Living with Harmony ~ A Blog for your Mind & Body

Tight IT Bands

Posted in Core/Fitness,Foam Roller,How-To,Yoga Strap by Harmony on February 4, 2011

Tight IT Bands are a frequent concern of runners.  Try this stretch using a rope or Yoga Strap or your could relieve the tightness by using a Foam Roller as well.

Relieve Your Tight Iliotibial Band

Add this active-isolated stretch to lengthen the ITB without causing harm.

By Jim and Phil Wharton  / Image by Asaf HanukaPublished 03/08/2007 (from Runners World)

Along with calloused feet and a tolerance for Gu, runners tend to develop tight iliotibial bands (ITB). The ITB is a sheath of connective tissue that runs from the gluteus to the outside of the shin just below the knee. It helps extend the knee and stabilize the leg during running. Overuse and inflexibility can shorten the ITB, causing hip and knee pain. Many runners attempt to counteract this with the ITB stretch shown here. But because it stresses the leg and back muscles, this stretch has the opposite effect. The ITB and surrounding muscles tighten against this pressure, irritating these areas. Our “active-isolated” method (below) allows you to lengthen the ITB without causing additional harm.

Don’t Do This

Leaning forward (for a greater stretch) stresses the lower back and groin muscles.

The forced muscle contraction stresses the hip and knee joints, which impedes circulation.

The angle of the knee puts pressure on the patellar tendon of the kneecap and the quadriceps.

Do This

Lie down with both legs out straight.

Put one foot in the loop of a rope, positioning the rope between your heel and the ball of your foot. Wrap the rope around the outside of the ankle so that its ends are on the inside.

Contract your adductors (inner thigh), and sweep the leg across your body, passing just above the other leg. Keep your knee locked.

Once you feel tension on the leg, gently pull on the rope to extend the range of the stretch just a little more.

Hold for one or two seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times on each leg.

Adductor (inner thigh) muscles are activated, which relaxes the opposing muscle group.

Abductor (outer thigh) muscles ease into the stretch instead of being forced and held in a static position.

Back and neck are supported and relaxed.


Yoga Poses to Relieve Back Pain

Posted in How-To,Mats - Yoga / Pilates / Exercise,Yoga,Yoga Blanket,Yoga Pose,Yoga Strap by Harmony on December 14, 2010

Many people suffer from chronic back pain. This video will teach us how to do three yoga poses that will help relieve our pain. The poses are: Reclining Big Toe, Standing Twist, and Legs Up the Wall. If practiced daily, you are sure to see some results.

Before following along with this video, gather your yoga mat, two yoga blankets, a yoga strap, and finally a folding chair (or straight-back chair).
Back Pain:
Yoga – Postures To Help Relieve Back Pain

Playing with your Warrior : Props to Deepen your Pose

Posted in How-To,SandBags,Yoga,Yoga Pose,Yoga Strap by Harmony on November 16, 2010

Sometimes to perfect your pose, you need to play with it.  Try listening to different instructors offering different cues to get in or out of the pose.  Or try using props that will help bring awareness to different areas of your body; or allow you to stay in a pose for a longer period of time so you can focus and perfect even just one part of the pose at a time.

The following article from Yoga Journal allows you to play with your Warrior II so you can become powerful enough to hold this pose for minutes at a time.  The props used are:  a yoga mat; a basic straight-back chair; a yoga strap; and a yoga sandbag.  If you have a partner, that would be helpful, too!  In his one example, Richard mentions an “imaginary friend” to help focus on an action of the back leg – using a “real friend” is even better if you’re a beginner.  Then during future practices you can draw from that experience to get the same sensation – and result.

Stand Strong – from Yoga Journal

Come into your power as you connect with the warrior Virabhadra.

By Richard Rosen


The standing pose Virabhadrasana II is standard practice in most yoga classes. But few yogis know the tale of its genesis. In Hindu lore, the powerful priest Daksha threw a huge sacrifice and invited everyone—except his youngest daughter Sati and her good-for-nothing yogi husband Shiva, whom Daksha despised (even if Shiva was supreme ruler of the universe). Sati was livid. In one version of the story, she stormed over to the sacrificial fire and threw herself in to teach her father a lesson; in another, her ire was so intense that she spontaneously combusted. Shiva was devastated by his beloved’s immolation and went berserk. When he yanked out a tuft of his hair and beat it into the ground, up popped a nightmarish creature with “a thousand heads, a thousand feet, a thousand eyes, a thousand hands, with fangs terrible to behold.” It was armed to the teeth and invincible. Meet Virabhadra, whose name means “blessed hero,” though typically it’s rendered into English simply as “warrior.” Shiva dispatched Virabhadra and an army of demons to pay Daksha a visit. Happily, Shiva’s wife gets brought back to life, and Daksha’s whupping teaches him humility (he loses his head and winds up with a goat’s as a replacement).

We recreate the image of Virabhadra in three incarnations of Virabhadrasana, designated by Roman numerals (I, II, III), in which we stand like mighty warriors. Our focus will be on II. Virabhadrasana II is an excellent way to stretch your groins and, even though both feet stay on the floor, improve your balance. You can also, to a lesser extent, strengthen your arms and open your chest. Yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar points out in his book Light on Yoga that Vira II “tones the abdominals.” It’s also a nice way to strengthen your legs and make them shapely.


It’s important in Vira II to bring awareness to the head of the femur of the front leg; it’s the little ball on the end of the bone that plugs into the hip socket and swivels like a joystick. You also need to pay attention to the outer heel of the back foot, just under the outer ankle bone.

To work on proper front leg alignment, try a simple chair-supported exercise. If you’re tall, you might need a blanket; if you’re short, grab a block. Set the chair on your sticky mat, near the front edge, with the back of the chair facing the right edge. Face the front edge of your mat and sit on the chair with your knees over your heels, shins perpendicular to the floor. Ideally your thighs will be parallel to the floor. If you are tall and your knees are higher than your hips, use a blanket to raise your buttocks until your thighs are parallel to the floor. If your feet don’t reach the floor (typical for shorter students), put the lift beneath your right foot.

Swing your left leg around the seat, straighten the left knee as much as possible, and step the ball of your left foot onto the floor near the back edge of the mat into a lunge. Rotate your torso away from the chair toward the left, pivot on the ball of your left foot, and press your left heel to the floor so your foot is angled slightly toward the front edge of the mat. Align the middle of the right heel with the middle of the left foot’s inner arch and adjust your inner right thigh more or less perpendicular to the front edge of your mat.


In Vira II, you take the stance of a strong warrior. You balance your weight between both legs, and your torso rises up evenly from your hips. On the chair, avoid leaning forward or back. Burrow the base of your right palm into the hip crease between your front thigh and pelvis and push down against the head of your thighbone. Push into the crease, not farther down the thigh. Ideally you’ll feel the back of your thigh press firmly against the seat and, in response, your spine effortlessly lengthen upward. Draw your right hip point away from your thigh, lengthen your tailbone down, and shift your shoulders so they line up over your hips. After a minute or so, release your hand yet stay here, sitting heavily on your thigh. Bend your left knee, swing the leg back to where it started, turn the chair 180 degrees, and repeat on the other side.

In the full pose, many beginners depend on their muscles to sustain the position and quiver uncontrollably after a few seconds. Then things go downhill. Try to recreate your chair-supported experience, so that some of the support is shifted to your bones, and your muscles can release. Then you can sustain the posture almost indefinitely, needing to come out only for meals and to attend yoga class.

Like other split-leg standing poses, Virabhadrasana II is anchored and stabilized by rooting the outer back heel into the ground. Many beginners have tight groins, so bending the front knee buckles the back knee, which pulls the outer back heel off the floor. Think: What would happen to a tree deprived of its roots? Before you bend your front knee, “dig” your outer back heel into the floor. As you bend your front (right) knee, have an imaginary friend resist that movement by pulling on a strap on your left groin. Your left leg will move physically through space closer to the floor; but energetically it opposes the movement and keeps your outer back heel rooted.


Stand sideways in the middle of your sticky mat, facing a long edge, and step your feet apart. Ideally, your feet are wide enough apart so that when you bend the front knee and position it over the heel, the front thigh is parallel to the floor. With your hands on your hips, turn your back (left) foot to the right 30 degrees, your right foot to the right 90 degrees. Align your front heel and your back arch.

Don’t push the left hip back, away from the long edge of your mat. Many teachers have you square your pelvis toward the wall your chest is facing; I teach the pose slightly differently to create more width and ease in the lower back. As you bend your front knee, roll the back hip forward a fair amount and rotate the front knee out, toward the pinky-toe side. Once the knee is thus aligned, you can take the back hip back a bit, but be sure your front knee doesn’t buckle in toward the big-toe side of your foot.

Inhale, consciously grounding your back heel; on an exhalation, bend your front knee over your heel. Aim the inner knee toward the pinky-toe side of the foot to avoid swiveling your knee inward as you bend it. Now sit your right femur head on the imaginary chair. Then lift your right hip point away from your thigh, tuck your tailbone, and position your shoulders over your pelvis. Align the inner right thigh with the long edge of the mat.

To get your thigh parallel to the floor in the full pose, hang a sandbag on a yoga strap from your front hip crease. Want to go further? Inhale and raise your arms out to the sides, palms down. Press into the back heel and reach actively through the back arm, as if your left arm is trying to pull your front knee straight. You can gaze over the front arm, but if you have neck issues, simply look straight forward. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute, inhale and straighten your front knee, release your arms, and turn your feet forward. Never come out of this posture by shifting your weight forward onto the front leg. After a few breaths, repeat on the left.

This pose looks like the mighty warrior Virabhadra emerging fearlessly from the earth and should be a big part of your practice. It increases flexibility and builds strength, physical endurance, and willpower—which will serve you well throughout your practice and your life.

Richard Rosen lives and teaches in California.

Advancing Your Backbends with a Yoga Strap

Posted in How-To,Yoga,Yoga Pose,Yoga Strap by Harmony on October 19, 2010

This video is showing some intermediate/advanced backbend poses and how to use a Yoga Strap to get deeper into these backbends. Most people tend to think props are only necessary as a beginner or to help overcome inflexibility. This video takes us to the next level and shows us how to advance deeper into some more challenging poses.

Yoga Straps come in several different lengths, from 6′ to 10′ long. Consider your arm length, leg length, the poses you’ll be using a strap for, and if you are going to be using a strap doubled over in a long loop for your poses. Your answers will help you in your purchasing decision.

Shoulder Blade Stretch

Posted in How-To,Yoga Strap by Harmony on October 5, 2010

Many of us hold tension in our neck and shoulders, especially if we work on computers all day. Following is a very short video showing us how to release some of that tension in our shoulder blades. All you need is a Yoga Strap. This movement would be helpful for those that are active in sports that also tighten up these spots – such as biking, rock climbing, weight lifting and so on.
Shoulder Blade Yoga Stretch — powered by

Head to Knee Pose with a Yoga Strap

Posted in How-To,Yoga,Yoga Pose,Yoga Strap by Harmony on September 28, 2010

Just a quick video on how to properly get into Janu Sirsasana with a Yoga Strap. This is a wonderful hamstring stretch.  Great for runners, bikers, desk jockeys, and others!

There are a variety of Yoga Straps to choose from.

  • You can choose cotton or hemp material.
  • Buckles are either a plastic cinch buckle or a metal d-ring style.
  • And you can choose from lengths of 6 feet to 10 feet.

These are all personal choice decisions.  The longer lengths may be preferred by taller people, or by those who prefer bound poses, or Iyengar practitioners using lots of props.  Both types of buckles are easy to use, but some people may find the d-ring a little easier but the plastic buckles are a little quieter when allowing the strap to be used without looping.  When deciding between the cotton or hemp straps, you may want to read about the environmental benefits of hemp before making a decision.

Yoga Props

Posted in How-To,Yoga,Yoga Blanket,Yoga Block,Yoga Pose,Yoga Strap by Harmony on February 9, 2010

This is a nice article on Yoga Props.  It also offers three poses that require the use of a yoga strap, a yoga block, and a yoga blanket.

How to Use Yoga Props

By Nicole Kwan

Props can be a major bonus for your practice.


When all you really need for yoga is yourself, props may seem extraneous but they could be a major bonus for your practice. Besides a mat, yoga props include blocks, blankets, and straps. Even the wall, floor, and chairs count as pose-boosters. It’s common to feel like you’re copping out when you use props, but our expert Sam Chase, a certified Professional Level Kripalu Yoga Teacher with a private yoga practice in New York who leads corporate programs for the United Nations and Equinox gym, will convince you that prop-using is yoga-boosting.

Props are not cheating
“It’s easy to get hooked on the idea that a pose is better, and perhaps that we ourselves are better, if we don’t need a prop to help,” says Chase.  When you watch an expert yogi, they usually don’t use props to get into a Forearm Balance or stay stable in Half Moon. Don’t feel inferior-they’ve got years of practice (or circus training) so their bodies are primed for peak performance. You, on the other hand, might need a little boost. In fact, Chase says it’s better to think about a yoga pose as an action in time rather than a picture-perfect shape. So use what you see your teacher do as a base–watch where her legs are positioned and how she opens up her chest, but make the pose work for you.

Props make you a better yogi and a better person
“A good use of props allows ANY body to create the sensations associated with almost ANY pose,” says Chase. “However you modify a pose, that is the pose, and what ever shape it takes and whatever tools you use should be whatever supports you.” Think about it, would you rather use a block in Side Angle, get a deep opening, and feel revitalized, or cram your body into a bind and hobble away in agony? Having a strong yoga practice isn’t about doing the poses perfectly by the book; it’s about making the poses perfect for your body. It’s easy to have the same perfection-driven mentality in life. We think we have to cram into size 4 jeans and make six figures, when the reality is that our weight is healthy and we aren’t bound to an office 24/7. The key in both yoga and life is to find that balance and accept your abilities and limitations.

Props will expand your practice
Instead of avoiding Cow Face pose because you can’t reach your fingers, grab a strap in each hand and open those shoulders up. “If your practice is about exploring the range of possibilities in your body, then expect that range to change frequently. You’ll need props in some poses, but not in others,” says Chase. He sees students who use blocks and straps achieve poses they would’ve never tried (see below), and feel self-adjustments they can’t get enough of (like using a strap to keep your elbows aligned in Shoulderstand).

Prop-only poses:

Strap: The Sling
This pose works with gravity so all you have to do is hang out. The weight of your legs allows you to release the tension in your neck (and upper back) while the weight of your head opens your hamstrings.

Create a large loop with your strap (about 3 feet). Sitting with your legs in front of you, place the strap so it’s around the arch of your right foot. The buckle should be on the right side of the strap, halfway between your foot and the opposite end. Loop the opposite end of the strap around the back of your head. It should be in the same position as where you’d wear a baseball hat- above the ears around the back of the head, not at the neck. Slowly lean back so that your body makes a “V.” You can use your arms to support you in any way that’s comfortable.  Stay there for at least 2 minutes, for as long as you are comfortable. Repeat for the left leg.

Look for an 8-ft-long strap with a good buckle that does and undoes itself easily.

Block: The Pendulum
This pose feels like no work at all, but you’re opening your hips to help you stand a little taller!

Standing next to a wall, place the block on the floor about a foot from the wall. The block can be positioned at any height. Stand on the block with your right foot and rest your left hand on the wall for support. Slowly and gently swing your left leg back and forth. After a while, you’ll notice your foot begin to brush closer to the floor. If you want, bring the block to the next highest height and continue swinging your leg. Continue for at least 1-2 minutes, for as long as you are comfortable. Repeat for the right foot.

Find a block with a little heft to it that won’t squish under your hand.

Blanket: Mountain Brook
This chest opener will help you relax and improve your breathing. Plus, it’s so comfortable you could even do a Savasana! It requires 3 blankets (or thick towels), but it’s well worth the set up.

Preparing to lay down on your back, roll a blanket into a thick tube and place it under your knees. The second blanket also rolls into a tube placed across the middle of the thoracic spine, above the lower back but below the shoulders. The last blanket is used as a pillow, with a few folds rolled into a very small tube to support the back of the neck.  There should be “valleys” between the blankets where your hips and shoulders rest. Stay at least 5 minutes..and enjoy.

Look for a thick, foldable blanket made of wool.

If you practice at a local studio, there’s no need to buy your own, but consider the basics for your home practice. Our recommendations are only suggestions, in a pinch you can use a towel, belt, and phonebook.

Yoga for Runners: Props to Improve Stretching

Posted in How-To,Yoga,Yoga Block,Yoga Bolster,Yoga Strap by Harmony on December 1, 2009

Click on the image to go to iYogaLife to watch the slideshow.  You’ll learn how to incorporate different props in these 4 poses that’ll benefit runners.  What props will you use?  Straps, a bolster or blanket, and a block.

Using Props in your Practice

Using Props in your Practice

As a picture slideshow with text, it’s easy to follow along.  Read thru the instructions, try it yourself, re-read the instructions for the finer points.

Yoga Pose: Salamba Sarvangasana/Supported Shoulderstand

Posted in How-To,Yoga,Yoga Blanket,Yoga Pose,Yoga Strap by Harmony on November 17, 2009

You’ll need some props before being able to follow along with this video:  2 yoga blankets and a yoga matA yoga strap is optional to help keep the elbows in proper alignment.  This video shows a variation using a wall – which beginners might appreciate!

When watching this video, you’ll notice that the instructor places the yoga mat under the blankets, while one student folds her sticky mat over her blankets.  This set up is your choice, but you might find that having the mat wrapped below and on top of the blankets will keep your shoulders from slipping off the blankets.

Now you’re ready to learn how to do a Supported Shoulderstand: