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Be a Better Yogi

Bri's best handstand. (Photo courtesy of Equinox)

I'm really trying to hold on to my New Year's resolution as long as I can—they say people tend to fall off the wagon by the time February hits. But my goal of attending two to three yoga classes a week is manageable, especially since here in the FITNESS office, we're lucky enough to have a yoga instructor come in at lunchtime two days a week! There's really no excuse I can't accomplish this goal, and after seeing this ridiculously cool and inspiring video, "The Contortionist," from West Hollywood Equinox instructor, Briohny Smith, I'm even more motivated to perfect my yogi-ism far into 2012. Briohny—Bri for short—was introduced to yoga while on a trip to Thailand in 1999. She found yoga to be the cure to getting more "me" time and adding some much-needed serenity to her busy life. Upon exploring different varieties of Hatha yoga over the past 14 years, Bri fell for the arm balances and inversions you see her mastering in this video. As a yoga teacher, she helps her students bridge the gap between their mind and body, as well as helping them strengthen their muscles, while safely edging them closer to the positions she so beautifully aces. Even if I never reach the level that Bri does with such ease, I'm in awe of what she can make her body do and I'm keeping this video in mind as I hope to lengthen and strengthen my body this winter! [Check out Equinox's innovative new blog, Q by Equinox, for cool things happening at Equinox locations and fun celebrity and athlete Q&A' much more!] Looking to be a better yogi this year too? Keep reading for two of Bri's favorite beginner moves!

These two exercises work well together, since the plank is a good warm-up for the handstand.

Plank Plank pose is a great way to begin to feel the foundational elements of a handstand and build upper body and core strength.

  1. Start on your hands and knees with hands underneath shoulders and knees underneath hips. Breathe.
  2. First take your focus to your hands and spread your fingers. Feel the connection between the palm of the hand and the ground. Root down through your hands. Breathe.
  3. Draw shoulder blades down your back, and as you draw the forearms isometrically towards one another, wrap your in biceps forward. This is the same basic hand, arm and shoulder alignment for handstand.
  4. Now inhale and step your right foot back with the toes tucked under until the leg straightens. Exhale. Do the same with the left leg until your weight is balanced on hands and balls of feet.
  5. Remember the alignment in #3 and begin to engage your belly. With each exhalation, draw the belly in towards your spine. Slightly tilt tailbone to heels and pubic bone towards belly button.
  6. Lift inner thigh toward ceiling and don't hold your breath.

Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) Directly translated from Sanskrit, Adho Mukha Vrksasana means "upward facing tree." Keep that in mind when practicing this pose—your hands are your roots, so grab the ground with them. Imagine the rest of your body to be like the branches reaching for the sun. Root to rise! Remember to keep it light and try to have fun. Use the wall to begin.

  1. Take your mat to the wall and stand facing the wall.
  2. Stand with feet together, and as you inhale, reach arms up. Exhale to fold down. Inhale to flat back and plant hands flat with fingertips six to eight inches from the wall. Keep hands shoulder-distance apart and underneath shoulders. If your hamstrings are tight, bend knees to get hands flat.
  3. As in plank pose, your hands are your foundation, so spread your fingers and align the creases of your wrists parallel to the front of the mat with index fingers facing forward.
  4. Step feet back enough so you have 10 to 12 inches between the tips of your toes and heels of your hands.
  5. Inhale and lift left leg up. Try your best to keep hips squared as you lift. You can keep your right leg bent or straight as you lift onto the ball of your right foot.
  6. Lift head slightly and gaze between thumbs.
  7. Keep arms straight as you inhale, then exhale. Hop off your right foot and reach your tailbone over your shoulders. Reach up through your left heel and you might just end up at the wall.

Keep in mind:

  • Wrap your inner biceps forward and draw your shoulder blades down your back
  • Pull stomach in as you draw inner thighs together and reach up through your flexed and pointed feet
  • Be mindful and don't let your ego push you into something dangerous
  • Make sure you're breathing!