Dealing with difficult poses

Yoga is a great way to tone your muscles, develop flexibility and your ability to relax. But it can also be pretty frustrating. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that everyone who has been to a few yoga classes has experienced some frustration at some point.

Balancing poses are perhaps the most obvious source of frustration, especially if it’s one of those days when you’re wobbling and unable to hold a pose like Vrksasana whilst the rest of the class is as calm and still like the tree the pose is named after. I hesitate to mention Sirsasana (Head Balance) and the years of practice I’ve needed to be able to perform the pose away from the safety of a wall.

Alternatively, you might be in one of those lessons where the teacher is getting you to hold seemingly simple poses for a long time. 5 minutes in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog) can feel impossible and if you have to come down and go back up 1 or 2 times then you can end up feeling a little bit defeated by your lack of stamina.

My current source of frustration is a pose called Supta Virasana.

suPta-virasana

It’s looks deceptively simple. You start sitting in Virasana, then just lie back. Easy! However, if your quads are tight, or your hip flexors, or your knees or the deep postural muscles then this pose will not come easily. The class I’ve been teaching this week is focused on developing flexibility in all these areas, with Virabhadrasana 1 as the peak pose. It’s a very active sequence which involves lots of preparatory stretches from Tadasana – Gomukhasana arms, hands in reverse Namaskar, standing quad stretches and a belt-assisted standing back-bend in Tadasana.

This can be a good way to deal with a difficult pose. Rather than attack it head-on and force yourself into it, take some time to think about the source of your difficulty and work on those areas in different poses. The standing quad stretch and the final pose of Virabhadrasana 1 both help to develop the flexibility I need in my quadriceps. Working from Tadasana and doing a standing back-bend is helping to develop the flexiblity in the deep postural muscles, Psoas Major and Minor and Iliacus.

And it has worked, a bit. I’ve been getting closer and closer to a comfortable Supta Virasana. Of course it takes time but there’s less frustration in the pose now as I can see some small improvement.

Perhaps it’s an approach that works not just with difficult yoga poses.

 

 

Thursday night – new venue, new time

Thursday 6th July sees the Thursday night class start in a new venue, and at a new time. The class will now take place at Lawrence Weston Youth & Community Centre (Ambition Lawrence Weston). The new time for the class is 7.00pm – 8.00pm.

There is no class on Thursday night next week, but classes are running as normal at the Cotswold Community Centre on Thursday morning (10.00am – 11.00am) and Friday afternoon at the Avonmouth Community Centre (12.15pm – 1.15pm).

This week’s theme – a balancing act

I really enjoyed putting together and practicing the class I taught this week. It was just as much a challenge for me as it was for people in the classes!

Although balance is a key part of physical fitness, it’s not something that people often practice or try to improve. Being able to maintain your balance obviously means you’re less likely to suffer from falls, but practicing balance has the added benefit of strengthening your legs, improving your ability to focus and it gives your core a great work out. It also helps to develop the sensitivity and muscle control needed to progress with your yoga practice.

We started easy. Tadasana. It’s a pose that nearly all the standing poses flows through Tadasanaand there are actions in Tadasana which occur in lots of other poses. This week we used it to help develop awareness of the work your body does to keep you upright. It’s surprising just how busy it is when you start to really focus on what’s happening. The first thing you notice is the pressure changes in the soles of your feet, then the work that’s happening the muscles in your ankles, calves and thighs. By taking the awareness inside the body to become aware of all this we begin to develop our ability to maintain balance by using more than visual cues.

From Tadasana we moved into Urdvha Hastasana, then Utkatasana and finally Uttanasana. And then we reversed the sequence. The different poses change where our centre of gravity is and allow us to improve our awareness of what we need to do to maintain balance in a range of positions. We did this sequence first with feet hip width, then with feet together. The ankles really do some work when you have your feet together in Uttansana.

Things then moved up a gear as we started to practice one-legged balances. Balancing on one, successfully, requires your full attention. If you get distracted by any external or internal stimuli you’re going to lose your balance.

It’s a tough sequence this and develops strength in the legs and core. First, place a loop of a belt/strap around the middle of your right foot and hold the strap in your right hand, standing in Tadasana with your feet together. Bring your right foot up into Vrksasana Tree pose) and place the length of the belt over your right thigh. Hold for 5 breaths, if possible with your arms straight up – this lifts your normal centre of gravity and increases the difficulty. After 5 breaths take hold of the belt in your right hand and extend your right leg forward for Utthita Padangustasana. Your right leg should be roughly parallel to the floor. Hold for 5 breaths, again, with your left arm straight up if possible. Then take your right leg out to the side and hold for 5 breaths before bringing your right heel back into your left thigh to finish with a further 5 breaths in Vrksasana. Repeat on the left.

After the one legged sequence we practiced Trikonasana and Ardha Chandrasana as preparation for our final pose – Virabhadrasana 3 (Warrior 3).

warrior 3

This pose really is a balancing act, the hands are reaching forward and the raised foot is pushing back as if there’s a tug-of-war going on between the two. But far from being the problem with the pose, this is really the solution. Reaching out forwards and backwards helps to bring equilbrium to the pose, and if you push down well into your standing foot, straighten the standing leg and engage your core muscles you’ll find your balance.

 

All classes now 1 hour long

A yoga class which lasts 1.5 hours can seem like a long time, especially if you’ve never done yoga before. So I’ve decided to make all classes last 1 hour.

In each class we’ll work to strengthen and stretch the whole body, helping to tone the muscles and make you feel leaner and stronger. If you’re interested in trying yoga this week you can bring a friend for free – so you can share the cost of the class.

If you want to know a bit more about yoga before decided to come to a class, you can read more about yoga here.