I recently made some 2 steps forward, 1 step backwards kind of progress in my practice. It can be rewarding and humbling all at the same time to retrace steps in service of building a better foundation. We all have to start somewhere and I definitely recommend doing postures at whatever level is appropriate for you. However, sometimes the most helpful work on my mat involves taking a step back.
Many modifications are steps on the path, but others turn into bad habits quickly. Revisiting poses you think you can’t get any further in can add a new level of challenge to your asana practice. The most difficult things I do in my practice always push me up against my edges, just outside my comfort zone. It’s always more tempting to take the easy way out, but what fun is that? After all, what is this practice other than a committed journey over a long duration? My biggest challenge in making these leaps is tackling my own humility in the seeming lack of “depth.”
If bakasana is on your radar then give some of these modifications and challenges a try to further your own experience of the postures and push your edges a little.
In Bakasana some students find it easier to rest their shins on the shelf of their upper arms. If you bend your elbows a little out to the side and rest your body weight there you can play with your “tipping point.” When I say tipping point, I’m referring to your balancing point where you can lift your feet off the floor and keep your head up. It’s a great place to start, and where most students find their first flight! While this is better than not doing the posture at all, after you have been relying on this cheat for a while, you might be ready to move beyond it.
The Challenge: Use your WHOLE body.
To move past the bent elbow cheat. Start with your arms STRAIGHT, locked and strong. Spread your shoulder blades, engage your core, & knit your rib cage together. Place one knee at a time as high as you can on the back of your arm and squeeze your inner thighs in. Just do toe taps, one at a time as you build strength and endurance to hold the posture with straight arms. Eventually, you’ll FLY!
2. Modification: Using Friction
In all honesty, I’m still in this camp. When I say friction I’m referring to the need for yoga tights (as opposed to shorts) or at least dry legs/arms to really hold this pose. I still rely quite a bit on my knees pressing into my arms to keep them up there. Ultimately I’m working to become lighter. But it takes time, effort, and putting in the work. So…
The Challenge: Core Strength
Once in a while bookend your work by practicing with bare legs when you’re good and sweaty. Don’t rely on friction at all and force yourself to build the core strength. You’ll likely find you go back a step, maybe even back to bent elbows, but we already know what to do about that right? And don’t forget you can build core strength in other ways too! I’m always surprised at how often working muscle groups with different drills can improve a posture without even having to practice the posture I’m working towards. All the ab works counts here.
3. Modification: Dropping your feet OR using a block under them
Leaving your feet closer to the ground sometimes helps students get over the fear of toppling forward while balancing their weight fully on their arms. But ultimately to find your tipping point you’re gonna need to squeeze those heels in towards your butt. If you’re still playing with finding your tipping point you can try placing a block under your toes effectively raising the ground up and giving you some freedom to play.
The Challenge: Lifting feet
So, you’re really gonna want to bring your feet closer in to feel the height and power of this posture. Spread your fingers wide on the ground, press your hands down, out (towards your pinkie fingers) and then back (towards the heels of your hands) to really help you fire up your core. Spread your shoulder blades, activate your core, and push your knees forward into the armpits, and squeeze your heels towards your hips.
4. Modification: Splaying your elbows and wrists
This one is actually a no-no. Some students find that bending their elbows to the side and turning their hands outward makes them feel more balanced, or provides better traction/strength. I do not recommend doing this at all—even as a “cheat”—because it puts your shoulders and wrists in a more vulnerable position.
The Challenge: Aligning your elbows and wrists
Set it up well from the beginning. Making sure your wrists are parallel with the front of your mat & then squeeze your elbows in line with your shoulders as you lift into the pose. I’m always an advocate for setting your alignment from the beginning and sticking with it. If you mindfully make a choice to create good alignment for your body. Then honour that choice and move mindfully and intentionally through the depth you can find in that days practice. There is always tomorrow.