Written by Anissa Davis
Nowadays, yoga is very physical. I don’t think this will be changing anytime soon. I sometimes get frustrated because yoga is so much more than the poses, but, I have come to realize that it is also a great way to keep your physical body healthy. We must build up tapas (heat) in the body, and cultivate prana (breath) that organically allows this to happen. This allows us to burn through the Kleshas- the frustrations, attachments, ego, anxieties, and negative mental talk. As we do this, we also try to practice staying in a state of Santosha, contentment. Working to find balance on the mat, so it manifests off of the mat.
If you are new to yoga, try to start slow. You don't need to jump into a level 2 vinyasa. If you have never done yoga before, it is a completely different kind of physical practice. It is a whole mind-body connection. Trust me, I was a dancer for 15 years, and yoga kicked my butt the first time, not just physically, but also mentally. I also went into it with a lot of ego saying “I was a professional dancer,” “I work out every day,” and “I don’t want to just sit there.” Boy oh boy, was I ignorant. If you have never taken a yoga class before, I recommend starting in a level one. Learn the poses, the Sanskrit, and respect this incredible practice that is solely for you. If you go into it with respect you are already practicing yoga and showing yourself respect.
Below are my favorite ways to modify my own physical practice in all levels. Yes, I even go into 2/3 classes and modify. This allows me to take the class at the time frame I can respect the sequence the teacher has created for everyone, pace myself, but more importantly, respect where I am that day on my mat. Sometimes I am tired and need to take a step back, and that’s ok. Try these and you will feel empowered that you have choices in the classroom at any level.
Blocks, blankets, straps, wedges, chairs, and even your mat! Use them! Props do not make you less of a yogi. When I see people using props, I trust that that person has a solid foundation in their yoga practice. Props are there to support you and actually benefit you in a pose. For example, someone with longer legs and a shorter torso should consider using a block to align better in triangle pose. Sometimes trying to reach for the floor takes you out of alignment, and you end up sticking out your butt. Also, if you have an injury and/or tightens somewhere, the prop can help you get in and out of poses better. Below are some poses I use props for:
Trikonasana – Triangle
Parsvakonasana – Side Angle Pose
Ardha Chandrasana – Half Moon Pose
Garudasana – Eagle Pose
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – Bridge
Sucirandrasana – Thread The Needle
Skip The Vinyasa
Not every teacher will say to skip them, but it is a great option to conserve energy and avoid shoulder injuries if you are tired. I often say, “take it or leave it.” If you are given the option to skip, consider it, and don’t try to keep up with the person next to you. It’s your practice, not theirs. If you aren’t given the option, if the teacher just says vinyasa, you can still skip it. Vinyasa is optional, always.
Plank never gets easier. I’m sorry to say it. It’s a tough one to do. You think its all arms, but when it’s done correctly, it is just as much core as arms, and just as much legs as core. It is a whole front body strengthener. A couple of ways to shift are doing it with your knees down. This is my personal favorite. Sometimes, we use this to build the initial heat in the body at the beginning of the sanding portion of practice. So, just place your knees down if you need to pace yourself. Now, it’s different than tabletop. Go to plank and just gently place your knees down, but maintain the angle of your torso, from knees to shoulders, as if you were still in plank. This keeps the integrity of the pose and your practice.
Help Your Lunge
Alanasana, Crescent Pose, also known as high lunge, is another easy poses to modify like plank. Same thing, you just place your knee down, and it becomes low lunge. If twists, arms variations, or hinges are cued you can still do all of these things but with a little more ease. You can pace yourself better if you need to. Also, mentioned above, you can also use blocks under your hands or bring your hands to your heart.
Take Childs Pose
If you are new to the practice or have been practicing for ten years, childs pose is the pause button in the physical practice. You can take it instead of a vinyasa, you can go into it to reclaim your breath, and you pause when a teacher cues 3 Surya Namaskar B’s and you want to opt-out.
There are so many other ways to modify, to make your yoga practice perfect for you. The ones listed above are so easy to do, and as I said, allow you to respect the space, sequence, and your body. Modifying is not a bad thing, and if you can learn at the start of your yoga journey, you will be able to do it for many years down the road, by avoiding injury. So whether you want to start in a level 1 or begin your practice at a retreat where you can disconnect and really open the yoga door, these will help you find your yoga.