Lately, I have heard a few clients endearingly call certain challenging poses “those crazy pretzel poses”.  We understand; we have all probably been known to feel that way at one time or another.  Truthfully, I believe it is primarily about proper technique.  With solid technique, we can make even the most challenging poses simpler and make them feel better in our bodies.

The first place to start is to cultivate that awareness of “how does this feel in my body?”  Be honest about where you are in your body.  Is your spine healthy?  Are you dealing with any lower back issues, cervical spine issues, knee sensitivity?  How is your shoulder rotation, and how much core strength do you have?  Most people come to yoga for improvement and safety in these areas.  Yoga will help you improve and progress in these areas, but be honest about where you are today.  If you have lower back sensitivity, twists may not be as deep today.  Listen to your body.  As you gain more openness in your thoracic spine (mid-back) and strengthen your abdominal muscles, the twists will deepen with greater ease.  It is really about your own body awareness and the willingness to speak up, take a modification or back off.  Yoga Sol has an amazing roster of instructors with years of advanced training and experience, so consider adjustments, modifications, and props as fine-tuning to advance your practice.



Ok, so now you have that good body connection handled and you know just what is right for you today.  Just one more thing,…that pesky EGO thing.  My good friend and mentor, Elyse Briggs, owner of Yoga at the Village in Glendale, prominently positions an “EGO Bench” in front of her studio with instructions to “leave your EGO here”.  Elyse makes the point with humor and we all laugh, but we get it. You come to yoga for your individual practice…for what you need today…for what serves you best.  It makes no difference what your neighbor does.  I opened Yoga Sol to be the best equipped studio in Orange County (with Elyse’s inspiration) and the props are there for you to have your best yoga experience. Use them – try them – see if they can help you find the poses to be more accessible.  You’ll probably end up working deeper, but it will feel better in your body.  We’ll point out the safety issue issues, but you know your body better than anyone.

Moving on to great technique.  You’ve heard these technique markers before, but sometimes the extra reminder and focus is the difference of holding the “crazy pretzel balance” pose a little longer.

  • Build the pose from the ground up – work the legs!
    • Depending on the pose, cues encourage the work of the legs.  Downward Dog: shift the weight into the legs – feel the work of the legs.  Uttanasana (forward bend): lift the knee caps, engage the quads.  Standing poses: pretend to rip your mat apart.
    • Really look at your legs and make sure you are in proper position.  If it is a bent knee pose, is the knee tracking directly over the ankle? (not ahead, not behind and not side to side – simply 90 degree angle)
    • Are the legs truly engaged and working?  If you are setting up for any standing revolved pose, balance comes from the engagement and work of the legs.
  • Move the femur bone (the thigh bone)!
    • Courtesy of Annie Carpenter’s latest workshop, I have a renewed awareness of the placement of the femur bone and wow, can that help you amp up the work in a pose or make balance rock solid.  In three-legged-Downward Dog, simply think of moving the femur bone of the standing leg back – you solidify the work in the standing leg – improve balance and now you can talk about the “crazy pretzel moves”.  In Revolved Chair Pose (Parivrtta Utkatasana), think about moving the femur bones down, tail bone in and lifting the heart, and now the twist feels more grounded!  Working in Side Angle Pose (Parsvakonasana), send the femur bone of the bent leg down; you dramatically amp up the work.  Taking this into the bind, keep that action and feel grounded into the bind and twist.   Tree pose (Vrksasana), same thing, send the femur bone of the standing leg back and you fire up the work of the standing leg and the result is greater balance.
  • Engage the lower abdominals.
    • You know the work, just the reminder that on almost any challenging pose, the work of the abdominals comes into play.  You coil the lower abdominal muscles in, towards the back and you create support for the lower back.
  • Lift your heart, tail bone in.
    • In balance and twisting poses, you often hear the cue to lift your heart, tail bone in to keep the spine open and to keep from compressing – feeling more open and balanced.
    • If a backbend is involved, you are lifting and lengthening and finding space as you deepen (not compressing in the lumbar spine).
  • Understand that, unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to creating open shoulders.
    • Many of us have tightness in the neck and shoulders due to desk lifestyles, long held tension and stress.  In my mind, yoga is the best thing to open shoulders, but it takes time, patience and a commitment to the work.  We gain more mobility every day, but it is unlikely that you can be the “pretzel king or queen” until the shoulders are open and injury free.  Best to enjoy where you are you and feel the tension melting away as you find more openness.
  • Make the props your friends!
    • Try Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon) with a block to the outside of your front foot, front leg engaged (femur bone back) and lift that back leg from inner thigh – foot flexed, now open the hip, lift the arm.  (I see too many students struggle and it almost seems like they won’t use the block – dare I say out of EGO.) Ask yourself if using the block helps you get more opening across the chest and shoulders?
    • Tons more examples – really comes down to feeling it in your body and being clear on where you want to go.
  • Understand that you can just “Say No” to some poses.
    • If there is a pose that is just never going to be your friend (for me, I’d probably say Vasisthasana (Side Plank) & Full Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana), and Flip the Dog), why not just choose a modification or take alternative.  No rule that you have to do everything.
  • Don’t forget to breathe!
    • Energy flowing into the body on the inhalations and the body calming on the exhalations.  Are you keeping a smooth quality in the breath on that challenging pose?  It can help, and if not, maybe you back out.
  • Smile, enjoy and keep the full perspective!
    • If you can’t laugh at yourself if you come out of a “crazy pretzel pose” and just go just try again, then how fun are you really having?
    • The yoga practice really is so much more than just the asana physical practice.  Try not to lose sight of all the full spectrum of yoga.  Through the physical asana practice, we work toward strength, toning and flexibility, but the bigger perspective is to quiet the mind and cultivate balance and mental clarity.
  • Just ask us, we’ll help!


 Rozanne Englehart