Hands-on assists – Love them or hate them?
Until the recent threat of contagion, this was one of the bigger debates in the yoga world. I happen to love all thoughtful adjustments because they offer an additional source of information to help me explore my practice. But, concerns about Coronavirus aside, many prefer not to be physically adjusted. An adjustment, while informative to some, can feel invasive to others.
Especially now, when we’re all home and don’t have access to a teacher’s hands, you might like to try going to a wall to get some “teaching” assistance. A wall can be invaluable for providing stability so you can move with more control, feedback to let you know where your body parts are in space, and some gentle additional pressure or leverage to go a little deeper – all things I look for in adjustments. And, the best part is that you’re ultimately in control of how much you rely on the wall.
Here’s a wall sequence to try at home that may help you gain more understanding about your personal alignment in some foundational poses and maybe allow you to find more space and freedom in your regular practice. You’ll need a mat, a wall at least the length of your mat, and two yoga blocks. Start with the short side of your mat against a wall.
All poses should be held for at least 3 breaths.
Tadasana – Urdhva Hastasana – Side Bends:
Start with your back against the wall in tadasana (mountain pose). Stand with your heels against the wall and start scanning up the length of your body. The parts of your torso that curve away from your body – butt, sacrum, upper back, shoulders, and back of your head – should all be touching the wall also. This is tadasana alignment. Move back and forth a bit to find this and then hold.
Keep your torso in this position and raise your arms straight over your head into urdhva hastasana (upward salute). You may be able to touch the wall with your thumbs with your palms faced inward, but it’s more important to keep your shoulders against the wall and your lower ribs relaxed rather than jutting out. Bring your palms together and slowly bend to your right, keeping your shoulders and hips against the wall as much as you can, and feel the stretch in your left side-body. Hold and do the same thing to the left. Repeat for a total of 3 reps.
Cat/Cow – Downward Dog – Plank:
Get down onto hands and knees, facing away from the wall, with the arches of your feet touching the wall. Do 4 cat/cows, pushing your feet into the wall. This will stabilize your hips as you move. After the last rep, take your hands out a few inches, push firmly into your feet with your heels up against the wall, and push into your first downward facing dog. The heels may not reach the ground, in which case, they should rest on the wall. The wall provides support for your heels so that you can push more firmly into your legs. Most of us can’t press our heels to the mat and tend to put more weight onto our arms and hands rather than our legs. Move around as needed to find a position where you feel equal weight in your hands and feet, pushing up and back with your hips. Take 5 breaths and then move your body forward into a plank. Push firmly into the wall with your feet and energize your leg muscles to help you hold the plank. Rely equally on your legs, core muscles, and arms to hold you steady. Hold for 5 breaths and pull your hips back and up into Down Dog. See if your torso feels longer now in Down Dog.
High Lunge – Warrior I – Warrior III:
Lower your knees down and get onto all fours again. Move your right foot between your hands into a low lunge. Push the arch of the left foot into the wall and lift and straighten the left leg so that you’re in a high lunge with hands on the mat. Push strongly into the left leg, energize your thigh muscles, bend deeply into the right leg, and open and lift your chest. Press strongly into both feet and once you feel balanced, lift your arms overhead into a high lunge. Feel strong in your legs and push into the wall with the back foot to straighten and lift the back leg as much as possible while bending the front leg deeply. Hold and then drop your back heel down at a 45-degree angle into Warrior I. The heel can be on the mat and against the wall, or as low as comfortable on the wall if your heel doesn’t reach easily to the mat. Use the pressure of the back foot against the wall to help you steer that left hip forward toward the front of the mat while keeping your right hip back so that your pelvis moves in the direction of parallel to the front of the mat. Most people’s hips won’t be completely parallel, but the back foot against the wall provides some leverage to help move in that direction. Hold and then step your back foot up to meet the front foot in Tadasana.
Place your blocks at the highest setting on either side of your feet. Bend your knees slightly and place your hands on the blocks, lifting your right leg straight back so that the foot can press into the wall behind you. Shimmy your front foot backward or forward to find the right place so that you can push firmly into the wall with both legs straight in a supported Warrior III. Engage that back leg as much as, or even more than your front leg. If you feel stable, start to lift your arms into a prayer position by your chest, or back behind you like an airplane, or most difficult, straight in front of you by your ears. Keep using that back wall to help keep your legs engaged and keep the toes pointed down so that your hips remain parallel to the floor. Hold, release your hands and move the back leg forward to meet your front leg. Go back to your hands and knees and repeat on the other side.
Warrior II – Triangle – Half Moon:
Pick up the mat and move it so that the long side of the mat is adjacent to the wall (have a block within reach). Stand with legs wide apart, with your torso and heels against the wall. Lift your arms into a T, turn the right foot parallel to the wall, bend the right leg and move into Warrior II. Push strongly into both feet and keep the right leg bent strongly as you press that knee toward the wall. Keep the inner left leg strong and lifted. Try to keep the pelvis and shoulders against the wall and move side to side a bit with your torso until you feel centered over your pelvis. Hold, and then straighten the legs.
Move your left hip further left and while keeping your torso against the wall, start to fold at your hips into Triangle, bringing your right hand as far down your right leg as you can. Grab your leg at the level that’s the right height for you – it’s more important to keep your torso against the wall than to get your hand to the ground. Push into the wall with your torso and top arm to open up your chest. Hold for 3 breaths.
Come up and grab your block with your right hand. Then move back toward Triangle, placing the block on the ground about a foot in front of your right foot to prepare for Half Moon pose. Bend the right knee, press lightly into the block and lift your back leg straight out, keeping the whole back of the leg and the back body against the wall. With your left arm up, try to keep your entire back-body against the wall. Open the chest and hold, looking toward your top thumb if your neck feels comfortable. Come down slowly and repeat on the other side.
Tree Pose – Forward Fold – Seated Twist – Camel:
Turn the mat back so that the short side is against the wall again. Stand in Tadasana, facing the long side of the mat, with the right side of your body about one and a half feet from the wall. Bend your right knee and lift it up and out into Tree pose with the foot resting above your knee. Your knee should be touching the wall (if not, adjust your distance from the wall). Keep rotating your right leg out and push into the wall with your knee while keeping your torso in Tadasana alignment (shoulders directly over your pelvis, pelvis directly over heels). Arms can be in your position of choice. Hold and repeat on the other side.
Stand in Tadasana facing the wall, about 2 feet from the wall. Fold forward from your hip creases, and place your hands on the floor, bending your knees if needed to get your hands on the floor. Start to inch your way forward toward the wall with your hands and feet until the back of your head and/or your upper back touch the wall. Push gently into the wall with your back body and straighten your legs as much as possible if they’re bent. Try to deepen your fold using the wall as leverage. You control how close you get to the wall and how much you press yourself into the wall to get the opening you need. Once you’ve found your optimal position, hold, then walk back away from the wall and curl up into Tadasana.
To prepare for a seated twist, sit your seat on your heels, knees together, in Thunderbolt, facing the long side of the mat, with your right side a few inches from the wall (the closer to the wall, the deeper the twist). Place your right hand on the mat behind your right hip and start to twist your torso toward the wall, keeping your hips stable. Place your left palm flat on the wall at shoulder height and a few inches in front of your body; then push against it to turn further right. If you have the range, lift your right hand and place it flat on the wall behind your right shoulder. Push harder into the thumb side of your left hand and the pinky side of your right hand to twist your torso further toward the wall. Repeat on the other side.
Turn and kneel on your knees, facing the wall, with your whole front body touching the wall, placing your blocks on the highest setting on the outside of your feet, with toes turned under. Start with your hands on your lower back and begin to lift your chest and curl your upper back away from the wall into Camel, going as far back as you can while keeping the pelvis and thighs glued to the wall. Hold and either repeat, or this time reach back toward the blocks with your hands rather than keeping them on your back. Repeat one last time, with the option to either lower the blocks or remove them and grab your heels.
Legs up the Wall – Reclined Badhakonasana – Savasana!:
Sit close to the wall with one hip against the wall and tip yourself over to place your legs straight up against the wall, with your back on the ground. Pull your hips as close to the wall as you can; bend your knees slightly if needed. Once you’re in position, lift your arms overhead and place them on the mat. Grab the side edges of the mat with your hands and pull away from the wall with your hands like you’re trying to pull yourself taller. Hold, then release your arms back to your sides. Stay in legs up the wall for at least 5 breaths.
Start to bend your legs and rotate your legs outward, placing your feet together on the wall, knees apart, into badhakonasana (butterfly) position. Push the outer sides of your feet into the wall and allow the knees to open and release. After 3 breaths, pull yourself away from the wall and rest in savasana, with your feet touching the wall.
You can choose to do all or part of this practice, or just try a few of the poses.
The point is to explore how the poses feel when there’s a wall there to assist you with stability, leverage, and feedback. So, if you’re in the mood for some self-discovery, Get up against the wall!
And stay well.
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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