Week 331: Joint Lessons From the Mat
I was looking forward to workshop #15 as the topic is very interesting to me. Working with people who have multiple joint concerns is typical for me and I see that this is where I’ll likely take my teaching. But interestingly enough, the senior teacher, Edie, make it quite clear that there are few and far between number of people who don’t experience some form of joint pain/injury/concern. When asking the group who has had issues with any of the highlighted joints - neck, shoulders, back and knee - more than 85% of yoga teachers-to-be raised their hand.
So really - it’s much more common than I have credited. Even regular seasoned students have joint concerns.
On a basic level, we reviewed the major contraindication for each joint. Then followed the contraindication with some alternative ways to do asanas. Here’s what we determined:
Neck: limit weight bearing asanas with the focus on releasing the base of the neck as well as the base of the spine
Light bulb burst - Well, that just makes sense! The neck is the extension of the spine! Releasing the back can only help the neck.
We worked on coordinating neck rotation with standing arm movements up and down, bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) and single knee to the chest (Supta Ardha Apanasana). The movement of the neck was initiated after the upper/lower body movement AND moving to the opposite side or direction.
Shoulders: limited weight bearing asanas with the emphasis on all ranges of motion and asymmetry.
A lot of the attention in our practice was to minimize the compression in the shoulders with keeping the arms wide from the body. Further, highlighting the importance of multiple repetitions, going in and out of poses, rather than static holds. Movements, not necessarily asanas, included wall chest stretch with both arms (think of a cop saying ‘put your hands up’) at the walk and rotating the upper body side to side with one arm leaving the wall and side lying external rotation (‘moving the forearm through mud’).
Back: limit twists with a focus on side lateral bends instead and asymmetry.
Of course, knees bent is essential for protecting the back but also noticing how much the hamstrings want to work. Keeping them at bay can be helpful. For me personally, I have to watch that my glutes, mostly my right, doesn’t fire up.
Asanas we explored as side lateral bends options included cresent moon pose (Ashta Chandrasana) and wide leg forward fold (Prasarita Padottanasana) with alternating movements of hands to feet.
I really appreciated the emphasis on asymmetry especially for the back. It really put into perspective the alignment of the pelvis and how to continually work on finding good anatomical position. As with any of these joints, it is almost certain that one side is “worse” that the other. Asymmetry helps find the difference and almost acts like a reset button.
Knee: limit weight bearing poses with an emphasis on avoiding hyper extension but also hyper flexion of the joint.
Having to avoid weight bearing is truly challenging as it removes all kneeling asanas. That is a lot! Yet, flipping the pose around or using a chair can be the most useful way to help those with knee issues. And it goes without saying, adding padding to the mat for the knees to land is an act of self-care!
Walking away from this weekend’s training was one thing but the next best thing was practicing in a beginners class the next day. Not only doing my practice but watching the class in front of me. Every type of body, injury, age and sex....and all doing yoga! I challenged myself to watch because these will be the people I will teach. What a lesson indeed!
On a final note, I loved how Edie talked about breath. For all the joints listed, the breath is essential to allow for movement. She alluded to the breath as a distraction of fear; fear is what keeps the body rigid, trying to protect itself.
Here are some of her gem of quotes about the breath...
The essence of our practice.
Sweetness of yoga.
Is your guide, will lead you further than you think.”
The combination of learning and observing this weekend has given me a new found confidence in giving options and teaching on the fly when the people are presented in front of me on their mats.
At the 13th YAA teacher training workshop this weekend, I was challenge to think of the roles we play in our lives. Soon to be, I hope, yoga teacher will be one of the roles I play. And what does that mean?
Melanie, the workshop facilitator, reminded us newbies that when we are teaching yoga, we are yoga teachers. We must be cautious that we keep to our role (and our scope of practice) instead of ‘playing’ other roles we play in our lives.
It got me thinking.
Will I be able to take off my exercise physiologist hat when I teach yoga?
I suppose the mom hat will be off as well as the sister, daughter, wife and friend hat will be off too. But there is an obvious link to what I do as my profession to some of the responsibilities of a yoga teacher. The most glaring is the physical body aspect.
It might not be a total removal of the exercise physiologist hat as I won’t be able to deny proper biomechanics and alignment. But, I do like the idea that “you are responsible for you” and giving yoga students the reigns when it comes to how they practice on their mats. My job will be to guide students not dictate what they should and shouldn’t do. I suppose I already do that in my job yet, it will be a bigger part of my role and tool box as a yoga teacher.
Lending to the discussion on being a yoga teacher, we also discussed the intermingling of the word “restorative” versus “Yin” versus “therapeutic” yoga. Thinking I would dabble in these forms of yoga, it was a great discussion on the differences and not the interchangeable use of the terms.
Restorative yoga is to provide support and relaxation. Hence the word restore. This practice is not only for the physical but also for mental and emotional restoration. Yoga students are placed into asanas that allow for letting go and rest. No pain or discomfort should be present. I personally love this type of practice particularly at the end of a busy week or when I am feeling overwhelmed. It would be a gift to provide this practice to future yoga students!
Now to Yin yoga.
This yoga practice I am not as familiar with as most of my practices have been at home in the privacy of my computer screen. I am intrigued to learn more about ‘taking students to their edge’ and holding an asana. We reviewed the basics which include picking a pose, taking the pose to the ’edge’ and then being still, both mentally and physically. In past practice and also in this workshop, it is emphasized that the ‘edge’ is sensation not pain. So differently than restorative yoga, Yin yoga isn’t necessarily a relaxing process.
The final type of yoga, that is clearly different than the rest, is therapeutic yoga. Although it might be relaxing and/or take one to the edge, therapeutic yoga’s sole purpose is to focus on a specific condition or what I heard someone say this weekend, “issue in the tissue”. It makes complete sense that an asana practice could be suited to a specific condition and/or focused on a specific part of the body. This type of practice is very intriguing to me working in primary healthcare. I see people daily who are dealing with a chronic disease and/or injury. I had always seen myself teaching this type of class.
On a final note, that wraps up my workshop experience, was again more about logistics that anything else. Melanie provide wisdom and insight on class planning. I had never thought about structuring a class in this fashion but it makes so much sense. Here’s the gist:
Think of the climax, peak portion of your class; essentially what you are working on. It would include the main asana you wish the students to do in class that day. Your goal is to lead yoga students to that peak thoughtfully that they can successfully (whatever that looks like) complete the pose. After the peak, it is your job as the teacher to slowly take them away from said pose. What a brilliant way to formulate a class!
This workshop, although very focused on restorative asanas, I gained so much more insight into being a teacher and how I can teach than the physical pieces themselves.
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.