Past or present injuries, certain physical/medical conditions, age, and a sedentary lifestyle can also impact the ability to ease into a yoga posture, hence the importance of finding a yoga instructor that has the ability to provide modifications for everyone. We cannot stop aging (not yet anyway!) We cannot change our anatomy. However, we can choose to continue (or start!) moving daily to delay or keep mobility issues at bay. Furthermore, we can choose to engage in activities that help improve our flexibility, our body awareness and our overall resilience.
Considering that each person possesses a unique blend of the above-mentioned factors, yoga postures then, unquestionably look and feel different, depending on who is on the yoga mat! Understanding and honouring these differences is one of the subtle and quintessential messages we try to convey during a yoga class.
"Easy Pose”? Whatever!
Confusion, and perhaps frustration, can regrettably occur when the name of a yoga posture implies that it is simple to do. For example, Sukhasana, also known as “Easy Pose”, is a foundational seated posture, used in most yoga classes, and dreaded by many! For those of us who may have tight hips, "Easy Pose" or “sitting comfortably cross legged”, can be quite a challenge, especially if there were no warm-up postures introduced beforehand.
Body awareness goes a long way!
The key to finding a comfortable seat is to first acknowledge the signals your body is sending you. For example, is there any significant tightness/pain in the hips, knees, ankles, or spine? Then, based on your findings, and how it feels overall, adjust the posture to your liking, using yoga props (blocks, bolsters, chairs, blankets, belts.) That process is what we refer to in yoga as honouring one’s body, as opposed to staying in a state of discomfort solely to achieve a yoga posture.
Yoga is very much an exploration into “what your body needs” (body awareness.) If sitting on the floor cross legged is significantly challenging for you, instead of avoiding it, consider the modifications below to see if “Easy Pose” can become a little bit easier the next time you are invited to “have a seat!”
Practicing "Easy Pose"
Fine tuning the posture for proper spine alignment
For many of us, there is a tendency to round the shoulders forward and drop the head when we sit in "Easy Pose". This takes us out of a neutral position, which results in uneven pressure along the length of our spine (Figure A).
Sit on a block or bolster to elevate your hips. You may also need to stack two blocks to get some added height, so feel free to explore different options to see what works best for you. We actually recommend this for everyone because it encourages the natural curves in your spine to occur comfortably. It also adjusts the positioning of your pelvis to roll forward slightly and, consequentially, to sit “taller” (Figure B).
Fine tuning for hips, knees, and thighs
Many people experience discomfort in the hips, knees, and thighs when attempting to sit in "Easy Pose". Unfortunately, the discomfort can increase if we are asked to sit for prolonged periods, such as during a meditation or a seated yoga sequence. If your knees point upward and you find it impossible to let them relax down, try the adjustment below. Ideally, we are aiming at having the knees at approximately the same height as the hips. (Figure C vs. D).
Take a block under each thigh to remove the mid-air suspension in your knees. Adjust the height of your blocks to match the height of your knees so that both sides are supported equally (Figure D).
Bottom line is, we all are unique! Let’s embrace our differences and allow our individual yoga practice to be respectful of our abilities, so we can reap the benefits of each asana. In the case of "Easy Pose", the primary physical benefits are: strengthening the back, stretching the muscles surrounding the hips and knees, and improving posture.
Finally, when in class, if a posture does not feel right, ask your yoga instructor for guidance. If you are just starting out in yoga, and possibly at a loss on how to use yoga props, how to make your own modifications or even where to begin, stay posted for our next New to Yoga Series.
Article written by Judy Trinh and edited by Chantal Emond