The Yogini from Manila

Tonight’s Yoga: Arm & Core Strengtheners, Partner Yoga Backbends


Here’s a run-up of some stuff we did in yoga class today:


Pio told us today that the difference between men and women is this. Men have upper arm strength; women are more flexible. This is why I guess men go for the pumping iron kind of workouts while women gravitate towards pilates and yoga.

But Pio also said something tonight. What we often do not want to do as an exercise or pose is oftentimes what we need. So while men like to do weights and upper torso pumping machines, what they actually need is to do exercises for flexibility. Conversely, women like us who are naturally flexible should work on strengthening our upper arms in order to do more advanced yoga asanas.

This mini-lecture on arm strengthening then led to us doing the Side Plank Yoga Pose (Vasisthasana in Sanskrit).

Side Plank Pose-basic (Vasisthasana)

Side Plank Pose-basic (Vasisthasana)

This pose looks easy but wait till you do it. There are 2 things to note when trying this asana:

1. For beginners, its best to start with one knee on the floor, the other leg straight behind you. Then you go into the Triangle pose with one hand on the floor, the other above it in T-form.

2. Next, once you are grounded, straighten the bent knee and cross that leg over the straight one or, like the picture above, both feet are stacked one on top of the other.

In doing this pose, you need to watch the following:

1. See the supporting arm? It is in a direct L-angle with the hand which is palm flat on the floor with fingers spread apart. The L-shape allows part of the body weight to shift and be firmly supported by that angle.

2. The length of the leg nearest the floor should not collapse downward. Rather one should push it upward to shift some body weight and redistribute it all over the body so that the supporting arm does not catch it all.

The first time you try this, you may notice your supporting arm wobbling. It means the arm has not yet built enough strength to carry your body weight. In time, you will find yourself getting steadier and steadier in this pose.

Over time, the goal is to be able to strengthen the arms enough in order to go into this more advanced pose:

Side Plank Pose (advanced)

* * * * *


Mula Bandha (or the core) is very important. It is key to being able to do the headstands, arm balances and other poses that require core strength.

Tonight, Pio made us do the Boat Pose in different variations:

1. Balancing on one’s sitting bones with legs raised in V-shape while you hold your big toes.

2. Shifting from the V-pose to pulling both legs together. Legs are still straight out while you are balanced on your sitting bones.

3. While in position #2, pull both straight legs nearer to your forehead as in this pose:

….and thanks to the quick eye of my yogini friend Chona, she was able to capture my first attempt at this pose with her camera… (thanks, Chon!)

Frame-by-frame Dhanurasana attempt with Pio coaching me

Frame-by-frame Dhanurasana attempt with Pio coaching me

* * * * *


Difficulty with backbends including the Bow can best be practiced with a partner.

Bow Pose

Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)

Pio was my partner for this. And thank goodness, because backbends are one of my difficult areas!

He made me do the Bow pose while he stood behind me with bent legs. I was made to hook my feet around the back of his knees as he held me around the shoulders. Then he slowly straightened his legs, making him pull my shoulders back to make my back curve even more so that the Bow pose looks more like a letter U.

Backbends run counter pose to what I do all day at the office — bend forward on my desk. So I am thankful Pio helped me with this pose tonight.

Ouch!!! I am now nursing sores in the lower back areas which had to be bent this way and that but I am hopeful that with constant practice and the aid of a partner, flexibility in doing backbends can still be achieved.

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  1. I’m glad you mention side plank. That is one of the best poses for the core and arms. Yoga guru Leeann Carey has a free yoga video that breaks down Vasisthasana. Thought your readers might want to take a look:

  2. Hi, I just wanna know, what type of yoga is best for stress reduction? My main goal is just to reduce stress! I’m a corporate slave and I’m always tired, stressed, harassed and I think it’s turning me into some kind of monster. I have so much negativity in my body it’s manifesting physically already. I need to just breathe and learn to relax. Help! I run twice a week but it’s not enough anymore. What type of yoga should I do? I’m not really into the fitness benefits, I’d really just like to get my mental health back.

    Jane: Hi Mia. I know exactly what you mean since stress really manifested itself in me during my younger days in physical ways and now that I have resumed working again, and with yoga, I can better deal with stress. Will try to email you privately as I am not sure you will be able to read this answer here unless you drop by again. Thanks for writing!

  3. At the end of each class my yoga teacher asks us if we want “batak or buhat”. If you say “buhat” he makes you execute a bow pose and he does pretty much what Avril said. It give us a great stretch.

  4. hi jane, i am very much interested in a kids yoga class (i have a 3 year old), would you know where i can find one for such a young child? also, are there classes where the parents can take yoga with their young children (aged 3-6)?
    thanks so much!!!

    Jane: Jane, so sorry for this late reply. I sure hope you can still see this reply but I will email you privately too. Yoga Manila held a class for mothers and kids last Mother’s Day and I believe they still offer this as a class. YogaKids International in Muntinlupa caters to kids. Pulse Yoga likewise offers classes for kids. Contact them by following the links on my “Studios” page.

  5. Hi Jane.

    Your boat pose was beautifully executed, and in fact has been immortalized in chona’s site! More power!

    Jane: Gel, thank you for the heads-up and the encouragement. I did not even realize Chona took pictures of me! Have stolen the pic and pasted it here as well. I hope to always see you in class. I enjoy sharing your energy very much.

  6. I once had a teacher who stood within the space created between my arms and with his legs on either side of my hips. His hands gripped my ankles and as I entered the bow pose, he lifted me up by my ankles so that I was suspended in the air. Gravity and the weight of your body are great for deepening your pose! It was an interesting experience, like flying but not as easy. (Sounds like I could so casually leap into flight, doesn’t it? ;))

    Jane: Wow, Avril that must have been quite an experience!!! My teacher before assisted me with my Wheel pose as I could not push myself up. He lifted me by the waist and it was an amazing experience to finally get into that pose.

Thanks for reading! I'd love to know what you think.

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