Tag Archives: alignment

Why Handstands Are Hard

Yesterday I realized: handstands are hard because you can’t see yourself at all. You stare at the floor between your hands, and even if you wanted to turn and look at your alignment, you couldn’t. Even with a mirror, you can get only cursory information. You need a teacher to tell you what you’re actually doing.

They also take full-body strength. You push your feet towards the ceiling as if you’re trying to leave footprints, squeeze your legs together, contract your whole torso towards your navel, anchor the shoulder blades together, straighten the arms strongly, press through the whole hand… it takes a while for all those muscles to be even.

[I started learning at the wall, to get oriented, and then L-shaped handstands, to get used to having my back towards an empty room, and then full handstands in the park, where the landing was softer.]

Like any pose, they will eventually be easy. You get over the fear. You learn how to fall out of them. You learn to “flow up” kick up towards the ceiling, not up-and-over.

[That last one I learned Monday at Studio Anya with Derek. He can jump into a floating Crow (knees off of arms), then press up into handstand, before you even figure out where the trip wires are located. Budokon!!!]

And there is something psychological about learning to stand on your own two hands. I’m getting my work life together in a way I never have before, and it’s funny that once I started telling myself “I can do this!” in handstand, repeating it until there was no space in my head for any other option, the same was true for running my own business.

Happy handstanding!

Books: Anatomy for Yoga; Yoga Anatomy

Anatomy for Yoga; Uttanasana Spread
Anatomy for Yoga; click to view Uttanasana Spread

McGraw-Hill Publishing was kind enough to send me their latest yoga book to review. Anatomy for Yoga: An Illustrated Guide to Your Muscles in Action, by Nicky Jenkins and Leigh Brandon, is a helpful guide to a personalized yoga practice. The authors provide an overview of yoga anatomy, including terminology, main systems, and breathing. They also review meditation and the chakra (or “subtle”) system, and how it might affect your physical systems.

From there, they identify four major postural types: kyphosis (round shoulders), lordosis (overarched lower back), flat back, and swayback (hips forward). Each type has a few possible causes; you might have a head-forward posture because of your computer setup, the sports you play, or the emotions trapped in the chest.

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Little Lesson: Pull Back!

Visvamitrasana, from Yoga Journal
Visvamitrasana, from Yoga Journal

From Tara Glazier, at Abhaya Yoga:

Student: Why do I feel like I’m pulling my shoulder out if its socket? [in Visvamitrasana]

Tara: You might be!

This wake-up call drew a big round of laughter from the class. It’s easy to forget that the asanas are serious challenges for the body. (She went on to explain that we need to draw the shoulder strongly back into its socket to counteract the force of the leg.)

Full on Breathing

I’m still chewing on an idea from yoga this morning, a delicious treat. Even better than weekend pastries.

Tara Glazier, the owner of Abhaya Yoga in Dumbo, was teaching us the concept of arm spirals. (It’s an alignment refinement she said she just figured out last week, after 10 years of practice.) We would internally rotate the arms, rounding the shoulders, to feel the width across the upper back, the spreading between the shoulder blades, and the expansion of the breath in the back of the body.

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So, go! Molly (no longer at) Greenhouse

I just went to a new (for me) class (at Greenhouse) and loved it. Even though I had decided to do a Pilates routine today so I could work more, the teacher’s bio won me over:

Molly’s yoga class is known for it’s [sic] intelligent Hatha flow in a vigorous and dynamic style that heals, balances, and promotes adventure in the way of transgressing personal boundaries. Using precision in asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing techniques) and practive [sic] as well as the tools to develp [sic] an individual connection to the art of yoga. Classes are paced moderately and are designed with modifications for all levels and abilities. Molly is inspired by the teachings of Tantra, and infuses these teachings into her classes. “When we change the way we look at things; the things we look at change.”

She was calm and well-paced and had a lot of unusual alignment instructions (engage the spinal extensors in Warrior III; shoulders over the elbows in Dolphin). She said she studies with Irene Dowd at Julliard, who teaches anatomy for dance, which sometimes conflicts with the specifics of yoga alignment but is often better at getting the general direction across. For example, “drop your shoulders” might make students collapse through the whole chest.

Turns out this was Molly’s last class at Greenhouse; her school schedule has changed so she has to drop that class for now. I’m so glad I went. This is kind of the whole feeling behind this site, that your brain and habits will talk you out of so many things so stop thinking and go now!

(She’s also at The Well, a new-ish Pilates studio at 25 Broadway, at Wythe.)