A Backbending sequence with teaching notes

Posted in Teaching Yoga at 5:39 pm by tracichildress

I have written a sequence below along with teaching notes that illustrate how I would link the work to prepare the students for the back bends. I have not written the primary actions for each pose, rather the actions of focus for the poses being taught.

Virasana (to prepare feet for back bends)

  • Press tops of feet and shin bones down into floor

  • With hands cup shaped beside you, press your fingertips down into the ground. Roll your inner upper arm away from your body and

  • Lift the center of your chest up

  • Release trapezeis down the back

Parvatasana in Virasana

  • Maintain press of shins and feet, and lift arms upward. Allow the upward stretch of the arms to bring a lift to the front body and the chest


  • To teach the inward rotation of the thighs while they can see their legs.

  • Roll thighs in towards one another and press them into the floor.

  • As you do this have hands beside your hips and us the action of the legs and hands to bring a lift to the chest. Notice that when you don’t use the legs, you cannot get the chest to lift as much)

Parvatasana in Dandasana

  • Maintain the action of legs—thighs pressing into the floor– as you lift the arms up, lift the chest more and more. Notice the connection between the legs working and the chest’s ability to lift. If you do not have back problems, release your legs and try to lift—then again, activate and lift.

Adho Mukha Svasana

  • press whole hand

  • extend from hands up to hips

  • fully activate legs as you did in dandasana: move inner thighs towards wall behind you.

  • Allow center of chest to move towards floor

Step into Tadasana

Urdhva Hastasana


Virabhadrasana II (to further connect leg action to extension in front body and lift in chest & to show connection of tailbone in/down and chest up)

  • Press back foot strongly into ground and fully extend the back leg as you bend the front leg to 90 degrees.

  • Release buttocks down and lift chest up.

Virabhadrasana I (teaching the back leg inner thigh back, tailbone in/buttocks down and chest up)

  • Hands on hips

    • (from start position facing forward): press back heel into floor and move the inner thigh of the back leg toward the wall behind you.

    • Release buttocks down and lift chest towards the ceiling

    • Maintain these three points as you bend front leg.

    • When you reach 90 degrees with front leg, check these points: inner thigh of back leg back—buttocks down and chest lifted.

    • Move inner back thigh back as you lift the chest up further

  • Hands up (full pose)

    • Here, encourage students to allow upward motion of hands to lift chest and front body more—maintaining the action of back leg: inner thigh back & buttocks down. This also teaches the head back position needed for back bends


  • translate the action from above in Tadasana: dig the feet into the ground and then lift the chest without pushing thighs forward—inner thighs back

Step into Adho Mukha Svasana

Come to abdomen:

Chaturanga dandasana

  • Be on your abdomen

  • Place your hands on the ground beside your chest

  • Spread and press both hands into the floor, squeeze your elbows close into your torso

  • Tuck your toes under and move your inner legs up towards the ceiling strongly— bring dandasana and Tadasana action to legs here– this should lift the thighs slightly off the ground

  • Maintain these actions; hands pressing, toes tucked, thighs lifted, and on an exhale, lift the body an inch off the ground

  • Lower back to the ground

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

  • Be on your abdomen

  • Place your hands on the ground beside your chest

  • Press the tops of your feet into the ground (as in Virasana)

  • Extend back through legs and lift your inner thighs towards the ceiling/ away from the ground

  • Pressing into the floor with the tops of your feet and the palms, straighten the arms and lift body off the floor, look up

  • Now again, press tops of feet and hands into the ground and lift the inner thighs and chest up towards the ceiling. Look up.

  • Come down


Recall lift of chest against back leg in Virabhadrasana I, and lift and extend similarly here.

  • Be on your abdomen

  • Bring the center of your buttocks (the tailbone) down towards the floor as you

  • Bend your legs and reach back to take your ankles

  • Exhale and lift the thighs and the chest off of the floor

  • Lift your head to look up

  • Move the chest and ankles away from one another to lift up more

  • Come down

Adho Mukha Svasana


  • Be on your abdomen

  • Bring your arms alongside your body

  • Move the center of your buttocks (tailbone) toward the ground to stabilize the pose.

  • Stretch the arms back towards the toes and the toes out beyond the body

  • Maintain this as you lift your head, and then

  • At the same time, lift your arms and legs off of the floor

  • Stretch back through your finger tips and toe tips as you reach the center of your chest (sternum) forward in opposite direction.

  • Come down


  • Come to a kneeling position. Knees hip width apart and the tops of the feet on the floor. Thighs perpendicular to the floor

  • Press the chins and tops of feet strongly into the ground.

  • Lift your chest in the opposite direction.

  • Maintain position of the thighs and bring the hands to your hips

  • Bring shoulder blades into your back, bend the upper body back without releasing thighs forward and bring your hands to your heels.

  • Again, press the feet and shins down, fully extend your arms, and lift the chest strongly up.

  • Release head back,

  • Lift head and come up.

Adho Mukha Svasana

Bharadvajasana in chair

Ardha halasana

(short) Salambha Sarvangasana



Karma Kitchen

Posted in Yoga in the World at 4:37 pm by tracichildress

Karma Kitchen is (from thier website) “run by volunteers, their meals are cooked and served with love, and offered to the guest as a genuine gift. To complete the full circle of giving and sustain this experiment, guests make contributions in the spirit of pay-it-forward to those who will come after them.” Check it out; they have a blog with stories from their guests too: http://www.karmakitchen.org/story.php

Practice and spiritual progress

Posted in Exploration and Questions, Personal Practice at 12:19 pm by tracichildress

In Isherwood’s commentary to his translation of the yoga sutra (I.30-31, pg. 65), he writes: “Conscious feelings , however, exalted, are not the only indications of spiritual progress. We may be growing most strongly at a time when our minds seem dark and dull. So we should never listen to the promptings of sloth, which will try to persuade us that this dullness is a sign of failure as long as we continue to make an effort.” This has been an important idea for me in the last year. It has been a point of meditation and I feel I have grown from contemplating it.

I recall an introduction to a book of poetry by Mark Strand, one of my favorite poets. In it he writes of a year in his life when he found himself always in his garden and never at his desk writing. He struggled that year with a sense of sadness and lack of worth—questioning whether or not he was really a poet. I recall reading this with a sense of understanding, and since have continued to observe my own fear of not being something because I don’t appear to be doing it in a particular way. I like to recall how Mark’s introduction ended—by writing that the very book in my hand, the collection to which the story was an introduction had indeed been written that very year. He had not sat at a desk or written, but none-the-less, the poems in that book had been born and nurtured in that year—to be recorded later in a frenzy.

I think that this is something like faith—belief that we are exactly where we should be and trust that once on the spiritual path, dedication will always take us home. Writing and being creative—in addition to my yoga pracitce—help me to remember this, again and again.



Sequence for Shoulder Mobility

Posted in Personal Practice, Teaching Yoga, Yoga Sequences at 7:16 am by tracichildress


Focus of class: circular action of chest: trapezius down the back, shoulder blades into the back, sternum lifted (rotation of arms to help this action)


  • Supta Baddha Konasana

    • To create an organic opening in the chest, open arm pits, and prepare for the class

    • I would probably have students come into this pose as they arrive to class then begin in Swastikasana for sitting

  • Swastikasana


  • Virasana

    • Press tops of feet and shin bones down into floor

    • With hands cup shaped beside you, press your fingertips down into the ground. Roll your inner upper arm away from your body and

    • Lift the center of your chest up

    • Release trapezeis down the back


  • Virasana demo—I would show the action from the side and the back – show what it looks like when my inner shoulder blades come into my back from behind & then from the side show how this allows me to lift the sternum bone. Then I would have them repeat.


  • Urdhva Hastasana in Virasana (teach rolling arms towards ears, traps down back and shoulder blades into back to open arm pit chest)

    • From above, lift the arms up in line with the ears

    • Roll the inner edge of the arms towards your head and ascend the fingertips towards the ceiling

    • Bring the trapezius muscles away from the ceiling, move the shoulder blades into the back and lift the center of your chest towards the ceiling


  • Parvatasana in Virasana

    • Maintain press of shins and feet; interlock the fingers, turn the hands away from you and lift the palms up to face the ceiling. As the upward stretch of the arms brings a lift to the front body and the chest, secure the shoulder blades in the back


  • Stretch legs out in front in dandasana (to release the knees)


  • Adho Mukha Virasana (connect to action in Parvatasana above)

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana (from hands and knees)

    • Press whole hand – look at your arms, now roll the arm (the fold of the arm) away from you. Maintain that action of the arms and lift the hips as you straighten your legs

    • Extend from hands up to hips

    • Fully activate legs

    • Allow center of chest to move towards floor


  • Tadasana

    • Now in Tadasana, bring the same awareness to your chest and shoulder blades as we did in Parvatasana and Virasana —create the circular action we’ve been working on.

    • Press into the ground with the feet, lift the sternum bone,

    • Bring your shoulder blades into the back and again, lift the sternum bone up towards the ceiling

    • Extend the arms fully towards the floor and lift the sternum up in opposite direction


  • Urdhva Hastasana in Tadasana

    • Same points as above in Urdhva Hastasana in Virasana

  • Trikonasana

    • Hand on hip

      • With hand on hip, press the back heel into the ground and move the sternum in the opposite direction to fully extend your sides

      • Now maintain that as you bring your trapezius towards the waist, the shoulder blades into the back, and then move the sternum towards your chin.

    • Arm extended

      • From above, extend the upper arm

  • Ardha Chandrasana (hand on hip)

    • Bring the principles from Trikonasana into your Ardha Chandrasana.

    • Along the way—hand on hip in Trikonasana—repeat as above—then come into pose.

    • Extend back through back foot as you reach your chest in the opposite direction

  • Virabhadrasana I with hands on hips—elbows back—


    • (From start position facing forward): press back heel into floor and move the inner thigh of the back leg toward the wall behind you.

    • Maintain that and bend to 90 degrees

    • With hands on hips & elbow back, bring shoulder blades into back and lift the sternum up


  • Adho Mukha Svanasana

  • Sirsasana

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana

  • Adho Mukha Virasana


  • Bharadvajasana (in final position)

    • Press the shin bone and top of foot down into the floor

    • Roll the inner arm away from your center,

    • Lift the chest & bring the shoulder blades into your back

  • Setu Banda Sarvangasana

    • Chatoosh Padasana on blankets holding the edges of the mat to get the action of shoulder blades in—roll arms away from you and bring shoulder blades into back—as you press strongly in to the ground with the feet, ascend the sternum to the ceiling

  • Sarvangasana

    • Translate this action from Chatoosh Padasana into your shoulder stand—arms roll out from your center, hands lift the back and help to bring shoulder blades into your back.

  • Savasana


Practice is personal; Practice is shared

Posted in Personal Practice, Yoga in the World at 6:57 pm by tracichildress

In moving towards samadhi, we move towards a union that is neither human nor not human, but is larger than that. We seek to connect ourselves to something that has always been there but that we have not been able to see or touch. We do this in hatha yoga practice by learning to understand it in our bodies. Our bodies are not separate from coming to understand, they are central. And at the same time, they are bodies: flesh and bone and holding place for our lived experiences in the world. The yogic path is very physical, very human, and indeed deeply indebted to the personalities and cultural nuances that inform the relationships between teacher, student, and training institutions.

My practice and its place in my life has been a consistent unfolding and in-folding. It has been like breath, something that moves in and out, alternately expanding and contracting, expanding and contracting. Like breath, which transforms in subtle ways the air of which it is made, this practice has been subtly shifting my body, my life, my way of being in the world for some time now. It is somehow simultaneously new and yet not new, my own and unavoidably not really mine at all.

I can frame this poetic exploration in terms of practice itself. There is that which we take in as practitioners: the inhalation, so to speak, which can include the texts written about the practice, the technique developed sometime and passed along, the methodology created by a man in India, the teaching of our teachers, the books we turn to learn about it. Then there is the exhalation, the letting go, the giving back, the discovery, which includes the personal experience of yoga unfolding as we practice alone, the act of teaching what we know to friends or students, the development of a methodology, the refinement of an approach to postures.

We are transformed by and dependant on both parts of this practicing. Like breathing, like inhalation and exhalation, they involve the same essence, somehow. Inhalation and exhalation involve air: It is the same air that travels in and out of the body, only it is not. It has traveled through a body, through a system and then is released back into the air. It comes from and returns to its own essence, though it has been through something, which has changed it. It is inherently transformative, though admittedly subtle. In Hinduism, our breathing, our connecting to and with that air is called the ajapa-mantra, or the unconscious repetitive prayer (So’Ham, Ham’So). We inhale (he/it/she am I) and we exhale, (I am he/she/ it). By just showing up and breathing, we connect to something bigger than we are, bigger than our breath. We connect to it, take it in, and then let it go. We cannot hold it; we can only participate in it as it moves through us.

I often experience my practice this way. There is the inhaling (the training, the classes, the technique) and the exhalation (what I do with what I take in on my mat, in my body, as I practice, and then as I teach). Both are powerful and vital, but they are different. And for me, there is an inevitable tension in the relationship. There is a large unknowable mystical presence, like air that moves in and out of us, that I move with in my practice and there is also the practice that exists outside of me and around me. Because of this dancing, I must move, as well, with the stories, the believes, the opinions about that unknowable, expansive presence, about that air that we are breathing which exist in the practice, its history, its teachers, and its community of practitioners. It is in this space that I have found the most struggle with my practice. Within this chorography, I have encountered movements and rhythms (to extend this metaphor further), which seem somewhat out of line or not quite right for my body and its movement in the dancing. I have felt that some of the choices for music don’t quite feel in line with what I feel when I feel that thing that we imagine this practice is all about.

It seems to be that this thing, which one might call god, love, universe, prana, or something else, is larger than the stories that we tell about it, yet that it is shaped in my body mind heart by my experience of both the mystical, transformative indefinable element of the practice and simultaneously by the stories, personalities, and the other bodies on the dance floor with it. Perhaps this is not unlike breath, which we somehow inevitably share just by breathing. As a practitioner, I come to this place of tension again and again and wonder how to interact with it, how to learn from, how to relate with it.

I like working with the image or metaphor of breath, because everyone breathes and, I think, recognizes that strange intangible yet tangible way that breath is personal, mobile, fluid, and shared. My practice is like that too—I see the form, read/experience the instructions, the geometry, the steps, but I must try it on, become it in order to transform, or even to understand it. And if Freire is right, and I think that he is, when he writes, “I say that reading is not just to walk on the words, and it is not over the words either. Reading is re-writing what we are reading,” then by practicing, I, too, change the practice. The practice cannot be tied down or defined, because every breath alters it.