Here’s something no one really talks about when talking about yoga. Injuries. Yoga is so much about alignment, and repeated misalignment = injuries. Couple that with the fact that very few teachers actually teach poses in flow classes (you should really go to a workshop if you haven’t been to been one) and you have a decent chance of injuring yourself in some very basic poses.
If you’re like me and taking hot power flow classes, you’re getting tired in the first half of class, sacrificing form to get through the poses, and then, like me, you have a persistent shoulder issue. Actually, I’ve had this shoulder issue for a few years - it’s where I carry stress, and its also on the same side I sleep on — it’s not painful or chronic enough to matter in my every day, but a regular yoga practice has certainly aggravated it, particularly in low plank (chaturanga) and up dog. I’ve also had this goal of a handstand for YEARS (still haven’t gotten there) and so I decided to book a private yoga session with Nikki Lang of The Ultra Dose.
Nikki offers three types of private yoga experiences:
The Chill Pill which is more focused on restorative yoga with lots of props, designed to bliss you out
The Script which walks you through 5/6 yoga poses, customized specifically for you to help you work out the kinks in your joints
The Antidote which is the one I did, that specifically helps you work through injury and pain.
I made my appointment with Nikki through her website, and she showed up with a special chair and 2 bags filled with supportive props for my practice. Since this session was at my house (and we have 3 dogs), I vacuumed TWICE earlier in the morning and made sure I had my mat nearby, but that was pretty much all the preparation that was needed on my end. Nikki did let me know that she had created a custom playlist so I had my JAMBOX charged, and we were ready to get to it.
As we got started, Nikki immediately had me test the flexibility of my wrists - turns out they are not. And that is something I’m going to have to work on indefinitely to get them ready to handle something as intense as a handstand. That quick test was really helpful in setting the expectation that a handstand was NOT going to happen in that session.
From there she had me run through a series of very basic stretches and had me talk through how they felt for me so she could pinpoint my shoulder issue and offer me some therapeutic poses to help. There were a LOT of assisted stretches, with Nikki using straps to help me maximize my range of motion - even though they were super intense, it really helped me understand my body’s true range of motion.
Nikki had me demonstrate my table top pose where she diagnosed that I think my shoulders are way wider than they are in real life - this is possibly one of the big reasons for my shoulder pain. She then had me demonstrate my plank pose - apparently I also think my hips are wider than they are in real life. She explained that hip width actually means the distance between the hip bones, not the outsides of the hips. She then had me demonstrate my low plank (chaturanga), and pointed out my very many mis-alignments from where I was placing my hands, my feet, and also that instead of distributing weight in my legs (the strongest part of everyone’s body), I was making my upper body (much weaker for pretty much everyone) do the hard work. Also, I was trying to go way lower in my low plank than is necessary. Unlike a traditional push up where you may want to touch your chest to the ground, that is absolutely 100% NOT NECESSARY (and in fact incorrect) in yoga. We worked through the correct down dog for my body to protect my shoulders, and Nikki walked me through some exercises to get my body ready for a proper flow transition to updog.
It may not seem like a whole lot, but all these alignment fixes took the better part of an hour, and I was exhausted! We ended with some more assisted stretches (very similar to thai massage), took some fun selfies, and that was the end of our session.
The Aftermath: I was surprised by how intensely thirsty I was after our session. It didn’t feel like I was doing a whole lot of work (I didn’t sweat) but I was thirsty like I had just had an hour long deep tissue massage. In fact I was thirsty for the whole rest of the day. I had signed up for a yoga class later in the day, and was happy to have the opportunity to practice what I learned so soon. The next day I woke up pretty sore - so sore in fact that I decided to sit out the HIK Yoga event that I had signed up for and take it easy instead. Since then I’ve practiced yoga twice and I have to be honest - it’s hard to break old habits and remember all the things that Nikki taught me. That said, my shoulder pain has been less and I’ve been able to do yoga pushups more comfortably that I did in the past.
Overall assessment: If you’re struggling with yoga in general, or specific poses, or have pain in certain poses, I highly recommend signing up for a private yoga session to work through your challenges in a customized way. If it’s too expensive, you may want to consider pairing up with a friend who has similar struggles and do a semi-private practice instead. One session will not fix everything (isn’t that a metaphor for life?!) but it will give you the tools and knowledge to continue to improve your practice moving forward. Change is hard, but it is so worth it to see the results.
If you’re in Northeast Ohio, I highly recommend Nikki. If you’re not in Northeast Ohio, your favorite yoga instructor probably offers private yoga lessons too. Just ask.
Cheers to more pain free, enjoyable yoga experiences.