ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS, we have three classes under our belts!
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.
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.
Here are some modifications for some of the other poses we have learnt so far:
When you fold forward, your sit bones widen (when you wrap your inner thighs back) and hamstrings lengthen as you pivot from your hips, leading with your chest. 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, arms, 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 on the floor 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.
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 a few classes, it may still be a bit of a challenge. You may 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 comfortably 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 an extra block as you come in the door, so that you have two. 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.
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 tomorrow, 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 quietly 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.