This 8 day course titled Foundation First serves to remind you of the single greatest principle for doing a yoga pose: begin your pose by building a relationship between the ground beneath you and your skeleton.
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The exercises for this course are designed to help you learn how to make your foundation the first priority in building your poses. You’ll see that by establishing your foundation the other steps in the process of building a pose will come together with more simplicity, logic and ease--while anything extra or less relevant will fall away naturally. Over the 8 days of the course you will use the 6 foundational postures of the Ashtanga yoga system and the many transitional set up positions between poses to understand how to make a sound foundation for all poses. You’ll also learn how to work with a progression of steps to maintain a strong foundation as you go deeper into each posture. By doing this course you take a single clear and substantial step towards attaining Asana Vidya--Knowledge of the 3rd yogic limb--and you’ll also get the bonus of feeling empowered and inspired.
Discovering and establishing your foundation is no different than the planning and initial work that an architect or an engineer goes through when creating a structure that must bear weight, provide support and offer protection as well as durability and longevity. The architect draws up a plan using geometrical shapes such as lines, squares, circles, and triangles to come up with the structure of the intended form. Associating the word first with foundation teaches you to make a general rule of attending to your foundation as the first step in doing a pose. Learning to care for the foundation of your posture will give you a better understanding of the purpose of doing an asana and how to extract its benefits. You will also be better informed on how doing a posture relates to the other techniques and how everything fits together to make the overall system.
When your foundation is first you begin each pose by acknowledging and bowing to the physical ground directly beneath you. You endeavor to relate to and trust the earth as your best means of creating a strong, stable stance that supports your spine and clears your mind of unhelpful distraction. You then identify the parts of your body that are in contact with the ground. This is usually some combination of your limbs—your feet and legs, hands and arms and also your pelvis. You weight your limbs, allow them emulate or ‘go with’ gravity and drop towards the earth. You intentionally and meaningfully connect your body with the ground. And then you focus your awareness from the earth up through your limbs and set up a dynamic interaction between them. You cause your limbs to work off of each other in a specific, well targeted play of oppositional forces that animates your skeleton, galvanizes your energy and gives you a strong, stable foundation for your pose.
Description of Daily Exercises
The focus for this day is on the foundation of the 9 Vinyasa Positions of Surya Namaskara. For the first exercise you’ll place a block between your thighs to bring your attention to connecting your feet and legs to the earth in Samasthiti (Equal Grounding). You’ll move through several cycles of Vinyasa positions 1 through 3 receiving instructional cues that help you perform these positions from a stable, well articulated leg and arm foundation. The next 3 exercises give you creative ideas for improving your foundation in the 4th Vinyasa (Caturanga Dandasana, 4 limbed Staff Pose), 5th Vinyasa (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, Upward Facing Dog Pose) and 6th Vinyasa (Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward Facing Dog Pose). You’ll take 4th Position on blocks in order to get the feeling for making your head, torso, pelvis, and legs into one continuous, unbroken Danda (Staff). You’ll then lift off the blocks several times in order to use your arms, legs, and belly as the strong foundation that supports your position. 5th and 6th position are done in a progression that will show you how to use your arms and legs as stable foundational pillars that support that actions of your spinal column. Working in the progression teaches you how to maintain your foundation under incrementally more difficult circumstances. Lastly you’ll do an exercise working with the main transitions of Surya Namaskara and learn how the foundation of every transition is the crouch position that is a coiling or a inward gathering of force that sets up your spring into dynamic action.
Exercise 1: Position 1-3 of Surya Namaskara (1 block optional)
Exercise 2: Transition Between Position 2 and 3 with Chair (1 chair optional)
Exercise 3: Chaturanga Dandasana with Blocks (4 blocks)
Exercise 4: Downward Facing Dog with Chair (chair optional)
Exercise 5: Crouch and Spring in Surya Namaskara
Exercise 6: Seated Meditation Bound Angle Posture (belt and 2 sand bags optional)
In this session you’ll focus on the first 2 of the 6 foundational postures of the Ashtanga system: Padangusthasana (Big Toe Pose) and Pada Hastasana (Hands to Feet Pose). One exercise focuses on establishing your leg and arm foundation by exploring the 1st Vinyasa position. First you’ll go into 1st Position, place your head on chair and study the foundational set up work that happens before folding forward. For example one of the main features of Padangusthasana is the dual actions of pulling on your big toes with your fingers contrasted by pushing your fingers down with your toes. Waking up a dynamic interaction between your arms and legs enables you to project your spine horizontally forward in the set up and then create deep forward fold with a free belly. To complete the exercise you eliminate the props and do the set up pose with more clear knowledge of how to use it to establish your foundation. You’ll also explore the actiions that happen in the State of the Asana during the 2nd Vinyasa. Next you’ll move on to the classic seated forward bend Paschimotanasana (Western Stretching Pose) where you’ll learn how to apply the same set of actions and principles that you use in Padangusthatsana (Big Toe Pose). Finally you’ll work with a few fun and challenging poses of the same kind that are found at the end of the primary series Ubhaya Padangusthasana, Urdhva Mukha Paschimotanasana.
Exercise 1: Surya Namaskara with blocks (6 blocks optional)
Exercise 2: Padangusthasana with chair (2 blocks and 1 chair optional)
Exercise 3: Paschimottanasana with chair (2 blocks and 1 chair optional)
Exercise 4: Ubhaya Padangusthasana (belt optional)
Exercise 5: Seated Meditation in Virasana (belt, 1 block and 1 sand bag optional)
Parsvotanasan day. This day features work with 3 of the most important foundational standing asanas Uttitha Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolving Triangle Pose) and Parvotanasana (Side Intense forward Stretch Pose). First you’ll do exercises working with your back heel at the wall to gain knowledge of your back leg as an important part of the foundation for these 3 poses. And then you switch work with our extended arms at the wall as means of both extending and rotating the spinal axis. Both set of exercises will increase your ability to extract wholesome strength and flexibility from these root postures. You’ll also work with Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and learn how to bring the weight of your body into your hands and arms instead of placing weighting your neck and head. Clarifying your foundation in this challenging posture is the main key to enjoyment and to creating safe, strong support for your spine, neck and head.
Exercise 1: Surya Namaskara B
Exercise 2: Trikonasana and Parivrtta Trikonasana with wall (1 block optional)
Exercise 3: Parsvottanasana with wall (2 blocks optional)
Exercise 4: Shoulderstand with wall (2 blankets)
Exercise 5: Seated Meditation Padmasana (1 belt and 2 sand bags optional)
This day features Prasarita Padotanasana (Wide Legged Standing Forward Bend) one the 6 foundational postures of the Ashtanga system. You’ll learn about using the set up Vinyasa position to create a strong lower body stance that gives you the freedom to elongate your spine horizontally forward away from your legs. Using the set up position to create a balance predicament allows you to you fold forward and enjoy a steady, rooted and clear position when in the State of the Asana. Next you’ll study how this root posture leads to similar and yet different postures such as Upa Vista Konasana (Wide Angled Seated Forward Bend Pose) and Supta Konasana (Supine Wide Angle Pose). These pose give you the opportunity apply what you learned in the root pose while also offering important variety to help you think creatively about solving each asana puzzle. Learning to work with the same set of principles while doing multiple postures is part of how you sustain your mental focus from start of finish when you practice. You’ll also work with the dynamic move of rolling from Supta Konasana to Upa Vista Konasana.
Exercise 1: Surya Namaskara Vinyasa Count
Exercise 2: Prasarita Padottanasana (2 blocks, 1 chair and 1 carpet optional)
Exercise 3: Upa Vista Konasana (5 blocks optional)
Exercise 4: Upa Vista Konasana B (1 belt and 2 sand bags optional)
Exercise 5: Seated Meditation Bound Angle (2 sandbags optional)
This challenging and fun day is devoted to the foundations of back bending. You’ll work with Purvotanasana (Eastern Stretching Pose), Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose) as well some of the foundational back bends from second series including Shalabhasana (Locust Pose) Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) and Ustrasana (Camel Pose). You learn as set of principles for how to use your legs that you can apply to all back bends. You’ll also work with exercises that utilize set up positions, modifications and/or props to help you easily identify the foundation of the pose and then teach you how to maintain your foundation as you eliminate the added advantages and progress into deeper expressions of the pose.
Exercise 1: Surya Namaskara with Blocks (2 blocks optional)
Exercise 2: Purvottanasana (1 chair and 2 blocks optional)
Exercise 3: Shalabhasana (2 blankets optional)
Exercise 4: Dhanurasana (2 blankets and 1 block optional)
Exercise 5: Ustrasana (1 block optional)
Exercise 6: Urdhva Dhanurasana (2 blocks optional)
Exercise 7: Seated Meditation Virasana (1 block and 2 sandbags optional)
Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose) is the focus of this session. Like the teachings on Padangusthasana (Big Toe Pose) the root pose from Day 1 you’ll come back to the work of creating a clear interaction between your fingers and big toes, hands and feet, and arms and legs as part of building the foundation of your pose. Learning to value the main set up position is the key to enjoying this pose and extracting its benefits. During this class you see how the set up happens during 8 (4 on each side) of the 14 Vinyasa positions--1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th Vinyasa positions on the first side and then on 8th, 10th, 12th, and 14th Vinyasa positions on the second side. You’ll learn to stay rooted in this one position as you go through the 3 phases of folding forward, swinging your leg to the side, and taking back your extended arm. Viewing the pose from a single position will help you stabilize your position while standing on one leg and improve your skill balance. You’ll also study the abdominal work that happens during the final phase of the pose. This day includes a study of Supta Padangusthasana, the laying down version of the Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose, this includes a belly strengthening exercise that highlights the similarities between this pose and Navasana. You’ll also learn a progression of steps for building a strong, safe and trustworthy foundation in Sirsasana (Head Balance).
Exercise 1: Surya Namaskara Vinyasa Count
Exercise 2: Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
Exercise 3: Supta Hasta Padangusthasana
Exercise 4: Headstand (1 chair and 2 blocks optional)
Exercise 5: Seated Meditation Padmasana Legs Up Wall (1 block, 1 blanket and 1 sandbag optional)
You’ll return to a study of the foundations of the main standing poses Uttitha Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) and Parivrrta Trikonasana (Revolving Triangle Pose) and this time you’ll also work with Uttitha Parsvakonasana (Extend Side Angle Pose). You’ll use the devices of facing the wall and having your back to the wall to help you better understand how to effectively align your legs, torso, and arms in the Side Plane of the body. Working with your back at the wall is particularly effective in helping you to get a better sense of where your upper body is relationship to the entire horizontal axis that passes through your pelvis, belly, chest and head. And when you face the wall you can use your hands to push off the wall and get a new feeling for creating spinal rotation. Studying these elements will show you how to extract more strength and flexibility from your efforts in these poses.
Exercise 1: Surya Namaskara with Blind Fold (bandana or eye mask optional)
Exercise 2: Trikonasana and Revolved Trikonasana with Wall (2 blocks optional)
Exercise 3: Utthita Parsvakonasana with Wall
Exercise 4: Seated Meditation Bound Angle (1 belt and 2 sandbags)
Arhda Baddha Padmotanasana (Half Bound Lotus Intense Forward Bend Pose) is an important foundational pose that can help you to safely learn to do Padmasana, the most classical, potent and alluring asana of all. In this class you’ll study the 1st Vinyasa as the foundational set up position that can help you to increase the range of motion of your hip joints and improve your skill in balance. You’ll learn reasons to value this initial phase of the pose before the forward bend. Next you’ll go into the forward bend and study keeping your weight shifted forward, centering your body over your leg and arm foundation, and satisfyingly releasing your head and torso downward. Then you’ll do seated and inverted versions of these exercises transferring the lessons from the root standing pose to variations that are found later in the primary series and finishing poses.
Exercise 1: Surya Namaskara Review (1 block optional)
Exercise 2: Ardha baddha Padmottanasana (2 blocks optional)
Exercise 3: Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana (1chair, 2 blocks and 1 carpet optional)
Exercise 4: Shoulderstand with Lotus (2 blankets and 1 block optiona)
Exercise 5: Seated Meditation Padmasana (1 belt and 2 sand bags optional)
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I am a beginner, will this course be too advanced for me?
A: No. This course is for beginner to intermediate level students.
Q: Can I stream or download the videos? What is the difference?
A: Yes, you can stream and/or download the videos. If you stream the videos you will need to be online whenever you practice along with them. If you download the videos they will be stored on your computer and you can practice along with them without internet service. No matter how you choose to use them you will own the videos forever. TO DOWNLOAD THE VIDEOS: Click into the video you want to download and under the bottom left corner of the video you will see a “Video downloads” button. Click this button and download the video with the file size option of your choice.
Q: When 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 here are 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.