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One Pose—Three Ways

Meet Terry Cockburn, owner of Freeport Yoga Company, who knows the importance of both vinyasa and yin yoga, perfect for the competitive New York City crowd. A certified running coach, this Maine resident frequently visits NYC to study with senior teachers and to share her unique combination of Iyengar principles, vigorous flow, and Buddhist meditation. Here, she demonstrates dragon:

YogaCity NYC: What pose did you chose and why do you like it?

Terry Cockburn: This is the yin form of a low lunge, known as dragon. I like how this posture works deeply into the hips, by providing an opportunity for the muscles to relax and allowing for an overall stillness in the body. The passive nature of yin yoga enables a greater mental acuity as you settle into the pose and observe the sensations that arise; learning when it’s appropriate to go deeper and when to back off. As an endurance runner, I have found yin yoga to be extremely beneficial in maintaining the health of my joints and sharpening my mental focus.

YCNYC: Describe the anatomy of the first pose and body parts engaged.

TC: In this first variation, there is hip flexion of the forward leg, with the front knee directly over the ankle, and hip extension of the back leg, created by drawing the knee further away from the hip crease. The hands are placed on the floor or, if that proves to be too challenging, on blocks. There is no muscular engagement in the pose, rather, the muscles stay relaxed, and a heavy, sinking quality of the bones is encouraged. There will likely be sensation observed in the hip flexor and perhaps quadricep of the back leg. One goes only to the point where a mild stress or challenge is felt in the soft tissue, and from there, the pose is held anywhere between 3-6 minutes. The main purpose of the long, passive hold is to stress the connective tissues of the joints, which respond best to this type of exercise. The mild stress placed on the denser, more plastic-like tissue will help strengthen these tissues, as well as increase hydration and reduce joint fixation in these often sticky and immobile places in the body.

YCNYC: What body parts are engaged in the second pose?

TC: The second variation is a “twisted dragon.” The hand closest to your front leg encourages an abduction to the thigh, while the opposite hand or forearm stays on the floor or block, and the chest rotates to the sky. Like the previous dragon, this is held passively, and only to the point where a mild stress of the tissue is felt. This posture can highlight the groin and inner line of the front leg, while still targeting the back hip flexor and twist of the spine.

YCNYC: What is the overall effect of the third pose on the body, and what does this one add to the understanding of the pose [and mind].

TC: This version is called “overstepping dragon." It exercises the ankle joint, and for some, sensation in the calf and achilles tendon may be felt. Drawing the front leg a little closer to the body and allowing the weight of the torso to rest on the thigh, the front knee will come far forward until the heel is just about to lift off the ground. Honoring the principles of yin yoga is much more challenging than it may seem. To remain still and maintain the appropriate amount of sensation that’s not too much and not too little, requires a steadiness of mind to observe what’s happening and to stay with sensation that’s a little uncomfortable. Honing this skill of careful attention creates a deeper understanding of the body and one can experience a mental calm and clarity that arises within stillness.

Terry Cockburn will be teaching Yoga for Runners 6:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Thursday, March 17 at Yoga Vida Thursday. She will also offer a Yoga + Running retreat in Ireland this April.

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