Some postures come easy, some feel almost impossible. We all must live within our bodies and their inherent limits. Sure we can do things to improve skill and coordination, we can train to get stronger and build endurance and we can stretch to become more flexible.
One thing I haven’t found an exercise to help me with; lengthening my arms. I am a fully grown man. The likelihood of my arms getting any longer is pretty slim. Why is that important? I have T-Rex arms. In proportion to the length of my body, my arms are short.
This gives me a few challenges both on the mat and off. Off the mat, dress shirts; if I get one that fits my arms, it’s too short to tuck in properly. If I get one to fit my body, the cuffs end at about my fingertips.
On the mat it means that certain postures are impossible without a little help. To demonstrate, sit with your legs extended in front of you. Lengthen your spine by reaching the crown of your head up. Next place your arms alongside your body. Notice what part of your hand touches the ground next to your hip. Are your arms straight or a little bent? Most people will have their palms flat on the ground and a little bend at the elbows. Me, I have my arms completely straight and my palms are about a quarter inch above the ground.
With that in mind, let’s look at a posture such as the low lunge. Because of the ratio of my arm to body length, I have a great deal of difficulty with this posture. I am unable to fully touch the ground when I in the proper alignment and I end up resting my weight on my front leg. As a result, my breathing is greatly restricted and it is difficult to engage my core for stability. So how do I deal with that?
I modify and I use props. By placing a block on either side of my front leg, I get the extra length in my arms to support myself and keep a proper alignment moving into, out of and sustaining this posture. As a result this posture has moved from one that I either collapsed into or cheated through to one that is challenging and engaging.
In addition to postures that would otherwise not be physically possible, props and posture modifications are great ways to build strength in new areas, or rebuild after an injury. Being self-aware and knowing your own limits, as well as your strengths, is one of the goals of yoga. Putting props and modifications into use during your practice allows you to challenge yourself with new postures.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to be dissecting a number of postures to highlight some of my favorite modifications and props. The first one I’ll tackle; Chatarunga.