Question 1: Hi Candace! I graduated from a yoga school that has many rules regarding asanas and the process it takes to get to master them. For example, if you can't do one style of inversion, they won't let you progress or even try to do another one (even though there are a lot of people who can't do the simple ones, yet they can do a handstand). Also, they try to make people respect this process by scaring them away from some asanas saying, "they are not safe, therefore, we won't practice them at this school" or "that asana is forbidden here". I'd noticed this for a while (I left that school after I graduated RYT500), since I try to attend as many workshops and trainings I can. My main problem is, whenever I attend certain classes/workshops/trainings people are dauntless! I mean they would be practicing hollow backs, handstands, without any trouble or fear. I find myself really frustrated sometimes, because I do have the strength and flexibility required, yet, I'm unable to let go of the "fear" imposed to me at my past school. Do you have any advice? I am having a lot of trouble lately (with my practice), mostly with several inversions, jumps, and backbends; and it's all because I am scared of doing the asanas.
On the other hand, I am worried that my teaching is suffering due to these "rules" I had. I've changed my sequencing throughout time. I do not teach as I was taught, but more how I am learning to teach constantly. I try and incorporate things I like from different yoga styles, but I really want my students to not be scared and try new things. Do you have any advice?
Answer 1: One of my best friends once told me that freedom lies in letting go. It sounds like you feel a bit trapped by your past teachings. How can you let go of the fear you're holding onto? One thing you could try is sifting through what you've learned (maybe look at journals or notes you kept during your training) and see if you can extract what you love and find value in, and let go of the rest. Apply the lessons that have spoken to you to your own personal practice and let it blossom. Forget about inversions and backbends and whatever else you're struggling with and just get on the mat and let the practice move you. It will come naturally once the fear is gone, and it will flow into your life as an instructor as well. Avoid getting too down on yourself. The fact that you are questioning your teachings, seeking answers, keeping an open mind and striving to be the best instructor you can be means that you are already a fantastic practitioner.
Question 2: Can you recommend some books on yoga theory and practice? I'm interested in reading about the different styles, mudras, etc. Thank you!
Answer 2: Sure. I have read Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga book, and found that to be really useful. Hell Bent was great (review here) that explores competitive yoga and Bikram yoga. This Yoga Anatomy has excellent graphics to show which part of the body each pose is focused on. And this Mudras book looks like it would be helpful.
Question 3: Hello Candace, I am new to yoga. I am just learning and slowly getting stronger. I am overweight and I have somewhat of a belly. I am finding that my belly is getting in the way when doing knee to chest poses and in instances where I have to bring a foot forward into a lunge or side twist from downward dog, for example. I find I am splaying my knee wide around my belly with my belly hanging between my knees.instead keeping everything in line. This is putting a lot of strain on my hips and I fear I am teaching my body incorrect postures. How can I adapt these poses and work around this belly until I (hopefully) lose it?
Also I have been diagnosed with Cervical Spinal Stenosis. My neurologist told me to be very careful with my yoga - to neither tilt my head backwards, nor raise my arms above my head. Do you have any advice for me in keeping with parameters set forth by the neurologist until I get in for my spinal surgery?
Answer 3: Well I would definitely listen to the neurologist no matter what info you may find online or from any yoga instructor. Safety first, right? :) As for how to do poses to accommodate the belly - I wrote a bit about that here. Basically the key to modifying poses is to make sure you are finding the center point of balance. If you are feeling off balance and really wobbly in a pose, regroup and go inward to find your center point and then work from there.
With yoga poses, the foundation in the most important. It's what keeps us stable in the pose. You specifically asked about transitions from downward dog to the front of the mat and said the knee tends to come out to accommodate the belly. That's perfectly fine, provided that your foot is directly under the knee or slightly in front of it. Essentially, you're just taking a wider stance with the feet, which is recommended. When your knee is in line with the foot and not splayed out to one side, then your alignment is on point and there shouldn't be any sensation in the hips. I hope that's helpful!
Question 4: Hi Candace, I really love following your blog and all the great yoga resources you share! I have recently started meditation and I am trying to do this in a basic seated pose. I find that after a while my lower back starts hurting, and of course it begins to interfere with the meditation. In general I always struggle with any forward bending poses - my legs don't straighten out and I feel a lot of tension trying to reach forward (and my lower back gets sore). Why do you think this is, and are there any poses I can do to try to fix this?
Answer 4: Thanks for the kind words about my blog! That's great you're starting a meditation practice! It's definitely tough physically, though - you are for sure not alone in that! My legs constantly fall asleep in meditation. But that's different from actual pain like you're describing with your low back.
Pain in the low back and tight hamstrings like you describe go hand in hand and are a common problem. I would recommend working on lengthening the hamstrings with my yoga video for low back. Try doing it three times a week (or more, if you can) and see if you notice improvement. It's one of those things that doesn't actually feel that great while doing it, but helps so much in the long run.
If you need some immediate relief from the low back pain in meditation, try using a yoga block as shown above. Sit on the edge of the block and tilt your pelvis forward so you have a long spine. Do the meditation seated like this, and you may find that your low back doesn't bother you with the support of the block.
PS- Other ways to use a yoga block.
Question 5: Can you do a post on sugar cane? Is it supposed to be more of a quad stretch and back bend or a hip opener? You see pictures of it looking like a crazy hip opener with yogis basically doing the splits and holding onto their foot way above their body but then when I search how to do it the right way, it seems like more of a quad stretch where you are pulling your foot more parallel to the floor. Of course the advanced yogis look "prettier" doing the splits way but it seems like such a different pose. Which one is "right" or are there just multiple variations? Thanks!
Answer 5: Sugar cane pose is a variation of half-moon pose and will look different on different people because it all depends on the flexibility in the legs and hips. There isn't one "right" way to do it, and different people will incorporate different things, like opening the chest for more of a backbend or they'll keep the chest neutral. Do whatever feels best for you, and you may find that as your practice grows the pose will change for you as well.
Question 6: What kind of yoga do you suggest for rheumatoid arthritis? I can't put any weight on my hands/wrists.
Answer 6: Check out this post on yoga for arthritis and see if that helps a bit. If you want a more athletic practice, I would just do a regular power practice but modify any poses on the hands/wrists by coming onto the forearms. If you prefer a more calming practice, I'd recommend my 30 minute restorative yoga video. This is entirely in seated and supine positions so the wrists/hands shouldn't have a problem. Hope that helps!
PS- More yoga questions.