How often do we look at walls as barriers or as an object that separates us from something like a goal or a dream?
Yet, this is not always the case. Walls also support, provide structure and stability. Possibly helping us to reach our goals. And this is what I got from my practice this week.
I headed over to Yoga Central for a 90 minute session this weekend. I had anticipated it to be similar to what I previously had done but it was a substitute teacher (read: it will be different!). Not to worry, though, I would be challenged and enjoy whatever was in store.
We ran through some vinyasa but about mid way through the class we took our mats over to the wall. Silently, my inside voice cheers with excitement. I can’t explain how much I like using the wall in yoga. It seems somewhat unconventional to a yoga class. The results are magnificent!
Three poses that I’d never done before at the wall were:
1. Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
2. Standing Splits (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana)
3. Wheel Pose (Chakrasana or Urdva Dhanurasana)
The forward fold, you may think, would have the back of my legs pressed up against the wall.
Instead, the complete opposite.
I was instructed to place my feet (toes forward) a couple feet away from the wall. Slowing raise the arms and fold forward, ensuring my shoulder blades are pressed right up against the wall (the feet may need to shuffle forward to ensure the shoulder girdle is flush with the wall).
The force of the shoulder blades against the wall is key. As we were encouraged to lift the arms up overhead (what?) and hold the pose. It was intimidating to see the yoga teacher doing the pose, thinking, “no way will I be able to lift my arms!” However, it was actually quite simple and a very unique way to not only target the hamstrings and glutes with a stretch but also the shoulders themselves.
Again, the next pose at the wall, standing spits, blew my mind. How am I ever going to get myself into the same position as my teacher???
Again, it was much easier than it looked and I anticipated. Starting in a downward facing dog, heels against the baseboards, slowly raise one leg and place the toes or top of the foot on the wall. To increase the splits (and adductor/hamstring stretch!), shift back slightly from the shoulders (think chest to thigh) and walk the lifted foot up the wall.
As I settled into my pose, I flashed back to my synchronized swimming days of practicing my splits everyday. I can’t recall every trying THIS version but my muscle memory sure helped to get into this supported standing split.
The third pose that was new to me at the wall was wheel pose. I haven’t done this pose a lot but it always surprises me that I can do it!
Questioning my abilities; common theme this week, don’t you say?!
We placed two blocks on an angle against the baseboards. Wrapping a strap around our arms just above the elbows, we laid down to only reach our hands back to those propped up blocks. Slowly, we pressed our hands into the blocks and came up into a fantastic backbend. The strap helped keep the arms close to the body as not to let the elbows splay out.
With all this work at the wall, also including downward facing dog, triangle pose and half moon pose, I began to wonder the history of yoga wall poses. Is this a new found modern twist on the classics or is this a practice that has been around for a while?
With a small Google search (hard to find the right search terms!), I found a reference to BKS Iyengar, stating “[b]ased on BKS Iyengar’s principles of alignment, ‘the wall’ is used as a prop to deepen asana by opening and creating space in the body using therapeutic techniques".
How cool is that?! So, it has been around for a while.
My previous experience has mostly been when I was pregnant. Judy was always concerned that I would fall while practicing (even at 8 months or so). I used the wall frequently up until my first was born.
Using the wall beneficial now?
Absolutely! I can’t wait to learn more asanas that can be used with the support and structure of a wall!
Whoops - add - I did do some bonus work this week too.
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.