Camel

Photo by Nesha Thich on Unsplash

You might be wondering where I am going with this post. My mind is thinking all sorts of amusing things about being in a hump, hump days, humping and…well…other things. It wasn’t inspired by any of those thoughts though…It is the yoga pose ‘Camel’ (Ustrasana). I have never managed it before but I did it this week and I am definitely not in a hump about this achievement.

Why is it called Camel pose?

Who knows for sure! But apparently it is so called because of the resemblance to the camel’s hump (yes I still giggle a little every time I say hump). Or possibly because of the way they fold their legs to sit (it is a sort of seated pose). No matter the name, I have always found this a hard pose to get into mainly due to my tight quads, hip flexors and shoulders / chest. Never mind the feeling that I won’t breath properly with my head tilted back.

The prep poses

Lots of things that involve you grabbing your feet behind and stretching out the quads. Some nice gentle back bends to prepare in very some very ungentle high lunges and chest openers thrown into the mix.

So poses like cobra in the vinyasa, sphinx and even bow were involved in my class. I managed to catch my feet in a low lunge to quad stretch. I usually have to lasso my feet with a yoga strap to catch them and get the quad stretch. However I caught them both much to the surprise of me and, I am convinced, my yoga teacher. To be honest when I managed bow I could have stopped right there and went home happy (its the grabbing feet difficulty). But Camel was the one we were heading to and it would have been slightly awkward if I left early. My progress in feet grabbing? I am convinced this is because I am spending time trying to sort my posture with chest openers and keeping my shoulders back. It might just also mean that my quads are starting to stretch a bit more. My Thai massage lady who led me through a torture session yesterday may disagree with me being more stretchy…but she didn’t know me a year ago.

Anyway…more poses like pigeon and triangle helped before we headed into a few camel variations.

Getting there

Camel can be tough for people but it is a really good stretch for pretty much the whole of the front of your body and also for the upper back. So blocks at the ready we did a little bit of dancing camel (my feet were not flat down but up resting on balls of feet so I could transition from the blocks to my heels). Dancing camel is pretty much just doing half camel pose (Ardha Ustrasana) and moving from side to side. This may even look quite graceful.

In camel both hands (externally rotated to help to lift the chest and not press your shoulders into your neck) rest on either the heels or on the back of the feet if you aren’t up on the balls of your feet. The easiest variation is hands to lower back, moving to blocks and then to the heels.

I can’t get further than my heels but for me this is pretty bloody good. As said, I am definitely not in a hump about achieving this. My facial expression, however, may have resembled the lovely photo above.

Shoulders back…Shoulders down

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

The more I do yoga the more I notice bad habits which affect my posture. My yoga teacher will say “shoulders down” and I will correct them. But it has felt unnatural. When you need to tuck your backside in and engage the (hidden) abs – fine. But how do I tell if my backside is sticking out too much normally (aka bad posture) when my view of it is that it is just a fat arse (it’s not really that bad…I am just being overly dramatic)?

Tight most things

I wouldn’t class myself as flexible. I have tight hamstrings, quads and shoulders. The hamstrings and quads will get there. I can see the change already in poses even as basic as Downward Dog and the fact that I can now grab my foot heading towards King Pigeon. I can’t do the splits yet, in fact I am nowhere near, but one day.

I am also getting better with the much needed back bend after a lot of help from my teacher; working to raise my chest up to bend rather than just trying to bend back (not sure that makes sense on paper but hopefully you get what I mean). My shoulders, however, are a bloody nightmare in lots of poses and I think (ok I know) this is down to bad posture.

Tight shoulders

The weird thing is that I actually quite like my shoulders. Lots of kettlebell swings, snatches and general weights over the past few years has given me ok definition in them and my upper back. This is great for any top I wear that slides over one shoulder. But the look doesn’t equate to actual strength. When I work on shoulders in the gym I always have to go pretty light. Same for chest (I clattered the bar the other day when I shoved a little too much on it). I don’t do lots of weights at the moment but my sessions now tend to focus on this area now to help with my yoga.

This area (shoulders, chest, upper back) is pretty important in loads of yoga poses. Any binds, inversions and even puppy pose work on them. So the “shoulders back and down” comment gets said a lot by my Hatha teacher. I get it. My shoulders want to raise right up to my ears every time my arms go above my head. I can’t grip my fingers together in the pose like the picture above and a lot of binds are beyond me. Even in shavasana my shoulders want to relax in a rolled position rather than flat to the ground.

For inversions you need to understand the feeling of open shoulders so that you can feel like you are wrapping them in to hug a ball without them pinching your neck. This kind of thing takes focus when your shoulders naturally just want to rise.

Bad posture

When you notice things in yoga you start to notice them generally. My relaxed position is to roll my shoulders. It is for a lot of people but it is bad posture and no one wants to end up hunch backed…right?

The problem with posture is that it gets bad over a long time. Bodies are great, they can mould themselves to whatever you need in life. The fascia (connective stuff with collagen) will set itself up in this way and so if you sit with your shoulders rolled at a desk your shoulders will eventually find this the most comfy position.

Sorting it out

Yoga is slowly doing that for me but it does need practice. Over 40 years of habit will take a while to rectify. So I am doing more and more to get comfy on good posture.

  • Shoulders back and down
    • I travel for work so in the car I have set up a good seat position and on the commute I roll my shoulders back and down (like putting your shoulder blades together). That’s a good two hours a day of practice
  • Using my yoga wheel
    • 10 minutes a day involving just being draped back over it and also doing a shoulder stretch with arms front
  • Keeping them down in movement
    • Any time I move my arms in daily tasks I am trying to focus on not hunching my shoulders up to my ears. Weirdly this takes effort.
  • Yin
    • Yin is helpful because the poses are long held and there to work the fascia.
  • Hatha
    • Hatha gives you time to correct in your poses. Tough going but worth it.

It’s all helping. I was never a hunched up person but i definitely roll my shoulders. After a few weeks I am starting to find more comfort in shoulders being back and down so it must be helping. My Hatha class today was working towards handstand. Purely focused on gaining the right posture to get to the strength in order to push up.

Sorting my posture will definitely be worth it…says me currently typing whilst keeping my shoulders back and down.

Two Weeks Without Exercise: Back on it!

I woke up at 8.30am today and in a hazy sort of way I grabbed my phone to check what yoga classes were on. I could hear the rain outside and was thinking that my meanderings into the Edinburgh Fringe may have to wait till tomorrow. There was a class at 9.30am (my sleep head was saying this was unlikely) and one at 12.30pm (maybe more likely). This lackadaisical approach stopped suddenly when realisation hit that I haven’t done any yoga or proper exercise for two weeks. The hint really should have come yesterday; when I pulled on a work dress to accompany a friend to a formal appointment. My dress (and it was my ‘I can gain weight and still wear this dress’) was hugging my thighs a little more than normal. So much for my intentions a couple of weeks ago. Those type of intentions where you plan on doing a lot of fitness and eating healthily for the two weeks you have off work. Just over one week in and I have done absolutely nothing.

Excuses

Excuses that run around your head are great. All a load of bollocks, but during that conversation (with yourself…not in a mad way) they all sound sensible. My excuses: I had a busy run up to my leave with work so was getting home late, I deserved a glass of wine after a busy day at work, I am now on holiday (woohoo) and I deserve a lie in, its far too hot (see previous post on the heatwave we had) to exercise and the list goes on. I also pointed out to myself that I had been away with friends to relax and so this clearly should not involve exercising any more than a few countryside/beach walks.

Intentions

Setting aside all those excuses, which I can only now do three hours later, I know my intentions for the last two weeks made much more sense. I planned on working hard up to my leave so that I could focus on eating the right things and doing the right amount of exercise. Whilst I mainly do yoga, I had planned to incorporate some HIIT or even the longer type of Insanity maximum interval training into my routine. My view was that I would have a burst of cardio with the strength building in yoga. Then, when I got back to work, I would get back to fitting in some weight training again. I used to mainly do weights and know the benefits of all round training. My thighs clearly know the benefits of this too.

So the counter to my excuses: work was busy but I could always fit in an hour, my glass of wine could have waited as Shavasana feels just as good, I am now on holiday and so have plenty of time to do everything, I could get out of the heat and hopefully into a cool studio. The counter list goes on.

Getting re-motivated

After realisation hit this morning (like a thunderous slap to my increasingly thunderous thighs) I managed to pull myself together. It was teetering on the edge of decision making and I think I could have gone either way. Weirdly I re-read my own post ‘When you don’t feel like yoga: do yoga‘ which felt a little egotistical but it reminded me of how I feel when I get over the lethargic nature of indecisiveness. I also had a quick look at my post on the ‘Wheel’ and realised that I couldn’t use that one class as an excuse as a quick review of my past bookings at the studio showed a few attendances after the wheel class.

Back on it

I got up. I showered and pulled on my yoga pants and top. I pulled out my yoga mat and bag and shoved on my trainers to walk to class as it was still raining. Decision made – I clicked on the ‘book class’ button. Yep the 9.30am one. A Hatha class not generally for the fainthearted as Clara does slow and strong so I knew my core was going to be worked. On a side note if you are in Edinburgh Clara (her instagram link) is a wonderful yoga teacher who allows you to really focus on the moves, breathing and poses whilst working hard (and relaxed) to get there.

9.30am and I was working on my shoulders. Lots of opening up poses including quite a few times in Dolphin leading to forearm stands. I can’t get fully into the inversion yet but I did do a few hops up. I will practice on my inversion stool this week. 10.45am and I feel like I am back on it. I floated down the road. I do feel better for going and, better yet, I still have 6 more days of leave to reset my intentions. I am going to start logging my food again (this is the only thing that works for me when trying to lose some weight) and possibly do a walk or insanity dvd or even just a bit more yoga by the end of the day. Today I will be keeping my trainers on until this happens and I am not putting that bloody dress back on until I return to work. If I keep to my intentions I know my thighs won’t be protesting too much the next time I wear it.

Picture – trainers and yoga mat bag my own

That one Yoga pose I will never manage

Photo from http://www.pexels.com

Do you have a yoga pose you just don’t like? Or you know is just not achievable (and therefore don’t like it)? There are loads of poses I can’t do. I know, however, that this just means I can’t do them yet. There is one pose that doesn’t fit this mental (and physical) progression. Wheel pose (or Urdva Dhanurasana)! Apparently it is an invigorating pose that requires strength, effort and one which basically uses all parts of the body. Well not my body thank you very much. This isn’t even a pessimistic view – in my opinion. I just know it is a yoga pose that I’ll never manage.

Good advice I am not going to take

I read and view a lot of posts about yoga on twitter, instagram, Pinterest and blogs. It’s great to read the advice, see the pictures, learn the ‘do’s and don’ts’ and also to follow other people in their practice. I have looked at posts on Wheel pose since I first came accross in it a yoga class. Initially I was optimistic. Now I am a realist.

There are a number of other poses that you can practice to prepare for wheel. Upward Dog for opening the chest and backbend – tick. Locust to build back and backside (glutes) strength – tick. Camel pose for stretching the quads, opening the shoulders and of course the backbend – half tick. Bridge pose as a precurser – quarter…ish tick. Bow pose – hmmm, does grabbing one sweaty foot and missing the other count?

The thing about all those other poses is that I know I have progressed in them and I know I will achieve them. So the advice would suggest that I will get into Wheel.

Here is why I won’t. I have strength (I used to lift weights as my fitness routine). I even have core strength and can do a mean, if not sort of perfect, plank. I basically have strength in isolation. So putting together back strength, core strength, quads, glutes, arms and shoulders all together leads to me having no strength. This sounds weird but in bridge pose my legs quiver, my stomach protests and my backside just wants to land back on the mat. Never mind the fact that my boobs interfere with my chin regardless of what sports bra they are strapped into. I also have tight shoulders and no matter how many weights I used to lift (chest press using the bar was a favourite) there is no way my arms are holding me up into a Wheel. The one bit of advice a teacher gave which I thought was a gem was that basically your hand placement is pushing one way and your feet placement is pushing the other way so the middle of you will lift. Again on paper this sounds weird but in practice I totally get it. The problem is my practice doesn’t involve that lift.

What happens when it is part of the class

This occurred on Tuesday. My Tuesday yoga teacher is fab and her classes are hard (in that they push you physically) but satisfying. So when she said that we would be working towards Wheel my heart sank a little. I had to have a talk to myself. Not out loud (that would be embarrassing). I set my intention that my practice in the class would be to be strong and to build on what I could achieve. To be fair the classes I go to are so supportive and don’t group you into levels. So nobody feels under pressure to achieve the ‘peak’ pose and all levels are pretty much celebrated by everyone. It also felt great to hear her [yoga teacher] admit this was one of her least liked poses and that this was a good reason to practice it. Fair enough and I am ok with the practicing. I just know I won’t get there.

We did all the aforementioned poses throughout the vinyasa class. We got to Bridge pose and I did my best Bridge yet. This was an acheivement! My teacher had good hints about blocks against the wall for Wheel practice (either for your feet or hands depending on what you felt you needed to assist). I tried this. I still failed to get into Wheel. I’m ok with this. I know it is that pose I will never manage. So I did a better Bridge. Better than my previous bridges and was pretty chuffed with that. When it comes up again I will practice my Bridge. Hopefully my legs will stop shaking, my feet will stop sweating and my backside will lift to the sky (there is no hope that my boobs will not attempt to suffocate me). But this will be in Bridge. There is no way I am getting to Wheel.

P.S

If I ever do manage to do a Wheel I take all this back!

Yoga Wheel: my new yoga toy

I have been wanting a yoga wheel for a while but I am taking my practice slowly and enjoying every minute of yoga so was happy to take my time purchasing all my yoga props. So….I finally purchased a yoga wheel. It was delivered by the time I got home from work tonight along with my favourite incense (the one that immediately sends me into a savasana like state of relaxation). Deliveries are exciting. New yoga toys are definitely exciting.

Why get a yoga wheel?

They are pretty popular as a yoga prop. Check out Instagram or Pinterest and you can see those yoga types using them for things like: forearm stands, locust, king pigeon, support in wheel, strengthening for abs, flexibility and even two wheels on each toes for splits.

I clearly am not at an advanced level of yoga. I find bridge pose hard and camel even harder (I don’t even get close to wheel). I think in my head that this is due to tight quads but I logically realise it is probably much more to do with my ability to open my chest, tight shoulders and work on my backbends. Yes my quads are tight…but without the ability to open the chest and shoulders I won’t achieve the type of poses I really want to work towards. A recent achievement of mermaid pose taught me this as we spent ages on opening the chest, back and side bends. I made it. I was ecstatic but I didn’t think I had made it (yoga is a journey and all that 🙂 ). I want to continue to progress towards king pigeon. I also would like to do bridge without the feeling that I just want to immediately drop my backside onto the floor. Yes I am aiming to get into wheel; in about 10 years if I am lucky. I am sure it was achievable when I was a child. What happened along the way?

So back to the yoga wheels. Forget all the amazing Insta photos. I just want to incorporate it into my practice. All the poses above are a bit beyond me at this time but the yoga wheel doesn’t only cater to advanced poses. It is actually a great beginner tool too!

Yoga Wheel for beginners

One of the best known benefits is for the back. Flexibility and, if you can manage it, strength. It also can aid in opening the shoulders and chest.

So this is my aim for the time being.

I was pretty surprised that yoga wheels are not very wide. How do people actually balance on it!!? After a double check on the internet though the one I got is pretty standard. All I can say is well done to those people who can balance whilst squatting on this little circle thing! I tried to put my feet up on it for plank and….well….I fell off. Not even a hint of wine at that point.

So having adjusted my expectations of what I can currently achieve I focused on the gentle stretching and opening that a yoga wheel can give.

Yoga wheel for backs

I sat with my feet in front (on the floor) and lifted my hips to roll the wheel up and down my back. I even opened up my arms to the floor to open my chest and attempted the hand grab (over head) of the wheel whilst in the same position.

What I found? Answer – my back is tight. I did have a really long week and Friday was a particularly long day. Its not as if I am sat at a desk all day but I drive for around 2 1/2 hours each day. This clearly takes its toll as even rolling over the wheel was difficult and initially a little uncomfortable.

But OMG it was bliss. Incense on, a bit of spine rolling and 20 minutes later I feel blissful. My back feels lighter somehow and I obviously realise the benefits of a yoga wheel for backs (back-ache, back pain, back flexibility).

So – I might be a beginner. I might also have expected to get it out the bag and immediately look like a yoga pro. I’m not. I am a beginner (this feels like a statement of my life at the moment despite being in my forties) and I am just bloody happy that I got to the weekend and feel great. The yoga wheel is going to feature now as a regular part of my practice.

This is the one I bought (amazon link, picture below). The one I originally fancied was much more expensive (amazon link) but looked fab. I managed to sensibly tell myself that I am a beginner so it shouldn’t be all about the looks! If you have one then let me know what kind of things you do with your yoga wheel. If you don’t have one then you are missing out. With my fabulously feeling back I am now going to float into the kitchen to get my wine. Hello weekend bliss!