One of the best aspects of a vinyasa flow class is also, oftentimes the most problematic, in terms of joint health and risk of injury. It’s a magnificent experience to show up on your mat, tune-out, connect with your breath, enjoy the music, and surrender to the sweat. Yoga instructors typically don’t call out many alignment cues in a fast moving class, so unless you’ve spent some time studying anatomy and correct alignment, throwing yourself into repetitive movements (such as plank-chaturanga-up dog-down dog) without minding your alignment can lead to pain in your shoulders, wrists, elbows, and neck. Isn’t one of the reasons you go to yoga class in the first place, to relieve some of your aches and pains, or at least prevent them from coming on?
A common goal for my clients who come see me for private yoga lessons in Oakland, is to be able to return to their favorite flow class or their favorite power yoga class, without their pain getting in the way of the transformational experience. I’ve picked up on some trends over the years. From observing other students in packed evening classes, to teaching public yoga classes, to working with individuals and small groups…there are some key area where developing a habit of checking in with our alignment makes a huge difference in the comfort of our yoga poses, and in the health of our muscles and joints.
This week is all about yoga, so for each day of the week, we’ll look at a different asana (pose) or vinyasa (sequence) to discover how to align yourself for vinyasa yoga success!
We start the week off with the well-loved (and oft-dreaded) chaturanga. The vinyasa that starts from plank, and then flows through chaturanga, upward facing dog, and downward dog…Well, it’s like a pushup, but then you arch up, and then how do you get back to downward dog? And what are you supposed to do with your toes? Roll over them, scoot them back, bend them? It’s all a big confusion at first, made worse by the fast pace of the movement and the (let’s face it) horrific form of many of the other students on surrounding mats. When you don’t know what to do in a group class, what do you do? You look around you to see what everyone else is doing! Uber-flexible Cindy to your left is belly-flopping down, then springing up into a loosey-goosey up dog, caving in through her low back, jamming her neck into her shoulders. Mark, to your right, is muscling through a contorted pushup, then pushing back up to downward dog, skipping the upward dog all together. Several students have their elbows flared way to the sides, creating a dangerous drop of the tops of their shoulders (straining the muscles and ligaments in the front of their shoulders). And you can’t really follow what Fran in front of you is doing with her shoulders because she’s flipped through her floppy vinyasa faster than you can say “frozen shoulder!”
While an online-lesson doesn’t take the place of actual instruction, it’s a good place to begin!
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Photo attribution of triangle pose photo Credit: www.localfitness.com.au