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  • Jeannie Lacey

Sometimes, all we need is a modification.


Modified Something Pose

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. ​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.

 

Modifications

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:

FORWARD FOLD

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!

CHILD'S POSE

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).

WARRIOR I

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