If I had to pick one action we do a lot in yoga, it’d be moving from High to Low Push Up. In fact we do it so much and it’s filled with physical challenges, that I often suggest that people skip low push up whenever they want. Am I offering them a way out? Not really. I’m offering them a modification to provide better balance in the overall practice. Because of how often we move from High to Low, it can create some problems for the shoulders and wrists. This might exist even if we’re doing it correctly.
Let’s break it down. When we stand in Tadasana, or anatomical position, we’re in concert with gravity:
Once we do something like Plank, we’re fighting gravity:
And then, once we move into Low Push Up, we’re fighting gravity even more as we hover close to the floor:
So, what can we tell our students to help them combat the force of gravity and give the whole process greater ease and integrity? We need to give them specific actions to take, including:
- Keep the head still
- Press into the floor when lowering
- Hug elbows into sides
- Stack elbows over wrists
- Engage core by hugging outer core inwards
- Squeeze thighs
- Press heels back
Now, that’s a lot to say and certainly more than you’d offer in one series of moving from High to Low. But you can give one or two cues, go through the Salutation and then the next time around offer another two. Working in this way helps to avoid overwhelming the students.
Also note these are all short, specific, action oriented phrases easily understood by most people. So, they’ll be able to try them out right away without that confusion that sometimes happens when people don’t understand the cue.
Now, you might be wondering, “Why do we ask people to do it this way?” Well, if you are, that’s a great question. One of my pet peeves is when I hear teachers teach something without sharing the “why.” It’s a lot harder for students and new teachers to learn for the long term and have it stick if they’re just hearing the cue without context.
Let me share that overall, we must take the load off the upper body somewhat if we are to protect the shoulders and provide a movement that has integrity. How do we do that? By involving not only the muscles of the shoulders but also including the core and legs. We involved the core and legs by cueing #6, 7 and 8 and we involve the shoulders through cue #2 and 3. We protect the wrists, which are at the low point of this pose (therefore also at risk) through cue #4 and we create greater ease and integrity through implementing cue #1.
Now, there is STILL another level of detail behind all this which is the muscles that we’re calling upon to make this whole movement work. For that, I refer you to my online course on this subject called “High to Low Push Up Mini Course.” This is a short course that will walk you through the whole process, including the muscles involved. It’s a very practical way to learn anatomy.
Now, how can we modify? Back in the day, I used to tell people to drop their knees to the floor. I don’t do that anymore. I simply offer to them to lower ALL THE WAY DOWN. In this way, IF they do it with integrity and by USING the correct muscles and by doing all the correct actions as above, they train the body to build strength in these muscles and therefore build the intelligence, coordination and strength to move to do it by lowering just a little bit.
Also, one more note: You don’t need to tell your students to lower “halfway down.” There’s nothing magical about that and in fact, the lower they go, the greater chances the poses lose their integrity. Just have them lower “a little bit.” When I teach, I usually lower them to the floor the first time, teach more in terms of anatomy and alignment and then the 2nd or 3rd time, offer it as “a little bit down” and say they can mix up going all the way down or a little bit down throughout the class.
If you’re looking for ways to learn more about anatomy you can also download my class on Vimeo which is filled with anatomical cues. Get it here.
Thanks for reading and please leave a comment!