Almost every yoga class features at least one plank, yet very few can honestly say that they know completely what's going on in Plankasana. Most view it as a great core asana, yet few actually access their true core, and many are cheating themselves or hurting their backs by allowing their arms to do all the work.
To help you take full advantage of Plankasana, here's an overview of this widely used, but often misunderstood asana.
1. Pick your variation.
Will you be practicing on your hands or on your forearms? If you're going to be practicing on your palms, set up your hands shoulder distance apart and align the wrists under the shoulders. With your middle fingers pointing forward, press your entire hand into the floor, keeping a bit more weight in the knuckles.
From the shoulder, rotate the folds of the elbows forward, without hyper-extending the joint (they look like they're bending in the wrong direction). This is important so that you're able to shift the load down into the core and prevent the shoulders from doing all the work. Without hunching, slide the shoulder blades down your back.
If you prefer planking on your forearms, get out of the habit of clasping the hands together in a triangle shape. This puts an emphasis on the pectorals, rather than the core. By opening up the arms to a shoulder width, you again shift the load to where it belongs. Turn the palms inward or upward when practicing, rather than down into the floor. Shift the weight evenly throughout the entire forearm and you'll notice a significant increase in core power. Use a block between the palms for more core strength!To continue reading this blog post on Plank by Hope Zvara please visit MindBodyGreen where it was posted live on April 4th 2013 (CLICK) and don't forget to watch the video and share this with your friends!
Hope in High Lunge
This article was featured in the April 2013 Edition of Nature's Pathway's Magazine Southeast Wisconsin Edition. To view this article and rate it or "LIKE" it please do so here on my Blog and at NPM CLICK
- Three dimensional– In order to do the things we need to in life, we have to move in a multidimensional form. So, in order to improve our overall health and ability to live and function, our yoga class should too. This involves moving in three planes of motion: sagittal, which moves front to back (lunge); frontal, which moves side to side (like triangle); and transversus, which cuts the body in half, top to bottom (a movement like a twist or cross of the midline). Challenge yourself as a teacher or practitioner, and move in as many ways as possible.
- Gravity– When we step onto the mat, we need to take into consideration that gravity is always around us and upon us. Try to play with gravity in as many different positions and movement patterns as possible, and see what happens. Especially when it comes to the pelvic core and gravity, we will see the body respond differently.
- Dynamic– We often think of “dynamic” as complicated or having a lot of parts. But dynamic can also be movement using multiple forms. Here’s what I mean by this: When you step into a lunge, your arms always go forward and up, but what about moving your arms out to the sides or back by your hips? This way, you give yourself a dynamic range rather than always the same performance. Dynamic can also be moving in and out of a pose at variable speeds and levels depending on your ability. This type of dynamics can offer the muscles a less stressful way to release and the mind time to get to know the new body part discovered.
- Individualized– It is important to understand that each individual’s needs are unique. Believing that everyone in a class should be doing something exactly the same is not only crazy but also harmful. If we just consider men and women, our bodies are drastically dissimilar. Testosterone and estrogen act totally different on muscles and the build of a person’s body. Bone size, shape and spacing, as well as tendons, muscles and ligaments, all are very different from men to women.
- Breathe– This seems like a simple concept considering the average person takes a breath anywhere from 21,000-24,000 times a day. But the reality is that most people are shallow breathers and, on top of that, hold their breath. If you have the desire to improve your physical body and get healthy, it really needs to start with your breath. Weak breath flow has a slew of negative consequences, including poor digestion, asthma, anxiety, depression, headaches, muscle cramps and even pelvic floor dysfunction. So before you step onto a yoga mat, into a physical therapy clinic or a Zumba class, get educated and learn how to breathe; your body will thank you.
- Acknowledging the mind and spirit– We are not just a body bouncing around from point A to point B. One of the reasons I love yoga is that yoga understands that this physical body is the most superficial form of the self. There is so much more to understand than just what you see physically. And usually when you have a physical symptom or issue, that “issue” has been going on for quite some time — the physical body is the soul’s last attempt to get us to listen. When I exercise or step onto my mat, it is just as much a spiritual experience as prayer or meditation, if not more, because now there is an honoring of the body involved that I have to act on and respect … something that I can very well translate into my everyday life.
There are 30 trillion cells in the human body, more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels, 88,000 chakras, and 72,000 nadis. And that's just the beginning.
Awareness is a funny thing. Usually, until something is brought to your attention, you do not realize it exists, is important, or needs to be changed. When I first started a formal yoga practice over ten years ago (I’m pretty sure my shoulder stands in my living room at age eight were a sign yoga was in my future), I had no clue what awareness was. Growing up I was told to pay attention, but I don’t think I really knew what actual awareness was.
What is awareness?
To continue reading this article visit MindBodyGreen.com (CLICK HERE)Awareness, Meditation, Trust, yoga, Chakras
Hope in her backyard in Dancer Pose
We have all said it to someone, had someone say it to us or even said it to ourselves in a moment of self realization: You need to take better care of yourself, take more time for you and maybe even learn to say no.
We do in fact get too caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday living that we forget that if we do not pay attention to our personal needs and well-being there will quite simply be no us, no you, no me. Within this honoring, this mindfulness we are in-acting towards ourselves it has been very apparent to me that this act of selflessness needs to be coupled with an intention, awareness and consideration of those around us as well.
We often times get too caught up in our own "stuff" we forget that what we do, the choices we make and the things we say affect those around us.
Consciousness of who we are, what we are doing and how we live is something we must choose to do each day and then act or react accordingly.
I have found myself lately in situations that have been teaching me about my own consciousness and how I am in fact playing into others lack thereof. I ultimately care so much about my foresight has been that I will sacrifice myself for others to move forward. But I have noticed lately, more than ever, that there is seldom a return on this (when you are not truly honoring your own being). Now I know some of you will say “sure there is”. But what I have ultimately found is that the self sacrifice I am referring to is the one where we are in fact enabling those around us to stay stuck, even though they may get what they need: a ride, some money, help, or a hand out with our having asked, but within that process we end up sinking our own beings to help them stay afloat with nothing in return.
Many times we (the enablers) make choices and act in such ways because we feel we may be inconveniencing others and in return they may not want to buy something of yours or come to your party or help you when you are down and out. What we often times forget is that in doing such this, with these intentions and mindset no one wins. Sure that person is down on their luck, in a bind or struggle but if you keep helping them how will they learn, and if you keep helping them how will you learn? When we act I this way we are actually holding the other people involved back from growing, we are enabling their karma to never fully meet with them face to face because we feel bad or we want to help because we feel guilty or they pull out the victim card on us. And as much as we are trying to help them honor themselves by assisting them in making the right choices, helping them heal from a crisis, we need to turn that around towards us and ask ourselves if we are doing the same thing?
The truth is we all have problems; we all have rough patches, bumps and mishaps; now some come in the form of cancer, dis-ease, financial loss, martial or family problems, and self insecurities that may in turn become horrible self destructive addictions. But these are purely learning lessons, some very difficult, some sudden, or seemingly unfair, but if you can step back from them a bit and trust that everything is in its perfect place and a learning opportunity we will only move forward leaving no one accountable for our actions except ourselves. My life has screamed this for as far as I can remember. As a young child I felt the need to fix everything, in my teens I struggled with a paralyzing eating disorder and then early into recovery our first daughter Faith at 28 weeks gestation was diagnosed with a irreversible condition that left her with a short life spent in my arms (and my husband’s). I had to choose each time to not see myself as a victim, to not blame everyone around me and to not blame myself. I choose at each moment (literally) to see what the silver lining was, to see that life was teaching me, Faith chose this life and chose me and my husband as part of her path and we to hers. She gave me personally many great things that I am grateful for and she would have not given me them any other way. Just like your current life and situation is giving you something right now to grow from, to help change your life and work through your karma.
So when we learn to honor ourselves, and act in a self-less way, we need to ask ourselves this “am I helping or hurting”, these choices should hold us accountable to our actions, words and thoughts. Remember the lady in McDonalds with the coffee, I believe that this episode paved the way for people to believe that self integrity, self responsibility and accountability will not get you what you want, we now live in a society that would rather divorce than admit that they were wrong, sue every company, person and organization than step up and do a little hard work and grow. Much of the ownership in today’s society comes in all the wrong forms. Respect is bought, stolen, or cheated, we are taught that honesty will not get you far in life, and we are taught to be enabled from early on.
Simply put, when we learn to respect ourselves, see the greater good in ourselves and lead by example what seems so hard, unfair or impossible only becomes the biggest stepping stone in your karmic journey. Sink or swim, look around is anyone really pushing you under? For me (during my eating disorder) I found I was letting myself drown, and manipulating those around me to keep me afloat just enough not to have to change.
So go out and take better care of yourself, but in that process seek awareness and understand that we are only given what we need and have asked for ourselves through our own choices and actions.
We as yogis are versed in "Warrior I.” As a yoga teacher, functional fanatic and lifelong student, I have come across some very interesting variations to the traditional Warrior I.
When I teach the physical postures I try to give students a blue print to go off of. And before a student or teacher trainee learns any other postures with me, they first must understand the concept of neutral or Tadasana. In the West, we have an especially warped concept of good posture. Over the last decade teaching, I have found myself morphing my yoga practice and teaching into a more physically functional approach with a spiritual tradition wrapped in.
Whenever I introduce this concept to the public or new students I try to help people understand that once we can learn neutral, we then can learn un-neutral. A simple example would be a foot pattern besides neutral. Many people already have an external rotation on the foot with a collapsed main arch, so we need to approach postures with an understanding and re-educating of the foot to neutral, and then we can do other things. Understanding neutral can really help us function better in by getting us out of the rounded torso, tight hip flexors, the need for arch supports, fluffy pillow, and get back to knowing our bodies and what they really need.
With Functional Warrior I, students gain better insight into their body from a Mountain Pose perspective or neutral, and begin to see the blueprint of their bodies; what is tight, short, slack, strong or weak. From there, they can begin to heal and gain ground to what in yoga we call balance and what I suggest is finding the imbalances.
To read more on this topic visit MindBodyGreen, where Hope has this article posted.
What if core work could be fun? What if core work could be effortless.... Well effortless in that in a split second your body turns on like a wild fire and you are reaping the benefits of killer abs in just one minute flat. And best yet, you are able in that minute to locate areas like your obliques, transversus abdominus, back muscles, and rectus abdominus.
Teaming up for workout is often thought of as the buddy system, only that usually means you do your thing and I'll do mine and then we go our separate ways. Well not in this case, in Core Functional Fitness it is important to address wellness as a whole unit, that being said the need to interact with others is part of that wellness. When was the last time you worked with your neighbor in yoga, that you laughed in class, oh and all at the same time fired up your core like no other?
In just three minutes flat you can work your middle and feel great.
- Locate two mini balls (available at hopezvara.com store).
- Partner one sit down and snugly place one mini ball behind your sacrum.
- Once the ball is placed properly, sitting tall, exhale and mindfully tilt just the pelvis so that the sacrum is kissing the mini ball and activate the pelvic floor (view past posts for a how to).
- Inhale and recline the spine, keeping neutral back to 45 degrees.
- Finally extend your arms up either to shoulder height or slightly higher.
- Partner two stand above partner one and step back with one foot for stable balance.
- Place a mini ball between you and your partners hands and you too brace your core.
- Partner one work to keep your legs, hips and torso still and steady, using all the muscles of your middle to help you do that.
For the next 30 seconds to minute Partner two (standing) direct the ball up and down, right and left, in circles all the while adding resistance to each other.
What partner one (and partner two for that matter) should notice is the entire core region of the body firing, when the ball moves left you feel your left obliques, the ball moves down you notice your lower belly and back. Remember to stay stable and remember that both partners need to resist each other against the ball.
Now switch and see how you both do when you switch roles.
P.S. Personal Trainers this is a wonderful way to get some quick core work in with your clients and make it educational at the same time, helping them locate vital muscles, plus when students learn to use their own bodies versus machines first, the body and mind develop an important relationship that would not otherwise be developed.
I love fall weather, as long as I dress for the wind, I love fall weather! There is nothing like the smell of leaves, a cool breeze and for me the aroma of cut pines in my backyard. I find myself lately stopping dead in my tracks to take a moment and breathe in the moment, literally, breathe in the moment. And in that moment, life is just so sweet. I often think about the people who are simply too busy or who haven’t cultivated the means to “stop and smell the roses” and what they are missing out on.
Each day I find myself working to be a better version of myself from the day before. And as I continually work to do this I find myself being reminded that a yogi is not someone who necessarily practices asana two hours every day, but rather someone who understands what the asanas are trying to do for them, understands that a yogic mindset and life style will take you farther than a two hour practice. I am partly saddened at the direction yoga in the West is taking, and find it pivotal to educate thirsty yogis for what the asana really feels like and further more how to truly translate that into their everyday life. Now I want you to know that I am not the world’s greatest yogini, I unfortunately do not have a daily asana practice that one would think is necessary to be a yoga teacher, I make mistakes, I can’t please everyone, I tend to have a late night snack and I sometimes get in a funk that is less than impressive. But that all being said, I am living a life more in the moment that I have ever before, I am more aware, more comfortable in my own skin and have cultivated the means in which I am 99% of the time O.K. with my choices because I know that everything is an opportunity to learn.
And this opportunity is such a sacred one, that when we turn away from it we are the only ones who lose out. The person I once was ran with fear every time something got hard, was judgmental about everyone and their uncle because I was fearful and judgmental of myself and the choices I was making, or to be more exact, the choices I was not making. My fear has turned into compassion for those still turning away from opportunities to be better versions of themselves simply because it was not what they expected, because fear steps in and they liked it better being stuck and feeling crappy about who they are or worse yet, critical about the situation at hand, not really realizing how their actions and reactions have a direct affect on everyone around them.
So, fall is a time in which we “change with the seasons”, where we transform from who we were into who we are; and even though we may not exactly love or even really like who we are right now, we need to be that person in order to become the person we are striving to be. A student told me just yesterday that she is learning how to really live her yoga off the mat, she is really beginning to see the difference between what I continually say on the mat about “honoring the pain but learn to sit through the discomfort”. And she went on to say how she is actually O.K. with the discomfort, knowing it will pass. Simply put, discomfort is a way for us to not be comfortable, because when we are comfortable then we aren’t growing. For many of us, we stop thinking we need to pay attention, we stop working our butts off to be the best version of our selves.
Now that being said I’m not saying you need to be a manic workaholic, but rather continually work to be in the moment, discomfort or not, and remember that this moment will soon pass; just like the trees, you look out your window right now and they have leaves, but tomorrow when you wake up they may not, and yet they are still trees, you don’t judge them and you simply let that moment pass. You are that tree who is learning to be O.K. with how and when your leaves fall.
In this instant, as we move forward and accept life in a more loving, authentic, honest way, know that things get easier, and they feels more effortless. And what I have come to better understand is that our mindset’s change, not so much the trauma or drama that comes, but rather our actions and reactions change and things feel simpler. So my intention for all of my students and reader is that you let your leaves fall more simply and enjoy the surroundings in which this occurs. That you learn to step back and smell the roses and head into the discomfort with your head held high, even if you have to grit your teeth because your ego thinks otherwise. Because the only thing constant in life is change itself.
Welcome to September, a beautiful month of change, renewal and for some good ole routine. What I have found lately is that many people in my circuit have all had the same request, complaints or worry. How do I move forward, how do I become better, how do I attract abundance in various forms.And my initial reaction in my gut is from my own past experience “you work your butt off”. But really there is more to it than that. Much of my life has been about learning to accept, push forward and to see my greatest potential. I am probably not the average person having gone through what I have in my life time thus far; some,really amazing and some, not so much. But aside from that, I do recognize that we all have our vices, our battles and our own sacred path.
So when I look at how to get out of a funk, or to make a change and grow, I often start out by looking at what I am avoiding. As a yoga teacher if I feel stuck on my mat teaching, my classes feels dull or less than abundant, I then observe what poses I am avoiding, where I feel like I am simply repeating myself and how can I spruce that area up to make it more abundant. In my own personal life I have been very conscious as to how I react,to really just observe myself and my surroundings, trying not to react so quickly and to try to see what is really going on. And what I continually realize is, that much of what I observe is, one, other people are just dealing with life the only way they know how, and two, as an observer I have an opportunity to learn from it. For a very long time my life was consumed with other people doing things (especially the hard stuff) for me, being passive aggressive,having a pitty party, stressing over things people said, did and what I thought people were saying or doing all they way down to why someone didn’t come to my yoga class Wednesday night or why they stopped coming all together; I’d think it must be because I don’t teach a particular style or that they like someone else better (and if that is true, then they need your class more than you think). And even if you are not a yoga teacher we do this to ourselves all the time, “why didn’t she call me back when she said she would” or “I know they didn’t invite me on purpose”. To put it frankly, like the world revolves around you. Now the old me would be offended by that statement, but I tell myself this often to remind me that not everything is going to go my way, not everything is directed at me and that if I allow it,everything can be a learning opportunity to grow.
Yoga teaches me over and over again that it’s not about us and when it is our only requirement is that we take it and move forward from it. I truly believe that nothing is really bad in life but rather super tough lessons to learn, that deep desire to grow may in fact come in the form of someone crossing over or you losing your house. I lost my daughter and she has given me so many amazing gifts through her short life than I think she could have any other way. So when I look at my own life and observe myself, my actions and reactions and the people around me I am then able to start to make change.
To grow, yoga teaches us that we need to learn to walk our own path, and as tempting as others paths are, as “easy” as they might seem,and to you, it might very well be, but that path is not your own. Those seeds are not for you to plant, you could offer water and them to you, but you are the gardener and in life; all things grow differently and all good things come to those who wait patiently and in the mean time stay the path, no matter what life may rain down on them.
- Realize that life is what I make it. I can sit in shit or clean it up, that is truly up to me.
- I can take criticism as an opportunity to be better and grow or to shrivel up and fade away.
- Not everyone is going to like you, agree with you and see your point of view, but that doesn’t mean you should change who you are because the new trend is skinny jeans and you like boot cut, or everyone seems to like power yoga and you teach Hatha. I trust and believe that as a teacher I am here to offer and learn as well, and whomever I meet is meant to be. This goes for my personal and professional life.
- Learn to say “no”. Chant it in front of your mirror if you have to. We are a people pleasing society and even when we say “yes”we then have the attitude of no, which is even worse than saying no in the first place. I have learned if you respect yourself and your life, than others will too.
- Growth demands self reflection and times of trial. Ever wonder why when life is going really good and you start to forget where you have been and how hard you have worked and all the tools you have, to only then fall again, or feel stuck? No coincidence there; life is not simply an uphill battle, it’s a constant up and down, hills and valleys, and I truly feel that is necessary to then allow us to keep at life and continually step up our game and be someone. Now I’m not talking famous, but an asset to life.
- In the end all you can control is your own being.All you can do is lead by example. I am guilty that I was that person that didn’t want to quite commit all the way, but at some point for me, I realized that to grow you have to plant tons of seeds, because if you have ever gardened you know that not every seed will go to harvest. And some months there will be a battle of the elements, some day’s critters will be eating the fruits of your labors and sometimes things just might not grow the way you thought they would.But then, you get those few picks that are just amazing, those few seeds that grow and expand beyond what you ever intended, or a few seeds that you thought were one thing and they turned out to be another.
I am truly bless each day in knowing that I have an abundance of opportunity to take, it’s just how much you want it and are willing to grow a little and make change.
From my heart to yours,
Our voice is such a powerful tool as teachers. We can direct the class towards a certain feeling or experience simply by changing the tone of our voice.
Our voice is also our fifth chakra the Throat Chakra, our voice center, our center of communication, of speech, of being heard. And as a yoga teacher how you express yourself in your voice can and does make a world of difference in the effectiveness of your teachings. So speak up and speak out.
Watching the tone of your voice, and changing the inflection to help facilitate your point or emphasis on the pose or the message you are trying to get across can help by leaps and bounds when guiding students into a deep and meaningful practice on all levels.
By changing your voice tone you also help catch wandering minds and bring them back. Because if you don't seem very enthused to be there--why should they? We often see yoga and think "zen" and yes that is true, but also remember that you are creating a dialogue, so to speak with your students. So know that it is OK to laugh, to get excited, to show power in your voice and show sympathy, all through how you speak.
As a yoga teacher speaking up entails way more than you would normally think. As a yoga teacher you are asked to speak your truth, share your heart and empower yourself with the energy and knowledge that life is teaching you. To be a yoga teacher will push your boundaries more than you will ever imagine and it is unlike any other teaching because you are offering a part of yourself in a way only yoga can offer it.
I am a huge communicator and love the concepts of communication, public speaking, writing and expression on all levels. Yoga is a practice that thrives on this and to be an effective yoga teacher you really must be an effective communicator. And if for some reason you can't speak due to a cold or whatever that voice has to come out through mindful actions and breathing. If you don't seem too enthused to be teaching, don't expect your students to be too enthused to be on their mat with you.
So start your class off on the right breath and introduce yourself to new students, ask about issues or concerns, why they are in class (create that dialogue), use your voice and pitch while teaching to emphasis your point and direction and never to forget to offer gratitude and thank students for coming, for there efforts, and a little humbleness along the way never hurts as well.
So go out and be mindful, speak up!
Let me know how your communication is communicating!
As teachers, yoga teachers at that, it is very easy to fall into a rut where we begin to teach the same thing over and over. And it may not be the same order but just the same "safe" postures.
When I say safe I mean what we feel comfortable with, nothing that makes us have to pay more attention than we already are, nothing that we might have to practice a bit or even ask students questions about.
As a teacher I have over the past decade been very conscious of this in my own teaching. I was talking with a teacher (my mom) the other day and guiding her about some teaching strategies with integrating new material and information into the classes without freaking out students and without freaking our herself. And I shared a story about when I first started teaching how I wouldn't teach Pigeon in class because I was afraid of how to get students into it and the fact that it might be really hard or uncomfortable for them to be in. And one day I just decided that I was a moron and taught it and the feedback was stellar, they of course loved and hated it all at the same time. But that experience helped me realize that I was doing no one a favor by keeping something from them that they needed merely because I was afraid, uncomfortable and worried way more than my students were. I was actually keeping them from growing and keeping them from something that we both needed. And the hips are storage depots for past tensions and tightness (physical and emotional) so at that time in my life I definitely see a relationship between my avoiding that pose and my needed to also teach it for me, not just solely my students.
So teachers pay attention to what you are avoiding, to what you dislike, to your hang-ups, to your criticisms. As part of my practice I work very diligently to keep that in check. I notice that I am in a box so to speak and I then take a few breaths and some time to see where that is coming from. Am I seeing a need and expressing to that need or am I avoiding and then in the end avoiding? This is something for you the teacher to discover.
So step back for a moment today or this week and notice the direction of your teaching, what you bring to the mat, I notice in my own teaching that if I work to be even more present than I already am what is good to many is stellar to me. So even when you are at the top of your game, climb back down to get a better look and then climb back up again.
I do this exercise with my teacher trainers: write down your 3-5 favorite postures that you love.......
Now write down the 3-5 least favorite postures in your practice/teaching.....
O.K. now for the next week you are not allowed to teach your favorite postures and you need to incorporate one or all of the least favorite postures into your teachings this week. Now some of you may say, "but I need Down Dog, or Plank, or whatever". And I say, no you don't, think outside the box, get creative, step from your rigid left brain to your creative right brain and see what happens. Notice the comments, facial expressions and reactions of those in class.
Let me know how it goes.