Yoga is a deep and rich experience of body, breath and awareness, but sometimes the depth of our practice is hindered by slippery palms, niggling aches and minor discomforts that keep the awareness from moving deeper into the joy of the present-moment focus that our asana practice delivers. Here are a few “quick fixes” to allow you to experience the depth of your practice with more comfort and less distraction.
If you find your palms or feet are sliding, causing you to hold tension in the shoulders and hips to prevent slipping, there are a few solutions available.
1) place a handtowel or folded yoga strap under the palms or feet. Manduka makes an excellent practice towel in small sizes perfect for hands, or a full-size to place over the whole mat. They also double as a quick-drying sport/adventure towel and I take mine everywhere. A “Shamwow” is also a great alternative. This fix is only suitable once you are sweaty, if you are dry you will find yourself slipping more.
2) cut a few hand-size strips of “grip-mat”, the kind that you place under floor mats or use to open jars. Their open weave allows sweat to drip through and gives a non-stick surface. You can often buy this off the roll at home improvement centres quick inexpensively.
3) There are a variety of brands of yoga gloves and socks that have non-stick grips. Brands like Toesox, Yogapaws, and Wags not only provide non-slip surfaces but are also great for preventing wrist pain.
4) Get a good quality mat and keep it clean. When your mat is new it has a manufacturing film on it that needs to be cleaned off, and when it’s well used it will be slippery with dust and dried sweat; a water/vinegar solution works great, or for a more fragrant mat cleaning recipe visit our “featured articles” section at www.yogatrinity.com A “great mat” is personal preference, but my own favourite is the Manduka black mat. I hear great things though about Jade Yoga, Kulae, and Lululemon.
In our teacher trainings we often have a few students who have really flexible necks, and in poses like Cobra, Upward Facing Dog, Camel, Fish and Wheel/Upward Facing Bow where the head is tilted back they find their neck strained, their breath inhibited and even dizziness can result from this hyper-extension. If you suffer from the same “flip-top-head” syndrome, try taking a hand-towel rolled into a long tube and wrapping it behind the neck, securing the ends loosely around the throat with an elastic band. This will give the head some much-needed support in the backbends and prevent hyper-extension of the neck.
Wood floors are the preferred surface to practice Yoga on, but for some students the contact between sensitive joints like wrists, ankles, knees and spine can be really uncomfortable. In Yoga we work towards our edge, “the space between comfort and discomfort”, however pressure on the joints is not your “edge” space, it’s just darned uncomfortable – and you can take some simple fixes to alleviate this. Stacking 2 mats is an easy fix for the whole body, and one that we use often when students have thin “studio mats” on a hard surface. but if you find it’s just the wrists or knees, double up the mat under these joints during poses where they need a little more support. When practicing Pilates, during “rolling” techniques taking your folded blanket into the middle mat to support the spine is a good idea.
Asymmetry – Yoga Inside the Lines:
Students often write to me or discuss after class that they often find themselves a bit askew after certain poses. As our asana practice is designed to help us find a left/right balance in the body (and beyond!), it is helpful to have some reference points to know when your body has drifted from alignment, is leaning to the dominant side, or has lost it’s symmetry.
1) align your mat with the floorboards, walls or other straight reference points in your Yoga room. Your eyes play a huge role in your alignment so try to give your eyes some clear signs of symmetry to rely on.
2) draw or tape lines on your mat; one line a few inches from the top, one line a few inches from the bottom, and one running vertically down the centre. This will give you great guidelines as to where to place the body, and will also serve as a reference point for when you have stepped “out of line”
3) know when it’s time to chuck the above suggestions and dance your practice “outside the lines”.
Balancing Body and Mind:
Do you find yourself tipping over, wobbling precariously or straining to maintain balance in home practice or in class? Well, that’s what our balancing poses are all about, but if you are finding your balancing poses presenting a physical or mental obstacle (do you dread that part of the sequence?) why not take a page out of the book of Feng Shui or Vastu (the ancient arts of placement and design) and get a turtle on your back. In these schools of harmonious placement we feel most balanced and supported when we are close to a solid, stable structure (a turtle). Why not take your balancing poses next to a wall on those days when your poise and equilibrium are challenged and give yourself some psychic support?
Enjoying Savasana – Relaxation
Our Yoga practice leads us to the enjoyable experience of Savasana – Corpse Pose, where the intention is the completely let go of any work in the body/mind, and simply “take rest”. However, many of us find it challenging to maintain this posture as tensions, restlessness in the body/mind can be great distractions. Ultimately, this pose simply requires you to “show up” daily, and it will improve. However, to enhance your experience today, try these fixes for common issues:
1) If your eyes open, or squeeze too tightly, or you become distracted by shapes and shadows behind your eyes try placing an eye pillow over your eyes. It is preferable to have your own eye pillow, and you can make one most simply with a (clean) sock filled with lentils or rice.
2) If you find your lower back pinching, place a rolled blanket or pillow under the thighs/knees to allow your back to rest easily on the ground. If no blanket is available, bend the knees, walk the feet to the outer edges of the mat, and drop the knees together to rest against one another.
3) If you find your head tilting back or tension in your neck, place a folded blanket under your head – ideally your chin will be perpendicular to the ground.
4) Your body temperature will drop quickly in this pose, so a blanket or large shawl over the body will remove the distraction of temperature.
5) If your hands hold tension, and this is often especially an issue for typists and those who work with their hands, try putting eye pillows in your palms to relax the hands and wrists.
6) To reduce excess “movement” in the body/mind you can try placing an eye pillow on your lower belly – it’s surprisingly effective!
7) Remember that Yoga is a process, and some days we have a sweet Savasana, and some days we have a sour Savasana, and as long as you are showing up, that is all that matters.
First published in the Mind Body Messenger newsletter 2010