Which Layer Should I Take?

In yoga and even in exercise we get a lot of different options when it comes to moving our bodies.  Often times these are called: layers, modifications, add-ons, etc.  Good teachers/coaches give a lot of these as they allow their students to customize.  Usually the intentions behind these may be to soften the pose/exercise or to increase the challenge.  It also allows your brain to get excited because your brain loves novel, or new, movement.  Any time you bring that element of curiosity and playfulness to your practice you excite new neurons and increase your bodies ability to adapt.

Amidst all these layers and customizations,

How do we know which one we should take?


Hmmmm I don’t know, but stroking my chin sure does feel good.

Today’s article is inspired by some interesting culture I witnessed in a yoga class over the last week, combo’d in with some stuff I was reminded of in a strength webinar.  We’re going to address where you should be, rather than where you may think you should be at using some concepts often applied in rehabilitative/corrective exercise.

Last week I subbed a class for a fellow teacher, and got an opportunity to take a yoga safari and observe some of the wildlife in the front row.  It was fascinating and borderline hilarious.  We were doing 2 Legged Down dog in class, similar to Birddog but instead of on your hands and knees you’re in Downward dog.

12826165_1687573218166884_602344514_n(1)Looks pretty sweet on Instagram too 😉

There’s a lot of layers to this pose.

Using the lifted foot as the start:

  1. Put your opposite hand on the mat about halfway to your floor foot, fingers facing the toes.
  2. Your opposite hand grabs your floor leg ankle/calf
  3. Opposite arm to the sky (as shown)
  4. 2 Legged Dancer Dog (grab your foot behind your back)
  5. Half bind with the opposite arm behind your back

There’s a lot going on there and as you can see things can get real crazy real quick because there’s a lot of neurology (left and right brain, plus upper and lower extremities) to this pose.  If you’ve ever done a Birddog, or a Deadbug, you can understand the level of balance in this pose.  Cross Patterning ftw!

So back to my yoga Safari:  We took this pose about 3x in class, each one I emphasized attempting the next layer.  The hand staying about half way is hard enough, the moment you reach for the ankle/calf, or attempt the hand to the sky things get real shaky real quick in the legs.


Dog leg kick reflex level shaking, and I wasn’t even scratching their sides

I told my yogis when I intro’d the pose that we’d do it about 3x in class on each side so start at the “shallow end” of the pose and we’ll “wade our way to deeper water” as we continue (my theme was depth).

In the beginning most people heeded my warning and started off in the base layer.  It was gorgeous and there was a good amount of stability, alignment, focus, and most importantly BREATHING going on.

Then, in what shall be known in the history books as The Great Shake, one yogi lioness skipped the ankle/calf step and tried the advanced level (arm to the sky).  Like dominoes, everyone else in the front row took it up to the next layer.  You could see the lioness level of front row pack competition.  Thankfully, no zebras or wildebeests were harmed in this class.


If Bethany can stick her arm up, you know I can girl.

So I attempted to emphasize a point, that I both learned in Chiropractic school and was reminded of at a webinar I took over the weekend.

Stay in the layer where you can maintain your breath

If you lose your breath, you no longer own the movement.  Often times in corrective exercise we’ll have you HOLD a position and try to breathe.  If you start to shake too much, or lack the ability to take a diaphragmatic breath, you have to go back to the previous layer.

We call that “regressionshudder.gif

Sure it sounds nasty, but you need it.

Think about it, in yoga we teach people to find their serenity, their easy breath in just about everything.  You should never have to power through something.  You should be able to breathe through it.  Like Chair pose, or Forearm plank.

So what layer/modification/customization should you take?

The one that you can easily breathe in

Now I’m not saying, never try advanced layers, how else are you to figure out where your breathing becomes too challenged?

You need to attempt these advanced layers, as losing the breath and regressing gives you a goal to work on.  Do you realize how empowering it is to self discover a limit in your body, and thusly set an intention/goal to overcome it?


You will blind people with the radiance of your new power

Now teachers, I know what you’re thinking,

How do I tell my students they need to regress?

In yoga we try to take the negative words out, so you can’t outright say DONT DO THAT.  Plus usually that just empowers that person to keep doing it.


So present it in the form of awareness, or an “if – then” statement.

Example: IF you lose your breath, or your leg starts to shake too much, THEN lower your arm back down and hold the mat to regain your stability.

It’s not “negative” at all and like magic you’ll see people autocorrect, because most of the time,

People aren’t aware they’ve struck a limit in their body

We all want that next layer and sometimes don’t know when it’s appropriate to take it.  It’s your goal as an awesome and empowering teacher/coach to enlighten students to their limits, so that they can use your guidance and their own will to move past them.


Take your ego out of your pose/exercise,  

Focus on where you are, with your breathing, and take out the mindset of where you think you should be.

That thinking takes you out of the current moment, the pose you’re in, and the breath you should be taking.  Plus, it only hinders you and keeps you from actually achieving that pose you think you should be in.

Know that you are different side to side, and day to day.  One day you can own that next layer, and then next it could be the most difficult thing.  Let the current and full breath taking you dictate where you should go.

Sexy future self can wait for your day dreams when you’re getting Vitamin D at the beach/pool.


You crawled before you walked, you walked before you ran, things happen in progressions, so honor your body and don’t fear the regression.  Take the right modification for your current self, let Bethany shake with her ego, while you smile with stability.

IF you want to apply this knowledge, THEN get out there and own your exercise/pose with some breath!

-Dr. YG

3 thoughts on “Which Layer Should I Take?

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