September, a time to transition
Ahhh, transitions. Who likes them?
Usually when things change in life there is a period of adjustment. A period of suspension like the moment before the drop of a rollercoaster. That place requires faith because we are not in control.
Often, our instinct is not to focus on the faith part but more on the out of control part. And focusing on that uncomfortable sensation makes us want those transitions over with as soon as possible. Off the mat that can lead to us making rash decisions, stopping before we even start or never trying at all.
Enter, yet again, our yoga practice. Each time we practice on the mat, we experience moment after moment after moment of transition. And maybe, just maybe, if we start to focus on moving through those moments consciously and with integrity, we can start to do the same thing off the mat.
To that end, we are focusing this month on the transitions within the “vinyasa” that we flow through over and over in each vinyasa class as we move from the front of the mat to the back and then forward again.
Some of us float lightly like birds taking flight and some of us feel more like lead weights thunking around. And most of us feel lost some place in between. This is the month to change that!
We are giving a full month to the space in between. And we hope it helps ease this month of transition just a bit! (As I sit here and write this, I am coming back to work 10 weeks after the birth of my first baby – a BIG transition practice!)
How do we get from the front of the mat to the back?
You have heard it many many times, and if you are a teacher, you have said it many many many times: ardha uttanasana (half forward fold), uttanasana (forward fold) …step or float to the back of your mat.
But which of those is a yogi to choose?
Stepping back seems easy enough… and floating back looks so pretty… but who on earth can do that?!
So, let’s start with the option to step back.
We will start there for 3 important reasons:
- Almost no one does it correctly
- The core strength required to do it correctly will help you with your float
- Floating back is most definitely a blog for another day 😉
Let’s break down the step back using common cues as an entry point.
Often a teacher will say:
“Place your hands down on either side of your feet”, guiding you to make one straight line with your hands and feet.
Doing this requires a LOT of spinal flexion and even more hip flexion – range in hip flexion that many of us don’t have. Attempting this deep hip flexion before you have the range to do it with ease (i.e., safely) can aggravate existing low back compression (which can lead to injury).
Instead let’s try this:
Bending the knees, place the hands down, lining the thumbs up with the angle of the toes so that your hands are slightly wider than and in front of your feet – that is, place them as wider and forward as they need to be for you to plant your palms flat. Please use blocks as needed to get a firm plant in the palms; it is necessary for the next part of the step back.
Often the teacher will say:
“Step the right foot back.” And so you do.
But do you know where you are stepping it back to? We want the foot to remain in line with its hip and due to habitual patterns we all have, it’s important not to take for granted that you are doing this.
Let’s try this:
For a few practices, or as long as it takes, watch yourself place the right foot at the back of the mat and note whether it lands off center out of habit. Begin to train yourself to eliminate the habit and land the foot in line with its hip first while looking, and then without looking.
Often the teacher will say:
“Step the left foot back.” And so you do.
BUT DID YOU JUST HEAR THAT SOUND? A big mat swipe sound envelopes the room and a chance for intense core strengthening is lost.
Let’s try this:
With the palms planted on the floor or on blocks as needed, pick your foot up off of the floor (using your hip flexors and core muscles) and lift your knee + foot in towards your chest, rounding the spine and spreading the shoulder blades wide. Then step the foot back without swishing the mat or landing with a thud.
Note: if you are stepping into adho mukha svanasana (down dog), try keeping the thigh as close to the chest as possible during the whole transition and only at the last moment place it to the mat for down dog.This gives you more time in an action that strengthens the hip flexors, and trains the ability to lift the hips high when floating back.
Take time to transition
Take each of the above and practice them over and over as part of a home practice or as part of a class you are teaching. A great way to start to gain consciousness over transitions is to make them the star action and not just the thing that happens while you are getting to the other thing!
A great tip from Bo Forbes is to take up to 6 breaths to complete each of the above moments. Taking that kind of time with tiny sections of a transition is a great way to build strength and an even better way to observe and gain consciousness!
How do you stay conscious in transitions on and off the mat? We want to hear from you! Let us know in the comments below.
PS. Have you looked into our Functional Anatomy for Yoga Teachers program yet? You’ll learn all about why shapes like lunge are tricky for many students and how to make them accessible. Check it out and see whether it’s the right continuing ed for you.
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