Yoga Deconstructed: Building Process Step by Step

Building Poses Step by Step

BY TRINA ALTMAN WWhen I was first practicing yoga in my early 20s, almost every pose came naturally to me. I could express almost any shape with little eff ort. The more I practiced, the better I felt… until I didn’t.

A few years after I completed my initial yoga teacher training, I was transitioning into the role of full-time yoga teacher and began to experience aches in my body. Sometimes the discomfort ran down into my forearms, hands, and wrists. Other times it centered more in my jaw, neck, upper back, and shoulders. The pain plagued me throughout the day, even when I wasn’t practicing yoga.

I initially tried healing modalities such as Rolfing (a method of manipulating muscles and fascia), acupuncture, and massage to find relief. But it wasn’t until I attended regular physical therapy appointments and studied kinesiology, exercise science, and other forms of movement outside of yoga that I got off the pain hamster wheel.

My healing began when my physical therapist diagnosed me as hypermobile, meaning I have a genetic predisposition toward laxity in my connective tissues, which creates instability in the joints. This hypermobility was exacerbated by doing so much stretching during yoga and not enough strengthening to compensate for it.

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My approach deconstructs yoga by breaking down complicated movements into manageable components through simple, playful exercises.

My physical therapy homework was to do more strengthening exercises and less yoga. It worked. Within months, I could once again do poses that I had previously avoided because of the pain.

As I felt better, I began to ask myself, “How do these poses affect my body? What daily life activities will they help me with?” My pursuit of answers led me to take hundreds of hours of additional teacher training and acquire multiple certifications. Eventually, I created the Yoga Deconstructed method—classes and workshops that help others understand how to apply modern movement science to yoga.

My approach literally deconstructs yoga by breaking down complicated movements into manageable components. I look at what is happening in the body, joint by joint, in each pose. The challenge as a teacher of movement is to make exercise simple and enjoyable—even for those who might not find it so easy. I take students through simple, purposeful, and playful exercises that improve strength, mobility, flexibility, stability, and coordination.

Though I developed Yoga Deconstructed for anyone transitioning out of rehabilitation and back into the studio, it is a method that can be adapted for any specific movement goal (see “Is This Method Right for Me?” on page 63).

By blending yoga, corrective exercise, Pilates, and somatics, the Yoga Deconstructed method physically prepares students to do poses they previously believed they could not. It’s important to me that I challenge students’ preconceptions and help them cultivate a beginner’s mind so they can become alert and aware of what’s really possible.

ACCESS YOUR EXPANSION

Experience the Yoga Deconstructed approach to preparing for Camel Pose.

1 SIMPLIFIED PRONE SALUTE

Before you begin, assess your range of motion in cervical and thoracic extension: While standing or sitting, gently turn your head from side to side and lower your chin toward your chest.

Then, lie facedown on the floor, your feet slightly wider than your hips, your right hand resting on top of your left, and your forehead resting on top of your hands.

Keeping your head and hands still, slowly lift and lower your right elbow off the floor 5 times. Notice how this affects the movement of your scapula. Next, place your left hand on top of your right and repeat on the opposite side.

Then, with your forehead connected to your left hand, slowly lift your head and your left arm off the floor and lower them 5 times. Place your right hand on top of your left and repeat this movement on the opposite side.

After you practice, slowly and gently move your head from side to side and lower your chin toward your chest as you did before this exercise. Notice if it feels easier or if your range of motion in your upper or middle back has changed.

2 ROLLING LIKE A BALL WITH A BLOCK

Start in a seated position with your knees bent and your feet on the floor in front of you. Tuck a block between the back of your thighs and your calves. Place your hands on the middle of your shins, and start to round your back. Lean back just enough that you can balance with your feet barely off the floor.

Without dropping the block, rock backward while maintaining the rounding in your back. When your shoulder blades touch the floor, rock forward to the starting position while maintaining the same shape. Complete up to 8 times.

3 SIDE-LYING BOOK OPENER

Lie on your left side with your left arm extended at shoulder height. Place a few folded blankets under your head to keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine. Bend your knees to a 90-degree angle and rest them on the mat (you may want to place a block between them). Bend your right elbow to bring your hand behind your head.

Lean back and rotate your chest and head toward the ceiling. Try to keep your knees stacked and your pelvis still. Return to the starting position. Complete 5 times and repeat on the other side.

4 SLIDING THREAD-THE-NEEDLE

Fold your mat to create padding for your knees. Come into kneeling with your knees on your mat and your left hand on a folded blanket in front of you. Internally rotate your left arm so your fingers point to the right.

Start to slide your left arm to the right as you bend your right elbow. Allow your chest to rotate to the right. Straighten your right elbow and return to the starting position. Place your right hand on the blanket and repeat on the opposite side. Complete 5 sets, alternating sides.

5 GYROSCOPIC SWIRLS

Unfold a blanket and drop it loosely on the floor in front of your mat. Kneel with your knees on the mat and your hands on the blanket. Align your wrists and elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Round your back, and internally rotate your arms toward your center.

Slide your right arm forward and slightly to the left. Exhale, and lower your left elbow and slide your left arm to the right as you turn your chest to the right. Inhale, and return to hands and knees. Repeat on the opposite side. Complete 5 sets, alternating sides.

6 TETRIS CLICK-THE-BLOCKS

Come into a tall kneeling position with your arms down by your sides, holding one block in each hand. Reach out to the sides and then overhead until the short ends of the blocks touch. Lower your arms, reach back, and touch the short ends of the blocks behind you. Try to keep your torso still and your pelvis and spine neutral as you move your arms. Complete 5 sets.

7 CAMEL POSE WITH ARM REACHES

Start in tall kneeling position, toes tucked under. Place a block on the highest setting in line with your right heel. Looking toward your right heel, place your right hand on the block as you reach your left arm overhead. Grip the block and bring your right arm up, parallel to your left arm. Pass the block to your left hand, lower your left arm, and reach to the left as you touch the block down alongside your left heel and reach your right arm up. Come back to center. Try to keep your pelvis facing forward throughout. Complete up to 5 rounds.

8 STATIC CAMEL POSE WITH PULL-UP

Start in a tall kneeling position in the middle of your mat. Reach your arms straight up toward the ceiling as if you’re grabbing a pull-up bar. Create fists with your hands. Engage your glutes and abdominals as you bend your elbows out to the sides, slide your shoulders down your back, and arch your thoracic spine to create tension. Hold this pose for 3 to 5 breaths. Come back to upright.

9 CAMEL POSE

Start in tall kneeling position with your toes tucked under. Round your back, tuck your chin, and fold forward. Cup your heels with your palms. Slowly lift your chest away from your thighs, keeping your back round and chin tucked.

Keeping your chin slightly tucked, continue to lift your chest and begin to straighten your upper back. Lift your hips away from your heels, lean back, and start to move your pelvis forward. Slowly start to arch your back, lifting and lengthening out of your low back.

Keep your toes tucked and your arms straight as you arch your back and shift your pelvis forward. Keep your chin slightly tucked or, if your neck feels stable, slowly let your head tilt back.

To come out of this pose, slowly reverse how you came into it: Lift out of the backbend to tall kneeling position, then let your hips sink back toward your heels as you slowly round your upper spine and tuck your chin.

TRINA ALTMAN is the creator of Yoga Deconstructed, a system that shows students and movement teachers how to create a more sustainable yoga practice based on contemporary science. Learn more at trinaaltman.com.

Text adapted from Yoga Deconstructed: Transitioning From Rehabilitation Back Into the Yoga Studio by Trina Altman. Handspring Publishing, 2020

DECONSTRUCT YOUR PRACTICE

The Yoga Deconstructed method gradually prepares your body for the physical demands of a particular posture through progressive stretching and strengthening, by adding external loads, and by incorporating progressive movement. Rather than trying to “achieve” difficult poses, you are encouraged to make the movement fit your own abilities.

A typical Yoga Deconstructed class builds strength and stability in a pose through four exercise science principles:

1 Regression: Making the alignment in a pose easier to maintain. You can regress a posture by changing the pose’s orientation to gravity (for example, practicing Warrior Pose III lying on your side) or reducing the lever length (such as bending your knees in Boat Pose).

2 Progression: Making it more challenging to maintain the alignment in a pose by adding external load or weight (such as holding a yoga bolster in Warrior Pose III) or increasing the lever or limb length (by coming into Boat Pose with straight knees).

3 Somatic movement: Emphasizing the internal experience during a pose rather than the outward appearance of the pose. Instead of being told, “Stack your knee directly above your ankle,” you might hear “Lean your knee toward your pinkie toe. Then take it in toward the center of the mat. Pick a place for your knee that feels good for your body today.”

4 Preparatory exercises: Cross-training to prepare the joints for the demands of a pose. For example: Physical therapy exercises, pre-Pilates exercises, and drills might be added to build mobility and strength.

IS THIS METHOD RIGHT FOR ME?

While anyone can benefit from Yoga Deconstructed, it’s especially useful if you fall into one of these categories:

∙ You have completed physical therapy after an injury but are not ready to return to a traditional yoga class.
∙ You have experienced pain or injury when practicing yoga.
∙ You need more strength, mobility, or control to hold most yoga poses.
∙ You have been encouraged by a medical professional to try yoga to reduce stress or pain.
∙ You are naturally flexible and need more stability to support your joints in some positions.
∙ You are an experienced student preparing for challenging poses, such as the splits or arm balances.
∙ You are a yoga teacher who wants to be able to better meet the needs of all of your students.

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