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Although power yoga classes are active, it's important to include active resting poses, such as child's pose (balasana) to release tension in the body between challenging asanas. Child's pose relieves overall stress and fatigue while stretching the thighs, ankles, and hips.
Enter child's pose by kneeling on the floor and easing back so you are sitting on (or near) the tops of your heels. Spread your knees hip-width apart and gently lower your torso into the space between your knees. Rest your forehead on the floor.
You can stay in this pose for 30 seconds or less during an active power yoga class, or use it as the final relaxation pose and hold it for several minutes. To exit child's pose, extend forward through the torso and lift from the tailbone as you inhale.
You have two choices of arm position. Stretch your arms out in front of you and place your palms on the floor, or reach your arms back along your sides so your hands are touching the outsides of your feet.
Caveat: Skip child's pose if you have knee injuries, or if you are pregnant. Your instructor can suggest an alternative restorative pose.
Plank pose is a frequent component of many power yoga classes because it builds strength in the arms and wrists as well as the spine, and it prepares the body for handstands and other more challenging inversion poses later in the class. To get the most power out of your plank, remember these points:
Start in downward-facing dog, then release your torso forward until it is approximately parallel with the floor. Your arms should be perpendicular to the floor. Keep your shoulders directly above your wrists. You are essentially in the “up” position of a standard push-up. Pull your navel towards the back of the spine, spread your collarbones wide. Rotate your outer arms in to protect your shoulder joint.
Try to hold a plank pose for 30 to 60 seconds.
Similarly, you can build strength in the shoulders with the side plank pose. Once you're in the plank pose, rotate to the right side, balancing on your right hand and the outside edge of the right foot. Extend your left arm up to the ceiling. Hold for 30 seconds if possible, then release back to a standard plank pose, hold it for a breath, and then rotate to the opposite side.
Ashtanga yoga is often called “athlete's yoga” because it has become popular as a cross-training technique for athletes who are competitive in a variety of sports from running to baseball. The steady motion of an ashtanga class builds strength as well as flexibility, and even the very fit will feel like they have had a workout. After a few weeks of ashtanga yoga as little as once a week, you will notice more mobility in your hips, back, legs, and shoulders when you are running, golfing, biking, or engaging your other favorite sports.
Ashtanga classes are less likely to use props or to focus on fine-tuning everyone's alignment in every pose. The idea of ashtanga is to flow from one pose to the next and do the best you can in each posture for the time that you are in it. With that thought in mind, commit to full participation in ashtanga yoga to get the maximum benefit. When you stand tall, really plant your feet, fully extend your body when you reach forward, and pay attention to your instructor's verbal guidance to make your own adjustments as you go through the series of poses.
If you are seeking sport-specific ashtanga yoga, ask around; some running clubs, cycling clubs, or golf clubs offers ashtanga-style classes that cater to the needs of those specific sports. For example, a “yoga for runners” class will focus on opening the hips, which are chronically tight in dedicated runners.
Arm balancing poses are part of most power yoga classes because they combine strength with flexibility. Crane pose (bakasana) tones the arms and the abs, but some yoga students are afraid to try it for fear of falling forward on their faces. Try the pose on a mat or blanket, and you will build confidence as well as strength.
To enter crane (also called crow) pose, squat down with your heels on the floor if possible. Spread your knees wider than your hips and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Lift up onto the balls of your feet and lean forward so your knees come into contact with your biceps. Pull your abdomen in and slowly lift your feet off the floor.
Eventually your torso and bent legs will perch on the backs of your upper arms. There is a tendency to raise the hips and buttocks away from the heels when going into a crane pose, but try to resist this tendency and keep your hips as low as possible. Exit the pose by lowering back into a squatting position.
Many ashtanga classes begin with the students standing in tadasana, or mountain pose, and most instructors return to tadasana between series of standing poses to reset the body for the next ashtanga posture. To get the most of out of tadasana, start by grounding yourself firmly through your heels, then lift your toes and spread them apart before lowering them to the mat. Firm your shoulder blades inward to help you stand tall and think about reaching the crown of the head towards the ceiling. Your gaze should be straight ahead with your chin slightly tucked so you can create length in the back of your neck, and your hands should be down by your sides, with your fingers pointing towards the floor.
Tadasana is an active pose, and you should feel your muscles working to reach up through the head and down through the heels. Pull up on your kneecaps to engage your quadriceps muscles and pull your belly button towards your spine. As always, breathe deeply and evenly.
One of the principles of the ashtanga style of yoga is the vinyasa, or short series of poses that is often repeated between other series of poses during an ashtanga yoga class. For example, moving smoothly to transition from warrior II pose to triangle pose is a vinyasa, as is moving from downward-facing dog to plank pose, chaturanga, upward-facing dog, and back to downward-facing dog. A sun salutation is a vinyasa, too. The purpose of a vinyasa is to help build heat in the body during the ashtanga poses and increase flexibility and endurance. Because the goal is to build heat, some instructors discourage students from drinking water during an ashtanga class. If you tend to overheat easily and you are not looking for a “hot yoga” class, bring a water bottle with you in case you truly feel lightheaded or ill from dehydration, but try to wait until after the ashtanga class when it is important to drink water to restore your fluid balance.
It's not unusual for your muscles to tremble while holding difficult poses in an ashtanga yoga class, especially if you are new to ashtanga or simply new to a particular pose. Some trembling is OK, and when your muscles are working intensely, remember to breathe deeply and evenly. Try to hold an ashtanga pose for five breaths, but don't force yourself to hold any pose to the point of pain. Find the “edge” of what is challenging without hurting yourself.
You may experience muscle cramps in your feet, legs, or arms while moving into an ashtanga yoga position, especially in a pose that is new to you, because you are asking your muscles to do something different. Don't panic if you have a cramp. Simply pause and adjust your position or take a moment to move into child's pose or downward-facing dog and allow the cramp to pass.
Ashtanga yoga includes a series of poses that increase in difficulty. The warrior series (virabhadrasana) is a standard in many ashtanga classes because it works all the major muscle groups: legs, back, shoulders, and arms, but it is especially good for opening the hips. Even beginner classes will likely introduce warrior I, and advanced classes will include warrior II and warrior III.
Remember these “hip” points to make the most of your warriors:
Warrior I: Square your hips forward and try to keep them even. It helps to think of your hip bones as the headlights on a car.
Warrior II: When you open out sideways into warrior II, concentrate on keeping your hips level and centered. Don't lean too far forward or too far back.
Warrior III: In warrior III, concentrate on externally rotating the hip of your raised leg, while keeping both the raised and the standing legs as straight as possible.
Chaturanga Dandasana, or four-limbed staff pose, is an element of the tradition sun salutation series and is a popular move in power yoga classes because it builds strength in the abdomen as well as the shoulders. Chaturanga is the down part of a push-up. Start in plank pose and lower your torso to a few inches above the floor and hold yourself there from 10 to 30 seconds. If you are in the middle of a sun salutation, you will flow from chaturanga to upward-facing dog.
Focus on drawing the abdomen in while holding chaturanga, and keep your tailbone tucked in and your leg muscles active to keep the lower back from dipping towards the floor.
If you are new to yoga, or new to chaturanga, a beginner variation is colloquially known as “knees down, chest down.” Start in plank pose, then lower your knees to the floor and lower your chest to about an inch above the floor. This movement will help you build strength until your arms, back, and legs are strong enough for you to hold the chaturanga position.
Weak abdominal muscles contribute to low back pain and prevent you from progressing to more advanced yoga poses. But practice boat pose (navasana) regularly and correctly and you will be on your way to abs of steel. As an added bonus, boat poses also help relieve tight hip flexors, which are epidemic among the desk-bound.
Begin by sitting with your legs straight out in front of you. On an exhale, bend your knees and slowly lean back so you are sitting on your sit bones and tailbone. Don't lean too far back or too far forward; you should try to maintain an equal distribution of weight. Slowly extend your legs and try to keep your feet at eye level. If this is to difficult, keep your knees bent slightly. It's more important to sit up on your tailbone than to keep your legs straight. Extend your arms forward towards your feet, keeping them parallel to the floor. Hold the pose for 10 to 20 seconds if you are new at it, and eventually strive to hold it for one minute.
Remember to keep the lower belly firm, but it should never feel hard and clenched.