Posts tagged #ashtanga yoga second series

Yoga in the Sauna: Improve your flexibility part I

I have always considered myself pretty flexible, but now that I have been taught eka pada Sirsasana, I have realized I have super tight hips. As I have been struggling with hip flexibility since supta kurmasana, I decided to employ a plan to hopefully loosen my hips and make all of the leg behind the leg poses achievable. My plan is three-fold: 1) Yoga in the sauna, 2) Diet and supplements, 3) rolling and massage. Today I am going to tell you what the first part of my plan - which includes stretches and yoga in an infrared sauna. 

An infrared sauna is different than a regular sauna in that it uses infrared light to heat your body. Also, rather than heating the air around you, the infrared sauna targets your body directly, which means it will produce heat in your body at lower temperatures. The infrared sauna has a wide range of benefits, but its claims on aiding an increase in flexibility have been backed up by scientific studies. For example, a study from Auburn University compared stretching in a sauna and at room temperature. The group that stretched in the sauna saw significantly greater improvements in flexibility.  The heat of the sauna flushes out lactic acid, which in turn loosens tight muscles. 

Excited by these results, I started stretching in an infrared sauna after my regular yoga practice. I also started stretching after running as this activity could potentially affect my hip flexibility. I am lucky enough to have an infrared sauna in my house, however if you don't, there are places where you can go to spend some time in an infrared sauna. Just take some light clothes and get down to business (But please, wear something! Your neighbor does not need to see your naked bits doing yoga!). Below are the exercises that I have been performing to improve my hip flexibility. Note that I do these exercises after my regular practice... Not before.

Exercises

                                                                                               

Seated Pigeon in the sauna

Seated Pigeon in the sauna

1) Seated pigeon

I start with this easier stretch. It gets on my hips without being too aggressive. Try keeping your hips square and bringing the foot as close to chest as possible.  Stay 10-15 breaths on each side.

 

 

2) Kurmasana

Kurmasana

Kurmasana

Bring the soles of your feet together and scoot your butt back - this is not badda konasaa. Then fold forward, tilting your pelvis down and bringing your chest as close to the seat as possible. The pelvic tilt will make this stretch more powerful so work on bringing your bootie up like beyonce and your chest down .  Stay 10-15 breaths.

 

3) Baddha Konasana 

Badda Konasana

Badda Konasana

In the same position as the pose before bring your feet closet to your pelvis. Before bringing the chest down activate the pelvic tilt forward (beyonce bootie!) and bring your chest to the floor. Again, the pelvic tilt helps your hips stretch even more. So instead of a rounded back try to keep your back as straight as possible.  Stay 10-15 breaths.

 

4) Full pigeon

Full Pigeon

Full Pigeon

This is probably my favorite pose of all time because it gets deep at the hips. Set up for pigeon pose by bringing your chin as parallel to the wall in front of you as possible. Then slowly bring your chest down trying not to round your back.  Stay 10-15 breaths on each side.

 

 

5) Preparation for leg behind the head

Leg Behind the head prep I

Leg Behind the head prep I

Now we are getting close to the actual leg behind the head pose. Seated with your left leg straight, keep your hips squared and then bring your foot as close to your face as possible keeping your knee parallel to the front wall. Work on getting your making your back straight as you tilt your pelvis forward. This small movement will guarantee you get deeper into your hips.  Stay 10-15 breaths on each side.

Leg Behind the head prep II

Leg Behind the head prep II

 

6) Second preparation for leg behind the head

The second prep pose keeps the legs at the same position, but bringing the foot towards the ear.  Again, try to maintain your back as straight as possible by tilting the pelvis forward.  Stay 10-15 breaths on each side.

 

 

7) Leg behind the head

Now from the prep, try to take the leg out and the further back. Reach lower in your back with your foot. try to keep your back straight. Stay 10-15 breaths on each side as you work on straightening your back and moving the pelvis forward.

This is my sauna sequence for tight hips. I have been doing it everyday and hopefully you will see results soon! At first it may seem that your hips become tighter as you are over extending them in the sauna. However, stay faithful in your practice, activate the forward pelvic tilt in each downdog, and you are bound to see great results. This worked for me, but you may want to consult your physician before starting any new health regimen, including this one.

Next week, we will discuss how diet affects your practice and flexibility!

Have a blessed week!

Kapotasana, death, God, and letting go

If Yoga practice is a microcosm of life, then Kapotasana is a microcosm of death. And I am not talking about that Kapotasana where you plop to the floor and never bind. That doesn't count. I am talking about the real Kapotasana where you have to fight the floor to be able to open your heart, and then you take your shoulder to the limit by trying to reach your heels. You may not bind, but I am talking about the struggle that takes you to the limit. That Kapotasana. The one that leaves you breathless fighting your own body to be able to grasp a little bit of air.

Kapotasana is for me such a deep pose that when I started practicing it, it created anxiety before I even set foot into the studio. That is why I equate it to death practice. Because death creates anxiety. Have you ever been in a situation where you are having a great day and then you have a sudden realization that you are going to die one day and everything will be over? Then a bout of anxiety sets in... That is pretty much how Kapotasana makes you feel once it enters your daily practice. 

I started getting anxious about Kapotasana the night before when I went to bed. I would think to myself: "Oh my, I have to do Kapotasana tomorrow morning....". Usually a mini panic attack ensued and I had to do breathing exercises to sleep. When I woke up, another wave of anxiety would come over me with a tiny panic attack when I remembered that I had to do Kapotasana in a few hours. Once I got to the studio, my panic grew and when it was actually time to drop back into Kapo, I was usually trembling. It must seem crazy to you that I put myself through this everyday, but what I have learned through these daily forages into Kapotasana is truly priceless.

Having so much anxiety build over doing a pose, forced me to forget obsessing over accomplishing the pose and going on to the next one. It didn't matter anymore if I bound or not. Instead, I had to focus on the present to be able to just get through my practice without starting a panic attack. So rather than watching every youtube video and reading every article about Kapotasana, I started focusing on every little aspect of my practice. And instead of worrying about what was coming next or when I was getting the next pose, I started letting go and focusing on the now.

Kapotasana forced my focus out of my physical body and onto the celestial one. My anxiety about this pose was so much that I turned my eye completely to God and let Him guide my practice. In fact, when I drop down to Kapotasana I reach to the sky and say a brief prayer before I drop back. Little by little kapotasana got easier, and the anxiety became less overwhelming. God reminded me that after death, the most important encounter of our life happens with Him. I was reminded of John 11:25-26:

25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;  26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

I did believe it. So I let go, my trembling subsided, my grasps for air became longer. My focus was on God. 

What happened after conquering Kapotasana was magical. My practice unfolded effortlessly. My youtube video obsession vanished and getting into new poses was more about unlocking the potential that was already there.  Kapotasana forced me to focus on what mattered: God and the present moment.