by Amy Caldwell | July 9, 2015 8:40 pm
Knowing Your Body Like the Back of Your Hand Can Begin with Your Fingers
The Practice: The feet often get a lot of attention in yoga class. You may be familiar with the term “yogi toes” and teachers advising students to, “lift and spread the toes”, or “root down through all four corners of the feet.” Yet aside from a few mudras (gestures) the fingers often play second fiddle to the toes. The following practice will enliven your fingers. It will also increase your attention to detail, foster optimal alignment through the wrists, arms and shoulders and ultimately, empower your entire practice.
Body-Mind Benefits: Our fingers are dexterous, strong and acute sensory receptors. Bringing focus to what your hands are doing during practice will enhance the flow of energy, help prevent injury and improve concentration. Whether touching the mat, the earth, held in mudras or placed on your heart, our fingers initiate a connection and often tell a story. Learn to recognize and enjoy the nuanced sensations present at your fingertips.
Key Focal Points: When bearing weight on fingers, be sure all ten fingertips are equally grounded (generally first fingers parallel and pointing straight ahead unless otherwise noted) with knuckles engaged not sagging. Keep the palms lifted off the ground, energetically drawing the center of the palm up into the hand (imagine a suction cup). Maintaining a conscientious connection to your hands, plug the arm bones more deeply into the shoulder socket, which will align and protect the shoulder.
To Begin: Sit comfortably upright with a balanced pelvis, using props if necessary, so that your knees are at or below your frontal hip points. Allow your hands to slide toward your hip creases until the elbows are roughly below your shoulders. Notice your natural breath for a few moments, then, if you like, begin Ujjayi breathing. Hold the following poses for approximately five breaths unless otherwise noted. While in the postures ensure the entire body is aligned without pain, then bring increasing awareness to the fingers and hands.
1. Active Child’s Pose (Balasana) – on Fingertips: Separate your knees slightly wider than your hips with big toes touching. Sit back on your feet, pressurize your buttocks onto your heels and slowly walk your fingertips forward without lifting your seat. Remain on fingertips with first fingers parallel and pointing straight ahead. Keep your palms and forearms off the ground. Align your ears between your upper arms – the head might not rest on the ground in this version.
2. Down Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) – on Fingertips: Transition to all fours with your knees slightly behind your hips, toes curled under and hip-distance apart. Remain on fingertips if possible, lengthen the side body and allow the upper back to soften, with the shoulder blades hugging the back ribs. Maintain your connection from fingertips to shoulders and lift into Downward Facing Dog.
3. Plank on Fingertips – If this is your first attempt at practicing these postures on fingertips, feel free to rest in child’s pose (#1, variation on forearms) or intersperse poses with palms flat. When ready, return to fingertips, strongly engage your core, press back through your heels and shift forward into plank with shoulders directly over wrists. Breathing smoothly, hold, then lower down slowly through Chaturanga to your belly (placing knees down as needed).
For additional challenge, exhale practicing #2 above – inhale to #3, flowing with your breath two to four times back and forth.
4. Powerful (Utkatasana) – Bring your big toes and knees together, squatting down. Level the pelvis and lift arms until parallel to the floor, shoulder distance apart. Turn the palms to face each other, spread your fingers and imagine a ball of energy between the hands. Lengthen the side body while inhaling; then draw the upper arm bones more deeply into the shoulder sockets (toward the back plane of the body). Experiment with fingers spread evenly apart, fingers together, and then join the thumb and first finger together in Jnana Mudra (seal of wisdom).
5. Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana 1) – Settle into classic Warrior 1 with the back heel down (or modified version with the heel pointing directly up if preferred). After 2-3 breaths, place your fingertips firmly onto the back of your skull, at the height of the ears. Bring your elbows to shoulder distance (just in your peripheral vision), hollow your armpits and lift your lower abdomen off the front thigh. Equalize pressing forward with the fingertips and back with the head – curling the upper body into a gentle backbend. Repeat other side.
6. Boat (Navasana) – Balance your weight between your sitting bones and tailbone with a neutral pelvis. Press your big toes and inner legs together, activating your core. Soften your face. With legs bent or straight, bend your elbows with palms facing up (envision holding a tray of offerings in each open palm).
7. Forearmstand Variation (Pincha Mayurasana) – Use a wall if this is new to you! Seated on your shins, place your left forearm down with the center of shoulder, elbow and first finger in one line. Place your right hand firmly on fingertips, first finger pointing straight ahead and roughly under your right shoulder. Lift your hips into Downward Facing Dog. Remain here if you do not regularly practice Pincha Mayurasana and balance energies between forearm and fingertips. If you are steady and comfortable, kick up with your left leg into this challenging and fun variation. Rest with your head down in child’s pose (optional palms on feet). Repeat other side.
8. Hero (Virasana) – Sit on or between your feet. Bring your palms together, rub them vigorously, then place the palms over your eyes – enjoy a few deep breaths. Rub your palms together again, placing the right hand on the heart, then the left on top.
Conclude your practice with your preferred reclined spinal twist and Savasana. Enjoy gratitude for your hands. They are an extension of your heart in their ability to feel, serve and connect compassionately to your self, others and the world around you.
Photo credit: Shadow Van Houten at Simpatika.com
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