Tag Archives: yoga

Stretching shins with Hero Pose

Your legs, when positioned correctly in contact with the horse, are the most influential tools you have to effectively communicate your aids.

Yoga can assist you in developing a correct and effective riding position by improving the muscular strength and flexibility of your legs.

“Yoga for Equestrians” by Linda Benedik & Veronica Wirth

Dressage rider leg position

Photo by Douglas J O’Brien on Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hero Pose – Virasana

vira = man, hero, chief
asana = pose
Pronounced: (veer-AHS-anna)

When I took dressage lessons I wasn’t able to hold the proper leg position until over time had stretched out the stiffness in my ankles and leg muscles. Leg flexibility is important for riding.

Muscles of shin marked with colored ink on leg

Due to an injury this summer I have a weak right knee and am stiff down my right shin over my ankle (anterior tibialis).

Hero pose stretches the hips, thighs, knees, ankles and feet. It can be a good posture to practice neutral spine and staying centered over the hip bones.

As with all exercises, it is important to build up slowly. Use a block under the hips to ease the stretch.

Hero Pose

The following video gives good examples of using props as you increase flexibility. With practice the buttocks will be on the floor centered over the hips between the ankles and feet.

Also see “Child’s Pose” in a prior post, which is similar.

If the shin muscle (anterior tibialis) is tight, then you can do a myofascial release using a soft roller.

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Down Puppy

‘Lifeloveandhorses’ blog is about “optimizing health, happiness, and peace” for my horses and myself. Yoga is a good form of exercise to increase strength, stamina, balance and flexibility. This will help towards my goal of riding my horses with confidence. Even with the limited amount of yoga that I have been doing, I can feel a positive difference in my body. I realize that it is very important not to strain and to go at my own pace. Make sure you go at your pace and your abilities when doing yoga and exercises. With that in mind.. today we continue to work through the poses for my New Year goal of doing 10 ‘Sun Salutation’ routines.

Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog Pose

Adhas = down
Mukha = face
Svana = dog

If legs are not flexible enough, then can bend the knees. I was able to do a full Downward Facing Dog with straight legs to stretch, but the pose put too much strain on my elbows supporting my body. My right wrist also complained afterwards. I took a few days to recover before doing this posture again. I have learned that it is very important to listen to my body and to take things at my pace and avoid straining. Spreading fingers wide is supposed to help distribute the weight on the arms. Until I am stronger, then plan to use modified poses.

Downward Dog with Chair – Yoga for Inflexible People

Uttana Shishosana – Puppy Dog Pose is a cross between Child’s Pose and Downward Facing Dog. Can put a soft pad under the knees.

Even those modified examples of Downward Dog may be too difficult. A blog with good suggestions is: http://dorestorativeyoga.blogspot.com

Restorative yoga is a passive practice in which poses…are held for several minutes at a time, propped with blankets, blocks, and bolsters to minimize the amount of work that the muscles are doing in the pose. – Yogajournal

Supported Puppy Pose ~ Uttana Shishosana

Supported Puppy Pose ~ Uttana Shishosana

Using props of blocks, blankets, straps and bolsters to help in the poses with support is a great idea and will definitely look into this further to avoid injury as I become stronger and more flexible. Yoga doesn’t have to be strenuous. The principles can very gently stretch out the ligaments and tendons and muscles with no strain, even if recovering from an injury.

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Hip flexors

‘Lifeloveandhorses’ blog is about “optimizing health, happiness, and peace” for my horses and myself. Yoga is a good form of exercise to increase strength, stamina, balance and flexibility.


= praise (from root anj meaning honor)
Pronounced: (AHN-jah-nay-ah-sa–na)

Anajaneya pose is a type of lunge that stretches the hip flexor muscles, such as the psoas. The pose is similar to a “runner’s stretch”.

The psoas enable riders to influence their horses with their seats and legs. By mastering the use of these muscles, riders will be able to maintain self carriage, both on and off the horse.

– Tom Nagel, author of “Zen & Horseback Riding

Anterior Hip Muscles diagram

Hip muscles

The psoas is the only muscle in the body that connects the legs to the spine. One action of the psoas is flexing the thighs at the hip enabling us to raise our knees. It assists in thigh rotation and adduction, helps to stabilize the pelvis, move the lower back, and links by connective tissue to the diaphragm.

The iliacus is another hip flexor that connects the legs to the pelvis. It joins into the thigh bones with the same tendon as the psoas muscle and often called the iliopsoas together.

These hip flexor muscles lie deep in the body behind the abdominal and pelvic organs.

Stretching the hip flexors is important for horseback riders, as well as for runners.

Yoga instructor Sage Roundtree describes a Low Lunge exercise.

This is an interesting interactive tool for learning about the human anatomy.

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Bend at the hip joints

‘Lifeloveandhorses’ blog is about “optimizing health, happiness, and peace” for my horses and myself. Yoga is a good form of exercise to increase strength, stamina, balance and flexibility.

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

ut = intense
tan = to stretch or extend
asana = pose
Pronounced: (OOT-tan-AHS-ahna)

Uttanasana is used as a resting position between the standing poses, as in the Sun Salutation series. There are also seated variations of this forward bending pose.

My basic understanding of the pose:

  • Stand in Mountain Pose – neutral spine & neutral pelvis.
  • Think about the structure of the hip joints in the pelvis. Exhale and reach your chest out and down bending forward from the hip joints, not from the waist, keeping the back straight. Do NOT lock the knees and can bend the knees to ease the stretch. Do NOT bounce and do NOT strain to bend farther than your body is comfortable while keeping the spine straight. Bending half way over is called “Ardha (half) Uttasana”.
  • Breathe and relax into the stretch (for example, 30 seconds to a minute).
  • Exhale lifting the body keeping the spine straight returning to Mountain Pose.
  • Relax and breathe in Mountain Pose.

Using a chair for forward bend:

My husband is unable to bend far enough to lean on a chair. My suggestion is to practice using a wall as a resting spot. I am able to do “Ardha Uttasana”.  I can feel the greatest stretch in the back of my legs (ham strings), as well as my stiff right knee. Bending forwards sitting in my office chair with the spine straight works an upper body stretch without stretch in the knees and lower legs.

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Reach for the Sky

‘Lifeloveandhorses’ blog is about “optimizing health, happiness, and peace” for my horses and myself. Yoga is a good form of exercise to increase strength, stamina, balance and flexibility.

Upward Hand Pose

Urdhva = raised (or upward)
Hasta = hand
Asana – pose
Pronounced: (oord-vah hahs-TAHS-anna)

Like most asanas, the principles of movement in Urdhva Hastasana break into three parts: entering the pose, being in the pose, and exiting the pose. Whether you are practicing it individually or as part of a flow series, the pose should be executed with these principles in mind.
– Yogajournal.com

My basic understanding of the pose:

  • Begin in Mountain Pose – standing in neutral spine & pelvis.
  • Inhale and stretch your arms over your head.
  • When you are ready to exit the pose, slowly exhale and bring the arms down.
  • End in Mountain Pose.

The single biggest gift you can give your horse is becoming “live weight,”, whether on the ground or in the saddle. A horse can feel the difference if you’re braced against him or moving with him. When you learn to re-balance your body while remaining upright over your feet with your joints moving freely and without clamping on the horse, you can truly be “in sync” with his motion.

– Peggy Cummings

Peggy Cummings in her book “Connect with Your Horse from the Ground Up” gives examples of slumping vs arching. This is a good video of a woman demonstrating proper sitting / standing in pelvic neutral vs slumping or arching, as well as showing the structure of how the pelvis connects into the spinal column and legs.

* Please make sure to read my Disclaimer page.

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Yoga on a sheet

While researching easier pose versions of Yogatic’s New Year “Sun Salutation Challenge”, I was struggling to remember to maintain good posture. As with sitting at my desk, it is important to have proper alignment during the poses. Doing the poses is yoga “practice”. For the “Sun Salutation” Challenge see my post from January 1st.

Since starting my blog a couple of weeks ago I had intended to re-start the Namaste Yoga tv show series. Instead I have only done simple stretching mostly in bed. That’s better than nothing, right? I have also practiced feeling how to stand and sit more in skeletal alignment, which has me stretching upwards and tilting my hips and wiggling around. I found my DVDs, but hadn’t used the DVD player in so long that had trouble finding the control. Surprised me when I opened the player to find that there was a Namaste yoga DVD ready to go. How long was that DVD sitting in the player as a thought intention to re-start doing the exercises? My vacuüm is on the fritz preventing proper cleaning of the carpet of the planned exercise area in the den. After reading about yoga, was time to actually DO some official yoga. No more delays, so just laid down a sheet over the carpet. In my PJs before bedtime I intended to finally do some yoga without one more day passing. Surely gentle stretching would be relaxing before sleep.

It was a real eye opener at how stiff that I have become. The warm-up was just barely doable.

This is a clip they have on-line of part of a warm-up series.

Last time I followed the series was probably 4 years ago when I was 25 pounds lighter. My body is much stiffer now. Even “Child’s pose” wasn’t comfortable. My fatter belly blocked bending down and my “caboose” stuck up in the air. My right knee hurt not letting me settle back on my heels.

The standing stretching arms up over head and bending over while deep breathing is a resting period between the poses. My arms got tired. I had to take a break from the ‘rest’. I stopped to watch the serene faces and graceful bodies moving on the tv, as if effortlessly. Wow… I want to be more like those lithe young women. That will take yoga “practice”.

My muscles trembled standing in ‘Warrior Pose’. I wobbled and fell over attempting one-leg balances and held onto a chair. I didn’t try to complete the full set of poses, then finished with the session’s cool-down. The cool-down wasn’t easy either.

Standing and bending over was the easiest exercise, which probably comes from all the times bending with my scoop shovel by the wheelbarrow to clean up horse poop. Picking out horse hooves is also good bending and squatting practice.

The yoga was a work-out. Afterwards I felt unhappy muscles that I’d forgotten that I even had in my body. These weren’t the muscles used in poop scooping. I took an Ibuprofen and climbed into bed putting a warm heating pad on my upper back.  Next morning my left elbow had a sore spot. BUT…in other ways I felt more stretched out and found it a bit easier to sit up in my desk chair. I felt taller. Of course… I still find myself slumping. I’m amazed how often, without realizing, I end up in an awful slouching posture.

I remember that 4 years ago couldn’t do an entire set on the first day of doing the Namaste DVD. It also took time to improve my balance. In my researching easier yoga practice discovered there are programs for doing yoga and even aerobics sitting in chairs. Even on my less optimal health days there will be no excuses to not get in some stretching and exercise. Even a small stretch will help improve my flexibility.

What’s coming up next in my blog:

  • Will include various yoga videos and poses for my personal slowed down “Sun Salutation” challenge. You are welcome to follow along and even join in. Might take me several months of “practice”, but my goal is to actually manage the 10 Sun Salutations with some actual grace.

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Neutral spine Part 1

When sitting or standing in neutral, the body is most stable, strong, and free so the limbs can be used effectively without restriction.

– Peggy Cumming in “Connect with Your Horse from the Ground Up”

Human skeleton side view (S curve)

Normal spine has an S shape

Tada = A Mountain
Asana = Posture

Mountain pose, Tadasana, is the foundation for all of the standing yoga postures. Tadasana pose is standing with a “neutral spine” where the spine has the natural 3 curves. If you sit or stand up against a wall in neutral spine your head, mid back and pelvis should touch the wall. The outward curving of the spine are called “kyphotic” curves. The inward curving are called “lordotic” curves. In yoga transitions the Mountain Pose will be a position to re-centering and relaxing before moving to another pose. The body as it moves will come in and out of neutral spine and neutral hips.

The bones and muscles in the body are all tied together and affect each other. Over tight muscles can pull the body out of position. This may be from emotional tension or because the muscles have not been properly stretched. Other muscles may have become over stretched.  Imbalanced muscles will pull the body out of position and out of balance putting strain on the spine and joints. Understanding what the neutral position looks like and how the bones align is an important first step to making changes to posture. Stack your head, over your mid back, over your pelvis.

  • The head position affects the spine and the hip position. In neutral spine the head sits evenly balanced over the spine with eyes looking forwards. Imagine a string pulling the spine upwards from the top of your head to lengthen your body.
  • Lift the breastbone.
  • The shoulders are  relaxed and arms hang naturally by the side.
  • The hips can swivel independently from the legs by tilting forwards, sideways and backwards. A tilted pelvis alters the back’s alignment, such as with a flat back or sway back. Neutral spine has a neutral pelvis. In neutral spine the pelvis is in a neutral position. If you imagine the bones of the pelvic girdle as a bucket carrying water, then the hips  in neutral pelvis would not spill the water. The hips are not tipped front or back or to side. A neutral spine is not a rigid position, but is a point of centering and balance.
  • The knees are kept soft, not locked, but straight.
  • How the feet and legs are positioned can affect the tilt of hips and thus the spine. In neutral spine the legs stand under the hips with straight ankles and the feet pointed forwards with body weight evenly carried on them. The body is relaxed. It is important to have proper foot support, so that the feet do not roll inwards or outwards and have a proper foot arch. There are special foot supports that can be inserted into shoes to help.

  • Military posture has a very straight spine.
  • Too much kyphotic curving causes round shoulders or hunched shoulders.
  • Too much lordotic curving is called swayback.
  • Sideways curvature of the spine is called “scoliosis”.

Detailed explanation of muscles used in Tadasana from “Yoga Mat Companion 1: Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses” by Ray Long, MD, FRCSC.

I found it easier to note the rocking of the hips and feel of neutral spine while lying down.

Finding Neutral Spine – Supine

When you’re in Neutral Posture, your pelvis is neither tipped forward nor backward; your pelvis is aligned over the middle of the seat bones (ischial tuberosity) whether you are standing, sitting on a chair, or on your horse’s back.

– Peggy Cummings in “Connect with Your Horse from the Ground Up”

Finding Neutral Spine and Neutral Pelvis – Standing

Sally Swift suggests a standing “Teeter Totter” exercise. Tip forwards and try to hold the position. Tip backwards and try to hold the position. Let yourself come back to center and feel how much easier it is to be in proper alignment and balance.

Take time to imagine the significance of this contrast on a horse.

– Sally Swift in “Centered Riding 2”

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New Year challenge

I have done easy yoga stretches for the last several days. Now I plan to work on a New Years Yoga Challenge by Esther Ekhart. The challenge is to do 10 Sun Salutations in a row.  Surya Namaskar, the Sun Salutation, is a series of 12 postures (asanas) performed in a single, graceful flow. The original challenge starts with one Sun Salutation on the first day. Two Sun Salutations on day 2 and so on… building up to 10 in a row.

This challenge gives a good goal and structure for making slow changes to build strength, stamina and flexibility. My goal is to do the 10 Sun Salutations, but I will break the challenge into smaller steps. I will also modify the poses to easier versions, as Esther’s example is by someone already flexible. Ultimate goal is to do the full 10 Sun Salutations with good flexibility and strength. It’s a big goal. I’m also going to attempt to talk my husband into joining in. That may be the biggest challenge. LOL!

First… I will review and learn the asanas, then begin to put them together into one complete Sun Salutation.  Next I will begin the original challenge, but will proceed as slowly as necessary in order to do the 10 in a row without strain.

Here is the Sun Salutation challenge:

Will continue learning about the human skeletal system, as visualizing and understanding the bones will help achieve proper form and posture.

That is my modified slowed down challenge. Maybe you want to try this too. There will be upcoming posts that will follow along with my learning and progress.

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Child’s Pose – Yoga

I am initially working on increasing flexibility and balance with some gentle strength building through easy yoga practice. This also supports mindfulness, relaxation and focusing on the breath.

This is one of my favorite poses called “Child’s Pose” (Balasana).

Yoga - child's pose

Child's pose (balasana)

Bala means child. A pose or posture is called an “asana”. I find it very relaxing and helps to stretch out my spine, upper thighs and feet.

If just trying for the first time, then try finding examples that show a modified version leaning on pillows or with a milder stretch. There are many variations.

If you are a bit more flexible, then this is a good example. Toronto Star writer and yoga teacher Daphne Gordon demonstrates the Child’s pose.

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Centering body & mind

An important factor that my horses appreciate is when I am calm and emotionally centered. This is a good video demonstrating how to center your body and mind before beginning yoga exercises. It helps calm down the mind and to help become more aware and balanced within the body, as well as grounding yourself over the hips. All these are good things to help prepare for riding. This simple exercise takes less than 5 minutes.

Esther Eckart’s Youtube channel is:  http://www.youtube.com/user/yogatic

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