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Season 2 - Episode 4

Center Your Awareness

45 min - Practice


Center your awareness. Nathan guides us in a backbending practice with a focus on opening the chest and the shoulders. You will feel a sense of stillness and spaciousness.
What You'll Need: Mat, Blanket (3), Block (2)

About This Video


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Welcome back to practice two. In this practice we'll be focusing a lot more on back bending, but this will work very nicely with the work we did in the previous session and previous season for opening the chest and shoulders. We're going to start our practice in Vajrasana and once again centering our awareness, lifting and opening the spine, opening the chest. Start by raising up the sides of the trunk, broadening the chest and collar bones. We'll take the palms together and bring the thumbs of the sternum, gently press against the sternum and roll the thumbs up. As you do this you want to feel your shoulder muscles, trapezius muscles relax and roll down the back. Let's see if we can do that. Pressing the thumbs against the sternum, a gentle lift and looking for that relaxation feeling in the shoulders. Allow your eyes to close and we're deepening our centering practice starting from softly bringing the awareness in the center of the chest and noticing that quiet stillness there. Then from that center expanding out just noticing the thoughts that are moving around, physical sensations throughout the rest of the body. Perhaps even noticing the sounds in your environment just to learn to notice. From that space of awareness say Namaste, welcome to the practice. We'll release the hands and open the eyes and we'll be starting out using a blanket.

By the way we may be using three blankets a little later for Halasana. We'll take one blanket and we're going to start out in Shavasana. We'll do a slight little fold of the lip of the blanket, of the folded edge of the blanket. We're going to be placing this fold across the base of the shoulder blades down at the bottom tip of the shoulder blades. I'll take the blanket toward the head of the mat and slowly settle myself in. It might take a few times to get that perfect spot. We got it in the first try. Right down at the bottom tips of the shoulder blades so that when I let the head and shoulders back I get this nice turning and opening of the chest. I'll just settle there for a moment, experiencing that space and then one leg at a time extend out into Shavasana. It feels so lovely to have the chest propped open like this. If the blanket doesn't happen to feel lovely in your back then you might have the blanket too thickly rolled so try a smaller roll or it might be too high up in your back where it presses the shoulders too far forward. Just try a little experimentation until you find the right amount of blanket and still get the nice opening in the chest. Now that we've settled in for just a few breaths we'll take the arms overhead and clasp the elbows. Let the arms rest back toward the floor. Here we get a little further space in the chest to prepare us for the backbends. If you like you can stay a little bit longer than I'll do here in the video to get even more benefit in this pose and then just rejoin when you feel complete with the pose. We'll take a few more breaths though. With the breathing you can start to sense where the tension is in the chest, where you might be able to let go and expand a little further. That line where the blanket is resting is where a lot of the deep movement in the middle back comes in our back bending. That's why I'm starting like this to bring awareness to that space in the body. Let's bring the arms down, bend the knees and we'll come off the blanket. We'll put the blanket off to the side. Our next pose is Adho Mukha Virasana. We'll start with the knees the width of the yoga mat and stretch the arms out also that same width. Take a moment to lengthen your trunk forward. If I leave my sitting bones down, careful not to poke the sitting bones up toward the ceiling. Let the sitting bones stay down and lengthen the front floating ribs forward. We'll rest the forehead on the floor and remember if your forehead doesn't easily go down or if there's a pinching feeling in the shoulder joint you might take a folded blanket underneath your forehead or a block even so that you can bring the floor up to you and where your body feels more comfortable. Let's take a few breaths here and press the palms well into the floor so you feel the arms are lifting and you make contact with your awareness in the shoulder blades. It's the shoulder blades that help really open up the chest. From here we'll come up into a cat and cow position. We're going to start to warm up the body by doing a little abdominal work. We'll curl under the toes, take a nice big breath in and raise the knees about one or two inches off the floor, about the height of a golf ball. Just start to feel the strength in the center of the body. Hold for about a five count and then let it down. Let's set up again.

Toes are curled under, press down through the hands, lift the knees. Holding for about a five count. Four, three, two, and one. Lower down. Let's add to it just a little bit extra. Press down through the feet and hands, lift up and we'll take the left foot just a little bit off the ground. That has a lot of energy to the pose. Holding five, four, three, two, and come down. Rest. And then we'll do the second side. Push down through the toes, lift the knees just a little bit. Set yourself up and second side. Right foot comes barely off the ground. Five, four, three, two, and one. And we'll rest there. Next stop, a little bird dog abdominals. We'll stretch the right arm and left leg back and then inhale, lift them slightly off the ground. You don't want to go super high for this with the arm and leg. Take a big breath in. Exhale, bring knee and elbow together and lift the spine up toward the ceiling. Inhale, stretch out. Exhale, bring it together. Three more. Inhale. Exhale. Let's do one more. Bring it down to the opposite side. Arm and hand stretch out. We'll raise them a few inches off the ground. No need to go any higher than that. And exhale, bring it in. Each time you bring it in, we want the spine and the ribs to lift up tall toward the ceiling. It's as though they're getting out of the way of the connection between the arm and leg. Two more. Inhaling to open. Last one. Bring it in and we'll rest the hands and knees on the floor. Let's take a downward facing dog. Curl the toes under, lift up the knees and we'll stretch back. Let's do a little pedaling of the legs, stretching one heel down at a time, opening up the backs of the knees, opening up the ankle joints. Take some nice easy breaths. And we'll come down to the floor for just a moment and grab two blocks. I'm using the blocks to help support the body up from the floor a little bit as we work towards what's known as tarsvottanasana. We'll step the right foot forward between the blocks and then begin to straighten the knees. Let's take our time here for just a moment with bent knees and begin to relax at the right hip joint. Relax the tension around that joint and then slowly start to press the hips backward away from the blocks. If the blocks weren't there, there's a good chance the upper back will be round like this, but we're working toward backbends. So I'm pressing down on those blocks and beginning to extend the trunk forward, drawing the mid back in. Let's bend the knee a little bit and we'll do it one more time. Pushing down to the floor, I press the hips backward away from the block and then pressing into the blocks, I make the back concave. And if I try to look forward, I'm working to look forward from the ribs as opposed to just turning from the neck. Roll the collarbones forward and then we'll bring the knees down, swap legs, left foot in between the blocks. Let's lift up with soft knees in the beginning and I'm working to become soft here at the hip joint. I'm not gripping with a bunch of muscular effort.

Standing there so that when I slowly press the leg to straight, there's not much resistance. By the way, the back foot heel, don't worry if it's off the ground. It's no problem. We're not working for the traditional pose here, but for the concave effect in the back. And then we'll bend the knees and recharge. Once again, I push into the left foot to press the hips back away from the blocks and then I press into the blocks to bring the concave effect into the back. And then coming down to the floor, we can put the blocks to the side and let's take another dog pose. And feeling into the spine, feeling into the hips. What do you notice there? Where's the resistance? Where's their space? And then come on down to the knees. We'll do a few twists to further prepare for the backbends and I'm going to suggest using a blanket again to support your hips. This is Barabajasana and we'll take the two legs off to the left side. Knees are slightly separated and my hip is resting on top of the blanket. This helps to level out the pelvis, bringing evenness from right and left side. So we'll start by taking the left hand across, right hand behind, and turning around to the right side. Now, some of the things that I'm working with on this pose is I'm bringing my left side pelvis around into the twist. I don't want to leave it behind and turn against it. You'll find that's quite sort of a locking feeling. If I bring the side pelvis around, the whole spine can begin to twist. And then release. We'll take it to the other side. Come down off the blanket. We'll flip it over to the other side. Bring the hips on. And I've swept both legs back, a little bit of space between the knees, and we'll turn to the other side. See again how I bring that right hip around into the pose. And this brings the depth into the spine as I twist. And we'll release and let that go. And place the blanket out to the side. Our next pose is Ardhamatsyandrasana. In this pose traditionally, we sit on the foot. If your knee doesn't like that, if your foot doesn't like that, you can sit on a yoga block. We'll cross the right leg over. And start by holding onto that right leg for our twist. I'm just going to hug that right knee in and work on the twist to the right side. And if you have the ability to go a little further, and you'd like to bring the elbow across, we'll take the elbow and press the right knee over to work into the twist. Nice, long, deep breaths. Each inhale opens the body a little bit. Exhale a little bit deeper into the twist. Exhale a little bit deeper in. We'll release and do the second side. Right leg under. Left leg over. Grab hold. Lift up tall. We'll start here and turning. Each inhale brings a little bit of extra space. Exhale and we're turning.

And again, if you feel like you can take it a bit further, the right elbow can come across, helping to press the left knee across the body to take us in a bit further. Inhale, lifting. Exhaling a little deeper. Inhale, lifting. Exhaling a little bit deeper. And then release. We'll come onto the knees for just a moment. And as always, if the knees don't like that depth of folding, you can always sit on a block so the legs feel comfortable. We'll take the hands behind, press down into the floor, and again, lifting up through that chest. This is something we practiced in our first practice of the season. And we're going to take advantage of this and go even further with the help of this pose. And we'll ease off and relax. Remember, as we work into our backbends, we're really looking to take that middle spine in without thrusting the ribs forward and out. It seems like a contradiction. It takes a little bit of practice to feel, but we'll get it over time. Push down through the floor and press vertically down more than backward with the hand. Push down. That's what helps take the spine in rather than the ribs forward. A few breaths, sensing the middle back, and release. And we'll take all of this warmth and movement that we've developed into half chaturanga. We'll start with the knees on the ground and the feet up. Here again, building some abdominal strength around the spine, a big breath in. On your exhale, bend the elbows straight back and near to the side body. We're going to hold for five, four, three, two, and one. Come on out. Take a little rest back. Let's go again. Half chaturanga. Feet up. Inhale. Elbows go straight back. Nice strong core as you lower down. Five, four, three, two, and one. We get one more. Okay, let's set it up. Chaturanga. Feet up. Inhale. Exhale. Hips, torso, shoulders all coming down at the same speed and we're holding for five, four, three, two, and one. Okay. We're going to go for full chaturanga dandasana, but we're going to do it from the floor. And we're only going to lift about that much, maybe an inch, inch and a half. We'll take the hands just alongside that chest. And our first step is to pull the elbows close together behind. Let's practice that for just a second. Press those elbows together and feel the back muscles that are involved with that connection and let them go. Again, elbows pull back, back muscles. And one more time. Elbows pull back and release. So we're going to use that setup, that very firm pressure of the elbows pulling back and near to the sides. And then we're going to do a little push of the ground to come up. Let's try it. Elbows go back, feel those strong back muscles and the connection of the core that that work of the arms creates. Take an inhale and go further with those elbows and up and down. First try. We did it. Let's try again. Elbows come back, give a nice strong squeeze. Keep squeezing there until you feel those back muscles all the way into the core and ready. Press up and come down. So we're not going to hold long. We'll call it touch and go. Touch and go kind of work. One more time. Elbows back, get a nice strong squeeze.

And with that further squeezing, feel the abdominals come on up and rest. Let's take a restful child's pose. Breathe it out a little. Rest the arms, rest the body. And we'll come up and rest down on the tummy again. So we've warmed up the body to start into some of our backbends. We'll bring the legs together and with the hands just lightly draw the chest up away from the floor. We'll reach back to clasp the hands behind the back. And as we've been talking the previous practices, if you need a strap here to bridge the gap to make it easier for your shoulders, please do take it so that you can get the benefit out of the pose. We'll roll the shoulders up and back and pull the hands toward the heels. Here's our first locus pose. And then come down, relax, you can support your chin. So the work we've been doing with the blanket in the beginning and the various poses where we're trying to feel that mid-back, let's go there again as we do another locus pose. Hands behind, roll the shoulders up and back. And as you pull the hands toward the heels, release your attention right in that mid-back. We draw that area a little deeper into the body and let's rest. And one more, legs together, hands. And if you can remember which way you've been interlocking your hands, see if you can change the finger interlock for this last one. Roll the shoulders up and away from the head. Pull the hands toward the heels and we're holding. And come down and rest. Our next pose is called arda bhikasana, half frog pose. We'll start with a right forearm down to help prop open the chest for some of the work we've been doing. And we're going to capture the left foot. It's a special capture though such that we take the hand from the inside pointing to the outside. And we're just going to pulse and pulse. Our aim for this is to lift the elbow up to the ceiling. That's the primary thing I'm trying to teach here. One way to think of it as doing sort of a bicep curl with the arm to bring that elbow up toward the ceiling. That kind of pulsing will take us into the full pose. Alright, let it go. We'll do the second side. Left forearm down to help lift the chest. That's what we're aiming at with our backbends. And we capture from the inside toward the outside. We can point the fingers toward the knee and we do our pulsing. Remember a little bicep curl brings the elbow toward the ceiling. This affects the shoulders, helps us work a little deeper into the chest. And we'll release. Back to the first side. We'll bring the leg up, reach back and same clasp again. There it is, bending the elbow. But now we get for the full lock in the pose. With the elbow well bent up and pointing toward the ceiling, there's a little twist of the hand that we do. So I bend, pull the elbow up. I'm going to spin the fingers straight forward. This locks me in. Now for the final part of the pose. You may be able to see my left chest is rolled up away from center.

So I'm going to turn the chest. And there's our full pose. And then to come out, you gently turn the hand to unlock and release. It's quite a pose. Great warm up for backbends. We'll do the second side. Grasping from inside out. And I bend the elbow like a little bicep curl to practice getting that elbow up. I've got it up now. Now I have to do the twist. So I find that platform right on my foot that works for the twist and I turn the hands around toward front. Once again, I have to get the chest square. So I'll roll my right chest forward and that is what takes me into the full part of the pose. The front of the hip is well anchored into the floor here. And then undo and release. Rest the chin down. Our next back bend is known as makrasana. We're going to start by taking the hands interlaced behind the back of the head and raise the elbows. I'll roll my sacrum and tailbone toward the heels. That anchors the hips down. Lift the elbows and then upper back comes up. Now three inhales. We're going to try to pump up a little bit higher. Inhale. Holding it. Inhale. Exhale. Holding your position. One more big lift. And then release.

And take a rest. The next one, we'll add the legs to it. Draw the legs together. Interlace the fingers behind the head and lift the elbows. Start with the leg bend. Once again, taking the sacrum and tailbone, pulling them. I'm doing that now. Pulling the sacrum and tailbone toward the heels. Lift the elbows and knees off the floor. Inhale. We'll try a little bit higher. Pausing. Inhale. Pausing. Inhale. And release. Let's come up and take a little recovery dog pose. Dog pose helps us lengthen out the spine and get some space back in the muscles. Some flow. We'll come down once again to the tummy. To complete our prone series, stretch the arms forward for full locus. We'll start by raising the arms alongside the ears. And then the legs. We'll lift. Holding for five, four, three, two, bring it down and rest. We've got one more. Arms extend. Legs together. Arms up. Legs up. And again, middle back. We try to draw a little bit deeper as we lift the chest and then come down and rest. Let's come to hands and knees. And we'll do a little bit of work for elbow stand. Let's take our work a little bit deeper now and work for pinchimaya asana. We'll bring the forearms down shoulder width apart, curl the toes under and raise the knees. We'll be doing a prep stage for pinchimaya asana. Step the left leg forward and raise the hips up high. Left leg into the air. Now you could choose to stay right here or as eventually we're going into an inversion, we can do a little bit of hop work. We'll do five, three, four, five come down. Take a rest. All the work we've been doing to open up the chest, we're going to work into eventually full pinchimaya asana. Let's do the second side. Forearms down, raise up the hips this time, right leg forward, left leg up. That left leg is what reaches us into the pose. The hop is what gets us started, but the left leg is what really reaches us up. Four and five and come down. We'll do one more set each on both sides. Forearms down, curl the toes and lift the hips. Left leg in, right leg up, and five hops. One, two, three, four, five. By the way, if you know this pose and you can kick all the way up, you may have already done it, but please do. If you can go all the way up, take the full pose. Place the forearms down shoulder width apart, raise up, and this time it's right leg in, left leg up for our last set. And come down. We'll take a little rest in child's pose. Let's come up from our child's pose and lay tummy down on the floor. We're going to go into our peak poses of backbends. First is known as Dhanurasana.

We'll take a few attempts at the pose. We'll start by grabbing the left leg first. This time it's an outside in grip as opposed to Baikasana, which was the other way, and following through with the right leg. Start by rolling the shoulders up and back, and then bring the toes straight up off of the hips, straight toward the ceiling, holding, breathing, feeling, and come down and take a rest. So as you try these deeper poses, it's okay to feel things that are uncomfortable. You want to learn from those so we can see where we need to make adjustments or where we might need props or anything along those lines. That's part of the process. We'll grab the right leg first, the left leg second now, sacrum and tailbone pulls towards the knees, backs of the knees, shoulders rolling up and back. Then we actively push the toes straight up to the ceiling to take us into the pose. We go inside, we feel. How are the shoulders doing? Where am I moving in my back? Do I feel anything uncomfortable that feels like too much? We start to learn why that happens and then release and rest. That really is the process of yoga, starting to feel, observe, and understand where things might have gone wrong, and we make adjustments. Final one, we're going to try to grab both feet at the same time. I'll bring them both up, keeping my sacrum and tailbone tucked toward the backs of the knees. We'll grab both. One more time. Inhale, roll the shoulders up and back, and bring the toes straight up off the bottom toward the ceiling. If we try to go deeper, how does the body respond? Are we at the end? Is there more to find? Then come down and rest. We'll press up from here to a cat and cow position. We'll take a brief downward facing dog, opening up the spine, raise the heels, look forward, and left leg forward first for pigeon pose. Even though pigeon pose is a bit of a back bend, this is going to start some of our counter posing because of the deep fold of the hip. We have the pliability into the back, and now we can start moving into the hip and counter posing. We won't spend too long. Curl into the back toes, lift the body, step back, opening up that right leg, and then at the left leg, excuse me, and then we'll bring the right leg forward. Pigeon pose. And then we'll step it back again into down dog. Come down onto the knees. Sit back in child's pose, rest the back, and this child's pose will bring the knees all the way together. That creates a little bit more rounding in the back so that we can begin the counter pose. Walk your way back up, and then let's lie down on the back for a few breaths. Let the back rest into the floor. If your body's calling right away for some counter posing, please do take it. Otherwise, we'll just pause here and let the muscles unwind, let gravity have the body. Let's bring the knees into the chest. Give our body a little hug. Stretch the arms out to the sides and take an easy turn over to the side. Relax the legs into the ground. Going to be completely soft in this twist. Doing twists after a back bend helps to relieve any tension that may have been caught up in the spinal muscles. It's a great opportunity for you to feel inside your body. You may be feeling space, openness. You may feel your body say, hey, what's going on down here?

So it's your chance to commune with your body. Knees to chest. We'll do the second side. Then letting into the floor, no resistance. Then back to center. Rest your feet on the ground for just a moment. Then we'll turn to the side and come up for a seated forward fold. Then walk your way back up. Our next stop will be Halasana. I'm going to recommend using three blankets to make sure you have enough space for your neck in this pose. We've done a little tutorial for shoulder stand in Halasana that I highly recommend watching so that you can get some ideas as to how you can practice or progress through these poses and do them safely and get the most out of them. I'll stack three blankets, one on top of the next, with the folded edges right above one another. Just like that. I'll take them onto the mat and even bring a little extra bonus because I've got a long torso. So we'll do just about like that. And this will be for my hips to rest on and it'll help me come up into the pose. So I'll lie down and set myself up. I want to have a little bit of extra space at the end of the blanket so that when I flip the legs over, my shoulders will have something to land on. I'll bring the legs up, take a breath in, take the legs over. Then holding onto the mat, I'm going to open the legs just a little, lean and tuck a shoulder, lean and tuck a shoulder, lean and tuck a shoulder, lean and tuck a shoulder and I press down through my arms. You see my body lifting when I do that, push down through the arm so I don't feel the tension at all in the neck. I'll bring the feet together. I keep my arm pressure into the blankets and hold the side, hold my back. This is a wonderful counter pose after the back bends like we did today. And as I hope you can hear, there's minimal or no change to the tone of my voice. It doesn't feel or sound compressed. We don't want the throat to feel at all overly compressed in these inversions like this. Then we can take it one step further by gently bending the knees and walking the feet a little closer to the head. This is Karna Padasana, a further counter pose to the back bends and a lovely lengthening for the back. You can take the hands off the back and wrap them around the thighs. And then releasing the hands in an overhead position and we'll slowly let the body unwind out of the pose. And we make a landing and touch down. We can just rest here with the head falling back and take advantage of this as our counter pose from the halas on the position. And then we'll gently turn off to the side and set ourselves up for shaasana. Great practice today for our back bends. I'm gonna recommend that you use one folded blanket for your head and we'll put the other two blankets away. And let's set up for shaasana. Lengthen the back onto the mat. Adjust your blanket so it's under the neck and the head.

Remember we want to make a little tuck of the shoulders so we support open the chest. If you like you can actually take the hands under the buttocks and gently lengthen the buttocks on the floor and reset the arms. So you want to feel that the low back is descending especially after a back bend practice. And then you walk the legs out slowly. If you take the legs out very quickly there's a tendency for the low back to spring up away from the floor. But if you walk the legs slowly, put a little pressure into the heels as though to push the body toward the head, it further descends the low back. It's a very lovely softening feeling for the low back. And I'm gonna gently slide over the top of my mat to keep that low back descending, descending, descending into the floor. And then I'm gonna take my time to slowly unwind the energy of the legs, taking that muscle tension out and letting the feet fall wide. This helps keep my back in a settled position. And you can let the eyes fully clothe. Let all the muscle energy recede out of the legs toward the center. Let all the energy in the arms recede toward center. And by energy really I'm only speaking to muscle holding and tension. I'm also speaking now of the energy of awareness. Where when the muscle energy is soft and quiet, we're able to move the energy of awareness towards the quiet still center. And you can begin to discern how well your Shavasana is coming by how easily you're able to take the energy out of the limbs and draw it towards the center, gentle flow of breath. If there's still a lot of movement or twitching in the periphery of the body, you might try adjusting your Shavasana a little. And we'll settle down. Allow the muscles around the face, eyes, ears to become more and more passive. As though you're shifting from an externally focused gaze or attention and more towards an inwardly turned gaze and attention. As you turn inward, you start to maybe see some thoughts happening floating through your awareness. Let's see if you can recognize the space in which the thoughts come. Just noticing the space.

Just noticing the space. I invite you to stay as long as you like in that spaciousness. If you're ready to come out, rest your hands, one on your chest, one on your tummy. You can bend up the knees one leg at a time. And we'll turn nice and softly over to the right side. And rest on your side for a few breaths. Before you come up, turn a little bit further toward the floor and push way up to sitting. And we can use our blanket that we use for a pillow. Just take a few moments to find that still spaciousness one more time. From that space, say thank you so much for being here and practicing with me today. I look forward to seeing you next time.


Jenny S
5 people like this.
Oh Nathan I do LOVE your practices. I always learn something new, sometimes MANY things new! Also, there’s the gentleness of your voice that seems to make even the challenging postures accessible ...
Nathan Briner
Thank you Jenny!
Kate M
3 people like this.
We're blessed to have you here on YogaAnytime, Nathan. I always seem to come away from these practices with some new experience to process, and ultimately, to share with my students : )
Nathan Briner
Thank you for taking the time to share your experience Kate. It always brings a smile to hear that I’m connecting with others through this work.
Lisa M
2 people like this.
Thank you! So Good! And your voice is so calming....can't wait for your next video to be released.
Nathan Briner
Christel B
1 person likes this.
Appreciated the deconstruction of chaturanga, doing it in stages; also doing the half frog piece by piece and of course all the rest of the session as well.

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