- Hi Bernie, I wanted to inquire whether you would answer a question for me about a situation in my Yin Yoga class. I have purchased your book and read it cover to cover and I teach this class in accordance with the principles you set out, and the forms you gave in that book.
I have one male student probably in his 50's who is very stiff (body and mind). Very athletic and with a professional job. I can tell that he pushes himself too hard in the forms. I have encouraged him to go more easy and maybe use some props.
In the most recent class, I said the next form would be the squatting asana. He groaned out loud, because when he takes this asana, for example, he can only lower his hips a little below his knees (from hamstring tightness) and he cannot close the space from his thighs to his chest (from lower back tightness). So it is tremendous work for him to stand like that for three or four minutes. I asked him can you roll up your mat to lift your heels and he verbalized no. I asked him can I stack blocks behind him so he can have something to sit on, he verbalized no.
What I want to try next is to offer the same experience in a form that is more accessible to this one student, and then after he is in it comfortably offer that if anyone wants a deeper form they can take squatting. What can I offer in a yin form that will have the same groin and lower back openings but be more accessible? I was wondering about happy baby but that isn't listed in your book except as a counter pose.
Thank you for any suggestions.
First: there are 2 other postures that have the same shape as Squat pose that may work better for your student: Happy Baby (which is a lying down Squat) and Wall Squat. (I am not sure why you said that Happy Baby isn't listed in my book-it is and not just as a counter pose. It is a fully acceptable yin pose on its own. See page 102 of the Complete Guide to Yin Yoga.)
However, before even considering other options, why not try to figure out What is Stopping him? Why can't he squat? Or better yet, let's see if we can get him to find out what his stopping him! What is he feeling in the pose? You said that he has tight hamstrings, but with the knees full bent, hamstring tightness rarely prevents people from squatting. Resistance in Squat can come from the hips, knees or ankles. Ankles may resist dorsiflexion due to tension, which would be felt in the calf muscles, or compression, which would arise in front of the ankles (where the tibia hits the talus bone). What is he experiencing? If compression, then he has reached a limit as to how much he can dorsiflex his ankles. If it is tension, then other postures that are more accessible may help him stress those areas. For example, the Overstepping Dragon pose is a lovely way to stretch tight calf muscles. (Down Dog does too, but it is not a yin pose.)
Maybe the restrictions are coming from his hips. Does he feel tightness in the buttocks area (tension in the glutes) or compression in the front of the pelvis (compression of the ASIS against the thigh)? Tension here can be worked on in other postures like Child's Pose. Indeed, I do wonder if he can bring his chest to his thigh in Child's Pose-if not, Squat will be a challenge for sure.
Child's Pose is also a good way to see if resistance is arising in the knees: maybe he cannot fully flex his knees! This could create a feeling of tension in the quadriceps or compression at the back of the knee itself. Again, compression is a limit to how far he can go, but if the only sensations are of tension, that can be worked on and reduced over time. Can he even simply sit on his heels? If not, why not? And if not, he also won't be able to go lower in Squat either, for the same reasons.
Options for the pose itself? You are correct to offer some support under the heels, like a rolled-up mat or block. This will help if the limitation is coming from the ankles. I am not sure why he wants to resist that suggestion, but again that is another topic. If the resistance is in the hips, having the feet wider apart and pointed outward may be helpful. If the resistance is compression in back of the knees, then I would suggest that this is not a good pose for him and he should do Wall Squat instead.
Of course if he reports any pain in any area (coming into Squat can be hard on the knees), this is not the pose for him.
One last point: what is your intention in asking him to do the pose? If you intend to stress the ankles, then tell him! Say something like “For this pose, our intention is to feel a stress in the back of the calf muscles and the front of the ankles. What are you feeling? If you don't feel it there, then we have another pose to get that stress-the Overstepping Dragon!, If you intend to stress the hips, then tell him “For this pose our intention is to full flex the hips and create a stress in the buttocks. What are you feeling? If you don't feel it there, then we have another pose to get that stress-the Wall Squat,...I hope you see the pattern. Have an intention for the pose and ask the students to pay attention to what they are feeling. If they are not feeling it in the targeted area, change the pose a little (props?) or change to another pose.
I hope this helps