Why you might want to let go of that next Vinyasa...

Why You May Want to Let Go of That Next Vinyasa.png

If you’ve been to any vinyasa yoga class at our studio you have probably been reminded in one way or another that you can skip the vinyasa (that series of linked together poses that goes down dog, plank, chaturanga, up dog & down dog) at any time. Even though we often say it, you may wonder, what should you do instead? Child’s pose is often offered as an option, but have you ever thought about some of the many other options or why they might be more appropriate for you? In this post I’ll attempt to give you a verbal and visual guide to some options you may not have thought of when it comes to modifying this often found sequence of postures beyond just taking a break.

When thinking about how you might want to modify this sequence of postures, it’s good to think about your specific goals for your practice. It’s easy to get stuck on autopilot in anything that we do repetitively, and this sequence definitely shows up in so many public classes! When we can let go of our preconceived notions of what our practice “should be” and do what’s best for ourselves in a given moment in time, we are much more aligned with what it truly means to “do yoga”. One of my favorite definitions of yoga is that “yoga is skill in action”. By taking a small amount of time to know why we’re doing something, we’ll be all that much more skillful in our outcomes.

In a public class setting, this is even more important. Your teacher is doing their best to make the practice accessible to the whole group, but only you know what is best for you. Today could be a very different day in your body than yesterday was. The particular sequence the teacher is working with could present a very different set of challenges to your body than it does for the person next to you. You always have agency over your practice, so (within reason and with guidance) these decisions are up to you in a given moment.

So what are some reasons you might want to skip or modify the vinyasa sequence?

  • You have a specific area of your body that you need to work with in a certain way (think strength vs. flexibility)

  • You have pain or an injury that requires modification

  • You want to challenge yourself

  • You want to change things up a bit to stay more mindful

  • You need more time to feel a certain pose in your body and make sure you’re doing it in a pain free way

  • You’re focused on controlling your breathing and you find this series of movements too taxing at this point in your practice (whether that point is this month or this moment) to maintain your breath through them

  • You want to maintain the integrity of your practice and the pace set by the class is not one you can follow at this moment

  • You just need a break for a moment after a particularly challenging last sequence

I’m sure you may think of many more reasons, but any of these reasons show that you are practicing “skill in action”. It is skillful to choose protection over blind following. It is skillful to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and to act to find balance.

So what can you actually do to practice in this way? Here are a few ideas for modifications of the sequence and some reasons behind them.

To avoid the vinyasa all together

Child’s pose - This is commonly offered as I mentioned above as a modification when you need a break. While that is certainly true there are some other reasons you might consider this option:

  • Your breath isn’t under your control

  • Your spine needs a forward fold after the previous sequence

  • Your shoulders need a break from habitual tension

  • It’s just a happy place for you. Nothing wrong with taking a moment to just feel good!

You can also tuck the arms alongside the legs here for an even more shoulder releasing option.

You can also tuck the arms alongside the legs here for an even more shoulder releasing option.

Stay in Down Dog - This is another option I’ll often offer as a modification because it can have strengthening effects, especially for the newer practitioner. Some other reasons to consider staying here are:

  • It’s not a restful pose for you yet and you need more time there (beginners often look at me like I have 3 heads when I mention this might become a resting pose someday! LOL)

  • You have wrist pain or injury that prevents you from bearing weight like you would in plank

  • You need to strengthen your wrists or forearms (gripping the mat with finger tips and even lifting the back of the hands alternately can be great ways to get this benefit here)

  • You want to strengthen instead of rest

  • This is a more active resting pose for you compared to child’s pose, so you still get some rest here but you don’t quite need child’s pose

  • Your calves and hamstrings could use a stretch

  • You need some time to find length in your spine after a previous sequence that included back-bending or forward-bending

downdog side.jpg

Come Into and Stay In Plank - I only recently thought of this one myself! You may want to give this a go if:

  • You’re working on building upper body strength and core strength

  • Backbending isn’t feeling good due to injury (staying here can help strengthen your core to support your back if done with good alignment and engagement)

  • You aren’t yet warm enough to perform a backbend

  • You’d like to challenge yourself

  • You’re working on understanding the details of the pose (we tend to blow by this one rather quickly, this can be true for many postures in the vinyasa sequence in fact)

plank side.jpg

To modify the vinyasa itself

Skip the chaturanga - This is one of the most popular modifications for the vinyasa sequence. Chaturanga takes an incredible amount of strength, skill and awareness to perform well. Better to build strength and do one chaturanga well in a class than a bunch of sloppy ones that could cause injury over time. This is skill in action again.

  • To do this, drop your knees and roll down, maintaining core engagement and keeping the elbows hugging into the ribs while the shoulders relax. This will help build upper body strength over time, especially if you go slowly.

Choose a different back bend - Who says you have to do up dog?! There are a lot of great reasons to choose something else to work with in the sequence that will fit just as well (note that I didn’t say flip over and do bridge!). Here are some ideas:

  • Cobra is not as deep and doesn’t require as much upper body strength as up dog 

  • Locust is a great back body strengthener and will also keep weight out of your wrists and shoulders if you have injury or pain there

  • You could also lift the hands in cobra to practice keeping the legs pressing and the spinal muscles working instead of using the hands to push up. This is a great modification to work with especially if you experience any back pain in the pose. It may help you figure out where you need to engage more for support or if up dog is just too deep for you at the moment.

  • You want to get more comfortable with a certain backbend. Repetition is the key to learning.

We do need to maintain the group class environment and this isn’t license to do anything you want at any time. But being able to skillfully modify your practice for YOU is key to a lifelong practice. And we want this to be a life long practice, don’t we??

Do you have other ways you modify this sequence? Or are there other reasons to modify that I may have missed? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you!

Aparigraha and Technology

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One of my recent favorite podcasts is a show called Wild Ideas Worth Living. The show has evolved over time but the interviews with people who are living outside of the box that most of us might think of, are so inspiring to me. On a recent episode the topic of discussion was about unplugging from our internet crazed world to be full present for our lives. It made me think about our class theme this month, Aparigraha.

Do you find yourself spending a lot of time on social media and other online tools? Do you find yourself not doing the things you really love because of all that time you spend with technology? It’s happening more and more to so many of us. We know what we need to do to be healthy and even happy, but the possibility of that next “like” coming in to give us that little lift seems ever so much more important. 

There’s science that even backs this up. Each time we get a response to our social media postings we get a little bit of a hit of the feel good chemicals that our brain naturally makes. And while that’s a nice thing, we can get those some good vibe chemicals from much more healthy pursuits such as walking, interacting with people in person and, dare I say it, yoga! 

Don’t get me wrong, It’s not a big deal if you use social media. I certainly do all the time. I have many friends in far flung places and it makes staying in touch with them a lot easier. But when these tools of connection keep us from connecting (when’s the last time you saw two people out to dinner together, not talking to each other at all, just looking at their phones? For me it was just the other day. ;-/) to each other or more importantly, to the things that truly make us healthier and happier, we have a problem.

Aparigraha asks us to find ways to start to loosen our grip on things that impede flow. If we’re constantly grasping at that next like or that next post, we loose a lot of what’s meant to come to us because we can’t even see it (around our phone or computer screen even). So how do we break the cycle? Here are a couple of ideas:

  1. Don’t have your phone in your bedroom or at least don’t reach for it as soon as you wake up. - This can be tough, especially if you have people in your life that may need to get a hold of you at any hour for whatever reason. But if you can at least not start your day by checking your email or social media accounts first, you set yourself up for success for the day.

  2. Turn off your notifications. - Another one that may be really hard for some of us. But, if you turn off your notifications just for certain things like Instagram or Facebook or maybe even your email you are given yourself a CHOICE. YOU get to choose when you check in on these things. Having a choice and not being ruled by that infernal *ding* is a big way to take back control of your time. I did this with email years ago and it had the single biggest effect on my time and attention of anything I had done to that point to control my technology time.

  3. Make a no technology rule with friends/family for a certain time of day. - You’ll have to negotiate this one in advance but talk to your friends and family about this. Maybe you have a party and everyone puts their phone in a basket (this is mentioned in the podcast), maybe you decide that for the hour after you and your spouse arrive home you both don’t use your phones. Again, prior negotiation is key here (you don’t want to spring this one on the equally tech attached in your life) but if you can come together to create boundaries around your technology you’ll actually get to be with each other in a more meaningful way.

I hope this helps you find a way to start being more mindful about the technology in your life. Do you have other strategies you use? Leave a comment and share them with others! I think we can all use some ideas around this topic these days.