The other day I was chatting with my good friend Giuli about yoga – she’s recently gotten really into her practice and just about dies over all things hot yoga related. We were just hanging out (at work) and she asked me the secret to crow. I told her to throw down a mat and show me what she’s got. She leaned into it and lifted one foot, but the other was hesitant to come off the mat – as toes so often can tend to be.
“Look forward.” I said.
Up came the stubborn toe. She was in crow.
“Why has no one ever told me that?” she asked.
Well I don’t know why anyone would withhold such a quick crow fix, but this got me to thinking – maybe I have picked up other subtle clues through teaching and practicing that other teachers are leaving out. Overall I think I tend to say the same stuff my teachers say to me over and over again, but if you’re not practicing with the same people that I am, maybe these tips will be ground breaking. At the very least this post will serve as a great reminder.
Downdog: It’s not all in the wrist
Let’s start with the basics, the easiest way to put too much pressure on your wrists is to make cups with your hands in downdog. This puts all the stress on the heels of your hand and can lead to some pretty painful wrist issues. Think about how often you’re in downward facing dog… it’s worth making some tweaks. The easiest being to spread your fingers. Try to make triangles between each finger and it’s neighbor. I’ve heard it described as pieces of pizza or pie… I like triangles. Then press more into the base of the first finger and the base of your thumb to really bring the palms down. Find a lift in your forearms as well – and enjoy.
Crow: Look forward and pretend you have to pee
Ladies are always more responsive to the expression “lift your pelvic floor” then men are, but basically imagine that you have to pee really bad and don’t want to be the one to go on your mat. This lift is you activating mula bandha or your root bandha. It also helps to pull the belly button up and back (this is you activating your uddiyana bandha). Then for the Giuli trick – look forward! Once your toes start to pop up make sure to continue to breath… if you pass out your in the perfect position for a face plant.
Forward Bending: 70% is in the balls of the feet
In forward bends you want to be sure to send your energy forward and up so you can lift your tailbone towards the ceiling and get a greater stretch all through those overused hamstrings. To do this I usually give my yogis the prompt to bring 70% of their balance into the balls of their feet. I’m not saying to tuck and roll it’s a very subtle lean that can be felt more than it can be seen. Bring the weight right behind the toes, basically to the knuckles of the toes. You’ll know you’re doing it right because you just about feel like you’re going to fall forward. Ideally you do not fall forward.
Warrior 3: Internally rotate your thighs
Sometimes this prompts leads to confusion, but when I elaborate on it it’ll change your practice. The idea here is to draw the toes of the lifted leg back towards your face to get a great flex in that foot. Then try to turn your pinky toe down towards the mat by turning the toes slightly in. This will encourage your lifted leg (and that strong thigh) to internally rotate towards the thigh of the other leg. Then lift the kneecap of that grounded leg to keep that leg in the picture. Boom! Warrior 3!
Handstand: What haven’t you heard?
Everyone has their handstand secret – I’ve actually done a whole post on this, so I’ll keep it brief: finger tips, tailbone, abs. Use your fingertips, grip your mat, really, really grip it. Tuck your tailbone. Engage your abs by bringing the rib cage down and together and pulling the belly button back. Oh yeah and see my other post!
Headstand: Don’t abuse the crown of your head
Instead, use your forearms (that’s why you have them down on the mat, duh). Press down into the mat with the forearms, I find it useful to press through the elbows especially. Another tip here: don’t kick up. I know you want to. You see other people doing it and you want to be part of the upside down gang. I did it too to be frank, but yoga is more about balance than strength. What does that mean? It means you should work on floating. So from your downward facing dolphin (just like downdog but with the crown of your head down on the mat and your interlaced fingers supporting the back of your head, pinkies on the mat, forearms on the mat) tiptoe your feet forward until your hips come over your shoulders. I promise you’ll stop fighting your headstand and start loving it. You’ll feel this pop and that pop is your toes coming off the mat.
So that’s what I’ve got for you on this fine late Sunday evening. Hope you find it helpful and feel free to leave me any tips I’ve forgotten!