I made this course partly because I know from experience that devoting yourself to getting stronger in your practice is extremely difficult to do-especially when you attempt to develop strength over an extended period of time. Extracting strength is a matter of learning to sleuth out, contemplate, detect and extract strengthening possibilities from your efforts in practice.
I will take you through 15 classes (of approximately 20-35 minutes each) of rigorous, fun and original exercises that are not only designed to help you build strength and stamina but also to help you THINK more effectively and creatively about how to use the foundations of your practice to get stronger.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I am not very strong, will this course be too advanced for me?
A: No. This course is for beginner to intermediate level students.
Q: I saw that there is a supplemental portion called “Maps and Musings: Strength notes from David’s Journal”, where are these?
A: If you scroll to the bottom of the 15 videos there is a box called Maps and Musings: Practice Notes from David’s Journal. If you click on this box you can download the 17 page document to your computer. These 17 pages are filled with inspiring and informative notes that were scanned from the journal that David kept while making the strength course. You’ll find may excellent writings on various themes that pertain to the strength course. You’ll also find a few of David’s original drawings that are like personal, creative mandala’s or yantra’s that David uses as meditative devices.
Q: When you do you recommend doing the exercises?
A: I see many different possibilities for how to interact with this material. You can get creative and use them in any way that works for you. But also here’s a few suggestions. 1) you can use the exercises during a regular 10 to 30 minute supplemental afternoon practice. 2) You could do them by setting aside part of your morning practice –devoting some portion of time to conducting strength research. 3) You can use them as short form practices on moon days, off days, and/or days when you are short on time.
Daily Descriptions and Exercises
In this video you’ll study several foundational postures aiming to better understand how to direct your efforts towards finding each posture’s particular strength sweet spot. You’ll explore Samasthiti (Equal Standing Pose) and work with raising your arms overhead against resistance that you create by imagining the surrounding atmosphere is thicker than air. You’ll experiment with exercises that help you look with the eyes of a strength connoisseur at other familiar positions such as Vrkshasana (Tree Pose), Plank and one-legged Plank. You’ll also study Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose) by using several creative perspectives to better see this position as an important foundational strength posture. You’ll play with lowering your body onto blocks, jumping from 3rd to 4th position in Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation), and learning to hold your Chaturanga. You’ll begin the process of seeing how the foundational postures are your best, most effective and safest sources of strength.
Day 1 (29 minutes)
Ex 1 - Samasthiti (Equal Standing Posture)
Ex 2 - Ekam (Position Zero to Position One)
Ex 3 - Vrkshasana (Tree Posture)
Ex 4 - Plank posture with leg lift
Ex 5 - Plank to Chaturanga Dandasana (4 Limb Staff Posture)
Ex 6 - Surya Namaskara Transition Loop (3rd to 4th Position)
Ex 7 - Jump Back Lift
This session begins with you learning how to use your basic knowledge of Samasthiti (Equal Standing Pose) to gain strength in handstand. Experiencing the similarities between these two seemingly unlike positions can help you maximize your ability to efficiently and safely extract strength from all upside down positions. You’ll play with gaining strength through adding variations (such as lifting one leg, bringing thigh to chest, kicking one leg straight) to both standing and handstand. Introducing variety through doing variations in your postures helps you gain strength by working new areas of the body and helping you stay longer in poses. In this exercise you’ll also explore the two dynamic jumping transitions that are found in Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation) one involving jumping from 3rdto 4thposition where explore keeping our weight forward, going into a full crouch and springing all the way to Caturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose). And you’ll work on the other transition that involves working to perfect the “crouch and spring” move in the transition from 6th to 7th position of Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation). You’ll also begin to work with ideas for gaining abdominal and core strength in Navasana (Boat Pose) doing the pose with bent knees alternating with kicking your legs straight dynamically.
Day 2 (30 minutes)
Ex 1 - Thigh to Chest Samasthiti
Ex 2 - Chaturanga Dandasana Integrity
Ex 3 - Surya Namaskara Transition Loop (6th to 7th Position)
Ex 4 - Navasana (boat posture)
Ex 5 - Sirsasana Prep (Head Balance Posture)
Ex 6 - Uddhyana Bandha Kriya with wall (Belly Flying Up Lock)
This day features dynamic “looping” of exercises, a process of linking together single exercises by connecting them with transitions so that you can flow from one strength move to another without interruption. One loop involves doing Plank with one arm alternating with Downward Dog and Handstand at wall. And another loop has Caturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) and the jumping transitions between positions in Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation). Also you’ll explore the strength possibilities that exist in Bhujapidasana (Arm Pressure Pose), the first arm balance/strength pose that is found in the ashtanga system. Additionally this segment includes work with the asana category of inversions, entering into a study of upside down postures is a necessary staple of your yoga strength routine. You’ll begin by focusing on preparation exercises for Sirsasana (Head Balance) working the arms and upper body and also taking one leg up in the air towards vertical while the other leg remains in contact with the ground. Additionally you work on being up in Sirsasana (Headbalance) and doing strengthening variations such as bending one knee, Vrkshasana (Tree Posture) In Sirsasana (Head Balance), Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Pose) in Sirsasana (Head Balance) and folding your legs rhythmically into Padmasana (Full Lotus Pose). This session concludes by working with another key strength theme of bandha’s (Energetic Locks) the focus will be on doing Uddhyana Bandha Kriya (Belly Flying Up Locking Action) from a standing up position.
Day 3 (23 minutes)
Ex 1 - Samasthiti Squats
Ex 2 - Plank to Handstand to Down Dog Loop
Ex 3 - Surya Namaskara Transition Loop (3rd to 4th Position, 6th to 7th Position)
Ex 4 - Bhujapidasana (Arm Pressure Posture)
Ex 5 - Sirsasana (Headstand Posture)
Ex 6 - Uddhyana Bandha Kriya Standing (Belly Flying Up Lock)
In this session you’ll learn a dynamic strengthening loop exercise that teaches you how to skillfully enter and exit Handstand. And then most of the session is devoted to working to gain strength in various back bending positions. You’ll begin by learning to extract strength from the transition between Caturanga Dandasana (Four Limb Staff Pose) into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog Pose). You also explore how to skill and gain strength through using blocks and holding the position. Next you’ll enter into a study of the strengthening possibilities that exist for doing Purvottanasana (Eastern Intense Pose) including work with the transition from Dandasana (Staff Pose) and playing with variations in the pose. This session includes doing work with Setu Bandhasana (Laying down bridge) and Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose) with feet on blocks emphasizing strengthening the buttocks, hamstrings, and other back body muscles. Lastly you’ll learn to two breathing techniques known as Bhastrika (Bellows) and Sitali (Cooling), you’ll learn how these are opposing types of breathing and yet both emphasize strength through creating resistance.
Day 4 (32 minutes)
Ex 1 - Samastithi Eyes Closed
Ex 2 - Handstand Transition with wall
Ex 3 - Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog)
Ex 4 - Purvottonasana (Eastern Intense Posture)
Ex 5 - Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Posture)
Ex 6 - Bhastrika and Sitali Pranayama (Bellows Breath and Cooling Breath)
Day 5 begins with an exercise that will test your endurance and stamina in Handstand. You’ll go into the position at the wall and stay up for quite some time while performing the following 3 variations Vrkshasana (Tree Pose) Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Pose) and Padmasana (Full Lotus Pose)-you can come down when tired and go back again. You’ll play with a variation on Plank the classic strength pose turning to the side working with set up for an advanced standing posture called Vashistasana (Sage Pose). This session will give you some core strength by teaching an exercise that alternates between Navasana (Boat Pose) and Ardha Navasana (Half Boat Pose). Note that Half Boat pose is a good pose to know because it works the abdomen and core area of the body without participation from the hip flexors. Next you work with an exercise that involves playing with the subtleties of the rolling transition that you perform to go into Ubhayu Padangusthasana (Both Big Toes Pose). You’ll work to find the strength work that can be found by skillfully rolling up and going down, you’ll also play with the challenge of minimizing the use of momentum and also doing the transition without the hands touching the legs.
You’ll also revisit the previous variations that you did in Handstand (see above) but now you’ll do them in Sirsasana (Head Balance). This day ends the Ashtanga way with a strength move called Utpluthi (Sprung Up) and variation.
Day 5 (27 minutes)
Ex 1 - Handstand with Half Lotus and Lotus with Wall
Ex 2 - Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Ex 3 - Vasisthasana with wall (Side Plank Posture)
Ex 4 - Navasana and Ardha Navasana (Boat and Half Boat Posture)
Ex 5 - Sirsasana Half Lotus and Lotus (Head Balance Posture)
Ex 6 - Ubhaya Padangusthasana Roll (Both Big Toes Posture)
Ex 7 - Utpluthi (Sprung Up Posture)
This segment is devoted working with Surya Namaskara A and B in several different ways—all with the objective of learning to extract strength from the postures that you use to begin your practice each day. In Surya A you’ll experiment with creating a tempo that brings maximum flow and builds purifying heat. In Surya Namaskara B you’ll learn optimize your work in Utkatasana (Fierce Posture) working with synchronizing squatting and coming up with the sweeping upward and downward reach of your arms. You also learn how to tune up your foundation in Virabhadrasana A and to work on your lunge. You’ll also explore the parallels between extracting power from your arm reach in this position and the arm reach in Utkatasasana.
Day 6 (21 minutes)
Ex 1 - Surya Namaskara A with speed
Ex 2 - Surya Namabaskara B emphasis on Virabhadrasana 1
In day 7 you’ll do a standing forward bend exercise that shows the value of maintaining centered place of physical and psychic non action and a facial demeanor of receptivity in contrast to asserting your will and applying physical force in your efforts. You will work with another forward bending exercise that teaches you how to gain strength by differentiating the grounding work of your legs from the elongating actions of your spinal column and torso. You will also spend a good portion of time focusing on the steps in the progression to learn to press up into a handstand. The steps include work with and without the wall, there is focus on learning how to use rhythm and momentum to lift up your center and bear your weight on the arms. You’ll explore the different possibilities of bending or straightening the legs to come up, eventually working towards pressing up to handstand without using momentum. Lastly you’ll do some excellent foundational work in Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) with your feet at the wall, and then coming away from the wall to play with variations that combine Vrkshasana (Tree Posture), Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Posture) and Uddhyana Bandha (Belly flying Up Lock).
Day 7 (33 minutes)
Ex 1 - Jump in Samasthiti
Ex 2 - Transition from 1st Position to 2nd Position
Ex 3 - Padangusthasana Receptivity (Big Toe Posture)
Ex 4 - Handstand Press
Ex 5 - Setu Bandhasana in Sarvangasana (Bridge in Shoulderstand)
Day 8 begins with an exercise that shows you how to gain strength by creating a dynamic transition between Samasthiti (Equal Standing) and other standing postures. You’ll also work with 2 different looping exercises that will improve your strength, test your powers of concentration and bring skill in balance. The first loop consists of standing postures Uttitha Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), Ardha Candrasaana (Half Moon Pose), Parivrtta Ardha Candrasana (Revolving Half Moon Pose) and Virabhadrasana III (Warrior). The second involves building up to a cycle of jumping into Bakasana from Downdog and then springing to Caturanga Dandasana (Four Limb Staff Pose). You’ll complete the class by working with the learning progression for two formidable and fun arm balance strength postures that are found in second series Pincha Mayurasana (Feathered Peacock Pose) and Mayurasana (Peacock Pose).
Day 8 (27 minutes)
Ex 1 - Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana (Revolving Half Moon Posture)
Ex 2 - Jump in and out of Bakasana (Crow Posture)
Ex 3 - Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Balance Posture)
Ex 4 - Mayurasana (Peacock Posture)
This day provides an in depth exploration of the jump through and jump back transitions that are used between seated postures in the ashtanga yoga sequences. You’ll discover the best ways for virtually anyone to enter to fruitful study of these these challenging and rewarding transitions. You’ll get tips on how to gain strength by learning to ‘float’ the end part of the jump through move so that you hover above the ground in Dandasana (Staff Pose). You’ll learn about the 2 places to focus your efforts in the jump back in order to gain the most strength benefits. You’ll receive guidance on how to develop the tricky, elusive swing move that takes place between the set up position and the destination of jump back. This day you’ll explore the strength themes of discipline and the necessity of tending to the lowly, small, and gritty details of your postures in order to continue to develop strength as you return to your mat each day.
Day 9 (26 minutes)
Ex 1 - Jump Through
Ex 2 - Jump Back
Timing your inversions is an excellent way to build strength. In this session you’ll get out your timer and work with measuring your stay in Sirsasana (Head Balance) and Sarvangasana (Shouldersstand). David leads you through 10 minutes of each Head Balance and Shoulderstand with variations. You’ll learn about how to build stamina and strength in order to do longer inversion and also you’ll learn a list of safety guidelines so that you will know how long you can safely and effectively stay up in an inversion at any given time. You’ll also learn how extend the amount of time that you can work on doing upside down positions by using safe alternate or substitute positions that you can do instead of being all the way up in Head Balance and/or Shoulderland. The alternate positions that are to be part of your timed inversion practice include working with Adho Mukha Svanasana (Dowward Facing Dog Pose), Sirsasana (Head Balance) Prep with variations and Viparita Karani (Upside Down)—Legs Up Wall. Lastly part of learning to stay upside down for longer periods of time is to be able to add variations. Doing variations provides variety, breaks up the monotony of the work, helps you work different parts of your body and gives you new puzzles that absorb your attention so that you cease to be concerned about the passage of time. The variations include doing Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) with your set up near the wall so that you can swing one leg down to Ardha Halasana (Half Plough) at the wall. You’ll also do Vrkshasana (Tree Pose) Ardha Padmasan (Half Lotus Pose) Padmasana (Lotus Pose) and Ardha Halasana in Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and Sirsasana (Head Balance).
Day 10 (30 minutes)
Ex 1 - Timed Sarvangasana plus variations (Shoulderstand Posture)
Ex 2 - Timed Sirsasana plus variations (Headstand Posture)
Get ready because Day 11 is a strength doozy! The session begins with a reminder that the best way to extract strength from your postures is to continually return to positioning your body along the central axis just like you do in Samasthiti (Equal Standing). You’ll then move into a looping exercise involving Downward Dog, Plank, and Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limb Staff Pose). This challenging exercise provides you with an example of working to hold fast to the vertical axis as you transition from posture to posture. Next you’ll focus on creating dexterous legs and feet in Bhujapidasana (Arm Pressure Pose) and Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose). In these arm balance position your hands and arms are connected to the ground while your feet and legs up in the air where they become free to move about and express themselves. The class then really gets heated up as you work on being up in Forearm Balance and using a variety of different leg positions you work to lower and lift your legs while maintaining your balance. Several different options for doing forearm balance and also variations for positioning your legs are taught so that you can find a suitable option for you and then enter into the challenge of this exercise. The session concludes by working on Nakrasana (Crocodile Pose) you’ll work with a progression exploring several variations beginning with working on the dynamic jumping move in Plank and then progressing the forearms and finally working to learn to jump from Chaturanga Dandasana.
Day 11 (25 minutes)
Ex 1 - Samasthiti (Equal Standing Posture)
Ex 2 - Plank to Chaturanga to Down Dog Loop
Ex 3 - Bhujapidasana (Arm Pressure Posture)
Ex 4 - Karandavasana (Duck Posture)
Ex 5 - Nakrasana (Crocodile Posture)
In this fun and challenging session David takes you through a vigorous a set of back bending exercises that will work your whole body—especially the back body including backs of thighs, buttocks, spinal muscles and backs of arms. This session gives you a good taste of the meditative focus that can arrive when you become absorbed in strength work. You learn to cultivate a sense of peace through inward absorption because not despite the fact that there is challenge and struggle. The exercise list includes doing Setubandhasana (Bridge Pose) and variations, Shalabhasana (Locust Pose) and variations, Bhekasana (Frog Pose), and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and variations. You’ll do much of the work at the wall. Using a wall to approach these poses gives you a touch of ease that might not otherwise be present and thus you can see how to increase your ability to quiet your mind in the midst of effort.
* One extra note you may find the Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) work presented here to be especially challenging. It may take considerable time and practice to be able to make a robust go at doing back bends while in Shoulderstand. I suggest you return to these exercises repeatedly over the course of several months working to identify the steps in the learning progression and then working to develop your skill one step at a time. Remember the closer you are to the wall the less of a back bend you will be required to do—the easier it will be. Moving away from the wall adds challenge.
Day 12 (24 minutes)
Ex 1 - Samasthiti and Handstand
Ex 2 - Setu Bandhasana plus Variations (Bridge Posture)
Ex 3 - Salabhasana plus Variations (Locust Posture)
Ex 4 - Bhekasana (Half Frog Posture)
Ex 5 - Setu Bandhasana in Sarvangasana (Bridge in Shoulderstand Posture)
This is power packed session where you’ll become absorbed in the glorious struggle of doing arm balances! The day also includes a difficult Samasthiti (Basic Standing) exercise where you alternate between standing Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand to Big Toe Posture) and Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose). Mainly you’ll be introduced to a rarely taught arm balance learning progression. You’ll study how Bakasana (Crane Posture) can lead to a study of Kouninyasana (Sage Pose from 3rd series) and how Bhujapidasana (Arm Pressure Pose) can lead to a study of Astavakrasana (Eight Angles Pose from 3rd series).
This is more than a challenging but fun recipe it can teach you the strength principle that says one way to win strength is by purposely grappling with asana puzzles that you may never fully solve or master. I sometimes say that your yoga practice only truly comes alive when you accept continual challenge and thus are not afraid of feelings of failure. The asanas that make up the sequences are specifically chosen because studying them seriously places you in a predicament that I refer to as ‘courting the impossible’. Ultimately each and every posture is a vexing paradox, an insolvable body/mind riddle, a puzzle that is necessarily beset with irreconcilable contradiction. The crux of yoga is to give your all to courting the impossible, to freely enter into solving puzzles that have no solution. You do this not because you love frustration or failure but because there truly are no final or explicitly tangible answers to the most interesting, profound, pithy and relevant questions that can proposed about life, the universe, consciousness and self. Postulating questions, contemplating possibilities, working to find solutions is the real point, perceiving the world as a lasting mystery that is worth exploring and inquiring into is what brings knowledge, wisdom and success. The rewards of doing yoga come to you because you continue to strategize, make attempts, reflect, and then try again. The elusive quality of success is predicated on the quality of your efforts, on the attitudes that you adopt towards struggling to know what eludes you and what remains a mystery, and on your acceptance of and indifference to feeling strong or weak, stiff or flexible, inadequate or competent, angry or joyous or fearless or afraid. It is simply an illusion to think that there is some final posture or state of mind that you will achieve one day that will give you lasting peace and all your toils will be over. The illusion of a final success or reward is as unreal, imaginary and unattainable as finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow—try as you might you can never even find the end of a rainbow let alone a pot of gold.
Note* Remembering to value the perspective that the exercises are presented in progressions that go from easier to more difficult helps remind you that the work is not black and white either/or. If you get creative you can figure out how to take the first step towards doing virtually any posture no matter how challenging or seemingly foreign. In this strength course when you encounter an exercise or a step that is too difficult for you, go back and review look for a step that works for you. David offers many alternatives but sometimes these options are presented quite fast. You may need to press rewind several times in order to identify just the right step for you. Lastly keep in mind that when done skillfully each step along the learning progression—from easiest to most difficult—has the potential to offer the same benefits and satisfaction. I often say there is NO hierarchy or graduation. Because all the steps have equal value—everyone can derive maximum benefit from exploring and extracting knowledge from the most basic, foundational steps in the progression. This means that one sign of an accomplished yogi is that he/she relishes in dwelling in the most basic positions and actions. The accomplished yogi is a masterful extractor of knowledge and insight from any position. And on the other hand it is easy to get caught up in black and white, either/or thinking. Your aim is to steer clear of ego concerns that lead you to wrongly think that benefits and satisfaction are only found when you can do the final steps of a learning progression. It is amazing how much learning is lost because we think way too far ahead in the steps of a progression and then conclude: “why bother? I’ll never be able to do that.” This strength course can help you know that lining up with each asana learning progression is the way to fulfill your creative and spiritual potential. You learn by being patient and being satisfied with taking one tiny step at a time.
Day 13 (25 minutes)
Ex 1 - Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3 Posture)
Ex 2 - Astavakrasana (Eight Angled Posture)
Ex 3 - Koundinyasana (Sage Posture)
This day is devoted to gaining strength by developing your bandha (Energetic Lock) technique. Learning to understand what bandhas are and how to apply them in your practice is a unique way to gain strength, unlike any other technique or practice that you will ever encounter. This class will help you to see that using bandhas in your practice is not only effective and enjoyable but also naturally leads you into experiences of internal states of meditation. By going through a sampling of postures from the main categories of asana’s you learn how to apply bandha techniques to any posture. You’ll explore how to find bandha power in Samasthiti (Equal Standing), Vrkshasana (Tree Posture), Padangusthasana (Big Toes Posture), Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Legged Standing Forward Bending posture), and Maha Mudra (Great Seal Posture). Also you will learn a meditative and healing way to use Sarvangasana (shoulderstand) with your feet at the wall to do Uddhyana Bandha Kriya (Belly Flying Up Lock).
Strength has to do with learning to use the power of your belly—moving, breathing, standing, sitting from a centered orientation. Finding your center, listening to your center, breathing from your center, moving, standing, and sitting from your center---being engaged in the activities of the mundane world tends to pull you outward and away from center. As a yogi you work fiercely to listen for and heed the inward call to turn inward. The process of turning outward to inward requires the yogi to be like a salmon swimming upstream against the strongest contrary currents in order to return home. The yogi works for a lifetime to attempt to make it so that his centralized bodily orientation becomes second nature—automatic—the immediate response is then to think, feel, perceive, breath and respond from your center.
Day 14 (20 minutes)
Ex 1) Bandhas in utthita hasta padangusthasana (Extended Hand to Big Toe Posture)
Ex 2) Bandhas in Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Legged Forward Bend Posture)
Ex 3) Maha Mudra (The Great Seal)
Ex 4) Bandhas in Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand Posture)
The final class of this course takes you through a 20 minute action packed routine consisting of 5 strength exercises. The exercises include an absorbing balance testing version of Samasthiti standing on blocks facing the wall, coming up in Handstand at the wall with your hands on blocks and doing variations, working on the dynamic, challenging transition from Arm Pressure Pose back to Crane Pose, and doing Head Balance with a spinal rotation. This concise, fun, up-tempo class can provide you with a perfect model for how to use the exercises that you’ve learned during this course to build your own strength routines.
Day 15 (20 minutes)
Ex 1 - Samsthiti to Handstand
Ex 2 - Boat Posture to Handstand
Ex 3 - Chaturanga Dandasana Variations (4 Limb Staff Posture)
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