Despite my desire for rolling to be a purely relaxed, gentle and meditative practice, I cannot overlook that strength is needed if one’s rolls are to be successful. Repeatedly practicing rolls helps develop strength in the muscles needed to roll if the rolls succeed, otherwise, you run the risk of developing the muscles (and memories) needed to fail. By using yoga to develop strength, before trying to roll, you give yourself a better chance of success. You start your rolling practice knowing you are physically capable. Then, the rolling becomes a mental activity, one in which we learn how to apply our strength and flexibility.
The poses below are very common and practiced in most forms of yoga. I suggest you add them to your practice, to help you remove any obstacles to what you are searching for in your rolling practice, strength, and flexibility. As you practice them, you will feel the benefit in the abdominals (both the oblique abdominals and the rectus abdominals), and in the thighs (both the quadriceps and the hamstrings). Strength and flexibility in these four muscle groups are essential for rolling. The need for strength and flexibility in the stomach is obvious. The leg’s strength becomes more important as one move onto either the more advanced layback rolls, or the forward finishing rolls, where considerable power needs to be generated through the lower half of the body.
Boat Pose – (Paripurna Navasana)
Start seated on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Place your hands on the floor next to your hips, fingers pointing toward the feet. Lift up through your torso and lean back. Do not round your back, keep lengthening the front of your body. Feel like you are balancing on your sits bones and tailbone.
Breathe out and bend your knees. Lift your feet off the floor, and straighten your legs so that they are at about 45 degrees. If this isn’t possible remain with your knees bent, perhaps lifting the shins parallel to the floor.
Raise your arms out sideways. Spread your shoulder blades across your back and reach out through the fingers. If this isn’t possible, keep the hands on the floor beside your hips or hold on to the backs of your thighs. Try to keep the stomach flat, and lift your chest to the sky. Press the thigh bones toward the floor to help anchor the pose and lift the sternum. Breathe easily.
Stay in the pose for 5 breaths. Breathe out and lower your legs to the ground and bring your torso upright as you breathe in.
Crescent Lunge – (Anjaneyasana)
Start in Down Dog (you can find this pose on the web if you are not familiar), breathe out and step your right foot forward between your hands. Keep your knee over your heel and lower yourself until your knee is roughly at 90 degrees. Make sure your feet are secure and press down strongly through them both. Ostableavle, rise up onto the ball of your back foot. Keep your back leg strong and pressing upwards. Square your hips.
Breath in and raise your torso to an upright position. Sweep your arms overhead. Push your tailbone down Gently tilt your head and look up. Let your heart shine out and up.
Hold for five breaths. Lower your hands to the ground and step back into Down Dog. Repeat on the other side.
Revolved high lunge pose – (Parivrtta Ashtachandrasana)
This pose is a real test of balance for me, I find I need to move into it slowly or I end up toppling sideways ungracefully.
Start in crescent lunge as above. As you breathe out lower your hands and arms to shoulder height.
Breathe in, then as you gently breathe out rotate your torso keeping your shoulders and arms aligned. Continue the rotation until your arms are in line with your legs and feet, 90 degrees from where they started. Allow your head to follow the rotation so that your gaze ends up to the side.
Hold this pose for five breaths and then on an out breath rotate back to look forward and raise your arms back into Crescent Lunge.
Repeat this pose on your other side. You will probably find one side easier than the other, I know I do. Our bodies and brains are biased, one side is usually stronger, more flexible and easier to balance on. By regularly practicing on both sides, we can slowly decrease the differences created by years of biasing our behavior towards using our strengths.
Warrior II Pose – (Virabhadrasana II)
Start standing, step forward with one foot so your feet areroughly three to four feet apart. Turn your back foot out to roughly 90 degrees. Line up your heels front to back. Breathe out and bend your front knee so that your shin becomes vertical and your knee is above your ankle. Rotate your front thigh outwards opening your pelvis and pushing your front knee towards the pinkie toe.
Stretch out your arms, parallel to the floor. Don’t lean over the front leg, keep your torso vertical, and shoulders directly over the pelvis. Turn your head to look out over the front fingers.
Hold for 5 to 10 breaths. Breathe in to come up, rotate your feet and then torso to repeat in the opposite direction for the same length of time.
Reverse Warrior – (Vipartia Virabhadrasana)
From Warrior II pose above, lower your rearmost hand to rest on your leg. Breathe in, and raise the forward arm upwards to the sky. Reach the fingers away from each other. Look up at the sky.
Keep the front knee bent, and the thigh remaining in place. Press into your feet. Lower your hips and relax your shoulders.
There are options here for what is known as a bind. In the photograph, you will see how my rear arm has moved from my leg to behind my body and is hooked around my front thigh. This “bind” helps open the chest and torso and helps deepen the pose.
Combine these poses with those from the first two articles, and you are beginning to have enough to create a flow sequence. The next article will provide some additional leg stretches that help with flexibility for forward finishing rolls.
Words of caution
Yoga is a physically demanding exercise, consult your physician to determine if it is right for you. Seek professional advice if you are unsure how to perform a pose correctly, I am no professional. Never do any pose that causes pain, it is your body and your practice and you are your best guide and teacher.
Words of thanks
Thanks again to, Jacquelyn; wife, mother, photographer and fellow yogic roller, who took the pictures.