Read on to find out how to personalise your yoga. Adam Hocke explains how changing your approach can make yoga poses work for you and transform your experience on the mat each and every day.
Yoga is not one-size-fits-all. It would be much easier if there was one right way to execute every pose. However, there are so many variations between different bodies that it’s impossible to have only one way of aligning a shape. Not to mention the fact that depending on how you practise them, poses can offer different stretches, strength-building experiences, and ways of simply feeling the embodied experience of being you. There’s also the not insignificant reality that individuals come to yoga practice for different reasons, all of which can play out in the way we use and explore postures. This is a long way of saying that the reality of yoga practice means you must constantly make choices of how you use your body and how you use poses to meet your needs and work for you. The role of the teacher is to offer you well-informed options based on their experience and understanding, and the role of the student is to take ownership of their own practice and body.
Make yoga poses work for you
Here are three easy and practical ways of personalising the way you work with your body and heart on the mat.
The simplest choice you can make is ‘how hard do I want to work today?’ Sometimes it’s right and appropriate to push it until you are a puddle of sweat, and sometimes it’s the absolute right choice to spend most of the time in rest. Only you know what type of day it is. Most of the time I recommend avoiding the extremes on either end and finding a zone where you can sustainably challenge yourself in a way that feels like growth and learning. Watch out for times where it feels like really hard work in only one spot. Spread effort and sensation throughout the whole of you. Remember you are in charge of choosing your practice intensity every time a teacher offers you options. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to. And just because you ‘can’t’ do something doesn’t mean you can’t try.
Hands and Feet
Sometimes yoga teachers like to be painfully specific about where we place our hands and feet. It might be the case that common cues like ‘feet together’ or ‘line your front heel up to your back arch’ work for you. It might also be the case that is a terribly uncomfortable thing to do. Without getting into an anatomy lecture, this is because not everyone has the same skeleton, so it’s a bit presumptuous to think we can pin down helpful alignment with standard and absolute cues. So, remember you can decide and can explore the width of your hands and feet in any position. For example: as you stand, as you lie down for backbends, and as you come into down dog or warrior poses feet can come closer together or wider apart until you find strength and stability and avoid any niggles. You can even turn your hands and feet out or in to explore different angles and rotations. Let go of the idea that there is only one way to do a pose. Too often I’ve encountered students struggling with shapes simply because they had been told to position themselves in one absolute and unshifting ‘right’ way. Try a lot of different options and see what feels best and allows you to get what you want to out of a pose.
Why are you practising a pose? Where do you want to stretch? Where do you want to strengthen? What do you want to feel? What do you want to explore? How does this relate to why you got onto the mat in the first place?
If we’re adopting a more proactive approach to our practices, we need to keep coming back again and again to these questions and how they relate to our intentions. By intention, I mean your overall intention for practice as well as your intentions for each individual shape you make. It’s okay if you don’t know just yet what an intention for something like warrior two might be. As you practice more, you will learn what these poses can offer and how to individualise your experience of them. For now, stay open and curious and with each choice you are offered, make the practice your own.