The Down Dog and Puppy Dog Blog: What You Are Missing

The Down Dog and Puppy Dog Blog: What You Are Missing

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) 

Downward Facing Dog Pose with Hope Zvara

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. 

How to do downward facing dog pose blog by hope zvara

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 Pose with Hope Zvara

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

Build a Better Booty and Backside

Build a Better Booty and Backside

It’s almost the New Year! Time to get up off that chair and get your booty moving again. No more excuses – it’s time to build a better booty!

You can feel the difference with just one quick move. Your New Year’s resolution to exercise more does not have to include extreme, super-quick jumpy moves or flailing body parts. The key to effective exercise is awareness. In order to cultivate awareness, one has to start to move and feel at the same time.

Are you an active person who loves to play? This is a great move to help improve activities like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and many other activities that require real lower-body stability and strength. This move is both challenging and mindfully controlled; speed will not win here.

Getting Started

Brush up on your pelvic floor and deep-core awareness (pelvic-core). This zone is the key to all exercise and all movement.

To give you a very short tutorial: While working on a deep pelvic floor contraction and deep transversus (our deepest torso/core muscle), imagine you have to go to the bathroom and you’re holding it in. At the same time, coughing. Feel your entire core contract as you stay contracted in the pelvic floor.

Build a Better Booty and Backside

Start standing.

Clamp a mini exercise ball or weighted ball tightly between the calf hamstring on one side.

Keeping a neutral pelvis (front hip bones are parallel with the wall you are facing), slowly hinge into yourself.

Bend the knees slightly to sink down into a Chair Pose on one foot. Use a hand against a wall to keep your balance, if needed. Align the knees to meet, and face the hips and torso to square yourself forward. Try using your hands at the top of your pelvis to see if you are level or not.

Inhale in Chair Pose and as you exhale, contract your pelvic-core, raise the ball leg forward while lifting the opposite arm up. Be mindful when you lift the leg forward to go only as high as you can without collapsing your torso or tucking your tailbone forward.

As you exhale, work to feel the base leg’s gluteus maximus contract as well.  It’s important that the pelvic floor contract first and then the glutes, or all you are doing is death-squeezing the gluteus maximus.

Focus on lifting directly upward through the crown of the head. With a lack of gluteus stability and pelvic floor and inner core support, you will notice that you want to lean back.

Inhale and return back to a one-legged Chair Pose, working to bring the legs parallel with each other and work to keep the floating foot flexed.

Continue to move mindfully and slowly. There is no need to speed through this movement. When you do, the core muscles can easily be overlooked.

Try using a mini ball to start: focus on stability first and then increase to a weighted ball of 2 to 8 pounds.

Repeat this series up to 10 times on each side and then go back to the weaker side and revisit it for another possible 10 rounds. Working a 2-to-1 ratio allows the weaker tissues and side to catch up to the more dominant side. You can find more exercises to work these areas as a member of my Mindful Movement Online Studio – only $9.99/month.

Good luck!

Looking for More Pose Breakdowns? Check Out These Articles!

How To Get The Most Out Of Plank Pose

Save Savasana: The Final Pose of Yoga is the Most Important

How to do Pigeon the Right Way

When Dancer Pose Doesn’t Dance: Unlocking the Front Body

4 Quick Effective Yoga Poses To Do While Flying

Get a Better Down Dog with Puppy Dog

Get a Better Down Dog with Puppy Dog

If you are a yogi, then downward-facing dog is probably a staple posture in your practice (you may have never heard of puppy dog).

But as a yoga teacher for over a decade, I have discovered that not all down dogs are created equal. Many people, in all actuality, are simply too restricted in the upper body (shoulder girdle) to safely and properly practice this mighty pose. For those of us who are not so stiff, we are so loosey-goosey that we lack true stability to hold ourselves properly.

Several years ago, I wasin a training with Gary Kraftsow (creator of Viniyoga Therapy). He stated quite bluntly,

If you never do another down dog again in your yoga practice, you will survive just fine.”

He unknowingly stemmed my interest in this mysterious pose, and I soon began my quest to understand more.

Here’s the Quick Scoop.

Most of our daily postures, habits, and routines ask us to round our bodies forward in a kyphotic manner. This leaves many of us locked in a very hunched position. We allow minimal mobility in our scapulae, which essentially allow our actual shoulders to move. Add tight hamstrings and a lack of good core awareness, and you’ve got yourself the hunchback of downward-facing dog.

It is unfortunate that many repeatedly force themselves into this posture. They find any pinhole of flexibility they can grasp and milk it for all its worth. Because that is what they think they should be doing.

So what is a teacher to do?

The answer: Introduce her students to their new best friend — puppy dog. Puppy dog allows students to face the true restriction in their scapulae and surrounding muscles. In puppy dog, students are not able to sag into the underarm or bow outward in the elbows. The deltoids and adjoining muscles are too tight to move otherwise.

As for the hamstrings and rounded lower back… It’s now time to calm the ego and learn that bending your knees is actually a better option for both the hamstrings and lower back muscles. Plus, it will take the stress out of the shoulders (in down dog too).

Here’s How to do it:

  1. Grab a yoga block and turn it to look like a rectangle on the floor in front of you.
  2. Position yourself on all fours (hands and knees) in front of the block.
  3. Frame the block with the palm of your hand on each side of the block, palms facing inward.
  4. Step back into forearm plank and find pelvic neutral, drawing actively on your pelvic-core (bathroom muscles + deep core muscles). Be mindful not to sag in the belly or push the booty to the sky.
  5. With a broad upper back and a long neck, press evenly through the forearms from your elbow to the pinky finger.
  6. Exhale deeply and float the hips up and back as you take a small step in hinging the body into a triangle like position.
  7. Continue to press evenly through the forearms and inward on the block. Imagine you are ready to kick up into a forearm balance (basically push away from the floor, not to collapse into the upper body).
  8. If you notice the back very rounded, bend the knees to help gain length in the spine again. Even if the knees are bent, you can still press the heels and get a nice calf stretch.
  9. Finally, where the body is hinged (the hip fold), deeply contract the belly and pelvic floor muscles. Imagine they are drawing you back toward the wall. Your shoulders should not have to do all the work; utilize your core for that.
  10. Work five to ten breaths and then release to sit on the heels.

 

Incorporating puppy dog may take some getting used to, but the long term benefit for your practice, shoulder health, and progression to other poses will be priceless.

Have any questions, or want to learn how to use puppy dog in your practice? Join the Mindful Movement PREMIUM Online Studio for unlimited access to all my yoga classes, PLUS live classes, online community, and my entire Asana Video Library, breaking down poses (Just like this one!)

Namaste!

 

 

This post was originally published in Nature’s Pathway Magazine.

 

Foam Rolling Rehab for Every ‘Body’

Foam Rolling Rehab for Every ‘Body’

We have all felt it: Our hips are tight, our back is sore and aching, and our neck is stiff or sore. We have all been there and sometimes, straight-up stretching either is too much too soon or just doesn’t seem to be hitting the spot. Foam Rolling is the answer!
Using a foam roller is an excellent way to help decrease pain, stiffness, and tightness while actually improving the function of muscles, tendons, and fascia.
When incorporating something like mayo fascia release (foam rolling), it’s important to educate yourself on the many types of foam rollers out there. I always suggest to my students to always use a soft foam roller. You don’t want something that will be too abrasive with your tissues.
Second, more does not always equal better. Rolling for hours a day will not necessarily be more beneficial than rolling out for 10 or 15 minutes every day or just a few days a week.

Roll Your Back

80% of Americans have or have had back problems. Rolling your back top to bottom is an amazing way to decrease pain, aches, and discomfort. Try this:

Place the foam roller behind you on the floor and lean back onto the center of the roller. Lift your bottom off the floor and support your head in your hands. Using your legs, roll yourself along the foam roller in long strokes or sections along your back, being sure to work your entire back body.

Experiment with rounding or arching your back in places, or leaning only to one side and rolling. Also, try raising one arm straight out above your head at a time. If your balance is good, try extending both arms while you roll your upper back.

Spend a few minutes here and notice the improvement in your back’s comfort and your back stretching. You can also try this standing against the wall with the foam roller behind you.

Roll Your Legs and Hips

Many people complain of hip, sacrum and leg pain. Rolling is a very safe and effective way to decrease knee, hip, and even back pain. Try this:

Starting on your right outer leg and hip, place your left foot on the floor. Using your leg and arms, push and pull your right leg along the soft foam roller, being sure to work the entire area from upper hip to the outside of the knee.

After several times over, move to your quadriceps. Using your forearms, push-pull yourself across the foam roller from pelvis to knees. Play with internal and external rotation to hit all areas. Move onto the left hip and repeat the same process.

Finally, sitting onto the foam roller, with the help of your arms and hands, push-pull your hamstrings along the foam roller.

Siacitia Soother

Oh, that pain in my butt! Many of us have been there, and sometimes stretching can actually cause more discomfort. Working with a foam roller can soothe sore muscles and give you the relief you are looking for. Try this:

Sit onto the foam roller and lean onto your left glute. Cross your left ankle over your right knee and begin to roll on your glute tissue (your booty). Be playful with different angles and in rolling high or low on your glute.

If you find a sensitive area, feel free to just hold there for a few deep exhalations and then move on. After a few minutes, switch to the other side, repeating the process.

No More Neck Pain

A stiff neck, a tight jaw, and even shoulder pain can all be soothed with a few strikes of the foam roller. Try this:

Lying on the floor, place the foam roller behind your neck and rest your head on the foam roller. Kindly turn your head side to side, feeling the relieving pressure at the base of the skull and neck against the foam roller.

Second, moving only a few inches, rock your head and neck back and forth to work any other tightness out. Be sweet, as the neck for many is a sensitive area. But, this may be the relief you are looking for.

 

Foam Rolling does not replace stretching or other maintenance care, but it can assist in a more effective stretching routine or yoga experience, not to mention improved athletic performance. Mayo fascia release can also improve your massage therapy sessions, as the therapist does not have to work so hard at the surface of your tissue. It also can help your adjustments hold longer.

I may be a yoga teacher, but it is my goal to teach my students how to take better care of their bodies — because you only get one, and replacement parts are never as good as the originals.

 

Want more from your foam roller?

Join me and “Roll This!” Click here to access the most detailed workbook you will ever own with step-by-step details to every move you’ll want to know when it comes to the foam roller and Dr. Cohen’s acuBall.

This post was originally published in the July 2014 Edition of Nature’s Pathways.

Trim Your Waistline – Outrageous Obliques

Trim Your Waistline – Outrageous Obliques

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:

  1. Start in a kneeling position (be sure to pad your knees if necessary), and grab your weight (if using one).
  2. Find neutral pelvis (your pubis bone and hip bones should run parallel with the wall you are facing).
  3. Contract your pelvic-core muscles (think bathroom muscles and torso muscles, much like when you cough).
  4. 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.
  5. Holding your weight in front of your chest, draw your elbows wide and relax your shoulders.
  6. Inhale, tip to the left as far as you can control, without folding in your left hip.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.

10 Tips for a Functional Body

10 Tips for a Functional Body

Most people come to fitness training and movement, such as yoga, in order to benefit their bodies and their lives. Yet, many are unknowingly practicing movements that are inefficient or even detrimental to their goals and health. There are certain tips that can help you achieve the functional body that will serve you in your everyday life.

Here are 10 Key Tips to Stop Treating Pain and to Start Treating Dysfunction for a Functional Body:

1. Get off the Floor.

Unless you are a mechanic, training yourself, especially your core, solely on the floor will not get you the results you are hoping to achieve. Think about what you are trying to do on the floor. Lying flat on your back to do core work only triggers about 10% of your transversus abdominus, your core-most muscle (which is also a back muscle). So how about standing “Pilates” or what about the standing “Saw”?  Look at what the movement is trying to achieve, not necessarily what it looks like, so you can morph it into a more body-friendly version.

If you are serious about strengthening your core, check out the Core Functional Fitness program to take your core to another level.

2. Shed the Shoes.

Shoes can isolate a person’s feet and keep them from noticing signs of misalignment, such as pronation, supination or bunions. Treadwear on the soles of the shoes can reveal dysfunction, as well. Overly supportive shoes compensate for and cover up dysfunction, but do not heal it. Training in such shoes might work around the issues, instead of bringing them to light. If you suffer from foot pain, know that pain relief is not far.

3. Learn Neutral.

It’s important to understand that a neutral position is not natural for many people. Proper body placement often must be re-learned with the guidance of someone trained in alignment. Proper neutral alignment involves attention to the relationship between the feet, pelvis, rib cage, shoulders and head.

4. Do Exercises and Asanas that Expose Imbalances.

Finding what is imbalanced is necessary for enabling proper alignment and movement. Identify where movement becomes stuck and focus on un-sticking that area.

5. Use a 2:1 Ratio.

By working both sides equally, the weaker side will never catch up. Instead, double up on the weaker side, so it receives the extra strengthening it needs.

6. Work in all Three Planes of Movement.

Movement in every direction is the only way to address the different needs of the body. Practice poses that move along the sagittal plane (left and right), the frontal plane (front and back) and the transverse plane (above and below).

7. Look at What a Movement is Trying to Accomplish.

Ask, “What is the purpose of this asana or exercise, and is it right for my body?” If not, determine how the concept could be adjusted for your individual body type. If you need help analyzing the movements, I have an Asana Video Library that will walk you through every specific element of each pose.

8. Identify the Source of the Pain.

Pain may not originate where it is felt. Sciatica, knee, neck or other pain may be referred — that is, their source is located somewhere other than where it hurts. Notice what is limited and what might be overused.

9. Learn Motor Control.

Between postures, be patient and aware. Is there a smooth, graceful transition from one posture to the next? Control begins by shifting awareness to the present and noticing the fine details that happen during the transition.

10. Think About the Reason for Practicing.

This is not to create doubt, but to check in and see if body, mind, spirit, and life are benefiting. Whatever you do should help you to increase wholeness and wellness.

Keep these tips in mind as you practice yoga, or any exercise to keep a functional body. If you are looking for a starting point, my Mindful Movement Online Studio costs only $9.99/month for unlimited access to my entire video library.

Mindful Movement Online Yoga Studio

 

This post was originally published in the 2012 Edition of Natural Awakenings Milwaukee.

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