Each month we dig into a different asana by looking at common valves in major joints (spine, etc) and asking why do these valves or energy leaks occur? To answer that, we go under the hood and explore the asana’s kinesiology—what the muscles and bones are doing! This information lets us build valve “fixes,” practical teaching ideas you can try in your classes and privates. Each week builds on the next, giving you a month-long outline for how to help your students uncover their variation of the asana.
This week we face a classic asana challenge: truth.
In an asana class, students (that includes those of us who teach as well!) often dive into a variation of an offered pose that a) we want to do, b) the person next to us is doing, or c) the teacher is doing… instead of mindfully moving into the version that’s best for us to do. Which one is best? The one that honors your individuality and where you are in your practice.
Let’s talk about choosing a leg variation in navasana (boat pose) that honors your students and keeps them safe (avoiding physical strain or injury)!
The main valve we are looking at this week is choosing the wrong leg variation. Choosing a leg variation that is too advanced for your student’s strength and range of motion, will manifest in one (or both) of two ways:
External rotation in the hips- when the knees move away from one another and the ankles stay close
Lumbar flexion- rounding of the lumbar curve in the spine, i.e., it is no longer moving into the body but the curve moves away from the body, think child’s pose.
To assist your student in choosing the variation that builds strength, increases length, and keeps them safe, you can prepare them in three ways:
- Strengthen the muscles that need to be strengthened
- Hip flexors: iliopsoas and rectus femoris
- Hip adductors: adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, gracilis, pectineus
- Hip internal rotators: TFL, glute med, glute min
- Lengthen what needs to be lengthened
- The straight leg variation requires lots of length in the hip extensors: hamstrings and glute max
- Increase proprioception. This is the fun part!
- Most people don’t purposely choose a variation that’s not good for them, they just don’t know any better and aren’t being guided correctly.
Last week we talked at length about keeping the spine in neutral in navasana and all that is required to reap the core strengthening benefits. This week we need to choose a leg variation that doesn’t undo all of that good work.
Which leg variation preserves a long, neutral spine?
That’s a question we can help our students answer! How might we do that?
Teach them the practice of “taking it with you.”
When it comes to the spine, I like to help students find the brightest spine they can and then take it with them as they enter into the shape, stopping wherever they begin to lose clarity in the spine. But when they ease back to the safe side of their stopping point, their shape is still strong and clear. There’s no need to adjust their spine into alignment as often happens when we dive head first too far into pose.
How might your “take a neutral spine” into navasana leg variations this week?
First, make sure your students are very clear about what a neutral spine is for them. Playing with finding a neutral spine in different relationships to gravity is an important part of making sure they know how to find it again and again (see our post on keeping a long, neutral spine in navasana for details).
Then, address the muscles as needed, strengthening what needs to be strengthened and lengthening what needs to be lengthened. Below are some examples:
- Asana variations that strengthen the hip flexors, hip adductors, and hip internal rotators include utkatasana (fierce pose) with a block between the thigh, uttitha hasta padangusthasana (hand to big toe pose) without the toe hold (hands free!). Can you think of similar asana/actions?
- Asana that lengthen the hip extensors include ardha hanuman (half monkey god pose, half split) and parsvottanasana (one-sided intense stretch). What are other asana with the same action in the hip and knee?
Lastly, heighten their awareness of self: that’s proprioception!
Once you have prepared your students enough, then it’s time to play with the pose. Here’s one idea:
Navasana Leg Variation Play
- Have everyone start seated with knees bent, feet on the floor, and hands behind the thighs.
- Guide them to find their bright and aligned spine right on top of the sitting bones.
- Once there, offer leg variations one at a time, in order from easiest to hardest:
- both feet on the floor
- one foot off the floor shin parallel to the ground
- both feet off the floor with shins parallel to the ground
- one leg bent, one leg long
- both legs long with hands supporting thighs
- both legs long, no hands!
- Stop after each variation to have students check in with their spine and ask themselves the question: Did my spine change? If so, perhaps it’s best to back off to the previous version and work there to build strength!
Taking the time to guide your students into a pose through stages gives them room to observe and choose the best variation for them. Where else could you use this idea?! Head on over to Instagram (or twitter) and share your ideas with us, and be sure to use the hashtag #216INfrastructure!
Exploration of personal truth through this and all asana is one of the great aspects of the physical practice. We are called on not to do a pose the way it looks in a magazine or on our teachers but in the way that honors our personal journey. It is my hope that we all begin to guide our students to the understanding that choosing an “easier” variation, may in fact be the braver, more truthful and thus harder option!
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