Virabhadrasana I - Warrior I

FINDING EFFORT & EASE IN WARRIOR I
Virabhadrasana I/Warrior I is one of the most widely known foundational poses of yoga. It features in the Sun Salutations sequences – which are often used at the start of class. But Virabhadrasana I/Warrior I is quite a statement pose in its own right, and to find effort and ease in your expression of the pose it helps to explore some targeted stretching and strengthening, before your arrive there.

Virabhadrasana I/Warrior I stretches the hip flexors, calf muscles and inner groin; and strengthens the quads, glutes, shoulders and the muscles of the spine and ankles. It is quite a complex pose for the back leg, and you are not alone if you find it very challenging to get that back heel comfortably grounded, with the toes pointing forward. The hip joint of the back leg is externally rotated, to allow the heel to drop down, while the muscle action of the back leg is internal rotation! This can sometimes feel like the leg is fighting to find its position in the pose, and if you are overzealous about reaching that left hip forward it can manifest in discomfort in the knee or the sacroiliac joints. 

EXPLORING WARRIOR I IN YOUR PRACTICE
The above sequence stretches and strengthens all the appropriate muscle groups in preparation for the nuances in Virabhadrasana I/Warrior I. It also incorporates two balancing standing poses to strengthen the ankle and bring some stability to the joint which takes a lot of pressure in the pose.

In the second pose of the sequence lengthen through your whole leg, press you heel away from you and draw your toes down towards your face, until you feel a strong stretch in the calf muscle. Take some ankle circles here too before you move on to the next hip circling pose. Throughout the sequence there is specific targeted poses for the calves and hip flexors in particular. Bring your attention to these two areas – press the heel towards the ground in the standing calf stretches, and gently let your hips become heavy towards the ground in the standing hip flexor stretches.

In the Ashta Chandrasana/High Lunge to Virabhadrasana I/Warrior I flow, which you will run through three times, place your hands on your pointy hip bones and notice what needs to  change when you drop that back heel to the ground.

When you are in Virabhadrasana II/Warrior II pay particular attention to the back leg and the action of the glute muscle to open the hip out to the side. Press into the big toe mound and try to find that inner arch of your back foot.

ALIGNMENT CUES
When you find yourself in Virabhadrasana I/Warrior I in this sequence consider the 'squaring of the hips' as directional action rather than a definitive end goal. Allow the hip of the back leg to be further back than the hip of the front leg if it feels kinder to the knee and sacroiliac. Spend some extra time in Warrior I and notice what your optimal alignment is, with effort and ease, for your unique body.

Print out the below tips, along with the sequence, and give Warrior I some extra time and exploration:

  • From Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Facing Dog, ground your left foot at a 45 degree angle
  • Inhale, step your right foot to just inside of your right hand, check that your feet are tracking behind their hip joints to allow space for the hips to rotate forward, exhale here
  • Inhale, place your hands on your right knee to help you come up, or draw your navel towards your spine and reach your arms forward and up
  • Reach your arms up high, arms shoulder width apart or palms together
  • Lift your lower ribs up from the rim of your pelvic bowl
  • Keep your front knee bent and stack your front knee over your front ankle
  • Press into your big toe mound of your back leg to find your inner arch
  • Press down into your left heel to ease the left hip forward
  • Press into your right foot to draw the right hip back
  • Scissors your legs together and roll your right thigh down.
  • Lift your two pointy hip bones up from your right thigh and gaze forward or to your fingertips

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

Lengthen then twist

SUMMER CLEANSE
Holiday are all about tasting regional specialities and immersing yourself in the local culture. This may mean that you are sampling foods that are not usually part of your diet. I sometimes find that on my return it takes a few weeks to reclimitise to my regular home routine. This year, with a touch of post travel tiredness and headaches, I embarked on a mini cleanse to reboot my system and reinvigorate my savoury gut microbiome. I practices my Gutsy Flow everyday and followed the Rich Roll cleanse for five days – which included 100% veg smoothies, mushroom broths, chlorella and lots of water. After the cleanse I noticed a spectacular increase in my energy levels, clarity of mind and fluidity of movement. I was bouncing out of bed at 5:30am to teach my morning class and was still awake at 9:30pm which is very unheard of! The cleanse encourages you to write notes on each day of your cleanse. My day five note to self was:

GOOD FOOD = ENERGY = HAPPINESS   

FIND LENGTH FIRST
This sequence takes a step back from twists and looks at what you can do before you twist to maximise the rotation in the spine. When you twist a piece of cord you’ll notice that the more you twist it the shorter the cord gets. The same thing happens in the spine as you twist. You may reach an end point where you hit vertebrae to vertebrae before you reach the limitation of your muscle stretch. Lengthening up the spine through side bends first, and lifting the torso up out of the deep pelvic bowl, helps to find extra space between the vertebrae before you take your twist.

EXPLORING LENGTHENING THEN TWISTING
After you take your side bend make sure you come back to centre first before you move into the twist. When you are in a twist play around with placing the hand of the side you are twisting to on the small of your back and feeling for the position of your pelvis. Can you keep the hips squared forward to the front of the mat rather than following the rotation of the twist. See can you sense if both hips are level to each other too. The hip on the side you are twisting to can sometimes lift up which shortens the side of the waist and limits your twist.

TWISTS
Twists wring out the digestive system and massage the digestive tract. In yoga we twist to the right first to stimulate the ascending colon first, and we twist to the left after to stimulate the descending colon – aiding regular elimination and toxin removal from the body. Similar to backbends, when we twists we constrict the blood flow, and on releasing a surge of blood rushes back – bringing with it a fresh supply of oxygen and flushes out the system. Click this link to get a full list of twists.

Print out this sequence and explore the difference taking a side bend first can make to your twisting practice. Remember to drink plenty of water after a twisting sequence to help the system flush out all the toxins from the organs.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

Gutsy flow

SUMMER DEHYDRATION
During the summer months it can be hard to stay well hydrated. The body is constantly perspiring to regulate your body temperature, and even if you are drinking plenty of water you can still end up feeling a bit dehydrated. The recommended amount of water per day varies – depending on how much exercise you do, and if you have eaten enough fruit and veg. In general aim for a minimum of 2 litres per day, which is about 8 glasses of water.

THE EFFECT OF STRESS
Stress can also be the root cause of constipation. When the body goes into fight or flight mode all the blood rushes from the organs to our extremities ready for action. This means that the organs of the body, the digestive system included, have a reduced blood supply and are not working optimally. Yoga reduce stress by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system through breath awareness; slow mindful movement; and repetitive flows – which allows the mind to quieten and bring increases blood flow to all the organs of the body again.

There are many different reasons why you might be feeling bloated or constipated. This gutsy flow sequence will benefit you, regardless of the cause, if you find your bowel movements are a bit sluggish, or to keep everything moving and prevent getting constipated. As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’. The specially chosen asana promote good gut health by stretching and compressing the whole digestive system.

BACKBENDS
Backends place pressure on your gut and stimulate peristalsis in the muscles of the colon which help to push waste food along. They also compress the blood vessels of the digestive system, and on releasing the backbend, bringing a rush of fresh blood flow to help remove toxins. Click this link to get a full list of backbends.

TWISTS
Twists wring out the digestive system and massage the digestive tract. In yoga we twist to the right first to stimulate the ascending colon first, and we twist to the left after to stimulate the descending colon – aiding regular elimination and toxin removal from the body. Similar to backbends, when we twists we constrict the blood flow, and on releasing a surge of blood rushes back – bringing with it a fresh supply of oxygen and flushes out the system. Click this link to get a full list of twists.

Print out the above sequence and have it at hand for those mornings when you feel your bowel movements have slowed down, or if you ate late and feel you’re digestive system is still struggling to process last night’s dinner.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

Summer backbends

SUMMER OPENINGS
Backbends are the ultimate expression of openness and gratitude to the long, sunny summer days. Stretching wide across the chest area, and rippling through the whole length of the back, is very liberating and loosens built up tension in the spine. Backbends are energising; stimulate the nervous system; aid digestion and constipation; ease stress, tension, anxiety, fatigue and depression; and boost the immune system. You might notice the breath can be slightly inhibited in backbends. Although this might feel a bit uncomfortable, rest assured it is very good for your lungs – it cultivates an expansive breath, by stretching and stimulating all the fibres of the respiratory system, and enables you to flood more oxygenated blood into every cell of your body. If you find deepening your breath in breathing exercises challenging, backbends will help to warm up the muscles of the diaphragm and help expand the breath with more ease. Click this link to get a full list of backbends.

WHEN BONE MEETS BONE
This sequence starts with some gentle twists to wake the spine up, and open up the space between the vertebrae. When the vertebrae are compacted together you reach bone to bone sooner, and limit your capacity to backbend. When you find space between the vertebrae, and lengthen up through the spine first, there is more room for the bones to arch into a lovely even curve.

EXPLORING BACKBENDS IN YOUR PRACTICE
To maximise your potential ability to open up in your backbends this sequence has minimal forward folds. When you take your transitional Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Dog keep a deep bend in your knees, and look for keeping the natural curve in your lower back. Often when we reach the heel down with straight legs we bring our pelvis into a backwards tilt, which flexes the lumbar spine and flattens out the curve. Similarly keep a deep bend in your knees in Uttanasana/Forward Fold and Ardha Uttanasana/Half Forward Fold. You will bring balance back and neutralise the spine at the end of the sequence with some seated and supine twists.

ALIGNMENT CUES
The alignment cues below will give you tips for some of the backbends that you’ll find through the sequence. Remember to lengthen up through the spine first before you come into any of the backbends.

Print out the below tips, along with the sequence, and open up to summer:

  • In Anjaneyasana/Eight Crescent Moon find your two pointy hip bones and lift them up to lengthen before you arch back into a mini backbend with arms in cactus position.
  • When you are in Ardha Chandrasana Chapasana/Half Moon Sugarcane press your hand into your foot and your foot into your hand. Lengthen through the thigh of your lifted leg and reach your knee up and behind you. Extend through the whole spine and gently arch your head back.
  • For the peak pose Natarajasana/Lord of the Dance spread the sole of your standing foot. Press your lifted foot into your hand and your hand into your foot. Broaden through the collarbones and extend your sternum forward and up. Lift your pointy hip bones up and check that they stay squared to the front of your mat. The hip on the lifted leg side will naturally try to lift up, see can you work towards bringing it level with the other hip.
  • Before you come into Ustrasana/Camel lift your torso out of your pelvis and lengthen up through the spine. Move into the pose by arching through your whole back, starting with your lumbar, all the way to your cervical spine. Lightly draw your navel to your spine to support your back like a girdle, and protect you from going too far into your backbend.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru

Fluid movement

THE FLUID BODY
The human body is made up of between 60-70% fluid. This fluid acts as an important transport system for all bodily functions and a lubricant for movement. It decreases as we get older, but practising yoga keep you juiced up and minimises this naturally lose of fluid.

I am not naturally a very fluid person in my movement or, I have to admit, in my life off the mat. Routine is great but when it inhibits your ability to flow freely through life you need to dig deep and look for balance. The mind follows the body, and so, when we move with more fluidity in our practice we become more adaptable in life, less resistant to change, and find it easier to go with the flow in the yoga practice of aparigraha, or non grasping.

EXPLORING FLUID MOVEMENT IN YOUR PRACTICE
This sequence will give you the opportunity to flow through your practice. Use your breath to initiate your flowing movement. Think of the the breath as the ebb and flow of the tide – it takes it’s time and is never rushed; it pauses before it changes direction; it flows with ease and adaptability around any obstacles. Move from the inside out – yoga doesn’t care what you look like from the outside, it is busy working it’s magic on the inside! Be guided by what it feels like on the inside rather than what it looks like from the outside. Pay particular attention to bringing some fluid movement into your transitions. Pause, and work out how your are going to move from one pose to another, with muscular integrity and a slow and steady pace. Your time on the mat can double in benefits to the mind, body and spirit connection, if you link your poses with conscious transitions.

ALIGNMENT CUES
Think of yourself as fluid rather than solid as you move through the sequence. Become more pliable and explore working out how to adapt to obstacles you encounter in your time on the mat, and off the mat too. Let go of expectation of yourself in your practice. Everyone is different and everyone has different body proportions too – your leg may never be physically long enough to wrap around your head, and that person who can most likely struggle with other areas of their practice on or off the mat.

Print out the above sequence and move like a liquid rather than a solid form:

  • Start by lying on your back and tilting your pelvis forward and back. Notice the effect this movement has on your spine – when your pelvis is tilted forward (anterior tilt) the spine arches and the lumbar becomes pronounced; when you tilt your pelvis back (posterior tilt) the spine flattens out and you lose the natural curve of your lumbar. Look for a tilt between the two where you can just about fit your hand between the ground and your lower back to build a blueprint for the natural curve of your back. Revisit this curve throughout your practice to ensure you are flowing in sympathy to the spring system of your back.
  • As you flow from bent leg Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Dog to Phlankasana/Plank Pose ripple from your pelvis to your shoulders and move with your whole spine.
  • From Ashta Chandrasana/Eight Crescent Moon inhale, and on your next exhale, bend your back knee and hover it a few inches off the ground. Hug your outer hips to the midline to stabilise the pelvis. Inhale and lift back up to Ashta Chandrasana/Eight Crescent Moon. For the second set of three take a gentle backbend with the arms in cactus position on your exhale.
  • Try flowing through the Virabhadrasana II/Warrior II sequence with the breath cues as suggested in the sequence. Visualise the lungs filling up with prana as you lift up on the inhale and emptying out as you dip the pelvis down on the exhales.
  • For the final flow in Ashta Chandrasana/Eight Crescent Moon, with hands in prayer position, strongly draw your navel towards your spine and press into your standing foot to activate the lift of the leg. Move slowly with the breath. On your final leg lift see can you come up onto the balls of your standing foot.

Ruth Delahunty Yogaru