Dana Skoglund gives us some guidance on proper alignment to make these poses more accessible.
One of my teachers Christina Sell once wisely said “Yoga increases our capacity to suffer what is necessary and teaches us that we don’t have to suffer unnecessarily.” Virasana, or hero’s pose, is a seated pose with many benefits. It stretches the quads, knees, ankles and feet, teaches internal rotation of the thighs (which helps to root the femurs in the hip sockets thus alleviating lower back pain), and is also said to aid in digestion and sooth abdominal discomfort. However, done incorrectly, virasana can be painful and actually be detrimental to the knees. To enjoy the many benefits of the pose without needlessly enduring discomfort, be mindful of your alignment and maintain good action in the lower legs by following the instructions below.
1. Come to hands and knees with the thighbones (femurs) sittings bones distant apart and parallel and your shins angled out slightly so your inner heels are as wide as your outer hips. Point your feet so that the tops of the feet are down and your ankles are straight.
2. Spread your 4th and 5th toes and pull them back towards your outer heel. This engages your outer shins to stabilize the knee joint and aligns the ligaments of the knee.
3. Rotate your thighs in so your butt sticks out behind you, lift your sitting bones and widen them apart. This roots the femurs deep in the hip sockets to prevent any torqueing of the knees.
4. Keep sticking your butt out and move your hips back to sit between your feet (not on them). If your seat doesn’t comfortably rest on the ground between your feet, place a block, folded blanket or book underneath you. If your seat is hovering off the ground your thighs won’t be able to release.
5. Sit up tall and lengthen your spine with your ears in line with your shoulders directly above your pelvis. Make sure your pelvis is neutral with your thighs parallel and a neutral curve in your lumbar spine. Check that there is a straight line from the center of your kneecap through the center of your ankle through your second toe. Continue to spread the little toes out to the sides and squeeze the outer hips gently with the inner heels.
Enjoy! This hero requires no pain for gain : )
Bending over backwards is sometimes associated with strain or some sort of self-sacrifice. However, the modern yogi knows that serving others is as enriching for ourselves as it is for the recipients of our heartened gestures. But to make a meaning offering of ourselves, we must first connect to our own hearts.
Urdhva dhanurasana, or upward bow pose, is an important and fundamental, yet extremely challenging backbend. It demands so much from us: strong arms and legs and flexible shoulders, spine, quads and hips. Unfortunately it is often accompanied with lower back pain (often caused by femurs not plugged into hip sockets or not enough tailbones scooping) or wrist pain (caused by the arm-bones not being plugged-in to the shoulder sockets) or both. But once you’ve learned to connect to your center, you’ll be able to reap the rewards this uplifting pose offers.
Don’t attempt this pose unless you’ve warmed up! You want to be able to take the arms and legs in their full range of motion in order to effectively plug them into their sockets. Your warm up should include shoulder and hip stretches in every direction. Keep in mind that the final pose has the arms in the overhead plane and legs in the back plane so paying special attention to poses that mimic this shape will get you adequately prepared to go into Urdhva Dhanurasana. Start with a few sun salutations and stay for a few breaths in cobra focusing on getting the shoulders back, then do handstand, headstand (or dolphin) and forearm stand. Then do some standing poses to warm up the major muscle groups and open up the hips: particularly Virbhadrasana I (warrior I), parsvakonasana and prasarita padotanasana with hands clasped behind the back. Garudasana is a good one that targets both the hips and shoulders. Anjaneyasana with cow-face arms is also a good multi-tasker. Pigeon thigh stretch and/or mermaid and/or Supta Virasana will open up the front of the hips and quads. Then begin to prep the spine with some backbends like locust, Dhanurasana (bow), Ustrasana (camel), and Setu Bhandasana (bridge) and then you’re ready!
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor with the shins vertical. Separate your feet hips distant apart and parallel. Place your hands underneath your shoulders outer shoulder distant apart with your fingers pointing back towards your feet. Inhale and lift up to the top of your head. Bare weight on your head as if you were doing a headstand and press through your head so you don’t compress your neck. Re-adjust your foundation to make sure your feet are parallel and turn your hands out slightly so that your index fingers are parallel. Press into the four corners of your feet and lift your hips as high as possible. Spread your fingers and claw the mat with your fingertips and index finger knuckles, hug your elbows in towards each other and then plug your arm-bones into their sockets by pulling from elbow to armpit so the bottom tips of your shoulder blades draw towards the spine and onto the upper back. Keep the shoulders back as you pump your chest forward towards vertical. Then press into your arms and legs and stretch them as straight as possible. Once you’re up, lift your heels and turn the legs in and move your thighs back (this action roots the femurs into the hip sockets), then scoop your tail bone forward and root your heels back down into the earth. Look at your fingertips and press your chest over your wrists. Then let your head release and enjoy the exhilaration that comes of making a full-hearted offering of oneself.
Dana Skoglund moved to Kelowna in 2009 after living and teaching in NYC for 10 years. She is trained in both Jivamukti and Anusara traditions and has accumulated over 1000 hours in teacher training. Known as a teachers teacher, Dana still considers herself a student and continues to learn and study whenever possible, currently focusing on Ayurveda. In her classes she bridges the gap between life on and off the mat and encourages students to go to their edge both in asana and in life. Expect awesome music, creative sequencing, attention to alignment, challenging poses and handstands! Stay tuned for upcoming workshops including Eye of the Tiger, Beyond Asana: Yoga Lifestyle Practices and Peace, Love and Handstands! at missionyogastudio
Dana currently teaches both beginner and intermediate classes at Oranj and Mission Yoga
contact her at email@example.com