One Pose—Three Ways
Robin Helfritch is a Queens-based yogi whose curiosity led her to study several styles, including Karuna Yoga with Erica Settino and a two-year program at The Breathing Project. After suffering a back injury and several surgeries, she discovered breath-centered, therapeutic yoga at Abhyasa Yoga Center. "I teach therapeutically-oriented, breath-centered yoga in the tradition of T.K.V. Desikachar and T. Krishnamacharya, and as taught to me by my teachers, J. Brown and Leslie Kaminoff," she said. Here, she shows us extended side angle using a chair:
YogaCity NYC: What pose did you chose and why do you like it?
Robin Helfritch: I chose utthita parsvakonasana (extended side angle pose) using a chair in three different ways. I like this pose because it is interesting to me. There is a lot of action going on in my body to hold it on that diagonal, and maintaining slow, steady breath and finding balance between sthira and sukha (steadiness and ease) in this pose can be challenging. I love the lines and angles the body makes in this shape, the feeling of lengthening and lifting from foot all the way up to the fingers, and focusing my breath to the whole open side of my body in both the front and back of the lungs. It is also a very adaptable pose for those with different ranges of mobility. On a lighter note, I also chose this pose because it makes me want to laugh every time I practice it! I think about my teacher, J., jokingly calling it the “armpit sniffing pose” and I smile. He always encourages finding some lightheartedness in our yoga practice, and that is something I definitely practice myself and try to convey to my students, as well.
YCNYC: Describe the anatomy of the first pose and body parts engaged.
RH: The first pose is seated in the chair for those with perhaps limited mobility in the legs. We're keeping the legs forward and bent at the knees, about hip's width distance apart. Feet are evenly placed and hips are facing forward. The bottom arm is bent with the palm facing up, with forearm resting on the corresponding thigh. The lower shoulder is away from the ear. The upper arm is coming overhead with palm down. In this version, with the lower body stabilized, the pose offers more emphasis on a lateral flexion. Serratus anterior and internal obliques are engaged, as well as the external obliques on the opposite side, to hold the arm and torso in space against gravity. Breath engagement provides further support.
YCNYC: What body parts are engaged in the second pose?
RH: The second pose is also seated, but legs are apart with the front thigh supported by the chair and back leg extended. In the supported leg the knee is bent up to 90 degrees and in line with the front heel, and there is flexion and abduction in the hip. In the back leg there is hip abduction and hip and knee extension, and the foot is turned inward. The arch of the back foot is lifted while the outside of the foot is grounded. There is a long line of energy from the back foot through the extended fingertips, a lengthening through the torso, and a sense of rooting down to the earth while simultaneously reaching out and upward into space.
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].
RH: In the third pose, the chair is used for balance only with the lower arm. The weight of the torso and extended arm is held over that front leg, and without the chair under the leg for support, the quadriceps and hamstrings need to work to hold that weight. As you use less and less support in this pose, you realize just how incredibly adaptable and amazing your body and your breath is as it adjusts to different relationships to gravity and space. In this pose, you can look at the world from a whole new angle!
Robin Helfritch teaches mostly at Abhyasa Yoga Center. She also instructs all levels in Rego Park, Queens, and a breath-centered chair class at JASA Senior Center in Williamsburg. She offers privates for people in various stages of life and with varying ranges of mobility. Here's her current schedule.