Stepping away from the very interesting conversations about whether it’s OK to be late to yoga class that have been happening round here this week, let’s explore another facet of modifying yoga to your needs: modifying the shape of the poses.
I really love Amber Karnes. For one, the tattoos. For two, the honesty about body image stuff…
For three, this amazing guest post. If you didn’t know about her before, this should sell you. Read on!
Most of us have probably heard about the benefits of twists – improved digestion, “detoxing” the organs by gently massaging and squeezing them, stimulating bloodflow, as well as allowing the spine to experience a full range of motion. However, if your body is shaped less like a celery stalk and more like a butternut squash, twists may feel totally uncomfortable.
I’ll just come out and say it. I have a belly. I have thighs. In a twist, they meet each other rather quickly. Right away, I become very aware of my body shape as things squish into other things, my breathing feels constricted (because my diaphragm is getting smushed), and everything feels cramped up.
On a good day, I modify the pose, and I still get all the benefits of the twist. On a bad day, I look at the celery stalk next to me, looking blissful in some crazy twist plus bind, and think about how much it sucks to be a fat ass butternut squash.
Confronting the belly
I think it’s rather telling that when, out of curiosity, I googled “belly” and “yoga” in various configurations, nearly all the results look like this: getting a flat belly with yoga, burn belly fat with yoga, yoga poses for trimming belly fat, lose your belly with yoga – you get the idea. So much belly hate!
Confronting our bellies (and the confrontation is practically forced on us when we twist) can be daunting. I have a few ideas about how you can make friends with your belly (or at least come to a truce while you’re on your mat).
Visit a prenatal yoga class.
I am totally, 100% serious about this. During my yoga teacher training, I made the decision to take as many different classes as I could during one month. I probably took around 25 classes (I tried to go every single day). I made sure that I included prenatal yoga, as I wanted to experience all the different teachers and styles this studio had to offer. I introduced myself at the beginning of the class as being in teacher training, and although not pregnant, in solidarity – as I, too, had a belly.
The class floored me! All throughout, the teacher offered modifications for making room for the belly (which of course worked for me even though I was sans fetus), and in so many poses, encouraged us to lovingly touch our bellies. She would often say things like, “caress your belly, let your baby feel loved,” or “hold your belly, let your baby feel a mother’s embrace.” I stopped listening at “caress your belly/hold your belly” – and I did it. I have to tell you, this one class totally changed my relationship with my belly. How could I hate my belly? In that moment I could look around at other women lovingly holding and caressing what in some cases were bellies bigger than mine.
I really encourage you to do this. The teacher won’t care that you’re not pregnant. If you feel like you need a reason for being there, tell her it’s the only class you could make it to, say you’re considering teacher training, say you have a pregnant sister and want to know what it feels like, whatever! Take a prenatal class and tell me it didn’t affect your relationship with your belly, even just during that hour.
Stop comparing yourself to others.
I’ve written about this before. Stuff can get real ugly, real fast when we start comparing ourselves. Try to remember why you’re on the mat. Let go of expectations. Return to the breath. Stay in your body. Stop playing the reel of negative self talk. Are you thinking about your belly again? Go back to the breath over and over again. Stay present.
Still want to compare yourself to others? That’s ok. Check out this gallery of real bellies. Feel any differently?
Remember that you’re not a bunch of body parts.
Breasts, thighs, legs – what are you, a bucket of chicken? Your body is so much more than the sum of its parts. Thank your body for working in synergy in miraculous ways to carry you throughout your day. Oh, and tonight, do something nice for your body. We take care of the things that we value – show your body (including your belly) that it has worth by treating it to a massage, long bath, or a soft snuggly robe.
If all else fails, watch this video.
I am pretty sure it will make your day. I LOVE the diversity in this video – different body types, men, women, races, ages, and the kids are adorable! In the words of Dilly Gence, don’t suck that belly in, just breathe, let it out - which is actually really good advice. If you’re sucking in your belly during yoga, you probably aren’t breathing properly.
I nearly forgot, we were talking about twists, weren’t we? Every day can be a good twisty day if you know how to modify these wonderful poses for your body. Here are a couple of my favorites.
According to Yoga Journal, Bharadvaja, who this pose is named for, was one of seven legendary seers, credited with composing the hymns collected in theVedas. I’m also pretty sure he was a skinny Indian dude, because when I try to sit like this, I’m hilariously out of alignment. I can use a zillion props and get there, but I’d rather just do this twist in a chair. It’s easy and accessible, and even though my legs aren’t all fancy, it totally works.
Sit in a chair with the back of the chair at your side, instead of behind you. Place the feet flat on the floor and relax the shoulders away from the ears. Gently engage the trunk muscles by drawing the navel toward the spine (to make sure the spine is lengthened and the back supported). Now twist toward the back of the chair and grab the sides of the chair with your hands. Use the chair as leverage to pull gently into the twist. Focus on twisting through the thoracic spine (think about bringing the shoulders around rather than seeing how far you can wind up the lower back).
Marichi’s pose is the first pose I recall being totally nonplussed about during a yoga class. Everyone else was twisting into their bent knee and putting their elbow to the outside of their thigh like it was totally natural, and I was all, “WTF?” while holding my breath and trying valiantly. Now I just laugh. My body does not do this. Here’s how I handle Marichyasana:
Step 1 – sit in dandasana with the hips elevated. You can use folded blankets, but I really need the height here to keep my spine long, so I sit on two blocks, side by side. Maybe your butt can fit on one block. Try it out.
Step 2 – bend the left knee and draw the foot as close to the left sit bone as you can get. I like to widen my feet a little bit here just to make room for my belly. I also move the belly out of the way (more on this below).
Step 3 – hug the bent knee into the body and twist toward the bent leg. Use your fingertips on the ground (or on a block if you start to lean back) to support the length in your spine. Again, think about twisting from the belly up (pitching your shoulders into the twist) instead of cranking your lower back as far as it will go.
It’s totally cool to move your belly out of the way
And I’ve got the video to prove it:
My favorite lying twist
Step 1 – lie in partial recline (knees bent, soles of feet on floor) and let your arms come to shoulder height. Then cross your left leg over your right so the ankle comes past the knee.
Step 2 – press into your right foot and pick up your hips about an inch off the floor. Then scoot your hips over to the right so you’re sort of resting on your left butt cheek. Keep your legs in the same formation and gently lower your knees down to the left. So hips go right, knees go left. Keep both shoulders on the floor. Use the leverage of your left heel to pull on your right thigh to deepen the twist if that feels good. You can also place a block under your left knee if it doesn’t reach the floor (which is totally ok).
Get twisty with it
What twists are your favorite? Were these modifications new to you? Do you know of other ways to make twisting easier or suggestions on dealing with feelings that come up when you run into your belly? Tell me in the comments!