By: Sarah Vera - Yoga Teacher
Over the years of practicing yoga and spending the last year teaching full time, I often reflect on how my yoga practice has changed and continues to evolve. Yoga is a practice of many things, and at its core encourages dedication to lifelong learning. As a teacher, I'm still very much a student and constantly asking questions that make me both uncomfortable and excited.
While thinking of a few of my favorite poses at the moment, I've realized my practice tends to be seasonal. It's important to me that my movement patterns are enjoyable and purposeful. Currently I'm having fun exploring strength and mobility and balancing vigorous practices with mindful stillness and meditation. I chose to highlight a few of the all-level poses that are staples in my repertoire these days. Try out what excites you and see where it leads.
- Ardha Pincha Mayurasana, Dolphin Pose. For a long time I despised dolphin pose and avoided it at all costs. It challenged my strength in new and somewhat uncomfortable ways. Years later I find myself regularly incorporating dolphin in my personal practice. I love that it both strengthens and opens the shoulder girdle without loading all of my weight on the wrists. To come into this pose, I start on hands and knees, bringing forearms to the mat while keeping them parallel. From here, press down through the hands and forearms as you tuck your toes and lift your hips high. I like to keep a slight bend in my knees, allowing my sit bones to stay lifted as I walk my feet in a few inches.
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, Bridge Pose.This is a great hamstring strengthening pose I include in almost all of my classes. In a typical vinyasa class, we spend a great deal of time opening or stretching the hamstring muscles, and strengthening those same muscles is a critical complement to a consistent yoga practice. In this photo I have a block placed length-wise squeezed between my legs to add a little more resistance for the hamstrings and glutes. To set up for bridge pose, lie down and bring both feet flat on the floor, hip distance apart, feet parallel. Press down through the soles of your feet and palms of your hands as you lift the hips away from your mat and draw inner thighs toward each other.
- Viparita Karani, Legs up the Wall. In my personal practice, I like to incorporate dynamic strengthening poses in a few sequences or circuits and then spend some time mindfully activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Legs up the wall is a go-to for me. After a day running around the city teaching in schools and studios, spending five to ten minutes with my legs up the wall (and probably my puppy licking my face) instantly relaxes my body and calms my mind. This pose also supports blood flow and circulation through the body, and relieves the legs and feet from the weight they carry all day long. Start by lying down with hips close to the wall and start to walk your feet up. You can straighten the legs or keep knees bent with feet flat. When you're ready to come out, first bend the knees and let them fall to the floor beside you. Slowly come up to sit as you let the blood flow recalibrate to the feet.
- Matsyasana, Supported Fish Pose. Supported fish pose is another one of my favorite ways to rest intentionally. It gently offers extension for the thoracic spine that most of us can benefit from after spend a lot of time hunched over our phones or computers. To come into supported fish pose you'll use two blocks - the first placed vertically with the base of the block at the base of the lower ribs and the second block placed one or two heights higher at the base of the skull. Of course, these are simply guidelines to help you find the right positioning for you to comfortably find stillness and rest for a minute or two. You could also substitute blocks for a bolster (if you have one) or pillows if you'd like to get extra comfy!
Sarah teaches yoga and mindfullness to kids in schools all around New York City with Health Action League, Hosh Kids, and Yogi Beans. You can also find her for drop-in classes at Narayana Yoga Project (Tues/Thur @ 8am), Prospect Heights Yoga (Fri @ 10am & 11am), NYSC Astoria (Fri @ 6:30pm), and WeFitAstoria (Sat @ 10am). Follow along for schedule updates @sarahliveswell