Marylene Henry, yoga teacher trainer and founder of Zazyoga tells us about a few of her favourite poses.
Bird of paradise (Svarga Dvijasana)
Practicing bird of paradise is great to bring focus, build self-confidence, and release stuck emotions. I love how the elegance of this pose disguises a lot of strength and stability! It challenges me to remain focused and listen to my body’s limits.
This pose requires both steadiness and flexibility in the legs, so it should be practiced after warming up the body.
Stand with the legs wider than the hips and bend the knees as you fold forward. Slide the left shoulder behind the left knee and bring the right arm around the back to bind around the left thigh. Shift your weight to the right leg and slowly start rising until your body is straight. Keep the left knee bent over the left arm, or keep the chest long and proud as you start straightening the left leg.
Contraindications: hip instability or sacroiliac joint issues, history of shoulder dislocation.
Eagle pose (Garudasana)
Garudasana is a strong balancing pose that strengthens the legs and the pelvis, helps with urinary or sexual problems, and releases tension in the upper back, shoulders and neck.
Stand on your mat and start shifting the weight to the right foot. Slightly bend the right knee and cross the left leg over the right and wrap the left foot behind the right ankle
Cross the right arm over the left and bend the elbows. Turn the palms towards each other and join the left fingers to the right palm, creating an eagle beak shape. On the inhalation, reach forward and up with the elbows, creating space at the back of the shoulders. On the exhalation, let your entire weight sink into the standing leg. For deeper shoulder and neck stretch, bring the chin down.
I particularly enjoy practicing eagle pose after a day on the computer to release my shoulders and neck and to re-center by balancing on one leg. I keep the pose fluid by reaching through the arms on inhalation, and letting my body drop lower on the exhalation, creating a soft dance.
Modification: For more balance, place the left big toe on the floor instead of behind the right ankle.
Dancer pose (Natarajasana)
This challenging balancing pose and hearth opener is ideal to fight depression and anxiety. It strengthens the legs and stretches the hip flexors and shoulders. Back bends also stimulate the immune system. Make sure to warm-up with gentle back bends and hip openers before practicing.
Standing on your mat, hold a yoga belt with both hands and place the right foot on its center. Cross the ends of the belt by bringing the right end to the left hand and vice versa. Step the left foot forward and over the crossing of the belt, and shift your weight to the left foot. Still holding the belt, bend the right knee and bring the arms back and up over the head, as if skipping rope. Keeping the chest tall, walk the hands back on the belt until you feel a comfortable stretch in the hip flexors.
Beyond the deep hearth opening, the reason I love this pose is for its mythology. Nataraja, the lord of the dance, represents how grace and wisdom prevails over ignorance and arrogance.
Contraindication: Lower back problems including facet join syndrome, spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis, sciatica, sacroiliac joint problems, pregnancy (practice with the support of a chair or a wall for balance)
Staff pose (Dandasana)
Staff pose is a great pose to correct the posture, strengthen the core and lengthen the hamstring. It’s a grounding posture ideal for anxiety and hyperactivity.
To practice, sit tall with the legs extended. Let the arms fall by your sides, without putting any pressure on the hands. Root firmly through the sit bones by sending the breath deeply into the hips, and allowing the spine to lengthen through the crown of the head. I love this pose because it challenges my core and allows me to use the breath to support my posture.
Modification: If you feel the lower back rounding, sit on a block or on a cushion to reduce the angle at the hip join.
Contraindication: Disk herniation, lower back pain.
Fish pose (Matsyasana)
Matsyasana is the counterpose of salamba sargangasana as it opens the front of the throat. It stimulates the thyroid gland and the thymus, a gland involved in immunity. It also opens the front of the shoulders and can help correct a slouched posture.
To practice, lie on your back and place the hands under the buttocks, palms facing down. Firmly press the hands and forearms into the mat as you bend the elbows to lift the chest. Let the head gently drop back, and slowly lower the chest so that the top of the head touches the mat. Keep the weight on the arms unless no compression is felt in the neck. If you feel stable on the head, release the arms and join the palms together in front of the body. To add some core work, lift the legs off the mat. I love how this pose engages the legs and the core while deeply opening the heart, opposing expansion and compactness at once.
Modification: Place a block between the shoulder blades and another one at the back of the head for the supported version of the pose.
Contraindications: Any cervical spine issues, including facet join syndrome, stenosis, and osteoporosis.
Eight-angle pose (Astavakrasana)
Arm balances are fun and make a great addition to a practice for depression. I absolutely love astavakrasana because the mythology of Astavakra (the crooked one) illustrates how something that at first looks very challenging can be very simple if we approach methodologically. By breaking down this pose into simple logical steps, I became more confident in my practice and fell in love with balancing on my hands.
Before practicing, make sure to warm up the hips and the shoulders. Sit on the mat with the legs straight. Bend right knee into the chest and lean forward to slide the right shoulder under the knee, right palm firmly pressed on the mat. Straighten the back and place the left hand outside the left thigh, in line with the right hand. Leaning forward, press both hands into the mat to lift the sit bones off the floor. Keep pressing through the fingertips to protect the wrists. Hook left foot on top of the right foot, crossing at the ankles. Then, keeping the forearms perpendicular to the floor, bend the elbows to shift the torso forward as you straighten the legs.
Modification: Place the hands on blocks to help lifting off the mat.
Contraindications: Wrist injuries or arthritis.
Fallen angel (Devaduuta pannasana)
Fallen angel is a variation of the side crow. Like all arm balances, it is energizing and exhilarating. As an inversion it also supports the lymphatic drainage, while the twist of the torso stimulates the digestive system. It engages the shoulders, arms and glutes. And despite all these benefits, what I prefer about this pose is simply that it’s really fun to practice!
Start in a low squat with the knees together and turn both knees to the right, as you would do to practice side crow. Place the hands on the mat shoulder width apart with the fingers spread for support. Leaning toward your hands, bend the elbows and raise the hips so that the left knee rests over the right elbow and the left hip rests over the left elbow. Turn the head to the right and keep leaning forward until the left ear rests on the mat. The feet will naturally lift off the floor. Keep the weight on the hands as you straighten the right leg toward the sky, and join the left toes to the right inner thigh.
Contraindications: high or low blood pressure, neck issues, wrist issues, diarrhea
Shoulder stand (Salamba Sarvangasana)
Shoulder stand truly is my favorite pose of all! I find that practicing shoulder stand for several minutes per day brings me energy and focus, and I use it often to meditate upside down!
This inversion has many benefits, including revitalizing our energy, strengthening the postural muscles, supporting the lymphatic circulation, and balancing the activity of the thyroid gland, which controls our metabolic rate.
To practice, lie on your back with the legs straight. Raise the legs to 90 degrees and use the core muscles to lift the hips off the mat. Roll the shoulders back and place the hands at the mid back to support the elongation of the spine. Lift the feet towards the sky to align the body into a straight line. To come out, slowly lower the spine to the mat.
Modification: If you have a forward head posture, place a folded towel (about 2-inches thick) under the shoulders and let the head rest on the mat, lower than the shoulders. This allows to lengthen the back of the neck and avoid compression of the cervical spine.
Contraindications: High or low blood pressure, eye cataracts, osteoporosis of the thoracic or cervical spine, neck problems.
Lotus pose (padmasana)
The lotus pose is the ideal meditation posture as it provides a stable and firm base. The lotus flower is also an important symbol in yoga, as it represents how we firmly root ourselves in the mud (suffering) to rise through the waters and open to the light. I love how this pose embodies the lotus flower, with the sit bones representing the roots, the spine as the lotus stem, and the crown of the head as the lotus flower.
Sitting on the mat or on a cushion, hug the right leg into the chest. Craddle the leg for a few seconds to warm up the hip join. Grab the back of the right ankle with the right hand, and with the left hand turn the plant of the foot towards your face. Keeping the foot in your hands, let the right knee drop, then place the right foot at the left groin. Repeat with the left leg placing the left foot on top of the right groin into full lotus.
Modification: If the right knee is lifted off the floor, simply bend the left leg and place the left foot under the right leg into half-lotus.
Contra-indications: any knee or ankle issues
Marylene Henry is a yoga teacher trainer and founder of Zazyoga. After spending many years working as a project manager and global corporate strategist out of Dubai, she started noticing how physical and psychological pain had become normalized in the corporate world. Curious about the impact yoga could have on our physical and mental health, she started studying yoga therapy and became fascinated by the human body and mind. While teaching corporate and private yoga in Dubai for a few years, she continued studying yoga philosophy and Ayurveda and specialized in yoga for mental health. In 2017, she left her corporate career to pursue a PhD in osteopathy and opened the Zazyoga school in Bali. Marylene now leads several Yoga Teacher Trainings per year with an emphasis on the integrity of the body and the therapeutic applications of yoga.