Fall 2018, Week 6: Spinal Extensions (note: there were no new blogs for weeks 4 & 5)

For our final class of the shortened, six week course, we are playing with spinal extensions again – such an important aspect of our practice, but, often, quite challenging. Our lifestyles and the structures surrounding us (car bucket seats, armchairs, etc.) certainly don’t help us extend our spines and “un-hunch,” so we have to be quite intentional about it during our practice, and remain aware of our posture throughout our days. Here is a practice to help you do just that.

Mid-Spine bolster variations:

Allow the spine to be like a “wet noodle” – especially the lower back. Open arms enough to relax them to floor, especially backs of wrists.
Bring elbows and palms together while lying over the bolster with relaxed spine. Stretch arms behind you to floor and beyond, if possible, as far as you can while keeping elbows together. Eventually, elbows and then hands will have to come apart. Relax lower back.
Lift hips and place arms as though getting ready for full backbend. Keep elbows near ears, draw shoulder blades down back. Slowly lower hips, if possible, keeping lower back long and elbows near ears.

Block between shoulder blades:

Place block so it supports neck by catching bottom of skull. Pull shoulder blades apart (give yourself bear hug), lift hips to really settle onto block and dig between shoulder blades, then release down slowly and open into cactus arms. Elbows higher than wrists.

Block under hips and external rotation of arms:

Place block under sacrum at whatever height is appropriate for you. Externally rotate arms, one at a time or both at the same time, if possible, hold ankles, then lift hips. These are progressions, go only to point that is comfortable – engage abdominal muscles, not glutes throughout.
Place forearms and hands parallel to each other, shoulder width apart. Lift knees and hips, keeping belly moving towards thighs (can bend knees)

Child’s pose -> Cat -> Cobra and back:

Begin in child’s pose, arms wide, draw belly in and up into cat pose, then shift hips forward and lift heart – either in cobra or spinhx (on elbows) depending on what the lower back needs (sphinx best if lower back is tight). Reverse process to return to child’s pose. Repeat 3 or more times.

Dhanurasana | Bow pose

Begin with forehead to floor, one leg stretched back, arm on same side stretched forward; hold inside of ankle with externally rotated arm on other side. Press top of long leg into floor. If back allows, hold both ankles with externally rotated arms. Engage abdominals, relax glutes as much as possible.

Ustrasana | Camel pose

Begin with toes tucked under – blanket under knees can help one feel more comfortable. If back allows it, place one hand on heel, then other, then both. If comfortable, try with toes pointed, but respect your back, please! 🙂

End with forward folds, plow pose (if appropriate) and twists.

Happy extending and heart opening! 🙂

~namaste,

Sylvia

Author: Sylvia Vitazkova, PhD, CYT

Dr. Sylvia K. Vitazkova is a certified yoga teacher, life coach, horsewoman, and conservation biologist. Sylvia’s formal study of yoga began while she was an undergraduate at Cornell University, and intensified when she began to practice Ashtanga Yoga in 1997 while attending Columbia University for doctoral studies in biology. Sylvia soon realized that she wanted to help others experience the consciousness and transformation that her own practice fostered in her and began to teach in 1998, subsequently studying in Mysore, India, in 2002. Sylvia continues to evolve her practice by learning from senior teachers, the most influential of whom has been Barbara Benagh. Her teaching focus is on correct alignment, the joy of being fully present in one’s body, and the psychological and spiritual context within which the physical practice is embedded. Parallel to being a yoga teacher, Sylvia had a full-time career as a professor of Conservation Biology, having taught undergraduate and graduate courses, including a course she created on nature and spirituality, which brought her two areas of expertise together. She has conducted and published the results of her research on wildlife in the tropics, and has been involved in the creation of a number of conservation studies programs. Sylvia’s experience in mentoring students naturally led her to life coaching, in which she became certified through George Mason University in 2014. A lifelong connection with horses has been woven throughout these experiences, from her first pony while a child in Africa, to teaching at riding camp in the U.S., then Claremont Riding Academy in NYC, to the current and ongoing exploration of how yoga can be a tool for better and more connected riding. Sylvia now leads InBodied Living LLC, a wellbeing organization and consultancy, with her partner, James Houston. 

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