Monday, 9 November 2015

 Do you remember the old Paul Frank slogan, 'Paul Frank Is Your Friend'? I never bought a giant monkey face product the entire time Paul Frank was a popular brand, but I still always think of the slogan when I say to students, "Props are your friends." We often bring a lot of ego on to the mat and a lot of students are reluctant to use props because they associate the use of a block or strap with weakness or lack of skill. I love props. When I practice I always have a bolster, block and blanket beside my mat. Props have a few different purposes; they can assist you to achieve a pose safely where physical limitations prevent you from finding the full expression, provide building blocks for more advanced poses, and also offer support for restorative poses. All props have various uses, but blankets are particularly versatile as you can modify their shape to suit your needs; ie you can fold them, roll them, drape them and spread them for a variety of uses.
One of my favourite uses of blankets at the moment is to offer lift and softness for a supported Shoulder Stand, or Salamba Sarvangasana. Some people think that this is an intermediate/advanced pose, but I actually think it's great for all levels as the support offers padding for the back and particularly tight shoulders, and also it makes it a little easier to squeeze the elbows towards each other and prevent the upper arms from rolling in towards each other. I do find, however, that the extra lift means I sometimes come up and over a little quicker than I would flat on the floor, so make sure you move slowly when lifting the hips into shoulder stand or plow.

Supported Shoulder Stand - How to...

1. Place two of three folded blankets half way along your yoga mat and fold the mat over the blankets to create a thick padding for your shoulders and upper back - experiment with the height of the blankets and ensure that it is comfortable for your neck.

2. Lie back on the fold of blankets and mat so that your neck is just hanging off the edge. As you would with regular Shoulder Stand, draw your knees towards your chest and lift your lower arm from the elbows towards the ceiling like little robot arms, ready to catch your hips.

3. Peel your tail bone towards the ceiling, allowing the rest of your spine to follow as  you extend your legs towards the ceiling - remember, move slowly to ensure you don't tumble back and hurt your neck. Slide your hands around your back and spread the fingers wide to support your lower back. More advanced students might walk their hands further down the spine towards the floor to provide more lift for the legs, eventually bringing your hips directly over the shoulders. Actively pressed your shoulders and upper arms into the mat.

4. For yogis who enjoy Halasana/Plow, you can continue to slowly draw your feet down towards the floor above your head. Again, take it easy and avoid simply falling over yourself to ensure there's no sudden pressure on the neck. If your toes touch the floor, you can lower your hands behind the back to press on the mat, or interlace your fingers and press your wrists against the mat.

5. To come out of the pose, move as slowly as you did when you came into it. Return your hands to your hips if you lowered them to the floor for Plow and bend your knees towards your chest. Very carefully roll your spine and then your hips back down onto the mat.

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