Keep the questions coming! I don't have all the answers, but I'm happy to help where I can. Here are a few from this week:
Question 1: I'm just starting to practice yoga at the age of 46. Is that too old? Would it be possible for me to do challenging poses like headstand and crow?
Answer 1: Yoga is for everyone regardless of age, and 46 is a fine age to start. There's no such thing as too old! I wouldn't try headstand or crow right away, but definitely once you have a little practice, have built strength and confidence, I think you could definitely give them a try!
Question 2: I have a lot of trouble with tension in the neck and shoulders. In a lot of poses, I notice there isn't supposed to be any tension but I have trouble doing them without tensing. I try to focus on releasing the tension but it's a real struggle. Any suggestions?
Answer 2: I've been thinking about how to answer this for a few days, and this might sound weird, but maybe try telling yourself to release the tension in another way. Like, instead of saying to yourself, "release the tension" (cuz how often do we really do that? What does that actually mean? How do we actually do that?) try telling yourself to relax the shoulders away from the ears or to relax the shoulder blades down the back.
Also tune in to the spine. Make sure you're not compressing any area of the spine (especially in the neck area).
You can also modify by changing the direction of the gaze. Usually if a gaze up can trigger tension in the neck, so if that's the case, look ahead or straight down (like triangle pose, or above in reverse triangle pose, for example).
Question 3: I love yoga and I'm good in a lot of areas. However, when I do anything in terms of pigeon and working on the outer area of my hips I am like a novice. Tonight in my yin class we came into double pigeon and I needed three blocks under my knee to close the gap. What exercises would you suggest I do to help with this?
Answer 3: Ok, there's no shame in needing 3 blocks! Don't worry too much about that. Eventually, with practice, you'll be able to close the gap, provided it's just that you have tight hips and not bone compression in the hip joint. (You'd know if it were bone compression because it would feel like you're hitting a wall and can't go any further, whereas if you're tight, you can feel that with each exhale you can go a tiny bit further.)
I would suggest the pose shown above. That is a really great (and deep) hip opener. A tip for this pose: try not to let the back round.
Question 4: I'm 25, male, and a beginner yoga student that wasn't in bad shape until I started an office job three years ago. I've regressed since then, but even worse - I've never been remotely flexible. Can't touch my toes with my legs straight- never could. My question is: are there rookie stretches that I should do outside of yoga, or will the flexibility come naturally if I just keep bending my knees and keep my back straight?
Answer 4: No rookie poses, I'm afraid, but I have some tips! For a standing forward fold, just keep the back flat and knees bent like you are doing - but keep actively trying to gently straighten, finding your "edge" and always moving within a pain-free range and breathe deeply. I can't stress enough how important the breath is. Breathe in and out through the nose, and think of it as a three part breath, breathing first into the stomach, then the ribs and finally the chest. Then exhale from the chest, to the ribs and the stomach (drawing the navel in toward the spine as you empty the air out). What I do think would help you greatly is a yoga block and a strap. Doing each one of these poses with a block (with the exception of the bridge pose) will be helpful in opening up the hips and hamstrings. While on a block, use a strap with your seated forward fold (shown here) to help pull your torso forward. Keep your back flat and chest forward. It may be really frustrating at first because it sounds like there's a lot of tightness. But keep at it because with a little practice each day you'll see tremendous improvement.
PS- More yoga questions answered.