Thursday, April 5, 2012

Deepening the Practice (slowly but surely!)

Hey there! Back again, was going to talk to you about my personal progress! I'll try and keep this short, and will start by sharing a video that's a couple years old. My son (now 7) was 4, and I had just purchased my first yoga mat. I was doing things wrong and didn't know it, but looking back, I can see a lot of my errors!

I was rounding my back, not holding my shoulder blades down the back properly, and was reaching with the arms in forward folds. Even so, I could hardly reach the floor! I didn't hold poses nearly long enough, and it was a struggle just to do this much. I was out of shape, and having to work around the small living room space was difficult for proper poses. I had to turn the torso to lift arms up overhead when standing after a sequence, etc.

But still, I felt much better than I had, and was on my way to being healthier! I was doing the best I could, and slowly over time I started feeling the way my body was moving and realized it was wrong in little ways. I was able to take steps to correct, and now my body is better able to tell me if something is right!

This is the proper way to do a forward bend, for example. Bend the waist, and don't reach for the floor with the hands! Let the floor come to the hands. Don't stretch for it!

If you are new to the practice and cannot reach the floor without the backs of your legs screaming at you, bend your knees! Keep them bent, but with each out breath try to straighten them a little. A little more. A little more.

Eventually you'll be able to straighten the legs (maybe you'll still start each practice with bent knees, just to warm up, and that's okay!)... your hands will reach the floor without trouble, it will go from one fingertip to all of them to maybe getting your palms down. It takes time and consistency, but you will get there!

There will be "deeper" variations of poses you become familiar with, like extended side angle pose. When you're a beginner, you start with the elbow on the knee, but as you can do that without too much difficulty, try putting the hand on the floor by the front foot. It takes it a little deeper, and you'll find that edge again. And maybe after that becomes easier, try looping the arm beneath the leg and grabbing it from behind your back. There's always a way to take it a little deeper, and that's a good thing! It's a constant improvement process!

Beginning version

Hand to the floor...

And the bound version.

There are loads of variations for everything, and while we are trying to start off with the easier beginning versions, do try and push yourself a little! As something gets easier, push yourself to try the next step. If it's too hard and you are not ready, go back, but keep trying! One day, you'll be able to do it! You'll surprise yourself, and you'll have plenty to be proud of!!

Right now, I'm working on improving my wheel (or upward facing bow) and my headstand. I'm trying to be extra careful while working to make these better, hold them longer, etc, because of my neck and back issues. But I'm still trying! I was able to hold a wheel pose for the full three breaths the other day, and do that twice in a row! I usually could only hold for a breath or two, and my limbs were shaky, so I would lower down before I "lost" it. But I am getting better, and once I have wheel down, I want to start working on drop backs, maybe. :)


The headstand is tricky, but I'm currently using a wall to help support my feet so I don't fall over and hurt myself. I was able to hold it up with minimal help the other day, for a full minute. It's exciting stuff to finally be able to do some of these harder ones!! I wouldn't have even attempted them a few months ago. It was simply too hard.

So, I no longer struggle with getting my hands to the floor in forward bends. But I am still working on them! I want to be able to get my face to touch the legs, and be able to do full palms instead of fingertips. And eventually, I won't have to bend my knees to do any of it, even at the beginning of a practice. But I respect my boundaries and know I need to warm up slowly. And that's key! :)

The biggest thing I can say is to "find your edge". Find the place where it goes from easy to difficult, and walk the line there. Hold it as long as you can. When you feel like you are going to lose it, try and hold it one breath or one hair's breath longer. Just a little bit more. A little bit more. A little bit more, every day. You'll get it. It just takes time. And persistence.

You can do it! I promise! :)

For step by step pose information, check out Yoga Journal's pose library. If you have pain or injury, be sure to check the contraindictions area to see what you should avoid or modify while you are healing.  Or there is anatomical focus if you want to work on your arms, back, core, etc.  Check it out!  And there are loads of pose videos on their YouTube page, if you are more visually inclined.

And see, look how long this got.  That's why I shouldn't say things like "I'll try and keep this short!"  LOL

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