start on your hands and knees. Drop down to your forearms with the elbows in line with the wrists. Curl your toes under and begin to lift your hips and straighten your legs. Hold for ten deep breaths and then take rest in child's pose.

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CHAIR YOGA VARIATIONS

These variations are incredibly helpful if you have sensitive wrists, upper body weakness, headaches, dizziness, or balance issues. 

The first two standing variations are pretty similar, but the first one will give you more of an upper body stretch. The second variation, gives you a lower body stretch while allowing you to rest your head. This variation is especially beneficial for headaches.

The third chair variation allows you to support your entire body weight on the chair. You don't have to worry about balance at all, but you still get the benefits of the upper body stretch, lower back pain relief and benefits for the digestive system.

HOW DID IT GO?

If you tried any of these variations, I'd love to know how it went for you! Tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #spoonieyogatribe in your photos for a chance to be featured on my page! Or post a photo in our private Facebook group to show off your progress!