Following last week's post about yoga's 'bird' poses, I thought I'd share a few of the animal ones with you. The ancient yogis took inspiration from the world around them and tried to emulate the strength, power, focus, movement and grace of the animals they saw.
And following on from my post at the beginning of January where I talked about 'putting my head above the parapet' and generally being braver and putting myself out there a bit more, the pictures below are all of me doing the poses! It's very interesting to study them many weeks and months after they've been taken - not in a critical or judgemental way but from an anatomical and alignment point of view. Here are a few poses where it is possible to see the animal influencing how they got their names. And I've added a few alignment pointers too - for your information.
Camel Pose - there are two possibilities as to why this pose is so-called - it might be because the lift and curve of the chest resembles the camel's hump, but it might also refer to the folding of the legs as the camel kneels down with its neck arched forward and up. Alignment-wise, I could have lifted my thoraccic spine more between the shoulder blades here - there's a little too much bend in my lower spine. Can you see? Although the front of my body has a nice even curve, the back line is a little pinched at the lumbar.
Cobra Pose - it's easy to see how this one got its name. A cobra rears up, gathering its energy ready to strike. In this pose we gather the energy up, lifting the chest and rolling the shoulders back. My alignment looks ok here - maybe I could have drawn my chin in a little more to lengthen the back of the neck very slightly and there's always room to lift the heart, draw the shoulderblades onto the back and expand the chest more.
The words 'bekha' and 'mandukha' both mean 'frog' in Sanskrit. There are 3 frog poses that I know of. This first picture is of Ardha Bekhasana - half frog pose. There is a full version of this with both legs and both arms bent at the same time but that one's a bit beyond me so you'll have to imagine it! Alignment-wise, I could have pressed the front of my left hip down towards the floor a bit more and also softened my shoulders away from my ears (especially my right one). The second photo is of Adho Mukha Mandukasana - Downward Facing Frog Pose. It's easy to see that it resembles the very bent back legs of a frog. Alignment-wise I just need to widen my knees, and therefore open the front of the hips more - something I don't find easy - and ease the hips back while extending the spine forward. More practice required for this one!
Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and Upward Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) are also obvious animal poses. I see my own dog stretching like this on a daily basis every time she gets off her beanbag. My back is straight and extending well in the first picture - I'm not letting my ribcage flare outwards allowing my spine to dip - but I could have pressed my thighbones more and pressed my heels towards the floor. In the second picture my shoulders are slightly forward of my wrists, which really isn't ideal - too much pressure in them. I could have drawn my hips forward a fraction and rolled my shoulders back more. My legs are working nice and strongly, hovering just off the floor.
Maybe you could get someone to take photos of you doing your yoga and then you can check your alignment in each pose - it's quite revealing. But don't be too hard on yourself and get critical - use the information to improve your yoga - and therefore your health. And when it looks good, acknowledge that too. Practicing in front of a mirror is a good way to check your alignment too.
This Week's 5 Pose Flow...
This 5 Pose Flow will strengthen the arms, shoulders and core muscles and the last pose will be a nice stretch out for your back. Repeat the flow as many times as you like and/or incorporate it into your own sequence.
1. Balancing Cat Pose (Cakravakasana)
2. Half Side-Plank Pose (Ardha Vasisthasana)
3. Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
4. Three Legged Dog Pose (Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana)
5. Extended Child's Pose (Utthita Balasana)
As always, use this practice as a guide but listen to your body and don't force or over-stretch anything. Notice the sensations and never move into strain or pain.
This Week's Recipe... Chocolate Avocado Mousse
I fancied something sweet this weekend. Something chocolate-y but still as healthy as possible. I've made this recipe a few times and it's delicious, and much healthier than a shop-bought mousse with loads of sugar or artificial sweeteners in it. It's vegan and dairy-free and it's soooo easy!
You will need...
1 ripe avocado
1 ripe banana
3 fl oz of soya milk
5 tablespoons of raw cacao powder (or you could use cocoa powder - just make sure it's not got sugar in it)
4 tablespoons of maple syrup
And here's how to make it...
Cut the banana and avocado into chunks and put into the blender with the cacao powder, the maple syrup and half of the milk. Blend well until smooth and glossy. Check the consistency and add more milk until you have the desired consistency (it does depend on the size of the avocado and the banana). Spoon into ramekins and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Sprinkle with a little cacao powder, add a strawberry, raspberry or spoonful of soya yoghurt if desired and enjoy.
This Week's Musical Offering... I'm sure I've shared this one with you before but it's a lovely tune with a great rhythm for your Sun Salutations - Deva Premal chanting and singing Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu, which means 'May all beings be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all'.
This Week's Video...
Well, it had to have animals didn't it. You might have seen these before but they're worth watching again just to make you smile on a grey January day. You have to admire the yogis focus in the face of such distraction!
And finally, here's a pic of my own distraction. Flo doesn't interrupt my practice but she does like to sit on my mat from time to time...
Namaste, enjoy your yoga and thanks for reading.