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The desire to push further into what we think a pose should look like overtakes most yogis at some point—and often leads to injury. “When your ego gets invested in how your body should look or feel, you lose access to the intelligent, intuitive information your body is actually trying to give you,” says Annie Carpenter, creator of SmartFLOW, a vinyasa-style yoga practice grounded in both modern anatomy and classical yoga philosophy.
Think of every movement on a continuum of motion that has an extreme expression at one end and a means for backing out of that effort at the other end.
The Tendency: To hyperextend your knee on the standing leg in order to get more lift.
Stay Safe: Put a little weight in your fingertips and lift your front heel a half-inch oﬀ the mat. Then, put your heel down again. You should feel the top of your calf muscle moving forward. Keeping that action, lift your kneecap up—then straighten your leg.
Why It Works: You’re engaging your standing leg’s entire posterior chain, which makes it almost impossible to hyperextend your knee.
The Tendency: To squeeze your outer thighs in too much or let your knees splay out in order to lift your hips higher.
Stay Safe: Place a block between your thighs as you come up into Bridge Pose, then squeeze and release the block multiple times, noticing how this engages the inseams of your legs (adductors). Next, place a strap taut around your mid-thighs and push out, paying attention to how this activates your outer thighs (abductors). Then try the pose without props, balancing both adduction and abduction in each of your legs.
Why It Works: Often you have to see what only adduction or only abduction feels like in order to make micro-adjustments during your practice. When you can find equanimity between both actions, you stabilize the bones of your pelvis and keep your knees and low back safe.
The Tendency: To collapse your chest as you internally rotate your upper arm bones in order to touch your hands behind you.
Stay Safe: With your arms straight back behind you and your palms facing up, wrap a strap with a shoulder-sized loop around your wrists. Push out against the strap, externally rotate your upper arm bones, and move your shoulder blades down your back without letting your bottom ribs move forward. If that goes well, bring your arms back and up (it might just be a couple of inches). If that goes well, try again with your fingers interlaced and palms pressing together. Finally, try again with your hands in reverse namaste.
Why It Works: Externally rotating the arm bones prevents your shoulders from rolling forward, which can compress your cervical spine and keeps you from getting the posture’s chest-opening beneﬁts.
For a prop to help you in your bridge pose, try UpCircleSeven Yoga Wheel.
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