Probably one of the most instafamous yoga person right now is Carmen Aguilar aka @cyogalab. She is probably the queen of yoga instagram challenges. Her monthly challenge poses has been participated by people all over the world and her page has been translated into a handful of languages. I like how her poses are mostly traditional yet she gives variations with aides like walls or props for people to explore how to get into it or to go deeper. Her monthly challenge covers all areas of the body, depending on the theme for the month and when I did attempt doing some of them, I did get to understand which are the areas I need more work on.
Here’s a little backstory:
Earlier this year, I traveled to the West Coast of USA. When considering which yoga teacher I’d like to try a class of, Carmen came straight to my mind. Carmen is based in Chicago, Illinois but I was hoping she’d have workshops in the bay area, and she did! But alas, I was there a month early. I thought I’d have to travel to USA again to take her workshop but somehow the universe heard me and she was ACTUALLY coming to SINGAPORE to conduct a weekend full of workshops! I found out 5 hrs too late and some of the sessions were full. An additional hips workshop was added on another day and I managed to book that plus the original Inversions and Arm Balances workshops, but I was missing the Back Bending session – the one which I was most interested in. I never gave up hope however. I had a very strong belief that someone will pull out the last minute and I would get the coveted slot. True enough, just 4 days before the workshop, I posted a looking ad online and someone responded saying she has that exact session booked but was unable to attend due to last minute commitments. What a perfect arrangement!
If you ever looked at her profile, you’d notice that Carmen can basically do pose. She can do all imaginable yoga poses as well as the unimaginable. And that didn’t happen within a day. I like how she’s relatable in that aspect – she’s someone who was introduced to yoga later in life as opposed to some masters who did it since they were 5. Carmen’s style of yoga is quite different from any other – a lot of her poses are very creative and she has probably spent a whole lot of time in the past 16? 17? years to fine tune her craft for coming up with all these methods, developing her own style called cYoga. A workshop to learn from her is NOT to be missed!
Highlights of the workshop:
This was the first workshop I attended, on Saturday. Some others have attended the hip opening workshop the night before, but I was going for the hip session the next Monday. The inversions covered in this class were mostly forearm stands and handstand, using the help of a partner and the wall. For these inversions, there’s no shortcut. It requires consistent practice more than anything and I admit, I totally lack that because the classes I go for regularly almost do none of it! I am not a fan of inversions and arm balances and the teachers of classes I love hardly ever teaches them too, but sometimes we must face what we dislike in order to grow better. I am glad that I stuck through and attended them all because I did learn a handful of new tricks.
For this workshop it was more of how to get up – kick, pike, float. And she emphasizes a lot on partner work and using the wall. She also covered the handstand version.
Spinal fluidity and Easiness into Backbends
She went through various backbends starting from ekapada rajakapotasana II and I and the challenge she set for us was to stay in the pose for longer than the usual. The warm up before doing the poses consisted of a lot of lunges and we were not to get out of it until the pose ends. It was painful (in the deep stretching way) on my hip flexors and quads for sure but that was necessary.
And then we tried king dancer’s pose, and the focus was learning how to rotate the shoulder using the help of the strap. I first unlocked king dancer during a workshop with Kathryn Budig last year.
Carmen then introduced another pose which is basically king dancer, but in a different direction and a lot deeper. In this variation, you start off with a puppy pose on the ground and then stretch out both legs onto the wall. With a strap tied to one foot, you kick that leg towards you upwards and then pull the strap towards your head to go deeper. The feeling will be a lot on those shoulders and upperback. When you’re confident, you can try without the strap (the other leg). It looks easy when she does it, but really, it was very deep!
Towards the end of the 2 hours, she told us to try a scorpion pose. I freaked out – I’ve never done scorpion and was so afraid! But for starters, we could use the wall and she showed us how. The wall is good tool – you first use it for support and then try lifting it away. I actually managed to hold in a scorpion with feet off the wall for a few seconds! It was more stable than a pincha maruyasana. I backed off after that, did not attempt getting my toes to head but maybe next time.
Her next and final backbend was what she called “chin scorpion” – which was like a shalabasana on the chin. Again, the wall would be of help for people who wants to feel what it’s like being up there. And then you peel yourself away from the wall. I did do chinstand earlier this year but it’s been out of my practice for a long time. The neck is very delicate in this pose so caution must be taken for people who had neck issues.
Strength Booster and Spicing up Arm Balances
This was on the second day for me (third day for those who attended Friday’s hip session) and I was entirely worn out from the 2 workshops on Saturday. I think 3 people were even absent from the session. I can understand that they may be burnt out and this class was at 9am. As mentioned, I do not fancy arm balances and neither am I strong but it’s important to give everything a try.
For this class, we did a few arm balances and then inversions again. It’s still balancing on arms for inversions isn’t it! There was crow, eka pada koundiyasana II, and a few variations of titibasana, firefly pose. If the whole class was just arm balances and inversions we would die she said, so she threw in a few splits in between. Both hanumanasana and transverse splits. The splits was useful because of the arm balances and inversions requires splitting of legs.
The next few inversion were pincha (forearm stand) poses mainly and she got us to help each other. It was mainly about transitions like trying to pike into pincha and pike out of it, from transverse split legs (starting from a prasarita, wide legged stance) as well as feet together.
This one in particular was interesting – “you definitely need the wall”. You get up in sort of a headstand, and then change one arm to chaturanga (on your palms) while the other remains on forearm. Next, get one of the legs to come out to the side like a transverse split, and then reach for the toes with the arm that was in chaturanga. If you can keep the balance, the top leg can come off the wall.
Hip Openers: Road To Yogidandasana
Yogidansasana… yogadandasana… this pose is basically anything with your feet to armpit. We covered so many variations for this in this themed class. Of course, there was a lot of preparation work for the hips first and twisting. It’s all about that rotation of hip socket too and it was a painful process. Surprisingly, my foot could go a lot higher up my armpit this today! AND I managed to hold in this arm balance. It must be some kind of magic.
First up was entering from standing. For this variation, I found it easier because the butt is already off the floor. I wasn’t expecting anything because I’ve never succeeded in this arm balance before, but I could actually manage it!
The second way of getting into the pose was to do it from the floor. This one I found it much harder because my butt just won’t get up. It helps if I sit on a block first so that my butt begins from a higher ground.
She then introduced funky arms version – the other arm which isn’t supporting the leg was to be on the forearms. A further approach would be to use the free hand to grab the top foot. This pose just so happens to be her challenge pose for the day!
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⚖️👑🤸🏻♀️ Day 2️⃣5️⃣ of #BalanceKingdom with @cyogalab ↪️ #Foot to armpit #armbalance or #ParsvaYogidandasana variant 🤸🏻♀️👑⚖️ This is a very fun #armbalance to try and yes, a bit challenging, but not that much once Parsva Yogidanda (foot to armpit arm balance) happens. At the very least, give it a few tries and let me prove you how well you can do, ok? Needless to say, you should warm up those hips before hand (standing poses with front leg bent at 90, squats, pigeons, etc), so that the sole of the foot can rest on the back of its arm as comfortable as possible. No need to go very high with it but, obviously, the higher the better, the longer you’ll stay balancing and the more comfortable you’ll feel (if ‘comfortable’ is an appropriate word to describe this moment…:P). Make sure the toes ‘stand out’ behind the arm, so the arch of the foot should wrap around its triceps, push one against the other so they don’t move (foot sliding is a common side effect but the stronger the connection between those 2, the less likely for that to happen!). When you’re about to go into the arm balance, drop onto one elbow and rest its forearm down. You’ll likely feel more stable, but the asymmetrical version calls for a deeper hip opener (be ready to feel it a tad stronger in the hips). Now the fun part begins: as you float there, pivot on the elbow and lift the hand diagonally towards the Yogidanda toes. Don’t be impatient and take your time shortening that distance!! Stay a bit more ‘forward’ than usual when you maneuver, so you don’t fall. If you can almost do it but there’s a little gap, come down and try again, this time bringing the elbow closer to the other hand. Turn the gaze to the side once you feel very solid (leave it on the ground if it throws you off). Reach out through the other leg and breathe a few times, voila!! Your turn to try or wait for tomorrow’s video on this!!! For translation in other languages, follow and check out daily these accounts: Russian: @cyogalab_ru Korean: @cyogalab.korean Portuguese: @cyogalab_portuguese
The next variation of foot to armpit is something I call unimaginable. Recommended to do with assistance since balance on the hips will become an issue, you try to get BOTH foot to your armpits.
She further demonstrated what unimaginable is and got into that same pose BY HERSELF. And to add on to the craziness, an arm balance can happen with both feet to armpits. Crazy! I attempted both feet to armpit in sitting with assistance but am probably only 85% there so far!
Towards the end of the workshop we tried some inversions. Yes you can get into yogidandasana from upside down! She recommends assistance for this variation.
For a non-yogidandasana pose to end the session, she also introduced one legged lotus pike from either forarm stand or handstand. This requires a different angle of openness in the hips.
These 4 intensive weekend sessions were indeed, very intensive. By the end of it all I had no prana to do anything. But I must say it is a worthwhile learning experience! I was never a fan of arm balances but I came with an open mind and I did enjoy the sessions very much.