Editor's note: This is the second in a series of excerpts from the book "Stairway to Yoga" by Karen Gale. Read the first part here.
Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
Standing poses often are used as warm-ups or starting points for other poses. The extended side angle pose stretches the entire body, strengthens legs, opens hips and improves balance.
Anatomical focus: Legs, ankles, groin, lungs, shoulders, spine
Pose helps relieve: Constipation, low backache, osteoporosis, sciatica, menstrual discomfort
Contraindications and cautions: Headache, high or low blood pressure, insomnia, knee injury
Tip for beginners: To maintain balance, focus eyes forward or on feet.
1) Place the yoga mat perpendicular to the stairs. Stand in tadasana with the right shoulder toward the stairs. Take a wide step and place the right foot on the stair within a comfortable reach. Raise the arms until they are parallel to the floor. Stretch the arms out to the sides, with fingers extended, shoulder blades wide and palms are down.
2) Turn the left foot slightly to the right, and the right foot 90 degrees to the right. Keep the right foot centered on the stair, toes down. Align the right heel with the left heel. Turn the right thigh outward, and align the center of the knee with the center of the right ankle.
3) Roll the left hip slightly forward, toward the right. Rotate the upper torso to the left. Anchor the left heel on the floor. Exhale, bend the right knee over the right ankle, so the shin is perpendicular to the floor and the knee is aligned with the middle toe. Turn the right knee toward the outside of the foot. The right thigh should be parallel with the stair.
“Stack your joints.”
As students, we hear this in every yoga class. As teachers, we offer this reminder throughout our asana practice. But when it comes to forward folds, it seems we forget this cue in our journey toward the floor. Or do we even know what it means to stack our joints?
Examine the joints involved in a forward fold. We flex our spine, pelvis and hips over our stable knees and ankles. Proper alignment in this position would have us stack our hips over our knees and ankles instead of moving our hips posterior and behind our ankles.
So why do we make this shift? Simply stated, it makes the forward fold easier and we feel more balanced. Mechanically, we end up flexing farther forward when we shift our hips backwards. But anatomically, we are no longer stacking our joints in this position.
Usually, the word “home” conjures up a clear visual of four walls, a roof and some windows. Ask folks who practice yoga to define “home,” though, and you get another set of visuals entirely:
“…in the garden…”
“…at the top of a mountain breathing in fresh air and noticing the day’s beautiful light…”
“…where my mind is still…”
Everyone has their reasons for practicing yoga, and much is written about its many fitness, mental and health benefits.
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of excerpts from the book "Stairway to Yoga" by Karen Gale.
“Necessity is the mother of invention.” - Plato, 360 B.C.
My yoga mat sat in the corner for months, taunting me. When people asked if I still did yoga, I lied. I could not get myself into a yoga studio to save my life, although I really wanted to. I needed my workout. But I was ashamed that I no longer could stretch to my toes. It was more than a small blip on the exercise screen of life . . . I was burned out. When 20 pounds began to jockey for position around my waist, I couldn’t take it any longer. I joined a weight clinic and began an exercise regime.
One night, after a workout on my treadmill, I walked over to the stairs in my family room and bridged the steps in a pigeon pose. I was delighted that after a long hiatus from my yoga practice, I managed to stretch enough to reach the third stair. I instinctively inhaled, arched my spine and exhaled as I moved my torso forward, reaching upward to the top step. The stretch was delicious.
I couldn’t stop. I moved to the bottom of the stairs and bent forward to the first step in a forward fold. This allowed me to reach down without bending my knees or compromising my back. I relaxed into the pose, allowing the weight of my body to stretch out the kinks in my low back and hamstrings.
On I went, exploring downward facing dog, bridge and sun alutation, all on the stairs. Push-ups were surprisingly easy. Before I knew it, 20 minutes had passed. My yoga workout was effortless yet effective. I was supported by the stairs, but still felt the intensity of each stretch.
Editor's note: This class is for members only at VillaSport Athletic Club and Spa. If you're interested in starting up a new Baby Yoga class at a different location, please contact Carly Rogers:
I’m a vinyasa yoga girl at heart, so teaching baby yoga was initially intimidating. However, it is now one of my favorite classes to teach.
Baby Yoga is a class where moms (or dads) can bring their babies – from six weeks to crawling – for some social interaction and stretching. Yoga can help calm their nervous system, aid in digestion and provide better sleep. The class is also an excellent bonding opportunity for parent and baby.
We start class by going around the circle and having each mom introduce herself and her baby. The class claps and sings each baby a welcome song. Babies love to hear singing, especially when they hear their name.