Try these modifications for and alternatives to Ardha Parivrtta Agni Utkatasana (Half Rotated Standing Fire Log Pose).
GETTING INTO THE POSE
Lift your left leg. Keep it in front of you and externally rotate it. This does not mean taking your leg to the side; it means rotating your leg from the root of the limb. Your leg will still be in front of you and your pelvis will not have moved. Then, bend the lifted leg and place it on your standing thigh. Extend back through your two sitting bones, even though they are not in a symmetrical placement. Then, lift up through your torso and steady your gaze in front of you. Twist to the right and place the back of your left hand or arm in the arch of your right foot. You can gently press the arm and foot into each to discover whether you can twist or open up your chest a little bit more.
WORK LANDMARK 2
Reach your arms away from each other from the roots.
WORK LANDMARK 4
Reach back and down to lengthen your spine.
Feel your two sit bones reaching back evenly. Exhale as you twist Inhale to lengthen.
See also A Daily (Hands-Only) Vinyasa Practice to Connect to Your Breath
Non-Peak Peak Poses
It’s fun to put all the pieces together in a yoga class and work your way into a complex pose. The multilayered aspect of complex poses gives us lots to organize, and that can be a fun challenge. But at the end of the day, yoga is not really about climb- ing a peak or having any kind of peak experience. It is the practice of equanimity and inclusivity. Yoga helps us include all parts of our self—the parts we don’t like so much, the parts we do like, and the parts we haven’t yet been brave enough to embrace, like our grumpiness, fear, and jealousy. Concentrating too much on how to get into one particular pose can overstretch and overwork certain areas, not to mention it can move us toward craving a particular result from our efforts. Yoga is not the same as a task. It is a long-term project that can last your whole life. It offers a myriad of experiences, many that we could never have predicted. So, instead of going for a peak anything, keep exploring. See how your actions come together to make certain poses, and then notice how that experience dissolves and is over. We are learning the truth of impermanence. Since everything arises and passes, we try to appreciate it in the moment that it is here.
Alternatives to Half Rotated Standing Fire Log Pose
Take Cyndi’s thoughtful and fun six-week online course, Slow Flow: Sustainable Vinyasa Yoga for Life, at yogajournal.com/slowflow.
Inside My Injury: How Rupturing My Hamstring Tendon Helped Me Learn a Better Way to Stretch
Plus, a practice to help you learn how to stay safe when you practice, too.
“Lock it out, girl!” I heard the teacher yell from across the room. I could see in the mirror that my lifted leg was nearly straight as I reached towards my reflection in Standing Bow-Pulling Pose.
I had pulled my left hamstring early on in my yoga practice. Some days it felt fine; other days it didn’t. I was also suffering from chronic pain, which I now know was tendinosis (chronic inflammation of the tendon, leading to degradation) right in that spot where the biceps femoris strip of the hamstring connects to the sitting bone.
See also Recovering From Upper Hamstring Tendon Injuries
But at that moment, I didn’t care. My endorphins were pumping and I really wanted that “perfect” split balanced on one leg. Just as I accomplished my goal, I heard a loud pop, followed immediately by what felt like the total muscular failure of my standing leg. I fell into a heap on the carpeted floor, terrified. After a few deep breaths, I managed to pick myself up off the ground and hobble out of the yoga studio.
It took about 10 minutes for the pain to fully set in. The next morning, I tried to bend over and realized I couldn’t reach past my knees, let alone place my palms on the floor. A visit to the doctor shortly thereafter confirmed I had ruptured the tendon connecting my hamstring to my sitting bone, and there was nothing to do but wait for it to heal. I took an entire month off from my asana practice and started meditating.
See also A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation
Understanding Injury—and Different Ways to Lengthen a Muscle
After the anger and sadness came deep introspection. I had to ask myself: Where did I go wrong? Clearly, I owed my injury to the fact that I had failed to embody one of the central tenets of yoga, abhyasa and vairagya: to maintain a disciplined practice while also remaining unattached to a particular outcome.
I will admit that in my early years as a yogi, I viewed the practice primarily as a liberating form of physical exercise—one that stabilized my moods and helped me sleep better at night. I was definitely a collector of poses, and I didn’t think all that critically about how the prescribed methods of attaining those picture-perfect postures might affect my body in the long term. And yet, as I came to learn more about anatomy and kinesiology throughout my yoga teaching career, I began to realize that perhaps my ego wasn’t solely to blame. In fact, it was possible that my movement patterns in yoga classes had also left me vulnerable to injury.
See also 10 Ways to Get Real About Your Body’s Limitations & Avoid Yoga Injuries
Leading up to that fateful day when I tore my tendon, I had been practicing both Bikram and Vinyasa in New York City for several years. Being a typical New Yorker, I approached yoga with the same intensity that characterized most aspects of my life. I listened to my teachers and practiced everyday without fail. I completed my first 200-hour teacher training at a well-known Vinyasa studio downtown, during which we covered the anatomy of the entire human body in the span of two days—without much discussion of how certain movements might heal or exacerbate particular dysfunctions.
Traditionally, both Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga involve a great deal of static stretching, meaning that the muscle being stretched is basically passive for thirty seconds or more. Although I’m sure the information was available somewhere, I had no idea that some doctors and physical therapists were arguing that this type of repetitive static stretching could actually weaken tendons, making them more susceptible to strains and tears.
The Path to Learning More About My Injury
The tendon connecting the hamstring to the sitting bone is particularly vulnerable to injury given that it is compressed during stretches that involve hip flexion. According to yoga teacher and educator Jules Mitchell, forward folds, Downward-Facing Dog, and the splits (among others) all compress the hamstring tendon against the boney protuberance of the sitting bone, which can lead to degradation over time.
In the years following my injury, my approach to yoga changed dramatically. Coming to my yoga mat became less about expanding my repertoire of poses and more about maintaining a sustainable relationship with my body over time. I wanted to understand on a deeper level how the human body—and specifically my body—functions.
See also Bodysensing: Learn to Listen to Your Body in Meditation
I read physical therapy textbooks and sought out anatomy teachers. I still wanted to experience the joy of a challenging flow, but I wanted to do it safely. I didn’t want to abandon static stretching entirely, but I was looking to balance it out with other types of movement.
It was during this time that I came across information on the benefits of eccentric training (sometimes referred to as eccentric stretching) and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretching. The addition of these practices to my yoga sequences has become an integral part of maintaining a caring and workable relationship with my body, which has helped me build strength and flexibility while staying injury-free over the last decade.
How My Yoga Injury Taught Me a Different Way to Stretch
In the simplest terms, both eccentric training and PNF stretching include techniques that require a practitioner to contract and lengthen a muscle simultaneously. However, while eccentric training involves movement, PNF does not. Eccentric training involves contracting a muscle under a load while that muscle is lengthening. For example, your inner thigh muscles, or adductors, shorten when you bring your knees together from reclined butterfly pose (Supta Baddha Konasana); they lengthen when you slowly open your knees and lower them towards the ground. The lowering phase is an example of eccentric training, as the adductors are working against gravity in a lengthened state. Eccentric training works to strengthen tendons, which makes it particularly effective in treating and preventing tendinopathies (tendon injuries).
On the other hand, PNF involves stretching a muscle against pressure so that the muscle contracts, ultimately allowing the muscle to relax. An example of this would be pressing down into the floor with the edge of your heel during a half split pose (Ardha Hanumanasana) for a slow count of three to five. As anatomist Ray Long, MD, points out in the second volume of his Guide to Functional Anatomy in Yoga, the point of temporarily contracting the muscle being lengthened is to stimulate the Golgi tendon organ, which then signals to the muscle that it is safe to release. This release is called the “relaxation response.” PNF stretching is an effective way to not only increase your range of motion, but also strengthen the muscle that’s being stretched.
See also Understanding Your Muscle Tissue
How to Practice PNF Stretching
How to Practice Eccentric Training
3 Truths About Anxiety That Will Help You Feel Better, Fast
Plus, a simple trick you can try any time for instant calm.
There are many words we might use to describe how anxiety makes us feel: uncomfortable, scared, unsettled, conflicted, anxious, antsy, nervous, attacked, unsafe, and out of control. But there is one thing that almost everyone can agree on: It feels bad. In fact, anxiety is often described to me as a deep-seated feeling that something bad is happening or is about to happen.
But anxiety may not be what you think. Which can make it really hard to heal.
See also Relieve Anxiety with a Simple 30-Second Practice
Despite popular belief, anxiety is not “just fear” that can be worked through with enough therapy. And while anxiety can be linked to certain medical and psychiatric conditions, many people who struggle with anxiety have seen doctor after doctor with no relief.
Is it time to look at anxiety in a new way?
The feeling of something bad happening, even if there is no medical condition, is actually quite accurate because something bad is happening inside of you. Your body is feeling unresolved emotional energy, or baggage, that’s stuck in your system.
Anxiety comes from your body being in freak-out mode, not because of what’s happening outside of you but because of what’s stuck inside of you. While external circumstances outside of your control certainly may trigger you, that is not the actual origin of anxiety.
The feeling of anxiety arises because your body is trying so hard to keep old emotional baggage contained, and it’s just too much for anyone to hold. Anxiety manifests when stored emotional energy is trying to bubble up and out. Anxiety can be caused by any emotional baggage that you have not dealt with. I’ve seen as many people with anxiety due to suppressed anger and frustration as due to fear.
See also How to Form a New Relationship with Your Anxiety
To heal anxiety, you first need to understand it. Here’s 3 truths that will help you do just that.
1. Anxiety Shows Up In Sneaky Ways
Many people have anxiety and yet have absolutely none of the typical symptoms you might imagine. Knowing how anxiety is showing up in your life can help you be more aware of how it’s affecting you.
Anxiety can manifest in ways you may not even be aware of, including:
• Negative, compulsive, or obsessive thoughts
• Needing to be in control of life and others
• Inability to relax
• Difficulty making decisions
• Being too hard on yourself
• Resistance to accepting help from others
• Feeling shaky or unstable
• Feeling sad, angry, or pretty much any other difficult emotion
• Being moody
• Inability to concentrate
• Digestive upset
2. Anyone Can Be Affected by Anxiety
Many believe that only weak or highly emotional people get anxiety. People who experience anxiety often feel bad about themselves, feeling delicate and unable to handle life in the way that others can. Sometimes these perceptions do actually become beliefs that perpetuate anxiety. Imagine subconsciously telling yourself all day, “I can’t handle life” or “I’m so delicate.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Many people who experience anxiety have a constitutional makeup or personality traits that actually tend toward anxiety, such as being highly empathic, overachieving, self-sacrificing, self-critical, or always being the “strong” one or a Type-A perfectionist who prides themselves on keeping everything under control.
See also 9 Yoga Tools to Calm Kids’ Back-to-School Anxiety
Anxiety sufferers are often in leadership and caretaking roles and are able to “do or conquer anything.” These are awesome personality traits. However, these people may also take on the world at the expense of themselves.
3. One Reason You Can’t “Just Get Over It”
Many anxiety sufferers are told that it’s all in their head and they should just get over it, take deep breaths, or don’t stress so much. It’s not hard to end up feeling like anxiety is your fault—that if only you had more willpower or discipline you could fix this. But, of course, it’s not nearly that easy. One of the reasons it’s impossible to take that approach is because your body is stuck in freak-out mode.
When your body is stuck in fight, flight, or freeze—or what I call freak-out mode—it’s very difficult to heal. This freak-out mode is linked to the triple warmer meridian (an energy pathway in your body’s energy system), which governs the fight, flight, or freeze response in the body. It affects the nervous system, immune system, and so much more. This freak-out response essentially creates a feeling of danger in your whole system. Anxiety is not just in your head; it’s in your entire body. In order to fully heal, you need to train your body to be relaxed and calm. In other words, you need to get your body out of freak-out mode and into healing mode.
See also A Yoga Sequence to Train Your Brain to Relax
Emotions that you felt in the past can get lodged in the body and contribute to this freak-out mode. When they become stuck, you are essentially feeling each of those emotions (which can number in the hundreds or thousands) at a low level all the time. So it’s no surprise now why you’re feeling so uncomfortable, right? In addition, the sheer force of having to “hold” all of these unexpressed emotions can create a sense of anxiety.
How to Heal Anxiety
There are many ways to deal with stuck emotions that contribute to anxiety. Thymus tapping is one of them.
The thymus gland is the master gland of the body’s immune system and is located in the upper part of the chest, behind the breastbone. It sits right over the heart. The thymus is vital to the healthy functioning of the immune system and is connected to the entire energy system and is so powerful that it can work as a stress modulator when stimulated.
A lot of people are naturally drawn to the thymus area when they are feeling anxious and don’t even realize that their body is trying to help them tend to this special gland.
See also 6 Steps to Tame Anxiety: Meditation + Seated Poses
How to Use Thymus Tapping: First, try to tune into the anxiety and ask yourself: “If there was an emotion under this anxiety, what would it be?” Remember, anxiety happens from suppressing emotions. That’s why identifying the true emotion your body is very helpful. Next, tap the thymus gland using your fingertips to help your body release that stuck emotion. Don’t try to push it away; allow it to be. Tapping will help usher it out of your body if you allow it to come up.
As you tap, you can say, “releasing this _______ (say the emotion)” a few times. Take some deep breaths. Repeat until you feel relief.
Now that you know these truths about anxiety, your new job is only to honor them—and trust that your healing is right around the corner.
Excerpted from Amy B. Scher’s book, How To Heal Yourself From Anxiety When No One Else Can (Llewellyn Worldwide, February 2019).
4 Breathing Exercises to Help Kids (and Adults) Manage Their Emotions
Bestselling author Mariam Gates shares breathing techniques to help children manage their emotions through playful illustrations.
Have you ever tried to tell a child to calm down? Or a group of children? You may be able to get them to quiet down, but usually whatever was going on is still right there at the surface. To actually help them gain perspective and shift their emotional state requires internal resources they may still be developing. This is where mindfulness practices and resiliency go hand in hand.
For children, when ‘big feelings’ such as anger, frustration or sadness arise, the experience can be overwhelming. Under stress, our body moves into ‘fight or flight or freeze’ mode. Regardless of the threat (real or imagined) our heart rate increases, our breathing becomes shallow and other changes happen to manage the challenge at hand. This is helpful if we are actually escaping a lion, but the stress response is the same even if what we are ‘handling’ is not understanding the directions in class, feeling left out or having to share. It is incredibly empowering to give children a way to move themselves out of these reactive, and at times all-encompassing states, and back to the more relaxed feeling of ‘rest and digest.’
See also 5 Kid-Friendly Animal Poses to Introduce Children to Yoga
The first step for children in developing more skilled responses is learning how to pause and be aware of what they are feeling. When children are able to identify how they feel and feel it, without rushing to react, they are practicing resiliency in action. When they can choose a response, they have a lot more options.
There are very simple tools that kids can start using immediately to build those inner resources. It is important to practice each of these when children are relaxed so that they can use them comfortably when they need them.
See also Discover Why Kids Need Yoga as Much as We Do
For all of us, the fastest way to shift the stress response is by slowing down and focusing on the breath. The following four breathing exercises can help a child access more ease and clarity in any situation. (The good news is, these ancient techniques work equally well at any age.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
MARIAM GATES is the bestselling author of Good Night Yoga and Good Morning Yoga(Sounds True, 2015 and 2016), and has a new book titled, Breathe with Me: Using Breath to Feel Strong, Calm, and Happy (Sounds True, January 2019). She holds a master’s degree in education from Harvard University, and through her books and Kid Power Yoga classes, is a well-known innovator of childhood yoga instruction. Mariam lives in Northern CA with her two children and husband, Rolf Gates. Visit kidpoweryoga.com.
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR:
SARAH JANE HINDER, based in the UK, is a yoga and mindfulness teacher, and the illustrator of several bestselling children‘s picture books, including Good Night Yoga and Good Morning Yoga, as well as a yoga board book series for children that includes Yoga Bug and Yoga Bear. Visit sarahjanehinder.com.
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