Wednesday, July 2, 2014

NYY's Pose of The Month: JULY

Chaturanga Dandasana: Four-Limbed Staff Pose

If you've taken a vinyasa class, you've done chaturanga dandasana (also known as four-limbed staff pose). Or you've sort of done it, because you're not exactly sure what it is. Or you've skipped it entirely because you think it's too hard or you don't have the strength. Let's set this straight! Chaturanga is neither complicated nor impossible for most mortals, but yes, it IS hard. It takes practice, patience, and keen body awareness. Since it's often done for one breath only during the vinyasa flow (downward-facing dog --> plank --> chaturanga --> upward-facing dog --> downward-facing dog), I find it doesn't get its fair share of attention in many group classes. There's a tendency to rush through it.

Chaturanga isn't sexy. You don't see it on fancy Instagram pictures. But it's powerful. I like powerful more than flashy. A strong, well-aligned chaturanga helps tone the entire body: shoulders, arms, belly, legs, back, and feet. It promotes stability and poise, being comfortable in one's skin even if circumstances may be difficult. It's also a great preparation for arm-balancing poses such as bakasana (crow/crane) and inversions such as tripod headstand (sirsasana II), among many others. 

We usually come into chaturanga from plank pose, in which legs and arms are straight but never locked, shoulders are over wrists, heels press back, and collarbones broaden. As you lower down, it's of utmost importance to bend your elbows straight back and not out to the sides. This protects the delicate shoulders and elbows over time. Lower down just until the point where your arms are bent at right angles, upper arms parallel with the floor. 

Hover here in this halfway-down suspension. Imagine shortening the space between the pubic bone and belly button and moving the inner groins back and up (these are moves you probably won't see, but you'll feel them energetically). Keep hugging the elbows in so your upper arms graze your torso. Gaze just slightly forward, down the tip of your nose, without dropping the chin or creasing the back of the neck. Make sure the tops of the shoulders point forward rather than down, and the derriere neither sinks nor pikes up higher than the back of the head.

If the above paragraph sounds like crazy talk, start with some modifications. You can follow the above directions, but lower your knees to the mat rather than extending the legs straight behind you. Stay mindful there. Don't let the belly push out, sway in the lower back, or round the upper back. Another nice option is to lower all the way to the mat through knees, chest, and chin, or in one movement, with elbows pointing straight back, and from there come to upward dog or a low cobra. These modifications help strengthen you for chaturanga. 

If you have acute shoulder or wrist injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, limit or avoid practicing chaturanga and ask your teacher for more guidance.

It might take months or years before you feel comfortable in the full expression of the pose. Take your time and keep working. In the words of Sri Pattabhi Jois, "Practice, and all is coming." 

Written by: Cara Anselmo

Join her for Class @ NYY YORK!

Wednesday's @ 6:00am
Saturday's @ 8:20am & 11:35am

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

NYY's Pose of the Month: JUNE


As we enter into the hot and sunny months of summer, the element of fire within us begins to brighten.  In the Ayurvedic context, summer is a time of Pitta dosha, or fire constitution.  According to Ayurvedic teachings, Pitta is the dosha responsible for helping us to cleanse, to transform, and to digest both food and information.  However, when Pitta becomes deranged we get irritable, angry, cranky, and usually we develop skin and digestion problems.  Some of us are naturally born with a higher dose of this fiery constitution, and some of us may gain an excess of it based on our environments.  If you find yourself starting to get cranky on a hot day, try doing this month’s cooling forward bend, Prasarita Padottonasana.

Prasarita is taught often and appears simple, but many of us are not doing the pose justice and we do not even realize.  The first mistake people make is that they prioritize getting the crown of the head to the floor over coming into the pose with proper alignment.  The crown may come down over time, but if you want to do this posture without blowing out your hamstrings or low back, there are a few things that need to be set up first.

-Hold the arms out to their fullest wingspan and separate the ankles as wide as the wrists with the feet slightly pigeon toed.
-The fold should begin from the pelvic region, so tip the pelvis back so that the sit bones and pubic bone begin to point back
-Begin to move the chest forward, pausing at the halfway point so the torso is parallel to the floor.  Check in with the pelvis once again to ensure that the sit bones and pubic bone are moving back.  Draw the pubic bone and the chest away from one another.
-Release the hands to the floor directly underneath the shoulders; maybe even to blocks if you sense that the low back is beginning to round.  Keep the quadriceps engaged and the back flat.
-For many people, you should simply stay here and breathe.  Remember, this pose is meant to calm the hyper-ambitious Pitta dosha,.  This is not a pose you can muscle your way into.  It’s one that requires an allowance of ease and opening.  Take it from me, you will go deeper into the pose the less work you do in it.
-If you can keep the sit bones spinning up and back, you may begin to crawl your hands back until they are in line with the feet and point the elbows straight back.
-For some, the head may touch the ground.
-For my hyper-gumby friends, you actually need to do a little bit of the opposite in this than you are normally instructed – squeeze the sit bones together, but just move the pubic bone up and back.  It is extra important that you remain vigilant about activating the quads the entire time.

There are variations galore to this pose:
Prasarita A

Prasarita B

Prasarita C

Prasarita D

Written by: April Evans

Join her for class:
Tuesdays NYY HOT: 9:30am and 6:35pm

Monday, May 5, 2014

NYY's Pose of the Month: May

Urdhva Dhanurasana: wheel pose

Urdhva Dhanurasana, wheel pose, or upward (urdhva) facing bow (dhanu) is one of the most challenging and rewarding poses for me. When a pose is challenging to us, it’s a good sign that there is something to learn there – some way to grow into it – which is what makes any pose beneficial. As with all the asanas, to come into this pose, you must strike a balance in the opposition between rooting down and rising up. Wheel asks us to use the strength of our hands, feet, arms, legs, and back body to find the sweetness that opens our hearts. On an energetic level, because this pose is an inversion (the heart is above the head), it is energizing. On an emotional and psychological level, this pose teaches us to let go and be vulnerable.

Wheel can be a lot of fun when you’re ready to try variations and transitions. The list is endless but some groovy ones are: lifting legs or arms, lowering the forearms to upward-facing two-foot staff pose (Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana), transitioning into standing (Tadasana), or jumping into handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana). Get creative and use blocks, the wall, or a partner to help you explore what this pose means to you!

As with any pose, I encourage you to find your own way into it. But some tips that I have found helpful, that my great teachers passed on to me, are:

Press evenly into hands and souls of the feet
Inhale to lift on to the crown of the head
Make sure toes and knees face the same direction (a block between the thighs helps!)
Exhale to straighten the arms and lift the crown of the head off the floor
Let the head fall back and the gaze (drishti) be neutral (i.e. don’t strain to look up or down)
Breathe! (3-5 breaths)

Preparatory poses:
Upward facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
Cobra (Bhujangasana)
Locust (Salabasana)
Bow (Dhanurasana)
Bridge (Setu Bhanda Sarvangasana)

written by: Sophie Honik

Join her for class at NYY HOT:
Monday: 8:25-9:25am
Thursday: 9:30-11:00am
Saturday: 9:15-10:30am
Sunday: 5:00-6:15pm

Friday, April 4, 2014

NYY's Pose Of The Month: April

parsva bakasana: side crow pose

Happy APRIL everybody!

After a long winter, we are all in need of a spring cleanse. Twisted postures in yoga not only increase mobility in the spine, but also help to cleanse the organs and promote good circulation. When twisted, the organs are compressed and squeeze out stale blood which is then replaced with newly oxygenated blood once the twist is released. Twists can relive back pain by stretching and strengthening the spine and most importantly, they help to relieve anxiety and stress because they require lengthening, deepening and regulating the breath.

April's pose of the month is Parsva Bakasana (Side Crow Pose) which is a twisted arm balance.

1) Beginning in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), make sure your toes and heels are together, bend your knees and come into a half squat position.
2) With your hands together in prayer position at your heart's center, take a big inhale to lengthen the space between your vertebrae and exhale to twist deeply to your right side pressing your left arm against your outer right thigh.
3) Continue to breathe, bend your knees a little deeper and place your hands on the floor. Hands should be shoulder distance apart, but make sure your left hand is on the right side of your right foot and your left arm and right thigh remain in contact.
4) Pressing your hands into the floor, begin to shift the weight of your pelvis toward the right lifting the abdomen toward the space between your hands.
5) Squeeze your toes and heels together and begin to lift them toward the sitting bones. Keep your neck long (no wrinkles in the back of the neck!) and stay broad across your collar bones.
6) To go a little deeper, keep twisting and begin to straighten  your arms slowly as much as you can!
7) Repeat on left side.

Remember, you can ALWAYS use blocks. In this pose, a block on its lowest height can be really helpful underneath each hand. Blocks will allow you to find more space to lengthen and twist.

Poses to consider practicing FIRST in preparation for Parsva Bakasana:

  • Chaturanga  
  • Marichyasana III 
  • Utkatasana with Anjali Mudra Twist (Twisted Chair Pose) 
  • Prasarita Padottanasana with a Twist  
  • Crescent Lunge with a Twist  

KEEP PRACTICING and see you on the mat soon!

written by: Teresa Harris

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

At the front of the room: Agustin McCarthy

From film to yoga, Agustin McCarthy keeps himself inspired and on the move. Students love the vibrancy of his challenging physical class matched with his enthusiasm. If you haven't taken a class with him yet... what are you waiting for?

Why did you decide to become a yoga teacher? 
-Yoga helped me to heal my back after experiencing back pain for many years. I decided to become a yoga teacher in order to share these healing techniques that have helped me to live with more balance and without the need for a chiropractor.

Did you ever imagine yourself doing something else?
-I graduated from Columbia Film School and still am pursuing a career as a filmmaker. I teach college film history and screenwriting courses and find that teaching yoga classes is similar in many ways. A screenwriter and a yoga teacher are both offering a personal journey that can help to bring insight and decrease stress in our lives.

What is the most challenging aspect of teaching?
-I aim to offer juicy, satisfying sequences that will challenge and engage the more experienced practitioners while, at the same time, my top priority is always to retain a safe environment for all my students regardless of their level. Striking this balance in an Open-Level class is the biggest challenge I face as a yoga teacher. 

What is your favorite pose? 
-Anjaneyasana (low lunge): This is a simple pose with many benefits. I love how it opens up my hips and helps me to release tension in my psoas muscles. But it engages me on more than just the physical level. This pose is a wonderful place to find the qualities of Shtira-Sukha (strength and softness). My upper body lifts up and lengthens while my lower body softens and lets go. Practicing these in the asanas helps me to bring these qualities in to the rest of my life – holding on to what is important and letting go of everything else.

What is the most important thing you have learned from your practice?
-My practice has helped me cultivate a relationship to my body and mind in a way I’d never experienced before. I can observe and listen without getting caught up in the drama of it all. This makes my rest of my life easier to manage.

Who inspires you most? 
-My students inspire me to go deeper into my understanding of yoga and to become a more insightful and sensitive teacher. When I see students with physical limitations, due to injury or pregnancy, these are particularly inspiring to me since I see a concrete example of yogis working with their discomfort without allowing it to take away the opportunity to breathe deeply and open up to the present moment.

Catch a class with Agustin:
Tuesdays, NYY York: 4:35-5:50pm
Thursdays, NYY York: 7:35-9:05pm

Friday, February 28, 2014

NYY's Pose of the Month: March

mayurasana: peacock pose

The peacock is a symbol of great beauty, pride and confidence. In eastern mythology the peacock is associated with many deities such as Saraswati, the Indian goddess of wisdom, music and poetry. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and plenty, rides a peacock and Lord Krishna carries the feather of a peacock on his head. The peacock, so closely associated with kings and gods is the perfect symbol for those striving for excellence and success.

In mayurasana strength, balance and confidence are required to execute this beautiful pose. Balancing the torso on the upper arms with palms on the ground and fingers facing the feet, legs are extended long and the crown of the head extends in the opposite direction leaving the body in a parallel position above the earth. Since the gaze is down to the ground below confidence is necessary because the student can’t see where the body is…the student can only feel and visualize the full expression. The pose requires tuning in to feel the balance of the full weight of the body resting on the hands.

First time I took flight in mayurasana was amazing!! Lifting both my head and feet off the ground and feeling the seesaw effect until I fully balanced was challenging and rewarding. This is one of my favorite poses to teach and to practice and watching students evolve into this pose is always gratifying as they learn to shift weight and find the middle.

written by: Stacey Kasselman
Thursday, HOT STUDIO, 4:00-5:00pm
Friday, HOT STUDIO, 9:30-11:00am 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

At the front of the room : Teresa Harris

From Irish Step Dancing to urdhva mukha svanasana, Teresa has delighted many audiences and classes with her folk playlists and sweet, soft voice. By day you will find her in the office, but nothing could keep her away from teaching her students after hours and on the weekends. Her gratitude, passion and creativity always inspires us at New York Yoga. 

How/Why did you decide to become a yoga teacher?
-I started practicing yoga in high school because I wanted to do some sort of physical activity once I stopped Irish Step Dancing. I was never into sports and was over dancing, so yoga seemed like a good alternative. I loved it and eventually began taking classes almost daily at a local studio and gym. I was drawn to yoga first for the physical and mental benefits but after a few years my interest transpired into something much deeper. I realized how smart and complicated (BUT big picture simple) the practice really is. I looked up to all my teachers and wanted to be just like them and share the practice with others. I completed my first yoga teacher training during my second year in college, began teaching right away and 5 years later, this past September, I completed my advanced 500-hour teacher training. The training is great, but I've learned and continue to learn the most from my students and from my own practice. To me, yoga makes a lot of sense and is so much fun – I’m grateful to be teaching what I love.

Did you ever imagine yourself doing something else? What was it and why?
-I always wanted to be an interior designer, but once I got to college, I realized it wasn't for me. I graduated from School of Visual Arts with a BFA degree in Illustration and in addition to teaching yoga I currently work on the creative team for a brand licensing agency developing merchandise lines for existing brands. 

What is the most challenging aspect of teaching?
-TWO things: Knowing left from right. (I didn't THINK I had an issue with this until I started teaching..) AND learning how to relax when someone's cell phone goes off in class. I know, it happens, it's life (and has definitely happened to me before!) but cell phones in yoga class is one of my major pet peeves.

What is your favorite pose and why?
-Urdhva Mukha Svanasana or Upward Facing Dog ("Up Dog"). This pose is so easily forgotten and blown over in Vinyasa classes. It's not a pose to forget about! It's a back bend, heart opener, spine lengthen-er, leg strengthener and arm toner. Sometimes we forget that Upward Facing Dog is an ACTUAL yoga pose and not just a means from A to B during a vinyasa. Hold this pose for a minute and see what happens!

What is the most important thing you have learned from your practice? 
-The most important things I've learned from practicing is to NOT overdo it and to always have at least two blocks available. Blocks are awesome tools for EVERYONE in different ways whether you're a tight athlete, a flexy bendy, in your twenties, in your seventies, male, female, a beginner or experienced practitioner. 

What/who inspires you most?
-I am inspired by MY teachers and of course by my students - their curiosity, engagement and willingness to learn is what keeps me teaching class after class.

You can catch class with Teresa at these times:

Monday, HOT STUDIO: 8:15pm
Tuesday, YORK STUDIO: 9:05pm
Saturday, YORK STUDIO: 9:50am
and Saturday, HOT STUDIO: 1:00pm