Am I Doing Adho Mukha Svanasana Right?
I continued to work on the ARM & ELBOW today with awareness to "correct" my bad habit of collapsing in Downward Facing Dog. What I meant by collapsing was to do the Downward Facing Dog with slacked forearms and hyperextended elbows. Either my teacher's assistant could read my mind or we had some sort of connection, he had been adjusting my arms and elbows more than usual this week.
I uploaded a video I took last week on Facebook. It was interesting to see how I went into Collapsing Dog from Urdhva Mukha Svanasana first and corrected myself in the next second with consciousness. I wanted to get rid of such bad habit even though I felt like getting a good shoulder stretch in Collapsing Dog. With awareness and focus, I was able to avoid myself from collapsing in Downward Facing Dog today. I just need to continue working on it.
Besides Adho Mukha Svanasana, I also back offed from locking elbows in various poses; however, I still hyperextended my elbows in two poses, Prasarita Padottanasana C and Halasana. In both poses, I had my fingers interlaced behind me. I tried to leverage locked elbows to draw my hands (interlaced fingers) overhead toward the ground. I felt I didn't have enough shoulder flexibility. If I kept the elbow soft, I would be further away from touching the ground. I had the eager to achieve the end goal, hands touched the ground, so I "cheated" to bring myself closer to it. Instead of doing so, I should focus on opening my shoulders, which would be beneficial to the back bend as well. Speaking of back bend, I was able to do the drop back without any prop today. I did four rounds of drop back without moving my feet. I was so proud of myself!!!
Arm Work... What is Straight Arm?
Before starting my practice journal today, excuse me for not updating the Journal last Friday. I was too tired toward the end of the week.
Today I decided to look into the arms and elbows. When I was taking photos last night for IG Yoga Challenge, TwistOutTheToxins, I was shocked to see how hyperextended my elbows were. I wasn't doing an arm balance pose. Instead, it was Twisted Prasarita Padottanasana (one hand pressed down to the ground and twisted to the opposite site with the arm extending up toward the sky). I saw my arms were hyperextended in the pictures. Then, I realized how little attention I had paid to the arm and elbow in my practice. After putting so much work on my leg work, it was time for me to work on arms.
My left elbow was hyperextended in the left picture. I tried to straight my left arm in the right picture. However, I think the elbow was still slightly locked.
Since I was used to hyperextended elbows and consider that as straight arms, the actual straight arms felt like bent elbows to me. The studio where I practice in the morning has no mirror, I had to FEEL and VISUALIZE how I positioned my arms and elbows in standing poses, such as Trikonasana, Parivrtta Trikonasana, Parsvakonasana, and Parivrtta Parsvakonasana. In these poses, the focus was on the extended arm. What I went after was the line of the energy and straight arms. For example, one diagonal line from the back heel to finger tips in Parsvakonasana and Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, and one straight line from one arm to the other in Trikonasana and Parivrtta Trikonasana. Besides the line, I also tried to keep the extended arm straight instead of hyperextended, which was new to my body. It will probably take me some time to get used to.
Adho Mukha Svanasana was another pose required my attention. I tended to lock elbows with collapsed forearms in Downward Dog. I had to remind myself constantly by lifting wrists up, micro-bending elbows and externally rotating arms and shoulders. It was so easy for me to forget about the arm work in Downward Dog. I felt I could get a "good" shoulder stretch with slacking arms. Unconsciously, that became my “default” Downward Dog, a misaligned Downward Dog I would do after the upward dog in a Vinyasa. I caught myself doing that in IG Yoga Challenges videos and consciously corrected it in the next second.
Another pose that I had my elbow locked was Purvottanasana. I was called out by my teacher quite a few time in this pose. This was never an easy pose for me. With micro-bend elbows, it only made the pose more challenging. I hope one day this pose will become easy.
I forgot to mention that I was given a new pose last Friday, Bakasana. This pose wasn't new to me, but to hold for five breaths toward the end of the practice was tough.
Ardha, Half Way Lift, Flat Back, Lengthening...
"Inhale and lengthen the spine forward to the flat back." We probably hear this cue a lot in guided yoga classes. Unfortunately, the importance of it is often neglected. We tend to think the flat back is a transition step and rush through it instead of treating it as A POSE. Similar thing happens when we transition from Chaturanga, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana to Adho Mukha Svanasana. We often fly through Chaturanga and Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. Yes, fly through!
My practice today was to pay more attention to the Half Way Lift on my inhalation. When inhaling to Half Way Lift, I created space in my body and prepared for the following pose (any forward fold pose) on the exhalation. Also, it was the pose I transitioned to after exiting from the forward fold pose on the inhalation. Things I focused on in Half Way Lift were:
The aforementioned focuses were keys to open my hamstrings and to go deeper into forward fold postures. The anterior pelvic tilt not only improved my hamstring flexibility, it also opened my hips. I could clearly feel how my hips were more open in Supta Kurmasana. My teacher even mentioned the same thing to me today. Either improving hamstring or hip flexibility, both were great. But most importantly, I wanted to lower the risk for injury. I suspected my lower back pain (L1-2 vertebrae), old injury, was due to the fact that I didn't anterior tilt my pelvis back in the day. As a result, my pelvis was pulled down by the femurs causing tightness on the motifitus muscles. The pain slowly went away after I started working on the anterior pelvic tilt in forward fold postures.
The Half Way Lift was not limited in Ardha Uttanasana. I carried the focus throughout the entire practice, especially in seated forward folds. Before entering or after exiting from any pose, I made sure that I was lengthening the spine forward and keeping the pelvis anterior tilt. It was one full inhalation there and deserved my full attention.
It is the little attention to the detail makes everything different!!!
More Leg Work!!!
I went back to the leg work again, but my focus was shifted to the inner foot this morning. The work was to ground the inner foot down in standing poses and backbends, and press the base of the big toe in seated forward folds. What I referred to here was not the pronation when the arch was collapsed. Instead, I brought awareness to the inner foot and inner thigh.
In standing poses, I tended to put more weight on the outer foot than inner foot, which was quite obvious on how outside heels of my shoes worn out more than inside. By pressing my inner foot down, it helped to bring the foot to a "neutral" position where the weight was evenly distributed between four corners of the foot. In addition, it forced me to turn on the adductor as well as the Mula Bandha. The pose that I could feel this work the most was Trikonasana. As soon as I turned on the adductors, the energy (legs) was drawn in toward each other. If you are not sure whether adductors are turned on, try Trikonasana with socks on on the hardwood floor (no yoga mat).
Similar work applied to seated poses. Instead of grounding inner foot down, I pressed the toe mound forward (especially the big toe side), which helped me to engage the Mula Bandha and inner leg. In seated poses, the Mula Bandha was often forgotten. I usually went into passive and relax stretching mode in seated forward folds. Pressing the big toe mound forward reminded me to engage the Mula Bandha. One way to keep ourselves honest on doing this work it to put the sole of the foot against the wall or a block, then actively pressing through toe mound and into the wall or block.
Then I moved into the Second Series. Even though most poses were back bends, my attention was still on the legs. In Shalabasana, Bhekasana and Dhanurasana, I fired up the quads and glutes to lift the legs up. In Ustrasana, Laghu Vajrasana and Kapotasana, I had to keep pushing the thigh bones and hips forward, and to lift my heart up. Believe or not, the leg work has helped tremendously on my drop back.
As I am typing, I just realize that I forgot to do Supta Vajrasana today. I was so ready to do the drop back after Kapotasna and totally forget about doing the next pose.
Perfecting Chaturanga Dandasana
Today’s practice was probably the longest I’ve ever done, 2 hours and 10 minutes including 10 minutes Savasana. Surprisingly, I felt great and energetic after the practice rather than fatigued.
In average, I do 50 Vinyasas in my practice, which equals to 50 Chaturangas. That’s a lot!!! Poor alignment in this pose can cause sever injury, especially for the wrist, shoulder and low back. I was fighting with left shoulder injury for 6 months two years ago. It was not fun at all. After practicing yoga for 7 years, I still feel I know nothing about the “CORRECT” alignment in Chaturanga. I hear different cues from different teachers. But, who is right and who is wrong? In my opinion, whatever works for my body without causing injury is the “RIGHT" Chaturanga.
With that said, Chaturanga Dandasana was my focus this morning. It’s been almost a year since I recovered from the shoulder injury. I had made some “corrections” in the pose to avoid straining muscles, tendon and ligaments.
First was Shoulders – keeping shoulders down and away from ears.
I used to hunch shoulders forward in Chaturanga, which put tremendous strain and tension at the fronts of my shoulders. Also, the pectoral muscles were doing almost all the work resulting in tightness. In fact, my physical therapist was working on my pectoral muscles for a while to address my shoulder injury.
Second was Elbows – avoid overly squeezing the elbows in toward the rib cage.
When I kept elbows really close by the ribcage, the shoulders would round forward again. Instead of squeezing elbows in, I hugged my hands in toward each other. This was the advice given by my teacher. Although I wasn’t squeezing elbows in, they were still relatively close to the rib cage.
Next was Wrists – allowing the angle of wrists over 90 degree.
I was taught in the past to keep elbows and wrists bent 90 degree while elbows stacked over wrists. There was nothing wrong about it, but I preferred what my teacher told me, not to bend the wrist passed 90 degree angle. In this case, I was able release some tension and weight from my wrists.
Last but not least was Legs – firing up the legs.
This was my main focus today. I tended to forget using my legs in the pose. To keep the legs engaged, I had to actively pressing heels back. Oftentimes, I shifted the weight forward when lowering down to Chaturanga from Plank, then heels would come forward as well (in front of toes). When that happened, shoulders were taking all the weight from my body. By pushing heels back, it helped to distribute the weight across the body and take some pressure away from shoulders. Yes, I was back to the leg work I have been focusing on again.
Besides the work in Chaturanga Dandasana, I spent about 20 minutes on backbends, including Dhanurasana, Ustrasana, Kapotasana and Urdhva Dhanurasana. I got to say I LOVE BACKBENDS. All the leg work I’ve been doing was very beneficial to backbends, especially the drop back. I was able to do the drop back without prop for the second time today. My legs are getting stronger!!!
P.S. There is a great article from Yoga International on "How to Avoid Shoulrder Injuries in Chaturanga and Plank" is worth reading.
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