Photo: Jasper Johal
Ah, Firefly. One of the most magical insects to light up the sky.
I grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, where these magical creatures would light up the summer fields like stars fallen from the night sky. I'd dance along with them and wonder where their inner glow came from. In retrospect, it's possible they were just fired up from doing a ton of yoga!
The gorgeous arm balance Tittibhasana can be performed two ways—upright, as I'll describe here, or with legs parallel to the ground, like what's pictured in my ToeSox ad.
Photo: Jasper Johal
There isn't a better way of doing the pose, it's just what you crave. The variation we'll cover is a bit lighter on the core work and more intense on the hips and hamstrings. That being said, they are both challenging and require some sweet loving hip openers to start. I recommend some Sun Salutations and standing Warrior poses to build heat in the hips before you dive in. And as always, remember patience. You're always shining, and when it's time—you'll fly.
This Low Lunge variation opens your hips and begins to prepare your arms and legs for Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose). From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot forward between your hands and drop your left knee to the floor. Shift your right foot several inches to the right and place both forearms down onto blocks or, if you can release all the way, onto the floor to the inside of your right leg. Keep your left toes curled under and your hips low. Without lifting your hips, straighten the left leg. Extend your heart forward while you release the shoulders and base of the neck away from your ears.
Dip the right shoulder behind your right leg, hold the right calf muscle with the right hand, and bow your heart down, pushing into the calf to move your right shoulder deeper behind the leg. Keep your right shoulder in this position as you place both palms on the mat shoulder-width apart, as though you were positioning your hands for Chaturanga or place your forearms onto the ground. Move your chest forward as you would in Cobra and breathe here for 8 breaths. To release, step back into Chaturanga and then move with your breath through Upward-Facing Dog and Downward-Facing Dog before repeating this pose on the left side.
You'll continue to open your hips as you encourage more mobility along your spine in what I like to call Bug Walk— a standing variation of Tittibhasana. From Down Dog, walk your feet toward your hands, step the feet hip-width apart, and fold into Uttanasana. Bend your knees and take both arms between your legs, wrapping your arms around the outside of the shins and placing the palms on your feet, with the fingers and toes pointing in the same direction. If this is too intense, keep your hands behind your calves.
Once you've set up your torso and arms, start to gently extend the backs of the legs, moving them toward straight. Extend the sternum and gaze forward, keeping your neck soft. At this point, you'll look like a turtle poking its head out into the world to see what's going on. You may want to stay right where you are now and simply enjoy the opening in your lower back and hamstrings; or, if you feel relaxed and connected with your breath, you can take yourself for a little walk. Keeping everything in position and starting with your right foot, walk around in a circle. When you come back to your starting point, lift the left foot first and walk yourself around in the opposite direction. Then slowly release your arms and torso from between your legs and fold into Uttanasana for 8 to 10 breaths. From here, step back to Chaturanga and then move through Up Dog and Down Dog. Then step or hop to the top of your mat into Uttanasana.
Bend your knees, take the arms between your legs, like you did above, and then use your hands to push against one calf at a time, to move your shoulders behind your legs just like putting on the straps of a backpack. Fold here as deeply as possible while remaining comfortable. Place your palms back down on the mat, shoulder-width apart. Hug your shoulders with your inner thighs and bend your knees to slowly lower the hips.
Lift your right foot off the floor, keeping the knee bent as you hug your inner thighs toward the midline of your body. Then lift your left foot from the floor, keeping the knee bent and your gaze forward. Start to drop your hips as you work your arms towards straight. Take the gaze forward and continue to hug the thighs around your arms to keep you in place. Broaden your collarbone by pushing your shoulder heads back and firm your upper outer arms in. When you can't lower your hips anymore without loosing balance, begin to straighten your legs. Keep the action of hugging inward as you expand your toes and legs sky high. Don't worry about getting your legs completely straight, just work them toward what feels challenging but supported to you. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths then bend your knees and place your feet back onto the ground to release. Those of you who want a more advanced exit, try to bend your knees and pull back into Crow Pose.
Kathryn Budig is jet-setting yoga teacher who teaches online at Yogaglo. She is the Contributing Yoga Expert for Women’s Health Magazine, Yogi-Foodie for MindBodyGreen, creator of Gaiam’s Aim True Yoga DVD, co-founder of Poses for Paws and is currently writing Rodale’s The Big Book of Yoga. Follow her on Twitter; Facebook; or on her website.