Hot Yoga: 7 Signature Standing Postures
A New Approach to Your Favorite Hot Yoga Standing Exercises
prepared by Tomasz Goetel and Lucas Rockwood
How to do it: First and most important: LIFT UP through the chest toward the ceiling to support your lower back and sacrum, make sure you don’t “crunch” into your lower back. Ground the feet in to the floor, squeeze your inner thighs together, contract the gluts (buttocks) together. Lift your chest, thoracic vertebra and heart up, relax your neck and let your head fall back. Keep your arms straight and reach back, go slowly at first and then increase the intensity. Give yourself a tangible goal, each time you exhale - lift the rib cage up and reach back through the arms one inch, repeat with each exhaling breath. Inhale to come back to standing straight.
Beginners: If you have a sensitive neck, it is okay to keep your head between the arms (ears and arms together). If you have a lower back issue/injury, place the palms of your hands in your lower back and drop your head back only as far as comfortable on your neck/lower back. The way to do this posture is “less at the beginning, more towards the end”. Don’t be frustrated, if you can’t go as far back as the others. The “back-bending” is one of the most advanced parts of Yoga posture practice. Give yourself plenty of time, there’s no rush.
Here’s a GREAT KEY to back-bending: “Strong legs, flexible spine.”
Strong legs, flexible spine.
Here’s another one: “Work from the feet up.”
As you can already see the back wall, begin to relax your lower back. Drop the head even further back and begin to look for the floor behind you.
Ground the feet, engage the inner thighs, contract the gluts. You will eventually shift your weight slightly towards the heels. The “strong” feeling in the legs and hips is the foundation for this back bend. We’re lifting up through the”heart” as we reach back. Lear to see the back wall behind you, but instead of dropping back, continue lifting up the heart. Then straighten out the elbows and squeeze you palms together flat. If you like, hold the position a few seconds longer then the rest of the class.
Once you see the floor behind you - look for the back edge of your yoga mat. The next step is to see your heels, your arms will be pointing down towards the floor behind you. Have somebody take a picture! :)
How to do it: To come down, bend forward from the waist keeping your knees straight, thighs lifted and back flat. Just hang forward and relax your whole body. Careful with your knees and squat down, relieving the pressure from your lower back. Lift your hips up toward the ceiling and place the fingers under the heels so the little fingers touch together - this allows the elbows to work around the back of the calves. Touch your stomach to your thighs, your chests to your knees and after 2 to 3 counts - press your face to your shins. It’s more important to keep your upper body pressed to your legs, the fingers under the heels and the elbows behind the legs than it is to straighten the legs! Slowly lift your hips up to the ceiling as you press your face into your shins in a combined motion until you completely straighten your legs.
Please be careful: if your back is sensitive or injured - BEND YOUR KNEES as you lower your hands to the floor. You can even place your hands on your thighs to protect your back further. Take your time in the first set and soften, exhale, and relax. When it’s time to grab your heels, students with limited flexibility: do the best you can in keeping your hands and arms behind by bending your knees more. If you are NOT able to place your hands underneath the feet, grab a hold of your calves, or simply hold onto each elbow behind your knees. Keep working to straighten the legs an inch at a time, using your arm strength to pull up on your calves, ankles or heels. Be careful coming out of the pose, ascend the same way you went down, keep your knees bent and place your hands on your thighs, if needed.
Now that you’re getting close to straightening your legs, press your face into your shins, as you lift your hips forward and up toward the ceiling and front of the room. This combined movement will allow you to use your body for leverage in order to better stretch your hamstrings.
If your legs are straight and your upper body is flat against your legs, don’t place your fingers under your heels. Instead, cup your heels from the side so the thumb, forefinger and the webbing between your thumb and forefinger touch the floor. If you place the fingers under the heels, it shortens the hamstrings and inhibits your flexibility. It’s going to feel weird at first, but after a few times you should start experiencing a deeper stretch. One footnote: your hands will have a tendency to slide up, don’t let it happen, keep your hands down.
An important concept in understanding the dynamics of yoga is “isolation”: flexibility and strength, relaxation and intensity, softening and hardening. Soften and relax the area you’re trying to stretch. In this pose, it is the hamstrings (back of the legs) and lower back, both connected by the sciatic nerve. Strengthen your arms pulling up on your heels and contract your quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh). Pull on your heels with your ARMS, not the shoulders. The shoulders work BACK towards your hips and AWAY from the ears.
We’re not done yet.! Halfway into the pose, slowly begin to look down at the top of your feet. Keep your chin on your shins, lift your shoulders up toward the ceiling, and pull your head to your feet. Don’t crunch your neck. Your neck vertebra should line up with your back vertebra. Toward the end of the posture, lift your hips UP toward the ceiling and then SCOOP your tailbone UNDER to stretch the muscles around the sit-bones. The final position is to touch your head to your feet.
How to do it: Bending the right leg, keep the upper body high and the hips low. That way, a triangular space is formed between upper thigh and under the arm. Keep the weight on the outside of the left or extended leg’s foot. Tuck the right buttock-cheek under as you push the right knee back out with your right elbow. At the same time twist your upper body, shoulder, left side of chest and upper torso to the back wall. Bring your left hip forward slightly, so that you’re able to twist your upper body backward. If you bring your hip too far forward, you won’t be able to isolate backward. Your left arm and shoulder should be directly above the right arm and shoulder forming a vertical line. Drawing an imaginary line from your right foot to the left foot forms a horizontal line. And from the left foot all the way up your leg, hip, upper torso, shoulder and extended left arm forms the diagonal line, completing the triangle shape. The key: “Hips down and chest up!”
Beginners: When you bend your right knee (assuming you’re practicing the right side), make sure the knee stays directly on top of your ankle, not on top of the heel, and especially not on top of the toes. This supports the knee and helps prevent injury. This is a “Power” pose... BREATHE! Many beginners have trouble lowering the hips down. You may place your right forearm on top of your right thigh. This will act as a brace to help lower the hips. Then, at the very end of the pose, straighten your arm and touch the right big toe with your fingertips to start developing strength in your hips.
Here’s your mantra: hip down and chest up!
Lear to hold this posture without strain and effort.
In order to properly position yourself in this posture, you’ve got to lower the right hip (assuming you’re practicing the right side) by bending the right knee.
You already have the leg and hip strength necessary for a strong foundation.
At the same time lift your chest toward the ceiling in one combined motion. This will help exaggerate the triangular space between the right thigh and underneath the arm. Make sure the fingertips only LIGHTLY touch the floor. Do not let your hips “sink” down. Lift the inside (medial) arch of the left foot to position your weight on the outside of the left foot, this will offer tremendous leverage and by pressing the outside of the left foot into the floor you can better lower the right hip into position.
Assuming you’re practicing on the right leg bending: Feel the circulation of blood and prana flow down from the left side of the body into the right. The left side feels empty and the right side is full. Feel the connection with he floor through the feet. In this posture, you should feel stable and strong, both physically and emotionally.
Standing Seperate Leg Head To Knee Pose
How to do it: Step out to the right, 3 to 3 1/2 feet. Turn your body to the right, squaring your hips and shoulders to the back wall. The left foot is turned out at a 45-degree angle, the right foot is at 90 degrees. Tighten the sphincter muscles - mula bandha. Squeeze your buttocks, pull your abdominal muscles in - udyana bandha. Tuck the chin into the chest - jalandhara bandha. Curl down, rounding your spine (like the Rabbit pose). Touch your forehead to the knee. The forehead should meet the knee. Separate your hands slightly on either side and toward the front of the foot. Push against the floor on the exhaling breath, eventually straightening your front leg. The internal benefits of this pose: by stretching the muscles across the internal organs, we help the kidneys, pancreas, liver and spleen thus strengthening the immune system. Hold for twenty counts.
Beginners: It is okay to bend your front leg up at the knee as much as you need to, so that the forehead makes contact with the knee the entire time. If the heel of the back foot lifts off the floor, shorten your step slightly. Separate your hands only a few inches apart just in front of your extended foot and push against the floor to eventually straighten the leg. Use the breath to your advantage. The breath takes up room in your body, exhaling allows for greater flexibility. Push against the floor at the very end of the exhale when you are “breathless”.
If both legs are straight - bring the palms back together in a “prayer” position: Namaskar.
Now that both legs are straight, bring your palms together only a few inches in front of your extended foot so as you straighten your arms you’re able to round your spine completely. The elbows straighten out and the arms go behind your ears.
The fingertips one inch in front of your toes, arms straight, round the spine more. As you lift up through the belly button and lower abdominals, look at your chest, not the belly. This will help you round your back even more. Ground the front foot into the floor, inside edge. Ground the back foot into the floor, outside edge. Soften the hips. Pick up the lower hip to square both hips to the floor. You can internally rotate the thigh of the back leg INWARDS to help yourself square out the hips. If necessary, use the mirror to check the hip alignment. Breathe “ujjayi” at first, and then breathe as smoothly as possible.
A rule of thumb to remember as you advance in your practice: no “extra movement other than necessary” and “economy of motion”. In other words, stop fooling around and eliminate any unneeded idiosyncrasies. This is a good posture to practice discipline: tapas. Here’s a Yogic concept to reflect upon: throw away what’s unneeded and keep only what’s useful.
Awkward Pose, Second Part
How to do it: Keep your feet and arms in place, come onto your toes as high as possible. Inhale (ujjayi, you’re gonna need it!) and lower down, until your hips are two inches above your knees. Your thighs are not parallel to the floor, but slightly above parallel. You should be able to see two inches of your thighs in the front mirror. Keep your spine as straight as possible. Your hips are in a neutral position, allowing you to use the lower back and hips as well as the thighs to hold you up. Make sure your arms, wrists, and hands are in a straight line. Do not bend your wrists or cup your hands, think of your wrists and hands as an extension of your arms. Keep the abdominal muscles in, arms strong with the biceps and triceps engaged, and extend from your shoulders. The more you come onto your toes and bring your knees up, the more you access the quadriceps. Hold for twenty-five seconds at least. Come up on the inhale.
Beginners: Make sure your upper body is feeling strong: tighten your chest, arms (triceps), and abdominal muscles before you come down bending your legs. The higher you come up on your toes (on the balls of the feet), the more you are engaging the upper thigh (quadriceps) muscles. Think “Heels and knees up!” Keep your knees in the same line as your ankles. If you let the knees turn in or out, you put too much pressure on the ligaments of the knees, which will defeat the purpose of the Second Part Awkward, which is to strengthen the knees by strengthening the quads.
Every now and then, take a peek in the side mirror and make sure your spine is straight. It’s hard to tell if your spine is straight when you’re looking forward. But don’t look too long, a few seconds at most. While you’re looking, check that you’re NOT arching your back.
Get up on those toes as high as possible!! At your level, this should be easy, because your ankles are stronger.
The hips should be in a neutral position, scoop the tailbone under and align it with your lower back - a straight line. This posture is easier for men. Usually women have the genetic advantage in yoga posture practice, not the case here! So don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re a woman: having trouble achieving the final prefect position may take some extra time. Remember, we benefit by effort and improvement, not by performance.
Concentrate on one point and focus your eye-gaze: “dristi”. Hold it a little longer then the Teacher asks. Don’t be disrespectful, just stay a few seconds extra, to build better stamina and control. Then come up slow. Many advanced students go TOO LOW! If you drop too low, you’re not engaging the quads as much as needed. It’s much harder (and effective) to keep the hips properly positioned: one or two inches HIGHER than the knees.
Standing Head to Knee
How to do it: Lift up your right foot interlacing your fingers at the ball of the foot, thumbs behind the ball of the foot. Keep your upper knee a little above waist level. Straighten your standing leg, keeping the weight forward toward the big toe, and tighten the standing leg thigh muscle to protect the knee. Slowly extend your right foot out as far as you can, eventually extend all the way until the upper leg is parallel to the floor. Think of pulling the foot of the kicking leg in toward your upper body, which will help support your lower back. Drop your shoulders. Keep your wrists straight and relaxed and extend you arms, which will allow a greater range of motion in the kicking leg to stretch to your full potential. Your heel should be farther in front than your toes. Once your upper leg is straight, tighten the quadriceps of the upper thigh, keeping a firm grip with your fingers. Relax your wrists, elbows and shoulders. Then drop your elbows below the upper calf pressing the forearms into your leg. Round and curl your upper body, keeping your stomach off your thigh, bring the chin to the chest (Jalandhara Bandha), and lower your forehead to your knee. In the final position, the elbows are below the calf and the kicking leg is parallel to the floor.
Beginners: Be patient, this is one of the most advanced postures in the Hot Yoga series. It takes strength, focus, hamstring flexibility, and stamina - these take time to develop. If you’ve got a sensitive lower back, be careful and hold over your knee in front of you, in a light, interlaced grip. Build strength in the standing leg, protect your lower back. If you’re down to your foot, or if you’re trying to kick out, make sure the front leg doesn’t pull you down. Keep your knee slightly higher than the hip of the extending leg.
Once your kicking leg is fully extended., relax your wrists, and drop your shoulders down. The wrists should be straight and the shoulders down, your upper back rounded.
Once the forehead is on the knee, engage and use the quads (front thigh muscles) even more to support this position. Integrate the core-strength into the pose. No longer use the arms, press the forehead into the knee and round your back even more.
If both legs are straight, slowly look down towards the floor and get the forehead to the knee. We’re no longer using the arms, it is a sign of a beginner the use what we call a “death grip” on the foot, where the arms are working hard to keep the leg up. Use the strength of the thighs and hips, as well as the core for support.
Drop your elbows and shoulders even further down. Eventually, the elbows can touch together below the extended knee. Just for fun, in the second set, extend one of the arms forward to the mirror, holding your kicking foot only with one hand. Then extend the other arm forward: look, ma, no hands!
Standing Bow Pose
How to do it: Turn your right hand, palm facing out, thumb toward the back wall and elbow touching the side of your body (palm out, thumb back, elbow in). Pick up your right foot by the ankle, raise your left arm up to the ceiling, fingers together, and palm facing the front. Stand tall with your shoulders and hips square to the mirror. Beginners, extend your right shoulder and arm away from your side. Find a soft part of your foot or leg, squeeze your grip. Lower the body down and reach your arm forward toward the front mirror. Kick back as you let your right shoulder go back. Keep your right knee behind your body. Your right hip turns slightly back (the hips are not parallel to the floor) and your foot should eventually “grow” out of the top of your head, as you look into the front mirror. Lower your upper body down far enough, so the stomach is parallel to the floor. But keep your chest higher than your stomach, and your left arm higher than your chest, completing the back bend. Use the first set to focus on balance and alignment, use the second set as a “kicking” set.
Beginners: Make sure you’re holding your foot properly; palm out, thumb back, elbow in. Don’t kick back too much, or you won’t be able to lower down. “Unfreeze” the shoulder and let it go back. This way, the leg can kick up behind you, away from the hip. Assuming you’re holding your right foot, you need to turn your right shoulder back behind your head, and your right knee behind your body so you won’t be able to see either one in the front mirror. Keep your left arm strong and fully extended toward the front mirror, wrist straight and palm flat. Balance and breath. If you loose your balance, begin once again.
This pose is 40% back bending, 40% standing leg stretching and 20% shoulder and hipjoint release. The key to the pose is judging how high to kick initially. If your standing leg is not flexible, you can’t kick too high, because of the tension in the hamstring. So kick back just enough to lower the stomach down to parallel. The more flexibility in the standing leg, the higher you kick initially.
You need to kick up high right away, in order to initially release the back hip.
At the advanced level you must start by kicking high in order to release the back hip. Try to find your starting point within the first five to ten seconds of the posture, leaving you enough strength to kick your leg up.
At your level, you should have the hamstring flexibility to lower down to where your stomach is parallel to the floor, your chest is a little higher than your stomach and your arm and shoulder are a little higher than your chest. This completes the back bend. Get down right away, don’t waste too much energy getting to your starting position, get down and start kicking. Hold onto a soft part of your leg, (your grip should be right below your ankle), like an archer squeezing the arrow from the bow. Look in the front mirror and see that the bottom of your upper foot is in a vertical position, flush to the mirror. If your upper foot is turning in and out , it’s an indication that your hip is not in the right position. Your knee should be directly below your foot. If you’re still not able to straighten the upper leg, at the end of the pose (be careful), take a peek at the side mirror; this will give you a better visual perspective. You’re probably closer than you think! Then just lock out the kickin’ leg, baby!
A lot of information provided in this booklet is based on the teaching of Jimmy Barkan, The Barkan Method of Hot Yoga. www.barkanmethod.com All rights reserved © 2010
H Y Hot Yoga a Im mmerrsion n Co ourse e 31 Oct-5 No ov
2010 l Koh Sam mui, Thailand l With W Toma asz Goete el
Funda amentals and Beyo ond including how to o move pas st “tricky y poses,” o overcome injuries, i an nd propel forward f in yoga.
Upperr Body Sttrength Po oses are the “missing link” in most Hot H Yoga c classes. To omasz will teach you how Hot Yoga can c be use ed for stren ngth AND flexibility. f
Adjus stments & Alignme ent are ofte en the key y to moving g from a beginnerr to an inte ermediate and a then on o to an advan nced practittioner. To understan nd your bod dy is to understand yourr yoga practice.
Detox xify & Clea anse yourr body thro ough yoga AND nutrition. During g two gues st lecture workshops, w , Tomasz and a his tea aching team m will show you foods that cleanse and foo ods that clo og your sy ystem… it’s s all about creating a new, energized e you!
FULL F DEAILS & REG GISTRATI ION: ww ww.HotY YogaIm mmersio on.com m Or email [email protected]
Samui.com m or call +1.310.878 8.4829 *Alll Levels (beginners w welcome)