Sometimes, all we need is a modification.
ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS, we have two classes under our belts!
I've spent the first two classes looking at your bodies . . . in a nice way. :)
I'm looking to see where we are all at, whether anyone has significant challenges for whatever reason, so I can offer modifications to suit, which not only ensure safety in our practice, but also make certain asana (poses) more accessible.
It's pretty typical in the early stages of learning yoga to need modifications, so please don't feel at all disheartened if that's you. Remember that we have all come to our mats with different levels of fitness and mobility, as well as health challenges, and sometimes it's just the way our body 'is'. Self-acceptance.
Finding a level of self-acceptance is the key to enjoying your practice. Without that, you may end up judging yourself and getting distracted by that feeling during and after class. Remember that everyone here is a beginner. One foot in front of the other. That's all we need to do.
Some of you have situations which affect your mobility or comfort during practice. I have written to each of you individually with modifications specifically for you. For everyone else, however, there are some common challenges that present for many people starting out on the path to practice yoga.
Here are some issues that might pop up during practice . . .
Nausea and/or Dizziness
There are some health conditions that may cause nausea and/or dizziness during physical activity. They include low blood pressure, stress on the arteries that feed the brain or compress the vagus nerve in certain poses, and also inner ear disturbances. Even in the absence of any of these situations, it is still apparently quite normal for people to experience some nausea or dizziness during or after practice.
There are some things you can do to help prevent, or at least minimise, this unpleasant sensation:
DRINK WATER BEFORE CLASS - It is really important to be well hydrated before you come to class. Even though we are not spending 90 minutes flat out moving (yet), you are working hard. You're learning new things. Our body weight is made up of something like 65% water. Our muscles need hydration, and so does our brain. Try to get a litre of water into you up to an hour before class.
EAT SOMETHING BEFORE CLASS - I'm not suggesting having a curry before class. Clearly, there would be some unpleasant side effects if you ate spicy food before tipping upside down in Downward Facing Dog. Rather, try to eat something easily digestible before class, like banana on toast, or a protein bar, or some nuts. Ideally, you would have had at least an hour between time of digestion of that food and when class begins.
PEPPERMINT - For some people, nausea can be an ongoing problem. Theories abound about yoga poses 'massaging the liver and gallbladder'. I'm not a doctor, so I can't speak authoritatively about whether that's accurate or not. The fact of the matter is, regardless of cause, some people will have a feeling of nausea during and/or after practice. Peppermint may be a remedy. Either have some peppermint tea as part of your pre-class hydration, or even put a few drops of peppermint essential oil on a handkerchief and pop it at the front of your mat. Please check with your neighbour first though, as not everyone enjoys the smell. It should be subtle.
CHILD'S POSE - If you're feeling unwell, drop to your knees and push back into Child's Pose. Alternatively, you may like to just sit upright, with your knees dropped open and soles of your feet together, then lean forward, releasing your head. Take a few breaths (in through your nose and out through your nose), until you feel ready to join the rest of the class.
Each of us has a different body, and even within our own body there are differences from one side to the other. For this reason, most of us will need to take some form of modification for particular poses. It may be for reasons of comfort, or it may be because we simply cannot physically get into a pose.
As I've said before, there is no such thing as a 'perfect' pose. If we're able to let go of our ego (wanting to be just like everyone else or feeling like we must push ourselves to the limit) then we can find a sense of acceptance and therefore, enjoyment in our practice. So please do take the modifications offered to you. Yes, go to your 'edge', challenge yourself, but modify when appropriate.
You already have modifications for Boat Pose (hands or elbows behind you, maybe feet on floor) and Tree Pose (toe touching the floor), so here are some modifications for some of the other poses we have learnt so far:
When you fold forward, your sit bones widen and hamstrings lengthen as you pivot from your hips. Some people, however, have short hamstrings or are extremely tight in that area. In which case, a forward fold can be an uncomfortable experience.
Three options here . . . either soften your knees as you lower down, thereby releasing some of the tension in the back of your legs (and lower back), OR use two blocks to support your hands, OR don't come down so far (see half standing forward fold modified pose below).
Personally, I'd recommend the second and third option, because eventually you want your hamstrings to lengthen/stretch and by just going to your edge (and no further) you are effectively training your muscles to lengthen, whereas bending your knees slows down that process.
Either way, do what feels right for you. Lean into the sensation, whether or not you label it 'good' or 'bad' in your mind. Remember, however, that there is a big difference between sensation and pain. Pain is bad. But if what you are feeling is discomfort, then stick with it. As long as you can still breathe comfortably, you are probably feeling a sensation of discomfort rather than pain. Take notice of what is happening in your body and act accordingly.
HIGH TO LOW PLANK
This one is a toughie! Very few of us start out with the upper body strength (shoulders, torso, back) to allow us to just 'be' in high plank, let alone lower to the floor in a controlled and safe manner. So what do we do? We drop our knees!
By all means, start out in High Plank from your toes, ensuring your shoulders are over your wrists. But the moment you feel yourself slumping in your back or winging in your shoulder blades, drop your knees. Your knees will be slightly behind your hips in terms of alignment. This allows you to bring your elbows over your wrists as you tip forward and lower down to the floor.
Focus on cinching in your waist (think 'corset') and lifting your pelvic floor (this applies to the boys too, by the way) to engage your deep abdominal muscles. Elbows hug your side body as you lower. Think of grazing your ribs with your elbows as you come down.
Next week, I'll teach you a 'knees-chest-chin' variation which may feel right for you.
DOWNWARD FACING DOG
We do plenty of these in our vinyasa flow practice. Eventually it will become a resting pose ("Yeah right" I hear you say). But right now, after only two classes, it may still be a bit of a challenge. You'll be feeling pressure in your wrists.
If you are finding, throughout our practice, that your alignment in Downward Facing Dog is being compromised because you're feeling tired or your wrists are really aching, then you have options. You could take Child's Pose OR Downward Facing Puppy (middle picture) OR perhaps come down onto your elbows (right picture), relieving your wrists for a bit.
I've promised you that with practice and safe alignment, you will start to feel much better in your wrists. Remember to spread your weight through the whole of your hand, not just the heel of your hand. If you check your wrists after class and see that they're red, then I suggest to you that you have not spread your weight into your entire hand.
Our day to day activities in life tend to strengthen the upper part of our forearms and wrist, and we tend to be weaker in the underside. We are trying to rectify this situation. So, during our practice, consciously focus on the underside of your forearm and wrist in any pose that requires you to hold your arm(s) up. For example, in Warrior II when we're reaching out, think about activating the lower forearm and wrist muscles.
Note, that when we spread the weight into our entire hand in Downward Facing Dog, the focus is more on the thumb side of your hand. The bones in that side of your hand and wrist link to your radius bone, which is able to bear weight. The outside (pinky) side of your hand, however, links to your ulna, which is not designed to bear as much weight. So by drawing your thumbs to the midline, you are turning your focus to the stronger, weight bearing part of your arm and activating your biceps. Good stuff!
If the backs of your thighs or calves prevent you from sitting back towards your heels in Child's Pose, or if you suffer with chronic knee pain, then consider using a cushion, block or bolster (let's call them a prop). Place the prop behind your thighs, on top of your calves, then sit back. Your butt might be up in the air and that is fine. An alternative to Child's Pose is Downward Facing Puppy pose (see above in Downward Facing Dog).
Stepping forward into Warrior I is a challenge in it's own right. You figured that out in class.
Take some solace in the fact that just about everyone struggles with this when they first start practicing. You'd be forgiven for thinking it was just about your legs. But actually, it requires strong shoulders and back. In order to bring your leg forward, you need to get some height between your body and the floor. To do this, you employ the 'dome through your shoulder blades' cue which has the effect of lifting your torso higher, making more space for your leg to step through to the front of your mat.
Initially, however, you may find that you need to help your front foot a bit. When I ask you to step your foot forward to Warrior I, come forward as if into high plank, dome up through your shoulder blades (shoulders over wrists), then take a step. See where it lands. Take note of that so you can have an awareness of how you're progressing throughout the workshop. Then, (drop your back knee if you need to here) use your hand to pick up the stepping through foot and place it at the front of you mat, on the inside of your hand on the same side. If you dropped your back knee, lift it up now.
For some of you, picking up your foot may feel ungainly. So maybe try this . . . grab two blocks as you come in the door. Have them set on the two front corners of your mat, ready to use. When it comes time to step forward into Warrior I from Downward Facing Dog, place a hand on each block (to give you height) and then step forward. You may need to drop your knees first, coming into Table Top, so you don't lose your balance. See if that helps. It may be a bit of trial and error at first, until you find a method that works for you. The worst that can happen is you topple over. Then we'll all have a laugh together (there's no point taking ourselves too seriously when we're learning something new) and you'll pick yourself up and continue. That's yoga.
Eventually, with practice, you will be able to step your foot closer and closer to the front of the mat. There is no rush. Think of yoga as a lifetime learning process.
So now it's all about practice.
Boat Pose for 30 seconds, once a week during class, will have very little impact on strengthening your abdominal muscles (better than nothing though). What's stopping you from trying this at home? You already know how to modify and how to keep yourself safe. So maybe, instead of sitting on the couch at night, you might drop down onto the floor at night after dinner has digested and find a bit of balance.
Instead of slouching back against the couch, maybe you could extend your legs in front of you, flex your feet, and then pivot from your hips into your version of a seated forward fold. Remember to breathe.
Getting off the couch (or away from the computer) and onto the floor is the first step to developing a home practice. It will positively impact on how you feel in your Absolute Beginners classes. Go on . . . give it a go!
Having had a couple of weeks to get to know you all, I think some of you could benefit from attending a Yin Yoga class to help you advance in the Absolute Beginners Power Yoga workshops.
Yin Yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga with poses, or asana, that are held for longer periods of time—three to five minutes per pose is typical. Yin Yoga targets the connective tissues, such as the ligaments, bones, and even the joints of the body that normally are not exercised very much in a more active style of asana practice like Power Yoga. For some, finding 'stillness' is a challenge in its own right. Perhaps then, this is for you?
No experience required. Classes will be one hour long.
The Waikanae Rugby Clubrooms have agreed to allow me to hire the space on an ad hoc basis on Wednesday nights at 7pm so I can offer these additional classes.
I have posted an Our Yoga Facebook Event for which you need to mark yourself as 'going' in order to register. Each class will be posted as its own event. Sometimes it will be on. And sometimes not. So if you are interested, you'll need to watch out for these events.
The price to the general public will be $13 per class, but I would like to offer it to you, my Absolute Beginners, at $!0 per class.
Please don't feel any obligation to come along. But if you do feel you need a bit more lengthening (as opposed to strengthening), then perhaps give it a go. See if you like it.
Being an evening class, it is a beautiful way to do something gentle, yet still challenging, that helps you wind down at the end of the day. Ideally, you would go home afterwards, drink some water, then crawl into bed for an amazing night's sleep.
I love Yin. I'm not the best sleeper in the world. I tend to take my worries and thoughts to bed with me at night. But somehow, after practicing Yin, I am able to slip under the covers and drop off.
If that sounds like you, or if you feel as stiff as a board and would like to find another way of lengthening, with the added bonus of calming the mind, then give Yin Yoga a go.
I hope you are all feeling like you are getting something out of our Absolute Beginners Power Yoga classes. I am impressed with the positive attitudes and love seeing your smiling faces each week.
When you come to class next week, consider coming in quietly, grabbing your mat and block(s), and then settling in by taking some time for yourself in a comfortable position. That might be Child's Pose, lying on your back with your eyes closed, maybe hugging your knees.
You might just like to sit there and wait for class to begin. If so, please just be respectful of those who have chosen to take a moment of quiet time. We all come to class from different environments. Some of us might need a little transition between busy lives and yoga practice.
p.s. I've posted a video on Facebook with modifications for people who really cannot bear weight in their hands during Sun Salutations. I'm not talking about discomfort, but actual pain. You can also take this modification if you're just plain tuckered out!