By Kathryn Boland
Whether you are a teacher or a student, you should try modified Yoga poses. Some people don’t bother with them until they experience a physical injury. In such a case, learning how to modify a posture becomes a crash course. The following information is intended to help teachers and students grasp more material about modified Yoga poses and to be able to help those who desperately need this knowledge and a compassionate teacher.
Prop Uses – Three to Try With a Strap
Have you ever wondered how straps can be useful for practice beyond seated or supine (lying down) stretching? Straps are sturdy, malleable, long, and thin as a snake – therefore offering unique possibilities apart from blocks, blankets, and bolsters. They can be shaped and bent but not ripped.
Straps are most often used to aid stretching and holding modified Yoga poses, such as in forward folding or lying Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose. Yet, these props can offer much beyond that usage. Read on for ways to use straps you might not have tried yet. Enjoy, and Om Shanti!
1) Shoulder “Flossing”
This can be done seated or standing. It helps to get into sticky spots in the shoulder girdle and gain a clearer awareness of its movement and range of motion. It’s best done with students at least moderately warmed up. Have students have a firm (but not tense) grasp on the strap, shoulder distance apart with the tails falling as they will.
Cue them to lift the straps overhead, then back behind the head – but only to the point before it causes them to pop their chests forward. Then, have them bring the strap up overhead and forward, coming out horizontally from the shoulder. Have students do this 3-5 times. Be sure to be clear that they might get further each time, as the shoulder girdle opens up bit-by-bit – but not to push modified Yoga poses because it’s not helpful for anything or anyone.
In addition, some people may naturally be able to go back further than others simply by their skeletal structures. If they’re looking around and comparing themselves to their fellow students, they should follow their bodies’ cues rather than their eyes and egos. Movement and further stretching options from here, with hands up overhead and still holding the strap at shoulder distance apart, include side-bending and twisting (the whole shape then beginning to face the side).
2) Hand-To-Big-Toe Balance Assist
This is helpful for students who are having trouble with this balance, either because of insufficient flexibility, strength, or kinesthetic awareness of how to use both. For anyone, modified Yoga poses can help lengthen the spine. In any case, the version of this pose with a bent knee (leg forming a 90-degree angle) is undoubtedly “enough,” with its own level of challenge and multiple benefits.
Yet, if students want to get the feeling of the next level, this can help them do so more safely and successfully. Whilst standing, with the integration of basic Mountain Pose principles for stability and strength, cue students to loop a strap around the non-standing leg – at the arch of that foot. Cue them to take a strong (but, again, not tense) grip on the strap, with the same arm as a leg. They can straighten the leg (but keep the knee soft).
A tiny curve in the upper back is okay, but if it’s more pronounced, have them give a little slack on their strap holds – until they’re mainly vertical through the spine. It’s also helpful to hold the other hand on the opposite hip to get a sense of hip squareness and levelness (or lack thereof). A next step, if students feel stable and want to try it, is to take the “B” externally rotated version of the pose (the leg out to the side). Guide them to keep the knee and toes of the extended leg facing the sky.
3) Bridge Pose Hips-Distance Help
Knees falling wider than hips-distance in Bridge Pose is an unsafe and unstable alignment, one that’s unfortunately relatively common. It helps some students avoid doing this to think of engaging the inner thighs and pushing down through big toe mounds more and using the glute muscles less. Others, however, need to feel the muscular activation necessary to maintain knees not wider than hips – and the only way to do that is with the help of a strap.
If you’re at a teaching location where physical cueing is acceptable, you can strap students yourself. If not, guide them to do modified Yoga poses themselves. Loop the non-buckle end of the strap through the buckle, so that you can create a loop that will hold. Before going up into the Bridge, with feet at hip-distance, place the loop around mid-thigh and tighten it so it’s secure but not uncomfortable (we’re certainly not looking to create bruises or cut off circulation).
Cue your students that the strap is not a crutch but a helpful learning tool. They still have to engage the inner thighs, push into big toe mounds, and use more core and thigh than glute strength. Using a strap in this way can help them learn what muscles to activate, and how to start them, to have the same effects without the strap (with the understanding that there’s nothing wrong with using it). That’s also true of the two prior strap uses. Along with many other things, modified Yoga poses are indeed a path of learning.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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Prop Uses – Three Modified Yoga Poses with a Bolster
By Kathryn Boland
Have you ever wondered if there are more ways to use a bolster than those that you’ve tried? This prop looks like a long and skinny pillow and is often used for Savasana and other modified Yoga poses. Yet, a bolster can be used to support various twists, forward folds, and backbends that are gentle and restful enough to be included in Restorative classes. Along with a sturdy blanket, this prop can support most students through such classes. Read on for three such ways to use a Bolster for Restorative asana practice. Enjoy!
1) Baddha Konasana
This supported seated pose allows students to feel length up through the spine, with a soft, comfortable and supportive seat. Have them sit on the bolster. For most people, on the front half of it (rather than over all of it) works best – but have students adjust, as necessary, so that the frontal sitting bones are neutral or tipping forward. The bottoms of feet come together, knees falling wide.
If this feels straining for any students, even with the support of the bolster, have them try crossing ankles (Sukhasana or Easy Pose), and switch crosses before too long. Settled here, they can close eyes – if comfortable for them (some people with trauma history can be frightened, and even triggered, by doing so).
Cue them to deepen the breath and take a moment (one all too rare in frenetic modern life) to scan inwards. Options for movement include neck rolls and lateral stretches, side-body bends, twists, and wrist rolls and stretches.
2) Supported Sphinx
Among the modified Yoga poses, this is a gentle backbend, achieving mild backbend benefits without requiring lots of muscular effort. Guide your students to place a bolster horizontally along their mats, right under the chest. Ideally, when they take Sphinx Pose, their elbows will be under their shoulders and triceps flush against one long edge of the Bolster. The bolster is supporting the mid-chest and spine, such that they can hold the hold the shape without exertion.
Options for movement here include dropping the head to release the back of the neck and looking side to side to stretch out the lateral neck muscles. A hip stretching option, if students are open enough in the hip joints (thus, this may be an option for a more experienced group of regulars or for private lessons with students whom you know can safely execute it) is to take Half-Frog on each side. Otherwise, cue students to breathe a bit into their backsides, release unneeded tension with exhales, and surrender to the bolster’s support.
3) Lying Twist
This offers a mild twist that feels very restful. Have students slide one hip against the bolster, while resting the very end of the top thigh in the arch of the other foot (to create staggered legs – stacked is okay, too, but it could also put pressure on the lower thigh – a blanket in between the legs can help).
They can then twist slightly to be able to lay on the bolster, through the whole torso. They can rest either cheek on the bolster. Looking away from the knees, as usual in twists, could bring a lot of sensation into the opposite side-body. It’s something to try, and if it’s not right for today, then they can switch cheeks.
Ask students if they notice any tension, and if they can begin releasing it – especially on exhales. On inhales, can they lengthen more through the spine? The bolster is there to receive the torso’s weight – can they fully accept the support? That’s the work of Restorative Yoga – not so much the activating, but the surrender to modified Yoga poses.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
Modified Yoga Poses and Coping with Fear
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed.
One definition of fear is to be anxious about an unpleasant or painful event that you feel is likely to happen in the future. For instance, if you are pursuing your Yoga teacher certification, you may be afraid that you are going to fail your final anatomy exam because you have not spent an ample amount of time studying. This fear may be completely reasonable and understandable, or this fear may be largely exaggerated if you have spent an adequate amount of time preparing for the anatomy final, but you are prone to anxiety.
In the same way, any number of your Yoga students may be afraid of what may befall them during class if they are struggling with any number of physical or emotional challenges. These challenges may be as simple and straightforward as tight hamstrings, due to running on pavement or playing tennis without stretching. On the other hand, some students’ physical and emotional challenges may be as serious as a traumatic brain injury, invasive cancer diagnosis or clinical depression.
Some students may even feel fear when they step onto the mat because they are afraid they will not be able to meet their own high expectations of themselves or the perceived high expectations of their teacher or the class at large. For instance, in some Yoga teacher training classes, there is a strong emphasis put on being able to drop back into Upward-Facing Bow from a standing position. However, dropping back into this challenging backbend may not be appropriate for all teacher trainees, during every class.
Emotional Health Fluctuations
If you are a committed Yoga practitioner, you know that your physical and emotional state of being fluctuates daily, and sometimes even over the course of the day. For example, in the morning your may be more stiff and your body might take more time to warm up before you begin to practice challenging standing postures and arm balances. Similarly, the physical nuances and emotional needs of your students will fluctuate daily, if not hourly. Keying into the needs of your students is one of the hallmarks of a truly great Yoga teacher.
However, being attuned to your Yoga students’ individual needs and keeping your class moving at a decent pace, is another undertaking all together. This is where the conscious integration of modified Yoga poses helps to create a cohesive class, which is safe, challenging and accessible to the vast majority of your students. Weaving modification instructions into the flow of your Yoga class will allow each individual student to tailor your class to his or her particular needs, on any given day.
Ways to Modify
There are many ways to modify the classical Yoga postures that are practiced in most classes. For example, using a block to support a student in his or her practice of Trikonasana, or Triangle Pose, will help that student to practice the posture in correct alignment, while keeping up with the pace and the intention of the class.
Similarly, instructing your students who have tight hips to place a folded blanket under each knee while they practice Reclining Goddess Pose will help them to relax more fully in this restorative posture without putting undue strain on their knees.
One key to weaving modified Yoga postures into your class is to be very familiar with the postures and with a variety of modifications for the poses that you are teaching. Another key to seamlessly leading a group of students through a safe and effective multi-level class that offers them a variety of modifications is to have plenty of props available.
There is nothing quite as disruptive to a class then when a number of students start rummaging around the back of the studio for blocks, bolsters or belts during a flowing sequence of postures!
In order to avoid this disruption to your Yoga class, it is advisable to announce at the beginning of class which props are recommended. It is also a good idea to let your students know how many of each prop they should place near their mat. For instance, if you know that a handful of your students have difficulty maintaining the correct alignment of their spine in Triangle Pose, placing a block next to their mat will facilitate the easy use of a prop during their practice of this fundamental Yoga posture and other modified Yoga poses.
Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years.
© Copyright – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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