Summer 2018 Rider’s Sequence part 2

We explored part 2 of our Rider’s Sequence this week, which involves more poses on the mat that are held a little longer and are meant to bring deep release (yin poses), rather than energetic standing poses (yang poses) of last week. The exceptions are the final backbends.

Below are select poses from the practice, which you can explore as a stand-alone sequence.

Half pigeon pose: Come to high plank pose, then bring the knee of one leg to the outside of the hand on the same side; slide onto the ground with your hips, keeping them squared. Gently bring the foot of the bent leg towards the front of the mat, but only to the point where you are not stressing your knee. Lengthen forward. Lovely piriformis stretch.

Keep hips squared and extend front of body. Pad under hip of bent leg if hip is dramatically off ground.

Moving towards eka pada raja kapotasana/king pigeon pose: With torso upright, bend back leg quickly and catch the foot. Once you have the foot, relax the leg completely – otherwise you’ll likely get a charlie horse cramp (and that’s one horse we don’t want in the barn…). Square your shoulders forward and breathe space into the stretch at the front of the hip and thigh.

Hold foot from inside, with arm in external rotation. Hip of bent front leg can still be padded.

Virasana/hero’s pose: Please be extremely careful when practicing this pose, and only practice with a teacher’s help if you have had knee problems in the past. One does take the knee slightly out of the hinge movement for which it is adapted, which can be very helpful, but also quite detrimental if done incorrectly. Place a block or other bolster under your hips to start, and make the bolster progressively smaller until you can sit between your feet on the floor. You do need to be sitting on something, though, not hanging in the air with your hips/seat bones – whether the floor or bolster. Take care that your feet point straight back or even slightly in – not out. The shins and tops of feet get a great stretch here, in addition to the knees.

Pad under seat bones enough that you feel a stretch, but not discomfort in knees. Place blanket under feet or whole leg if you feel too much pressure on bones.

Baddha konasana/cobbler’s pose: Counterpose to virasasana, to be practiced immediately after the previous pose. Sitting against a wall is helpful, as is sitting on a blanket. Place soles of feet together and drawn them in towards the hips. Open knees towards floor. (If you are a hyperextender, place block between feet – your knees will not go down quite as far, but you will build the strength you need in the hip ligaments.)

Roll thighs externally, and attempt to pull big toes apart, while little toes remain together (like opening book).

Upavistha konasana/seated wide legged forward fold: A blanket under the seat bones is useful for this pose as well. Keep toes and knees pointed towards the ceiling, even (and especially) as you stretch front of body forward. Do not hunch or round the back, and press bottoms of legs into floor for a deeper stretch. It’s totally OK if you cannot bend forward even a little when first practicing this pose! Your adductors will thank you (eventually!), especially as you are all riders….

Keeping front of body long is key to this pose – rounding will stress lower back.

Mid-spine extension with bolster: This is an excellent preparation for backbends. Note that if you cannot easily keep both heels of the hands down, elbows towards ears, and hips down without overarching the lower back, then you are not ready for more advanced backbends yet. This pose will give you plenty to work with, so please be mindful and compassionate with your body – not competitive, as you’ll just end up sore, or, worse, hurt.

Lift your hips to initially place arms into position, then slowly lower hips. Take care to allow upper spine to extend, rather than doing the work with lower back.

Ustrasana/camel pose: Holding a block between the knees helps engage the transversus abdominus muscles and keep the lower back from over-arching. Keep chin in if your neck or shoulders are sore/tight. Hips remain over knees, not behind them.

Keeping toes curled under helps one move into this pose initially; pointing toes comes with practice. Place blanket under knees if uncomfortable. .

Counterbalance the backbends with a simple seated forward fold, a headstand or headless headstand (for those who have practiced them), and/or halasana/plow pose with appropriate counterpose.

And don’t forget to breathe as you explore these poses! 🙂



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.