Sequences and Transitions: The Key to an Effective Vinyasa Flow Yoga Practice

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Dutch Martin enjoying side angle pose under the cherry blossoms.

Dutch Martin enjoying side angle pose under the cherry blossoms.

I am fortunate to be able to work and practice yoga at two studios. I have been practicing at one studio (which is near where I work) since last October, and just recently became a part-time/weekend front desk associate at a second one (which is closer to where I live; I love the convenience). In practicing at two separate yoga studios, I have noticed how the instructors at each studio guide their students through the 26 postures of the vinyasa flow. As a result, what has become glaringly obvious to me is something that I took for granted at one studio, yet found completely absent at the other, but it’s a crucial element in any effective yoga practice:

The importance of smooth sequences and transitions from one posture to the next.

In moving from one yoga pose/posture to the next, it is important to synchronize the sequence with the breath (inhalations and exhalations) by preparing the students with the proper preparatory transitions. This is why I love vinyasa flow so much; the flow through all 26 postures, when guided properly by a well-trained and experienced yoga instructor, is truly a thing of beauty. Here’s an example to illustrate my point:

From Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) to Samasthiti or Tadasana (Mountain Pose).

To make a smooth transition from downward facing dog to mountain pose, a skilled yoga instructors guides his/her students to:

Inhale/Look up to the top of the mat/Bend your knees…

Exhale/Step/Hop/Float forward to the top of the mat…

Inhale/Half-way lift or Flat black…

Exhale/Fold forward…

Inhale/Rise or Press up with arms lifted…

Exhale/Hands down to your side or to heart.

Notice the synchronization between the movement and breath? Notice the ease of transition? This is the proper sequencing transition from downward facing dog to mountain pose that I had taken for granted at the yoga studio near my place of employment (as well as the fitness center where I initially began my practice outside of my home), because the instructors there always include it in their vinyasa flow, from start to finish. By contrast, at the studio near my home, I’ve practiced under two instructors there, and in both cases the transition from Adha Mukha Svanasana to Tadasana/Samasthiti was:

[From downward facing dog] Step up to the top of your mat…

Inhale/Flat black…

Exhale/Fold…

Inhale/Lift up…

Exhale/arms down by your side [into Tadasana/Samasthiti].

Notice the lack of any transitional prep or proper sequencing to smoothly float from downward dog to standing?

From Adha Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) to Virabadrasana I (Warrior 1)

Another smooth transition, again, when properly guided by an experienced instructor, is that from downward facing dog to warrior 1. Again, at one studio the instructors have it down to a science:

[From Downward Facing Dog] Inhale/Right or Left leg lifts..

[They might even mix things up by having you coil knee to nose, knee to same/opposite elbow, etc. before, then back to Inhale/Right or Left leg lifts]

Exhale/Step the foot between the hands…

Inhale/Lift arms overhead…

Exhale [Virabadrasana/Warrior 1]

At the other studio, the instructors just takes us from downward facing dog straight to warrior 1 – without any transitional preparation of lifting a leg! I find this latter way of guiding students through a practice much less smooth and “flowing,” and much more disjointed and mechanically choppy.

Since I’ve only been at my new studio for a short time, I’m not sure if it’s in my place to point this out to the instructors and/or studio management at this early juncture. Yet, for someone used to being guided smoothly through a vinyasa flow, the lack of such essential transitional preparatory moves between postures is oftentimes frustrating.

Has this ever happened to you? Please give me your thoughts.

The Energy Exchange

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Energy all around us

Energy all around us

Not long ago I found myself in a bit of a dilemma. I had all kinds of (what I termed) ‘negative’ energy built up within myself. I reached out to others I consider far more spiritually intelligent than I looking for an answer as to how to direct that energy or eliminate it.

Of the many responses I received was a simple, yet profound statement: “Energy is energy.” Continue reading

Enlightenment from a worm

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Got worms?Yes: you read that right.

I never claim to be enlightened: I have had enlightening moments and recognize them. In fact I believe enlightenment happens on a daily basis; in effect it’s another part of the Yogic journey. There may even be certain degrees of enlightenment: not that I could ever imagine any benchmarks. That’s really the extent of my knowledge of enlightenment. Continue reading

It’s an Inside Job

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credit: eduardo cruz

credit: eduardo cruz

Answer: It’s an inside job.

Question: What is Sex?

If I read one more article that dumbs down the benefits of a yoga practice for guys to meeting someone to date or hook up with, I’m going to puke. Peep this…a yoga practice cleans out the clutter in your life—physical, emotional and mental. The benefits to your sex life are secondary. There is nothing you need to improve. No blue pill. No row boats or side-by-side bathtubs. Just you getting to know you.

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When Yoga Hurts: Misaligned Healing

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As a healing therapy yoga has proven beneficial for a wide range of physical conditions, but when misaligned postures and hyper-extended stretches push the body beyond its limits the practice hurts more than it helps. It is important to note that when taught by an instructor with a sound understanding of anatomy and physiology asanas are considered to be some of the safest and most gentle of exercises. In the vast practice known as yoga, which includes many different styles both old and new, there is plenty of room for anatomical error.

When Yoga Hurts: Misaligned Healing.

How DDP Yoga and a Whole Foods, Plant-Based Diet Changed My Life

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Before

Before: 5’10″, 285 lbs.

August 2013. At 39 years old, I was 5’10″ and weighed in at 285 lbs.  My cholesterol was way too high, my triglycerides were dangerously high, and to say that I was out of shape would be an understatement.  Although I had lifted weights for much of my adult life, I lacked any discernible flexibility.  Plus, although I happily accepted a new job after being unemployed for almost 3 years, weathering the economic recession left me physically, emotionally and psychologically drained. And it showed in my body.

How did I go from being a 5’10”, 285-lb borderline pre-diabetic, to 5’11″ (Yes, I grew an inch!), and, as of this writing, 259 lbs, looking a feeling better than I ever have in my life?  In a nutshell, I embraced yoga and plant-based eating.

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Like a Baby…Proper Breathing in Yoga

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Yoga Breath, Yoga for MenI can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the expression “Control your breath, control your life” or some variation of that. I can’t count that any more than I can count the number of times I’ve overheard a teacher reminding students to breathe during a Yoga practice – I’m guilty of that as well.

Teacher Training provided a basic understanding of the concept of proper breathing. Many books, and a class or two later I know I’ve only scratched the surface. I now consider breathing more-or-less an art-form.  When you consider there are four main pranayama practices covered in a 200 Hr TT course: Deergha Swaasam (3 part breath), Ujjayi (victorious breath), Kapaalabhaati (breath of fire or skull-shining), and Naadhi Suddhi (alternate nostril breathing) that’s quite a bit of information.

All four have their place in a pranayama practice: without question.

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“TOUCH…and Healing on Many Levels.” (let’s get personal, real and deep)

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Yoga for MenYoga practice of asana’s, cuddling, affection, physical attention, sensuality, sexuality and emotionality – mentality – spirituality are all tied in to touch on many levels. It always surprises me and never surprises me when, as a massage therapist and with over 20 years of experience, I learn of people not ever having had a session or even liking to be touched. As an extreme abuse survivor, with 15 years of direct trauma on all levels inflicted on me in my youth, post trauma it took an additional almost 10 years for me to be able to be completely open to and receptive of touch. (So rape survivors, incest survivors, neglect survivors and/or physical abuse survivors…trust me I get it!) I would still and have always massaged because it’s my souls purpose and joy to do so. I love to share the deeper love that is rooted inside of me, that has been unharmed and untainted by the past, and people have always felt good through my touch but to be on the receiving end was always difficult, until it wasn’t. It was easier to give because that’s all I’ve ever done, even when things were taken from me. Giving was easier because there’s a control aspect to it that we are unaware of sometimes. Receiving makes it less in our control on some level, however subtle it may be, exposing us to vulnerabilities we may not yet be prepared for. As part of my healing and recovery process, grace would have it that a lot of my healing came through others hands on work with me, without which I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if at all and if it weren’t for the many healers that have crossed my path.

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The Yoga of Cross Training

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Yoga for MenSo, for almost 12 years I only practiced yoga for exercise. I do live an active life, and have mostly had jobs that require an amount of labor, so yoga has not been the only thing to keep me moving. However, when faced with the idea of lifting weights, or adding in a regular “cardio” session, I always turned it down. After all, “yoga is all I need” or so I thought. Lifting body weight, and doing vinyasa flow (including Ashtanga Primary Series) seemed to cover those bases,  3-4 yoga classes per week gave me plenty of activity to increase and maintain flexibility, as well as maintain a healthy body. But I did tend to have about a 10 pound weight swing every 2 years or so, and each year, it seemed like it was becoming more and more challenging to ‘right the ship’. So on my 39th birthday, I thought it was time to do something different, and try something new. What would it be like to add in some weight and/or resistance training on a regular basis? Would I lose flexibility? Would my binds become less available because of increased muscle mass? Wasn’t yoga “enough”? It was time to try and see. After all, one of the reasons us yoga teachers want others to practice is to increase performance in other physical activities! As a yoga teacher, I would surely benefit by having some personal evidence to back this up.

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Pearls of Wisdom regarding FASTING/DETOXING according to Ayurveda (part 2):

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Pearls of Wisdom, Yoga for MenWhen:

Eastern medicine such as TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine) suggest that cleansing during the transitions of seasons is crucial. Ayurveda points out that the windows of transition, the natural progression from one season to another is September (from summer to fall), January (from winter to spring) and May (from spring to summer.) If you’re not able to do all 3 then at least the spring time is the best time. Continue reading

X-ray Body in Motion – Yoga

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A visual study/exploration of the body in motion with a focus on yoga poses.

Our goal for this piece was to create a realistic representation of radiological (x-ray) imaging.

Instead of just creating a still image, however, we wanted to combine the beautiful moves of yoga with this new visual approach to bring the full human skeleton to life.

Technical challenges included aspects such as achieving proper bone densities and representing actual bone marrow inside each individual bone.

via Hybrid Medical

We are Unique and the Same: 8 Guys & Why They Practice Yoga

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Ziggy Marley, Yoga for MenEvery guy practicing yoga today has had a first day of yoga practice. It’s what happens after the first day that helps your story unfold. You have multiple options for incorporating yoga into your lifestyle.

Don’t be fooled or bullied into doing a part of yoga that isn’t right for you. Just because you are focused on your breathing (Pranayama) or meditation (Dhyana) more that asanas (poses) that doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong. It’s your path not the person trying to tell you that you are wrong.

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