I love receiving and giving physical assistance. Mysore-style Ashtanga Yoga is a form of Mysore-style Ashtanga. Physical assistance are an integral part of the teaching method. I was always attracted to Vinyasa Flow instructors who were “hands-on” and often used assistance in my classes.
Hands-on assistance serves many purposes. They can help us get further into a posture and bring us back to our optimal alignment. They can help us to know where to start and where to stop. Some are soothing, such as when our shoulders are gently pressed in Savasana, and our trapezius softened during a seated forward bent. Some are energizing, such as when the teacher extends our arms while we do Urdhva Hastasana. The most remarkable thing about physical assistance is its domino effect on the rest of your body. You can, for example, have your thighs pushed back in downward facing dog to help strengthen your legs and lengthen your spine. This will also help “uncrunch your shoulders.”
Hands-on assistance can have many benefits, but not everyone enjoys it. Maybe they don’t like to be touched, or perhaps they have had trauma or injuries in the past. Maybe they want to be connected, but only by certain teachers or in specific poses.
The COVID-19 virus has now made it unsafe to make physical contact in class, even if you can attend a live class. Most yoga teachers avoid using assists in their teaching until the COVID-19 pandemic has been contained. Currently, the majority of yoga practice is done at home by individuals.
Knowing how valuable hands-on assistance can be for my practice, I got creative and created “DIY” (Do It Yourself) assists in using at home.
Here are some tips on getting the benefit of various hands-on assistance without using another pair of hands.
SUPTA URDHVA HAASTASANA (RECLINED UPWARD REACHING POSE) –WITH STRAP ON BACK RIBS
Types of assistance: Educational
Benefits: Teaches how to stabilize the torso with arms overhead.
Props: Strap & Floor
Fold the strap or belt in quarters to make it thick. Lay it on your mat horizontally to directly underneath your lower back ribs. Start with both feet hip-width apart on the floor, knees flexed. As you inhale, raise your arms above your chest to the ceiling. Use the strap to guide you as you exhale and gently soften your lower back ribs toward the floor. Inhale slowly, lifting your arms overhead and toward the backside of your mat. You’ve gone too far if your back ribs start to steal from the strap.
Slowly lower your arms at your sides. Continue to lift and lower your arms while maintaining your lower back ribs attached to the strap.
GOMUKHASANA (COW FACE POSE) ARMS –BOTTOM FOREARM and SHOULDER BLADES AGAINST A WALL
Types of assistance: Education and deepening
Benefits: Stretches the internal rotators of the lower arm and the bicep.
Standing with your back against a wall, stand a few inches away from it. Your right arm should be extended to the side. Rotate your upper arm internally so that your palm is facing the wall. Bend your elbow and bring the back of your left hand up as high as possible. Your writing doesn’t have to reach your shoulder blades. Please do not force it.
After placing your arm, rotate your upper arm so that your front shoulder head pulls back. It’s an exciting pose because we use a different anatomical movement to start the pose (internal rotating) than once in the carriage (external rotating). You can back yourself as far up against the wall as necessary to feel a stretch on your right front shoulder and right bicep. Use the wall as feedback by flattening your right shoulder blade.
Continue to hold your breath for 10 minutes. Release your arm slowly and step away from the wall. Switch sides.
VIPARITA DANDASANA (INVERTED STAFF POSE) VARIATION –LYING OVER THE BED
Types of assistance: Lengthening
Benefits: Work with gravity to improve shoulder flexibility and deepen chest opening.
Props: Bed and couch
Lay on a couch or bed with your head at the edge. Bend your knees, and then use your feet to push you backward until the last rib of your body is at the border. As you inhale slowly, raise your arms shoulder-width apart with palms facing one another. Let your thumbs rest on the floor if your hands reach the ground. Straighten your legs. Let your neck grow long. Let your neck release.
Take ten deep breaths. Slowly lower your arms to the bed, so you can rest your elbows on them. As you coil up, lift your head first.
STRAP ABOVE THIGHS CHILDREN’S POSE
Types of assistance: Lengthening, “feel good,”
Benefits: Helps lengthen the spine and ground hips.
Props:Stable Piece of Furniture
This one requires a long rope or something similar to a dog’s leash wrapped around a stable piece of furniture. You can use any part of furniture that is not moving.
Then, secure the strap to the leg of the stable furniture. You can turn around and crawl on all fours away from the piece of furniture until you feel it is pulling your thigh bone back. This will create space in your pelvis. Fold your legs apart and into a child’s position, bringing your hips toward your heels. Your big toes should be together. Stretch your arms to your ears, then move your fingers forward. This will lengthen your spine. The strap will provide support and resistance.
Draw your pelvis further back, and also press your thigh bone down.
Hold for 20 breaths. Place your hands under your shoulders as soon as you are ready to exit. Remove your strap, and sit back on your heels.
BADDHA KONASANA (BOUND ANGLE POSE)–ROLLED BLANKET OVER TOP OF THIGHS
Types of assistance:
Benefit: The blanket will help you to stretch your legs by pressing your thighs into the ground.
Props: Blanket, towel
Make a tight roll with a blanket or towel. In a seated posture, bring the soles of your feet together and open your thighs to Buddha Konasana. Grab the blanket on both sides and place it over your thighs at the hip crease. Keep a firm grip on the mantle as you inhale and press it down towards the floor, into your thighs. On an exhale, inhale again and fold the blanket forward. After tucking, pull the shroud towards the back of the mat instead of straight down to your floor. This will give you a feeling of grounding.
Hold for 10 deep breaths. Slowly release your grip on the blanket. Stretch your legs before you, and then move the blanket to one side.