Yoga postures are made up of two distinct ingredients — shape and action. The shape is what the pose looks like, and the action is what’s going on underneath the skin — the really good stuff.
In the following ten poses, don’t get caught up in the shape. Experiment with these new and exciting actions within the body. Actions have the potential to unlock spaciousness and to create a feeling of lightness and fresh energy. They also make the postures safer and more expressive. What’s not to love?
Experiment with these actions and then find some of your own!
Shape: Plank. Create a long, balanced shape. It should look the same as if you were standing in Tadasana with no exaggerated curves in the spine.
Action: Extend long from the crown of your head to your inner heals, growing through the front and back body equally. Now, work with the arms — try to squeeze the lower arms in toward each other, while at the same time spreading the upper arms away from each other.
Shape: Upward Facing Dog. This is one of my favourites — a really challenging pose to get right. Remember to keep the lower body lifted off the ground and keep the shoulders down and back away from the ears.
Action: Keep the same actions in the arms as plank. Then work with specifics in the arms and chest. Pull the back of your armpits backwards while trying to lift the front of your armpits forward. It’s like you’re splitting your chest in two directions. Then with all of this still happening, lift the centre of your chest upwards toward your chin.
Shape: Warrior 2. Set the legs in a way in that feels natural and doesn’t hurt your knees. Keep equal weight through both feet and both arms extended evenly.
Action: Reach super long through the middle finger of both arms, and expand the chest to the thumbs. The upper back should stretch all the way out to the pinky side of the hand. Balance your feet by pushing into the outer blade of your back foot and big toe of your front. For one more action, take your inner front sitting bone, (it’s specific I know!) to the inside of your front knee.
Shape: Twisted lunge. Find a deep twist toward the leg side of your lunge, hook the elbow past the knee and point it backwards.
Action: Extend again from the crown of your head to your back heel, look for space through this line any way you can. When twisting to the right, take the left side of your chest and move it toward the top. To add another layer, take your back left ribs (think behind your left ear) and take them down towards the ground. Those two actions working together will change your life and work with every twist. (Don’t forget to repeat on the other side!)
Shape: Handstand. Some of us might be balancing against a wall for this, and that’s all you need. The shape is the same as a perfect standing posture with your hands, shoulders, outer hips and ankles in one line.
Action: Here, it’s all about finding lift. Push down with the hands and lengthen the arms as much as you can, then lift your inner ankles up the wall … a lot! As much as you can, try to get taller and taller. As a bonus you can work with all the actions in the arms from plank and take your tailbone toward your heals for more length in the low back.
Shape: Bow Pose. Lying belly down and taking a hold of the inner ankles for this variation, keep the upper legs on the ground only allowing the chest to lift.
Action: Use the power of the legs and kick into the hands to lift the chest. Then work with the legs, the outer hips back to the outer knees, and the inner knees up toward the inner ankles — this balances your lower body. Save the lower back by strongly tucking the tailbone back to counter the back bend and finally add the same actions as Upward Facing Dog into the chest.
Shape: Camel pose. Get into this pose from the bottom to the top — lean back in a straight line first, then tuck the tail bone, then move the bottom of your spine back, the middle back, and then the top up before taking your hands to your heals if possible.
Action: Now in the pose, start again from the bottom and find the bow actions in your legs –— outer hips to knees and inner knees to inner ankles. Then tuck your tailbone under, roll the shoulders back and slide the chest toward the chin, a lot — like you could rearrange and stretch the skin on your front body back and open.
Shape: Wheel pose. Beware the full expression here — leaving knees and elbows bent to start is fine. Don’t do anything that gives you pain or discomfort in your lower back.
Action: Work with as many of the back bends actions as you can remember. In particular, keep the tailbone tucking under to lengthen the low back and press down super strong with the arms just like you did in handstand. Finally, try to expand the skin of the front chest in all directions while the thoracic spine comes in toward the chest at the same time.
Shape: Half Lord of the Fish’s Pose. Catch the opposite knee with the elbow again and revolve around your centre without over-expressing through your neck.
Action: Get length in your spine by lifting through the crown of your head. Then work with our advanced twist cues — if turning to the right, take the front right chest back, and the left side of your upper back forwards. Contain everything, preventing any ribs or muscles bulging away from the body and squeeze in to balance both sides of your torso.
Shape: Cow Pose. Folding the legs on top of each other and spiralling the arms back, take one arm into full internal rotation and take it low and back, with the other in full internal rotation up and over — the fingers might even join behind you.
Action: Press the back of the head into the top arm to expand the chest, then counter this by pulling the bottom ribs downwards to prevent them popping out. Now extend up through the crown of your head and again draw the upper spine in slightly to the body, expanding the chest without over-extending the sternum.
About the author:
Stefan Camilleri is a yoga teacher trainer with experience teaching specialist workshops, retreats, trainings and master classes around the world. Between facilitating trainings, Stefan travels the world in search of new adventure and inspiration, studying in the US and India in modern and classical Iyengar Yoga. www.stefancamilleriyoga.com