Author: Tonja Renee Hall

Yoga Instructor, Seattle Athletic Club Downtown

Summer core prep with the Side Plank yoga pose

Vasisthasana = “best, most excellent posture”

Vasisthansana or “Side Plank Pose” is a very rich core exercise indeed. As summer approaches and we want to look our “bikini” best, time to add Side Plank to your routine.

Most summer athletic sports require a strong core and flexible side waist. Think, reaching for a football pass, keeping your balance on your mountain bike while ripping up a tricky trail, or max length for free style swim. Side Plank will strengthen your Serratius (deep side muscles) and Latissimus Dorsi (the big group of outer corset muscles that span from your shoulder blades and wrap around your side waist to pelvic region). This pose will also strengthen wrists, shoulders, arms and legs, while creating flexibility in your hips. I will give modifications for those with injury in the arms.

Let’s Play

  1. Start in Down Dog and tune into your breath. Once your breath is steady and engaged, then start your practice. This will help you stay focused.
  2. Roll forward to Plank Pose
  3. Move your right hand underneath your nose on the mat, and spread your fingers wide like a pancake. IF you have injury in any part of your arm, please drop your bottom knee on the floor to support your body weight from here on out.
  4. Carefully roll to the side, opening hips and stack your feet on top of each other, lifting the hips as high as you can, reaching the left hand straight up to the ceiling.
  5. If you are feeling fresh, lift your top leg a few inches off the other while lifting hips. This will increase your balance and strength practice.
  6. Hold Side Plank for 5-10 breaths and repeat on opposite side.
  7. Rest in Child’s pose with hands by hips for 10 breaths before moving into the rest of your practice.

Modifications

  1. Drop bottom knee to the floor, and keep it there.
  2. Rest on forearm for side plank instead of wrists, to protect injured parts.
  3. Engage your core, and lift kneecaps for max focus on strength. Stay like a board, not sagging in the hips, shoulders, etc.
  4. BREATH!

Side Plank is one of my favorite poses to build the core strength and awareness for more complex poses and inversions. I am available for private Yoga coaching at Seattle Athletic Club, if you have any questions about this pose or want to enrich your on going practice!

Develop your core with Yoga

Do you want a strong core? Check out this twist…

A lot is said about the Yoga Practice for “flexibility” and it’s true, “Range of Motion-use it or loose it”…but did you ever think about the other half of that? Strength.

Healthy low back needs flexibility around the hip flexors, adductors, hammies and lats….but all those stabilizer muscles need to be strong too, on a deep level.

Lunge “hands free” Twist is an excellent way to develop Core strength and practice what I call “stealth” yoga, when you are doing more than one pose at a time with out even knowing it. Lunges of course strengthen the whole leg, and stretch quads/adductors, and with the addition of a Core stabilizing twist, Ba BAM!!! Ballistic power and flexibility under pressure.

Let’s do this:
First, step onto your yoga mat in lunge position, heel of back foot up, equal weight on both feet. As you breathe in, place your hands in “prayer pose”, keep your hands to your chest and gently start the twist toward the bent knee direction. Keep lengthening your spine, and drop your shoulders. But here’s the key “no touchy” your knee with your elbows, this is all about developing core strength and flexibility with JUST your core, not “yanking” with your hands…Each time you inhale, pause at the top of the breath, actively pull your belly button to your spine ( what ‘s really happening is the central tendon in your diaphragm is pulling that muscle down, giving you space and strength to twist) then exhale and deepen thee twist…take your time, 5 breaths or so on each side.

You will definitely create internal heat from working this pose, and you’ll be amazed at how sore you feel from this simple but very effective way to add a strong “hands free ” twist to your yoga practice. Excellent for golfer’s, footballers, squash players and anyone who goes from a relaxed state to requiring ballistic strength and energy as soon as the alarm goes off.

Yoga Pose of the Month: Bridge

Bridge Pose
Setu= Bridge
Bandha= lock, or bind

Welcome to Seattle winter, brrr, are you ready?

To keep the internal fires stoked, a strong yoga practice that includes a little external heat, and back bending is a great way to stay healthy as cold sets into our joints.

Bridge pose is a simple and easily performed backbend. For intense athletes like you, back bending is key to healthy low back and hips.

Let’s Begin:
To start, warm up with a few Sun Salutations or 10 minutes easy pace on the Elliptical or Treadmill machines. Gather props, such as block and blanket if wanting a more restorative pose. Lay down supine on your mat, and begin by drawing your knees up to your chest and with feet at least hip width apart, set your feet firmly down on your mat. I like to begin with “Dynamic Bridge” before settling into the pose. If you have tight hips, feet are as wide as your mat to begin. Push down on your feet; inhale, as you raise your hips and arms up off the floor. Hold for one count, connect with your core and inner thighs, Exhale, and slowly release everything to the floor. Do this 3x’s. Lift your hips the final time, and leave your arms on the floor, push into your feet again as you shimmy your shoulder blades together. As you hold the pose, soften your glutes, and connect more with your inner thighs. This will take the pressure off your low back, and allow for lengthening in the front body. Hold for 5-10 breaths, release.

If your traps and pectoral muscles (major muscle group that contains your chest and upper back) are tight, I suggest you lengthen your arms toward your feet instead of clasping your hands behind the back, otherwise to increase intensity, lift your hips as high as you can and clasp your hands. Be sure to continue lengthening your neck away from your chest so you can breath naturally.

Restorative Variations:
If you have injury in neck or back, or need to relax instead of effort try these restorative alternatives.
1. As you lift your hips, slide the block under your tailbone for support and fold your weight over the block.
2. Roll the blanket under your neck for support
3. Roll the blanket long like a burrito, and lay supine on the roll with your legs straight on the floor, or knees bent if you have low back pain. The roll will lift your chest and shoulders and put pressure on the back of your lungs in a very calming slight backbend variation of Bridge Pose.

Counter pose:
To relax the back after any back bending, twist, or a gentle forward bend. If you have tightness in the hamstrings, roll your blanket under your knees before you forward bend.

Winter Health Tip, from Yoga wisdom:
Most of us contact with winter viral infections, and to stay on top of your health, try a Neti pot; an ancient ayurvedic method for health in winter. A Neti pot looks like a small teapot with a long snout, that you set inside one nostril as warm, slightly salty water pours through your nasal passages, back of the throat, and blows out the other side. You can buy Neti pots from local yoga boutiques, or use a method I do at home. First thing as you waken (before coffee, sorry) mix a tiny dash of salt and warm water in your hands, then slurp up your nose while closing the glottal muscles of the back of your throat. Blow out mixture forcefully. Ok, so the first few times you may feel like you are drowning, but hey, what’s good for you isn’t always fun the first few times. Remember broccoli? Yeah, now you love it!

For extra winter credit, oil up your nose with either sesame or olive oil, after the Neti process.
Let me know how it goes!

Yoga is Hard Core!

Most people associate yoga with flexibility and mental relaxation training, but rarely make the connection that Yoga Asana (poses) are great abdominal strength training too! If you need a break from “crunches”, take a little journey with me as I explore two powerful “hard core” poses from the yoga asana sequence.

Plank Pose and Dolphin Plank are two very powerful strengtheners for both the abdominal core and hip flexors. Plank has the added benefit of strengthening the chest, arms, back and triceps, which traditional sit up don’t do. Keeping your torso strong will help prevent a sore back, and helps you move your limbs with more grace and awareness away from the spinal medium.

The strength training from Plank will also help for more challenging yoga poses like Head and Handstand for the advanced practitioner, and if you are an athlete, a strong core translates in to explosive power and injury prevention and quicker recovery.

Plank:

To begin, find Down Dog on your mat, and make sure your fingers are spread wide and you have a strong connection between the floor and the power moving up your arms, lifting the shoulder blades up your back.

Plank is, moving the shoulders forward from Down Dog, so your shoulders and elbows are in a direct line above your wrists, and your body is straight out behind you like a board.

To prevent “sagging” in the hips, tighten your kneecaps, activate your inner thighs and push “away” from the floor with your feet and hands. Your hips should be about level to shoulders.
Since the breath (prana) in yoga is so very important, as you hold this pose for 5-10 breath cycles, fill out your rib cage with new oxygen like a balloon. This newly oxygenated blood with give you energy and focus to hold the pose, and train you to breath deeply while under stress.

Dolphin Plank:

Dolphin Plank is similar to Plank with your forearms on the floor instead of hands. This is great if you have wrist issues or shoulder injury.

Start on hands and knees, in Cat/Cow, and lay your forearms on the floor, palms facing down, fingers wide, and elbows and wrists as wide as your shoulders. From there push back off the floor to either a Down Dog Dolphin or walk your feet back behind you so you are straight like a board, same as Plank.

For more intensity in both poses, join feet together and lift one foot at a time off the floor and hold up for the 5-breath cycle. Then switch. To strengthen Glute Medias, lift the foot, keep the toes pointing down, and open the leg out an inch or two. SLOWLY!!

To modify, set knees on floor and press belly button actively up toward spine so you won’t sag in belly.

As always, all Yoga Asana and other similar movement disciplines are best under the guidance of a certified instructor or coach. Come try one of my classes at Seattle Athletic Club Downtown, and I’ll show you this and a whole lot more! Monday/Wednesday from 6:00 – 7:00pm.

PS…. in case you didn’t realize, Tonja is one of the senior yoga instructors at Seattle Athletic Club, conducts classes for the Seattle Sounders, FC and has conducted classes for the Seattle Seahawks, Rat City Roller Girls, and members of the Luna Cycling Teams. She is also a Lululemon Ambassador, and has taught yoga internationally in Thailand, Vietnam and Croatia. She is looking forward to her up coming trip to Oaxaca, Mex. to teach and practice her Spanish skills. She is a certified Thai Yoga practitioner and mixes a wonderful blend of Thai Yoga and passive yoga stretching for a total body feel good tune up, in her private practice. She is ever grateful for the lessons her students teach her , and always curious about way to make yoga accessible for all.

Yoga Pose of the Month: Post Workout Stretches

This month, the Yoga Pose of the Month is actually a simple series of four basic “feel good” yoga poses for a post work out stretch.

The first, Downward Facing Dog (Adho Muka Svasana), is a yoga classic. It’s purpose is to stretch all the major posterior muscle groups, as you strengthen your core, and let oxygenated blood flow to your brain.

The second is Pigeon (Raja Kapotasana) which is designed to create flexibility in the hips, glutes and inner thighs.

The third, Bridge Pose (Setu Bhandasana) will open the muscles of the chest and create flexibility in the anterior body, as well as strengthen your back side if you push firmly into the floor and fire up your hamstrings and glutes.

The final, Resting Pose (Svasana) is an important piece to muscle recovery as it allows the body and mind to be totally still, and feel the wonderful effects of your workout and deep relaxation of Yoga Asana.

Yoga Pose of the Month: Ardha Chandrasana/Half Moon Pose

Ardha Chandrasana/Half Moon Pose
What is one of the most common Spring sports injury? The ANKLE joint. Now that the sun is beginning to peak it’s head out more often, it’s time to amp up your Spring training and use yoga balance poses to strengthen ankles, calves, inner thighs and core. Spring sports like Soccer and hiking depend on the quick response, strength and flexibility of your ankle joint.

Half Moon pose is an important pose in the yoga sequence, because it teaches both the front/back (anterior/posterior) of the body to stabilize and balance, by in large because the core has to fire both front and back. This pose also requires mind, breath, body coordination and stretching of the side waist and chest.

Break it Down
Do at least 10 minutes of warm up before starting standing balance poses like Half Moon. Set a block down by the front of your mat to use as an extension of your hand if it doesn’t easily touch the floor.

Starting in Warrior II (Virahbdrasana II) with your right foot forward, and your knee bent in a direct line over your foot. Ease your right hand down to the block as help to propel you forward, so you can lift your left leg off the floor with the front body open. The point is to pretend there is an imaginary wall on either side of you, front and back, so move slowly enough you stay open like a star shape and feel your core and inner thighs engage. Try not to fling your body parts into an awkward shape, move slow, with your breath, and “feel” your way into the pose.

Start by holding the pose for 5 breaths and then come down slowly back into Warrior II. Over time, you won’t need the block, and you’ll develop the strength and finesse to lightly touch the floor with your balance hand.
The focus should be keeping your front and back body open, strengthening the standing leg and ankle and stretching the side waist and chest.

Meditation and Pranayama – The Root of Yoga

This month, I want to talk a little about Meditation and Pranayama. These are not Yoga Poses, but the root of the practice. The juice and foundation. Meditation is a practice of stilling the constant chatter and pounding in the mind, and Pranayama are the breath control practices of yoga that help with the stilling of the mind.

Notice I say “practice”, as Meditation certainly doesn’t come to me or most of us naturally! A few years ago, a friend said, “Tonja, you got the poses down. Now, what you need to do is stop moving and sit your butt down and listen to your intuition.”

For me, sitting still for even 5 minutes is a wrestling match, but when I finally set my butt down and settle into stillness, it is truly an amazing practice of transforming my crazy busy mind into, clear, focused, sharpness.

Meditation for beginners. First start by doing 10 minutes yoga warm up or light stretches. Then prop your sit bones up on pillows or yoga blocks until you feel comfortable to sit for at least 10 minutes. Here’s the thing. Silence, no music, no waterfalls, just you and your wonderful breath. It’s hard…you can do this. Focus first on just the act of breathing, feel the richness of breath, the physicality of the miracle of the respiratory system. Sit tall, but not rigid, and drop your chin half way toward your chest. Once you begin to settle, start with a Mantra (repetitive words or sound, who’s purpose is to calm the mind) The mantra I work with right now is “YES” on the inhale, and “Thank you” on the exhale…over and over again repeating this simple gratitude practice. It doesn’t matter what you are “YESSING” and THANKING…. It is signaling the sub conscious mind in the Alpha state, to imprint Gratitude on your cellular level. A practice of daily Gratitude will change your life, guaranteed.

The Pranayama practice I love to begin with is Ujjaii Pranayama. In your “seat” press the tongue behind the front teeth, which drops and lengthens your palette and creates space around the nasal and throat passages. Slightly close the glottal muscles, back of throat, to sound like a soft snore. If you like to deepen this, count to 4-6 on the inhale, HOLD the breath in as you lift your belly up 2 counts, relax all muscle effort, and exhale slowly.

Pretty soon, a fidgety 5 minutes of Meditation/Pranayama has turned into 20 minutes that you don’t want to end.

There are many techniques for quieting the mind; I’m sharing some that work for me. All the Greats use Meditation to tap into their inspiration. Russel Simmons, of Def Jam Recordings and Rush Management, has just written “Supper Rich” where he explains how yoga and meditation has helped him become not only a tremendously successful business man, but more open and loving in his life. It’s an excellent book.

As always, ask your teacher about any yoga technique, and they can point you in a direction that they’ve gone. Try it, and with practice, you’ll go in the right direction and style that’s right for you.

Yoga Pose of the Month: Ardha- Half (twist)

Let’s Do the TWIST!!
Ardha- Half
Matsyendra- Lord of the Fishes

Twist Benefits

  • DeTox’s liver and kidneys, relief for stiff upper back, neck and shoulders, energizes the spine, stimulates digestive fires, and some relief for sciatic discomfort.
  • You know that feeling when you stand up and stretch after a long period of sitting? Ahhh…you can almost feel it!
  • That’s what twisting feels like for your back and internal organs. Monday yoga practices at the SAC, I have been dedicating to the concept of detoxing the body from toxins. Twisting is one of the best ways to use your yoga practice as a tool to feel healthy from the inside, out.

Seattle Yoga StudioTwist it UP!

  1. To start, grab a blanket and fold it firmly under your sit bones, there by elevating your hips, and tilting your pelvic bone forward for more flexible ease in the hips.
  2. Bend one knee, then; step the other foot over the top of the “bent knee” leg. If you have supper tight hips, you can modify by stepping the foot near the ankle.
  3. Exhale as you lengthen the spine and twist the torso towards the bent knee-as if you are wringing out a dishtowel. Keep lifting up through the spine and avoid collapsing the chest and shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute for max twisting benefits.
  4. Counter twist by lying on your back for Bridge Pose or Happy Baby.
  5. There are many variations of twisting poses in a yoga practice. As always I like to plug our wonderful staff of teachers at Seattle Athletic Club Downtown who come up with there own variations of the Twist.

About Tonja Renee Hall
Is a yoga instructor at Seattle Athletic Club Downtown, and for professional sports teams. She uses her 10 years teaching experience here, internationally and in many disciplines of dance, cycling sports, and equestrian sports to inform her teaching. She uses humor and discipline to encourage her students to reach for their personal best. To schedule a private yoga lesson, please refer to her website www.tonjareneehall.com or contact Anna Miller, Group Exercise Director at Seattle Athletic Club Downtown.

Yoga Pose of the Month: Bridge

Setu = Bridge
Bandha = lock, or bind

To keep the internal fires stoked, a strong yoga practice that includes a little external heat, and back bending is a great way to stay healthy as cold sets into our joints.

Bridge pose is a simple and easily performed backbend. For intense athletes like you, back bending is key to healthy low back and hips.

Let’s Begin:
To start, warm up with a few Sun Salutations or 10 minutes easy pace on the Elliptical or Treadmill machines. Gather props, such as block and blanket if wanting a more restorative pose. Lay down supine on your mat, and begin by drawing your knees up to your chest and with feet at least hip width apart, set your feet firmly down on your mat. I like to begin with “Dynamic Bridge” before settling into the pose. If you have tight hips, feet are as wide as your mat to begin. Push down on your feet; inhale, as you raise your hips and arms up off the floor. Hold for one count, connect with your core and inner thighs, Exhale, and slowly release everything to the floor. Do this 3x’s. Lift your hips the final time, and leave your arms on the floor, push into your feet again as you shimmy your shoulder blades together. As you hold the pose, soften your glutes, and connect more with your inner thighs. This will take the pressure off your low back, and allow for lengthening in the front body. Hold for 5-10 breaths, release.

If your traps and pectoral muscles (major muscle group that contains your chest and upper back) are tight, I suggest you lengthen your arms toward your feet instead of clasping your hands behind the back, otherwise to increase intensity, lift your hips as high as you can and clasp your hands. Be sure to continue lengthening your neck away from your chest so you can breath naturally.

Restorative Variations:
If you have injury in neck or back, or need to relax instead of effort try these restorative alternatives.

  1. As you lift your hips, slide the block under your tailbone for support and fold your weight over the block.
  2. Roll the blanket under your neck for support
  3. Roll the blanket long like a burrito, and lay supine on the roll with your legs straight on the floor, or knees bent if you have low back pain. The roll will lift your chest and shoulders and put pressure on the back of your lungs in a very calming slight back bend variation of Bridge Pose.

Counter pose:
To relax the back after any back bending, twist, or a gentle forward bend. If you have tightness in the hamstrings, roll your blanket under your knees before you forward bend.

Winter Health Tip, from Yoga wisdom:
Most of us contact with winter viral infections, and to stay on top of your health, try a Neti pot; an ancient ayurvedic method for health in winter. A Neti pot looks like a small teapot with a long snout, that you set inside one nostril as warm, slightly salty water pours through your nasal passages, back of the throat, and blows out the other side. You can buy Neti pots from local yoga boutiques, or use a method I do at home. First thing as you waken (before coffee, sorry) mix a tiny dash of salt and warm water in your hands, then slurp up your nose while closing the glottal muscles of the back of your throat. Blow out mixture forcefully. Ok, so the first few times you may feel like you are drowning, but hey, what’s good for you isn’t always fun the first few times. Remember broccoli? Yeah, now you love it!

For extra winter credit, oil up your nose with either sesame or olive oil, after the Neti process.
Let me know how it goes!!

Yoga Pose of the Month: Natarajasana

Natarajasana
Nata= actor, mime, dancer
Raja= king


This beautiful back bending pose is a classic, seen not only in many yoga styles, but also in classical India artwork. It is a pose dedicated to the god, Shiva, the Lord of the Dance and seen often in graphic depictions of him. You too can feel like a kingly dancer, or at least 10 times more energized when you do Dancer Pose correctly. Its many benefits include, stretching the chest, shoulders, quads, and abdomen. This pose strengthens your ankles, and whole leg, while honing your balance and focus skills.

Get into the Groove

  1. I know you are developing your yoga practice from not only reading this wonderful blog, but also by taking regular classes with our fantastic SAC teachers!! Right!! So, that said, please do some Surya A and B warm up before attempting this challenging backward bending pose.
  2. After warm up, come to the top of your mat and shift your weight onto the right foot. Bend right knee, and grasp the foot in a classic “runner’s” quad stretch pose. If you find it a struggle to easily grab your foot, please grab a towel or strap for the rest of the exercise.
  3. Allow your pelvic bone to drop and tilt forward, this will stretch the quad more deeply and prevent pinching your low back as you back bend. Hold this simple stretch for 5 breaths.
  4. Before going further, keep your pelvic bone dropped, AND lift your chest up to your chin. Then you can proceed into a backbend by leaning slightly forward, and kicking the weight of your foot into your hand and continuing to lengthen your foot and hand upward.
  5. If you feel any pinching, stop, grab a strap and use this excellent tool to ease into Dancer till your quads, pectoral’s and mid back are more open.
  6. GO SLOW. A lot of folks slam themselves into poses, and they are designed to be meditative, thoughtful and well, dancer like. If you find yourself rushing into Dancer or any pose, stop. Are you breathing? Are you struggling to go further than your muscles will allow at this time? Remember, yoga is NOT a competitive sport, but a wonderfully challenging way to integrate breath and body to enhance a healthy mind and body.
    Stay in Dancer about 10 breaths, then switch.

Counter Poses/Modifications
Forward bending with slightly bent knees, or “soft” knees, or a supine twist are great counter poses to Dancer. Also, if you are still feeling vibrant, a headstand or one leg stretched forward, balance ( Eka Pada Hasta Padagustasana) are excellent ways to balance Dancer. If you need to modify, grab a strap and lasso your lifted foot with it. Also, standing near a wall and using it for support is a great way to train yourself to balance. You can also do this pose with a buddy, who can hold you. As always, all poses are best learned under the guidance of a certified yoga teacher. We have so many excellent teachers at SAC to choose from. You can always talk to me in one of my classes, Mondays and Tuesdays.


Tonja Renee Hall
Is a yoga instructor at Seattle Athletic Club Downtown, and for professional sports teams. She uses her 10 years teaching experience here, internationally and in many disciplines of dance, cycling sports, and equestrian sports to inform her teaching. She uses humor and discipline to encourage her students to reach for their personal best. To schedule a private yoga lesson, please refer to her website tonjareneehall.com or contact Anna Miller, Group Fitness Director at Seattle Athletic Club Downtown. Her favorite color right now is orange, and she can’t get enough of this sun!!!