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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Yoga Sequence

Our guide will help you keep it straight plan your classes with intelligence and skill.
By Donald Moyer
Skip to the Sequences:
Perhaps you have taken a series of introductory yoga classes and want to make yoga a bigger part of your life. Or perhaps you want to refine your asanas. Practicing at home for even a few minutes each day will help you move more deeply into poses than one long practice each week. A home yoga practicecan also be an enhancement to your life, a time you spend with yourself to nourish and revitalize. However, if you expect too much of yourself, your yoga practice may turn into another burden or chore. Before embarking on a home practice, consider carefully how much time you have available each day. Account for your working hours, household tasks, and family responsibilities, and see how you can reasonably fit a yoga practice into your life before you begin.
Start simple, practicing a few minutes each day, choosing two or three of your favorite poses. When you are able to practice three times a week, for at least half an hour each time, try the basic sequences included in this article. I encourage long-term students to build their home practice to five days each week, for at least 30 minutes on three days, and at least an hour on two other days. This leaves one day a week for attending class and one day to rest the body completely.
My first yoga teacher, Penny Nield-Smith, used to say, "You're only as old as your spine!" According to yoga tradition, the vital energy of the body is housed in and protected by the spine. The sequences presented here include the most important poses for a beginner or a continuing beginner to practice and will help you develop strength and flexibility of the spine by gradually increasing your range of movement in three different ways: forward bending, backbending, and twisting. By alternating these sequences during the week, you will have a full and balanced practice.
You will notice that these basic sequences share a common structure. They begin with standing poses to warm the body, move into the focus poses (forward bends, backbends, or twists), and conclude with releasing and relaxation poses. The most basic standing poses are repeated in each sequence: Adho Mukha Svanasana, Utthita Trikonasana, Uttanasana, Utthita Parsvakonasana, Prasarita Padottanasana. These poses develop the strength of the legs and the flexibility of the hip joints. Notice that within the sequence an active standing pose like Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) is followed by a more restful standing pose like Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). In this way, you can maintain and conserve rather than dissipate your energy.
Each sequence also includes a more challenging standing pose, marked with an asterisk (*). If you are an absolute beginner, omit these poses from the sequence until you feel comfortable with the more basic standing poses. Use props to modify poses when necessary.
Observe how the standing poses for each sequence relate to the focus poses. In Sequence I, Parsvottanasana (Intense Intense Side Stretch Pose) and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) help to lengthen the hamstrings for sitting forward bends. In Sequence II, Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose) strengthens the legs, opens the chest, and gives the spine a mild preparatory backbend. In Sequence III, standing twists prepare the spine for sitting twists. In a well-planned sequence, each pose makes the next pose easier and more accessible, because it creates the opening necessary to move deeply into that pose.
Beginners who are unfamiliar with the names of poses and how to do them can consult B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga (Shocken, 1995) or Yoga: The Iyengar Way by Silva Mehta, Mira Mehta, & Shyam Mehta (Knopf, 1990) for more guidance.
Before You Begin

Prepare Your Space. Choose a clean, uncluttered area for your practice space, preferably with a bare floor and an accessible wall. When you practice, turn off your telephone or switch on your answering machine. Let your friends and family know this is your quiet time and you are not to be disturbed.
Props. When you set up your practice space, gather whatever props you need. These may include: a nonskid mat (if your floor is carpeted or slippery); a foam or wooden block; a 6-foot strap or belt; a folding or straight-backed chair; a blanket; and a bolster (or two blankets folded in the oblong shape of a bolster).
What to Eat. Try not to eat for at least two hours before practicing. If this is not possible, eat something light, such as fruit, at least an hour before doing yoga.
What to Wear. Wear loose clothing that does not restrict the movement of your legs and pelvis. Shorts and a T-shirt, a leotard and tights, and sweat suits are fine. Practice barefoot to enhance your balance and sensitize your feet.
Sequence I: Forward Bends
To prepare for seated forward bends, begin with standing poses that give a gentle stretch to the hamstrings, inner thighs, and outer hips. Deepen the work of the legs with a supine leg stretch like Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose). Use a strap around the foot of the raised leg if your hamstrings are tight.
Virasana (Hero Pose) helps to prepare the knee joints for seated forward bends. If your pelvis doesn't reach the floor in Virasana or if you experience discomfort in the knees, place a folded blanket or block under your sitting bones (but not under the feet). Practice the arm position from Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) to open the shoulder joints and create mobility in the upper spine. Tightness in the upper back can restrict your seated forward bends. If your hands don't meet in Gomukhasana, hold a strap between the hands.
In all sitting poses, place a folded blanket under the sitting bones to raise the pelvis and help you sit comfortably. If you feel any discomfort at your inner knee while practicing Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend), bring your legs closer together. If you feel discomfort in the knee in Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) or Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose), place a folded facecloth behind the bent knee to create more space in the joint.
Janu Sirsasana and Paschimottanasana are the heart of this practice sequence, and are the most accessible forward bends for beginners. If your hamstrings are tight or if you have discomfort in your lower back, practice these seated forward bends with your hands on the seat of a chair or on upturned blocks, so that your hands are the same height from the ground as your shoulders. This will help you to elongate your spine.
Once you are in the pose, bring your awareness to the breath. Let the spine gently lengthen on the inhalation and release more deeply into the pose on the exhalation.
After seated forward bends, practice a counterpose to release your lower back, either Balasana (Child's Pose) or the supine twist recommended in the backbend sequence. If you experience any lower back discomfort or weakness during this sequence, place a rolled blanket under your knees for Savasana (Corpse Pose), allowing the lower back to release to the floor.
Sequence II: Backbends
Backbending poses require not only a flexible spine, but openness in the hip and shoulder joints and the length of the front body. The standing poses in this sequence create movement and flexibility in the hips and shoulders. Virabhadrasana I approaches a backbend position and brings length to the front thighs and lower abdomen.
The backbending segment begins with Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog), which gently arches and extends the spine. If you feel any discomfort in the lower or middle back while practicing Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, try placing your hands on blocks or a chair. If you feel any strain on the knees in Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), use a strap around the ankles and take hold of the strap a few inches from the ankles. 

If you have neck problems, do not let your head drop back in Ustrasana (Camel Pose), but keep your chin tucked into your chest. If Ustrasana is difficult for you, try practicing with your hands on upturned blocks or the seat of a chair.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) (Bridge Pose) is a useful counterpose after Ustrasana because it lengthens the back of the neck. If you feel strain on the knees in Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, walk your feet further out until they are directly under your knees. Hold a strap around the ankles to give you more leverage. To stay longer in Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, place an upturned block under the tailbone. 

Practiced as a resting pose in this way, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana functions as a transition from the active backbends to the winding-down poses. Practice a supine twist after backbends to release your lower back and neutralize the spine.
Backbends open the chest and are an ideal preparation for any variation of Shoulderstand, including Viparita Karani. In Viparita Karani, make sure the bolster supports your lower waist and sacrum, so that your pelvis is parallel to the floor. Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose) with your feet on a bolster releases the lower back and the hip joints. If you have lower back problems, lie on your back with your legs up the wall instead of doing Viparita Karani and place a roll under your knees in Savasana.
Sequence III: Twists 
Twisting poses are often used as transition poses to neutralize the spine after forward bends and backbends. In this sequence, we focus on twisting poses themselves to help deepen the lateral rotation of the spine. To twist the spine effectively, you must first be able to stabilize the pelvis and lengthen the spine, which is accomplished here with the basic standing poses. Parsvottanasana then takes us halfway to Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose), by establishing the position of the feet and legs. If Parivrtta Trikonasana feels too difficult for you, try Utthita Marichyasana (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi) with one knee bent and your foot on a chair or window ledge, turning towards the bent leg. If balance is a problem, practice Parivrtta Trikonasana with the support of a wall. After the standing poses, Uttanasana with arms extended onto a chair acts not only as a resting pose, but allows you to lengthen the spine once again.
Bharadvajasana II (Bharadvaja's Twist II) is a mild twist for the spine and a great shoulder opener. This pose is also a good preparation for Half Lotus (Ardha Padmasana). However, if you have knee problems, or the knees are not in contact with the floor, place the foot at the inner thigh rather than on the thigh of the opposite leg. Use a strap around the ankle, if you cannot take hold of the foot.
Marichyasana III is the quintessential twist, but the final position with the arms entwined behind the back is difficult to achieve. Here are some alternate ways of practicing the pose: If you are turning towards your right, first practice by hugging your bent leg with your left forearm. As you gain flexibility in the pose, bring your upper left arm over the bent leg, but keep your elbow bent. Eventually, when the side rib cage touches the thigh of the bent leg, you are ready to clasp the hands behind the back. In all twisting poses, work with the rhythm of the breath. Lengthen the front of the spine on the inhalation, and deepen the twist on the exhalation.
After a series of twists, practice a symmetrical pose such as Upavistha Konasana to extend the legs and realign the two sides of the body. In seated twists, there is a tendency to compress the hip joints, tense the diaphragm, and constrict the rib cage. Practice Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose) with a bolster under the rib cage to open the chest and help release the hip joints. Leave the bolster under the rib cage when you extend your legs for Savasana or lie flat, whichever feels more comfortable.
In 30 minutes (without disruptions), you can practice any one of these series, holding the poses for the times recommended. Adjust your practice as you see fit, holding the poses longer or repeating some of the more difficult ones for a longer practice, or eliminating the more difficult poses for a shorter session.
Words of Caution
Menstrual Cycle. Do not practice inverted poses or strenuous backbends during menstruation. Focus on forward bends and restorative poses: Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose) with bolster (10 minutes); Supta Virasana (Supine Hero Pose) with bolster (5 minutes); Balasana (Child's Pose) with a bolster (5 minutes); and Savasana with support under knees (10 minutes).
Pregnancy. During the first trimester, all beginning poses can be practiced safely if you are in good health and have no history of miscarriages. During the second and third trimesters, backbends and forward bends should be modified to avoid either overstretching or compressing the abdomen. Concentrate on Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)and standing poses to maintain strength, and Upavistha Konasana and Baddha Konasana to encourage an easy delivery. Practice Savasana lying on your side. Consider joining a prenatal yoga class with an experienced instructor who can address your questions and concerns.
Illness and Injury. When recovering from illness or injury, consult an experienced yoga teacher and/or your health-care professional before embarking on a regular yoga practice.
Pain and Discomfort. If you experience pain or discomfort when practicing any of the poses recommended in this article, consult an experienced yoga teacher if possible. Otherwise, modify the pose by trying one of the variations or alternatives indicated. If the pain persists, eliminate the pose from your practice until you can get reliable advice.
Donald Moyer, director of The Yoga Room in Berkeley, California, has been teachingIyengar Yoga since 1974. He is writing a book on developing a home yoga practice.
Sequence I (Forward Bends)
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)1 minute
Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)2 x 30 seconds
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)30 seconds
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)30 seconds
Vrksasana (Tree Pose)1-2 minutes
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)1-2 minutes
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)1 minute
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)1-2 minutes
Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose)1 minute
Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)1-2 minutes
Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)1-2 minutes
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)1 minute
Sirsasana (Headstand)3-5 minutes
Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)5-10 minutes
Eka Pada Sarvangasana (One-Legged Shouderstand)1 minute
Parsvaika Pada Sarvangasana (One Leg to Side Shoulderstand)1 minute
Halasana (Plow Pose)1-2 minutes
Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend)2 minutes
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)1 minute
Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose)2 minutes
Ardha Padma Paschimottanasana (Half-Lotus Seated Forward Bend)2 minutes
Triang Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana (Three-Limbed Forward Bend)2 minutes
Marichyasana I (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi, I)2 minutes
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)2 minutes
Jathara Parivartanasana (Supine Twist or Revolved Abdomen Pose)1 minute
Savasana (Corpse Pose)3-5 minutes
Sequence II (Backbends)
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)1 minute
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)30 seconds
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)1-2 minutes
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)1 minute
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)1-2 minutes
Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose)1 minute
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I)1-2 minutes
Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III)1 minute
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)1 minute
Virasana Gomukhasana (Hero Pose with Cow Face Pose Arms)1 minute
Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose)2-3 minutes
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)30 seconds
Sirsasana (Headstand)3-5 minutes
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)2 x 30 seconds
Viparita Dandasana (Inverted Staff Pose)3 minutes
Bharadvajasana I (Bharadvaja's Twist, I)30 seconds
Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)2 x 30 seconds
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward-Facing Bow Pose)2 x 30 seconds
Jathara Parivartanasana (Supine Twist or Revolved Abdomen Pose)1 minute
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)1 minute
Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)3-10 minutes
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) (Bridge Pose)3-5 minutes
Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose) (Supine Bound Angle Pose)30 seconds
Balasana (Child's Pose)1-2 minutes
Savasana (Corpse Pose)3-5 minutes
Sequence III (Twists)
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)1 minute
Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Balance)2 x 30 seconds
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)1 minute
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)30 seconds
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)1-2 minutes
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)1 minute
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)1-2 minutes
Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend)1 minute
Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose)1-2 minutes
Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose)1-2 minutes
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)1 minute
Bharadvajasana II (Bharadvaja's Twist II)2 x 1 minute
Virasana with arms in Gomukhasana (Hero Pose with Cow Face Pose Arms)1 minute
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)30 seconds
Sirsasana (Headstand)3-5 minutes
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) (Bridge Pose)1-2 minutes
Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)3-10 minutes
Halasana (Plow Pose)1-3 minutes
Supta Padangusthasana (leg up) (Supine Hand-to-Foot Pose)1 minute
Supta Padangusthasana (leg to side) (Supine Hand-to-Foot Pose)1 minute
Marichyasana III (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi, III)2 x 1 minute
Ardha Matsyendrasana I (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)2 x 1 minute
Pasasana (Noose Pose)2 x 1 minute
Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend)1 minute
Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose)3 minutes
(Balasana (Child's Pose))1 minute
Savasana (Corpse Pose)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

13 Poses To release tension

A daily yoga program can help you prevent tension headaches.
By Ellen Serber
When it comes to preventing or curing a headache, there is no substitute for a thorough, daily yoga program. The following sequence offers poses that are helpful for opening the chest and stretching and relaxing the upper back and neck. Include them in your regular practice if you are prone to headaches and see if they help bring some relief and new awareness. Breathe deeply and slowly during all the postures and remember to relax the forehead, eyes, jaw, and tongue. The first part of the program is prevention, practiced when you do not have a headache. The second part, beginning with Supta Baddha Konasana, may be helpful in relieving a headache when it first begins. You will have better results if you start stretching and releasing at the first sign of a headache, before the muscles go into spasm.
Tadasana (Mountain Pose): Discovering alignment and finding the center
Standing upright with awareness is one basic way to discover your own unique posture. It is difficult to correct something until you have found out what is really there. Use the wall to identify your alignment, and then practice standing in the center of the room.
Stand with your back to the wall, with your feet together. If that is uncomfortable, separate the feet three or four inches. Plant the feet firmly, feeling the ground with the soles of the feet. Check the distribution of weight between the right foot and the left. Move front, back, and side-to-side on your feet to find the most balanced stance. Make sure that the arch of each foot is lifted, the toes spread apart. The placement of your feet becomes the foundation of your awareness of your whole body. Give yourself enough time to explore and discover how you are actually standing.
When you are ready to move on, firm and straighten the legs. Bring the tailbone and pubic bone towards each other, but do not suck in the abdominals: Lift them. There should be space between the wall and your lower back; do not flatten the lumbar curve. With your "mind's eye," go into the area below the navel, inside the belly, in front of the sacrum. Locate this "center" point. Extend the side torso up, lift the sternum without sticking out the ribs, and drop the shoulders. Take the tips of the shoulder blades and move them into the torso, opening the chest. Let the back of the head reach up. If the chin is raised, let it drop slightly, without tightening your throat; focus your eyes on the horizon. Make sure that the shoulders and back of the head both touch the wall. Relax any tension in the face and neck. Remember that your "center" resides in the area below the navel and in the belly, not in the neck and head. This exercise may feel very constricted if your head is normally forward of your shoulders. Use the wall to inform you, so that you know the relationship of your head to your shoulders, but try not to create more stress as you adjust your alignment.
On an exhalation, raise the arms up to the ceiling, bringing the elbows back by the ears. Let the arms grow from the shoulder blades. Stretch the little finger side of the hand and connect that stretch all the way down to the little toe and into the ground. Remember to keep the feet grounded, the legs strong, and the center of your pose in the area below the navel. Observe whether the movement of the arms has caused tension in the neck area. As you stretch up with the hands, bring the tips of the shoulder blades more deeply into the torso. Hold for a few breaths and then release on an exhalation.
Parsvottanasana arms: Opening the chest
Move a little away from the wall and roll the shoulders back. Clasp your elbows with your hands behind your back. If you have more flexibility you may join your palms behind your back, with the fingers pointing upward. On the exhalation, roll the upper arms back toward the wall, opening the chest between the sternum and shoulder. As you open, keep the ribs relaxed; make sure they don't jut forward. Remember to stay grounded in your feet and center the movement below the navel. Relax the eyes, jaw, and tongue. Release on the exhalation. Change the arm on top, if you are clasping your elbows, and repeat.
Garudasana arms: Opening between the shoulder blades
This pose is helpful for relieving pain between the shoulder blades. It reminds us to keep that area open in the process of stretching the upper back. Wrap your arms around your torso, right arm under the left arm, hugging yourself. Exhale and bring the hands up, the left elbow resting in the right elbow, with the hands rotated palms towards each other. Breathe and feel the stretch; after a few breaths, raise the elbows up higher, to the level of the shoulder. Remain grounded in the feet, centered in the area below the navel. Relax the eyes, jaw, and tongue. Feel the expansion of the inhalation between the shoulder blades and the release on the exhalation. Lower the arms on the exhalation and repeat with the left arm under the right.

Gomukhasana arms: Stretching the shoulders
This pose opens and facilitates movement in the shoulders, which helps correct the rounded upper back and forward head position. Plant your feet firmly in a parallel position and extend the sides of the torso up, pressing down through the sitting bones. The shoulders drop down, and the head rests on the body's midline. Lift the right arm into the air (with a belt in your hand if you have tight shoulders), stretching from the little finger side. Bend the right elbow and reach down between the shoulder blades. Bring your left arm behind your back and swing the left hand up to meet the right, clasping the hands or taking hold of a belt. Relax the ribs. Lift the right elbow into the air and drop the left elbow down. Make sure that the spine stays extended and is not leaning left or right to compensate for tightness in the shoulders. Release on an exhalation and reverse the arm positions.
Simple Seated Twist: Relieving strain in the back, rotating and stretching the neck
Sit on the chair, feet firmly on the ground, sitting bones pressing down, sides of the torso extended. On the exhalation, reach around and take your right arm to the back of the chair and your left hand to your right knee. Extend the back of your head up and make sure the head is on the midline. Turn on the exhalation, breathing low into the belly, then into the chest. Lastly, turn the head and eyes. Remember to keep the shoulders down, the chest open, and the shoulder blade tips in. Center the movement below the navel and in the belly; relax the eyes, jaw, and tongue.
Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose): Actively opening the chest
Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart. Roll the shoulders under and reach the hands towards the feet, keeping the little finger side of the hands on the floor. On the exhalation, raise the buttocks, lifting the sternum towards the chin. Elongate the back of the neck without pushing it into the floor; you want the neck to stretch, not flatten. Interlocking the fingers on the ground under the back helps to roll the shoulder blades under and is an interesting variation. Relax the facial muscles and jaw, breathe deeply, and come down on an exhalation. This pose is not appropriate during the second half of pregnancy, or if you have been diagnosed with spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis.
Supta Baddha Konasana: Passively opening the chest, releasing tension from the neck 
This pose can be done when you first feel signs of a headache. It opens the chest, and with the head resting, encourages the neck to relax. It is best done with the eyes closed and covered with an eye bag, a wrap, or a blanket. Lie back on a bolster or a narrow stack of three blankets, with your head supported on an additional blanket. The lower edge of the blankets should come directly into contact with the buttocks to support the lower back. The chin should drop down so that there is an elongation of the neck muscles, particularly the ones at the base of the skull. Bring the soles of the feet together and spread the knees apart, supported by an additional blanket roll, or if this is uncomfortable, straighten the legs and support the knees with a blanket roll. Experiment with the height of the support to find the most comfortable position for your body. Breathe deeply and slowly, relaxing the forehead, eyes, jaw, and tongue. To come out of the pose, put the soles of the feet on the ground with the knees bent and roll to the side. Do not do this pose if you have been diagnosed with spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis.
Supported Child's Pose: Resting the upper back and releasing the neck
Sit on a folded blanket with your knees bent and your feet under your buttocks. Separate your knees more than hip-width apart and bring your feet together. Bring your torso forward, resting it on a stair-stepped arrangement of blankets or a bolster, adjusted to a comfortable height. Pull the support into your belly. Drop your chin towards your chest as you rest your head. You may want an additional blanket to support your forehead, but continue to lengthen the neck. Dropping the chin to the chest provides a gentle stretch to the back of the neck, right below the skull. The arms should rest on the floor, palms down, elbows bent, hands near the head.

Supported Forward Bend: Releasing and relaxing the neck
Sit on the floor in front of a chair with your legs crossed, with enough blankets on the seat so your forehead can rest on the blankets without strain, or if this is difficult, sit with the legs straight under the chair. Rest your head on the chair seat or blankets with your arms under your forehead. If your legs are straight, pull the chair over your legs towards your belly. Drop the chin towards the chest to gently stretch the neck muscles. Let the weight of the head fall down onto the chair seat. Breathe deeply and slowly.
Supported Ardha Uttanasana (Half Forward Bend): Stretching the lower back, relaxing the upper back and neck
Stand in front of a table stacked with blankets high enough so that when you bend over and rest your torso on them, you are forming a right angle. Extend the spine and rest the arms straight forward or crossed, whichever is more comfortable. Drop the chin towards the chest and let the neck gently stretch. Breathe deeply and slowly.
At this point, if the headache has improved, do the next two poses. If the pain has continued, go to Viparita Karani, or rest flat on the ground in Savasana with the eyes covered and a blanket under the head.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog): Deeply stretching the back, shoulders, and legs
This position should be done with the head resting on a support and the chin moving towards the chest to elongate the neck. If possible, use the resistance of a belt secured to door handles, or a partner and a belt at the top of the thighs to bring the spine into more release. Begin on hands and knees; as you exhale, turn the toes under and lift the sit bones, straightening the legs and arms. Press your hands into the ground as the base of the spine moves diagonally up. The weight of the head will create a stretch in the neck. Watch that the ribs do not sink down; lift them to create a space between the shoulder blades and to avoid jamming the spine. Come down on an exhalation.
Viparita Karani: Inverting the blood flow and calming the mind
Since this pose increases blood flow to the head, it is excellent in the beginning stage of a headache. But if you are having migraine symptoms, indicating that the blood vessels are dilated, and if the pain increases, skip this pose and rest in savasana. Do not do this pose if you have hiatal hernia, eye pressure, retinal problems, heart problems, or disc problems in the neck, or during menstruation or pregnancy.
Lying on the floor with a blanket or bolster under your lower back, place your legs up against the wall. Remember to drop the chin down, creating length in the neck. Cover your eyes with an eye bag or wrap. Some people find headache relief in this pose when they place a weight, such as a sand bag, on the head, with one end on the forehead and the other draped over the top of the head onto the floor. This additional pressure helps to drop the head further into the ground, releasing the strain in the neck muscles.
Savasana (Corpse Pose): Relaxing completely
Lie on your back on the floor with your eyes covered and a blanket under your neck and head. You may put an additional blanket under your knees. If you are pregnant, lie on the left side, extending the bottom leg and bending the top one, with a blanket under the top knee. Relax completely, breathe deeply, and let go.
The author Ellen Serber wishes to thank B.K.S. Iyengar and Geeta Iyengar for their generous teaching and Chris Saudek for bringing their therapeutic sequences to the Iyengar Teacher's Exchange in Estes Park, Colorado. Ellen Serber is a yoga and t'ai chi chu'an teacher in Point Reyes Station, California. Visit her Web site at

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pilates may not offer spiritual or meditative benefits, but its core-strengthening exercises can invigorate your yoga practice. Plus: 6 great exercises to incorporate into your yoga routine.
By Stacie Stukin
Through years of yoga classes, I've gamely moved intoArdha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) hundreds of times—balancing precariously with one hand on the floor, the other reaching skyward, and one leg shooting back from my hips. I thought I had it mastered. Then I enrolled in a Pilates class to assist my recovery from an injury, and when I came back to Half Moon, I discovered a whole new dimension to it.
Pilates not only helped me strengthen my core, it taught me how to consciously tap into the power there to create greater stability and better alignment. In Half Moon, I can now open my chest more fully and lengthen my spine in a way I had never experienced—and I can hold the pose much longer. I have really strong legs and had been using them to compensate for a weak midsection. But the deeper awareness of my core strength that I gained through Pilates has given me greater control over my movements; I discovered a center of gravity that allows me to glide in and out of the pose with fluidity and grace.
I'm not alone in bringing Pilates to my yoga mat, of course. Many yogis are recognizing that Pilates—an 85-year-old system of body conditioning designed by German √©migr√© Joseph Pilates—is a rewarding complement to asana practice. And some, like me, are finding that Pilates's focus on building and engaging a strong core can propel their yoga practice into new realms.
Interestingly, much of Joseph Pilates's technique was derived from his study of Eastern philosophy, and many say this included yoga. In his book Pilates' Return to Life Through Contrology (Pilates Method Alliance, 2003), he wrote that age is gauged not by years but by the suppleness of the spine. He also noted that full, deep breathing is a key component to efficient movement. And a stint on any Pilates mat reveals similarities between Pilates exercises and asanas: Side Lift is much like Vasisthasana (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Vasistha), Roll Over is reminiscent of Halasana (Plow Pose), and Swimming could be mistaken for Salabhasana(Locust Pose).
But the similarities stop there. While yogis are instructed to either hold poses or flow quickly through them in vinyasas, Pilates is a rhythmic practice of precise movements repeated five to 10 times for each exercise. "There is a method to the practice, with a simultaneous emphasis on flow of movement, but a controlled flow," explains Rebecca Slovin, a certified Pilates and yoga instructor in San Francisco. By focusing on targeted movements that develop core strength, Pilates can help yogis build a stable center, lengthen the side body, and increase awareness of alignment. "Pilates helps some of my [yoga] students slow down and work deeper," Slovin says. Ultimately, she says, it can help yogis get stronger, avoid injury, and sometimes advance into poses that they hadn't previously felt were possible.
Engaging the Core 
When you hear the word Pilates, you might think of an apparatus involving pulleys, springs, or a movable platform used for a resistance workout. While equipment is an integral part of Pilates practice, the ultimate goal is to get to the mat work—a series of 34 exercises outlined in Return to Life. Done correctly, mat work is a lot harder than performing the hundreds of moves designed for the Universal Reformer, the Trapeze Table, the Step Barrel, and other types of Pilates equipment, because without the support of the apparatuses, students must rely solely on their own strength.