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. 

PARSVA BALASANA: THREAD THE NEEDLE

This is one of the first yoga poses I learned! It targets the upper back, which can become tight from all of the time we spend hunched over our phones, our desks, etc. So poses like this one are something I am ALWAYS needing.

This pose is often referred to as thread the needle, but you may also hear it called revolved child’s pose.

BENEFITS OF THREAD THE NEEDLE:

  • opens the ribcage

  • relieves tension in the neck, shoulders, hips and back

  • calming for mind and body

  • stimulates digestion and promotes detoxification

  • benefits the solar plexus chakra and heart chakra

YOU CAN FIND THIS POSE IN THESE YOGA CLASSES.

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TRADITIONAL VARIATION

Come onto your hands and knees with the knees directly below your hips and your hands directly below your shoulders. Bend the right elbow, begin to twist toward the right, dropping the left shoulder toward the earth, then "thread" the left arm through. Rest the left temple and left shoulder on the floor. Once you feel stable, you may extend the right arm overhead to create space in the right side of the body. In this twist, it's normal to feel the hips shift slightly off center. This is okay! It's your body's way of protecting the integrity your pelvis and sacrum. Hold this pose for 5-10 deep breaths, then practice on the opposite side.

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VARIATION: TOP ARM BENT

Instead of stretching the top arm overhead, you can keep the elbow bent and the palm resting on the floor beneath the elbow at a right angle. Press into the palm of your hand if you would like to deepen the twist. 



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VARIATION: ADDING A BLANKET

Adding a blanket under the knees and curling the toes under may help to relieve knee discomfort in this pose.

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VARIATION: HIPS TO HEELS

Instead of staying up on the knees, you can do this twist from child's pose with the hips on the heels. This takes a lot of weight off of the knees, and it requires less upper body strength to hold this variation. The top arm can be bent or stretched overhead.

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. 

USTRASANA: CAMEL POSE

The traditional variation of camel pose is not one that I personally practice. This is because the traditional variation of this backbend encourages practitioners to lean back, drop the crown of the head and take the gaze backward. This can put stress on the cervical spine and cause pinching in some practitioners.

There are very important arteries in the cervical spine that carry blood flow to the brain. When these arteries get pinched, that blood flow can become decreased. Since I have POTS, my body already struggles to get blood flow to my brain. When I practice camel pose, this becomes even harder, so I start to see spots and feel dizzy. This is definitely not what I’m looking for in my yoga practice!

If you have any kind of neck injury or if you have POTS like me, I would recommend practicing a modified variation of this pose. A simple fix for this is to simply lift the gaze and lessen the bend in the cervical spine. Further modification with props will not only make the pose more doable, but can make it feel absolutely liberating.

Our goal in practicing this pose is to create more space in the chest so that our breath can flow freely through the body. This can be accomplished in any of these variations.

Make sure that you warm up with some cat/cow stretches and cobra pose before you practice camel pose. If you’re feeling up to the traditional variation, by all means, go for it! Listen to your body and do what feels right for you.

After you practice, balance your spine with a forward fold and a twist of your choice.

BENEFITS OF CAMEL POSE:

  • stretches the front body - chest, abdominals, psoas and quads

  • strengthens the legs

  • opens the chest and ribcage

  • stretches the shoulders

  • benefits the heart chakra

FOR CLASSES WITH THIS POSE CLICK HERE.

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VARIATION: HANDS TO LOW BACK

Start by kneeling on your mat with your knees directly in line with your hips and the feet pointing straight back from your knees. Your legs should be in beautiful right angles. The toes can be curled under or you can point the toes and press the tops of the feet into the mat, whichever you prefer. Squeeze the inner thighs together. Feel your tailbone lengthen as you pull your abs in and up. Keep the core engaged as you begin to lift your heart. Feel the ribcage drifting away from the hips. Lean back. Think about pressing your hip bones forward so that they stay in line with your knees. You can practice in front of a wall and press the hips into the wall if you’d like. Bring the hands to your low back with the fingertips pointing up toward your shoulder blades or down toward your knees. If you’d like to go deeper, you can reach your hands all the way back toward your heels (traditional variation). Dip your chin, keeping the neck long. Gaze up toward the sky. Hold for ten deep breaths.

KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER

  • Hips over knees and feet behind the knees.

  • Keep your core engaged to protect lower back.

  • Squeeze the inner thighs.

  • Dip your chin - lengthen back of neck.

  • If you can’t breathe, you’ve gone too far.

  • Feel free to add a blanket under the knees/shins.

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VARIATION: HANDS TO BLOCKS

This variation is very similar to the traditional variation, but adding blocks lessens the intensity.

Start by kneeling on your mat with your hips on your heels. The toes can be curled under or you can point the toes and press the tops of the feet into the mat, whichever you prefer. Place the blocks back by your feet. Press into your shin bones and lift up, bringing your hips in line with your knees. Squeeze the inner thighs together. Feel your tailbone lengthen as you pull your abs in and up. Keep the core engaged as you begin to lift your heart. Feel the ribcage drifting away from the hips. Lean back. Think about pressing your hip bones forward so that they stay in line with your knees. You can practice in front of a wall and press the hips into the wall if you’d like. Bring the hands to the blocks. Dip your chin, keeping the neck long. Gaze up toward the sky. Hold for ten deep breaths.

KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER

  • Hips over knees and feet behind the knees.

  • Keep your core engaged to protect lower back.

  • Squeeze the inner thighs.

  • Dip your chin - lengthen back of neck.

  • If you can’t breathe, you’ve gone too far.

  • Feel free to add a blanket under your knees/shins.

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VARIATION: KNEELING WITH HIPS OVER HEELS

This variation can be practiced with or without props. You could also add a folded blanket under the knees for additional comfort.

To come into this variation, you’ll kneel on your mat with the hips over your heels. You can be seated on top of a bolster if you’d like. Root into your sit bones. Lengthen your tailbone and pull the low belly in. This will protect your low back. Lift your ribcage away from your hip bones and lean back. Open the chest. Reach back with fingertips to the floor or hands to blocks. Dip the chin and keep the back of the neck long. Hold for ten deep breaths.

KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER:

  • Root down through the sit bones

  • Engage the core to protect low back

  • Dip your chin to lengthen back of the neck

CHAIR VARIATION

Be seated at the edge of your chair with the feet flat on the floor and all ten toes pointing straight ahead. Ankles are directly below the knees. Root the sit bones into your chair. Lengthen the tailbone as you pull the abs in. Lift the chest and lean back. Open your heart. Gently dip the chin to keep the back of the neck long. Reach the hands behind you and hold onto the edges of the seat or reach the fingertips on top of the seat behind you. 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. 


MATSYASANA: FISH POSE

Fish pose (matsyasana) is an intense backbend. Please approach this pose with caution if you experience blood pressure issues, migraines/headaches or neck pain/previous neck injury. Whenever I practice this pose, I pretty much always use props. You can still experience the same  benefits without going into the traditional variation, so be gentle with yourself. It's a good idea to warm up with some cat/cow stretches and a gentle backbend like cobra pose. If you're going for an unsupported variation of this pose, I would recommend including it in the second half of your practice.

BENEFITS:

  • spinal flexibility
  • upper back strength
  • improves posture
  • opens the chest and ribcage
  • opens the throat
  • benefits the throat chakra
  • benefits the heart chakra
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TRADITIONAL VARIATION

Start by lying down on your back. Slide your hands underneath the outer edges of your hips with the palms facing down. Press into the elbows, forearms and hands and begin to lift your chest. Open your heart, broaden the collarbones while engaging the lower belly to protect your lower back. Keep the sit bones rooted into the floor. Lengthen the entire spine, including the neck. Keeping the neck long, lean back and rest the crown of the head on the floor. There should be no "crunching" of the cervical spine here. If this is uncomfortable, please consider trying option two instead. The neck is fragile, and it's not worth injuring yourself! The legs can be extended with the feet flexed, or you can bend the knees and place the feet flat on the floor. I'd recommend trying both leg positions and seeing which one feels best for you. It may be different for you each time, and that's okay!

Hold this pose for 5-10 deep breaths, then return to lying on your back. Follow up poses should balance the spine, such as any type of forward fold or gentle twist.

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VARIATION: HEAD UP

If you are uncomfortable placing the crown of the head on the floor, you can keep the head up. This does require a degree of strength to hold, so placing a block under the head is another option here. Hold for ten deep breaths.

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VARIATION: SUPPORTED WITH BOLSTER (OPTION 1)

This is my personal favorite variation. You get to hold the shape of the pose without any effort. To come into this pose, you'll set the bolster so that it's horizontal. Lie back over the bolster so that it's underneath your shoulder blades. Take the arms overhead into "cactus arm" position. You can come onto the crown of the head if that's comfortable for you, but I prefer to support the head and neck with a yoga block.

Hold for up to ten minutes, depending on your comfort. 

This variation can still provide a pretty intense chest opening. If your chest muscles are particularly tight, I would recommend the next variation.

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VARIATION: SUPPORTED WITH BOLSTER (OPTION 2)

For this variation, you'll prop your yoga bolster up on top of a yoga block (or a rolled up towel or blanket) to create an incline. You can adjust the incline to lessen the stretch if desired. Turn your back to the bolster and lie back. Let the chest gently open and rest the forearms on the floor with the palms face-down. If your arms don't reach the floor, place pillows or yoga blocks underneath. The legs can be bent or straight, depending on your preference. 

Hold for up to ten minutes or even fifteen minutes, 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.