Years ago one of my students complained that she didn’t like practicing the warrior poses because she didn’t want to develop an aggressive nature. Since then I always stress to people that the point of the warrior positions (there are 3 of them) isn’t to encourage you to go around beating up little old ladies but to help you conquer your inner brat. Because as well as developing physical strength and stamina, these positions help you to develop courage, confidence and determination: qualities that help you defeat your lower nature and become a more whole human being.

That said, although Warrior I is doable for total beginners of Yoga, it is nevertheless, a demanding posture which exercises all the muscles and joints of the body. So, only practice it when your energy levels are good. Also for this reason only do the pose twice a week at the most. In the beginning, only practice the leg movements adding in the arm movements when your stamina improves. This is quite a technical position and it will take some time to learn fully. Don’t get impatient with it but try and learn one new thing about the pose each time you practice it. You can do without the wall when you are confident in the position.

How to practice Warrior Pose I:

  • Stand in Mountain Pose with your back against a wall. Inhale, exhale and take your feet apart. The distance should be more than the length of one of your legs.
  • Inhale, exhale, and turn your right foot 90 degrees out to the right and the left foot slightly inwards (about 45 degrees). Check that the heels of both feet are in line.
  • Inhale, exhale, and take the arms out to the sides in line with the shoulders , palms facing the floor. Keep the right buttock, the upper back, the backs of the hands and the back of the head in contact with the wall.
  • Inhale, exhale, and slowly begin to bend the right knee. Continue gradually bending the knee over the course of a few breaths until the back of the knee is in line with the heel. Do not let the knee go further than this line.
  • Hold the pose for up to 6 breaths. As you inhale, lift your abdomen away from the tops of the thighs. As you exhale, keep the tailbone moving down towards the backs of the knees and the right knee moving towards the little toe of the right foot.
  • Also check that you feel a stretch (a nice one!) in 3 areas – across the chest, across the front of the pelvis and along the right inner thigh.
  • Keep the shoulders relaxed down but keep the sternum lifted upwards.
  • Look straight ahead, then look about 2 inches below nose-level.
  • Act like a warrior about to throw a spear. Think strong, focused, decisive.
  • Inhale, straighten the knee and come back to Mountain Pose again. Repeat on the other side. Repeat x2

NEED HELP? If you find the pose too strenuous, keep the distance between the feet narrow. Work on the leg movements only until you get stronger.

STOP! DO NOT take your arms to shoulder height if you suffer from high blood pressure or heart problems. Place your hands on your hips instead.

~Be very careful if you have knee problems. If possible, have someone support the bent knee as you practice the pose.

 

It is estimated that we only use about one third of our total breathing capacity. This is due to the twin evils of poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle.  This means that we only take in one third of the prana or life force present in the atmosphere. Could it be that our lives are only a third of what they would be if we were living at our full potential? Now there’s a frightening thought!

The following breathing exercise allows you to practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing without any restraints or controls. The raising of the arms mimics the action of floodgates opening to allow water flow into a plain. The slower you move your arms, the more air and prana you will allow into your lungs. As you exhale, you lower the arms slowly to the ground again. In the second part of the exercise, you can also raise the hips on inhalation allowing you to breathe in even more fully. The  main thing is to move very slowly and always in tandem with the breath.

  • Lie on your mat with your knees bent and hip-width apart. You now need to lengthen your neck. Clasping your hands around the back of the head, gently lift it up off the floor. Supporting your head with your hands, slowly slide the hands over the back of the head feeling the neck lengthen as you do so. When the fingers reach the crown of the head, carefully place the back of your head back down on your mat again.
  • Place your arms lying down by your sides.
  • Focus for a moment on the parts of the body in contact with the floor: the soles of the feet, the lower back, the upper back, the arms and the back of the head. Each time you exhale, allow these parts of the body to settle into your mat.
  • Lift your right shoulder off the floor. Inhaling, broaden it out to the side as far as possible. Exhaling, lower it down on to the mat again. Repeat on left side.
  • Opening your eyes as wide as possible, look up at the ceiling. Then look down at the tip of the nose, and slowly draw the eyelids down over the eyes.
  • Inhale slowly through the nose, and then exhale deeply through the mouth with a long sigh.
  • Go back to breathing in and out through the nose and continue to  observe the breath for a few moments.
  • The next time you breathe in, slowly take the arms overhead (palms facing), and place them on the floor behind you. As you begin to exhale, slowly, take the arms back over the head and rest them on the floor. Continue in this way for 6 breaths moving very slowly. Think of the floodgates opening and closing to control the flow of water.
  • If you wish for the next 6 breaths, as well as raising the arms, also lift the hips off the floor on inhalation. As you exhale, lower both the arms and the hips back down again onto the floor. Work slowly and gently.
  • Afterwards, lie quietly on your mat and rest for a few moments before coming back up to sitting.

Serpent Pose may look  a bit scary at first, but once you get yourself there, it is actually a nice, restful position. So restful in fact, that the position is called after Ananta, the serpent whose coils formed the couch where the Hindu god, Vishnu would relax. For this reason, it is often called Couch Pose.

In the beginning, practice the pose against a wall as aligning the spine is crucial i.e. no banana shapes. It will also help you retain your balance for longer. Serpent Pose is fabulous for opening the pelvis and stretching the legs. People do find if tricky in the beginning but if you persevere with it, you will have amazing legs! Eventually, you can move away from the wall.  However, you need to align yourself along the edge of your mat – again, no banana-shaped spines. Also you may be able to throw away the belt and hold the big toe with your thumb and middle finger instead. But it usually takes some time. Work gently always and within your limits.

How to practice Serpent Pose:

  • Make a loop in a yoga belt or in a long scarf and tie it around your right foot.
  • Lie on your left side against a wall. Rest the back of the head, the back and the back of the left leg against the wall. Your right leg will be resting on top of your left leg. Keep the little toe of the left foot in view at all times as this will help you balance. Also keep your left leg active and sharp.
  • Bend your left elbow so that you can rest your head comfortably against your right hand. Your body should now form a straight line from the little toe of the left foot all along the left side of the body into the elbow.
  • Bend your right knee and bring it in towards the chest, supporting it with your right hand. Hold this position for a couple of breaths.
  • Inhale, exhale, and pulling on the belt/scarf, extend the right leg up towards the ceiling with the inner leg and the toes facing your head. Do not stretch the leg more than is comfortable. Keep the knee bent if you have to.
  • As you inhale, encourage the right leg to lift gently out of the hip. Exhaling, move your right foot in the direction of your head. Keep your head facing forwards and relax your arms, shoulders and the sides of your neck. Work in this way for 6 breaths.
  • Inhaling, bend the knee and bring it in towards the chest as before. Hold it there for a couple of breaths, before lowering the leg completely.
  • Change sides and repeat.

NEED HELP? If you find this pose too difficult, practice Supine Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana) until your legs become more flexible.

Tree Pose is my all-time favorite yoga pose. You just can’t beat it for grace, elegance, poise, harmony, calm – I think you get the idea. Yogis can be seen meditating in Tree Pose along the banks of the Ganges, the sacred river of India. In the film Australia, the Aborigine actor David Gulpilil  can be seen doing this pose with spears in his hand. He looks so much more relaxed than if he was standing on his two feet – relaxed, yet intensely alert. Alertness or attention is the key to all balancing positions  and is the reason they can be difficult for the beginner. Because standing on one leg demands a lot of concentration and usually one side will pose more of a challenge than the other. The trick is to establish what it feels like to be completely rooted and centered over your two feet and to transfer that feeling into the side you are going to balance on. Once you achieve that, it’s all about practice, practice, practice – until you can stand in the position for as long as you want.

  • To help you understand what rootedness feels like, practice swaying from side to side shifting the weight of the body from foot to the other. What you’re looking for is to feel that the weight of the body is evenly distributed over both feet. Gradually, slow the swaying down as you feel more centered. Eventually, allow yourself to come to a standstill and relish the sensation of being completely centered. This is the feeling of centerdness you want to shift to the side of the body in order to be able to balance successfully on one foot.

Tree pose is one of the most rewarding poses because it develops so many mental qualities like concentration, clarity and memory. It also improves balance, co-ordination and posture and strengthens the ankles, legs, spine, chest and arms. Plus, it is one of those mysterious postures that relaxes and energizes you at the same time.

How to practice Tree Pose:

  • Practice swaying from side to side as outlined above.
  • Stand in Mountain Pose with your right side facing a wall. If you start to wobble during the pose, place your right hand or even a finger on the wall to help steady yourself.
  • Imagine a line running down through the centre of your body dividing it into two equal halves. The middle point on this line is located in the abdomen, two inches below the navel and two inches into the body – this is your body’s centre of gravity. In order to balance on your right leg, this imaginary line has to move over to the left side of the body so that your centre of gravity has now shifted to your left hip. To do this, slide the the pubic bone over to the left until you feel centered in the left hip-bone. Keep the left leg firm.
  • Now try moving the foot in stages. The idea is that wherever you feel most steady, you leave your foot in this position until your balance improves in time. Bend the right knee and push the right big toe into the floor… If you can do this without losing your balance, place the big toe on top of the left foot… If this is okay, move on to placing the whole foot just above the ankle… Next try higher up the calf, and finally, if possible, place the foot on top of the inner thigh itself with the toes pointing down towards the floor. Your foot make get stuck in the material of your trousers. If so, push some of the material downwards out of your way… The final position is to place the foot in cross-leg position as shown in the photo above but this may take some time. In my case it took years…
  • To help keep you balanced, in your mind’s eye, picture the outer edge of your left foot and focus on that.
  • When you can stand steadily on one foot, move on to the placement of the hands. Inhale, and extend the arms out to the sides. Exhale, and place the hands into prayer position (Namaste) in front of the abdomen. In time, you can take the arms over the head either placing the palms together or holding them parallel.
  • As you inhale, lift hips, waist, ribs and chest upwards and stretch into the finger tips if the arms are raised over head.
  • Exhaling, move the right knee and thigh slightly down and back towards the body. This helps keep the hips as level as possible as the right hip automatically rises up when you place the right foot on the left leg. Also relax the shoulders and the sides of the neck downwards.
  • Keep the left leg steady and firm at all times.
  • Hold for 6 breaths. Inhaling, release your foot back down on to the floor again and repeat on the other side. Repeat on both sides x2 or x3 times.

NEED  HELP?

~ Balance can be one of the most difficult things to master. So, try practicing Tree Pose in your everyday life, for example when standing in a queue. Shift your pelvis over to the side and place one foot on the opposite one. Swap and do the other side. It gives you something to do and no one will even notice.

~ Practice Tree Pose in front of a mirror. It helps you balance for longer.

STOP!

DO NOT raise  your arms over your head if you suffer from high blood pressure or heart problems. Hold them in prayer position in front of the abdomen instead.

In Seated Angle Pose, the aim is to create a 180 degree angle between the feet! But we are talking about serious flexibility and a serious amount of time spent practicing yoga. So, don’t be put off and just get the feet moving in the general direction of 180 degrees. In fact, in this position, it is very important to work really slowly. Otherwise, you can pull the muscles at the backs of the thighs and knees. In order to prevent this, sit off your mat on the floor. Place your feet on the mat and work on taking them apart as far as is comfortable but do not let them move off the mat. This will prevent you from overstretching.

This position is deceptively difficult in the beginning but is worth persevering with as it increases circulation to the pelvic region, opens the hips and groin, stretches the hamstrings and lengthens and strengthens the spine.

How to practice Seated Angle Pose:

  • Sit off the mat on the floor. Place your feet on your mat and take them as far apart as is comfortable for you.
  • Reach back and grab the right buttock muscle and lift it sideways and back off the sitting bone. Repeat on the left side. You should now be sitting on the centre of the sitting bones.
  • Now check the positioning of the legs: (1) point the toes up towards the ceiling; (2) position the kneecaps so that they face the ceiling; (3) turn the thigh muscles inwards towards each other.
  • Anchor the thigh bones and sitting bones down towards the floor.This creates a re-bounce action in the spine so that it can ascend upwards with more ease.
  • Place the hands on the floor slightly behind the hips. Inhaling, press into the hands to encourage the spine to elongate upwards towards the ceiling. Exhaling, move the tailbone forwards towards the pubic bone and take the feet a little further apart each time, if it is comfortable for you.
  • Continue in this way for 6 breaths keeping the head, neck and spine in line at all times

NEED HELP? If your hamstrings are tight, place a folded blanket under each knee.

STOP! Be very careful if you have hamstring or groin injuries, or if you suffer from sciatica.

The trick in yogic breathing exercises is to discover your own natural breathing pattern and to expand on that. You don’t want to superimpose anything artificial on this pattern or to force it to change its organic flow. This will only cause further imbalance and upset the nervous system. In breathing, less is more. Less interference, less visualization, less thinking. It’s all about watching and yielding, letting nature take its own course. In this way, the breathing slows down naturally, the relaxation response is turned on, more prana is absorbed by the body and more stale air is released.

To breathe properly, it is crucial that the lower ribs can open fully. For most of us this is not the case as the rib cage and diaphragm are usually constricted by tension and poor posture. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that is attached to the inside of the lower ribs. When we inhale, this muscle contracts and moves downwards. The ribs can then move out to the sides and slightly upwards thus allowing the lungs to fill up completely. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and moves upwards, the ribs move in and slightly downwards causing the lungs to contract and empty themselves of stale air. In this way we can see how integral the rib cage is to breathing. If it is not fully opened, we have two problems: (1) the lungs cannot take in enough oxygen to sustain our cells fully and (2) the lungs cannot dispose of their waste efficiently. In short, we live below par.

In the following exercise you focus on the movement of the rib cage in the breathing process. This helps you reeducate the ribs as to their proper function.

  •  Lie on the back with the knees bent and hip-width apart. Clasp your hands behind your head and lift it up off the floor. Slide your clasped hands slowly over the back of your head. When the hands reach the crown of the head, replace the back of the head carefully on the floor.
  • Place your finger tips flat against your lower ribs with the thumbs uppermost.
  • Look up at the ceiling and open your eyes as wide as possible. Then looking at the tip of the nose, slowly draw your eyelids down over your eyes.
  • Inhaling, lift the right shoulder off the floor. Broaden it out to the side as far as possible. Exhale, and replace it back down on the floor again. Repeat with the left shoulder.
  • Inhale through the nose, and then exhale through the mouth with a nice long sigh.
  • Go back to breathing in and out through the nose. Each time you exhale, allow the back, particularly, the skin on the back to soften and settle into the floor.
  • Soften and relax the skin on the face, on the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet.
  • Begin to observe your breathing. Notice the air entering the nostrils and travel up the nose as you inhale. Next, notice the slight pause at the end of the in-breath. Then watch the air as it moves back down the nose on exhalation and out through the nostrils again, followed once more by a slight pause. Witness this process for a few moments.
  • Now, begin to observe the movement of the ribs beneath your fingers. As you inhale, notice how the ribs move out to the sides and slightly upwards. As you exhale, see how the ribs move back in again and slightly downwards.
  • During the next few breaths, as you inhale, feel that the ribs and the diaphragm are very active and alert – dynamically engaged in the breathing process. On exhalation, allow the ribs to soften and relax.
  • Continue breathing in this way for a few minutes. The lie quietly for a few moments to absorb the revitalizing effects of diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Then, stretch the legs out in front of you and the arms behind you. Inhaling, stretch the entire right side of the body. Exhaling, allow it to release. Repeat on left. Repeat on both sides again.
  • Roll over on to one side and keeping your nose pointed down towards the chest, come back up to sitting.

 

The following exercise teaches you to learn how to manage your neck in a safe way. The neck is alternately stretched and released very slowly. This allows the spaces between the vertebrae to lengthen and relieves stiffness in the neck. We also use this exercise before practicing headstands in order to release the neck to its maximum length.

  • Start in Kneeling Pose. (See Post 25/6/12). Check that your toes are in line and that the big toes are touching.
  • Take the knees about hip-width apart or whatever is comfortable for you.
  • Place your hands in front of your knees, arms straight with the inner elbows in line with the ceiling. Spread out your fingers with the thumbs touching.
  • Make sure the buttocks are in contact with the backs of the thighs at all times.
  • Inhaling, slowly extend your neck away from the shoulders. Exhaling, gently drop your head towards the floor, feeling the neck release as you do so.
  • Continue in this way until you can bend the elbows, bringing your head nearer and nearer to the floor.
  • After a few more breaths, stretch out the arms and bring the forehead to the floor, as if you were practicing Child Pose.
  • Hold for 6 breaths. Inhale, and very slowly come back up to kneeling again.
  • N.B. Keep a close eye on the positioning of your neck throughout the day. Check the following: (1) Look straight ahead, then look about 2 inches below the nose; (2) Take the eyes back towards the back of the head; (3) Keep the backs of the ears directed up towards the ceiling.

NEED HELP?

~If you can’t bring your forehead to the floor, just rest your chin in your hands after you have bent the elbows.

~ If you can’t bring your buttocks in close contact with the thighs, place a cushion or folded blanket under the buttocks.

~ If you find it difficult to kneel, place a cushion or folded blanket under the buttocks and if necessary, another one under the knees.

STOP!

~ DO NOT bring the forehead to the floor if you suffer from high blood pressure or heart problems. Rest your chin in your hands instead.

~ ALWAYS be careful if you have knee problems. If you have had knee surgery, ask for your doctor’s advice before attempting kneeling poses.