Tuesday, November 23, 2010

For Tim at Salted Herring

We got our website - Healium - designed by a really amazing digital design firm here in Wellington: Salted Herring. Kate and Pep, the owners, employ Tim, who is our designer. We like him. Not only is he a really good designer, he's also a nice, patient guy! That helps when you're a tad techno-challenged!

While we were there for a meeting to learn about Google AdWords, etc., Tim pointed out to me that he cannot touch his toes. In fact, with legs straight, he can't really reach past his knees.

I recommended that he sign up for one of our private lesson packages, but he scoffed! Designers you hire these days!

Anyway, I thought I would help Tim - and the Tims of the world - get to a point where, in a year or so, they can touch their toes. (Can you imagine an army of flexible Tims?)

There are a couple of rules, though, before doing this program:

1. Take your time. You never want to "force" a posture. Postures are built on integrity, not flexibility, so you want to work from the place of strength. Follow the directions, don't "pull" into a stretch, and go slow. There's no hurry.

2. Practice every day. That's the best way to do it. I made this program short so you can practice it every day without having to dedicate a ton of time to it. And, in fact, you can practice it in your office. I've seen your office, Tim, and there is plenty of space. I'm sure that Pep, Kate and Connor will not mind. Heck, they might even join you. So, you have no excuses to NOT do this every day.

If you are not in Salted Herring's office, you can still do this routine because it takes up very little space. I bet both James and Alicia could do it in their studio apartment at the same time. And I haven't even seen that studio apartment, that's how little space this takes!

OK, rules finished, what is the routine? It's only two postures!

You know how I said that postures are worked from a point of integrity? That means, essentially, strength. To develop flexibility, you actually have to develop strength.

When hamstrings are tight, it's because they are stronger than quadriceps (that's the muscle on the front of the thigh). So, to help the hamstrings become more flexible, we have to strengthen the quadriceps.

So, we'll start with utkatasana, fierce pose:

And then we'll modify it to help create back strength too, to strengthen the quads:

Here are the basics of utkatasana:

1. Feet absolutely together. Not close to each other, not near by, but together as in touching.

2. Bend your knees deeply like you are sitting in a chair, stick your butt out. No one is going to do anything to you if you do that. So just do it. It's important for the modification.

3. Create a flat back. As this posture is modified to create a flat back - which strengthens lower back and core muscles - you align your torso along your thighs, bring your hands to your hips, lift your elbows toward the ceiling, look forward, draw your chest forward and your shoulders down your back.

That's modified utkatasana with a flat back. It's good for you. Once you get into it, just sink in and take a few breaths. When you inhale, think about making your back flatter. When you exhale, sink into your thighs.

So, that's the first posture. It focuses on integrity. The second posture is to help bring about flexibility in the hamstrings. It's a forward bend: uttanasana. It actually translates to "intense pose" - but we are going to do it with intention rather than intensity. This way, we slowly open the hamstrings to the right flexibility.

Of course, seeing as Tim can't yet touch his knees with legs straight, we are going to modify it!

Here are the basics are uttanasana:

1. From your modified utkatasana, bring your hands to the floor by your feet, or grab your heels. Keep your knees bent as much as you need to.

What is important here is keeping the chest and thighs together. This properly aligns your back and hips, so that the hamstrings can slowly open and release.

2. While you inhale, just feel your belly draw your torso away from your legs a bit, and when you exhale, draw your torso closer to your legs.

If you want, you can also just start to straighten the legs a little bit - but only if you can keep your chest and thighs together.

3. Shift your weight toward your toes a bit, keeping your heels on the floor.

Now, this is a pretty cool little series, because it will help you get more flexible and it takes up no time and space, but also for one other awesome reason: you can do it in a lot of different ways.

1. Long holds. You can hold both postures for 5 to 10 breaths each.

2. Flowing. You can inhale into your utkatasana, then exhale into your uttanasana.

3. Combined with long holds. You can hold the one posture for three breaths, then transition to the other posture for three breaths, and do this several times.

4. A pyramid scheme. You can hold the one posture for six breaths, then the other for six breaths; then three, and then inhale/exhale between the two postures three or six times, and then go back to three breaths, then six!

How cool is that? In no time at all your hamstrings and lower back will feel great, and you'll be stronger and more flexible! And all of your office mates will laud you for creating such an amazing opportunity to tease you - erm, I mean, to join in!

So, do you love these poses? Has a pyramid scheme worked for you?

Get some tea, and tell me what you think!


  1. Great website, I love it! The pictures and bios are my favorite because they aren't like every other yoga studio's bio page.

  2. Jenifer,
    Yeah I can follow you from PA.
    Miss you dearly. You are the best teacher and friend. Much happiness to you and your family.
    Betsy Stevens

  3. Great post, Jen. I'm going to try this at work.

  4. @ Eric: It will be great for you, Eric. I think you are more flexible than tim, even, and it will help for hikes and for any lower back issues you might have.

    @Diane: I'm so glad you like the web site. we are *so* into it. It's just fun! I like how "alive" it is. Tim created the little creatures flying around and such. he shares our sense of humor, i think.

    @betsy: thanks, we are doing well here. you'll have to come down and visit us sometime! :D