5 Little Changes to Make to Your Practice

There are always little changes we can make to our practice, even after years and years on the mat.  A subtle movement here or there can make a big difference to how a pose feels or how it benefits your body.  In this week’s Top 5 Blog, I have listed 5 little changes you can make to your practice today!

  1. Externally rotate your shoulders.  This tip is useful in a pose like downward-facing dog where we tend to sag in the shoulders to try and achieve a flattened upper back.  By “sag,” I mean that the shoulders rotate inward, towards the ears. The next time you are in downward dog, try to rotate the shoulders away from the ears. If this action sounds confusing, think instead about the upper arm rotating away from the ear. This action can help to activate the muscles in the arms and prevent hanging into the shoulder joint, which over time can cause pain in the shoulder.  If you have trouble with this movement, it can help to rotate the hands outward slightly to encourage the same action in the shoulder.
  2. Spread your toes and distribute your weight evenly on the feet.  This tip applies to many poses, but we’ll look at a simple Tadasana, or mountain pose.  In mountain pose, the feet are the root of the pose.  They help to create stability in the pose.  An exercise to strengthen that sense of stability, is to lift all 10 toes off of the mat and spread them apart as much as possible, before placing them back down on the mat.  This gives you a wider base with which to grip the mat. An additional exercise after you’ve spread your toes, is to determine if your weight is distributed evenly on the feet.  First, rock forward on the feet and see what it feels like to have the weight in the front of the foot, then rock all the way back, then to each side and finally come to a place that is right in the center of those 4 extremes.
  3. Spread your fingers and distribute your weight evenly on the hands. This tip is similar to #2 above, but no less important.  I will use downward-facing dog as an example. Before even coming into the pose, it is important to spread the fingers, (avoid spreading the thumb so wide that you can longer effectively grip with it) which again gives you a wide base to grip the mat. You want to grip the mat with every inch of your hand, — from your finger pads to your palms. The more you grip the mat with the muscles of the hand, the less weight your are leaving in the wrist, which over time can cause pain in the joint.  Keep this engagement in the hand as you push up into the pose.
  4. Engage the core.  Engaging the core is an important action in nearly every yoga pose.  I will use downward-facing dog again as an example. In the pose, it is important to imagine pulling the bellybutton in towards the spine to activate the muscles in the abdomen. This action can help to protect the lower back and shoulders from bearing too much of the body’s weight. Similarly, in the plank pose, if you imagine pulling the bellybutton in towards the spine, you are starting to use your abdominal muscles to hold you up instead of sinking into the shoulder joint and lower back to maintain the pose.
  5. Don’t forget to breathe.  This is going to sound simple, but the next time you are holding an arm balance or practicing an inversion or even child’s pose, see what your breath is doing.  Most of the time, if you aren’t focused on your breath, you are likely taking shallow breaths or holding it entirely! This is probably more common in difficult poses, but if your mind is somewhere else, it can happen in any pose.  Make it a point to check in with your breath in every pose, trying to keep it long and steady.