August 2020 Pose of the Month

Week 1 – Meeting the Posture

Camel pose or as it is know in Sanskrit: Ustrasana

As we continue our yoga journey together this month we will focus on backbends….even if a full version of camel pose is out of your reach right now spending the month focusing on opening up the heart and the back will benefit your daily life as well as your practice. Many of us spend countless hours bent over our phones and computers each day which is really negatively impacting our posture and actually causing neck and back issues for many of us. These types of poses are going to help counter the effects and help fight that rounding in the back that none of us want as we age.

Although the full version of this pose can be rather intense for some there are so many variations leading up to the full version…making it more accessible to anyone at any level. Yoga is always adaptable to ANY body meaning everyone can find benefit to time spent on their mat. That being said if you have major neck or back injuries you might want to avoid this posture (only you know your body)…you can stick with a backbend you already know feels good in your body and work on that pose during the month along with us to reach the same benefits in a way that honors and respects your body.

So now what are we doing all month? Ok so here is the plan for the challenge….

Day 1 – Take a photo of yourself in the pose, (that is mine ^^ up there) you can share or not, totally up to you, but this will help you get a visual of yourself in the posture so you can see what the shape looks like in your body and where you might need to adjust it. Remember we have a hard time really knowing where we are in space so the photo lets you have the view of the teacher, and now we can start to dissect the pose and find the best version of this shape in your body. After you’ve practiced the pose, and checked out your photo, jot down your goals for the pose along with anything else that comes up, was it hard/easy, did you love/hate it, no rules here just a quick jot of whatever comes up.

Everyday for the rest of the month commit to practicing this pose. It doesn’t need to be a full yoga practice, just give yourself a little warm up and stretch, remember to be nice to the body and to listen. Then for the pose of the month (or POTM for short) allow yourself a few breaths to settle in and find the shape, once you come to stillness hold the pose for 5 slow, even, deep breaths. Come down and allow for a moment of pause before jumping up – think mini savasana – settle the body – and that’s it!! Now pat yourself on the back for committing to your practice today! I encourage you to take the time to jot a note everyday and track your journey but that may not work for you, and that’s ok, make this your journey.

In the week one video I give some suggestions of how to warm up and cool down….to prep the body for this posture…a few rounds of cat/cow followed by a nice shoulder opener will help prep the back, spend some time in cobra or sphinx followed by a couple rounds of bridge pose to get the body ready for your POTM…follow it up with a few breaths in hero pose, add a twist and if you have time always let yourself enjoy some savasana!

My goal here is less about getting better at the pose and more about the journey of the pose throughout the 30 days. No doubt we will improve a posture by practicing everyday, but the practice of yoga is less about the shapes we make in the body and more about what comes up during those shapes. I encourage you to take this time to connect to your body, your mind and your practice in a deeper or at least different way. I am looking forward to taking this journey along with you.

Here is today’s mini practice introducing this month’s challenge….don’t forget to join the Facebook Group if you want to catch these classes live!

Week 2 – Why Should I?

So… we know that yoga is good for us, and we know that we usually feel better after spending some time on the mat, but do you know why? If we are going to spend time every month practicing a posture let’s take a minute and start to get to know it a little better…..

As I mentioned last week we tend to spend a lot of our time hunched…over our phones, our computers, the steering wheel while we drive around, all these activities contribute to poor posture and that dreaded hunchback none of us want as we age. Enter backbends! By practicing backbends in yoga we can help counter the effects of these bad habits and improve our posture and help prevent that rounding in the shoulders. This improves our physical appearance as we stand a little taller but also opens up the chest improving our ability to breathe, when those shoulders cave in they are also closing the chest making it much more difficult to fill the lungs with air and supply our bodies with that life giving prana.

More specifically, when we are practicing camel pose we are stretching the whole front of the body while simultaneously strengthening the spine, thus improving our posture ^ like we mentioned above. Other benefits are: stimulating the nerves in the spine; helping to alleviate lower back pain; creating more flexibility in the spine; opening the chest and heart chakra; improving breathing; helping to regulate the thyroid (when dropping the head back and stretching the front of the throat); and massaging the internal organs.

I have definitely noticed a huge difference in my posture thanks to my yoga practice, not to TMI but I think having big boobs at a young age really intensified my poor posture, in an attempt to hide them I rounded at the shoulders and rarely stood up tall which only lead to back pain and other issues at a very young age. These days I catch myself in the mirror standing tall and love what I see, not only is this improved posture good for the body but it’s also reflective of new confidence and a willingness to be seen in the world and no longer trying to hide away or be small. Yoga has given me these things and that is why I chose to teach and share my love of the practice with all of you. What changes have you noticed since you added yoga to your life?

Check out our week 2 mini practice for a dose of gratitude and heart opening…

Week 3 – Pitfalls and Modifications

As much benefit as we can gain from our yoga practice, we have just as much chance to injure ourselves if we are not being mindful of the body in the poses. We can push our flexibility to improve and gain strength in more difficult poses, but we do all have some structural limitations and our bodies are not built to move in some ways. This is why our teachers give so many alignment cues for poses to help us with a few things: finding our body in space; learning to manipulate the body safely while maintaining alignment; and helping us to adapt the pose for our body and our practice level in that moment. Very often in class I speak about knowing the direction we are headed even if we arent there yet, the directions let us guide our body safely towards the way we want to go while allowing for the time needed to travel there.

Honoring our bodies is the number one most important thing to remember when you show up to the mat. Our ego getting the best of us is often what leads to injury, we see another student or the teacher taking a pose further than we should and we want to do it to. I think we all go through this in yoga, becoming aware of this ego takeover can allow you to start to drop the ego and focus on your own practice. For a long time I refused props in class not wanting to be the fat girl in class and need help, wanting to show everyone that I can do it! Man am I glad I realized that props are amazing and that no one else cares what I am doing, if anything they are thinking similar thoughts…look at that person I wish I was like them…chasing that ego around the room totally focused on themselves just like I was. (This is true in life off the mat too btw!)

It is easy to find ourselves stuck in a rut of bad habits in our practice if we never take the time to really learn the foundations of the poses, if we just look at the shapes people are making with their bodies we miss out on what the body is actually supposed to be doing. When we have these foundations and alignment cues we can make the pose work for us rather than trying to force our body into a shape we think it should be in, this is often how we end up injured or maybe just not enjoying the practice because we think we cant do it. For camel pose this month here are some things to keep in mind…

Some reasons you may want to avoid this posture are: migraines, serious back/neck injuries, insomnia, or blood pressure issues. We want to explore the body and its limits in our practice but we always want to do so safely…only you can make that decision because only you are in your body.

If going for the full version of this posture is too much for you keeping the hands instead on the low back for support is a great option. Not only does this modification make the pose more accessible but it also helps avoid some of the common misalignment issues we can fall into in this posture. One of the key things to remember in this pose is keeping the hips stacked over the knees – when we use the hands on the low back to support us we are also pressing the hips forward to keep that alignment. As we continue to practice the modified version we are also building that muscle memory and strength in the legs and front body so that it will be easier to keep that alignment down the road if/when we attempt to go further and are no longer using the hands as a support for the low back. This is also a great way to warm up to the full version when you are practicing…go for a few rounds of the modified version to prep the body for the full version.

A good test for your ability to hold a pose is your breath – if you can’t breathe in the posture you should back off or hold off on that pose until building the strength/flexibility for it. Keeping in mind the difference between our tendency to hold the breath and actually having a strain on the breath. Often when we are holding the body in a shape we tend to also hold the breath – this we can change by switching our focus back to the breath. If, however, the breath is strained and we are struggling – the solution here is to change the posture to accommodate the breath. If you try moving too far into the backbend and find that the breath becomes strained you want to back off a little, or maybe stick with the modified version instead of pushing for a fuller expression until you are able to breathe comfortably for at least 20 or 30 seconds in the pose.

Another common issue in this pose is compression in the lower back and collapsing of the chest. We want to focus on lengthening through the spine and creating the bend along the entire back not just folding from one spot to avoid that compression in the low back. Remember to roll the shoulders back and lift through the chest opening the heart towards the sky rather than letter the chest collapse – if you are going for the full version of the posture maybe try adding blocks to bring the ground closer if you are struggling to keep the chest lifted while also reaching the feet, you can also come up on the toes bringing the heels closer if you don’t have blocks.

Check out our week 3 mini practice below, after a quick warm up we worked on the modified version using the hands to support the low back and then we create some fluid movement in the pose reaching back with one hand at a time to help work up to the full version of the posture. See you next week!

Week 4 – Variety is the spice of life

One of the things I love most about yoga is that it is for ANY body. Where there is a will there is a way, and a pose can always be modified to work for you. When we think of modifications or variations of a pose we often think first of making a pose easier or more accessible, and that is part of it, but as our practice advances and grows we can also use variations to challenge us and take our practice further.

Throughout the month we have look at several different modifications that help us practice the pose safely, focusing on building strength and keeping proper alignment in the pose. By looking back at each week’s video you can see we worked on a few different levels of the pose: every week we started with our first execution of the pose in the modified version supporting the low back, this is a great place to start and you can also recreate this same bend from standing and sneak a little movement in at any point in your day, great stretch if you find yourself hunched over the computer all day for work, aim to keep that same stacking in the legs and let the bend happen along the spine; in week 3 we added a little movement to the pose taking back one arm at a time and finding a flow with the breath, this is a great variation as you are working up to full camel and also a great way to shake up your practice; this week I mentioned using the wall as a guide to keep the legs and hips in line as you work on full camel from the modified version – facing the wall keep your legs against the wall as you drop back with the upper body. The pose doesn’t have to end because the month does you can continue to use these tools in your personal practice and revisit this posture as often as you like.

Like I mentioned above sometimes we add additional variations to keep pushing ourselves even beyond the “full” version of a posture. In my progress photos I shared my practice towards floating camel, I am not there yet, but this is a great challenge if you feel comfortable reaching the feet in the regular pose. Other variations include deepening the full version by changing hand positions from the feet to the legs; bending up one leg for a raised toe camel; or even camel split – if splits are in your practice.

I love that we are never done with yoga, our bodies and our practice are ever evolving and there are always going to be new boundaries to play with as we continue our journey on the mat.

Here is our week 4 mini class to help guide your home practice…see you in September!

Here is my final side by side shot, on the left is my week one photo and on the right is week 4 camel and floating camel, I have definitely noticed an improvement in the openness of my shoulders and upper back, an area that is typically very tight for me, and I think my alignment has improved a little…what changes have you noticed throughout the month? I am going to keep working on floating camel, I am now determined to get all the way up and stay without crashing…what you can’t see in this photo is that 2 seconds later I was on the ground lol

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