As a yoga teacher (and often as a chiropractor), I find its easy to forget how influential things you say idly in passing can be. Just this past December, I was teaching a holiday-themed yoga class. It came time to instruct Tree pose and I remember saying: “As a class, you’re like a forest full of Christmas trees. If you look the best, you’ll the one to be cut down!” The whole class laughed uncomfortably, (hopefully) realizing that I didn’t really mean what I said to be literal.
That particular joke was easy to brush off yet I can imagine it was very distracting. But, when the tables have been turned and I have been a student, there are several things that I have heard that have left an impression. Here are my top five:
“Turn your palms up, bend at the elbows and reach your hands back towards your shoulders in child’s pose.”
Technically , I guess this is the just the best variation on a yoga pose I’ve learned, but I use this modification almost every time so I think it’s worth mentioning. There’s not much more to this except that from the above position you can walk your elbows forward for even a deeper triceps stretch.
“When I first started yoga, my feet started spreading and expanding. I learned it’s important to go barefoot and my shoe size went up”
Very early in my exposure to yoga, I was in a class with a fabulous, new-ish teacher. She had not been accustomed to going barefoot prior to beginning a practice of yoga and was tickled pink that her toes still managed to spread apart. She shared with us how dramatically her foot size changed (I believe it was two full sizes) and how excellent she felt now.
At the time, I was still learning about the plasticity of the body and its ability to support itself with the right tools. I think the minimalist movement of other disciples (i.e. barefoot running) may not be right for everyone, but I do encourage people to build the intrinsic muscles of their feet whenever possible. Yoga and the conscious effort to keep weight evenly distributed across your feet is an excellent way to do that.
“When I first started yoga, I didn’t like myself very much.”
This particular phrase hit me like a ton of bricks during Half Moon pose in a Bikram yoga class. What the teacher was referring to was the importance of maintaining shoulder depression, even in poses such as Half Moon during which you are reaching over your head. However, the implication was that the tendency for this teacher to shrug her shoulders had to do with her poor body image. Since starting yoga, this teacher realized the benefit to be had from relaxing her shoulders and breathing into her belly, rather than in the upper part of her chest. I do tend to find this pattern in people who are of the “go, Go, GO!” mentality and dealing with anxiety on some level.
[While in spinal twist] “It’s like a chiropractic adjustment.”
Grrrrrr. Obviously, this teacher didn’t know her audience. Those noises you hear are in fact the release of gas from between your joints and in the chiropractic world we call them cavitations. It’s the same sound you hear when you crack your knuckles or your knees. When they happen in yoga class, such as in a spinal twist, I call them “incidental cracks.” What I mean by this is that you aren’t performing the movement with the intention to “crack” your joint and typically involved less force and less torque.
Have you ever seen someone twist their neck to crack it? Or grab the back of their chair to twist their low back? Those are “non-incidental cracks.” People in the habit of cracking their own backs may actually be contributing to instability (too much movement) in some of the joints of the back and enhancing the restrictions (too little movement) in others. This can speed up future degenerative processes and can predispose someone to injury.
When a chiropractor administers an adjustment, it is intended to be specific and target the joints that aren’t moving properly. This is easier said than done but, hey, that’s what we’re trained to do.
“Turn your palms up so that you can give and receive energy from the universe.”
I think we’ve all heard this, or a version of this, in poses like Tree, Mountain, or Savasana. The first time I was introduced to this concept in class it was a very powerful message. In Savasana, this can sometimes be difficult for people anatomically. Many people who have what I call “gorilla posture” (rounded shoulders and neck) have a difficult time externally rotating their arms.
I still have some days when this pose is difficult for me, but I repeat the above mantra in my head and make a conscious decision to try to both give and receive positive energy. I especially like to apply this principle in Tree pose because I can spread and extend my fingers above my head, making me feel like the center of a lightning sphere of positive vibes giving and receiving to the globe around me.
Rachel Wiegand has been an athlete her whole life but yoga has been the only constant throughout moves and life changes. A former personal trainer, she is now a practicing chiropractor in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and enjoys helping patients find a physical activity that fits their lifestyle best. In addition to yoga, she practices Pilates and is an avid Crossfitter. On her weekends you can find her teaching yoga at CrossFit Sheboygan, with her hubby at Lake Michigan on her paddleboard, or at the dog park with her boxers, Dug and Rosco.