This is a question I not only ask new YogAlign students but also long time practitioners do you understand what I am asking / does the information translate?
It can be intimidating to walk into your first yoga class with or without previous experience but then not to understand what the teacher is asking of you is not only confusing but also frustrating. It takes courage and confidence to let an instructor of any sort know that you do not understand or to ask why I am doing this posture? How is this benefiting me? So much so students will continue to try to do what is being asked of them even if it hurts or is very uncomfortable. I do not recommend continuing to move in a way that is hurting your body, mind or spirit so please stop and ask the question if not to the instructor to yourself:
- does this posture allow my spine to maintain its natural curves (shock absorbers)?
- in this posture do I have the ability to do deep, full, rib-cage breathing?
- does this posture serve my human design and create functional movement positions?
- is this posture causing me pain?
YogAlign translates to pain free yoga from your inner core it is a practice I am confident to teach a mixed class of beginners and longtime practitioners side by side. Aside from having severe health concerns and needing a one on one session the above mentioned seems to sync beautifully. I also find YogAlign is a yoga practice that is experiential. Meaning I like to keep the verbal cues limited and relatable as we move through the practice. Thus allowing the student the experience as well as building the trust and confidence of the practice. In a short time my words, the posture and feeling that comes with it will all connect like an aha moment.
Starting with breath is a for sure way to change your perspective from the outside world and transition into your yoga practice. I find most folks breathing habits have them breathing through their shoulders with the muscles around the neck and shoulders lifted and contracted. The easiest and most relatable way to shift the breath from the shoulders to the diaphragm is simply to let your shoulders relax away from your ears and let your shoulder blades relax down your back as you draw them slightly together. This allows the chest/ frontline to open up and draw the breath deeper from the diaphragm also known as our primary breathing muscle a muscle that also needs to be exercised.
Then some self massage to not only allow you to relax into your practice but also allows a connection to the nooks and crannies of the body that do not get much thought or exploration. For example (have two yoga blocks or two small rolled up towels available to you) starting on your back, shoulder blades underneath you supporting your bodies natural curves. Start by bending your knees and placing a yoga block under your right foot and drawing your left ankle on top of your right knee. Next begin to press on each toe nail bed on the left foot for a few seconds and then gently roll down the toe joint (drawing circulation down into the toes and feet). Continue massaging the arch, heel and top of foot as well as below the ankle on the inside of the left foot. Work your way up the left leg between the ankle and knee, around the knee cap and into the large muscles of the upper left leg not forgetting the entire inner thigh. Interesting thoughts about the inner thigh I find many folks to contract and hold their inner thigh muscles much like the above mentioned neck and shoulder muscles (tight and short) which after long periods of time is exhausting to the muscle and to the body. Finally straighten the left leg, push the block from under the right foot out to the side, point the toes of the left leg to activate the left leg muscle (keeping the hip joint stable) and begin to do leg circles in towards the body. We do not want to hear or feel grinding (bone on bone) if so point toe more and make circles larger or smaller or stop altogether. Let your hips move as well as your right knee – your not glued to the floor. You will then hook that left leg over the right knee and roll onto your right side. Bottom right leg is straight (not locked out at the knee) the yoga block you pushed to the side earlier will now support your slightly bent left leg/knee and grab another yoga block to support your head as you are on your side. Important habit changer here do not bring the left bent knee in to close to your stomach and do not bring your chin to your chest. Why? Because this puts you in a fetal or C posture and collapses the whole frontline, squishing your organs, inhibits the ability for full diaphragm breathing and does not support the bodies natural curves. From here the body is relaxed and then begin by massaging your behind (gluteal muscles), outside of leg (IT band), hip (iliac crest), up your side into the chest (pecs), arm pit (arm flexors), side of the neck (levator scapulae), the ear lobe and the side of the head. Massage all the way back down the sideline all the while thinking and feeling the body as a continuum not as separate pieces. As a student moves through this massage sequence I can name some of the muscles etc. while the students touches, connects to them and feels less intimated in the possibility of not knowing it all. Meanwhile the longtime practitioners are getting a little deeper with their massage and maybe covering more ground it’s a win win. Then we repeat massage sequence on the right side of the body, finish by laying on our backs with shoulder blades underneath us and prepare for three full body stretches.
Full body stretch may sound like we are pulling the body apart however, it is the exact opposite. Everything about YogAlign is to empower the body, allow it to feel whole and put together versus in pieces. We begin lying on our backs, shoulder blades underneath us and down towards the floor now see if you can place your hand in the small of your back and feel the space between your body and the floor these are your natural curves or springs/ shock absorbers as we like to call them in YogAlign. Next reach your arms overhead, hip distance apart (shoulders relaxed do not squeeze your head), fingers spread and palms facing each other. Point your toes away from you inhale through the diaphragm (SIP breath if you have learned it) now tighten the entire body like you are laughing so hard you cannot breath. Fist your hands and pull down like you are pulling ropes towards you this will engage your core and them exhale or lion breath with tongue out (ssshale if you learned it) and completely relax the body. (2 more) Why do we do this full body stretch? To reset the tension in the body, make tighter what is already tight in the body and then let it all go – resetting the resting length of the muscles. We can now come up to standing (slowly do not get a head rush), have a drink of water and begin our standing YogAlign practice with hopefully some confidence and better understanding of our body and the practice.
Starting something new with a negative outcome due to not knowing or continuing with something that may hurt or you do not understand is a dis-service we have all made to ourselves at one time or another. Your personal yoga practice or self study is that time to ask questions, know why you are doing what you are doing to better yourself and most of all feel good before, during and after your class. After all looking forward to your yoga class and feeling better when you walk out of class then before you arrived is the whole point of the practice isn’t it? To this I say YES!
See you on the mat.