Question 1: How can I make my arms stronger for poses that require arm strength? Also, is it normal to have one side of the body stronger than the other (in my case, the right side is so much stronger than the left)? And is there a way to even the sides?
Answer 1: There are a few ways to strengthen your arms. You could hold poses that work the arms (I put a few above) longer when you're doing your yoga sequences. (Try for ten deep breaths or longer.) Or, you could do a yoga sequence specifically designed for upper body strength. If you wanted to take it off the yoga mat, you could head to the gym and do some upper body strengthening. Focus on bicep curls, tricep dips, chest press, shoulder press and lat pulldowns.
Rest assured it is totally normal to have one side of the body stronger than the other. To even the sides, just do a little more on the weaker side. For example, if you are holding side plank on your strong side for 10 breaths, do that two or three times on your left side.
Stick with it! The strength building takes time and can seem like you're not getting anywhere, but just stay diligent and keep practicing and it will eventually come.
Related: 3 essential yoga poses for sculpted arms.
Question 2: I've been doing yoga since the new year every morning when I wake up. I started to do yoga because of my anxiety/panic disorder (graduate school certainly took its toll on me, too). In changing up my yoga routines I've been finding that I'm having a lot of trouble crossing my arms/reaching across/having my elbows touch. I'm a big chested woman and I do pay attention to my right shoulder when I do yoga as I've had tendonitis in it numerous times and it will inflame fairly easily. Are there any poses I could do that would help with crossing my arms/reaching across/having my elbows touch? Thank you.
Answer 2: Grad school does a number on us all, huh?! So glad you found yoga and it's been helpful. As for your question, it's hard for me to say 100% without seeing you in person, because there are two things that are going on when the arms are in front and the elbows are touching. First, we need space, and if you're big chested, it might just be that there just isn't much space. The other thing we need is flexibility and openness in the space between the shoulder blades. Do you feel super tight there? If so, try these yoga poses for upper back.
This is actually a common struggle I see for men who build their arms and chest muscles and are tight in the upper back as well. To modify I always suggest just pressing the hands together and keep a gentle intension behind bringing the elbows together but not worrying too much if they get there.
Question 3: I have some trouble with yoga. I've been doing it for 3 years now and I feel like I'm over thinking it. I think I put too much focus into the poses. I find when I relax and just let it all come naturally, I have more fun and I find the sequence(s) to be more fulfilling. However, I don't want to get too relaxed and injure myself. What do you think, Candace?
Answer 3: I think it depends on your definition of relaxed. To me, what you're describing sounds like you being completely in the moment, not thinking, just enjoying each sip of breath, each subtle movement in the body. This is yoga. This is a space where you aren't likely to get hurt. Most injuries I see come from people overthinking it. Trying too hard. Not listening to their bodies. Pushing to go further than their bodies are ready to go. Trying to achieve something. This is a dangerous place. I think as long as you're listening to what your body is telling you and you back off the moment you feel pain, you will be okay.
Question 4: This question is about yoga for the bigger/fuller/larger person. I do love doing yoga despite feeling I am not achieving. BUT quite often I find my chest area and stomach restrict my breathing when folding or doing shoulder stands. I also find that trying to complete lotus and supta gomukhasana, seated twist like poses as i feel my thighs just get in the way. I am aware i need to lose weight but I was wondering if there are any tips or a flow you recommend until then.
I honestly do believe that yoga is for everyone of any shape or size but there is not a lot available to help those of us with a larger frame. Your advice would be highly appreciated. Thank you.
Answer 4: Yoga is for everyone, but you are so right - there really isn't a lot out there to help fuller people. I think the real problem is that there isn't a lot for yoga instructors in terms of how to teach a fuller person. It's different, just as it is different when you teach a pregnant woman or kids. When our bodies are different, we need to accommodate them in the poses. Anyway, here's what I've learned about yoga for larger bodies:
Yoga instructors are taught how to cue yoga poses based on a center point of gravity of a person who is not large. Larger people have a different center point of gravity due to a fuller belly, chest, etc. Therefore, we need to accommodate the fuller belly, chest, legs, and anything else that feels like it's getting in the way. For you, or any larger bodied person, this is where the real yoga is put to the test, especially considering that your yoga instructor simply might not know how to teach you: you've got to listen to your body and find the center point of gravity. Ask yourself, "How does this feel? What's getting in the way and how can I accommodate it?"
I can give a few pointers:
Downward dog: For downward dog, you can take a wider stance with both hands and feet. And if the strength isn't there yet to hold yourself up on the hands, take dolphin pose.
Seated twists: Sit on a block so the pelvis can tilt a bit forward. Extend one leg and cross one leg over if possible. You could use a yoga block as shown above to help.
Related: In another Ask A Yoga Question post, I answered how to modify balasana when the belly gets in the way.
Question 5: Hello Candace, I am new to yoga I started with my friend and neighbour when she recommended it to me (being a yoga teacher herself) and I did an Instagram challenge. It's now been about 4 months and I use the YBC videos to practice and I love them, but I am finding it hard to practice everyday. I am a nurse and work irregular shifts, i have no regular pattern to my life. I feel that due to this I am not progressing as much as I hoped. I find my shoulders still feel really tight, and my core is very weak. Do you have any recommendations on how I can start getting into a routine or do you have advice for people who work shifts on how to include yoga into their daily life?
Answer 5: Thanks so much for the video love. I'm so glad they're helping. It's so hard to have not having a routine be your routine. I guess it's a good opportunity to go with the flow and learn to carve out your piece of mind from the chaos.
I recommend taking a step back and looking at your life as it currently is. Do you have 15 minutes to spare somewhere in the day? Maybe 20? If so, set a daily alarm on your phone. Schedule it like a meeting with the most important person in your world (because really, you are the most important person in your world), and don't cancel on that person.
Yoga can be done at any time of the day, and it might even help you feel energized for work, or may help you to unwind after a long shift. If you've got 15 minutes and it's right before work, do an energizing vinyasa yoga sequence. If you just got off a long shift and are exhausted and ready for bed, do a yin yoga sequence.
The key is to be consistent. It doesn't have to be an hour every day, even just five minutes of yoga will be helpful. Consistency is what will bring the flexibility and strength. But be gentle on yourself. Expect nothing except that you'll keep that appointment every day. Wishing you the best.
Question 6: Hi Candace! I have found comfort in backbends, especially wheel pose (one of my favorites). I am trying now to raise one of the legs in wheel pose, and get it straight high. But I can't get it straight, I believe is because of my tight hamstrings.
What are some good preparation poses to get to this one? And what's the best way to do it right and safely?
Answer 6: There are two things going on when we lift one leg in wheel pose. The first is finding flexibility in the hamstring of the lifted leg. The second is finding flexibility in the grounded leg's hip flexor. I'd recommend practicing this yoga sequence which I created for splits, but is basically the same sort of shape we're making. This yoga for back bending flexibility is also a good sequence, as it works up to the lifted leg variation of wheel pose.
When you feel ready to lift the leg, try to keep the integrity of the pose. The spine stays long even though it's rounded (i.e. no compression), and use the core strength to lift the leg as you press through the bottom of the foot with one long line of energy. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
Related: 4 Ways to improve your backbend