Those of you who know me, or follow my social media, know that I’ve been binging on on-line yoga since I’ve started self-isolating in mid-March.
Do I miss yoga in real life? Desperately! But, I love that I can take multiple classes daily without having to travel to different studios, that I can practice with teachers from literally all over the world whom I normally don’t have access to, and that often, I can repeat and do some further exploration with classes that I’ve particularly enjoyed by accessing the recorded version. (Also, since I’m muted, no one but my husband can hear my sarcastic asides or groans and sighs when I’m struggling during the class.)
Of course, the community aspect of a group class is virtually lost in online yoga (pun intended). Except for the greetings and catching up with the teacher and other students in the Zoom room before class starts and the after-chats when class is over, actual interaction is at a minimum. But, I can safely say that the one thing I miss most in an online world is the direct observation by the teacher and their gentle and intelligent touch to help me find better personal alignment.
Has it really been 5 months since my last adjustment?
How am I adapting to this? First, I practice near a semi-mirrored wall so that I can see myself without having to rely solely on my proprioception to figure out where my body parts are in space. Second, I compensate for the lack of the actual presence of the teacher by doing self-adjustments – either using my own hands where I normally feel the teacher’s touch or using a strap to help me access areas that are hard to reach with my own hands, or when all else fails, imagining my teacher’s hands on the areas
of my body that need some guidance or support…
To my thinking (and Jason Crandell’s), the essence of an intelligent and helpful adjustment is two-fold.
First, the assist should help to stabilize the parts of the body that are most stable in the pose, i.e., the foundation of the pose – like the feet in all standing poses and the pelvis in most poses – thus allowing
the rest of the body to elongate and make space where needed. Second, the assist should involve gentle guiding, not pushing, to allow the student to move in the appropriate direction and to the degree they feel comfortable, rather than moving beyond their normal safe limits. That said, if you too are missing adjustments, here are some suggestions on how to create more space and freedom in your body by simulating the teacher’s touch:
Seated Forward Folds
In any version of a seated forward fold – paschimottasana (2 straight legs), janusirsasana (one leg bent, foot against opposite inner thigh), upavistha konasana (wide legged), sukhasana (easy seat) forward fold or child’s pose – the pelvis is the most stable part of the pose. The first self-adjustment I typically make, is to make sure I’m sitting on my sit-bones rather than my tailbone, by manually moving my butt flesh back a bit so that my pelvis can tilt a little forward. Then, to further stabilize my seat, I place my hands on my hip bones and the hip creases and press firmly down.
Since the beginning of any forward fold is actually a slight backbend starting at the sacral area, if I’m craving a deeper release, I help move my sacrum forward with the help of a strap. Place the strap around your back at the middle of your sacrum (the triangular backbone right above your hips) and as you begin to hinge forward from the hips, pull the strap forward toward the front of the mat to assist the movement. Go slowly and gently, without straining. I also like to imagine my teacher’s hands-on
the sides of my torso, gently guiding the body longer as I fold.
Closed Twists (like Lord of the Fishes or Twisted Lunge)
When twisting in a seated position, the most stable part of the pose is again the pelvis. Think of twisting a rag to get the water out – one end has to be fixed for the twist to happen without the rag just turning around in space. When seated, regardless of how your legs are positioned, the most important thing is to ground the hips (you can shift one hip a slight bit forward of the other, but try not to lift that hip off the floor). To give yourself some assistance, put your hands on your hip bones and hip creases and, as in the forward fold, press down firmly to help yourself ground. Once grounded, start your rotation from the middle of your torso, without using your hands. Once you’ve gone as far as comfortable, place your front hand on the knee you’re twisting toward to give yourself a little additional leverage. Then, take the other hand and place it across your chest, under the opposite armpit and around the shoulder blade. Use the hand to lift your torso up away from your hips and then gently pull the shoulder and armpit area forward to deepen the twist. When you’ve gone as far as you want, place that hand on the mat behind you and maintain the twist.
In standing twists, the self-adjustment is the same. Just start from the ground up so that the feet are firmly grounded and your outer ankles are held in strongly for stability. Imagine your teacher using their hands or feet to stabilize your feet and ankles.
In reclined twists, the shoulders are another part of the body that also needs to be grounded, so before relaxing into the twist, I like to take the hand on the side my knees are twisted toward and use it to gently press my opposite shoulder to the ground, starting at the middle of my collarbones and sliding the hand toward the shoulder. Then, I move the hand firmly, but gently, down the side of my torso to my hip area to give it the suggestion of lengthening, and finally rest it on my upper thigh to weigh the legs down.
Open Twists (like Triangle or Extended Side Angle)
In a pose like Triangle, before shifting your side-body over the front leg, first, place your hands on your hips to make sure the hip points are facing roughly parallel to the long side of your mat. From there, lengthen your torso and hinge over the leg keeping the hips and shoulders facing toward the wall above the long side of your mat. Once you’ve grounded the front hand on the mat or a block, place the opposite hand around the armpit area and upper shoulder blade of the lowered arm, gently pull it away
from your pelvis and then up toward the ceiling to lengthen the torso, firm the bottom shoulder blade and open the chest. Then, slide your hand across your collarbones toward the other armpit and slowly straighten your arm in line with the lower arm.
For standing side bends, imagine your teacher holding your pelvis in place (or use your own hands to do it), lift one arm straight up overhead. Take the hand of the other arm and grab the armpit area of the raised arm. Press it gently back to keep that shoulder from rolling forward as it will want to do, then pull the armpit area slightly away from the hips to find length in the torso. Now, straighten and raise that arm overhead to meet and grab the wrist of the other hand, then side-bend toward the grabbing arm. The same adjustments would also work in seated side-bends.
In an upright backbend like Camel, press down strongly into your shins, even pretending your teacher is holding them down with their hands on your calves. Place a strap behind your back and hold it around the bottom of your shoulder blades (or where your bra strap would be if you wear a bra). Get some tension on the strap and use it to pull your torso up and chest forward so that the back of your heart area starts to melt into the strap. Keep your hips still placed directly over your knees, then, start to drop back and grab your heels, or just stay and enjoy the traction you’re getting from the strap. In a prone (on your belly) backbend like Cobra, first, lengthen the legs behind you one at a time by pressing the toe mounds on the floor and using that traction to stretch each leg. Then plant the tops of your feet and your pubic bone firmly on the mat and use your hands to grab the side of your mat on either side of your face. Tug the mat toward you and allow that tension to lengthen your torso. Place
your hands flat on the mat under your shoulders, elbows bent and hugging the sides of your body.
Imagine your teacher putting their hands on your back on the area behind your sternum (chest bone), gently pressing your chest forward as you roll your torso off the mat. Once you’re up, think of the teacher pushing down on your feet to further firm your foundation.
Downward Facing Dog
I haven’t figured out a way to use my hands to adjust myself in this pose, because the hands are part of the foundation and are pressing firmly into the mat. But, I do use imagery to help myself find more space in the pose. First, imagine that the teacher is behind you using each hand to pull your heels further toward the floor. Then, when your feet feel firmly grounded, imagine the teacher has moved in front of your mat and is using both hands to press your pelvis up and away from your shoulders (aka the “butt press”) to give your torso more length.
Who doesn’t love an adjustment in savasana? My two favorite involve elongating the neck area and opening the shoulder blades. I might miss these adjustments most of all. But I’ve tried to compensate with these substitutions. After lying down on your back in savasana, take your hands on either side of your head just behind your ears and holding firmly, stretch your head back with your chin slightly tucked. Then slowly let your hands guide your head back until the occipital area (the prominent part of
the head just above where it joins the neck) touches the mat. Does your neck feel more free and relaxed? Your head? Then, cross your arms over your chest and reach behind your back to grab opposite shoulder blades. Pull the blades down and apart and then release back into savasana. See if that helps you to sink your upper back more firmly into the mat.
I know – that was a lot of grounding and elongating – but isn’t that basically the point of most yoga poses? Try any or all of these adjustments and incorporate those that feel good into your own practice.
And until you feel comfortable returning to the studio, happy Zooming!
May Louie first took yoga in college to fulfill a Phys-Ed requirement and immediately fell in love. She, unfortunately, did not continue with her practice but reconnected with it when she retired from her corporate job in 2002 and has since become a serious yoga enthusiast. After her second retirement in 2017, she completed her 200-hour RYT certification, studying with Dina Crosta, Ellen Mosko, and Jamie Segal Hanley, with a focus on alignment based flow.
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