When the Poses Don’t Work – Adaptive & Accessible Yoga

This post is written by Sara F, a graduate of our 200-hour teacher training program. She’s been our a familiar face on Sunday nights, hosting at the front desk during our 6:00pm $5 Basics. Keep your eyes open for Sara on June 1 at 1:00pm for our Yoga in the Park: Pride Edition.


Have you ever been in a yoga class where the teacher instructs a pose, and you either stand/lay there knowing the pose won’t work for your body, or you silently struggle into it and hope it will end soon?

Or, on a more positive note, have you been in a yoga class where the teacher offers variations of a pose, often with different props? If the teacher gave different options, you have experienced accessible or adaptive yoga, which offers solutions that allow people of all abilities and body types to practice and benefit from yoga. At Queen Street Yoga you may have heard teachers refer to pose options as “bus stops,” and how far you ride down the bus route is up to you.

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How our yoga teacher training is going to change your life and fix all of your problems

Actually, it’s not.

And if you’re okay with that, let’s talk. If you could do without the inspirational branding of being a better you, or the aspirational promises of hard and fast transformation, then we can have a real conversation. We can look together at the process of yoga teacher training for what it is; a concentrated time of learning and engaging with yourself and with a community.

A lot of YTT marketing that I see rubs me the wrong way. It seems to promise spiritual, emotional and career transformation in a one-shot deal. And, I get why people are drawn to it. Who doesn’t want a quick fix? Who doesn’t want that promise fulfilled?

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Strong or Flexible – Why Not Both?

When you see the class title Strength & Flow, what feelings or images come up? Does it make you think of a bootcamp class at the gym: grunting and burpees and shouting? Or maybe it brings up an experience of tightness in your body. One of the most commonly cited reasons for coming to yoga that I hear is, “I want to become more flexible.” Those same people often wonder if going to a class focused on strength is going to make them feel more stiff, rather than more flexible. We’ve got news for you: strength is flexibility’s best friend.

First things first though; don’t be nervous to try this class! You should know that Strength & Flow is actually quite doable, and nothing like bootcamp or gym class. The great thing about it is that it’s just as customizable as our other classes. The depth of your squat, the amount you can hinge at your hip, the time you spend time in plank, or the number of push-ups (with knees down if you want!) is up to you. You can sense the balance between fatigue and energy in your body on that day, and act accordingly. (And that’s where it becomes yoga.)

So why not “Flexibility & Flow,” when we know that flexibility is a goal for most people? Flexibility gets singled out as the physical quality that folks most desire. I get that – I began yoga without being able to touch my toes, and I used to fume with frustration and envy in seated poses because there was no way that I could straighten my knees, or tilt my pelvis forward – my back was rounded, my hamstrings felt tight, and that was that.

But: is flexibility all that it’s cracked up to be? And is passive stretching even the best way to feel and move better? You can probably tell that I don’t necessarily think so.

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No one wanted to leave

Last night at the end of class, no one wanted to leave.

Everyone rolled over and sat up. We sang Om, acknowledged the land and said Namaste to end.

But nobody moved.

It was 9pm, and the light was starting to fade from the sky. We could hear the class in the next room start to stir, floorboards creaking as people walked back and forth, putting away their props. But in the front studio, it was utterly still.

Some people had their eyes closed. Some kept their hands in a prayer position in front of their hearts. Some people had their heads cocked, like they were trying to hear as clearly as they could the depth and detail of the silence.

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Lie the $#@k down: Savasana at the end of summer

Savasana” is typically the final posture of our yoga practice. The sanskrit name for the pose comes from the root word “corpse”. I used to find this name morose. I called it “final relaxation pose” or “naptime” as a joke. But over time I have come to appreciate the symbolism it contains. Lying down and assuming a stance of stillness can be a symbolic way of honouring the end of a cycle. We live in a society that tends to deny and avoid the reality of death, but taking this pose at the end of a yoga practice can gently remind us of our own impermanence. It might help us acknowledge that our time alive is limited, and awaken us to a deeper sense of appreciation for each moment we have to experience life and connection.

Deeper symbolism aside, life is busy, and our attention is often pulled in so many different directions. Savasana gives us a rare opportunity to do nothing. To rest, to breathe, to become aware of our thoughts and also to learn to let them go. Renowned yoga teacher and author Judith Lasater says, “to practice Savasana is to choose to lie down on the mat and to be become an introvert for 20 minutes, appearing dead to the outside world.”

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“If you can’t do crow pose, you’re not a good person.” Nah. We don’t think so.

Sometimes when I am teaching, I feel a bit like a stand-up comedian. Depending on the mood and tone of the class, I might crack a lot of jokes, and add silly sound effects. Like a stand-up comedian, I try to poke fun at assumptions in our culture, usually those particular to the context of a yoga class.

With a sense of irony, I say things like:

“And if you can’t do crow pose, just know that you’re not as good of a person as everyone else.”

or

“Come out of this pose whenever you want. But you might not. Because peer pressure is real.”

When people laugh, I know I have struck a chord. The laughter denotes recognition of some sliver of truth. The truth that we still might be holding ideas about our physical abilities being equated to our moral character. Or how we have been conditioned to go along with a group, instead of listening to our individual needs.

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Introducing new offerings July-Aug 2018

Last week I experienced a huge win while teaching my Wednesday night Intro to Yoga class.

I have been teaching Intro to Yoga for 6 years. I have re-written the curriculum three times, trained numerous teachers to share it, and this spring it is undergoing it is fourth reincarnation.

The Intro includes all of the basic poses of yoga: downward dog, plank, lunges, Warrior poses, bridge, etc. Over the years I have learned how to integrate props into the class, making the poses more doable for more people. I have learned how to sequence the classes in a step-by-step way, introducing the poses and transitions slowly over time.

But something was still missing.

People who found certain poses challenging, for example a lunge, would come up into the lunge and wobble side to side. Their balance might improve a bit from week to week as they tried it again and again, but I noticed it would usually take the wobbliest students several months before they started to seem steadier in their lunge pose.

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