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Things have happened on the Spinefulness.ca blog since the last time I wrote.

I’ve started posting twice a week. On Tuesdays it’s some posture-related idea, image or video that caught my eye. On Thursdays, it’s a more substantial piece about Spinefulness and Spineful yoga.

But, because I still haven’t managed to merge my mailing list, those of you who live in Vancouver and subscribe to the spinefulness.ca list were getting duplicates. I know how annoying that can be, so I didn’t send to both lists.

The merge will happen soon, I swear.

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve posted recently, in case you missed it.

How Spinefulness changed my Warrior I from fierce to friendly

What I learned the first time I held a pelvis in my hands

Annals of Admirable Posture: Baseball Edition

Why Watch Shirley Temple Movies?

There are a few spaces left in my Spineful Yoga Weekend Workshop, November 15, 16 and 17. If you’d like to see what Spineful alignment can do for your yoga practice, check it out.


Jean Couch’s Collapsing Spine Demo

Jean Couch holding a spine
The dramatic moment is just about to happen

Nothing conveys the vulnerability of a spine out of alignment quite like watching the vertebrae collapse.

That’s why Jean Couch’s collapsing spine  is one of my favorite demos of all time.

Originally this riveting performance was only available on the Your Pain-Free Life DVD sold through the Balance Center. That meant you had to own the DVD (still available for purchase) to see it. So, I was delighted to learn where to find it on online (thank you Micheline).

Jean’s collapsing spine demo is part of an excellent nine-minute introduction to Spinefulness.

Have a look. I guarantee you’ll be be both impressed and surprised by what happens.

If this work is new to you, please watch the whole video. If you’re in a hurry or already a Spinefulness enthusiast, Jean starts her demonstration at 2:50.

Jean will be back in Vancouver next July, 9 to 15. Check here for information on her five-day workshop and teacher training.

She will also teach a two-day foundations workshop July 11 and 12 – I’ll get the details on the website soon.

Can’t wait that long to start living with a strong, stacked spine?

My Spineful Yoga Weekend Workshop starts Friday November 15.

For a taste of the work in advance, drop into Monday 5:30  to 7 pm Spineful yoga classes.  No experience of Spinefulness or yoga required. If you have some yoga and Spinefulness experience, try the Sunday 10 am to noon class. If you plan to drop in, please check with me by first, at evej@shaw.ca

And keep an eye out for the next intro session, date coming soon.

Did you like the demo? Do you have any questions about it? Let me know in the comments.


Why write The Annals of Catastrophic Posture?

Three young girls in catastrophic posture, bending from the waist. They're outside and an adult is watching them. It's supposed to be healthy exercise, but it's not.
Yes, bending from the waist qualifies as Catastrophic Posture. So why was this poster hanging in in a healthcare facility?

I don’t like pointing my finger at other people’s flaws, having far too many of my own. So, there are times when publishing another edition of the Annals of Catastrophic Posture feels like taking pot shots at people who don’t know any better.

But here’s the thing: images of unhealthy posture are not neutral. They shape our idea of what acceptable posture looks like, and when they pop up in fashion, they tell us what we ought to be emulating if we want to be cool. (We do.)

These images are everywhere: magazines, shop windows, posters in health-care clinics, even emojis. We swim in an ocean of images of unhealthy posture, and being social animals, we imitate them.

Back pain is now an epidemic in our society. It strikes at younger and younger ages, and it lasts longer than it used to. It’s a looming public health disaster, and until we can distinguish between healthy and unhealthy posture, we’re not going to know how to stop it.

Not that long ago, people did know the difference. The philosopher Immanuel Kant might seem like an unlikely subject for the Annals of Catastrophic posture. But his crooked posture was well known and much remarked upon in his time. Now, Kant’s posture is not only common, it’s more or less how we expect people to look as they age. In fact, I’ve seen the same posture on a man out for a run in my neighborhood, and I will guarantee you that he is not famous among his friends for the state of his back.

So, Annals of Catastrophic Posture it is. The newest one, the LifeLabs edition, is now on my Spinefulness blog.

If you’re in the Vancouver area and would like to experience Spinefulness first hand, I’ll be teaching a Spinefulness intro session, 90 minutes to a more comfortable life, on Wednesday, October 2, from 6 to 7:30 pm. Click the link above for the address and other details.

• • •

Thank you again for all the friendly and supportive comments both on the blog and by email. Several of you asked me to not decommission the blog, so sure, I’ll leave it up. I’ll also fix the search function if anyone out there can tell me how to do it.

The next time you hear from me, the message will be coming from my Spinefulness blog. If that suits you, there’s nothing more to do. If you’re not interested, please unsubscribe below.


Good-bye Five Minute Yoga, Hello Spinefulness

Photos of Eve Johnson showing the results of two years of Spinefulness, including a much straighter upper back.
The results of two years of taking Balance/Spinefulness classes: a more relaxed body, and a much straighter upper back.

I set off for Palo Alto, in March 2016, to take a weekend course in something called Balance. On that first trip, I stayed at the Hotel California, which might or might not have been an omen. What’s certain is that I checked into a new way of being in my body, and I have no intention of ever checking out. 

In two days, I learned that the alignment I had been studying and teaching for 29 years in yoga was demonstrably not helping me. And the new alignment, in those moments when I could achieve it, felt relaxed and strong at the same time. The two big differences: I let my pelvis roll forward, and I stopped lifting my chest.

Like Saul on the road to Damascus, I returned home a changed person. (You can read the whole story of my conversion, plus get some sense of the work, in this post that I wrote for the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog.)

A yoga practice book I had started writing sat on the shelf. I still taught yoga, but with as much of the new alignment as I could translate into the poses. I began teaching classes in what’s now called Spinefulness. And I dived into learning more, which so far has meant another four trips to Palo Alto to certify as a Spinefulness teacher, and two more to study with visiting French teachers.

I also went to Paris twice in 2018, where Noelle Perez, the woman who had the original insight for this work, was still teaching, at 93. And I just came home from a week-long seminar it Italy with Noelle’s most senior student, Georgia LeConte.

The full shift took time, but in February 2019, I taught my first Spineful Yoga class, and for the first time in 12 years did not renew my Iyengar teaching certification.

Now when I write, it’s about Spinefulness and Spineful yoga. This link will take you to my new blog, at spinefulness.ca. In the next two weeks, I’m going decommission the Five-Minute Yoga blog, and begin to send Spinefulness related blog posts to this mailing list.

If you’re interested and want to keep in touch, you have nothing more to do.

If you’d like to clean out your inbox, and you don’t think you’ll miss me, then thank you for having subscribed, and Godspeed. Hit the unsubscribe button, and let’s part friends.  


rowing and yoga

At last: I’m learning to row.

When I was seven, my family rented a cottage on a small lake, with a rowboat the kids could use. As the youngest, I had to fight to sit in it, much less row it. Then one late afternoon, I found the boat abandoned. I climbed in, gripped the oars, and rowed out onto the lake. I still remember how good it felt to be alone, gliding over the deep mystery of water, with no one telling me what to do.

I think that’s why I’ve always felt a little stab of envy when I walked the Stanley Park seawall and saw the single scull rowers in Coal Harbour. I kept telling myself that I would learn to row, “someday.” Now that I live within walking distance of the Vancouver Rowing Club, it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate “someday” than now.

I’ve had two lessons, and the third is coming soon. So far it’s, wildly technical, deeply satisfying, and a neural-pathway-building exercise on a massive scale.

I’m always grateful for the role that yoga has played in my life. But here’s what makes me especially grateful to my practice right now: so far at least, learning to row isn’t physically challenging.

I swim a little, walk more than I swim, and ride my bike around the seawall when the weather’s good. Apart from my practice, that’s it for working out.

But I can lift my end of the boat from the rack, carry it overhead to the water, and lower it in. I can get in and out of the boat – I’m awkward, but never out of balance. I can reach over and release the water-side oarlock, a precarious stretch with one foot in the boat, one hand stabilizing the oars, and the other arm reaching out to the latch. The stroke practice we’ve done so far is never physically demanding, just a mind-bending task of learning new skills.

Best of all, I have no fear that my body will fail me. Learning to row is an adventure, not a struggle.

I don’t know if I’ll still be rowing a year from now, or if I’ll try it out and let it go. But I do know that without my yoga practice, it would be a completely different and much less happy experience. And that makes me even more determined to preserve and deepen my practice as years go by.

Next week I’ll be going back to class, with my teacher, Ingelise Nherlan.

Going to Ingelise’s classes immerses me in a flow of creativity and inspiration for my home practice. It keeps me in touch with the poses I’d rather avoid, and it deepens my understanding of the poses that are better than chocolate.

More than that, it gives my practice week a focus.

I hope that if you’re reading this from anywhere yoga is taught that you’ll be headed back to class too.

If you live in Vancouver, and would like to take classes with me, you can find my schedule at http://www.yogaon7th.com/eve.

If this was your kind of post, you might also like:

How does the impossible become possible?

Why Yoga Builds Your Inner Strength

A red chair to wake up in

Photo by Anne Sproull, my excellent and very patient teacher at the Vancouver Rowing Club






The Lunacy of Trying to Be Better

lunacy signpost

What if trying to be better keeps you from being present?

When I first heard my teacher Ingelise talk about “the lunacy of trying to be better,” I was not convinced. Of course we try to be better, don’t we? If we weren’t trying to be better, then we wouldn’t come to class, and we wouldn’t practice. But that was at least a year ago. Now I see the wisdom of her words.

Of course those of us who love yoga want to improve our poses. But we cannot “be better.” We can only be as we are in this moment. The more you want to “be better,” the less capable you are of being present.

As soon as you try to “be better,” in a pose, you have divided yourself into a mind that directs and a body that obeys – or doesn’t. You’re attempting to live as an improved future version of yourself. But that self doesn’t exist, and never will exist. You will never be practicing yoga in the future, only in the present.

The irony is that if you drop the idea of improvement, and immerse yourself in sensation, improvement is automatic. The more you let go of judgment and attachment to results, the freer you are to experience the pose.

This is why long holdings are so beneficial. We need time to gather the pieces of our shattered awareness and place them in just one spot. We need time to enter the pose, doing the actions we know will take us in, and then, at the end of actions, we need to pause, to stop doing and just be.

I was raised on the refrain: “Good, better best, never let it rest, until your good is better and your better, best.” And although my brother and I fought it off with, “Bad, worser, worst, never call a hearse, until your bad is worser, and your worser, worst,” the message stuck with me.

Now I’m learning to let go of better, and of doing. It’s not easy. But one day I hope to find myself in a place beyond the doer, and become awareness itself, which is, after all, the whole project of yoga.

If this is your kind of post, you might also like:

Life, Happiness and the Pursuit of liberty

Discipline not working? Try indulgence for a change.

Resolve to be content.



sun salutations sun

I had three months off teaching this summer, mostly because I spent June in India, studying at the Iyengar yoga institute in Pune.
Anyone who has studied at RIMYI knows that a month there doesn’t really qualify as a holiday. Not with a two-hour class and a three-hour practice six days a week, along with observing as many classes as you can absorb. Still, I wasn’t teaching, so let’s call it a vacation.

On the third weekend of my stay, I escaped the noise and pollution of the city and went to KARE, an Ayurvedic spa located in the hills above Mulshi Lake, about 90 minutes outside Pune.

The countryside was lush and gorgeous, and washed with full-on monsoon rains. In two days, I had two consultations with an Ayurvedic doctor, a nutrition consultation, four treatments, including Shirodhara, – a full body massage followed by warm oil pouring in a steady stream over my forehead for what was either 20 minutes or a float in eternity – and four Iyengar yoga classes.

Monsoon beauty at Kare

Monsoon beauty at Kare.

Both mornings started with a two-hour “dynamic yoga” class at 7 a.m. Both classes began with 10 rounds of sun salutations, which were followed by a very welcome rest in face-down Savasana. Then we went on to other poses.

It’s been a very long time since I did 10 sun salutations in a row. In fact, looking back, I can’t remember a time when that was ever a regular part of my practice, even during my days as a Vijnana student.

At first what I noticed was how much this simple practice lifted my energy. So when I came home, a week later, I kept on doing it, starting every practice with 10 sun salutations.

Let me just say here that these are modified sun salutations.

I wear a brace on my left arm, which helps keep unhealthy strain out of my vulnerable inner elbow. I do some preparatory work getting my inner upper arm muscles to wake up and work for me. And on the advice of Gulnaaz Dashti, whose classes I took on Sunday mornings in Pune, I do a bent-knee Chatturanga (yoga pushup), because I want to protect my shoulders.

I was never a light jumper. Now that I’m older, jumping feels jarring to my eyes, so I step, imperfectly. Even after all these years, the left leg remains less willing to step forward than the right.

So where does the magic come in?

I can immerse myself in this practice, so much so that I need to count on my fingers so I don’t lose track. When I’m done, I feel like I’ve woken up my body, united it with my breath, and settled my mind, all in less than 20 minutes. And as I work with it, day after day, my work in the poses gets deeper.

Some days, for example, I concentrate on the chest opening.

My habit has always been, in downward dog, to look through to my feet right away. Now I spend more time in the preparatory part of the pose, eyes looking either to my hands or the end of the mat, forearms lifting, shoulders stable, bringing my thoracic spine toward my thighs. I do my best to keep that opening as I move through the rest of the cycle. By the 10th time through, my normally stiff upper back is alive and mobile.

Other days, I work for abdominal support, finding the actions that lift my belly toward my spine.

Often, in a flashback to June’s classes at the Institute, I hear the voice of Prashant Iyengar, Guruji’s son, saying, “Exhale deeeeeper. Exhale extra-ooooordinarily deeeeeper.” So I do.

Then, if I strengthen one leg action in downward dog after the exhalation and before I inhale (perhaps rolling the buttock creases at the tops of the thighs away from each other, or pushing the top front thighs back), my belly sucks back and up like the tide going out before a tsunami. I do my 10 cycles working to keep that lift and connection as I go.

I can focus on the work of my arms, the work of my legs, or both. Or I can put all of it together at the beginning, and then let myself be absorbed into the meaning of the cycle, bowing (namaskar) to the sun (surya), paying homage to the source of life on earth.

More yoga magic: a few weeks ago I was immersed in a quiet forward bends practice when out of the blue, Eka Hasta Bhujasana suggested itself. EHB is a hand balancing pose. From a seated position, you bring one leg over its own shoulder. The other leg stays poker straight on the floor. Then you press both hands down by the side of your pelvis and lift, buttocks up off the floor, straight-leg thigh parallel to the floor.

I have always struggled with this pose. When I taught it for Jr. I certification, I used bricks under my hands because it was the only way I could achieve lift-off. So I tried it with bricks first. But the pose felt unusually strong. So I put the bricks aside, and lifted up without them.

The pose was a time-limited offer – a second or two at most. But there it was, a dramatic improvement in a tough pose. We do, yes, have to change our practice as we age. But happily it isn’t all about dwindling strength and lost capabilities.

As I gear up for September’s new session of classes I intend to keep on saluting the sun, even as it gradually spends less time here in the northern hemisphere. I’ll be urging my students to join me, and hope you’ll consider it too.

More resources:

If sun salutations are new work for you, start with one or two rounds and work up. Check out this video from the Yoga Journal for a modified sequence.

For beginners, the hardest part of sun salutations can be stepping forward from downward facing dog. Look here for advice on how to make it easier.

For an excellent article on the history, meaning and practice of Sun Salutation by Richard Rosen, go here.

And check out will-power expert Kelly McGonigal’s story on the devotional aspects of the series.


Lessons in letting go from B.K.S. Iyengar

livehappilydiemajesticallyIn the week and a bit since B.K.S. Iyengar died, this has become my new favorite quote. And as each day passes, I am more grateful to him for setting such a good example of a happy life and a majestic death.

Yes, he could glower. Yes, he yelled in class. But he was not an angry man. He was impish. He took on his role as the traditional tough-love Indian teacher and played it to the hilt, impatient, frustrated by his students’ inability to grasp immediately what he taught.
But anyone who has read Basic Guidelines for Teachers of Yoga, a RIMYI publication from 2002, will see a different attitude:

“After class, your homework is to understand why the student is not getting the asana. You have to reflect on their problems. Think and re-think. And then work on your own. This way you will find that the students improve as the quality of your practice in teaching improves.

“Externally treat your students as students, but internally treat them as God-sent. You are learning by helping them. They make you understand and you must give them respect.”

He lived his own advice, endlessly, inventively finding new ways to transmit understanding. He created a body of work that was never static because he was always teaching new actions, new meditative pathways, new adaptations to take us so deeply into the poses that we would be able to connect to our true selves.

GurujiandmeI have, by the way, my own picture of Guruji glowering, but remember, this is a man interrupted at his work by an unknown student looking for a souvenir photo – and he didn’t say no.

The longer he lived, the happier he seemed to be.

And then came the majestic death: clarity until the end, and no sign that he had changed his mind from the days when he’d say, “when death comes I will welcome it.”

Death might be the ultimate opportunity to practice letting go, but Guruji also gave a much longer, more public lesson in perfecting the art of losing.
Watch a video of him demonstrating his practice when he was in his prime, anywhere from 20 to 80, and you will see how able he was, what astonishing poses he could do.

Then gradually he let go, not of the practice, but of the asana work that was no longer possible for him. A 45-minute headstand with full variations became headstand at the wall, then headstand in the ropes, then headstand with the support of the trestler, a wooden horse used in Iyengar work.

Fully supported, he still did astonishing backbends. And he was present in each pose completely, no wavering of attention, no loss of awareness. His practice remained meditation in action, performed with the joy and gratitude of one who famously said: “The body is my temple, asanas are my prayers.”

As he aged, he let go of what he could no longer do, but always did as much as he could. He never gave up, never said, “I’m too old to practice.” In his last years, he used an elevator to get to the practice room because he couldn’t manage the stairs, but he was there every day. He always practiced with his students. He never hid his losses. He continued, day by day, to do as much as he could, with humility and gratitude.

I think about my own struggle with full arm balance, a pose I find both difficult and magical. I worked for so long to be able to kick up, and had a few glorious years of a reliable pose. Now it’s gone again. I had a niggling elbow injury that made weight-bearing on a straight arm undesirable, so I stopped trying to kick up, and now I can’t.

Could it be that it’s time for me to quit trying? To accept that I’ll only do the full pose with a helper? Logically, there will be a last time for every pose. I have plenty of preparations I can work with, ways to practice that will keep me strong without needing to kick up.

Could I let go of that pose with such grace? Start teaching arm balance without being able to demonstrate it? Could I be honest in saying: “this is not a pose I do any more”?

If B.K.S. Iyengar didn’t magically escape death through the practice of yoga, then I won’t either. If age diminished his extraordinary asana practice, then it will surely diminish mine.

I will always be grateful for having found Guruji’s work, this method of rigorous questioning, of growing inwardly through exploring the asanas.

I suspect that as years go by I may be even more grateful for his lesson in how to consciously surrender to the reality of an aging body, while living happily, and aiming for a majestic death.

Related posts:
Happy Birthday to the Man Who Changed My Life
Life, Happiness and the Pursuit of Liberty?
Arm balance: A love story continued


yoga and belly fat.supta baddhakonasana

Who knew that working on your abdominals could be so relaxing?

Belly fat has been more than usually on my mind for the past few weeks.

First Style Craze, an Indian style and beauty blog, asked me for my “Three Best Yoga Tips to Lose Belly Fat” for a yoga expert roundup.

My purist side wanted to say: “don’t practice yoga for anything, especially not for tailoring your body to beauty industry standards.” But my broader and more optimistic side thinks that any path to yoga will do, as long as you keep walking it. Besides, there are very clear health benefits to keeping your waist measurement on the smaller side. In this case, society’s norms for beauty coincide with good health. So I sent them off an answer, and haven’t heard back.

Meanwhile, I can’t clean out my junk email folder without finding invitations to “blast” my belly fat. Far too often, I open a page on the internet and find an animated cartoon of an undulating belly, or a drawing of a banana under the headline: “Five foods never to eat for a flat belly.”

Even when I’m reading about yoga – in this case Edwin F. Bryant’s translation of the Yoga Sutras, – belly fat keeps popping up. Here’s an image of Lord Vishnu, described as a subject for meditation so beautiful that the mind resists ever being drawn away: “his navel is deep and his belly has three folds.”

What? Not a six-pack? Perhaps he’s been eating too many bananas.

So here are my thoughts on yoga and belly fat:

• What you eat is much more likely than yoga to influence your belly fat. If like me you are a naturally apple-shaped person, who carries any extra weight in their abdomen, then the best way to reduce belly fat is to avoid eating sugar and other simple carbohydrates. My own belly fat expands and contracts depending on how many cinnamon buns, custard Danishes and other forms of Scandinavian comfort food I eat. The strongest connection I’ve found between yoga and belly fat: a balanced practice takes away my need to self-soothe at the bakery.

• Your “belly fat” might have more to do with your posture than it does with slack muscles or extra weight. If you habitually round your upper back, a posture that’s encouraged by computer use, cooking and driving a car, then your belly is likely to protrude.

The same thing will happen if you tip your pelvis forward when you sit and stand. Imagine your pelvis as a bowl full of cherries. If you let the front of the bowl tip down toward the floor, the cherries (or in this case, your belly) will fall out. If you lift the front rim of your pelvis until the bowl is level, you’ll feel your belly move in and up, all by itself.

• What we really want in a yoga practice isn’t so much a flat belly as a functional belly. We want core muscles that will support us as we move through the poses. That includes the deep muscles of the back as well as the abdominals. We want awareness and connection. We want a belly that is strong, but relaxed, capable of work, but not gripped.

• Abdominal work is useful only when it’s based in relaxation. You want connection, not strain. When your belly puffs up and you can’t breathe well, you’re in the mindset of cutting out, getting rid of or “blasting.”
Instead, work from curiosity and respect. Bring awareness to your abdominal muscles, and to learn how to engage them in a healthy way in all postures. Instead of taking on the obvious abdominal strenghtening poses, look at what your belly does in all categories of poses. One example: we don’t normally think of seated forward extensions as poses to work the core body. In fact, they’re a great way to connect with your abdominal muscles, because the work is moderate enough that you can gain strength without strain.

Today’s pose is perhaps the most relaxed way I know to feel how a lively, activated belly works in asana practice. It will do you more good than a thousand grimly determined but mindless crunches.


Put the smaller of your two bolsters under your chest.

Set up a mat with two bolsters and a blanket. (If you have only one bolster, put a stack of blankets or chip-foam blocks under your feet.) Place the blanket so it will be under your head, and put the smaller of the two bolsters closer to the blanket.
Lie down with your shoulder blades on the smaller bolster. Slide backwards so your head comes to rest on the blanket and your arms fit between the bolster and the blanket. Your shoulders will not be resting on the floor.

If your head doesn’t reach the blanket, add another blanket. You want your neck to feel neutral, not arched so your chin lifts to the ceiling. If your shoulders are stiff, try supporting your arms on chip-foam blocks or folded blankets.

Bring your feet onto the second bolster. Lift your pelvis away from the floor very slightly, and draw your buttocks toward your heels. Then slowly lower your buttocks back to the floor, keeping the length in your lower back.

Put the soles of your feet together and let your knees release apart. If your inner thighs feel strained, bring a looped belt around your outer knees, just tight enough to support your legs while allowing your maximum comfortable stretch.

Then relax. This is a great pose for letting tension go from your belly.
For five minutes, settle into your breathing, relaxing your face, eyes, ears and brain, and watching your natural breath come and go.

When your eyes are soft, your front throat is soft, and your breath is quiet and regular, start to direct your inhalations. Be gentle. Rather than “doing” try seeing your inhalations move from the sides of your pubic bones, down toward your spine, then rising up the front of your spine, in line with the sides of your navel, toward your diaphragm. As the breath travels up your belly, notice how it also moves deeper, down toward the floor, and broadens.

Stay for as long as you have time. Ten minutes would be lovely.
Roll to your right-hand side to come out. Stay on your side for at least two relaxed breaths, then slowly sit up. Sit in Sukhasana on one of the bolsters. See if you can maintain the feeling of your soft, broad, lifted belly as you sit.

Next: How a simple strap can help you tame two of the most demanding abdominal poses.

If this was your kind of post, you might also like:
Backbend in a chair: let two chairs be your umbrella on a rainy rainy day
Supported bridge pose: cross over into quiet
Five-Minute Yoga Challenge: Lie Down and Stretch Your Outer Hips

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downward-facing dog on bricks2

Yes, you get marks on your hands, but the work in your arms is worth it.

How do you walk your downward dog?

I’m tempted to say, “let me count the ways,” but there are so many. Let’s just look at one breed of dog, the group that uses height to get a specific effect.

downward-facing dog on bricks1

Put your hands on the bricks as close to your wrists as you can.

If you’ve spent much time in Iyengar yoga classes, you already know that raising your feet on bricks or a stool eases your hips in downward dog, but makes your shoulders work harder. Putting height under your hands, on bricks or a chair seat, eases your shoulders and helps you put more weight into your legs.

But lift your fingers, and you’ll feel the effects all the way up your inner arm – in the same way that lifting your toes in Tadasana brings your legs alive all the way to the tops of your thighs.

Our inner arms tend to be shorter than our outer arms. When you lift your fingers, you can increase the work of your inner arm, lifting and lengthening your biceps.


In the preparation, focus on pressing your inner hands down and pulling your inner upper arms up, all the way to your collar bones.

That’s especially useful for all of us who have overly flexible joints – “leaky elbows” that move too far toward each other when we straighten our arms.

Here is the raised fingers dog pose that Jawahar Bangera taught in his recent Vancouver workshop – a pose he prefaced by saying: “This is painful.”

I don’t find it so myself, at least in a moderately long holding, although the word “uncomfortable” certainly springs to mind. And you do end up with impressive lines on the heel of your hand.

Place two wood bricks on their lowest side at the wall. (we took the picture with the bricks away from the wall, because it’s easier to see the work in my arms.)

Place your hands, as close to your wrists as possible, at the front edge of the bricks. Come onto your hands and knees, lift your fingers as much as you can away from the brick, and begin to work your arms. From your thumb mounds, lift up your inner arms toward your collarbones. Broaden across your collarbones, then firm your outer shoulders in toward the shoulder joints – without losing the width of your collarbones.

downward dog on bricks 3

Keep the actions in your inner arms as you slowly move into the pose.

Keep those actions as you lift your pelvis. Move slowly, keeping your awareness on the actions of your inner arms as you move more deeply into downward dog.

If you do find the wooden brick painful on your hands, there are a few work-arounds. You might, for example, pad the edges of the bricks with sticky mat – mini-stickies made from cut-up old mats work well.

Or you could use a chair, as in Eyal Shifroni’s excellent book, A Chair for Yoga. (Buy it. You’ll love it.)

The chair back goes upside down against the wall, with the bottom side of the chair seat facing out. You’ll get the same effect of lifted fingers, without the sharp-edged pressure into your wrist.

downward dog on chair

Using the chair gives you much of the the same effect as lifting your fingers, but without the fancy marks on your palms.

No matter how you set up the pose, spend plenty of time working your arms with your knees still on the floor. It’s more important to feel the lift of your inner arms all the way to your collar bones than it is to “complete” the pose.

Besides, in the preparation, you can focus on one arm at a time. I find it hard to get the action in both arms at once. It helps to look at one arm and focus on lifting that inner arm, then hold the action as I transfer my gaze to the second inner arm. It’s rewarding to see the muscle elongate and lift.

So how does this work for you? Do you know an especially enlightening breed of downward dog? Do tell.

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