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Vanilline,
originally uploaded by arahbahn.

I was hoping to make sure that all the images in these yoga posts relate in some way to the post topics, but this one seems to be a bit of a stretch. Pictured is my Vanilla Flan with Butterscotch Sauce, which I made for Valentine’s Day dessert for hubbie. This long holiday weekend was so full of yoga that the flan seems to be one of the few things that wasn’t directly related to my yoga practice.

We’ll just see, if this post comes around and finds a way to connect it. Something along the lines of: I chose something new and strange to learn to do, took a stab at it, and it turned out tasting quite delicious, but looking a little different than pictured in the magazine.

My flan experience has yoga written all over it.

In class on Sunday, we broke down a few poses, including [high] plank and four-limbed staff pose (Chaturanga Dandasana). A few weeks ago I attended a similar workshop. On each occasion, I learned a few new adjustments that have helped me do the poses more correctly and more safely.

For the longest time, in classes (including videos I follow at home), an oft-repeated instruction for both high and low plank has been to “pull/melt your shoulder blades down your back.” To me, this has meant, pull them down toward my tailbone. Whether or not my shoulder blades protruded from my back didn’t seem to be of import. What was rarely mentioned was the notion that I needed to firm them against my back, or activate the muscles between them.

I’d never had the opportunity to look sideways (in a mirror) at myself in plank, until this Sunday. When I did, I found that my shoulder blades were veritable wings, jutting out away from my back, albeit pointing toward my feet. And that’s not good. It’s going to overtax a few muscles, and underuse a few others, when done like that.

To assist me with this exercise, my middle back (the rhomboid area) was already sore. It was probably caused by a few things: from doing a lot more plank poses than I normally do, in a week, and from a yoga class with a lot of twists, the prior week. I’d tried ibuprofen, a heating pad, and rolling my back on a tennis ball or large foam roller, to try and alleviate the pain, throughout the last two weeks.

So, after getting a good look at my wonky, dangerous pose, I moved around a bit, to see exactly HOW I would be able to make those shoulder blades disappear from the mirror. Eventually I settled on laterally arching my back, while making every attempt to fill the back of my lungs, on every inhale, of course while keeping my shoulders broad. When I did this, I could see my spine in the mirror. I asked the instructor if this was how it should look. She said yes. So, I’ve found my mental image of the pose: make sure my spine is at a higher point (or at least level) with my shoulder blades.

I’m floored that just doing that pose, this way, even while sitting at my computer, makes the injured area feel better.

When trying to describe my “Eureka!” to my husband, I found that visualizing my spine as one of an animal that is really obvious, either via the animal name/breed (Rhodesian Ridgeback came to mind; we have friends who have one as a pet) or via an animal that has one spectacularly festooned spine (a Stegosaurus).

So, in my own twisted words, I needed to get “all dinosaur on” my plank pose.

Hopefully I won’t take it too far, either by losing focus on some of the other important parts of this pose, or by suddenly eschewing meat and inexplicably preparing for one hell of a long cold winter.

Back to the flan: most of my hands-on instruction in yoga was in another style, and one that didn’t deal much in high or low planks. In the past year of a lot more power vinyasa yoga, my guidance on these poses has been loose, and primarily not visual. I had an idea in my head of what they should look and feel like, which was a little off base.

Back to the flan: Ok, it’s not a parallel story. Still, a lesson: with good instructions or a detailed recipe, even intimidating things can be feasible. That’s food for thought, for this teacher-in-training.

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