Like many others, for many years yoga has been my haven. I came to yoga as a gentle practice after years of competitive, high-impact sports had left my body a wreck. As the years went on and I picked up the pace and frequency of my practice, the repetitive movement of my beloved vinyasa classes began to take its toll. After I sprained both of my shoulders, I decided to take a break from my yoga practice and pursue different modalities. This pursuit brought me into my first barre class.
I was hesitant at first to head to a barre class, as I knew nothing of dance (other than what I saw on TV) and feared my unstable knees could pose a problem. I found the class to be very accessible and the instructors were highly receptive to the different needs in the room.
Much like yoga, barre provided many levels of difficulty and optional layering so the class was accessible to my, at the time, injured body. As with any modality, as my participation frequency increased, familiar patterns of wear and tear began to arise, which led me to come up with a few ideas for tuning up before and after any barre class. As most of the barre classes I have attended focus a large portion of the class on the legs and glutes, my tune ups focus on the lower body (mostly).
I will, however, start with the commonly heard “belly button to spine” or “hollow out your core”. These phrases come up across the board of modalities and are said, I like to think, with the best of intentions. What I think we are really looking for here is a bracing, or tubularizing of the core, as we like to say in Yoga Tune Up®. Activating the entirety of the midsection (abdominals and low back) allows for a stable and happy spine during a barre practice, helping to keep the lower ribs hugged in and the pelvis in a neutral position. This makes for a happy low back with no pain after class. If you have problems keeping your low ribs from thrusting out as you come into various postures, practice intercostal crunches to help strengthen your ‘rib hugging’ muscles. (Read fellow YTU teacher Dagmar Khan’s article, Confessions Of A Chronic Rib Thruster, to learn more about rib thrusting and why it is not ideal for your body.)
Once you have your core engaged and properly secured, you can now focus on ensuring your lower body is aligned as well. Most barre classes require you to frequently be externally rotated while squatting on and/or off your toes (known as plies). As you come into varying levels of external rotation with hip flexion, your hips cannot create the proper amount of torque needed to allow the soft tissues of the lower body to support you properly as you squat, which can lead to hip, knee, and back issues if not properly maintained. Squatting with extreme amounts of external rotation also requires a ton of pelvis and rib control to prevent over extension in the low back through rib thrusting and anterior tilting of the pelvis. To counteract the pelvic tilt, you may hear your instructor tell you to “tuck your tailbone” or “tuck under”, to realign the pelvis under the spinal column.
Sadly, for my body, these types of poses are simply not obtainable. Many of the externally rotated squat postures are just too much for my hips and knees, so I modify with feet flat and parallel. I have never had an instructor say anything but positive remarks about me modifying the poses to fit my needs. If a pose is not working for you don’t be afraid to adapt it to fit. Remember, adapting a pose to fit your body is not the same as doing the ‘wrong’ pose or doing the pose incorrectly. Any athletic practice should be about finding the right positions for your body. You are always in charge of your health and your body’s needs.
Come back on Friday to learn my favorite Yoga Tune Up® poses to incorporate before or after your barre class!