Wednesday, March 20, 2013

An Asana Practice from the Experts...

I've been aiming to learn more about the physicality of the practice of yoga from a therapeutic standpoint, so when I come across different experts sharing info about asanas, I'll share! This is especially important, because during group classes, it's tough to get around to everyone for alignments and adjustments. This way, the more knowledge that you have, the more you can care for yourself during your own practice — and in the end, it's about you learning more about YOU in the first place. That's svadhyaya

This is from Bo Forbes' website

Asana Lab: Scapula Hang

Time: 2–3 minutes

•        2 blocks
•        1 blanket (optional)

Scapula Hang is one of our favorite therapeutic poses. It opens our gateway to prana (life-force): the pectoral muscles, upper thoracic spine, shoulders, and neck. In addition, it “speaks” to the subscapulae, the muscles just below our shoulder blades, which support heart-opening and better posture. This pose is ideal to practice during the winter months, when we are particularly vulnerable to Closed Heart Syndrome, in which the chest, shoulders, and upper thoracic spine round much more, and make deep breathing and heart-opening more difficult.

If your chest, shoulders, and pecs are strong and tight, please see the “Guidelines for Additional Support” section for modifications. 
From a sitting position, with your legs stretched out, place a foam block behind you on your mat. Make sure the block is on its lowest end, with the long side parallel to the back edge of your mat. Have a second block nearby.
Lie over the block. The farthest edge of the block will just catch the subscaps (the muscles at the bottom of your shoulder blades). Your shoulders should be hanging off the block.
Take a moment to feel what’s happening with your head and neck. If the top of your head is tilting toward the floor, your neck may be hyperextending. If this is the case, place a folded blanket underneath your head so that your neck expresses a gentle curve.
Take the second block between your hands so it is oriented the same as the first one. You’ll be holding the small, or side edges, of the block with your palms facing each other. Drawing your shoulder blades toward the mat, raise your arms straight up, so you are looking at the block. Inhale deeply. As you exhale, slowly take your arms overhead, keeping the block between your hands. If you feel any resistance or “tweaking” in your shoulder joints, take the arms back to just before the point of discomfort.

If you have no discomfort, you can bring the block between your hands all the way overhead and to the floor.
Breathe deeply through your nose for 2-3 minutes or however long is comfortable. With every exhale, lightly engage your bandhas to support your spine.
You can, if you wish, slowly rock from side to side to stimulate one side of the subscaps, and then the other.

Coming Out of the Asana:

Slowly draw your arms up and forward, and place the block you’ve been holding to the side of your mat. Gently tuck your chin. Inhale, then on the exhale, lift your spine up and off the block. Take the block to the side of your mat and lie back down. Bend your knees. Take a minute or two of deep nasal breaths, feeling the connection of your spine to the mat. This allows your spine and your subscaps to assimilate the therapeutic work you’ve done in this pose.

Guidelines for Additional Support:

Protecting Your Shoulders. If your shoulders feel overstretched when your arms start to draw overhead, you can leave the arms directly over your shoulders. You can also let go of the block, hold your elbows, and rest your forearms on your forehead.

Scapula Hang (variation)

Protecting Your Upper Back. If the backbend created in this pose feels too intense on your upper thoracic spine, you can create the same heart-opening effect with a blanket. Fold a blanket three times the long way, so that you have a long and thin folded blanket. Lay over that fold so your shoulder blades are just off the fold. The blanket is then used just as the block would be. For additional height or heart-opening, you can layer a second blanket on top of the first one.
Protecting Your Lower Back. If your lower back feels too arched and vulnerable in Scapula Hang, use the blanket variation above rather than the block. Lightly engage your abdominal muscles (uddiyana bandha) to support your spine.

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