Knowing your elbow from your asana: the real life struggle of Chaturanga Dandasana

So i’ve been to a fair few yoga class now and i’ve been noticing my strength and flexibility increasing physically and mentally. Each class brings new poses (asanas) and new challenges depending on how my body might be feeling that day but none quite as challenging as chaturanga dandsana. The one asana I can actually pronounce (I think?) properly and yet can’t seem to work out whatsoever!

It is an asana in itself, you might hear it being called four limbed staff pose, or if you’re still not sure, it’s that damn awful push down from plank to cobra or up dog when you’re flowing in sun salutation a. If you’re like me you might be in the habit of going from plank and pretty much just flopping onto your mat and quickly up into cobra (or if i’m feeling particularly brave upward facing dog) and hoping no one would notice that I actually don’t know what chaturanga is.

Then the day came when my instructor came over and told me my hands were too narrow and my elbows were shooting out. Your arms should be at a 90 degree angle whilst maintaining the integrity of your spine, weight coming forward on your toes, shoulders and chest moving forward and through as you descend. MIND MELTDOWN BUT Integrity being the buzz word here, it was time to be honest about my ignorance towards chaturanga. So, the next time I tried to keep my elbows tucked in and my shoulder blades down my back but my big old ass started to shoot up. I tried to focus on keeping my pelvis in the right place for the top of my back to start to crumple up. WHAT THE ACTUAL IS THIS POSE?! All of a sudden i’d gotten myself into such a muddle that I had got the complete fear of trying to do it at all! “The pose begins when you want to leave it” Well, I was ready to indefinitely say goodbye to it. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much unavoidable in any vinyasa practice and it actually sets the foundations for a lot of those fancy arm balances that you see, more importantly doing it wrong could even cause a rotator cuff or equally grim shoulder injury etc. That’s why it’s important to know your asanas and keep on checking on the little things in your practice.

I am determined that chaturanga and I will be BFFs one day but for now I need to modify what i’m doing. As instructed, I’m unashamedly dropping my knees until I build the strength to do the full fecker! I’ve been checking myself out in the mirror trying to see where my spine integrity is at, i’ve watched an obscene amount of youtube videos; some of which have also suggested putting a block under your pelvis or to use a strap around your arms to pull your elbows in… I’m trying it all and with small steps and listening to my body i’ll get there!

Most importantly listen to your teacher (and yourself!!) – those guys love when you’re doing it right and doing what serves your body best so don’t be afraid to ask the questions. There’s no shame in being tweaked and given guidance. For me, it’s a challenge not an obstacle. A journey not a destination to master a pose but to find the strength within myself to keep returning to the things I find difficult as much as the things I enjoy. I now know what the asana demands and where I’m going wrong from my ass to my elbow and I will get those elbows in to my ribs, my ass down and get my spine in line and when I do i’m going to post a god damn after picture!

What does it mean to be a Yogi?

JANUARY 3, 2017

Bring a friend, let a friend take you, tell a friend, be a friend, make a friend, be your own friend. Be a yogi.

While there is nothing wrong with going to a yoga class by yourself, initially the prospect can be overwhelmingly daunting. Like going to anything new, the deep rooted insecurities kick in – what if I can’t do it? What if i humiliate myself? What if I’m the fattest, least flexible person in the room? Ultimately we fear not being accepted. Which is weird because for me – I was so closed minded I didn’t even think I wanted to be accepted by lycra wearing, bendy folk who spoke of their aligned chakras, healing crystals and negative ions. I had a preconceived idea of a whole community of people without giving it a chance. Yet, it hindsight it said more about myself than anything. I was so certain that I was going to exponentially grow in size and misery until I fell off the face of the earth that all discourse surrounding yoga and meditation was completely closed off to me, probably because I felt completely intimated by these toned up, zenned out women and dudes that seemed to have their shit together and so they reflected the parts of myself that I couldn’t stand with a x10 magnifier!

And so it goes; “The things that stand out the most to us are the things that remind us the most of ourselves[…] the people you surround yourself with are excellent mirrors for who you are and how much or how little you love yourself” (Author and Life Coach, Jen Sincero)

Pre yoga me – definitely didn’t love herself and yet once I started yoga and started to understand it’s deeper wisdom my heart and eyes opened up and not only did I see myself and all my flaws I started to appreciate my uniqueness and be thankful for my body and breath. I also started to realise how many yogi’s unknowingly were already in my life. One of my oldest friends is a ‘yogi’ and has used yoga for years to combat the same demons I battle with, she doesn’t annoy the bejesus out of me or make me feel threatened. An old school friend’s Granny was one of the kick-ass tribe of women that brought yoga to Northern Ireland. I adore the friend that made me go to my first yoga class and her friend that knew which studio to go to because she knew a shit hot yoga instructor is pretty damn awesome too. So you see, when I finally pulled my head out of my ass, I realised my preconceptions were not only nonsense but I had been shutting down a discourse surrounding me that actually I was very much connected to in so many ways.

Within a year yoga has changed my body, my mind, my perception on the world and my myself. I have yogi friends, and we even call ourselves yogis – without even the flutter of an eye roll, I kid you not! When the instructor addresses the class as yogis my heart does a little fist pump! I’ve made friends on the mat, some of the most brilliant humans I have ever come across (and some of them are the beautiful, skinny lycra wearers that can do the huge poses, instagram them and haven’t had any ribs removed!). I go for coffee with fellow yogis and we nerd out on each others yoga and meditation discoveries. I’ve become quite the yoga dork, I find myself talking to strangers about it! Friends have joined me on the journey. I’ve lost count of the number of friends that have either come to class with me or have found and gone to a class near them. I like to think I’m starting my very own little yoga revolution!

Like any journey, the initial steps might be that bit easier with a friend to hold your hand. So open up your mind and heart and bring a friend, let a friend take you, tell a friend or make a friend but most importantly be a friend to yourself. As it turns out I had nothing to lose and everything to gain because although I have found myself part of a beautiful community of yogis, ultimately being yoga and being a yogi is about finding the brilliant, kick ass, fundamental essence of your being!

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self” (The Bhagavad Gita)