notes from the floor.

lately i’ve had the pleasure of leading my yoga classes from the vantage point of sitting on my rear end. incredibly frustrating, annoying, and surprisingly enlightening. i like to think i see what’s going on in my classes but i’ve never actually, for 60 minutes straight, been on the floor and stared at everyone’s alignment. i’ll blame my vata dosha for my physical and mental body being all over the place when i teach. i’m demonstrating, adjusting, or really just scanning the room for major alignment issues and/or people doing stupid things that will hurt themselves. i know that doesn’t sound very yoga teacher-y of me. but seriously, people do some dumb ass shit. (i do not exclude myself from this list….) anyhow. a few basic things if i may.

  1. chaturanga (half-way lower). it’s a half-way lower, not a ¾ lower. the reason being shoulder and elbow alignment. once the shoulder head dips down out of alignment with the elbow, you’re putting some SERIOUS nasty pressure on that shoulder joint. and think about how many chatas we do. talk about an overuse injury waiting to happen. if your arms start to fatigue, which they will since you’re human, DROP THE KNEES. or take the variation where you lower all the way to the belly. or skip it entirely and hang out in plank (that is still work!) and shift to down dog.
  2. urdvha mukha svanasana (updog). get them thighs off zeee floor! roll the shoulders back so they aren’t creeping up by your ears and push down into those hands, engage the legs by pulling the kneecaps up the thighs and get those quads lifting off the floor. only thing touching the ground should be palms and toenails. if your low back is like NO THANKS, take cobra. ain’t nothing wrong cobra. if the low back hurts though, ask yourself if you are engaging your belly muscles. pull that navel in, get your torso supported.
  3. adho mukha svanasana (downdog). holy shoulders in your ears. keep pushing them awayyyyyyy from your earlobes. feel those back muscles engage and the traps and neck muscles chill out! who needs that extra tension? externally rotate the shoulders, aka elbow pits forward. spread the fingers wide and watch for “cupping” where your palm pulls up off the floor. spread those fingers out, push down through the entirety of the hand and put a little bit of extra pressure into the L shape that the thumb and forefinger create. this will help alleviate wrist issues. k, we’re not done with this one yet. ribcage. pull it in. don’t get all gymnast* on me here. if you are engaging the navel lock, your ribs should start to draw in. squeeze that belly button up to the spine, then engage those upper abdominals by feeling like you are wearing a corset and draw those ribs in. don’t forget the pelvic floor. always draw up the pelvic floor. you don’t want to be in depends when you’re 50, right? pelvic floor, friend. and finally the legs. same thing here, kneecaps up the thighs. reach the heels for the floor—it’s cool if they don’t actually touch but that energetic reach will lengthen the legs and engage the muscles to both keep you safe and stretch you out.

*note. gymnasts are the most amazing beings on earth in my opinion. their ludicrous amounts of strength leave me in total awe. but you know what i mean with those ribs popping open. like when they do their TA-DA pose at the end and their ribs are like BAM. that’s what we want to avoid in down dog.

Guess what happens when you touch your nose to your knees?

ENLIGHTENMENT, BRO.

It’s so weird. It’s like once you actually put your nose on your knees all of the secrets of the universe are just revealed to you. Everyone loves you. All of the dreams you’ve ever had are instantly manifested. It’s really like, the most incredible thing to happen, ever. So you really need to push yourself day in and day out to unlock this magic.

Right? How ridiculous is that. Why is it that when I teach forward folds and I tell people to relax and hang, and let gravity do it’s thing and breathe, do people grip and pull and hold their breath and yank themselves further? Why do we, as yoga instructors, push people further down? Are they not feeling the stretch enough already? Where their body decides to stop moving, shouldn’t that be the cue to not push further? What the fuck are we doing pushing people past their limit, especially when we KNOW most people are already doing it to themselves? We are reinforcing the stereotype that yogis need to be uber bendy to be “good at yoga”. We are reinforcing the assumption that deeper is better. We are reinforcing the fact that where their body naturally goes IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH. And you guys, that’s not ok. I’ve backed way off from giving adjustments, other than basic alignment or something “feel good” in savasana or pigeon for instance. Instructors, before you give an adjustment please ask yourself what the purpose of it is? What message is being conveyed to my student?

There is absolutely no good reason in the entire world that your nose ever needs to touch your knees. Now I know, here I am, preaching not worrying about getting super deep in paschimottanasana (or any pose, really) yet I post a picture of myself completely folded in half.  Here’s the flip side. I am extremely flexible because of a lifetime of ballet. Too much flexibility coupled with too little strength my entire life has created a whirlwind of problems in my body. I have a sacrum that rotates (yes, rotates), which causes major instability in my pelvis, my spine, and basically my entire body. I’ve spent the past few years backing off from opening postures and trying very, very hard to strengthen the supporting muscles. I still need see a chiropractor, a massage therapist, and a Rolfer regularly to help keep me as pain free as possible. So, students of yoga, when you see someone folded in half like you could stuff them in a suitcase, please don’t think that’s where you need to be. There’s simply no need for it. Consider that person may have issues similar to mine. Typically when one is that bendy, there is some sort of instability going on as well. You’re not a better person or yogi just because your little nose can touch your knees. Be where you are, enjoy the fact that you are doing good things for your body, and trust the process. You will gain flexibility in this practice over time, it’s just inevitable. But try not to rush the process or worry about what it looks like. It’s all good.