Let’s talk about the LEGS. As Megan Trainor said, it’s all about that bass, right? And that is SO true in yoga! In order to protect your body (since we only get one, at least in this lifetime), you always want to start with your base, your foundation, and work your way up from there so we will do the same here. I've also found that so many people have complexes about their legs (yes, men do, too!); we all too often think, "if only my legs were longer to better distribute the fat, I'd look good," or "there's nothing I can do with these chicken legs," or, my personal M.O., constantly berating my "thunder thighs."
So! In January, we’ll focus on the calves, knees, and thighs. One of the best poses to start with, IMHO, is the ever so famous Downward-Facing Dog Pose, or Adho Mukha Svanasana in Sanskrit.
But there is hope! There are many yoga poses that target the leg muscles, helping tone and lengthen them. What's more, yoga goes beyond just a physical practice - the more you do, the more empowered and confident you begin to feel. So those "thunder thighs" or "chicken legs" will eventually become "gorgeous gams" as my husband, Dennis, likes to say. Going back through pictures of myself over the years, I noticed that there were hardly any full-body pictures until I started regularly practicing yoga. I truly hated my legs, but through this journey of self-compassion, I've learned to love my legs. Yes, they may be bigger than some, but they are STRONG and they allow me to do things like walk all over the city and run (though I hate running!) and balance, and I love that.
How to Get There: Starting in table pose, or on hands and knees, with wrists slightly forward of shoulders and hips directly over knees, fingers pointed forward with wrist creases parallel with the top of your mat. Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, curl your toes under and press into your hands as you lift your hips up and back, straightening your legs. It's okay if your knees are bent and your heels don't touch the ground at first; in fact, that's normal! As your flexibility increases, you'll notice your legs a little straighter and your heels sinking a little lower over time.
Alignment Tips: Firm up your legs, thinking of pressing your thighs against a wall or whatever is behind you and activating your quadriceps (muscles on the front of the leg) by lifting your knee caps. Firm up your outer thighs and see if you can lift your toes off the mat to help further engage the legs.
Your fingers should be slightly apart, but not too wide that you strain your hands. Work to rotate your arms in towards one another - I've found that it helps to pay attention to the inner elbows here. My arms naturally hyper-extend (it's a great party trick!) so I am extra careful here to make sure I add a micro-bend to my arms and work my inner elbows in to face one another. If you have super open shoulders and you've been practicing for awhile, you probably like to press your chest as far back as you can and your head may almost touch the floor. If that's the case, try to come out of it a little bit so you have a straight line from your tailbone down to your wrists - it's safer on your shoulders this way.
Ideally, your head will be a natural extension of your spine (meaning that your neck is not curving up or down) which can be achieved by gazing at your shins or up towards your belly button if you're more advanced. Editorial note for the picture above: since my spoiled, fluffy kitty, Mr. Darcy, decided to join me for practice in the picture above, my head and neck alignment is a little off - don't be deceived, you want your head to point in the same direction as your hands!
Lastly, don't forget about your belly slash core slash abs or whatever you like to call them. It's easy to forget and when that happens to me, I notice my belly sagging so I have to be conscious to draw my belly button in towards my spine. This helps keep the natural curve of my spine in tact which will protect my lower back in the long run (read: no booty popping or tailbone tucking!).
Now how does this help our legs? By pressing the heels down to the mat and lifting the tailbone high, we are lengthening our leg muscles. At the same time, we are toning them by using our own body weight as resistance! Once you're comfortable in the pose, you can also work through variations like three-legged dog or rise up on the toes and slowly lower the heels to the mat or even bending the knees bringing shins parallel with the mat (chest is still pressing back) and then slowly straightening the legs back out. All of these variations will make your legs stronger!
When you first start practicing yoga, Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) may seem like the most difficult pose in the world. And it is a challenge. Did you know that Adho Mukha Svanasana is actually considered an inversion (we'll talk more about inversions later)? Yes, an inversion! Inversions are hard and super scary, so it's no wonder why Adho Mukha Svanasana is so hard, too! But with practice and proper form, I PROMISE that you'll eventually start to think of it as a sweet, sweet resting pose in no time.
Check back with me throughout the month - I'll alternate posting some of my favorite leggings with more poses (or asanas in Sanskrit)!
Hope you have a lovely Monday!
I’m Anahita Reilly, a Type-A, native Northern Virginian, happiness lover. This blog evolved out of my longstanding desire to share this beautiful thing called yoga with others. Click here to read more...