Ecstatic Yoga Workbook
Asana I Workbook
Fundamentals of a Yoga Class
Fundamentals of a yoga pose
EY Asana I Lessons
The fundamentals of a yoga pose are as follows
Steps moving into/Coming Out/Bandhas & Breathing
We will break down each yoga pose into 8 elements. Each element has important information on the yoga pose to assist students to find ease going into the pose. When they are all put together they can assist mastery in practicing the pose. We will go into more detail description for each term to help you understand and easily apply the information.
Description of Terms: Benefits, Contraindications, Modifications/Variations, Foundation, Alignment, Intention, Steps, Coming out, Counter poses, holding the bandhas and breathing.
Yoga in general, has many benefits, however each pose has it’s own unique set of benefits.
Some general benefits of you are a deeper sense of peace and a quieter mind, more positive body image and a more loving connection to the body. Overall health, flexibility, strength, endurance, and balance. Improved breathing which has many benefits including better lung functioning, triggering the relaxation response in the body which reduces stress and the triggering of the fight or flight, fear response. The nervous system relaxes as the parasympathetic nervous system releases serotonin naturally. The nervous system is calmed and nurtured during yang, yin, pranayama, meditation, rapture, mindfulness, self-love and samadhi practices.
With every yoga pose there are many benefits. Simply to move the body and to center the attention and awareness in the body offers benefits beyond measure. In our analytics directory we list the benefits to each yoga pose. In this 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training course the analytics will focus on the general and physical benefits of each pose.
Benefits of each pose vary from pose to pose because each pose targets different area’s of the body. For example, an inverted pose will allow blood to flow naturally to the brain, relieving the veins from working to pump blood up to the heart. Twists will bring blood flow into the spinal column and detoxify the digestive organs, like twisting the water out of a rag. Back bends will strengthen the back muscles and may relieve lower back pain.
Benefits of Yoga
A deeper sense of peace
A quieter mind
A positive body image
A loving connection to the body and self
Improved lung functioning
Triggering the relaxation response
Benefits of Pranayama
Pranayama is a powerful tool in working with the prana body, the energy body to bring vibrant health and energetic balance to the entire body, mentally, emotionally, energetically, physically, spiritually. When the more subtle bodies are in radiant health, the other bodies become balanced and healthy exuding vitality.
Relieves anxiety, stress and depression
Increases focus and concentration
Calms nervous system and triggers relaxation response
Improves oxygen, blood and lymph circulation in the body
Can help prevent heart related problems
Can relieve asthma, headaches and migraines
Can restore neurological issues
In our EY Asana Pranayama Lesson we will go into more depths including physical benefits, emotional, biochemical, endocrine system, meridians, nervous system, energetic and subtle body benefits including benefits for our kosha’s, chakras, Vayus, nadi’s, meridians and auric.
Playing the edge in yoga
Practicing asana offers benefits for the body in stretching the body and increasing flexibility, strengthening the overall body and particular muscles, increasing endurance and improving balance. We receive these benefits from both the movements of asana poses, pranayama practices as well as allowing the body to integrate the energies of the movements in savasana and Samadhi. We can all agree we couldn’t gain these benefits sitting on the couch watching the television or cell phone. We gain these benefits by challenging the body in a way that is beneficial called playing the edge. I love to use the rubber band analogy to describe playing the edge.
If we sit on the couch eating potato chips we are the loose rubber band, we are not receiving any challenging physical benefits while watching the cell phone or television.
If we force the body and over challenge the body beyond it’s present potential that is like stretching the rubber band so far out it could snap. When we push our bodies too hard we can pull muscles, strain ligaments, and exhaust the body where we are causing more harm than good.
When we play our edge, it is like stretching the rubber band just enough to feel some tension, with the safety of knowing it will not snap. We challenge the body just enough to create benefit, to improve our strength, flexibility, balance and endurance over time. This is the middle way, where the best benefits can be gained, this natural place between loosy goosy couch potato and forcing and over challenging the body where muscles can get pulled or strained and the body isn’t exhausted. It is a relaxed stretching that also invites you to also stretch in other area’s of life, like questioning belief systems and attachments. What gets you upset? How are the ways you defending positions, need to be right?
Injuries, surgeries, limitations
Each pose has contraindications… movements that with certain conditions, injuries, or limitations in the body will cause more harm or stress in the body than benefits, therefore should be avoided.
It is important to know the contraindications of each pose, however as a yoga instructor teaching a class full of students, you won’t be able to spend the time listing every contraindication of each yoga pose you practice. Therefore, having a basic knowledge of contraindications, observing your students and asking yoga students before class if they have any recent surgeries or injuries is helpful so you can suggest they avoid certain poses and create modifications for them. For example, if a student weak back muscles they will benefit from gentle back bending poses because the benefit of back bends is to build strength in the back. if a student has had recent surgery on their back or neck, you will suggest they avoid all poses that involve the back and neck, especially back bending poses like camel, bridge or cobra. However, you could offer a modification of putting a small blanket under their back for a very gently lift with no effort. This will not cause any harm and offer benefits of releasing pressure in the back. It will also offer some gently flexion of the spine, which keeping the spine moving, practicing both flexion and extension of the spine offer benefits and rejuvenation to the entire spinal column.
Any injury on the legs you will suggest they avoid any poses involving bearing weight on the legs or poses that involve leg strength until they are healed sufficiently. With some minor injuries or limitations, you can suggest and offer variations and modifications. You can go to EY Asana Variations, Adjustments & Modifications Lesson for a detailed list.
Other limiting conditions
Pregnancy, severe asthma, heart conditions, seizure disorders, extremely low blood pressure, any form of violence are a few conditions where caution and or abstaining from yoga poses is recommended. Each individual is a unique circumstance and ultimately responsible for what is best and highest for their body, however, we are here as a guide to invite caution when conditions call for it.
There are often simple adjustments you can offer with changing body position or adding a prop like a block or blanket that can assist students to more easily enter into and hold a pose without strain on the body. A simple adjustment is for people who are not comfortable in easy pose, to put a cushion under their Knees, they can sit more comfortably in this pose, and in time they may find they need smaller and smaller cushions until they forget to use a cushion for a year and laugh joyously of the memory of when you loved using the support of the soft cushion. Or maybe you will always enjoy feeling the support of the cushion under your knees and find it a wonderful lifelong posture for meditation. In our analytics we include general modifications, adjustments and variations for each pose.
It is always important to advise your students to be responsible for their own bodies in practicing yoga, reminding them you are not a medical advisor and if they have any questions or concerns to consult their doctor. Always advice that your students never enter into pain and to decline practicing any pose that causes unnecessary stress in the body. Invite them to stop the practice of a pose at anytime during the class if needed, for any reason. You can remind them “This is your class, simply be peaceful and respectful of the other students. If you feel your body needs to rest or come out of a pose at any time, you can always take a break from a pose and rest in seated pose, child’s pose or relaxation or any yin style pose.
In working in a yoga studio, you will to need to have the students sign a release to hold you harmless as an instructor and the school harmless and be sure it states that the students are practicing at their own risk and taking responsibility for their own bodies. You can find more information in our EY Biz Releases Lessons.
Also, whether students have injuries, physical limitations, are pregnant or undergone recent surgeries it is advised to invite all students to never force a pose, remind them in every class that yoga is about allowing the body to open and not about forcing and striving. Invite them to play the edge, staying in the feel good stretch, never going into over stretching or pain in any pose. Yoga is not about experiencing pain in the body, that is a message to back off from the pose.
Invite students to enter into seated pose, relaxation pose laying on their backs or child’s pose if they experience pain, stress or need to rest or get out of a pose early for any reason if that is what their body is communicating. We encourage honoring the body in Ecstatic Yoga, that we all have an innate intelligence within the body that if we listen to it, we can live in vibrant health.
Often due to either injuries, physical limitations, varying body types, or skill level modifications and variations of poses are needed. It is important to note that everybody is different and it is very wise to never compare or judge yourself and your capabilities to other students.
The ultimate intention of yoga is to yoke… to quiet the disturbances in your mind so completely that you simply know yourself as only the equanimous witnessing, basking deeper and deeper with the Divine of your understanding, to come closer to the Soul, the Infinite Self. The asana practices were created long after yoga began as a means to help students quiet their minds and come into sacred embodiment so they could attain a state of meditation and expanded awareness that invites a spontaneous state of grace coming into union with a higher state, enlightenment, ultimately the knowing and experiencing that your mind is one with and a part of Atman and Brahman, Universal Mind, Creator, Source of this existence here now, sustainer of this awareness in this present moment.
More muscular body types will often not be able to go as deep in a forward fold, some muscular body types may not experience the same flexibility as those less muscular. That is not a bad thing, being fit is a great benefit. I often tell the men and women in my classes that cannot get their chest to their knees that it is ok! They are simply very muscular and all that wonderful muscle won’t allow you to go as deeply down. Don’t compare yourself and be grateful for your body type. Those yogis who can bring themselves easily into a pretzel may need your strength someday to save their lives or move them into a new home.
Most poses have a few modifications and variations they offer. Modifications are usually to assist the body to get into the position when there are limitations, or for beginners who have not practiced and stretched the body yet. For example, using a block to bring the earth a bit higher to accommodate a stretch that is challenging for beginners. Using a bolster or blanket adds extra support and can create a more restorative aspect to the posture. Below are a few props that are frequently used in yoga classes for modifications.
Yoga block, bolster, strap (You can use old ties in place of straps) blankets, eye pillow, a wall, a chair, meditation cushion, gripped socks.
Variations of the poses offer either more ease or more challenge to the pose.
In the case of more ease or assisting with physical limitations, variations can help students to get into the poses safely even with their limitations. Props as well as creative variations offer someone who otherwise couldn’t do yoga to participate and receive benefits from a yoga class. Examples of variations for limitations are adjusting the width of the stance or dropping down to the knee in lunge or warrior I, adding a prop to bring the earth higher in a forward fold, in a balancing pose practicing against a wall. Examples of using variations for more challenge are widening a stance, lowering and deepening a squat, grabbing elbows in forward fold to increase stretch, holding the feet in bow to deepen the backbend or any of the many variations that allow you to go deeper into the pose.
Offering modifications, adjustments and variations allows you to teach a class with a diverse range of experience and skill… you may have students of varying levels of skill from beginner to more advanced in the same class. Everyone will feel honored and able to participate with just a few simple modifications or variations, after all we are all very different and that is a very good thing.
You can find out more at EY Asana Variations, Adjustments & Modifications Lesson for a detailed list.
We are now getting into the technical aspects of the postures.
Foundation is a very important aspect of the posture because this is where your body is connecting to the earth, this is your grounding to Mother Earth. We bring focus to the foundation first when entering into a posture, just like building a home, we create the foundation first. Once the foundation is solid and stable, we can move into the other elements of the pose. If the foundation is not correct it can throw off the entire pose, and when the foundation is stable it allows for ease and grace in all the other elements of the pose.
With each pose the foundation will be different. In standing poses the foundation will be mostly the feet and hands, floor poses can also be feet and hands, yet it may be just the sits bones and sacrum like in boat or balancing bear pose.
When entering into a yoga pose guide yourself and your students into the pose by setting the foundation first, bring awareness to what parts of your body are connected to the earth and bringing gratitude and love to the earth for it’s support. This grounds the student in the pose, connects the student to the Mother Earth and brings a sense of support and safety to each pose.
Alignment is another technical aspect of getting into a pose. With each pose there are alignment principles, we will go into the basics in the 200 hour course and more depth in the 300 hour course.
It is important to be in proper alignment when going into and holding a yoga pose. Alignment not only allows the pose to provide the benefits, it also supports the safety and strength of the body while holding a pose. For example, aligning the knee so it is directly over the ankle in Warrior I is important, as having the knee forward of the ankle can bring stress to the knee. Or having feet and knees hip width apart in bridge creates activation where lazy out flopping knees will not create the same strengthening benefits for the back.
Proper alignment not only supports the pose, the body and avoids injury it also allows for the benefits of the pose to be available to the student. It also looks better!
Mountain/Tadasana Pose offers us a great model to mirror onto other poses with the principle of loops by John Friend.
Seven Organic Loops
Tadasana Alignment Principles
Starts at the base of the shinbone just above the ankle. It moves down the back of the heel, forward along the bottom of the foot, then back up through the center of the arch to the front of the shin base.
(Lifts the arch of the foot)
Starts at the base of the shin bone just about the ankle. It moves up the back of the calf muscle to the top of the calf at the back of the knee, forward through the top of the shin, then down the front of the shin back to the base at the ankle. (Engages the calves)
Starts at the top of the femur in the core of the pelvis. It moves down the back of the leg to the top of the calf muscle, forward through the knee, and then up the front of the thigh through the lower pelvis. (Lifts the knees and engages the quadriceps)
Starts in the core of the abdomen in line with the lumbar and a place just below the navel. It moves down from the middle lumbar to the base of the sacrum, forward through the floor of the pelvis to the top of the pubic bone, then up the lower abdomen just below the navel. (Brings pelvis to neutral)
Starts in the core of abdomen in line with the middle lumbar and a place just below the navel. It moves up the back from just below the kidneys to the bottom of the shoulder blades, forward through the top of the diaphragm to the base of the sternum, then down the solar plexus to just below the naval. (Lifts the upper back)
Starts at the center of the upper palate. It moves down the back of the neck and the upper back to the bottom of the shoulder blades, forward through the bottom of the heart and top of the diaphragm, then up the chest and throat from the base of the sternum to the upper palate. (Brings shoulders back and down and chin parallel to the floor)
Starts at the upper palate. It moves back and up the back of the skull, forward over the top of the head, then down the face back to the upper palate. (Lifts the skull to the sky, lengthens the spine)
Intention is also sometimes referred to in Ecstatic Yoga as lines of energy or engagements. Intention is the art of generating energy through the body. There is a subtle yet clear difference between alignment and intention in a yoga pose. For example, in down dog the alignment may be straight legs with soft knees, bringing the body into a upside down V shape. Adding intention, we would add to lift the tail to the sky and engage the thighs bringing them back away from the arms. Or in 5 pointed star, the alignment would be wide straight legs, arms outstretched, however, the intention would be 5 simultaneous lines of energy sourcing from the solar plexus down both legs and into the earth, out both arms and fingertips and a fifth line of energy would be out the crown of the head reaching up to the sky energy moving up and out the crown of the head.
In each pose after alignment is created it is beneficial to bring awareness and engagement to the intentional lines of energy the pose offers. This will deepen the pose greatly and add more benefit physically and energetically. Many yoga instructors won’t mention lines of energy, however, to invite the students to become aware of and the option to engage these lines of energy will add benefit mentally for focus, physically for strength and subtly for energy.
In the beginning a new student may not be able to focus on all the elements of a yoga pose, and intention would be after foundation and alignment. It may be a lot to focus on in the beginning and a last important step after making sure the physical body is grounded in the correct foundation and aligned for the best support and safety of the body. Once foundation and alignment are created, take the time to bring awareness to the energetics of the pose. Focus your attention on the flow of energy, or lines of energy intentionally will empower the pose more so than anything.
For example, if a student is in mountain; tadasana pose, they can be standing up straight and looking fine, however, to add the intentional loops into the pose and all the intentions of tadasana you will be holding a completely different mountain pose. A relaxed standing mountain will feel completely different than when holding the intentions to engage the calves (Shin loop), engage the quadriceps and lift the knee cap (Thigh loop), to engage the abdomen (Abdominal loop), lift the ribs, chest, Chin parallel to the floor and skull loop. The student will gain a lot more out of the pose physically, emotionally, mentally and energetically while holding the intentions.
Most yoga postures do not have as many intentions and lines of energy as mountain/tadasana, however there is a theme with many of the poses I would like to go over that will help you remember the intentions of each pose.
Yin poses the energy source begins at the heart and more yang poses the energy source’s from the solar plexus. Energy often moves from the source to extended extremities. Poses that fold inward like forward folds and child’s pose will have an intention to bring your energy inward.
Warrior II (Yang) from the solar plexus out the extended front fingertips (Following gaze)
Reverse Warrior (Yin) from heart out extended fingertips
Side Angle (Yang) from the back foot alongside the entire side body and out extended fingertips
Triangle (Yin) from the heart out the extended fingertips
Reverse Triangle (Yin) from the heart out the extended fingertips
Pyramid (forward fold) Inward intention
Star (Yang) from the solar plexus out all 5 lines of energy, both legs and feet, both arms and fingertips, out the crown.
Goddess (Yin) from the heart out the palms of the hands
Wide-leg forward fold (forward fold) Inward focus
Mountain, all the loops and out the crown
Forward Fold, Inward intention
Lunge, (Yang) from solar plexus out front fingertips
Downdog, (Tail to sky, thigh loop by engaging thigh and bringing it back)
Updog and cobra (Yang) from solar plexus out the heart
Including intention in your yoga poses adds an element of focus that deepens the pose, adds more energetic benefit and empowers the student. As you practice including intention in your yoga practice while holding the poses you are also practicing mastering your energy so you can create other intentions in your life. Maybe you are creating an intention to learn a sport or manifest a job, or a relationship. You are more masterful with energy now to focus on your intentions in life and manifest them with ease and grace.
Each pose begins with a starting position, this can vary depending on where the pose is in your sequencing and choreographing of a yoga class. You will lead the students into the pose from your starting position. It is wise to create a class that flows from pose to pose. For example, in the sun salutation you can easily move from each pose in a flowing manner. Mountain to forward fold to lunge to down dog to updog or cobra and back the same way. If you are in mountain and your next pose is balancing bear… you will need to move down to the floor, balance on your sits bones and move into the pose. It doesn’t offer a flowing motion… it is a bit disruptive and certainly won’t have an environment for meditation or stillness within the class. Do your best when choreographing your class to include sequencing of poses that flow so it is easy to move from one pose to the next.
Each pose has steps, and it is important to follow the steps and move step by step into the yoga pose for safety and accuracy of the pose. For example if you are going into the bridge pose you will certainly need to guide the student to bring their arms underneath the body and clasp the hands after you have guided the student to press into the feet and raise the hips… so the hands have space to go under the body. Steps of poses are very intuitive and make sense, you will not have a problem. However, studying the analytics of how to get into a pose will help you master this skill.
Bandhas & Breathe
Bringing in the breath
Some would say that breathing is the most important aspect of every yoga pose. To add deeper rhythmic breathing to the pose allows the energy of the pose to flow with prana and life force energy to move through the body creating all the wonderful benefits of the pose.
There are variations to breathing that can apply to poses including breathing through the nose, the mouth, ujjia breathing, as well as kumbhaka (Breath retention) for short intervals in certain poses.
Using the breath consciously while holding a pose adds great benefit to the pose energetically. Breathe moves energy, releases emotional blocks, increases pranic flow and sensation within the body. We will go into more depth with using the breath in our pranayama class, for this class it is simply important to always remember to cue your students and remind yourself to always keep the conscious flow of deeper rhythmic breathing as you hold your poses.
In Ecstatic Yoga practices we often hold the pose for three deep breaths… three is a magical number and allows enough time for the body to deeply integrate the pose and allows time for several poses during a yoga class.
Engaging the Bandhas
At this point you are setting the foundation, aware of staying in alignment, focused on the intention of the pose, breathing deeper and consciously… and we are asking you to bring one more simultaneous focus to your pose… engaging the bandhas. At first this will seem like a lot, however as you practice all these elements will come naturally to you because your body will have muscle memory. Do you remember when you first learned to drive a car… I do, and I was not able to adjust the radio channels and drive at the same time. I watched my older sister drive and play with the radio in amazement. All my focus was on holding onto the steering wheel and getting to where I was getting. Very quickly I was just like my sister, multitasking the radio, a conversation with the passenger and driving safely to wherever I was going. This is the same with bringing mindfulness into each element of the yoga pose. Most yoga trainings do not include an emphasis on all these elements, however, when you learn to include all the elements of a yoga pose including engaging the bandhas, you will intensify the results both physically and energetically in your body… and in the same one hour or so practice.
Bandhas are energy locks within the body that seal the energy inside the physical body, activate the nadis and especially the sushmna or great river nadi moving up your central core. When we engage the bandhas during a yoga practice we amplify the energy within the body by not allowing the energy to leak out while holding poses. When the energy is contained in the body it intensifies and it also activates the chakras and nadis to bring overall wellbeing and balance to the body as well as raising the kundalini and activating spiritual awakening on a spiritual, physical and energetic level. So little to ask for such great benefits.
As you begin to train your muscle memory to engage the bandhas while holding poses and relaxing in between and while setting up for poses, you will be in a position to remind your students to also engage the bandhas.
A quick review of the bandhas, not to replace the class on bandhas, just to add.
Mula Bandha is at the root chakra, often called the root lock. It involves the perinium muscles between the anis and genitals. This muscle is the muscle you use to hold from urinating when you really need to go. When you engage the mula bandha you engage the perinium muscle bringing the energy up and in toward the second or sacral chakra. Women have been instructed to engage this muscle with Kegel exercises after child birth.
This bandha is the diaphragm lock, located at the abdomen, engaging 2nd and 3rd chakras. Engaging the abdomen and bringing the energy in and upwards towards the heart chakra.
This is the throat lock located at the throat chakra. You engage this bandha by bringing the chin inwards and resting the tongue on the roof of the mouth.
The mala bandha is when you engage all three bandhas simultaneously. Many poses will allow you to engage all three bandhas, however there will be poses when only one or two bandhas can naturally be engaged. When I am in forward folds I engage the mula bandha and the jalanhara bandha only, it doesn’t feel natural to engage the abdomen, therefore I allow it to rest. Listen to your body and intuition. The intent is to engage as many energy locks as possible and with the natural flow of the body.
Coming Out of the pose
Coming out of poses consciously and slowly is an important part of the pose, as important sometimes as getting into the pose. With coming out of poses there is usually a very intuitive way to move out of the pose, however, some poses have specific steps to move out of the pose to protect the body. For example, in bridge the invitation is to slowly bring the hips down onto the floor one vertebrae at a time from the upper thoracic vertebrae to the lower lumbar, then allow the sacrum and tail bone to rest on the floor. This protects the back and spinal column and also allows a benefit of a mini massage on the spinal processes… which is a great benefit.
Coming out of the pose also varies depending on what pose follows, as many poses transition directly into the next pose, as we mentioned earlier a benefit to creating a flowing sequence. For example, if you are in down dog and your next pose is forward fold, you will simply walk, step or jump your feet to the front of the mat to meet the hands. However, if you are moving from down dog to chattaranga like in the sun salutation you will lower your hips as you hinge your body down to a plank position.
The last of the eight elements is also an important aspect of the pose. Counter poses are when you add the opposite movement after a pose, yet in a slighter way to release any tension built up during the pose, this neutralizing protects the body as well as calms the nervous system. Counter posing not only helps the physical release, calming of the nervous system, yet it also can add a cleansing of toxins in the body. You create a pose on the other side, or a forward fold after a back bend to neutralize the energy physically and energetically in the body.
Counter poses are important yet not necessary for every pose. The best sequencing offers poses that follow one another that are naturally a counter pose. The sun salutation offers that naturally in that magical flow offering back bends and forward folds to naturally counter one another and add variety of spinal movements.
There are some basic rules to counter poses and one is for flexion and extension of the spine.
Back bends move the spine into extension and forward folds move the back into flexion. I remember this by forward fold flexion, (fff) When you move the back into extension in a back bend, it is recommended that to counter the backbend with flexion, some form of forward folding. When you are standing it could be a forward fold, when you are on your back like bridge, knees to chest is a great counter flexion for that extension of the spine.
Twists are another type of pose that has benefit in counter posing.
In twists, a slight twist to the opposite side before you move onto your next pose is a great counter pose to release the lower back and spine. This is suggested even when you are moving into a twist on the other side. Just a gentle slight twist to the opposite side can make a big difference for the spine. Then you can take the steps into your twist to the other side or onto another pose.
Matsyasana or fish pose is a great counter pose to shoulder stand. Fish pose will stretch the shoulders and cervical vertebraes to release any tension built up during shoulder stand. Rabbit is a great counter pose after the headstand.
Child’s pose is a universal counter you can use at anytime during your practice to neutralize and bring restore to a yang set of poses.
Now you are educated on the fundamentals of the elements of moving into, holding and moving out of a yoga pose. This knowledge will allow you to teach a yoga class with knowledge and experience for a safe, beneficial and powerful yoga experience. Learning the analytics of the poses will reinforce this knowledge so that you will be highly skilled to lead yoga students proficiently through your yoga classes.