Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Yoga 101- A New Series

Since I started studying to be a teacher I have had multiple people mention to me that they are afraid or intimidated by yoga because they don't know how to tell if they're doing it right. Teachers often just name poses and students are expected to know how to get into them and how they should feel. I have taken this as my personal mission to make my classes accessible to someone who has never done any yoga at all. I thought it would also be fun to have a weekly (ish) series here going over the basics. My hope is to present a pose or concept that is sometimes assumed to be easy and break it down so a first-timer can master it! These posts can be used to help remind experienced yoga students of the basics, they can serve as an introduction to new students, or they can be used individually as a stretch after you do your jump squat throw-ups.

Before we get started, let's just establish that I'm not a photographer (you probably noticed this with my food pictures yesterday). My Nikon Coolpix on self-timer in the cleanest room of my house is the best I can do. To be honest, when I practice yoga alone it is usually in the living room. We have a pretty sweet backyard/courtyard area behind our house that would be perfect for yoga if this was like New Haven or something. But this is Texas. We're still in the 100s everyday. Ok so I don't know where New Haven is, maybe that was a bad example. Or maybe I made it up, I'm good at that.

So Yoga 101, day 1: Downward Facing Dog

If you've ever seen a dog do this, you know exactly where it got its name. Downward dog is an excellent pose for building strength in the arms and stretching the back of the legs. It also releases the weight and pressure out of the lower back. Our lower backs carry so much weight all day so it's nice to take the weight off for a little break.

The Hands- should be about shoulder width apart, flat on the floor and all the fingers spread out wide. Leaving a tiny space between the base of the palm/wrist and the floor relieves the pressure on the wrists that some feel in this pose.

The Head- should be between the arms. The ears are directly between the biceps but not touching them. If your biceps are even close to touching your ears it's because the shoulders are hunched up.

The Shoulders- are pulled away from the ears. Imagine that you are trying to touch the shoulder blades in the middle of the back. Teachers often call this "shoulders back and down."

The Back- is straight and flat!

The Legs- are extended and the heels are reaching to the floor. The feet are about hip width distance apart.

Focus on: The hips should be the definite highest point of the body. The back is straight and the shoulders are not hunched.

Still working on it? Bend the knees and lift the heels to slowly work towards straight legs. Especially if you are a runner, the hamstrings can be very tight so straight legs may not be possible at first or at all.

The most common misalignment in downward dog comes from thinking that it is crucial for the heels to touch the floor. This leads to hunched shoulders, rounding in the back and possibly some serious pain in the legs!

Now everyone on the mat! Have you tried Downward Dog? Do you love it or hate it?


  1. I love it, even though I am The World's Least Flexible Person. Especially in the legs. Oh well.

  2. Love! I'm excited for cobra and upward dog descriptions. I think your photography is stellar. Plus you're skinny so you can't go wrong :)

  3. Caitlin you may just inspire me to try yoga yet. I'm going to give downward dog a try. So help a true beginner out a bit more though - how long are you supposed to hold this? Don is quick to point out that stretching takes longer than 1/2 second per stretch but I don't have much spare time so give me the minimum...
    Uh and I'm sure I have you all beat in the "least flexible" category. Let's have a contest at Christmas and find out for sure.

  4. If we do a Christmas contest it's gotta be before we eat for sure! haha
    You could hold downward dog anywhere from 20 seconds to a minute. Once you get into the pose try to stay there for at least three deep breaths. BUT you can also tell Don that any stretching is better than none! :)