Half Hero Upward-Facing Bow Variation

If you’re comfortable in upward facing bow (also known as wheel or urdhva dhanurasana) and half supine hero pose, (ardha supta virasana) why not combine them?

Begin in half supine hero. If you cannot get onto your back comfortably in reclined half hero, keep working with other comfortable modifications on half hero rather than going on to the variation described below.

Half Hero

Half Hero

Bend your extended leg so the sole of the foot in on the floor and the heel is underneath the knee (most people can graze the heel with the hand in this position).

Half Hero with Bent Knee

Half Hero with Bent Knee

Place the hands palms-down above the shoulders on the mat, fingertips pointed toward the shoulders. Breathe.

Half Hero Preparing to Life to Upward Facing Bow

Half Hero Preparing to Life to Upward Facing Bow

On an inhale use the strength of you arms and legs to lift up and place the crown of your head on the mat. The sole of one foot should be on the floor, and the top of the other should be on the floor. Take your exhale to readjust the hands and feet so that the thighs are hips-width apart with the knees and feet pointed straight toward the front (or back) of your mat, and so that the hands are shoulder width apart with fingers pointed toward the front of your mat.

On your next inhale push into the hands and feet to lift all the way up into upward facing bow. Keep the thighs parallel, pressing into the big toe of the foot. To avoid letting the elbows wing out to the sides, draw them toward one another. As you lengthen into your arms and legs, send the tail bone toward the front of your mat and the chest toward the back of your mat to maintain length in your low back. Breathe.

Upward Facing Bow Half Hero Variation

Upward Facing Bow Half Hero Variation

To release, on an exhale, tuck the chin and bend into the knees and elbow to lower back into reclined half hero under control. Then, repeat on the second side.

High Lunge Twist and Bend

I recently attended a yoga class in which the instructor had us flow through this twisted backbend variation on high lunge, and I just loved it! Start in high lunge with the left leg forward and right leg back, making sure the left knee is right above the ankle pointed toward the second toe of the foot. Keep the back leg long without locking the knee, and press back through the back heal. Breathe.

High Lunge

High Lunge

If this next bit feels a little awkward, you’re probably doing it right. Keep your base strong and on an exhale, lower the arms to shoulder height, extending the right arm forward and left arm back, thumbs up toward the ceiling. Twist the chest toward the left, and turn the gaze toward the back hand, if that’s available to you. Keep contracting the obliques (the side abdominal muscles) and resist the urge to lean forward. Breathe.

Upright Revolved High Lunge

Upright Revolved High Lunge

Contract the abdominals, and on an exhale, lower the left hand down to the back thigh and turn the right palm skyward. Inhale, extend the hand upwards so that the palm of the hand faces the back of the room. As you exhale, begin to back bend to your degree. Keep breathing.

Reversed Twisted High Lunge

Reversed Twisted High Lunge

To get to the same sequence on the other side from here, inhale out of the backbend, exhale to windmill the hands all the way down to the floor, and cycle through a two- or one-legged vinyasa. From downward facing dog, step the right foot forward and inhale the arms up into high lunge.

Crescent Lunge Arm Variations

The typical arm position for a crescent lunge is arms extended upwards, shoulder width apart, with the palms facing each other. Changing up the arms up arms targets different muscles and make your practice more interesting.

For your base in crescent lunge, make sure the front knee bends so that it points in the same direction as the second toe. Keep the knee above the ankle (you may need to adjust the length of your stance to achieve this). The back toes are tucked under, and the back knee can be either on the floor or lifted. Find length up through the spine, and contract the core muscles (low abs, low back, and pelvic floor). If you are strong and flexible, you may add a backbend. Make sure you don’t collapse into the low back; imagine bending backwards over a big inflatable exercise ball. From here you can try a number of arm variations:

1. Instead of keeping the arms shoulders’ width apart, press the palms together, interlace all ten fingers, then release the index to point upwards. The arm variation promotes shoulder flexibility, and gently stretches some of the upper back muscles.

Fingers interlaced

Interlace all ten fingers, then release to index to point upward.

2. Find eagle arms.  To do this, give yourself a big hug, walking the hands as far back as possible. If you can’t get the hands far enough back to stack one elbow on top of the other, stay here, you’ll get a nice upper back stretch. If you’re going farther, keep the elbow where they are, and bring the backs of the hands toward each other. If you have the flexibility, your hands are actually going to pass by one another, with the bottom hand closer to your face. Feel free to stop and hold the position at any point along the way. Finally, if you can, bring the palms of the hands together, forming a “twisted prayer” with the arms. To deepen into eagle arms, extend the hands forward and the elbows upward. You will feel a stretch in the shoulders and across the upper back.

Eagle arms

Crescent lunge with eagle arms.

An interesting transition into this one is to start in eagle, then unwind the top leg to step straight back into crescent lunge. From crescent lunge with eagle arms, you could transition straight into warrior three with eagle arms.

3. This one stretches a little more into the chest. Place the hand on the same side as the back leg on the back of your neck, opening the elbow backwards. Take the opposite forearm across the low back with the palm facing away from your body. This is a nice gentle stretch for the chest and shoulder muscles, and also gets into the upper back a little bit. This position also provides a more support for people with weaker core muscles.

Back view of one hand across the low back and the other on the back of the neck.

Crescent lunge with one hand across the low back and the other on the back of the neck.

Make sure that whatever you do on one side, you balance out on the other side.

Supported Bridge

I picked up this variation on setu bandhasana in a restorative yoga class I attended in San Francisco a while back. Before you get started, you have to figure out where your sacrum is. Your sacrum is the part of your spine that acts as the posterior (back) wall of your pelvis. The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae that are stacked one on top of the other, but in the sacrum these bones become fused. So, if you feel down your spine in the low back, you’ll feel the bump of each vertebra, but when you get to the sacrum (in the back of the pelvis), the bumps will become much less pronounced. The very end of the spine, just inferior to (below) the sacrum is the coccyx, or tail bone.

The sacrum is above the tail bone.

The sacrum acts as the back wall of the pelvis. It is above the tail bone.

The instructions for this posture are pretty simple. Make your way into setu bandhasana (bridge pose), and then slide a block under the sacrum. Make sure that the block isn’t underneath the low back or tail bone, these areas are not as stable as the sacrum. Remember that yoga blocks can have three different heights, depending on which side you put them on, to accommodate different levels of flexibility. Make sure you put the block in the best orientation for your body. The low back is susceptible to injury, so you do have to be careful here. Avoid getting in the habit of sustaining pain in the low back. Even if you don’t get injured during your yoga practice itself, you will carry this habit into the rest of your life where there are less controlled situations, and the chance for injury is much greater.

Supported bridge

Supported bridge.

If you feel comfortable in this posture there is another variation you can take: lengthen out the legs, placing the feet closer to the end of your mat. You may need to readjust the block to make it more comfortable. This deepens the bend in the low back, so make sure you return to the previous variation or change the orientation of the block if you feel any discomfort. If you want to add a little more length, extend the arms in the opposite direction, reaching out past the top of your mat.

Legs extended

Supported bridge with legs extended.

This pose improves flexibility in the spine, and stretches the hip flexors (muscles in the front of the hip) and abdominals (stomach muscles).

Wild Thang

Here’s an interesting hip-opening sequence you can take from downward facing dog. First, as you inhale, lift one of the legs upwards. This position builds strength in the lower back, glute (butt), and hamstring (back of the thigh) muscles. For some of you, it will be most appropriate for you to stay here to develop your strength and flexibility.

Three-legged down dog

Three-legged downward facing dog.

If you can comfortably raise your leg above above the height of the hips, you can turn this into a hip-opener: on your next exhale, bend into the knee and let the heel relax across to the opposite side of the body. You should feel a stretch in the hip flexors (muscles in the front of the hip) of the lifted leg. Make sure you keep the abdominals contracted to protect the low back.  This is a really nice hip opener if you have the flexibility to get here.

Dog dog hip opener

Bend into the knee and let the heel relax across to the opposite side of the body.

Some points of debate:

  • some teachers say to keep the foot flexed, rather than just relaxing it. I’m not sure exactly what the justification is, but does seem to add integrity to the posture.
  • As shown in the image above, I suggest you keep your chest squared to the floor (as much as possible), just like you would in downward facing dog; however, some teachers suggest you look out under the armpit (the one of the same side as the leg you’re lifting). Letting your torso twist in the direction allows you to get your leg farther across the body, which will allow gravity to do a little more work for you, and pull the leg into a deeper hip flexor stretch. The problem with this variation is it’s very easy to compromise the low back. If you do it this way, make sure you’re keeping the abdominals contracted and monitoring the low back.

If you know that you are comfortable with back bends, you can “flip the dog” into wild thing. But seriously, you have to be sure you can handle it, because there’s a point of no return in the transition–after that point you’ll continue all the way into wild thing, whether your body likes it or not. Staying in the previous posture is a really nice hip opener for those of you without an advanced back bending practice.

I don’t think there’s a better way to put this in words than by telling you to contract the abdominals, keep it under control, and “flip the dog” as you exhale.

Flip the dog.

Beginning to flip the dog...

The foot of the bottom leg rotates so the toes point toward the back of the mat. As the belly turns skyward, the foot of the top leg continues down to the mat. The soles of the feet end up flat on the mat. The hand that lifts (the one on the same side as the lifted leg) is going to stay lifted and extend toward the front of the mat. You are now in wild thing. Does everything feel… groovy?

Wild Thing

...ending up in wild thing.

In wild thing, make sure you keep the low back muscles contracted to support your pose. Keep the abdominals contracted to control the arch of the back. To explore your flexibility, think about contracting the quads (the muscles in the front of the thighs). This will begin to straighten the knees and raise the hips up higher.

To get out of wild thing, just follow the steps in reverse. Contract the abdominals and inhale as you flip back to downward facing dog.