#365newbie: Day?? Blackbird
I have a little confession to make: Chaturanga has always, I repeat ALWAYS, hurt my shoulders. Yes, I love the feel of power that I have in the pose, and yes my arms are mildly Madonna-like because of doing it, but it hurts. I have tried blocks between the legs, not lowering down, setting my knees down (which helps a skosh) and a myriad of other modifications but I always feel plank pose a bit in the front of my shoulders. I have silently ignored that sensation.
My assumption was that I was not strong enough in my core to sufficiently hold this pose until I was able to do a myriad of arm balances. This latter ability debunked that theory. I thought my upper body maybe lacked strength, but I rocked handstands off the wall. Again my ideas were wrong.
Enter Joe Barnett, senior teacher of Paul Grilley’s methodology and yin yoga and now also MY teacher. Last weekend Joe showed me a very small detail about my body that gave me a cozy, comfy and very safe Chaturanga in my body. And you know what, it is not what the classic “Chaturanga” looks like at all.
I know now dear readers you may be asking what in the heck were you talking about upper body strength and core during a yin yoga teacher training? In truth we were not doing that exactly. Our focus was on anatomical, rather bone structural differences among people. Since the majority of yin focuses on the pelvis which can be difficult to “see” with the naked eye (i.e. not XRays or MRIs), Joe showed us the same concepts with our extremities.
Here’s where my plank comes into the picture. We did an exercise where we held our arms next to our ribs (as you are often taught in Vinyasa classes…. “hug your elbows to your ribs”) to see how they looked. My arms fanned out wide and in order to bring them perpendicular to each other I had to physically, muscularly pull them in together. I was the freak outlier in our group with the widest arms in this position. I could not naturally make “Chaturanga arms” without using my shoulders and biceps in an unsafe fashion.
My damn wings looked broken! Was my Chaturanaga lost forever?
Of course both of the above statements were no less than poppycock as my arms were not broken but just a variation on the mean. My normal was wide and open, not unlike my personality. Joe suggested that in order for me to do Chaturanga safely and comfortably I needed it also to be more open. I had to take my hands wider (GASP! NOT HUGGING ELBOWS TO RIBS! NOT WRISTS UNDER SHOULDERS) for it not to hurt my shoulders.
Guess what? The man was right!! My pose is new, my pose is fresh, I’m a beginner in an asana I could do in my sleep and more importantly: my shoulders do not hurt and my muscles are being used correctly and safely! Holy Revelation Batman!
My students know I preach and preach and preach some more to listen to your own body. I ask them to move their hands and feet, to try poses differently and to do their practice in a way that works for only them. I used to say that I did not teach planks a lot because so many students did it unsafely and I did not want people to get hurt. Perhaps I should have listened to my own words.
Not only did I learn about my own body, its limitations and its expansiveness, this past weekend. But I also gained an amazing, eye-opening look at how my students practice. I have learned new ways to look at their bodies to see where they might have deep, anatomical/bone boundaries to their yoga. I have learned how they can shift and change and more importantly how I can guide them to get to those places.
Just by looking at myself and seeing the inside from the outside, I am a new yogi. I have learned to listen to my own words, to be my own best teacher and to change how the once broken wings fly.