Adjusting to your individual needs
- Tips for a daily yoga (home) practice part 2 -
Earlier I already gave 6 practical tips to make your yoga practice a daily thing, which you can find HERE. By, on top of that, tuning in to what your body tells you, your yoga practice becomes even more therapeutic and even easier to continue to perform on a daily basis.
Tuning in to your body and circumstances
One of the great benefits of a yoga home practice is that you can adapt it to whatever you need that day. What this is changes with time, practice and circumstances. If all goes well, your yoga home practice will therefore also look different over time & on different days. What doesn't change is that there is always something you can do.
Avoid personal extremes
Asana is not about taking extreme poses. What is extreme, however, is very personal.
For example, some people have sometimes labeled yoga postures that were very mild for me as extreme. This doesn’t help for having a conversation about it (but even has the tendency to be polarising) because those yoga postures work very therapeutically in my case. Just as some other yoga poses that are currently not within my reach can even be therapeutic for another person as a warm-up. It's more about why you practice a certain yoga pose in a specific way.
A yoga posture is extreme for you personally if it comes at the expense of your health.
Not all bodies are going to be able to make all shapes. On the other hand, the body is miraculous. So amazing that it is impossible to say what a body can do in the future.
The higher the density of a body part, the slower it changes. However, slow does not mean impossible. Like bones, stone doesn't change quickly. However, a continuous flow of water can change the shape of the stone. Allow your body the time it needs while practicing consistently with integrity. The body is organic and slowly adapts to what is asked of the body.
Just as much as you don't want to go beyond what comes at the expense of your health, it isn’t helpful either to avoid what is helpful to your health. So it's about finding that point that for you personally is both not avoiding or extreme. This point of balance is constantly changing. So you will have to keep checking in with yourself to find that point over and over again.
Focus on what you can do
Instead of focusing on what you can't do, focus on what you can do. This helps both for mental peace and for doing the actual work that improves your capabilities.
That doesn't mean you can skip steps. But there is always something you can do.
Some factors that can help with adjusting yoga poses to your needs are:
- Figure out the purpose of the yoga pose. What body area does it target (and why)?
- Where do you need more strength of flexibility to focus on this purpose?
- What are your options?
- What is so easy for you that you have the tendency to overuse it? What is difficult for you and are you often avoiding?
- How can you create the stepping stones that enable the next step?
- How do you maintain integrity in the yoga posture?
- Are there props that would help you?
- Feel! Feel the sensations. Feel the effect of adjustments in your body. Where do you feel it in your body? Does it feel better, worse, or do you need anything else? Does it feel heavy/difficult because you're forcing something or because you're doing the work to create more balance and the muscles are just working hard?
Asymmetry is normal and yet it gives you some clues
The body is not symmetrical. For example, the placement of the organs in your body is asymmetric. This asymmetry also affects other body parts, because the movement of one body part influences the adjacent body part, creating chains of patterns.
Further, because the body adapts to what is asked of it, habits also have a lot of influence on the asymmetry in the body. For example because you are left- or right-handed, or because you drive a lot (and the left foot is active in a different way than the right foot), or that you often lean more on one leg, or always carry your bag over the same shoulder. In all those cases, what is asked from the left versus the right side of the body structurally differs (to which the body adapts). It is therefore quite normal that the left hip is more or less flexible than your right hip, that one leg is stronger than the other, etc. So, it’s also very normal for the left hip to be more or less flexible than your right hip, for one leg to be stronger than the other, etc.
Instead of just practicing the side you're already good at (or the other way around by just focusing on the side that can't do yet what the other side is able to do already), it's often more helpful to practice both sides with just a little more time and attention for the side that would benefit from catching up.
And of course to reflect on if it would be helpful and reasonable to change something in your daily habits that causes the asymmetry. Sometimes it is, sometimes not.
Mobility & awareness of your patterns
Mobility limitations are not so much determined by strength or flexibility, but by whether flexibility is supported by strength and strength is balanced by flexibility. Do you still have the support of strength and control in your deepest expression of a yoga pose?
Partly it has to do with awareness of how to practice the yoga postures. We naturally tend to use what we are already good at. Unconsciously our nervous system even guides us in that direction via the already existing paths in our nervous system. Whether this is helpful depends on whether you use it to find more balance between strength and flexibility or whether there comes a bigger gap between them. It’s more about becoming as strong as you are flexible and as flexible as you are strong.
It is for example not helpful if it causes you to put too much pressure on your joints. This can often happen to hypermobile people without them realizing it. Especially because it is initially often more difficult for them to feel which limit the joints themselves indicate and as a result hang in their flexibility. (Nevertheless, with a lot of practice, hypermobile people can also become very competent to even feel the slightest sensations in the ligaments around the joints).
Or vice versa, by not giving the body the necessary time to build up flexibility, which can lead to a knee or hamstring injury.
Flexibility can often help to align your body in such a way that there is more natural support for your body (from the stacking of the bones), so that you need less strength to be in that position. And strength can help create space in another part of your body. For example, contracting your thigh muscles in a forward bend like Paschimottanasana or Prasarita Padottanasana (also known as Dandayamana Bikhatapatha Paschimottanasana or Standing Separate Leg Stretching pose) helps to create more space in the hamstrings and stretch your spine away from the hips. Or using the abs to create more rounding in the back (for example in rabbit pose - Sasangasana). You could consciously use what is naturally easier for you to work on your challenges.
Balance difficult and easy work
Do you also work on things that are difficult for you (but would create more balance or physical/mental health) or do you only work on things that feel easy?
Although working on the yoga poses that are easy for you may get you on the yoga mat (consistently and) easier, there is a good chance that you will exaggerate what is already strong or flexible, while what is more vulnerable in your body will come under more pressure. As a result, patterns are not only maintained, but you also increase the chance of injuries.
Another reason to also work on challenging poses is that it also can be used to work on many yoga values. Such as acceptance, concentration, creativity, compassion, honesty, enthusiasm, hope, integrity, compassion, gentleness, detachment, contentment, endurance, wonder, appreciation, self-confidence and caring.
In that process itself you can also use your competencies to work on your challenges. Like using a yoga value that comes natural to you to work on a challenging yoga value. For example, maybe you have a caring personality, but equanimity is challenging for you. Can you think about a way how you can use your caring qualities to work on equanimity?
A few questions to reflect on are:
- Which body parts do you personally overuse and what are you still using too little?
- What do you need in order to approach this more therapeutically?
- What are you already good at and how can you use this to work on what you need the most?
Your why for adjustments
The yoga method is there to support you and your spiritual development. Since it is to support you, it also makes sense to adapt the yoga postures to your possibilities and circumstances (instead of adapting yourself to the yoga postures). In order to be able to do that, you need to know the goal of your adjustments: your why.
Sometimes it is obvious, such as with an injury or your current level of energy. Sometimes it is a bit vague, but you are still able to feel intuitively how to adjust the yoga posture to your needs. Still, the more clarity around why you need an adjustment in the first place, the better you can address them. It also clarifies whether you are making adjustments to make it more therapeutic or because you are actually avoiding something.
It helps if you can enjoy your yoga practice. If you enjoy working on something that is challenging for you, this shouldn't be a problem. However, if it becomes one big struggle, it is much more difficult to keep stepping on the yoga mat every single day.
So it’s essential to find the balance between practicing what you really enjoy and doing the challenging practice that you need. Choose a distribution that works for you, where you are still likely to keep your practice consistently.
Whether that's 80% what you need and 20% what you really like, or 50/50 or maybe even 80% what you like, 20% what you need. Find a balance that works for you right now and see if you can gradually change the balance more towards practicing what you need most. And learn to enjoy the work.
This distribution may also differ from day to day. However, every day that you also work (whether a lot or a little) on what you actually need most and is more difficult for you, you work on stepping stones that will make that specific challenge more accessible.
Enjoying your yoga practice can affect you in other ways as well. You may find it helpful to play some mantra music softly in the background. If you practice yoga at home, you can also use a spotify playlist that you set up at the same time as your online or on-demand yoga class. Or maybe lessons from a certain yoga teacher bring peace to your mind. Or maybe it will help you if you do a breathing exercise prior to your asana practice.
By observing what works well for you, you can make it easier to practice yoga on a daily basis. The effect of enjoying your practice is even reaching beyond, since the effect between yoga postures and your mental & emotional state is reciprocal.
We often focus on the fact that yoga poses help to improve our mental and emotional state. But the other way around, your mental and emotional state also affect what the yoga poses can do for you. After all, the mental and emotional state influences the nervous system and that influences so many processes in our body that it also influences how our body responds to various movements (and even the chance of injuries).
No forcing & No all-or nothing approach
There is a delicate balance between not avoiding or forcing. What helps me not to force it is to have several options. You can work with different variants of the posture and with stepping stones in your practice that provide the necessary strength, flexibility or awareness.
Say you are working on the forearm balance Pincha Mayurasana. It may not always feel good for your body to practice the pose itself (and if you did you would force or collapse into something). That doesn't mean you can't do something every day that contributes to your capacity to maybe do it one day.
For example, by choosing to practice dolphin pose or a 3 legged dolphin where you bring the weight more forward and raise one leg. Or by using 10 minutes of your yoga practice every day for core work including navasana (boat pose) and plank variations. Or opt for drills with a yoga block so that you learn to feel better what is asked of your shoulders in the yoga posture,without your elbows sliding out to the sides..
Rather than relying on whether or not you can practice a pose, it is more helpful to focus on what is the best step forward for you; in the way that is tailored to you to learn the yoga posture.
A plan with several options
Above I already talked about different options to work on a particular yoga posture, while taking into account the possibilities and circumstances of the day. Besides delving into possibilities regarding individual yoga postures, it can also help to have various types of yoga sessions 'ready' for different types of days. Both in terms of intensity and the focus of the type of yoga poses.
It is very good for the body to have variety in how you move the body. The body adapts based on how you use the body. In addition to increasing your overall mobility, you also reduce the chance that certain parts of your body are underexposed in your practice and therefore the risk of injuries or pain. It also prepares your body to be able to respond adequately for unexpected movements during the day off your mat.
Personally, I alternate between yoga classes with a different focus like back bends, forward bends, hip openers or twists. Of course every yoga class I take still consists of a combination of all kinds of poses, but the focus changes and the rest of the poses are there to make it a balanced practice.
By listening to my body, I naturally alternate the different types of lessons. However, if you observe that in this way you always opt for lessons with a theme that avoids your challenges (but growth opportunities), it might be more helpful for you to bring some more structure to the variety.
In addition, your energy level is probably not the same every day. Not only because of external influences, but also because of your hormonal cycle. At different times in my cycle, my muscles can handle a completely different maximum intensity. I have noticed that if I listen carefully to this, I maintain more balance in my energy level. In other words, by consciously listening to what my body needs on the days around my period, I not only have more energy on those days, but also for the rest of the month.
Of course, with all these different options, there is a practical danger that you will spend so long looking for which yoga class to do that day (just to tune it “perfectly”) that you delay the start so much that it consumes too much of your available practice time. A basic course of action can provide a solution for this. One option is to make a weekly plan (for example in your Dailygreatness Yoga Journal). Or if you use online demand yoga classes, add some to your favorites. Perhaps a combination of these two even works better.
Find a yoga teacher who will help you tailor your asana practice to your abilities and circumstances
Adjustments can relate to which yoga poses you practice, as well as to the variations and depth of these yoga poses. A good yoga teacher can help you with this. Especially if you work 1-on-1, the yoga teacher has more options to support your needs. On the other hand, good experienced yoga teachers also understand how to offer different options in a group class effectively.
Workshops and tutorials are also very helpful to learn more about how you can adapt yoga postures to your possibilities, so that you set yourself up to be able to adjust yourself. Besides in your local yoga school, you can also find a lot of workshops and tutorials online. I can recommend the online platform Omstars. Whether it’s online or offline, the possibility to ask questions to the teacher is very valuable. Or if you want to take it a bit further, you can opt for extensive training (which doesn’t have to be a teacher training (!!!), since your goal here is to adjust your own practice).
It is helpful that the yoga teacher understands from their own experience what you run into. For example, because the yoga teacher has a similar body type. If you are naturally hypermobile, you often need a different approach than someone who is naturally very stiff but strong.
For example, I am someone who has relatively flexible joints (due to long ligaments), but have to work very hard to build strength. Just a cue like "push harder against the floor" doesn't do much for me. On the other hand, instructions that identify specific body parts and how to activate them do help me. In addition, yoga teachers have helped me by offering other yoga poses or variations that create the stepping stones (including strength) for those yoga poses that were still beyond my reach.
While I do appreciate the value of a long term relationship with a yoga teacher, I do find it important that it doesn’t create dependence on a yoga teacher. Ultimately, the intention is that you will feel (empowered) in your body what works and doesn’t work for you and that you understand how you can make adjustments yourself. Of course, this also requires a lot of study and reflection from your side. The question is, does your yoga teacher support this process?
While you are likely to become less and less dependent on a yoga teacher for the practice of asana this way, the long-lasting bond with a yoga teacher is still very valuable in my opinion. This allows the yoga teacher to get to know your patterns and background and you build a relationship of trust, which is very valuable for your long-term progress and spiritual journey.
By the way, it is not so that I only learn from yoga teachers with a similar body type. Some teachers have so much knowledge and understanding that they also understand how best to support other body types in asana. Moreover, yoga is so much more than just asana. And for all those other parts, the body type argument is actually completely irrelevant.
And in the end, no one has all the answers for everyone and every situation. So in addition to a good yoga teacher, you will also have to look within. To find your own answers. And to learn to think critically (which by the way is not the same as distrust).
Some characteristics that influence whether a yoga teacher is a good match to help you personalize your yoga practice are:
- A yoga teacher who has already gone through the process & can still remember what that felt like.
- A yoga teacher with a similar body type is more likely to have encountered similar challenges in yoga poses. And that they worked through this challenge (and now understand what probably works best).
- Is the way the yoga teacher teaches a way that makes you want to take the class more often (so that it increases your time on the yoga mat)?
- Study long enough with a yoga teacher so that they can get to know your patterns well. At the same time, can you and your yoga teacher make sure that no dependency is created?
- Do you click with the person? Can you trust your yoga teacher and do you feel safe? So that you can discuss what you run into and receive good guidance.
Outfit & Yoga Mat
At the photo I am wearing the Moonchild Deep Shade Leggings with Draped Tank and using my favorite Moonchild yoga mat for a super grip (which helps me to activate my muscles well in my asana practice).
Never ever again miss anything from our yoga blog?
Do you want to implement more yoga lifestyle habits, step by step? To become more relax and create & enjoy your ideal life by heart? To live according to your intention? Your pursuit of happiness? It is our goal to help you with this.
SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER and never again miss any of our yoga blogs again (and receive a free e-book full with yoga lifestyle tips for more energy).