Looking for an activity or exercise to get a body ready for fine motor tasks? Look no further than the plank pose! In this pose. Individuals have a chance to potentially work their entire core and have options to boost shoulder and abdominal strength! In yoga we often use plank as a transition pose, but it has many benefits all on its own!

In yoga practice, we usually have individuals spend no more than 3 to 4 deep breaths in this pose. Plank is a complicated pose with a lot of variations possible. Watch for the following

  • Proper spinal alignment and placement of hips, if this is difficult have the individual drop to elbows and/or knees. 
    • From elbows and/or knees: if further compensatory strategies are observed to maintain this position have the individual try on a vertical surface (table, wall) to get into proper alignment versus pushing muscles through incorrect motor patterns. 
  • Locking elbows, shoulders, knees. Some individuals tend to “hang out” in their joints rather than recruiting muscles to aid in maintaining a position. 
    • Cue for slight bend in these major joints to prevent injury.

When getting into this pose, it is most natural from downward dog, forward fold, and/or superman or other prone positions. Hands or elbows should be aligned directly underneath the shoulders. Fingers should point forward or first fingers slightly toward each other. Feet extend out straight behind the individual if completing on toes, maintain proper hip and spinal alignment. If on knees, knees should be aligned underneath hips and body weight should be towards the front of the knee, not on the knee cap. Squeeze abdominal muscles to keep belly from sagging to floor. Use alternative strategies as necessary to cue to proper alignment. Be mindful of possible triggers when using alternative supports. Use neutral language to advise individuals to keep their bottoms down, but not sagging.

If you are working to strengthen the plank pose, you may consider some of the following strategies:

  • Transitioning between down dog and plank
  • Up, up, down, down: moving between elbow and hand plank, moving one elbow or hand at a time.
  • Shoulder taps: bring opposite hand to opposite shoulder
  • Mountain climbers: bring knees to midline
  • Rolling planks: onto one arm and leg, then “roll” through plank to the other side
  • High five partner

Be advised movement in plank can elicit primitive reflex responses.

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Downward dog

Downward Dog is a pose we see with toddlers often, especially as new walkers begin to test their abilities. This is also one of the first strategies that children may use to promote vestibular input. In Downward Dog an individual’s head is out of upright, which is one strategy used by occupational therapists and other professionals to promote vestibular input.

Downward Dog is a pose that should be eased into, especially early in a practice. When directing individuals into this pose, be aware of the following:

  • Cue for proper spinal alignment in order to promote proper core stabilization.
  • Straining neck to look between or ahead of hands, versus in neutral position (looking between hands).
  • Locked elbows, shoulders, and knees
    • Cue for slight to moderate bend in elbows and knees. If necessary, cue individual to drop knees to floor.
      • Giving verbal cue to bend knees slightly one at a time can be a gentle reminder to not lock knees.
  • Do not cue for heels to touch floor or the idea that they could touch the floor. This could cause an individual to attempt to overstretch and strain leg muscles.
  • Use neutral words to cue for tails in the air, some words can be triggers for individuals.

Some individuals tend to “hang out” on their joints causing too much stress/strain to the joint without using surrounding muscle groups. When in the correct position there will be a slight bend in the elbows.  Down dog requires postural stability (core strength) and upper arm strength, when elbows are locked individuals are not using surrounding muscles and putting themselves at risk of injury.

When getting into this pose it is a natural movement to make from forward fold to down-dog. When moving from forward fold, bend the knees as much as needed to put hands flat on the floor. Walk feet back to make the body look like an upside down V. Pedal feet left and right to release tension in knees. Shake head yes and no, and allow shoulders to move down spine as was practiced in forward fold. Hold for 3-5 deep breaths. Keep eyes between hands to protect the neck.

Variations of this pose could include a dog walk or having individuals practice moving around on their hands and feet, keeping their back pockets lifted. This is a great core strengthener and supports further development of bilateral coordination, which is necessary for many skills in life. If you are having individuals move in this pose, be sure to follow the movement with breathing and/or a calm/relaxed pose such as child’s pose or forward fold.

For specific information on strategies you could use consult the sensory and reflexes section, contact the individual’s school-based or private occupational therapist, or comment a general question to be answered.

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Forward Fold

In a sun-salutation or mountain-to-mountain sequence, forward fold will usually follow mountain and upward mountain. When directing individuals into this pose, be aware of the following situations:

  • Some individuals may try force the stretch to touch the floor.
    • Give verbal cues that offer hands to be on thighs, calves, or grab opposite elbows.
  • Give the option to bend knees as much as needed.
  • Watch for spinal alignment, when bending forward individuals have a tendency to round their backs.
    • Begin by stretching shoulders into correct position, away from ears. Cue belly button to spine to support the lumbar spine.
    • If it is difficult to cue having a straight or flat back, have individuals put their hands on their thighs or a chair and look forward about 3-5 feet.

When getting into the pose from Upward Mountain, squeeze bellybutton towards the spine and roll the shoulders out of the ears, gently release the arms forward and down (we sometimes use the imagery of a waterfall flowing over the mountain), and come to rest with slightly bent knees and a gentle fold at the hips. Feel free to cue for hand placement at this time. Hold for 3-5 deep breaths, switch elbow grasps if opposite elbows were an option.

Forward Fold has many benefits to the body, but for some individuals it can be very disorienting in terms of their sensory systems, reflexes, and gross motor development. If an individual begins to demonstrate some unpleasant behaviors in this pose, some of the following strategies may be helpful:

  • Decrease the amount of time in the pose
  • Put them on a dynamic surface to engage core muscles and increase vestibular input
  • Blow on whistles to promote deep breathing and control
  • Lean against or into a wall during folding to assist in balance.
  • Use of chair fold pose to decrease impact of vestibular input.
  • Use of a carpet square for an identified personal space
  • Practice standing in this pose while engaged in another activity such as singing a song or another activity that does not require much thought
  • Widen the base of support
  • Implement sensory strategies

For specific information on strategies you could use contact the individual’s school-based or private occupational therapist, or comment a general question to be answered.

This pose is especially beneficial for individuals who may need a general “reset.” It allows the gaze to move towards the floor and the upper body to relax. Most individuals find this pose calming, and it can be a great transition tool between activities especially when moving from standing to sitting and vice versa.

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We’re Back!

Hanna and MilesThe end of 2018 and all of 2019 some big changes happened in the personal life of one half of Ka’Hanna. These major changes made Ka’Hanna fall to the back burner. We knew we would be back to it, but needed to wait for new routines and the body to process these events.

This is what we preach, take care of yourself! You cannot pour from an empty cup – except maybe a tiny drop of what might be left. The cup will not magically refill, it takes intention, love, and work without judgment. Life is never 100% and the work is never “done,” but we can get to a space where we are better able to care for others, if we take care of ourselves.

2020 will bring some exciting things for Ka’Hanna! We are still working towards our goal of explaining the sensory background of Yoga poses, and we will be working to deepen our understanding of trauma and its impact on the body. We are so excited for 2020 and cannot wait to share our journey!

Beginning in January 2020 Meddy Teddy posts will be back! Keep an eye out for new blog posts. Follow us on social media to stay in the loop!


Upward Mountain

Have you mastered the mountain pose and are beginning to feel more grounded to the earth through your feet? Adding in a challenge, such as Upward Mountain, may be what your yoga practice needs.

This is another pose that appears to be super simple, but there are many systems at work within your body to assist in keeping you upright. Instead of focusing on using this pose as a means to transition to a more Instagram-approved pose, use this pose to help you find center and grounding when you are trying to balance all the things in your life.

Stand with your feet comfortably beneath you, hips or shoulders-width apart, depending on your comfort in your balance. Allow yourself a breath or a short pause to feel the ground on the four corners of your feet. Breathe deeply and on an exhale allow your arms to reach over head. When your arms are where you feel comfortable, focus on your shoulders, allow them to roll up and around out of your ears and down your back. Allow your knees to bend ever so slightly and your hip points move forward, rather than back to decrease any arching you may feel in your back.

Feeling dizzy or off-balance? Use a focal point in front of you, and not looking at your hands. When you are looking up or to one side or the other, there are more complex body systems at work which impact your balance and body position.

In this pose you have just been working on postural stability, body awareness, increasing sensory input to the proprioceptive system and vestibular system, as well as coping for any retained primitive reflexes. When OTs work with individuals who have retained primitive reflexes, there is a focus on postural stability, proprioceptive input for calming, and integrating reflexes as well as other hindrances that impact an individual’s ability to self regulate.

For more information on how occupational therapy could be helpful for you or a loved one, contact a primary physician and your insurance.

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