This video was created because of my yoga former teacher training students,
may you never stop learning.
The Down Dog and Puppy Dog Blog: What You Are Missing
I never really gave much thought to Down Dog. I mean, it was a pose that I could do for the most part. Sure my shoulders were weak, and I felt a bit shaky. Overall, my Dog was down.
Well, at least I thought. I believe there is a part of your brain that stops thinking, opening itself up to learning when we think we got it. That was me in Down Dog.
As my shoulders got stronger to hold the weight of my body, I began to build patterns to get the pose done. Patterns that left me avoiding critical areas that I could most certainly be liberating via The Dog.
A few years after entering into the world of teaching yoga, I soon discovered I was missing some significant aspects of training in the asana department. I mean, I knew the basics. This pose looks like this, so let’s shove your body into that pose. Amen. (insert sarcasm)
An entirely new world opened up to me when I stepped out of the yoga world to learn more about the body. Like really learn about how the body moves, why things happen, why body parts hurt and how to unwind the body with cues and directions beyond “if it hurts don’t do it” and “honor your body.” Which are both beautiful and sound cues, but I wanted to understand? I wanted my students to understand so that they and I could take back ownership over our bodies and start to truly mend injuries and issues that don’t ever seem to go away.
I took training from The Gray’s Institute. From Katy Bowman, Leslee Bender, Anatomy Trains, and got my hands on all I could find from the teachings of Dr. Stewart McGill, to name a few.
I first started to apply these concepts to my practice and saw a remarkable difference — less pain in my shoulders and lower back. The longstanding stability issues in my pelvis began to improve, and for the first time, I truly understood where the core was and how to access it.
There was a time I would walk around the room while teaching and see a student’s shoulders what I now know as “internally rotated.” I’d attempt to grab onto his (or her) upper arms and roll them out. And when they didn’t even move a millimeter, I’d walk away pretending like that was how it was supposed to be. If you are a teacher you can relate. I wanted to help; I saw the issue but didn’t know exactly how to adjust the pose or how to “fix” it. Like why didn’t that work? Why didn’t they move? What was I missing?
A lot of this video is to explain that. One’s shoulders are acting immobile and how to begin to correct this.
The day I was introduced to Puppy Dog in a new way, my entire teachings revolving around Down Dog and shoulder issues changed.
All-day long we sit, we are internally rotated at the shoulder, collapsed in the chest, and limited in mobility between the shoulder and the rib cage. So no wonder when we come to yoga and pop up into Down Dog with little notice and warm-up, we are in my mind (we could be) doing more harm than good.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW VIDEO
It is my observation that Down Dog and Puppy Dog’s focus is NOT the hamstrings as they often take over the pose. Using cues to press their heels down (which is fine and dandy) and walk their Dog as the first cue in the pose. The focus, first and foremost, is the spine and shoulders, hamstrings, and calves.
Downward Dog is us upside down. And we should approach it in such away.
If your hips are tight before a hippie pose, we work them. The same should be valid for the shoulders.
Meet Puppy Dog Pose. Puppy Dog is not a fancy pose and most often looked at as a modification or lesser variation. But do not be fooled, my friend. Puppy Dog will expose everything Down Dog lets you avoid.
Puppy Dog assertively guides your shoulders and arms into their proper position- external rotation. It’s that fantastic stretch across the upper back and gives you back that full range of motion a little bit by little bit that Down Dog has been allowing you to skip over for all these years.
Puppy Dog gives you that broadening, lift, and support we struggle to find in Down Dog. And when our Down Dog’s spine looks like a macaroni noodle releasing the hamstrings and bending the knees is the action step we want to cue. See, when the arms are at full extension, and the legs everything is pulled to its max and the spine gets caught in the middle. You end up with a rounded back, tucked pelvis and shoulder issues waiting to arise. Oh snap! I didn’t even mention proper leg rotation. GAME CHANGER!
As you will find out in this video, by releasing some of the tension and adequately positioning the shoulders, you get an entirely different experience. One that in my mind is wayyyyyy better than the stuff I was experiencing earlier.
Stiffness, not your issue? Watch the video and find out how to build stability by doing Down Facing Dog and Puppy Dog the right way.
But honestly, whether you watch this video or not. The Benefits of Down Dog and Puppy Dog are out of this world amazing!
Benefits of Down Dog and Puppy Dog:
- Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
- Energizes the body
- Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
- Strengthens the arms and legs
- Helps reduce the symptoms of menopause
- Helps prevent osteoporosis
- Improves digestion
- Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
- Therapeutic for high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet, sciatica, sinusitis
- Tones the arms and legs
- Opens the chest
- Tones the arms
- Tones the core
- Releases the spine and back
- Builds strength in hands, wrists, shoulders
Check out Hope’s other blog: 5 Things You Should be Doing to Help Back Pain
Join Hope’s Online Community: Mindful Movement & Yoga Studio
Subscribe to Hope’s YouTube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/hopezvara
As a fitness professional for over a decade, I have pretty much seen it all. Especially when it comes to core-based exercise. When you consider trying to bring some more attention to your midsection (and your obliques), a few things are important to consider:
Core work flat on your back is out!
Think about it, how do you spend your day? Upright! So doesn’t it make more sense to work with gravity in that manner?
Focus on feeling rather than doing.
Find guides that really help you tune into not only what you should be doing, but what you should and shouldn’t be feeling. If you need somewhere to start, consider my Mindful Movement Online Studio (just $9.99/month)
Work from the inside out.
No matter what you do, everything is core work. That being said, it all starts with a conscious pelvic-core (pelvic floor muscles plus deep core muscles) contraction.
We have a deep oblique — called the internal oblique — and an external oblique. These muscles overlap each other.
We need our obliques for many things: They offer support and stability for the back and hips. When developed properly, they improve spinal support, movement and function, as well as the relationship between the rib cage and pelvis. Strength to twist, bend sideways and rotate comes a great deal from our amazing obliques.
Here is one of my favorite tributes to our famous obliques:
- Start in a kneeling position (be sure to pad your knees if necessary), and grab your weight (if using one).
- Find neutral pelvis (your pubis bone and hip bones should run parallel with the wall you are facing).
- Contract your pelvic-core muscles (think bathroom muscles and torso muscles, much like when you cough).
- Steadily extend your right leg out to the side, turning your right foot parallel to your knee. Be sure to anchor your foot into the floor.
- Holding your weight in front of your chest, draw your elbows wide and relax your shoulders.
- Inhale, tip to the left as far as you can control, without folding in your left hip.
- Exhale, feel your waist (obliques) carry you back up with control. You should not feel any downward pressure into your pelvic floor when you lift (remember to keep those muscles strong).
- Repeat this process 10 times on each side. After you have repeated this on both sides, go back to your weaker side and complete the process again for a 2-to-1 ratio (weaker to stronger). If the weight creates too much tension work, do this exercise without added weight in front and instead hold opposite elbows with your forearms at chest height.
Here are some more resources on firing up your obliques!
Fire Up The Obliques With The Ring Of Fire
Get your Arms and Obliques Beach Body Ready — Oblique Lift & Lower
Better Obliques with Stretch and Strengthen
Oblique Jump Start, a Journey into the Real Core!
Arms & Obliques Oh’ My with Side Plank Lift & Lower
Have fun and keep at it!
This post was originally published on Nature’s Pathways, and updated on 10/4/19.
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. Many are cheating themselves or hurting their backs by allowing their arms to do all the work. You may not even realize you are doing plank WRONG!
To help you take full advantage of Plankasana, here’s an overview of this widely used, but often misunderstood asana. These lessons are adapted from a blog post I wrote for MindBodyGreen. For a limited time, I am offering my Master Plank course (6 weeks full of core-engaging content) for FREE! Sign Up today to get access to the course and get your plank in shape.
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 hyperextending 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 shoulder width, you 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!
2. Get your legs in gear.
Your inner thighs are your pelvic floor’s favorite neighbor (way more than your butt). Bring your feet together so that they touch and engage your thighs inward toward each other. Then, press the quadriceps upward without hiking your buttocks. If you pay close enough attention, you should notice some activation in your pelvic floor area. By placing a foam yoga block or mini ball between the lower part of the thigh, you can generate more action in this area.
3. Resist gravity with the core.
Align your pelvis in neutral position (ASIS and pubis bone make a triangle shape that runs parallel to the floor), and resist gravity. By resisting gravity, you’re turning on your transversus abdominis, the hoop-like muscle at the deepest layer of the core. This is where the stability of plank begins.
Think of plank in thirds: 1/3 arms, 1/3 legs, 1/3 core. When you break down plank this way, you can focus on each section of the body and create better stability. Once you’ve successfully positioned yourself, check to make sure your head isn’t sagging (it puts more pressure on your wrists). Create length from your heels pressing back (not touching the floor) and your crown stretching forward.
Grab a partner and ask your partner to take her first two fingers and open them up like an upside-down V. Take that V and place a finger on each side of the lower spine. As she presses down on your lower back, resist her without pushing your buttocks upward or sagging down towards the floor. What you should feel is a quiver. This is the transversus abdominis earthquake.
4. Hold Your Plank.
Remain in Plankasana for up to 10 breaths, limiting belly breathing and maximizing side body breathing.
In Plank there should be zero back pain and no hip flexor pain. This can take time to perfect, especially if you’ve used everything but your core to do the core’s job throughout your entire life.
If your shoulder blades look like wings on an airplane, press into your palms and work to lift the rib cage up away from the floor. You’ll benefit greatly from the scapula push-up.
If you’re the opposite and you overly round your upper back (still avoiding your core), you’re probably overexerting your arm and chest muscles. Try sinking your chest a bit. As a teacher, I often rub my hand on the upper back to help smooth out this area.
The next time you practice plank, take a few extra moments to explain it thoroughly to your students or run through the tweaks yourself. Your core will thank you later. If you want more help with MASTERING your plank, join me in my six-week Master Plank course, FREE for a limited time.
If you are looking to strengthen your TRUE core for core stability, mobility, and functionality, consider the Three-Week Core Functional Fitness Course. My Core Functional Fitness Training approaches your core from all planes of motion – the way our bodies REALLY move – to reduce pain and injury, improve function, and deliver REAL power to your core – 408% more power!
Working your pelvic floor: three things to know.
The uncomfortable stare you get back, when during your yoga class you utter the words “anal sphincter” or “vaginal passage way”… or worst yet “soft tissue behind the scrotum”.
This is the initial middle-schooler-discomfort my studio room usually filled with when I would connect the exercise or request with a direct body part. You could just feel the air get thick with discomfort. But why? These are body parts like any other. So why not the bicep? Or the glute? The thigh or abdomen? Taboo that lurked in the shadows around such body parts soon became my mission to bust through. Not for my sake as a teacher, but for my students’ bodies.
About 15 years ago I started questioning my grounds for being a teacher. I started questioning the ‘whys’ behind the movements and when my students were complaining things hurt or felt funny and my trained response was “that’s normal” or “it will get better”. I began to soon realize that it wasn’t my students who had to change, it was me and how and why I was doing what I was doing in the class. Because truth be told… I didn’t even really know!
I had completed my 500 hours for yoga and had taken almost a dozen training’s in the Pilates arena, but I still felt unequipped to explain the why’s and how’s to my students. And I could perform some fairly complicated postures, and was able to guide students though amazing classes and posture progression. But lacked one very important skill, the ability to take them deep into their body and see for themselves what should be going on. What should be happening. What should be firing or not firing in order to have the best experience possible in the pose and class.
At that time it became very clear to me I wasn’t going to find that in the yoga arena and decided to step outside the yoga box and start to study the body and how it moves in real time, and specifically how it relates to the core.
And when I came back, it was go time to re-educate, re-inspire, and re-focus my students so they could heal their bodies, and take back their lives. Starting with the pelvic floor.
3 Things You Should Know about Working your Pelvic Floor:
1. Your Pelvic floor is located at the bottom of your torso
ONE: When working your pelvic floor, you should know that your pelvic floor is located at the bottom of your torso, and refers to the numerous muscles that attach to your pelvic and thigh bones. These muscles need to be located directly below you, so like a houses foundation they can appropriately support what is above. So if you have poor misguided posture you could surely find yourself with pelvic floor pain, back pain, hip flexor strain or injury, or lack of good core (even glutes) strength. I often guide my students to what is sometimes called “pelvic neutral”. This serves as a “home base” in that like anything, where should I start. This is essential in assisting other muscles to begin to do their jobs as well. It doesn’t mean you walk around like a robot, but rather if your body is out of alignment, getting back there will surely serve in healthy recruiting of all muscles-pelvic floor included.
TIP: Place your hands on your (front) hip bones and pubic bone and work to align this structure to be parallel with the wall, ceiling or floor you are facing. This may seem off if you are not use to this type of posture. Start here, and try to find this posture during the day to help your body find it’s home base again. Putting your pelvic floor back underneath you and core back inside of you.
2. Incontinence is not a normal part of aging
TWO: When working your pelvic floor, many women (and men) believe that incontinence is a “normal” part of aging. However, at no point is incontinence a part of the aging process in reflection to your pelvic floor. And what has become very clear to me is very few (even the most “fit”) don’t really understand how to contract the pelvic floor, in that they bear down rather than contract up and in. If you have incontinence issues and have had a child, endured some sort of trauma, or injury, neuromuscular retraining may be in your future.
TIP: I tell all my students: “first you have to understand it, then you have to visualize it (or at least be able to guide yourself there if you are not one who can visualize), then feel and perform to truly create that new fully functioning pathway. Being anywhere on that path is a successful step in the right direction. And being told to “contract your pelvic floor” (unless you know the where’s and how’s of those muscles) is not enough.
3. Squeezing doesn’t get the job done
THREE: When working your pelvic floor, many people believe that just squeezing “down there” gets the job done. However that could not be farther from the truth. For many squeezing what they believe to be the pelvic floor is only the engagement of the glutes or hip flexors, or even just part of the pelvic floor. This is exactly why it is vital to invest time in feeling out these parts of the body upon engagement. I work to explain to my students that when one area of the body isn’t cooperating or maybe can’t hear or understand the command, other neighboring body parts step up and say “I got this”. Except the body can only do “other” jobs that aren’t that area’s for so long. Eventually you will feel pain, dysfunction, or experience injury – many times in the form of a random occurrence that has no trailing back to the how or why.
TIP: During your yoga or exercise class slow it down and ask yourself “what muscle(s), what body parts (think locations, no need to know exact names) are getting the job done? Most just do and never slow down to see. When you can see what’s going on you can change it’s course. You will then find a huge improvement in how you move and the quality of movement as well.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is a real thing and not just a title deemed for those who have experienced a large physical trauma or have had a baby. Our sedentary culture obsessed with extreme movement is a cocktail that can and is wrecking havoc on our bodies with no bridge to fill the gap between no movement and extreme variations of.
Consider a class, session or guide who can take you through the exercises with an understanding and education so you can start to better understand both how your body moves and how it currently does not. Learn what to focus on and what to do or not do to begin to heal the areas of concern, one being the pelvic floor. Because if they don’t talk about it, is it fair to assume they don’t understand it. And if they don’t understand it, how will you?
“Take care of your body, it’s the only one you have and replacement parts are never as good as the originals” ~ Hope Zvara
Want to work with Hope and begin the journey to a more powerful pelvic floor? No fancy moves! No hard to understand language! No fluff!
Just moves that make sense in a program made just for you!
Movement, working out, exercise… call it what you want. It and I (is that how you say it?) have a very special relationship.
Movement is partly what saved me from a life-strangling eating disorder. When I’m not moving, long story short, it is often a slippery slope to the land of sorrows, depression, and anxiety. There is something so amazing about feeling strong, feeling alive, and feeling in my body. I love exploring movements. I love being creative and pushing myself in a way that can best serve my body.
But too much of anything can be a bad thing – even exercise. As I get older I’m more conscious of my joints, my bones. I’m trying to stay pain-free, not just trim and fit.
About two years ago, I took a very bad fall and it landed me a slow recovery and a body that felt like it was well into it’s 70’s or 80’s. Muscles wouldn’t let go of the trauma, and I started to develop imbalances that were wreaking havoc on my body that I fought so hard to keep living in.
Rediscovering resistance bands was one thing that jump-started my body’s recovery and really began to heal my injuries and imbalances without pushing it too hard (and I had no intention of being as big as the Incredible Hulk). Resistance bands are an unappreciated piece of exercise equipment. So many get sucked into believing that the more expensive, the better. Truth be told, bands are great! Think of them as one step up from bodyweight exercises and super nurturing to your joints!
How do resistance bands work?
Unlike weights, resistance bands don’t rely on gravity. The more you stretch the bands, the more they resist your movement. Want to work harder? Increase the stretch in the band! When you work with a free weight, you can only go as far as your joint will allow. With a band, create more resistance and you have just increased your workout. I love resistance bands because you can get way more creative than you can with weights. And they are so portable!
Here are some of my current favorite moves when it comes to working with resistance bands:
Resistance Band Exercises
Foot Work with Resistance Bands
Place a tied resistance band about the length of your forearm and place it over the balls of your feet. Stretch the band just enough so there is no slack. Keeping a tall body (no rib thrusting or booty pushing), start to march in place. Really work to lift your knee without leaning back or tipping forward. March in place 30 times.
Next ground into one leg and keep a strong neutral rotation on the leg (pit of the back of the knee pointing back and on dumping into the hip), engage your glute and press out with the opposite leg for a lateral lift. Think about kicking out with the heel, not the toes (almost like internal rotation). Do this 10-20 times on each side.
Resistance Band Arm Workout
Standing strong in neutral, feet grounded and no rib thrusting. Place your fists inside the tied off resistance band. First anchor your elbows at your sides and press out with both fists (the movement comes from the elbow) on an exhalation.
Try this for 10-20 times. Next keeping your upper body strong and stable pull one fist up and one fist down, like your arms are marching in place. Do this 10-20 times. Finally pull your fists diagonally and then back to center 10-20 times. Notice which arm is stronger and tune into making sure you don’t dominate the movements with that stronger arm.
Resistance Band Exercises for Hips and Glutes
This was a lifesaver for me because my left hip and hamstring weren’t cooperating, and my right glute was weak (very unstable pulley system). Place the tied off resistance band around your ankles (shoes optional) and walk 30 paces forward and back in the following ways:
Wide Monster Strides (pull the band as wide as you can comfortably and walk forward and back)
Normal Walk (Walk in a normal hips distance and stretch the band with enough resistance when you walk)
Diagonal Walk (Step to the right one foot at a time, then to the left, alternating forward and back)
Sideways Walker (Create a slight squat and step foot to foot to the right, then to the left)
So many think their workout has to be at the gym in workout clothes and X minutes long to be “worth it.” Here’s the thing: I carry my bands with me in my car. Yes, I do a three-minute workout here or there and it all adds up! To step out of the box, you have to start to think out of the box!
And you might as well add resistance bands into that thinking too!
Don’t have bands? I got you covered! Grab this kit and join me!
For many of us we own a foam roller or some sort of fascial releasing toy, but the question is “are we using it the way we should be”? I love me some foam rolling, and as a functional fitness professional, I work to educate my students that rolling is a vital method- where we release the tissues so our favorite or much needed mobility practices are a bit easier and more beneficial.
What do I mean? Well for many we are trying to move around in a catsuit five sizes too small expecting at first move our bodies to do exactly what we want them to. And to get to the punch line- if you can’t move a body part how can you expect it to function and operate correctly (safely)?
Rolling is a method that everyone (yes, everyone) should be incorporating into their daily routine. A few minutes prior to a yoga session can increase your range of motion with less effort, and less injury. A few targeted hot spots before you run or lift can make all the difference in you continually adapting the movement to accommodate that catsuit of yours leaving you always shy of every getting to the heart of the issue.
So here are four hot spot areas that I like to hit in my personal practice and guide my students through for an all over improvement in how they move both on and off the mat.
Foam Rolling your Lower Legs
Rolling lower leg (360) is essential. I tell my students all the time, “imagine walking around with two two year old’s on your legs all day-that’s what it’s like when your lower calves/legs are restrictive (short and tight). For many that is how we are living. And then we show up to yoga, Cross-fit, Zumba, whatever and expect to do everything without so much as a brief introduction to our friend the calf.
Consider rolling out your lower legs, front, back and sides and you will be amazed at how you feel and what your range of motion is like after you ditch the two year old’s.
Release Your Jaw
Not exactly a yoga pose, but our jaw is an area of our bodies that needs more attention. Our jaws are deeply connected to the health and happiness of our hips and often times when the hips are out of wack (very scientific term) our while we sleep our jaws will grind and clench to help rewire the hips and bring them back to balance.
Using one end of an acuBall, twist and turn the ball like you would turn a door knob and feel the tissues being pulled and released. Or try my favorite and imagine you are painting with a paint brush and with your wrist paint circles as you push gently in and pull the tissues around in a circle. Notice the release all the way up into the hair line. After several minutes on each side open and close your mouth and notice the new found space. This is amazing to do before bed.
Relax Your Occipital Muscles
A stiff neck, tight shoulders, and tension headaches are usually a precursor for some pain meds, but consider something a bit less chemically altering and consider something with a bit more instant gratification.
Using a warmed up acuBall, lie down on the floor and place the ball underneath the lip of your skull (occipital bone). Nod the head and gently turn the head side to side. You should notice right away the knotty parts and FYI this may not be your favorite. But if you struggle with upper body tension, tension headaches, and even the jaw clenching we spoke of earlier give this a try. You won’t be sorry you did.
Roll Your Feet
So you walk around with casts on your feet all day. Yes, you heard me correctly, casts, those things you call shoes. Those things that do not allow your feet to move, expand and take on different textures, surfaces, and environments. Those things that cripple your feet, it’s no wonder so many elderly struggle to walk, because the one thing they need to walk has been under used and no longer considered for therapy.
So kick off those shoes of your and under your desk with a mini acuBall roll out those sweet feet of yours and show them some love. We start off almost every yoga class with rolling out of our feet. It’s the base of our body and if your lower body is not in balance and ready to take on life, how can you expect the rest of your body to?
The feet hold 72,000 nadis or nerve endings that all connect back with different areas of the body, tapping into those areas thorough the feet also offers an additional healing we could all use. Once you’ve rolled each foot notice how your foot feels to the floor when standing or walking afterwards. You should feel more connected, more aware, more alive. And now, so will you!
Four reasons to roll it out that will give you instant gratification with little time spend. Remember what we do does matter, and I want you to do things that help you bring more movement and well-being into your day.