Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Focus Pose - Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II, Warrior B)

Virabhadra = the name of a fierce warrior, an incarnation of Shiva, described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, wielding a thousand clubs, and wearing a tiger's skin.

In the Ashtanga Primary Series, Virabhadrasana B concludes the standing sequence. I really enjoy doing warrior II, I love how it feels so open, how everything feels like it is stretching toward infinity. Reality is, not everyone agrees. Many people find this intense  on the front quad(s), uncomfortable in the hips, awkward on the back leg, and sometimes hard on the lower back and shoulders.

We move into the pose from Virabhadrasana I. Some teach opening from Warrior I to Warrior II on an inhale, my body seems to prefer an exhale, as if the exhale is allowing me to root into the earth, the hips opening and sinking down just a bit lower.

Hold for 5 breaths, then straighten the front leg, rotate around, and reestablish pose on the right hand side.

Hold for 5 breaths, then exhale hands to the floor through Chataranga dandasana (vinyasa)

Some technique points:

  • Traditional stance is front heel in alignment with the back arch. This is not comfortable for everyone. If this bothers your hips or knees, move the back foot so that the front heel is aligned with the back heel, or even a gap between the two.
  • Front knee over the front ankle. NOT over the foot or toes. Conversely, knee should not be behind the heel (stance is too wide).
  • If too much strain is felt on the front quad or knee, OR the back knee, shorten the stance, keeping above point in mind.
  • Activate the back leg by pressing through the back heel. Use both legs to support you in the pose.
  • Keep torso upright as possible, not lunging forward or arching back.
  • RELAX the shoulders! Move shoulders away from the ears.
  • Reach equally from front fingers through back fingers. Flipping palms up engages slightly different arm muscles.
  • Drishti is over front fingers unless you have neck concerns. Then look in the same direction as your torso. 

There are some fun variations to take on the Warrior II stance, but in the Primary Series we stick to the traditional pose as above.

Below, the lovely Maria Villella demonstrating the last three standing poses in the Primary sequence. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Instructors Say Dumb Things

Before the pitchforks and torches start waving and the organic tomatoes are thrown...I'm an instructor. I'm speaking from experience here. And I've said dumb things - recently in fact!  So not sharing what I said here.  A truly doh! moment.   

As a student, I've heard dumb things from instructors.  It happens.  

Instructors have to learn the art of multi-tasking mentally and spatially.   It's one thing to react to instructions, to be told you have to put your right foot forward, drop the left heel down, press back and lift the right arm overhead as the left hand moves down the back leg.

Now try and cue that backwards.  That's right.  The instructor is not infrequently cuing an entire class from the opposite side for visual effect.  They are stepping forward with their left foot, right heel is dropping back, left is reaching, right hand moving down.  They are telling you breathe while cueing modifications while mentally prepping for the next pose in the sequence.   At least in a vinyasa or flow style class.  Hatha, Iyengar, Restorative and Yin style classes are a bit slower paced allowing a bit more time for contemplation for the instructor. 

As an instructor, keeping an eagle eye on the class, thinking ahead, cueing, breathing, moving, thinking...can lead to the occasional dumb comment.  The kind that makes the instructor inwardly wince and go oops! and the students give them a funny look if they caught it.  Sometimes a quick apology and correction is necessary, sometimes you can let it slide by.  It just depends. 

However, as an instructor, have you tried talking less? 

Say what?  Yes.  Talk less.  Simplify.   

I got to thinking about this in my Ashtanga class this past week.  I had a group of strong regulars - a rarity this summer - and I was able to talk less.  Cue less.  Babble less.  Yes, instructors are known to babble.  It's like there is this compulsion to fill the silence with stuff:  Open the heart! Extend through your fingers! Lengthen the spine! Engage your quads! Feel the earth! Press into your heel!  Relax the shoulders! Move from the sacrum! 

And this isn't just in yoga.   I freqently see this when I'm at the gym. 

I personally find over cuing/over talking annoying.  It's an unwanted plethora of information that the brain just cannot assimilate in the amount of time a person is in a pose, usually about five breaths.  The brains shuts down and the students just tune all that chatter out after a while.  I know I do. 

It was a lot of fun to talk less.  To cue what pose to move into, let them breathe while offering individuals some quiet instruction as needed, counting the breath silently or out loud.  I didn't feel I had to fill the beautiful, warm, summer's evening's class with chatter.  The sounds of the street drifted up, kiddo's playing on the playground out front, a dog barking in the distance and some soft guitar music floating with the dust motes. 

Flowed through vinyasa.  We laughed through the harder poses.  And sweated. 

I'm sure I still said something dumb...but hopefully it was less dumb than usual.