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Meeting Yourself Where You Are: The Yogi’s Way

Affirmation: I accept this. It’s OK to let in and let go.

Recently I led a workshop for yoga teachers at a body/mind conference in San Diego, CA. We covered a lot of pose breakdowns, which is always rewarding. Troubleshooting solutions for different body types is a little like being in a lab. You never know how one insight will lead to another so it’s important to be open to the process. The only formula I know for this is meeting the students where they are. The LCY mentors and I practice this acceptance on our mats, too. It’s not always easy, but it is always inspiring.

Throughout my travels this year, I’ve had the privilege of working with yoga instructors from all over North America and Canada. My experience in general, is too many yoga instructors feel badly when they run across a yoga pose they cannot execute well. What’s worse, I’ve perceived an embarrassment, almost shame surrounding this. I hear rumblings and comparisons being made, and some share concerns about not being as mobile as some of their students.  My advice? Welcome acceptance.

I always enjoy talking and listening to yoga teachers about how to meet their students and themselves with loving kindness on the mat.

NEWS FLASH TO ALL YOGA INSTRUCTORS: There may be poses that you will never be able to practice well without additional support or you may come to realize that some poses just aren’t right for your body. No need to feel defeated. Instead, consider it as a giving moment to embrace what is present. Adjust to the utter kindness of letting in support and letting go into what’s happening now. Strategic yoga prop support helps you learn how to safely and efficiently leverage your strengths, accept your weaknesses, and explore them with a soft breath and calm mind. Sweet relief!

For this month’s article, I’ve used real examples from some of the LCY mentors including myself. Each one of us shares our challenge on the mat. My hope is that it invites you to address your own obstacles with loving kindness, and inspires you to inquire about the level of support required for meeting yourself where you are over and over again. It’s an on-going process that changes over time. We just need to be there. That’s the yogi’s way.

Some solutions to addressing difficulties in a pose are often found in other poses that require less. And they will always include a soft breath and calm mind. In essence, a yielding body and mind. Let’s take a look.

Ansley – Current condition: Shoulder surgery recovery, kyphotic thoracic spine

My preference is to put Ansley in a supported back bend to address her thoracic spine, but this modification of Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) worked out to be an interesting way to stretch her mid back without putting strain on the recovering shoulder.  The adjustment I am giving helps to soften the T-spine tissue. The verbal cue is an invitation to breathe into that area and lift and move the front spine forward. The only goal is to wait for the giving moments and follow them with breath and awareness; to let in and let go.

Chrys – Current condition: Tight hip flexors, anterior pelvic tilt

Chrys says that back bends are not her “go to” poses. Tight hip flexors make back bends tricky because they require the pelvis to be in a posterior not anterior tilt. This modification of Viparita Dandasana (Inverted Staff Pose) is especially helpful. The rolled mat creates a deep bend in the thoracic spine and counters the hyper extension in the lumbar spine caused by the tight flexors. Tight hip flexors tend to throw the pelvis forward (anterior pelvic tilt) and places additional load on the lumbar. As a result, the pelvis may feel light and the lower back heavy. The adjustment I am giving Chrys weights down her thighs, bringing her pelvis into more of a posterior tilt. The tilt, combined with a thoracic back bend, frees up the load in the lumbar and supports the mid back to open. It allows Chrys to breathe and soften in the pose and explore areas that otherwise would not safely be available to her in a back bend.

Kristin – Current condition: Tender hamstring insertion, hyperextended knees, flat thoracic spine

Kristin often shares that her upper traps and neck are tight and her breath feels “caught” in her chest and around her shoulders. During the day she spends a lot of time sitting and bent over, which tightens her hip flexors, hamstrings, mid and upper back, neck and shoulders. This variation of Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) is perfect for someone with tight upper traps and serratus anterior. Of course, it also stretches the hamstrings and gives wonderful traction to the neck. Kristin is wearing Variation I of the yoga “shoulder jacket”. I’ve made the loop very long so that I can hold onto it and pull back. The pulling draws her upper traps down and away from the ears, taking weight out of the hands and shoulders and distributing more of it into her lower body. Here her neck can lengthen out and relax. Also there is a folded blanket underneath her head so she can rest it there, looking to achieve nothing other than letting go.  This variation allows her to smooth out her inhales and exhales and relax into the equality of the stretch while releasing tension in her upper back, neck and shoulders.

Leeann – Current condition: Tight hamstrings, shoulder injury, tight thoracic

Let’s just say that in general, my body has seen better days! Additional hours sitting at the computer has stiffened me. Wear and tear on my spine seems normal for my age, but I never thought I would meet the day when my spring out of bed would morph into a shuffle and slow drag. OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but sometimes that’s how it feels. I am in a variation of Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend Pose). Oh, did I mention my calves are tight? That’s why there’s a bolster underneath them, positioned a few inches away from the wall so I can sneak the soles of my feet at the wall and work my shins against the bolster. Having my feet in a dorsi flexion at the wall gives my calves a great stretch. All of the support from the rest of the bolsters help to rest my torso against them and relax into the support. The sand bag on my upper back helps to relax my back. My investigation is about breathing into the resistance I tend to hold there. Being elevated on the chair supports a proper hip hinge required for a safe forward bend. Jules is adjusting me by placing one foot against my sacrum. She gives a gentle push in and up, while pulling back on the belt to discourage collapsing in my lumbar. With each soft inhale I let in more space and with each relaxing exhale I let go of tension.

Lisa – Current condition: Tight hip flexors, tight upper back, achy lower back

Lisa has to be careful of her lower back. From time to time she picks up her youngest child and carries her on one side of her body, doing no favors to her back and posture. But how can she resist? Of course, she can’t — no mother could;  however, as a result, she has to be extra careful of her back. Besides Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall), Balasana (Child’s Pose) is a favorite of Lisa’s. In order for her to relax and let go into it, she needs a level of support that answers the tight hip flexors and stiff lower back. She is in a variation of Balasana that uses two bolsters, the top one angled so it lifts to meet her torso rather than her torso dropping (which, with tight hip flexors makes her hips lift) to meet it. But the special ingredient is a sand bag placed across the upper back, which helps to weight down the shoulders. This added weight gives her nervous system feedback to relax and sends a message to her brain to surrender. Ahhhh. The icing on top of the cake is the adjustment of putting gentle downward pressure on her shoulders, and slightly separating them so they move down and away from the ears. Not too much weight though or it will build tension in the mid and lower back. With each inhale, Lisa invites a soft breath in that encourages length and traction, and with each exhale she lets go into her lower back releasing and relaxing.

Of course, these modifications and adjustments aren’t right for everyone. You have to find the recipe that truly meets you where you are. Being open to the investigation is the first step to accepting what’s happening now. The rest is practicing how to let in and let go through the process as it changes. And it will. This is the yogi’s way.

Shine Your Light!

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About

Yoga found Leeann in the late 1970′s, and hasn’t left her since. Leeann shares the knowledge she has gained from all of her teachers today, both personally and through the Leeann Carey Yoga (LCY) workshops, retreats and teacher training programs which she developed, and are also taught by LCY mentors across the United States. Her style of teaching is direct, with a focus on the therapeutic elements of personalizing the practice to meet individual needs. She is affectionately referred to by many as “the teacher’s teacher."

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