These free, short (2-3 min) videos demonstrate how to use yogasana and other movement exercises to:
- Improve strength to weight ratio – see if you are strong enough to hold/move your own weight
- Train active mobility – add eccentric, isometric, and concentric action to yogasana, which is actually how you get more flexible, if that is your goal
- Stay within your boundaries – learn your functional end ranges of motion, how to get there, and how to get stronger there
You can view all my free videos on Vimeo or you can stay here and scroll down the list below.
Wall-Supported Modified Side Plank
I love this variation for my gentle yoga classes and clients, who may need a bit more support to benefit from core & shoulder strengthening of side plank.
Drag Your Boat
In this variation of boat pose, I use a bolster between my legs to facilitate a strong inner thigh contraction while also attempting to drag my feet back towards my hips, without actually moving them – isometrics! You still also get all the benefits to your core from this yoga classic.
Loading Your Wide Legged Seat
I am always looking for new ways to add load to what used to be mostly passive stretches. In this variation of wide legged forward fold, I set for 7 breaths with a strong isometric contraction of my thighs before folding forward into a supported stretch. An extra bonus is training active range of motion for my spread.
Can you move into a full splits? Can you move out of it the same way, without using your hands, reconfiguring other joints, or rolling off to the side? If not, then you are neither strong or mobile enough to be there and you risk joint or connective tissue damage. Here is a great exercise to improve your active range of motion for this pose.
Tree Pose – Another Layer of Active
I’ve added another layer to active tree pose. I’ll give you a clue – it involves a hover…
Novel movements for feet & ankles
I take naturally coupled foot and ankle movements like dorsiflexion and eversion, decouple them and re-pair them with less naturally occurring positions, such as dorsiflexion with inversion. Variability is the key to strong, mobile, resilient tissues.
Upavista Konasana (wide legged seat) for yoga & movement teachers
This is the seat before the fold. It was a bit shocking for me to see how limited my active range of motion is in seated hip abduction.
Lizard Strong! for Yoga & Movement Teachers
Defloppy your lizard. Using your arms in lizard is what allows us to be in this extreme, floppy-hipped asana. If you remove the support of your arms, you are then forced into an active range of motion, where your muscles are able to increase their capacity to tolerate greater loads, ie get stronger.
Crouch hand series for feet & ankles
This sequence was originally meant to be used by hands. I got it from my colleague Allison Banks Crouch, who, like me, trained with Internationally recognized biomechanist Katy Bowman. While I also use it with hands, I enjoyed crafting a modification to be used with feet.
This sequence was inspired by one that Jules Mitchell crafted for Udaya. My version slows things WAY down. I think it could be easily worked into a slow Vinyasa sequence.
Slowest & Controlled Vinyasa Transition for Yoga & Movement Teachers
Cue this transition in your advanced Vinyasa classes and don’t be surprised if your students are blown away by the strength and muscle control it takes transition into and out of these asanas in an odyssey through utkatasana, cresent lunge, virabhadrasana 3, garudasana, padangustasana, and vrksasana.
Squat Flow for Yoga & Movement Teachers
You can modify this sequence for beginning/gentle students by cueing and demonstrating a less deep squat and/or by cueing the squat into and from uttanasana instead of standing. In this case, cue the standing to and from uttanasana.
Movement Break for Your Shoulders
This sequence feels amazing, combining multi-planar movements for the shoulders and arms.
Active Prone Pigeon
In this variation, the key piece of alignment is keeping the ankle dorsiflexed and the foot everted. This alignment alone makes the pose more active, but I also add resistance that results in isometrically contracting my internal rotators.
Active Supine Pigeon
Pigeon, in all its passive variations, is prolific in yoga. I like to make it more active – no surprise there. In this variation, you start in the classic pigeon on your back. Several things you won’t see me do in this pose: 1. Take my pelvis out of neutral which would result in my tailbone lifting and my lumbar spine pressing into the mat. 2. Pull my non-rotated thigh in towards my chest. 3. Rely on my non-rotated leg to act as a prop to hold my pigeon leg in place.
Supported, modified chaturanga
Using yoga blocks under your chest in modified chaturanga is a safe way to condition your shoulders by progressively overloading them. This video begins in modified chaturanga, but you can start with even less load by positioning yourself in quadruped (table top) with your hips directly over your knees. Lower down to rest on the blocks or, for added challenge, hover just above them. Even more progressive is to lower to a hover, hold for a breath, lower to rest for one breath, rise to a hover for a breath and push up to plank – without collapsing in the scapulae or spine.
This sequence is packed – concentric, eccentric, & isometric loads, resistance stretching, muscle control, balance, breath, drishti. Its one of the longer free videos on the sight. In just under 10 minutes, you strengthen and stretch your feet, legs and back in a seriously meditative sequence.
Vinyasa plank to down dog variation 1
I like to mix in some slow, controlled movement into Surya Namaskar. Here i add some plank jogging and knee hovering in my transition from plank to down dog, which provides squat-like loading to my hips.
Closed hip sequence on a half dome
I LOVE practicing an Iyengar-influenced standing series. In this snippet, I use a half-dome under my front foot to change the loads that I experience in these asanas. If you don’t have a half-dome, you can roll up two yoga mats, or a yoga mat & towel, or two towels, or a yoga blanket to get a similar effect.
Hero’s Pose can be a subtly moving meditation
Sitting in vajrasana or virasana places a significant but passive tensile (stretching) load on the front of your legs. I make this posture more active by slightly hovering my butt off of my heels. I’ll cycle between hovering and resting, when I’m sitting in meditation. An even more active variation is shifting your hovering rear slowly from side to side.
Parivrtta Anahatasana (revolved heart pose)
Revolved heart pose and revolved child’s pose can both be made more active by hovering the threaded arm off the floor. Loading connective tissues make them stronger and able to withstand greater loads, which improves the integrity of your tissues and are necessary for increasing your range of motion if that’s your thing.
Progressive Lunge & Rise
This video is a follow-on to the Lunge & Rise video that I posted last week. Only this time I demonstrate the idea of progressively loading the muscles using props and a bonus hover.
Inspired by Jules Mitchell’s Variation Nation, which is the idea of adding many and varied loads to traditional asana.
Lunge & Rise
I stole this dynamic lunge from one of my teachers biomechanist Katy Bowman. It produces powerful loads to your lower extremities. Most remarkable is the eccentric loading of the hip flexors on the descent. Remember to keep your pelvis neutral (as explained in the video) and try to rise straight up, like an elevator. Go slow, using muscle strength, rather than momentum.
If you bend your knees in Uttanasana, an interesting variation is to use multi-directional isometric contractions to work the muscles of your legs, instead of just letting them go floppy. Not only will you receive a healthy tensile load to your spinal erectors, thoracolumbar fascia, and tissues in your cervical spine, but you will load your leg muscles in 360 degrees. At the end of this routine, feel free to let your legs go limp because you will have worked for it!
Quad Stretch & Natarajasana: Passive vs. Active
Ok, so I’m about the worst yogi to try to demonstrate Natarajasana on video – I own that, but you get the point. When you use your hand to pick up your foot and hold it in a range of motion that you are not strong or flexible enough to get to on your own, you are operating in passive range of motion, which will improve neither strength nor integrity of your tendons at that range of motion. If you can only get there passively, then you you are in a position that you cannot control and you increase your risk of connective tissue injury. Once you go slack, you never go back.
Figure 4 Strong
Figure 4 is a good example of a strong balancing posture for the standing leg but a passive stretch of the lifted leg. Because your foot rests on your thigh as you squat, the stretch to your piriformis, which changes from an external rotator to an internal rotator at ~60 degrees of flexion, is a passive stretch, because you used an external force (your squatting thigh) to stretch your piriformis. In this video, i show three techniques to generate force in the piriformis so that you build strength at this range of motion.
Use cat/cow to slowly, methodically explore mobility in your spine. This articulated variation of cat/cow can helps you identify where you may have infrequently visited ranges of motion or less motor control. Sometimes just bringing attention to an area, sending a specific neural signal to articulate will be enough to bring mobility to that area.
Pushing your elbows against your medial knees puts you in a passive range of motion in your groin and thighs. Ideally, to protect your less elastic connective tissues from too much stretch, you need to be able to generate enough force to get you into and keep you in a posture, without relying on another body part, in this case your elbows, to get or keep you there. When you train in this active mobility, you actually increase both your strength and, over time, improve your flexibility. Remember:
Passive, overstretched connective tissues ≠ flexibility
Active, force generating ranges of motion = flexibility
Silent Lunge Transition
One of the baseline sounds in yoga class is the swish sound as practitioners slide their front feet along the mat to transition out of a lunge to down dog. Try, instead, lifting your foot, without scraping it along the mat to make this transition. It tests and improves your strength to weight ratio and your active mobility.
Squatting on a Block
This is one of my favorite squatting exercises as it is scalable. It is great practice for keeping your shins vertical and working our feet towards straight. I don’t show it in the video, but you can practice hovering slightly above the blocks as a transition towards fully supporting your weight.
Quadriceps training for Ustrasana (Camel) or Dhanurasana (wheel)
This exercise, a prep for Ustrasana (camel pose), provides eccentric contraction to rectus femoris on the way up and to the vastus clan on the way down. Eccentric training (muscles lengthening while generating force) is how you increase flexibility and get stronger across your full range of motion because you are loading your quadriceps tendon to adaptively increase its capacity to withstand greater tensile loads aka stretches. This provides an insurance against muscle/connective tissue injury from over-stretching.
Hamstring Training with a Partner
This video is the sister exercise to the quadriceps training video. I stole this exercise from the Jules Mitchell Yoga Science of Stretching training I took last weekend in Portland, which was FABULOUS (sign up for the her December Webinar of the same training – but it won’t be exactly the same, it will be better because she continues to update her material as more research is published). Anyhoo, I modified this exercise for a softer landing against the wall (instead of landing on the floor, when bailing) and it will be followed by a video of options for when you don’t have a partner. Remember, eccentric training, which is a muscle lengthening while generating force is how you increase both flexibility and strength. Length without strength is so yesterday.
Hamstring Training without a Partner
And for those without a partner to assist, this is similar hamstring work, but without isometric contraction at the beginning. What you lose in hamstring work, you gain in shoulder and arm work.
Don’t Cheat Your Twist
I do these videos unscripted, so after a few takes, I just go with what I got. Basically, the message here is to use the strength and flexibility you have in your trunk muscles and connective tissues to guide your spine into the appropriate amount of rotation. The minute you leverage your twist to go deeper, in any twist variation, by cranking your arm against your knee, you have moved beyond the boundaries of your own strength and flexibility and taken your spine into an inappropriate rotation. A good rule of thumb – if you are not strong enough to get there on your own, you shouldn’t be there. Don’t cheat your twist.